Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- October 7, 2001


Reflections on "Black Tuesday"

By Ernest Partridge

Liberty Swap A Proposal
A Time for All Americans to Unite Behind the Usurper?
A Letter to Bill Maher of "Politically Incorrect"

Standard Anti-Terrorism / Pro-America Disclaimer:

At the outset, I wish to state as plainly and forcefully as possible that I regard the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon as moral atrocities for which there is and can be no justification whatever. And while I might speculate below about the motives of the criminals who planned and executed these crimes, I draw an absolute distinction between motivation and justification. The ruthless and wholesale slaughter of innocent human beings is an unmitigated evil.

I feel I must say this, in light of the fact that many commentators on the 9/11 catastrophe have endured a great deal of abuse for suggesting that we must "understand the terrorists." But this is neither a surrender of our ideals or resolution or an affirmation of moral relativism; it is simple common sense the first rule of both gamesmanship and of war. If Chamberlain had "understood" Hitler at Munich, he would not have given up Czechoslovakia. If Johnson and Nixon had "understood" Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap, they might have spared the lives of fifty thousand American Soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese.

In the movie "Patton," George Patton is depicted as saying, on the occasion of his first victory in North Africa: "Rommel, you magnificent bastard I read your book!"

We would be well advised to read Osama bin Laden's "book."

"Liberty Swap" A Proposal

Published in The Online Journal, September 24, 2001

George Bush and John Ashcroft warn us that our "war" against terrorism will require each of us to surrender some of our liberties and rights. There will be more delays and more thorough inspections at airports. We may lose some privacy in our use of telephones and e-mail. Most ominously, habeas corpus, search and seizure and due process constraints on law enforcement may be eased.

These are bitter pills for a free people to swallow, but after all "this is war!" 

Least objectionable will be the enhanced inconveniences and intrusions at airports which, after all, will serve to increase our personal security. The other developments, regarding privacy and due process, will be more troublesome.

Many citizens (and I may be one of them) will resist these restrictions on their liberties and curtailments of their rights. How might these good citizens be persuaded to "go along" with these restrictions and curtailments?

We might do so if, in exchange for the surrendering of these rights to privacy and scrupulous due process, the government "gives back" to the citizens, some liberties and rights which in a free and just society the citizens should never have lost in the first place.

In short, I propose a liberty swap. 

There are many lost liberties and rights that might qualify as compensation for the liberties that we may be asked to give up in the common interest. I will mention just three of these.

The Right to Vote. To be sure, I have not been denied this right, for I have had unhindered access to the ballot box, and I am quite confident that my ballot is correctly tallied. The problem is that not all our fellow citizens can vote with equal assurance. In the last Presidential election, five million votes (five percent) were invalidated. A disproportionate amount of these were from poor and minority precincts, equipped with voting machines that were more error-prone. Had equivalent voting procedures been available at all precincts, and had diligent effort been made to determine the "voter intent" of questionable ballots, Al Gore would, without a doubt, now be the President of the United States.

In Florida, the decisive state, disparate voting procedures and machines throughout the state yielded a microscopic lead for Bush. Then the recount was halted by the Supreme Court on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to count votes by disparate methods. But does this not, at least, put the Court on record with a requirement that future voting procedures be equivalent? Not a chance! For the Court, whose job it is to establish precedents, also ruled that "our Consideration is limited to the present circumstances." The Rehnquist Court, which has not been conspicuously concerned for "equal protection," trotted out this principle as a means to the end of installing George Bush, after which it was put back in its judicial "lock box."  (See our "Day of Infamy")

It is not the job of the Supreme Court to appoint the President of the United States. That is the function of the citizen-voters, and we demand that it be returned to us. Furthermore, if the reliability of the franchise of any of our fellow citizens is compromised, be they holocaust survivors in Palm Beach or Afro-Americans in Jacksonville, the validity of the vote of all the rest of us is diminished. Democracy is indivisible. 

