Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

RFT Classics – Best of RFT – the 230s

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 21, 2014

Download the episode here!

CanadaInIsraelCartoon

Don’s Rant:

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Don’s Rant’s about Harper’s redefinition of Antisemitism and his twisted logic of criticizing ‘apparent’ moral relativism but stating moral acts must be judged relatively…you cannot condemn Israeli actions with weigh them compared to Arab/Palestinian actions.

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Atheism for Dummies

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From the vaults, my extended interview with Dale McGowan, author of “Atheism for Dummies” and executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief. We discuss that others think of atheism, the history of disbelief and the culture of atheism.

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RFT Ep 223 – Atheist Identity Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on September 4, 2013

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This week an extended interview with Randolph Richardson from the Atheist Frontier.

Download the episode here! 

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

Don’s Rant about Syria, Chemical weapons, crimes against humanity, The UN’s Responsibility to Protect, Russia intransigence, and how the US’s history has come to haunt the world.

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We also have an intensive discussion about is there an atheist identity, what does that mean and should we embrace it or run for the hills. Also, are Atheist moral and how does an Atheist parent frame teaching ethics to their children?

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Next week we plan to have Jason Fernando from The Carl Sagan Association for the Communication of Science.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 183 – Islamic Bomb Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on September 25, 2012

This week:

- Prayed to death,
– Religious intolerance on the rise,
– Iran and the Bomb
, and
- The Black Death

Download the episode here!

Prayed to death

Not funny but true!

Yet another couple who killed their child with prayer gets a slap on the wrist. We discuss the Oregon parents who received 5 yrs probation for allowing their child to suffer an extremely painful death from appendicitis because they believed prayer was a better healer than REAL medicine.

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Religious intolerance on the rise

We have talked the new report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Affairs which shows greater intolerance as religion is used as a means of authoritarian control in nations across the world. The world is become a much more repressive place to live and religion is the shackles of its enforcement.

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Iran and the Bomb

There has been much talk about the looming threat of the Islamic Bomb. We cast our skeptical eye on the reality of Iran developing nuclear weapons. And for the record, we in NO way support nor endorse any nation attempting or achieving nuclear weapons status, just in case it seemed unclear in the show.

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The Black Death

Reports have flooded the internet about the ‘discovery’ of the body of Richard the III in a parking lot in England…well, under the parking lot…and the only evidence its Richard is curved spine body badly beaten to death. We talk about how they plan to ‘firm up’ the identification and the ulterior motives of some to promote this ‘discovery’.

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Skeptical Highlights:

Beneath the Sands of Egypt

Archaeologist and Egyptologist Donald P. Ryan will share some of the discoveries from the Pacific Lutheran University Valley of the Kings Project. The Project has excavated several of the small, little-known, undecorated tombs in the Valley, some of which have revealed fascinating surprises and controversial mummies (Hatshepsut? Relatives of Tut? A mass grave?).

When: 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM, Thursday, September 27, 2012
Where: Alliance for Arts & Culture – 938 Howe St, Vancouver
Cost: FREE

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Radio Freethinker Episode 176 – Olympic Cyborg Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 31, 2012

This week:

- Olympic Cyborg Sprinter,

- Olympic Measles Pandemic?,

- Politics, Religion and Economics at the Olympics, and

- Naturopaths conquer Alberta

Download the episode here!

Topics:

Olympic Cyborg Sprinter,

For the first time in Olympic history a cyborg…part human part machine…will competing at the Olympics. Or put another way, for the first time in Olympic history a disabled sprinter will compete in the regular Olympics with the aid of prosthetics legs. Good or bad?

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Olympic Measles Pandemic?

The recent front page of the Georgia Straight warns Canadians about the imminent and probably deadly threat to our lives from the nuclear fallow from the Fukushima reactor accident arriving in the form of radioactive fish. Don takes a critical eye to this story and exposed its bias and unscientific slant.  

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Politics, Religion and Economics at the Olympics

Saudi Arabia is sending women for the first time to the Olympics, but may pull out because the women will not be able to compete with their traditional hijab.
Lebanese athletes refuse to train in the same area as Israeli athletes because of the ‘crimes’ Israel has done to Lebanon.
London seems dressed down compared to the Queen’s jubilee thanks to the sponsorship police, who has ensured NO one but sponsors are allowed to ‘raise the rings’.

We discuss these issues and whether the Olympics should be above these topics or used as a means of global communications on issues.

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Naturopaths conquer Alberta

We discuss the recent decision by the Alberta Ministry of Health to give the College of Naturopathic Doctors of Alberta the same regulator, accreditation and self-governance powers as College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta. Thus providing Naturopaths the same legitimacy as real doctors.
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Skeptical Highlights:

SO you want to be an Astrobiologist!

The University of Edinburgh is offering a free online five week course called “Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life”

Over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks wondered if other worlds were habitable. In the coming years this question will be experimentally tested. This course is an introduction to astrobiology. It explores the origin and evolution of life on the Earth and its potential to exist elsewhere. Astrobiology addresses compelling questions of wide interest such as: How did life originate on the Earth? Is this an inevitable process and is life common across the Universe? Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary science that bridges fields as diverse as astrophysics, biology, geosciences and chemistry.

