Saudi Cleric Criticizes Al Qaeda

The New York Sun reports on a letter from a prominent Saudi cleric condemning al Qaeda for the violence they have committed:

A prominent Saudi cleric once praised by Osama bin Laden has published an open letter condemning Al Qaeda’s violence.

In the long letter published on an Arabic Web site, Cleric Salman al-Awdah calls on Mr. bin Laden to end the killing of innocent Muslims and others in terrorist acts in Iraq and elsewhere around the world.

“How much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed, dispersed, or evicted in the name of Al-Qa’ida?” the letter says. “My brother Usama Bin Ladin, the image of Islam today is not at its best.”

Muslim groups are often portrayed as being uniform in their support of violence but actually there is a variety of views. These include both clerics who do not support violence as well as those who support a more secular society.

Hillary Clinton Rejects Basic Liberal Values

Conservatives often sound hysterical and are easy to ignore when they scream that Hillary Clinton is a socialist. Attacks from an authoritarian warmonger like Rudy Giuliani simply do not stick. While the conservative movement has lost its credibility, David Boez criticizes Clinton at Cato-at-Liberty in a manner which simply cannot be ignored as the bulk of attacks from the right can.

Boez outright shows that he is more rational than Clinton’s right wing attackers in admitting. “Hillary Clinton is no socialist.” His criticism is far more credible when he criticizes Clinton for rejecting liberal values. Boez quotes from Clinton’s speech in unveiling her health care program:

In her latest salvo, she dismisses the great promises of the Declaration of Independence, the founding principles of the United States, as rhetorical flourishes, mere garnishes on the real stuff of life. “We can talk all we want about freedom and opportunity, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but what does all that mean to a mother or father who can’t take a sick child to the doctor?” she asked.

The ease with which Clinton disregards such fundamental liberal values is even more disappointing than her rejection of liberalism at the CNN/YouTube debate in July. Such an outright dismissal of liberal values was not necessary in order to promote her plan, and I fear this provides an indication of where Clinton stands philosophically.

Boez criticizes the mandatory nature of Clinton’s health care proposal, but does not limit his criticism to the usual conservative complaints:

Her hostility to freedom is not just a left-wing attitude. In the Senate, she’s been adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism. Clinton has called for federal legislation to prohibit the sale of “inappropriate” video games to children and teens. She’s introduced a bill to study the impact of media on children, a likely prelude to restrictions on television content, and she touts the V-Chip regulation that President Bill Clinton signed. She supports federal legislation to outlaw flag desecration (though not a constitutional amendment).

In her book It Takes a Village, she insisted that 300 million free people could somehow come to “a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do today, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities.” She told Newsweek, “There is no such thing as other people’s children,” a claim that ought to frighten any parent. She promised to inflict on free citizens government videos running constantly in every gathering place, telling people “how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable”—all the things that no one knew how to do until the federal government came along.

Hillary Clinton is no socialist. But when she makes her rejection of liberal values as explicit as she did on Monday – dismissing “freedom and opportunity [and] life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as irrelevant to people’s real lives–she is far too reminiscent of some of the most authoritarian figures of the 20th century. Lenin, for instance, wrote, “Bourgeois democracy is democracy of pompous phrases, solemn words, exuberant promises and the high-sounding slogans of freedom and equality.”

And maybe it’s no surprise that Clinton cosponsored her videogame ban with Sen. Rick Santorum, who is also an articulate and determined opponent of individualism. In his book It Takes a Family and in various media appearances, he denounced “this whole idea of personal autonomy.” At least once he rejected “the pursuit of happiness” explicitly, saying, “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness . . . and it is harming America.” Not the mantra of the Hillary Clinton left, obviously.

There is some hyperbole in comparing Clinton to Lenin, but Boez does raise concerns about Clinton’s philosophy of government which I also share. Liberals may not agree with all of Boez’s criticisms of Clinton, but should consider his arguments and examine Clinton’s value system carefully before voting for her.