The remedy: Elimination of inaccurate balloting machines (e.g., punch cards). National standards of voting accuracy, with maximum allowable "discard rate" of 2%. National adoption of the Texas "recount" standard (as approved by Gov. G. W. Bush): "clear indication of the voter's intent."

Freedom of the Press. A.J. Liebling famously remarked that "freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." This is not the "freedom of the press" (which includes, of course, the broadcast media) that Jefferson or John Stuart Mill had in mind. In an authentically free society, a rich diversity of opinions are read and heard, whether or not those who express these views own the media that broadcast them. Furthermore, there was a time within the memory of many of us when the operating ethic of a significant number of journalists was to present with scrupulous accuracy, news of public interest and concern, regardless of how this news affected the political and economic interests of the media stockholders.

No longer. Today independent newspapers and broadcast stations are being absorbed into giant media conglomerations. World Watch reports that thirty years ago there were some fifty media conglomerates. Today there are ten.  Last year (2000) six companies controlled a majority of the 1,483 daily newspapers in the United States. And as we all know, the commercial TV networks are owned by the Rupert Murdoch empire ("Fox"), AOL-Time-Warner, Verizon and Disney. All promote a conservative agenda, and all interpret "a free press" to mean their unrestricted right to print and broadcast opinions that they endorse, to the exclusion of others. 

Case in point: the 2000 Presidential election. Al Gore began the campaign generally regarded as a decent and honest human being. At the close "conventional wisdom" condemned him as a pathological liar on the basis of a string of baseless slanders (e.g. "Gore claims he invented the internet"). During the Presidential Debates audience attention was diverted from substantial public issues, about which Gore displayed overwhelming mastery, to "drama criticism" and psycho-babble by "pundits" and focus-groups. (See our "Hijacked Election" and "Post Modern Politics").

Citizens of a free society are entitled to access to accurate information and to a free flow of diverse opinions regarding public issues. Indeed, no society can long remain free without it.

The remedy: Reinstate "the fairness doctrine" in the broadcast media and break up media conglomeration in local markets. Restore significant federal funding of public broadcasting, thus freeing it from dependence upon corporate "contributors" (read "sponsors") and the consequent constraints upon investigative reports and progressive opinion. 

A Representative Congress. Finally, we might "give up" some of our liberties in exchange for a return of the Congress to the people that it claims to represent.

Only the most naive citizen can continue to believe that the Congress of the United States represents "the people." When the will of the people conflicts with the interests of those who finance the politicians' campaigns, "the people" almost always lose. The evidence is all-too familiar: A majority of the voting public wants gun control. The NRA opposes it, and so there is none. The public wants health care reform. The insurance and drug industry oppose, and so there is none. And the public demands campaign finance reform, but the full array of corporate lobbies that finance (i.e., "buy") the members of Congress unanimously oppose, and so there is none.

The Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo (1976) ordained that "cash is speech." This is patent nonsense, subversive to democratic government, for it apportions political influence to wealth ("ability to pay"). Most of the corruption of our Congress issues from this legalization of political bribery. The refutation of Valeo is succinctly carved in stone above the entrance to the Supreme Court Building: "Equal Justice under Law."

The remedy: Meaningful and effective campaign finance reform. In particular: (a) public financing of elections, (b) an absolute limit on permissible personal contributions ($1000 seems about right), ( c) a ban on corporate campaign contributions, and (d) a statutory limit on total campaign expenditures. In addition, free and equal access of candidates to broadcast media.  (See our "A Bribe by Any Other Name").

We have many more liberties and rights in mind, that are eminent candidates for protection and reinstatement, in exchange for those that we are asked to give up in this "war against terrorism.". These include the right to visit and enjoy wilderness areas, or merely to know that they exist. Also, the right to a fair apportionment of the Nation's product and wealth among those who own the wealth and those who create it. And the right of the citizens to be protected by judges who uphold the law and the rights of citizen rather than the political interests of those who appointed them. And of course the right to sit down to a family dinner without being interrupted by a telemarketer.