In this course one will explore what we know about life’s ability to live in extreme environments on the Earth…look at different hypotheses for how it originated. You will look at some of the missions to search for life in our own Solar System and on planets orbiting distant stars. Discuss some of the extreme environments on the Earth that help us understand the limits of life and how life has adapted to cope with extremes. Explore the possibility of intelligent alien life and some of the implications of its detection. The course will provide a foundation in astrobiology and introduce students to concepts in a diversity of scientific fields.

Have I got you hooked? Well, you can sign up now but you will have some time to do prep work; classes start in Jan 2013. Assuming we survive the Mayan apocalypse of course.

Google Labs

Google has set up an exhibitionist in the Science Museum in London. In true Google style it was not intent to have a ‘traditional’ display so they have combined the exhibition with Google Chrome to launch Google Web Lab. Where virtual visitors from around the world will be able to interact with the displays and perform 5 different experiments from the comfort of home. The exhibit includes: Universal Orchestra, Data Tracer, Sketchbots, Teleporter, and Lab Tag Explorer.

Google’s Web Lab website

NASA’s Curiosity rover will land on Aug. 5

Plan a landing party and enjoy what NASA is calling the most frightening 7 minutes in space exploration history.

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Join the BCHA for its third year marching in the Vancouver Pride Parade. For the past three years the BC Humanists have invited all local humanists, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and other freethinkers to march in the Vancouver Pride Parade. This year we hope to have a bigger and more fabulous entry than ever!

DETAILS — Marchers should plan to arrive by 12:30 PM. Our staging area is designated EN4 and will be on the North side of Robson Street between Burrard and Thurlow. You can only enter the staging area from Burrard Street. Please plan on walking/biking/transiting downtown as there is very limited parking and many road closures..

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Cafe Inquiry: Limits to Growth

Café Inquiry is a monthly casual discussion group run by CFI Vancouver. Come along and enjoy morning tea and stimulating discussion with fellow freethinkers on a variety of topics. Our speaker is Patrick Walden, and will discuss are there limits to growth, and will our endless drive to continually expand hit a wall? Will our civilization collapse in the 21st century? Pat Walden is a research scientist at TRIUMF Cyclotron laboratory at UBC.
Saturday August 18th at 11am at SFU Harbour centre (room tba)

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Pre-infected PCs

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 27, 2011

In a recent hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Greg Schaffer (acting deputy undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security National Protection and Programs Directorate) stated that there were instances where consumer electronics were imported with hardware/software security risks[1]…These risks were implied to be purposeful and with the intent of surveillance, spying or as a potential weapon (as in a kill switch on electronics). In plan speak; it was the judgment of DHS that there were actual attempts at ‘cyber surveillance’ and perhaps ‘cyber sabotage’.

The risks come in two forms, first direct inclusion…where the actual devices are ‘altered’ at the source. So, for example, a number of business security experts have suspected that china has used it manufactural ‘centrality’ (ie. Everything is “made in China”) to facilitate industrial espionage. Others also suspect that the Chinese (or Indians, Israel, Russians, etc…) have included security back doors for political/military spying or added command code to shut down critical systems.

Another risk comes from the globality of production. There has been some concern about supply-chain security[2], as computers, portable devices and other electronic devices pass through several suppliers before the final product goes on sale. A federal report released January on the supply chain between the United States and China speculated the possibility that somewhere along the line someone could compromise a component or design a capability that could enable cyber-attacks. These inclusion expand the possible perpetrators of ‘cybercrime’ to non-obvious industry, third-party nations or non-government groups (such as terrorist et al). It seems highly unlikely, and the importance of Schaffers comments, that such ‘cyber-attacks’ have already occurred and is perhaps as common an issue as ‘civilian’ viruses on the internet.

Of course there is a difficulty between identifying ‘real’ intent versus accidental. During the design phase of software (including that imbedded in hardware) or hardware, it is common practice to include back-doors, quick-switches and tracking logs to facilitate debugging[3]. Occasionally…well actually often, this code gets left in due to forgetfulness. Anyone who plays video games knows there are all kinds of ‘hacks’ that can be used to ‘alter’ game play. Almost all were created not for the benefit of the player but to make the life of the programmer easier. Of course it is almost impossible to determine whether these ‘developmental’ tools where left in on-purpose or accidental.

Occasionally, infection happens accidentally. At a recent conference IBM was embarrassed to discover on a USB memory stick they were handing out was malware[4]. It was via this ‘accidental’ contamination that the Stuxnet virus[5] made its way to the Iranian processing plants.

The Stuxnet virus[6] stunned the tech world. For those who do not know, Stuxnet was a virus that most analysts believe was created by either or both Israel and the US to delay Iran’s attempts at developing a nuclear power. The unique thing about this virus vs. the billions already breeding on the Internet is the specificity of this one. It seems it was designed to infect ANYTHING it came in contact with but to only ‘damage’ Iranian centrifuge motors…from what I understand; they could cause the motors to spin out of control to the point of self-destruction.

The creation of the Stuxnet virus…the suspected attacks on Lithuania by Russian nationals in response to ‘political dispute’[7]…an attack on Georgia “from the former soviet countries” as a prelude to ‘physical’ attack[8]…the numerous claims that Chinese ‘hackers’ have infiltrated US (and others) military networks[9]…all these point to another major issue that has arisen – the militarization of the internet.