Elves and God in Court

Two courts in different parts of the world are involved in situations involving entities who are difficult to verify the presence of. The Wall Street Journal reports on the Supreme Court in the Philippines had to rule on whether a judge who consults with three elves is competent:

As a trial-court judge, Florentino V. Floro Jr. acknowledged that he regularly sought the counsel of three elves only he could see. The Supreme Court deemed him unfit to serve and fired him last year…

Helping him, he says, are his three invisible companions. “Angel” is the neutral force, he says. “Armand” is a benign influence. “Luis,” whom Mr. Floro describes as the “king of kings,” is an avenger.

While he may have lost his position on the court, it sounds like he’s become a cult hero and television celebrity. There’s no word as to whether Floro has an exclusive source for cookies baked in ovens inside a hollow tree.

In Utah, a State Senator is suing God:

State Sen. Ernie Chambers is suing God. He said on Monday that it is to prove a point about frivolous lawsuits…

Chambers lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in Douglas County Court, seeks a permanent injunction ordering God to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats.

The lawsuit admits God goes by all sorts of alias, names, titles and designations and it also recognizes the fact that the defendant is omnipresent.In the lawsuit, Chambers said he’s tried to contact God numerous times.”Plaintiff, despite reasonable efforts to effectuate personal service upon defendant ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are,’ has been unable to do so,'” Chambers said.The suit also requests that the court, given the peculiar circumstances of this case, waive personal service. It said that being omniscient, the plaintiff assumes God will have actual knowledge of the action.The lawsuit accuses God “of making and continuing to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of Plaintiff who Plaintiff has the duty to represent.” It says God has caused “fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects and the like.”The suit also says God has caused “calamitous catastrophes resulting in the wide-spread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction.”Chambers also says God “has manifested neither compassion nor remorse, proclaiming that defendant will laugh” when calamity comes.

I’d love to see somebody show up claiming to be the defendant, and challenging the court to prove otherwise. A Miracle on 34th Street comes to mind in which a court rules in favor of Kris Kringle’s claim to be Santa Claus. However, should God really show up and the ruling is against him, things might not go well for opposing counsel. Think locusts, and all those other Passover plagues. What if God requests a change of venue, such as to Heaven, or an even more sympathetic area such as Ave Maria, Florida? Might God call upon his peers such as Odin to testify in his defense? If so, will the opposing side call upon Satan to testify against God, and will that help their case?

Statement From Kerry and Staff on Tasering Incident

Some conservative bloggers have been attacking John Kerry over the incident where a student was removed, with use of taser, from a speech after attempting to turn the question and answer session into a diatribe. Reviewing the video and subsequent reports of the incident, it does appear that the police did handle the matter poorly, and probably played into this person’s desire for publicity. Not only didn’t Kerry do anything wrong here, but he has also joined those critical of the handling of this matter. A diary at Daily Kos provides further information:

Alright, I’m the Online Communications Director for John Kerry, and I wanted to jump in here to let all of y’all know about what happened yesterday at the University of Florida event. JK himself wanted to stop by, but he’s stuck in Senate business all day and won’t have a chance to respond to any comments. And, since he never likes to come here for a drive-by … I thought I’d give all of you the scoop.

First of all, it’s a really bad situation. No one wants to see someone get tasered. Sure, the kid was obnoxious and physically resisting, and to a certain extent, when you physically resist cops you do put yourself in a risky situation. Ever see photos of Kerry getting arrested in ’71 for civil disobedience? He and his fellow Vietnam Vets calmly marched off to jail…

Still, personally speaking, I wish this ended in a number of ways that didn’t involve jolts of electricity. But, since the University of Florida is now reporting that an officer was injured in all of this, I think we know this was an ugly situation to say the least.

But, I’m not here to give my own opinions. You can read any diary for lots of those. I’m just going to give you a quick description of what the scene looked like from the stage, give everyone JK’s official statement, and let you know what JK told me directly about the situation.

OK, here’s John Kerry’s official statement:

“In 37 years of public appearances, through wars, protests and highly emotional events, I have never had a dialogue end this way. I believe I could have handled the situation without interruption, but I do not know what warnings or other exchanges transpired between the young man and the police prior to his barging to the front of the line and their intervention. I asked the police to allow me to answer the question and was in the process of answering him when he was taken into custody. I was not aware that a taser was used until after I left the building. I hope that neither the student nor any of the police were injured. I regret enormously that a good healthy discussion was interrupted.”

Now, to the narrative as I got it from JK and a couple others who were there … First, the preamble to the video (much of this closely tracks to this diary) … there was a long line of people waiting to ask questions, and Meyer was near the back. He rushed up to the mic, butting up past many, many kids and making a scene. Apparently he’d been talking with the police and they were arguing long before Meyer ever got to the mic (reports from Florida are that they threatened him with arrest already). That’s why there are police in the video when you first see it. They tried to remove him before he said anything, but JK intervened, calling them off and saying he’d answer his question. Remember, back in 2004, there was a lot of press about how open the Kerry campaign was to outside questioners and even protesters, especially compared with the hermetically sealed Bush campaign. JK’s done thousands of these events, really enjoys them (he told me once that doing Q&As with regular citizens is the best part of his job), and he’s totally comfortable dealing with disruptive people. So he made sure to call the U of F police off. Which, technically, he had no authority to do, since this was a U of F event, not a Kerry event. They were their police.

Anyway, then Meyer starts to ask his question, and you’ve all probably seen most of it. Here’s the video with the full question:


Part way through, JK asked him for an actual question because there were still others waiting and time was running short. (Kerry’d been taking questions for a solid 45 minutes.) These kinds of events put on by universities are difficult because Senator Kerry wants to get as many questions in as possible, and there are always A LOT of people waiting. So, the kid kept going, JK was listening respectively, and then the mic was cut off (either because whoever was in charge of the mic thought he was just ranting about whatever came to mind or because the U of F folks didn’t like the word “blowjob” … I have no idea), and the police tried to move him away from the mic. At this point, Kerry keeps trying to answer the kid’s questions and restore calm. He told me that at this point he wanted to make sure to maintain calm in the room as much as possible (these kinds of events can get out of control in a crowd, and he didn’t want that), and he told the police he was happy to answer the question. As he said in the statement and as he told me, he thinks he could’ve handled the whole thing without interruption. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there.

Meyer was pulled into the back of the room and the real scuffling began. From the stage, JK couldn’t see what was going on at all (it was a huge room.) So he tried to move things forward, giving the question of voting rights the respect it deserves and trying to answer his question. He had no idea what kind of scuffle was going on, who was doing what to whom, and was as surprised as anyone when the kid started screaming. He had no idea the kid was tasered until later.

From there, John Kerry made sure to answer some more questions and stayed for quite some time after the event to shake hands, answer questions one-on-one, sign autographs if people wanted them …

The whole thing just basically … it was just a bad, bad situation, and as JK said in his statement, he’s never had anything end like that before. Meyer was rude to his fellow students, obnoxious, and physically resisting police, but you never, ever want to see anyone get tasered.

Anyway, I just wanted to give y’all the rundown beyond just the official statement.

Bush Backs Universal Health Care

Buried in all the coverage of Hillary Clinton’s health care proposal comes this response from the Bush administration:

Leavitt told the USA TODAY editorial board that Bush will veto a Democratic plan emerging from Congress that would add $35 billion in taxpayer subsidies to the Children’s Health Insurance Program over five years. In doing so, Leavitt said, Bush will urge Congress to join him in seeking coverage for all Americans.

“He’d like to see the larger debate begin,” Leavitt said. “The very best opportunity we have may well be in the next 15 months.”

Anyone really think there is the slightest possibility that the Bush administration will produce any serious proposals which would result in universal health care?