But never mind all that. Just give us all equal access to a correctly tallied ballot, a media that accurately conveys news and promotes fair civic discussion, and a Congress that represents those who vote for it rather than those who fund it.. Then the securing of these additional rights and liberties will follow.

Give up our liberties and rights for the sake of "national security?" No deal! But if the federal government is willing to trade those liberties and rights in exchange for others which we never should have given up, then we'll think about it.

A Time for All Americans to Unite Behind the Usurper?

(September 20, 2001)

Has Osama bin Laden given George Bush the legitimacy which the voters denied him -- a legitimacy which the best efforts of the felonious five Supremes could not concoct?

Perhaps so, if the American public at large answers the call to "rally behind your President."

If so, it will be a "legitimacy" of public opinion, and not of law or morality. For if the public bestows this "legitimacy, not one disenfranchised Florida citizen will have his Election 2000 vote restored. Not one additional valid vote, cut short by the Supreme Court, will be tallied. And the Supreme Court decision, Bush v. Gore, that shameless compendium of inconsistencies and special pleading, will gain not one iota of cogency. (See A Day of Infamy and We Dissent, this site).  In short, the sorry fact of the stolen election of 2000 remains the same, both before and after the collapse of the World Trade Center.  What is likely to change is the public perception thereof.

Moreover, that atrocity has in no way answered the international scientific consensus on global warming which Bush dismisses as "unsound science." Nor has it added a scrap of plausibility to his missile defense fantasy, or justification for his abandonment of the ABM treaty. Quite the contrary. Furthermore his domestic policies on taxes ("reverse Robin-Hoodism"), the privatization of Social Security and public education, and the relaxation of environmental protection remain as outrageous and indefensible as ever.

Public opposition to these policies has collapsed alongside the rubble of the World Trade Center. And so, within a week, Bush's "approval rating" has soared from fifty to eighty-four percent. At last, the fond hopes of the GOP have been realized: the American public has finally "got over" the 2000 election. A despicable slaughter of innocent  individuals, both American and foreign, will accomplish what the election and the Supreme Court could not: a legitimate Presidency for George W. Bush.

And yet, one must at least pause and reflect in the face of pleas by the media and politicians for "unity and resolution in the face of this common enemy." This is, they say, an emergency that transcends our previous political disputes. Conspicuous continuation of the debate about Bush's legitimacy and his domestic policies, we are told, can only provide aid and comfort to bin Laden and his minions.

And so, I will confess that I am profoundly conflicted. Ten days ago, I rejoiced at every display of Bush's incompetence and shallowness, for these served both to decrease the damage he might do and strengthen the prospect of his defeat in 2004. Now I desperately hope that this inarticulate man of apparently modest intellect and minuscule imagination might show us and the world an insight, and intelligence that has heretofore been nowhere in evidence. I sincerely wish him which is to say, us success as he attempts to deal with this emergency, while I have grave doubts that he has the necessities to do so. Imagine Dan Quayle or Jesse Helms as President on December 7, 1941, and you might get a sense of these qualms.

I must wonder if George Bush is capable of grasping the irony of his situation. His administration along with the his corps of congressional allies are packed with individuals who have devoted their political careers to the dismantling of government which they regard as "the problem, not the solution," as Ronald Reagan famously proclaimed. Now he is calling upon all of us to "stand behind" our government in this national emergency. A few weeks ago, Bush celebrated the end of the budget surplus telling us that "you, the taxpayer, know better than big government how to spend your own money." Now that the same government is in desperate need of the financial resources to fight this "war," those resources are not available.

For the past few months, Bush has told the world community that we intend to "go it alone," as he casually dismisses the unanimous international consensus on global warming, as he prepares to tear up the ABM treaty and proceed with his missile defense fantasy in the face of world-wide consternation, and as he boycotts international treaties and conferences on criminal justice, racism and human rights. But now, as of Tuesday, September 11, George Bush has become an ardent internationalist as he pleads with the community of nations to "stand together" with the United States against international terrorism.