This can be a huge issue these days because in a recent press release, the US Pentagon added cyber-attacks as a legitimate causa-belli or justification for war[10]. This means that if there is a major malfunction of some key hardware/software and the US believe the source pre-infected electronics from…let’s say China…it could see this as an act of war and respond militarily.

As innocents, we the people are placed in a bad spot…on the one hand we have to be worried that electronics we are purchasing may come ‘pre-infected’ with spy war (targeting not only our own personal data but that of our infrastructure or government) while knowing that our own espionage agencies are likewise turning the internet into the next battlefield. I think what worries me the most is not the loss of privacy or even the fact my own country is actively participating in contaminating yet another miracle of science for military use…no what worries me is the mis-call.

For those of us who grew up during the latter part of the cold war was not the possibility that the USSR and the USA would actual launch a nuclear war but that due to some electronic malfunction (movie: Failsafe) or rogue individual (movie: Dr. Strangelove) a war would occur by accident. When I look at the power and more importantly the accessibility of the internet I worry.

In the old days, if an individual ‘went rogue’ they picked up a gun and shoot a number of people…lots of local harm but no real risk of global conflagration…or that a fanatic would have to ‘pass as normal’ until they attained a unique position of power from which they could launch a ‘meaningful’ attack. No, now it is possible for a series of simple accidents…a youthful hacker creates a ‘virus’ to do ‘cool things’ (maybe cause motors to spin out of control or electrical circuits to shut down during the full moon) and a lax or lazy official who downloads this virus (like onto an USB stick of music to play at work) and contaminates a ‘critical network’ (like nuclear power plant control system). This combined with the rapidity of contagion via the internet; the uncertainty of knowing if an ‘attack’ was deliberate or accidental’ and lastly the now stated policy of nuclear powers to see cyber-attacks as ‘acts of war’ (allowing for physical attacks in response to cyber-attacks)…all these factors remind me all too well of the time when I went to bed uncertain I would wake to the world I knew or to a nuclear holocaust…perhaps an existential fear for the ‘cyber generation’.



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Circumcision – health and cultural imperialism?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 1, 2011

We received a letter from a loyal listener, thanks Aaron,  who was asking about whether circumcision was really a valid method of HIV infection prevention or just an attempt by ‘westerners’ to impose a religious tradition on a ‘vulnerable’ population. First things first, we will be discussing male circumcision and not female genital mutilation.

Long tradition

Okay, so the question we are asking … “Is the attempt to promote male circumcision in Africa a form of religious or cultural imperialism”?

Cultural Imperialism?

To answer this question we must decompose this big question and ask a few questions – “Does it help prevent HIV infection?”

The scientific evidence seems quite clear; circumcision reduces HIV transmission in male populations by over 60% and to women by almost 50%. This is based on a number of peer reviewed independent randomized studies, so the science seems clear that male circumcision does help in the prevention of the spread of aids. Now in their own research some of our listeners may find some studies that report to show circumcision in North American context shows no effect on HIV transmission raising questions as to the true effectiveness of procedure and perhaps a double standard between here and there. These studies, from what I can decipher are voluntary surveys which ask if men would volunteer for a study of circumcision and HIV transmissions and would be willing to be circumcised. This showed the impact on HIV transmission would be minimal at best because of a low number of men willing to participate or have the procedure done. However, this is not a study of the effectiveness of circumcision but a cultural willingness of men to be circumcised as adults. Also its target population was the gay community, where HIV transmission via anal intercourse has a different pathology than vaginal intercourse. Although, it is still my understanding that although less effective, HIV transmission is still reduced even in this category of sexual activity.

There is also a strong correlation between circumcision and the prevention of penile cancer. Although less understood, the vast majority of cases of penile cancer occur in uncircumcised men while incidence in those circumcised at birth is almost unheard of. That the odds of developing penile cancer is magnitudes less if one has been circumcised at birth…with less benefit for adult circumcision.

So, the first order question “Does circumcision help reduce the spread of aids?” seems overwhelming yes and as such, should be supported. The second question we could ask is “Should we, as good atheist, promote a religious practice and should not it overt association with Judaism and ‘the west’ make us unwilling to support widespread advocacy of circumcision especially in areas of western colonialism?”

Cultural ignorance in humour?

The simple answer I think is no, it is a historical accident that the practice is currently associated with Judaism. It is also a west attitude as well, as the vast majority of religiously circumcised men are Muslim and not Jewish. If one does a little research we find circumcision has a long history. It was practiced by the Pharaoh-nic Egyptians; it’s a common practice among Muslims as well as being a millenniums old rite of passage in western Africa.

That said, I do not like the attempt of some ‘missions’ who stress the religious nature of the procedure. I have heard of one such mission that is referred to as “operation Abraham”…where a team of ‘practiced’ Israeli doctors are doing mass circumcision of men in Africa. However, I do not like the fact that a number of churches have soup kitchens and yet, until suitable secular resource can be brought to bear, it seems in the interest of harm reduction we should hold our noses and allow these groups to do their thing until we can muster alternatives.

Rates of circumcision

It was also argued that while promoting the practice of circumcision in Africa for aids prevention, similar missions have not been done in other ‘low circumcised’ populations in ‘white’ countries. To understand this we must look at the existing prevalence of circumcision and the prevalence of HIV infection. Now the region of the world with some of the highest rates of circumcision are Saharan Africa and the Middle East; followed by North America. The regions with lowest rates of circumcision are Europe, South America and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. On this information, one could jump to the conclusion that efforts to promote circumcision should be focused on Europe (with some of the lowest rates of circumcision) but we must contrast this cultural practice with the medical need. IF we now look at the prevalence of HIV infection and the deaths from aids we see that the highest rates are in sub-Saharan Africa while Europe has some of the lowest. Now, I am sure this discrepancy in HIV infections reflects an underling link between poverty and undeveloped medical infrastructure…as well as the concerted efforts of the Catholic church to demote the use of condoms in Africa (notable the church does not pursue this anti-condom policy as aggressively in ‘white’ countries’). The prevalence of HIV in Eastern Europe is about 0.8%, South America 0.5% and Western Europe 0.2%…while Sub-Saharan Africa is about 5%…for reference North America its about 0.5% but our highest source of infection is IV drug use…thanks to our war on drugs.

Rates of HIV transmission

So, in context, the promotion of circumcision of African men as a means to control HIV seems to be both effective (if the face of the high rates of HIV infection) and practical. It’s practical in the sense that the Catholic Church which has banned condoms has no issue with non-religious circumcision.

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Missed Movement of Opportunity

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 25, 2011

Recently there has been an icy wind between Israel and the USA over comments made by President Obama. In a speech made on May 19th and a position he has reiterated several times since, Obama stated that the time was now for Israel and Palestine to come together and settle their differences, that at least they should be able to settle what will constitute the borders of the two states. Let’s hear what Obama said in his “Moment of Opportunity” speech.

The conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region…this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.

As for Israel, the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them. But endless delay won’t make the problem go away. A lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.

We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself.[1]

To get a tone of how this was received let’s hear a clip of Israeli President Netanyahu respond to one point in the speech.

So it’s not going to happen.  Everybody knows it’s not going to happen.  And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.[2]

When I first heard this quote I was taking it out of context and only wanted to use it to show the tone of the reception of Obama’s comments. However, in a speech to a joint sitting of congress, Netanyahu made it clear that peace would be largely dictated by Israel and that the Palestinians should be thankful for that. In the speech he stated:

We must also find a way to forge a lasting peace with the Palestinians. I publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples — a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish state.

We’ll be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland. And you have to understand this: In Judea and Samaria[3], the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers.

We’re not the British in India[4]. We’re not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel — and boy am I reading a lot of distortions of history lately — no distortion of history could deny the 4,000-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.[5]

The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they’ll be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people living in their own state.

The Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it. They continue to educate their children to hate[6]. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.

 

I stood before my people and I said, “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, “I will accept a Jewish state.”[7]

 

The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations, but we must also be honest. So I’m saying today something that should be said publicly by all those who are serious about peace. In any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. Now the precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated. We’ll be generous about the size of the future Palestinian state[8].

Israel will be generous on the size of a Palestinian state but will be very firm on where we put the border with it. This is an important principle, shouldn’t be lost.

Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.

It’s therefore vital — absolutely vital — that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized, and it’s vital — absolutely vital — that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.  

The Palestinian attempt to impose a settlement through the United Nations will not bring peace.

Peace cannot be imposed. It must be negotiated.[9]

What are the issues Obama is raising that has created such controversy?

The two state solution.  First there are radicals, more now I think in Israel than in the Palestinian one, which opposes this and believe in a ‘one state’ solution[10]. Some do not believe Israel has no legitimacy of existence, however due to the actual existence and power of Israel this group are currently seen as radical extremist. On the other side, there are groups who believe in ‘greater Zion’, holding that Israel should not only annex (and of course ethnically cleanse the West bank and Gaza…in a humane manner) but also re-capture the Sinai in order to restore the biblical borders of Israel.  In reality a growing number of Israeli believe that settlement in the West Bank should be increased with the eventual goal of annexation once it has become suitably Jewish not for religious reasons but security and economic reasons. However, for the moment both one-staters are a minority.

Most people accept, including the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, that eventually there will be two states – one Israel and one Palestine; the crux of the issue is what those states will look like – geographically, economically and politically. A number of people forget that during the apartheid era in South Africa, there was created a number of ‘independent’ states as homelands for the ‘blacks’. These states were called Bantustans[11].

Bantu States - homelands generously created by South Africa

Bantu States. These were set up as semi-autonomous homelands for the native population of South Africa. These states were ‘internal’ often no-contiguous states that were intended to ensure the Blacks could not enjoy the rights of South African citizenship (making them more vulnerable to ‘security’ measures and economic pressure). A quick comparison of the map of the current Palestinian controlled lands to that of the Bantustan states[12] does seem rather similar and making such fears of Palestinians that their ‘homeland’ will be little more than a labour pool ghetto intended to insure Israel dominance and control without the legal obligations annexation would entail.

As stated, I get the impression that the current Israeli government (if not national sentiment) is to ensure that the two-state solution is not two EQUAL states. That said, western leaders, the UN and Israeli ‘official’ policy is the creation of two independent equal states…however the boundary of those states was the ‘flash point’ seen in Obama’s speech.

What Obama stated was the same things every President and most of the world (including several UN resolutions) have been saying for decades; that the border between Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 border.  Of course when you say 1967 border it is important whether you mean pre or post 1967 war.

Jerusalem.  Prior to the 1967 war, East Jerusalem was part of the “state” of Palestine however during the war Israel managed to capture all of Jerusalem and later annexed the ‘unified’ city. This is a big issue because both the Israelis and the Palestinians see Jerusalem as their capital.  If the starting point for negotiations is Pre-1967 war, then Jerusalem is open for negotiations, something Israel has stated it will never do and something the Palestinians insist upon…they do not understand why East Jerusalem cannot be the capital of Palestine and “west” Jerusalem Israel’s capital.

Religion. One of the reasons both sides are struggling over East Jerusalem is because it is the “old city’ and the location of three of the most important religious sites – The Wailing Wall which for the Jews is the part of the Second Temple; the Dome of the Rock which for Muslims is where Mohammad assented to heaven and lastly it’s the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Christians believe Jesus was crucified.

Irrespective of which line you use to create the two states, there is a lot of resistance on the Israeli side. This is because of three directly related issues and one indirect.

Security. Although much of the fighting between Israel and Palestinians has been lopsided, it is still true that Israelis feel a genuine fear of violence – be it suicide bombers, rocket attacks or simply mobs. The first two are perhaps realities they will always face…as long as the conflict exists; as I stated earlier, one-staters are a minority on both sides but as long as the issue is unresolved, attacks on Israel will persist.  The mobs (the intifadas for example although protests, mostly peaceful, occur weekly throughout the occupied territories) are the result of occupation; an issue that will disappear with the creation of Palestine and the removal of occupation forces.

Hamas. As part of the security issue, is often used by Israel as an excuse not to negotiate…and to be fair, Hamas has played hardball with the religio-political rhetoric. That said there are three main complaints with Hamas; first it refuses to recognise the state of Israel…however, it has indicated it will when Israel recognizes the state of Palestine with ‘appropriate’ borders. That it will not renounce violence…however Israel still practices ‘targeted killing’. That it will not recognize international agreements…unlike Israel which has dismissed innumerable UN declarations or international law.

BUT I don’t what to really defend Hamas, I think Gaza would be better without it (democracy failing again…Hamas was democratically elected) and feel disheartened conditions in Gaza are so harsh as to allow what I accept a radical group to rise to power (I shall resist the pull of Godwin on this one).

Even if we accepted that Hamas is as evil as Israel claims, the idea it is an actual or existential threat to the Middle East’s only nuclear power…a military giant claiming it fears the noisy mouse that is, at best, Hamas has a hollow ring.

That said, Hamas is in Gaza…an established border; it has little to do with the West Bank…the place where the border issue is discussed. Israel’s refusal to negotiate about borders with Fatah (the government of the West Bank) because the Palestinians are attempting to re-unify after a split in 2009, seems to be more of an excuse to not negotiate…not that I do not think that Hamas’s attitudes toward the state of Israel will not at some point be the main topic of discussion, the point Obama was making is that the location of the border could and should be negotiated now…that perhaps with the ‘land deal’ in hand, these other issues may just solve themselves with the main source of irritation being removed.

First it was war, then it was settlers...compare the 2000 map of Palestine to that of the Bantu States above

Settlers. Of course, Israel cannot remove its occupation forces as long as it has Jewish settlements in the West Bank[13], a lesson learnt in the Gaza Strip. The settlements are perhaps the most formable obstacle to peace. I should point out that the settlements themselves are highly illegal accounting to several international laws[14] and opinion. Sadly this is a classic (if unintentional?) tactic used by the Nazis[15], Soviets[16], Chinese[17] and other to settle ‘nationals’ on newly acquired territory so as to ensure pacification and permanent control. It also explains the resistance of Israel to ACTUALLY use the 1967 line, be it pre or post war, because if one looks at a current map of the West Bank, more than ½ of it is under settler control. IF Israel were to reconstitute the 1967 border with equivalent land swaps…well there isn’t enough land in Israel to really do that.

The Archipelago of Palestine - the view if non-Palestinian land were seen as water, what would the "state" of Palestine look like?

Right of return. This is an indirect issue and a red herring but one that gets played out in the border argument. When Israel was created a significant number of Jews and Arabs were displaced from their ancestral homes.  Most Jews emigrated willingly to the first Jewish state in millenniums while Arabs were unwilling and have been waiting for their own homeland in refugee camps for decades. Most Palestinians wishing to return to their ‘lost homes’ accept the existence of Israel and are willing (more or less) to become Israeli citizens as the price of return. Israel will never allow this to happen because of the number of Arabs claiming a right to return would so alter the demography of Israel so as to recast it as a second Palestinian state. However, most Palestinians claiming ‘right of return’ are second or third generation and do not actually expect to return to their land. They are looking more for an acknowledgment of and restitution for that loss. In this they have moral weight however I think it should be the burden of the “post WWII powers” that created Israel, largely out of guilt for the Holocaust, who should pay this restitution…being the ones ultimately responsible for the appropriation of the land.

It should be noted that Palestine was NOT created in 1967 or 1956 or 1948 because of Israel but because of Jordan and Egypt which occupied the lands the UN declared to be Palestine.

Lastly, why now? Why did Obama choose this moment to make the speech? Well, first there is not much new in the speech that has not been said before. If you look online, G.W. Bush said something similar during his presidency. It is essentially what was accepted in the Oslo Accord of 1993 and Camp David Summit of 2000.

It was also a good time because of the ‘Arab Spring’ which has seen the great apparent growth of freedom and secular democracy. However, this may not be as good as you might think. Israel, although perhaps morally opposed to the Middle Eastern dictatorships had learned to work with most of them. Their over thought has left Israel worried about threats ‘free and open’ elections might have on its own security.

However the biggest impetus for this “Moment of Opportunity” is the expected vote in September by the UN general assembly on the Palestine statehood. Palestine is planning to recognize, for the first time, the STATE of Palestine. It does this in an effort to shame Israel to the negotiation table as well as allow it greater rights under international law. It remains to be seen where this opportunity may play out but it cannot be denied it has set a fire under the Israeli government.

 


[4] By stating it this way, there is an implied denial of Palestine’s right to exist. IF we accept that the Israelis are not the British but the Indians, then this implicitly cast the Palestinians as the British…invaders who have not legitimate right to the land.

[5] A claim that is historically dubious, let us remember Israel ‘conquered’ the promised land from peoples whom the Palestinians could claim heritage. That said, the modern context (allowing modern to go back centuries), the lands Israel occupy now are NOT theirs…they are more akin to Americans or Canadians. That said, the state exists and as a reality has as much legitimacy to exist as Canada.

[6] This is a term that is based on perspective. Americans ‘taught’ hatred of imperial Britain before independence.

[7] This statement is equivalent, not to get all Godwin, to recognizing Germany and an Aryan State…states defined by race are innately racist and should be, even in this historically unique case, rejected. Both should recognize each STATE not racial states.

[8] He used the term ‘negotiate’ a lot and yet he seems to be dictating terms. That the state of Palestine will be a (reluctant) gift given (or taken away…if security requires it) to the Palestinians.

[13] Settlements on occupied territory are against several international laws. T

[14] (Geneva Convention-2001;UN General Assembly resolution 39/146-1984; UN Security Council Resolution 446-1979;International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion-2004…)

[15] Germans were encouraged to settle “unused” agricultural lands in Poland and Belarus as part of the “Lebensraum” principle.

[16] Russians were encouraged to settle in the Baltic countries (and to a lesser extent Central Asian countries) to help strengthen “communism”.

[17] Tibet has complained about the  high rates of Han Chinese the Chinese government has encouraged to settle Tibet.

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Targeted killing – Our lesser selves

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 15, 2011

Targeted killing – Our lesser selves

Who's to say who is next?

As we have all heard Bin Laden (the supposed mastermind of the USS Cole attack, the US Embassy bombings and of course 9/11) was killed by a USA Naval SEAL ‘hit’ team. There are many way that commentators have tackled this issue but the one I think most interesting is how ordinary this event actually was. Bin Laden was one of thousands killed as ‘enemy combatants’ in ‘extra-judicial’ assassinations or ‘targeted killings’. So I thought I would see if a legal base could be found for the killing of Bin Laden. I should preface this discussion by stated that I shed no tears over Bin Laden’s death and agree the world is better without him however does the rational and method of his demise perhaps cast a dark shadow that may harken a darker and less civilized world on the horizon?

First; irrespective of the legality of the assassination of, there is the issue of whether the US had to kill, Bin Laden. This argument falls into three camps. First, if Bin Laden was attempting to (directly or through his minions) defend himself against the Navy SEALS and was killed in this ‘fire-fight’; we could understand them killing Bin Laden. This instance would be a legal excuse for the killing, however the current story (which seems to be holding as accurate) states that there was no fire-fight, that the only armed person was outside the compound and that Bin Laden was unarmed…so no legal cover here.

Second, it is not unreasonable that the SEAL team worried that Bin Laden was wearing a bomb-vest or more likely the place was booby-trapped; again we could understand them killing Bin Laden. One could say that if he posed a credible threat even unarmed in a conventional sense lethal force was necessary however it seems unlikely (but not impossible) that Bin Laden wore a ‘suicide jacket’ while lounging around the house…again from reports there was no warning about the raid which proceeded to its ‘target’ quickly; so it’s unlikely he would be wearing such a piece of equipment. With regards to booby-traps, it seems more valuable to keep him alive to have him point out the traps…how killing Bin Laden would disarm these traps is beyond me…so again no legal cover found here.

Third; although not making the assassination moral or legal but justifying it on pragmatic grounds because it is also conceivable if Bin Laden were incarcerated there would be a large number Bin Laden sympathisers who would instigate innumerable (or maybe just one too many) hostage taking or acts of terror in order to get Bin Laden released…a situation that would put the US in an impossible situation; again making the killing understandable. This is probably the true reasoning for the ‘kill order’; even if no rescue operations were launched by his sympathisers, there is still the whole logistics of trying to bring him to trial. Unlike the other ‘high ranking’ captures, its seems impossible for the US administration to ‘disappear’ him in Gitmo and thus a trial would be necessary , and yet their near complete inability to try effectively any of the ‘important’ terror suspects leads one to believe this would be one trial too far. We again seem to find no legal cover.

A number of people in the pod-o-sphere have been comparing the assassination of Bin Laden to killing Hitler. Ignoring Godwin’s rule, is this an apt comparison? Well, it can be credibly argued both were people the world would be better off without, that thousands of people died due to these persons’ efforts and that both were the outspoken ‘enemy’ of the USA.

That said, Hitler was a leader of an ACTUAL nation legally at war with the USA; Bin Laden was the apparent leader of a NGO with no legal framework. It is true that the USA declared war on “Terrorism” however; this is not a legal but rhetorical claim. It is also true that during times of war, killing the enemy has a long tradition (for example the killing of Admiral Yamamoto during WWII). However, the ‘structure’ of Al-Qaeda is largely a fiction created by the USA. The very nature of a ‘cellular’ terror network is to NOT have a hierarchical structure. This is not to say that Bin Laden was not involved in specific crimes (at least the land mark one of 9/11) but to equate his ‘leadership’ to that of a commander of the air force or a dictator of a sovereign nation it ridiculous.

Bin Laden had been charged (but not convicted) with various crimes in US courts, this is important because under the US law, it is illegal to punish someone charged prior to conviction. Although it is likely impossible to know exactly what happened but it seems plausible that Bin Laden would not have resisted arrest/surrender and could have seen this as a means to re- reinvigorate a waning celebrity. However it seems that when the US (Nobel Peace Prize winning) president Obama ordered the assault on the Bin Laden compound it was a kill order; an order perhaps understandable in a pragmatic way, acceptable in a moral view but highly questionable in a legal reading. This point has become quite murky in the current ‘fog of fake war’ because of the current US policy of “targeted killing”.

Targeted Killing is the assertion made first by Israel (1973[1]) then the USA (2002[2]) and later the Russia (2006); that under specific … albeit vague (yes, specifically vague is an oxymoron) circumstance… the government could authorise the extra-legal execution of particular individuals who were deemed “enemy combatants”. Although this term itself is ill defined; in the past those assassinated were part of the military structure. In fact the Geneva conventions explicitly prohibited the targeting of specific civilians for assassination.

Was Bin Laden an enemy combatant? I think not. He defiantly was a criminal requiring prosecution and punishment but was not party to any war or civil war, further it is likely that he could have surrendered or been forcibly detained (with the caveats mentioned earlier). The Geneva conventions deemed killing of people who are “taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms”[3]  to be a violation of the law of war and subject to war crimes investigation (at least).

Of course under the Bush administration the US altered its definition of a ‘enemy combatant” by agreeing that “legal combatants” conform to the Geneva convention definition, however they introduced a new category “unlawful combatants”, who are defined as “a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, Al-Qaida, or associated forces)”[4]

The US has made anyone who is a member of Al-Qaida a valid target (of course how one defines WHO is a member is defined largely by the USA although at the time of his death it is impossible to argue Bin Laden did not see himself as part of this group).  This definition though was originally intended to provide a legal framework for the indefinite incarceration of detainees at Gitmo. It was only later that this definition was used to justify the extra-legal assignation of individuals BELIEVED to be a threat to US interests. It is also important that with some notable exceptions these ‘targeted killings’ have been executed by air attacks (Helicopter/planes by Israel and Drone/rocket attacks by the USA) which often get their ‘legitimate’ target as well as a number of “collateral” victims. The kind of assassination that happened to Bin Laden has been a common modus operandi of Israel however it is a new(er?) tactic of the USA; one that we should worry about.

Why fear?

It's can't happen here?


One of the things that is supposed to make modern society better than the ‘barbaric’ ones of days gone by is that we believe that even the worst of criminals should have their day in court…that summary executions are not only immoral but uncivilised; defending rule of law is one of the fundamental principles millions of people have laid down their lives to protect. What the USA has done (not that they are the first or worst but they are supposedly the ‘leader of the free world’) is a complete reversal of the positive step they took 66 years ago at the Nuremberg trials. At the time most ‘civilized’ people thought the leadership of the Nazi regime should be summarily executed en masse but the USA insisted that they be brought to trial…that failure to do so, would undermine all that the war was supposedly intended to defend…that by giving in to our lesser selves we the “civilized” world would become the very vile barbaric thing. That by supporting targeted extra-judicial murder we have become the terrorist. When you let your hatred and lust for vengeance become so great for the ‘evil ones’ you soon find you have become the very evil your crusade intended to eradicate.


[1] “Israel struggles with targeted killing”. MSNBC. August 27, 2006

[2] Pincus, Walter. “US says Yemen aided missile strike” The Washington Post, 2002.11.06

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Who can form a government?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 1, 2011

First the formation of a government….

After an election, the Governor General asks the leader of the party with the largest number of seats if he(/she?) believes they can secure the confidence of the parliament. Obviously in a majority situation it’s a given; however in a minority situation some negotiation may need to take place before a positive answer can be given. When the ‘major’ party believes it cannot gain this confidence, the GG will then give the ‘runner-ups’ an opportunity to meet the standard of confidence. The Confidence of the house is simply the majority of MP’s supporting government either directly in a non-confidence vote (ie. The majority reject this motion) or indirectly by the failure to pass the budget, however the recent government (not uniquely but more frequently) have declared other bill-votes to be votes of confidence in an attempt to browbeat the opposition so as to pass said legislation[1].

What is the difference between minority and coalition government?

A minority government is one where a party forms a government while not having a majority in parliament but maintaining the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. We have a long history of minority governments with the first occurring in 1873 and twice the ruling party changed without an election (1873: Conservative to Liberal and 1926: Liberal to Conservative). There are two kinds of minority rule – arrogant or cooperative.

The Arrogant minorities tend to have a short life span as we have seen with Arthur Meighen (who lasted about 6 months) or Diefenbaker (who lasted less than 5 months). This form attempts to implement their party platform irrespective of what the majority of parliament wishes, where they attempt to balance the opposition’s aversion for another election against aversion of the government’s legislation. In this way, Harper has proven quite adept; manipulating the electoral fears of the opposition so as to pass far more regressive conservative (neo-con?) legislation that one would think possible. Of course his domineering control of the conservative party, his totalitarian control of the ‘media message’ (helped by the absence of a pluralistic press) and his contempt for parliament (for which the government ultimately fell) and the democratic processes has helped him push his extremist agenda…sorry, for the rant however true it may be.

The Cooperative minority is one that acknowledges the opinion of the nation is mixed…that it likes policies from some most/all the parties and a responsible Prime Minister should attempt to push legislation that is supported by the majority of the population regardless of the originating party. The greatest of these PM’s probably was Lester Pearson during whose tenure as PM we saw the adoption of such great advances the current Canadian Flag, the creation of universal Health Care, Canadian Student Loans and Canada Pension Plan.

A Coalition government is one where two or more parties form a government which can maintain the confidence of the majority of MPs in parliament. Canada has never had a coalition government (although during WWI, some liberal members joined the Borden Government however, the Liberal party officially declined the offer of coalition). As of yet Finland has never had a majority government, Israel, India and Germany regularly rely on coalitions and currently England has a coalition government.

Recent claims by the Conservatives that the Liberals-NDP planned to form a coalition government WITH the Bloc is incorrect (a lie?). The coalition was comprised of the Liberals (who would get 18 ministries) and the NDP (who would get 6 ministries); the Bloc only offered support so that when the Lib-NDP leadership approached the GG they had a credible claim to have the confidence of the house. By this standard, the Bloc was in a coalition with Harper’s Conservatives government.

Do we elect our Prime Minister?

Yes and no…technically the Prime Minister is simply the leader of the house…the leader of the house is simple any individual who can command the confidence of the house. The office of Prime Minister is not defined in our Constitution; in fact the PM is only referenced indirectly as the person responsible for organising Constitutional Conferences (to amend the constitution). Unlike our American neighbours whose presidential powers are explicitly outlined, we rely on history and precedent to define the PM’s powers and role (there is also a  large degree the willingness or acquiescence of the public/parliament to accept changes for example the recent decision of to officially refer to government projects not as “the Canadian government” but as “the Harper government”…something I find very disturbing and wrong but something that seems to disappear for the headlines due to other Conservative scandals.

In fact all ministers and their portfolios of responsibility are defined by constitutional convention or the whim of the PM themselves. By convention, the leader of the party that holds the confidence of parliament is the PM; usually this is a member of the House of Commons but on occasion are not (John Abbot and Mackenzie Bowell were senators while PM). As well; on several occasions’ ministers of the crown were not elected members of government at all, although this is seen as extreme and against convention. On occasion, governments have had ministers of the crown who only later became MPs and often senators have been ministers with portfolio.

The PM serves “At her majesties pleasure”, meaning that unless a PM resigns, dies or is dismissed by the GG (or Queen), they remain PM even if they or their party loses an election. If a PM party loses a majority, they may still remain PM if they can command the confidence of the house. They may also be dismissed by the GG who will then ask the leader of the majority party (or the leader who can command the confidence of the house) to form the government.

Why are elections called?

An election is called by three mechanisms; firstly in our constitution a government cannot hold power longer than 5 years before an election MUST be called. As well as the Canada Elections Act (CEA) states that a general election is to take place on the third Monday in October, in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, starting with October 19, 2009. The CEA however can be amended at any time so has little effective weight as our current election shows.

Under parliamentary rules, the prime minister can ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament but the Governor General can refuse the request. This precedent was set in 1926 when William Lyon McKenzie asked the GG to dissolve the parliament but Lord Byng refused and gave the Conservatives a chance. When Paul Martin was in a minority situation after the 2004 election, Harper drafted an agreement between the opposition parties (including the Bloc) to approach the GG to form a government. In 2008, the shoe was on the other foot and the NDP and Liberals signed an agreement to form a coalition; this was avoided by the unusual act of prorogation of parliament.

For those who do not know, prorogation  is ending one session of parliament and starting a new one without calling an election traditionally done to allow MP’s to engage their constituency. In modern times, the length of the first ‘session’ of parliament is around 6 months to a year. Harper has the record for the both the shortest session, 17 days[2], and also the earliest call for Prorogation after an election… 51 days[3].

Lastly, an election is triggered whenever the sitting government loses the confidence of the parliament. As mentioned before, this can occur by a direct motion of non-confidence or the failure to pass a moneyed bill (such as the budget). Technically, any bill can be declared a confidence vote by the sitting government, but only a motion of non-confidence can be moved by the opposition to defeat a sitting government. It is interesting to note that a third motion may become an automatic non-confidence motion resulting in the defeat of the government; that is a motion of contempt of parliament. Technically that was the motion that caused the Harper government to dissolve parliament and request the GG to call for an election. In the future it may become constitution convention that to be found in contempt of parliament is to also be fired as government…as so it should be.


[2] I have excluded session a) 1873 which was only to call an election, b) only enacted the War Measures Act in 1914 c) the declaration of war on Germany in 1939, and d) 1930 for no good reason at all!

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