It is also remarkable how Republicans, including Mitt Romney, have been screaming that Clinton’s plan represents socialized medicine considering how similar her plan is to the Massachusetts plan under Romney. Romney was further embarrassed in his attacks on Clinton:

Romney called his press conference to assail Clinton’s plan in front of St. Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan; he did not realize he was speaking in front of a trauma center named for a rival, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who, along with his wife, Judith, raised millions for the hospital.

The hospital scolded Romney for speaking there without its permission.

“We find it unfortunate that Mr. Romney misappropriated the image and good will of St. Vincent’s Hospital to further a political agenda,” the hospital said in a statement.

The Evolutionary Origins of Morality

A fascinating article in the Science section of The New York Times  looks at the views of Jonathan Haidt with regards to the origins or morality. Haidt proposes a different answer than would come from many philosophers and theologians: “Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.”

Opposing viewpoints are also presented but, regardless of the validity of Haidt’s viewpoint, he does raise a number of ideas worthy of consideration. Haidt studied moral codes and found that worldwide there are ideas beyond those we normally consider in the United States:

Of the moral systems that protect individuals, one is concerned with preventing harm to the person and the other with reciprocity and fairness. Less familiar are the three systems that promote behaviors developed for strengthening the group. These are loyalty to the in-group, respect for authority and hierarchy, and a sense of purity or sanctity.

Haidt argues that this sense of purity or sanctity is more important in other cultures, but also is seen in the differences in viewpoint between liberals and conservatives:

“Imagine visiting a town,” Dr. Haidt writes, “where people wear no clothes, never bathe, have sex ‘doggie style’ in public, and eat raw meat by biting off pieces directly from the carcass.”

He sees the disgust evoked by such a scene as allied to notions of physical and religious purity. Purity is, in his view, a moral system that promotes the goals of controlling selfish desires and acting in a religiously approved way.

Notions of disgust and purity are widespread outside Western cultures. “Educated liberals are the only group to say, ‘I find that disgusting but that doesn’t make it wrong,’ ” Dr. Haidt said.

Haidt compared the moral views of individuals to where they place themselves on the liberal-conservative spectrum:

They found that people who identified themselves as liberals attached great weight to the two moral systems protective of individuals — those of not harming others and of doing as you would be done by. But liberals assigned much less importance to the three moral systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority and purity.

Conservatives placed value on all five moral systems but they assigned less weight than liberals to the moralities protective of individuals.

Dr. Haidt believes that many political disagreements between liberals and conservatives may reflect the different emphasis each places on the five moral categories.

Take attitudes to contemporary art and music. Conservatives fear that subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group’s traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity. Liberals, on the other hand, see contemporary art as protecting equality by assailing the establishment, especially if the art is by oppressed groups.

Extreme liberals, Dr. Haidt argues, attach almost no importance to the moral systems that protect the group. Because conservatives do give some weight to individual protections, they often have a better understanding of liberal views than liberals do of conservative attitudes, in his view.

Dr. Haidt, who describes himself as a moderate liberal, says that societies need people with both types of personality. “A liberal morality will encourage much greater creativity but will weaken social structure and deplete social capital,” he said. “I am really glad we have New York and San Francisco — most of our creativity comes out of cities like these. But a nation that was just New York and San Francisco could not survive very long. Conservatives give more to charity and tend to be more supportive of essential institutions like the military and law enforcement.”

Frans B. M. de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University disagreed about the claim that conservatives place more stress than liberals on social cohesiveness:

“It is obvious that liberals emphasize the common good — safety laws for coal mines, health care for all, support for the poor — that are not nearly as well recognized by conservatives,” Dr. de Waal said.

John T. Jost, a political psychologist at New York University also expressed disagreement:

But the fact that liberals and conservatives agree on the first two of Dr. Haidt’s principles — do no harm and do unto others as you would have them do unto you — means that those are good candidates to be moral virtues. The fact that liberals and conservatives disagree on the other three principles “suggests to me that they are not general moral virtues but specific ideological commitments or values,” Dr. Jost said.