"Stand by our leader?" Perhaps so, and perhaps not. If Bush responds with air and cruise missile attacks on innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, he will be playing into bin Laden's hands by igniting a pan-Islamic jihad. If this disastrous policy emerges, it must be massively resisted.

To his credit, Bush has bided his time, resisted massive military retaliation, denounced anti-Arab and anti-Moslem violence and discrimination, and has enlisted the support of moderate Islamic governments and individuals. But the pressures on Bush to pursue a "clash of civilizations" persists, most conspicuously within his political party. 

"We must all unite behind our leader." But beware! World War II, "the good war," put our Japanese American citizens behind barbed wire. The Cold War gave us Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and "CoIntelPro." Today, dissenting opinions are causing some journalists to lose their jobs, and others to pull their punches. The New York Times will not publish the results of the consortium study of the 2000 Florida election. Such a move, wrote the Times Richard Berke, "might have stoked ... partisan tensions." Translation: "America, you can't handle the truth!"  Meanwhile, John Ashcroft is drafting legislation that has the civil libertarians up in arms. And when some of us hear "Office of Homeland Security," we somehow think "Committee on State Security" --  Komitet Gosudarstvenoi Bezopasnosti KGB.

Truth, they say, is the first casualty of war. Dissent may be the second. And unless we are vigilant, freedom itself could be the final casualty.

A Letter to Bill Maher of "Politically Incorrect"

October 5, 2001

Dear Mr. Maher,

I have sent a letter of support for "Politically Incorrect" to ABC. Your treatment by the network, Ari Fleischer and the punditocracy is a stain on our republic.


It pains me deeply to see ignorance on plain display -- on PI or anywhere else. And in the PI discussions on Islam, ignorance has been rampant. I can't begin to offer adequate rebuttal in a brief space, but let this much suffice.

"Moslems treat their women like chattel." The Taliban do, but they are not typical Moslems. If you disagree, then please explain this: how come the President of the largest Moslem nation (Indonesia) is a woman (Megawati Sukarnoputri)? How come a recent Prime Minister of the second largest Moslem nation (Pakistan) was a woman (Benazir Bhutto)? 

Another point: Not all Arabs are Moslems, and not all Moslems are Arabs. In fact, I understand that only 16% of Moslems are Arabs.  There are very few Arabs in Afghanistan -- and many of those were brought in by bin Laden. In fact, half of the Lebanese Arabs are Christian, as are a large portion of Palestinian Arabs. Tariq Aziz, the conspicuous Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, is a Christian. 

Islam has historically "encompassed" Judaism and Christianity -- which they call "Religions of the Book." To the Moslems, Moses and Jesus are regarded as prophets. Neither the Jews nor the Christians return the compliment to Mohammed. When the Inquisition persecuted the Jews, many fled to Moslem countries for refuge where they were well-treated. Coptic Christianity, as ancient as Catholicism, has survived and flourished in Arabic Egypt throughout the history of Islam.

The Moslems only got pissed off with the Christians when they invaded their lands and slaughtered their people during the crusades, and then again when they were thrown off their ancestral lands with the establishment of Israel.

Islamic culture has contributed immeasurably to world civilization -- in science, medicine and mathematics (our number system and algebra). It preserved the texts of the ancient Greek philosophers. And when my ancestors were grubbing about in Northern Europe during the Dark Ages, the most advanced cities in the world were Moslem Cordoba and Baghdad.

Bin Laden and his thugs are a bunch of crazies. The "West Wing" / KKK analogy was close to the mark.

If we adopt the "clash of civilizations" credo, humanity is in for untold suffering. 

You might think of undoing the damage and educating the public by inviting an Arabic or Moslem scholar on PI for a one-on-one. Maybe Edward Said.

But please, no more ignoramuses.


Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .