July 14, 2012

Stop Blaming God

The Bible is often used to give credibility to statements. Preachers back up their sermons by citing Biblical phrases offering book, chapter and verse, an invitation for the congregation to follow along and many do. The layman does the same but in a less rehearsed way. A favorite heard often lately “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.” (Lev 20:13) is one of the Bible quotes concerning gay sex. Rom 1:26-27, 1 Tim 1:9-10, 1 Cor 6:9, Genesis 19:24-25 and Lev 18:22-23 also condemn the practice on threat of death and eternal damnation. You don’t have to actually engage in the act. Condoning and encouraging it counts the same in God’s eyes. Being an “accessory to the crime” is punishable too and God has inventive ways of retribution according to the stories of the Bible so it’s life and death serious.

It’s the Gospel

When a person is opposed to gay marriage, sooner or later, the Bible is usually part of their argument. That should be end of discussion. God condemns it and He is the highest authority. If you are for marriage equality you are against God and are therefore a heretic or at least misguided. To use the Bible as a moral compass and legal decree, one must assume the ancient text is the inspired word of the Almighty Himself. If that’s true then other Bible quotes are just as valid. The above passages pertaining to homosexuality are taken from the Old Testament as are these: 1 Timothy 2:15 says only women who have children will be spared hell. Prostitution is punished by burning the woman alive according to Leviticus 21:9. Exodus 21:7-10 says men can sell their daughters into slavery. This list of Bible quotes no sane person can condone could go on for page after page.

Not such a credible source

I don’t think any person ever decided to be against gay marriage because of the same book that tells them it’s ok to sell their daughter. Then again maybe they have. People claim the Heavens and the Earth was created by the same God that told them through the words of the Bible that the Sun revolves around a flat Earth. I think people who oppose gayness are repulsed by the sexual act which translates to immorality. If it grosses you out then it’s gross, period. Other people, such as me, draw the immoral line at harm. Allowing children to be hungry is immoral for example. Gay male sex is just as disgusting to me as any hetero male but it’s not immoral – as if it’s up to me to judge one way or another in the first place.

The Point?

It’s not God, it’s you. Admit it. I can somewhat respect an honest intolerance but how reprehensible is a cowardly person who hides behind an entity unaccountable to anyone? “How convenient” to quote the Church Lady of SNL fame.

June 15, 2012

Trayvon Martin – a Rational Conclusion

Everyone in the U.S. has heard of the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida and everyone has an opinion. The direction a person leans on this issue depends largely on their choice of news outlet and to an extent their particular race and experiences.

The usual suspects representing the conservative side of the media have portrayed Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, as a man who “stood his ground” against a black man who was suspiciously wandering through the neighborhood wearing a gang-related hooded sweatshirt and “up to no good.”

Although not all specific facts of this case are known and may never be, enough evidence has been presented to make some rational conclusions. The mainstream news coverage, though very thorough, has not been able to or hasn’t ventured to answer some important questions conclusively.

To answer the impartiality question theorize if the police, prosecutors and local press would have reacted differently if the races were reversed. Yes. No hesitation in anyone’s mind, not even among the right-wing media. The answers to the other two questions are almost if not as certain. Much depends on what Zimmerman did after the dispatcher told him “we don’t need you to do that” instructing him not to follow Martin. Zimmerman responded “ok” but what did he do?

The unelected, unofficial self-appointed neighborhood “watchman” continued to follow Martin who was on the phone with his girlfriend well after the directive for Zimmerman to stop. Had he followed that directive, Martin would not have died that night. As for feeling threatened, it was Martin who was being pursued. He was fearful for his safety and may or may not have reacted physically as he was approached by a stranger in the dark. One of the last things Martin’s girlfriend hears before the phone and her boyfriend went dead was him saying “why are you following me?” Good question for local police and the prosecuting attorney.

Zimmerman is hanging his hopes of not being hung on Florida’s “stand your ground” law. If he can prove self defense he is set free which is, by the grace of skin tone, his circumstance now. The evidence from the dispatcher’s tapes clearly shows that Zimmerman claimed to have stopped following Martin on several occasions and for several minutes prior to those chilling final words from Martin, “why are you following me?”

The prosecutor might ask “why were you still following him?” Zimmerman may have been injured but Martin felt threatened when he was stalked then approached by an obviously unfriendly stranger.

It is Martin who had the right under the law to protect himself. Again, can you imagine the police reaction if Martin had shot Zimmerman who is half-white, half-Hispanic. The “stand your ground” law would have actually applied but would have the law been applied in the same manner?

George Zimmerman wants to be a cop. He wants to wear the crisp blue uniform complete with a nightstick, mace, shiny badge and sidearm, maybe a shotgun in the patrol car. However, Zimmerman is not a police officer. He is a vigilante who lusts to feel power over other individuals to the point of committing remorseless murder.

Studying criminal law at junior college for a semester does not qualify Zimmerman or anyone to be the judge, jury and executioner of a person guilty of murder and certainly not an innocent young person who was simply trying to go home.  The crime is murder and Zimmerman be in jail facing appropriate criminal charges.

April 14, 2012

The Chevy Volt: Mistake or Magic?

General Motors will suspend production of its highly touted Volt next week resulting in the loss of 1300 jobs. GM has sold just three-fourths of the gas-electric hybrid cars it had projected to sell due at least in part to bad publicity generated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) investigation into Volt batteries catching fire. The bad news continues.

Taxpayers are still on the hook for more than $25 billion from GM following the controversial 2009 bailout. Conservatives have said people don’t want to buy a car from “Government Motors” and that because the Treasury holds 500 million GM shares, the bailout amounts to a government takeover. In addition, they say the bailout was intended not to save GM but to save the United Auto Workers Union for purely political reasons. A recent headline in a leading conservative-leaning publication read After Volt Debacle; Obama Calls for More Spending on Car Batteries.

Was the right wing right on this one?

GM will stop production and send some folks home for a month, March 19 to April 23, to align production levels with the admittedly disappointing sales, 7600 instead of the 10,000 initially projected by this time. The battery fire story that broke last November hurt sales. The NHTSA finding that “no discernable defect trend exists” in the battery, and revisions made by GM which “reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts” in January came too late to rescue sagging sales and wasn’t as widely reported as the more sensationalistic “fire” story. With that episode in the past GM doesn’t anticipate another temporary plant shutdown.

The bailout may or may not fit a person’s ideological inclinations but it worked if you measure success by profits, jobs and the national economy which could have only fared far worse if GM had died. Mitt Romney said “the companies would have been even more competitive if the private sector rather than the Treasury Department had funded the reorganization.” That is a big “if,” Mitt.

There were no private sector interests, singly or collectively, that could gamble tens of billions in the midst of the Great Recession. It was the Federal Government or not at all. Taxpayers are probably not going to get all their money back on this deal, at least anytime soon, but the approximately $15 billion that could remain unpaid is well worth the country’s investment. Consider the 1.5 million job losses to the present economy, the end of GM and Chrysler and their suppliers. Those cars would now be built overseas if the U.S. auto giants failed.

Rick Santorum said the bailouts were “injurious to capitalism” immediately following news that GM made a record $7.6 billion profit last year while grossing $105 billion, both company records in its century long history. In addition, GM sold 640,000 more total autos than in 2011. All capitalistic endeavors should be so injured. Yes, it’s possible that Obama was just handing out welfare to auto workers for political gains as the most cynical right wing pundits still maintain but with success like this, who really cares?

The Volt has lowered its base price to about $39,000. It cantravel 35-40 miles on battery power alone then an additional 300 miles at 50 MPG on electric power generated via a small gasoline motor.

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March 12, 2012

The Truth of Syria – Is Everyone Lying?

What you know about the bloody conflicts in Syria depends largely on your location. Accounts vary drastically; the truth depends on the messenger. A few reporters brave the dangerous circumstances to piece together grainy You Tube videos and unsubstantiated witness accounts. Then impart whatever narrative their home nation subscribes to. Some governments control the press more than others and reporters arrive with biases shaped by personal experiences.

Nations aligned with Syria including Iran, Russia and China paint a vastly different picture than Western and Arab nations.  Recent headlines from Press TV, Iran’s state-owned media outlet include Syrian President Assad remains powerful with major support and Syrian president: Nation determined to crush terrorists accompanied by a photo of a relaxed Assad and his wife casually speaking with reporters. Death and destruction thanks to NATO and USA is the caption on a photo associated with the Pravda story U.S. / NATO forces have invaded Syria.

Westerners and many in Arab nations understand the situation as something else altogether. The Arab League has dispatched observers to monitor the situation, is united in its condemnation of human rights violations by Assad and has called for the dicatotor to step down.  An Al Arabiya article refers to Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad as “thugs” who “engage in theft and vandalism.” Al Jazeera often uses the word “regime” following Assad’s name, a word almost always interpreted as meaning “brutal dictatorship.”  The Gulf Times plead “arm the resistance groups.” Editorials in Arab publications refer to the opposition as protesters, activists and revolutionaries not terrorists.

The western media portrays Syria as simply the latest domino to fall in the Arab uprisings. Courageous revolutionaries, men women and children, are being tortured and slaughtered daily by their own government.  In addition, Iran and Russia support the brutal dictatorship, typical of these two countries that have a history of oppressing their own people. In time Syrians will establish a democracy, send the terrorist group Hezbollah back to Iran and align with the liberty loving west according the media outlets in the these nations.

Iranian and Russian media would less-than-respectively disagree with the west’s assessments. Syria’s allies report Assad as a strong, virtuous leader attempting to purge his country of “outlaws, saboteurs and armed terrorist groups” who are being orchestrated by the U.S. and its allies including Saudi Arabia.  The fall of Assad would weaken Israel’s northern nemesis Syria therefore strengthens U.S. imperialist dominance in the region, a situation western ally Saudi welcomes.

This scenario is not only plausible but obvious to people of a region who have witnessed American boots on the ground and bombs in the air for more than a decade. Hundreds of thousands of innocents have died. Dozens of U.S. military bases dot Muslim holy lands. Additionally, the U.S. has a history of supporting oppressive autocracies throughout the world without a thought to humanitarian concerns.  America has often acted as an imperialist nation so, as Syrian allies contend, why wouldn’t it take advantage of the crisis to gain additional dominance in the area?

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The revolutionaries/terrorists are diverse in composition and impossible to characterize with one generic term represented by two major but far from all-inclusive umbrella organizations. The Free Syrian Army, composed of Syrian army defectors, joined the Syrian National Council (SNC) to form the opposition’s most powerful resistance force. The authority of the SNC is not to be confused with the Libyan Transitional Council which was the people’s sole representative and enjoyed international support unlike the SNC.

The other major opposition group is the National Coordinating Body. Assembling the various factions in one united front is likely impossible. It’s not just the Sunni majority versus minority Shi’a, the dominant population in Assad’s security organization. The secularists, Islamists, Alawis, Druze, Christians and al-Qaeda, among others, are to be accounted for.  In addition, large numbers of perpetually disaffected, dissatisfied Kurds could join the fray at any time.

Hezbollah is another major force in Syria. This Shi’a group is funded by Iran, a predominantly Shi’a Muslim nation. Syria will be a Sunni country if Assad is overthrown which will end Iran’s influence in the country and shrink its geopolitical scope. Tehran is also worried that Assad’s demise would reinvigorate the anti-government sentiment in its own country. Iran has the most to lose therefore the preeminent motive for shaping the Syrian storyline in its favor.

Russia has contributed to and reaped dividends from its economic ties with Syria including arms sales, developing oil and gas fields, infrastructure, power generation, sea ports and agriculture concerns. Russia doesn’t want to lose this important partner and worse, allow the U.S. to gain it.

Syria’s stockpile of anti-aircraft missile and chemical weapons are troublesome to the U.S. but Syria isn’t an especially oil rich nation. A chivalrous humanitarian mission is the only sellable rationale to launch an attack.  The U.S. wants Iran and Russia’s fears to come true but unlike Libya military intervention war is not feasible because Russia and China are standing firmly in the doorway this time rather than off to the side simply grumbling disapprovingly.

Arab foreign ministers met with Russian representatives last Saturday. They agreed to jointly call to end the fighting in Syria “whatever its source,” an anemic first step toward a resolution. According to the UN at least 7,500 people have died since protests began a year ago. The number of people tortured is open to speculation.  Whatever you think you know about Syria and whatever news source you trust, one thing all of them can agree on is Syrians are dying and wondering why the world only watches.

March 3, 2012

Iran 2012 isn’t Iraq 1981

This isn’t 1981 or Iraq. A one-time strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities won’t produce the same results and Israel would be well advised to understand the distinction.

“I don’t bluff,” is the latest volley of ever-heightening rhetoric involving Iran’s nuclear power and/or weapons program.  President Obama, his tough talk pointed toward Tehran follows strong suspicions, if not confirmation that Iran is enriching uranium to the level required for mass destruction in addition to developing missiles to deliver warheads. The recent missile tests were a tip-off.  An overreaction at this critical juncture by the western allies (Israel) in this situation may very well lead to an outcome far worse than if Iran were to become the tenth nation to possess “the bomb.” The dangers of “mad mullahs” possessing a thermonuclear device along with the means to deliver it to enemy lands (Israel) have everyone on edge, maybe Iranians most of all.

The economic sanctions applied by the U.S. and Europe have crippled the Iranian economy and more are threatened. So far the standoff of the prideful leaders has only hurt the citizens of these nations. Iran’s cost of living has skyrocketed, the value of its currency plummeted. Due to the volatility of the situation, oil speculators have pushed the price of gasoline up which is causing a domino effect on already fragile western economies. None of these hardships are being felt by those playing this global chess match.

"I don't bluff" - a 'don't test me' message to Iran and 'don't get antsy' message to Israel.

Israel feels justifiably threatened by the prospect of a nuclear capable Iran and by the noise level of its rattling saber apparently believes it can repeat the 1981 bombing run on Iraq’s nuclear facilities or 2007’s attack on a Syrian reactor, neither of which were heard from again, nice and neat. The U.N. and U.S. publically condemned Israel’s air raid on Iraq while not so privately celebrating the action. This time Israel doesn’t have a hit and run option.  Among other issues, the U.S. made GBU-28 bunker-buster bomb in Israel’s arsenal cannot penetrate anything and everything such as the 75 yards of stone encasing the centrifuges of the Fordow facility near Qom located about an hour’s drive south of Tehran. The Jerusalem Post quoted U.S. officials as saying Fordow is a “zone of immunity,” a rather eloquent way of admitting it’s safe from attack.

Iran is currently holding talks with UN inspectors and North Korea announced it is suspending its nuclear ambitions. Maybe economic sanctions do work.

Worst case scenario is the tenth country obtains “the bomb” while the west and its allies (Israel) do nothing.  Iran is an ancient society, its people cultured and intelligent, more than enough so to realize using this weapon on another nation would be suicide. They also realize Saudi Arabia would be compelled to follow suit as deterrence. Iran would be no more powerful in real terms and many more nuclear missiles would point its direction.

According to British foreign secretary William Hague a military raid would have “enormous downsides” in an apparent bid for understatement of the year. Sometimes the best course of action is to take no action at all outside employing diplomatic and economic tools. The decision making process in any circumstance involves weighing actions against consequences. In this case aggressive, military actions would certainly cause grave consequences, the scope of which can only be imagined.  No action may be the best course of action. “I don’t bluff” was a strong message sent to Israel more so than Iran. Obama’s telling Israel not to act unilaterally. This isn’t 1981 or Iraq. A one-time strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities won’t produce the same results and Israel would be well advised to understand the distinction.

March 3, 2012

Rule of the People

by guest author Zyre Mehdi

American democracy is working in the opposite direction, at least as far as its foreign policy is concerned.

It’s considered a very obvious fact that the Western nations are the flag bearers of democracy. They were the first to invent it, implement it and spread it to rest of the world. As everyone knows, democracy is the rule of people instead of a monarch, dictator or regime. In simple terms, in a perfect democracy the people would be the government. The policies of the government would be outlined according to the opinion of the people and not of only a ruling elite and if it’s not so, it wouldn’t be a “Demo-cracy” at all.

Usually it is considered a taboo to critically
analyze the western democracy,
but apparently there is no real harm.

If the Western countries have got a prefect democracy, the policies of their governments would reflect the opinion of the masses. But some serious questions arise from this hypothesis. For example if we analyze the American democracy that is supposed to be the most successful and perfect democracy of the world, was it the people’s will to nuke Hiroshima and Nagasaki? If someone says yes then it won’t be fair. A whole nation can never be so cruel to eliminate well populated cities off the globe. So, if it wasn’t the will of the people, whose will was it? The most apparent answer is the American government. That means the American government did something, and that was not just something, it was a huge crime against humanity, which was against the will of the Americans. Why is then the American system of government known as ‘Democratic’? If the actions of the American government are not regulated by the opinion and will of the American nation then what type of democracy is this?

Some would argue that it was a historic mistake by the American government

Yes, it could be, after all governments are run by human beings and not by angels. But how many times can a mistake be repeated? Maybe two times, or three or maybe four, and keeping in view the gravity of the mistake, it’s not supposed to be repeated even once. But what happened in the past decade? USA invaded three countries (Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya), is still invading one country (Pakistan) and apparently its planning to invade two more (Syria and Iran). All these invasions resulted in the death of thousands of human beings and fetched no significant results. Doesn’t the belief that American government follows the perfect democratic principles makes the Americans look like a Viking Nation?

As a matter of fact the Americans aren’t as blood thirsty as their government. But if they’re not, how the American government justifies its crimes against humanity in front of its people? American system is a perfectly democratic one; it’s neither a monarchy nor a fascist state. So, certainly the voice of the people counts, but that again leads to the ‘Viking Nation’ impression.

So, what’s the problem with American democracy?

Of course an American knows the best about the problems of his/her system of government, but the victims of the American aggression can also realize some of the problems that the Americans themselves might not be able to spot. America is a completely democratic state, but that is limited only to the system. In actual the policies are made by a small number of people in power and then they just mold the public opinion according to their policies.

A real democratic system is supposed to work the other way round, which means the opinion of the people should have been the guideline for policy making. So the actual problem is that the American democracy is working in the opposite direction, at least as far as its foreign policy is concerned. A peaceful nation is forced to condone the violent acts of its government, by feeding them with false information and using the filter of biased media to shape their perception.

America is just an example, this is happening in most of the Western countries that are involved in long and futile wars. All this warmongering can stop if someday the Western nations realize how their democracy has been hijacked by a bunch of influential people who are continuously committing crimes against humanity and are building a wall of hatred between the Western and Muslim world.

Zyre is a civil engineering student at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan
Visit his blog “Free Thoughts”
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