The Common Good

Blog Posts By Duane Shank

Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
Efforts to bring the rule of law to killing are not always easy or clear cut. Although as an advocate of non-violence, I can condemn all killing; whether killing in a conflict is “legal” or not depends on the circumstances in which it occurs. International law does not prohibit all taking of life.Mary Ellen O'Connell, a law professor and research professor of international dispute resolution at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, is a specialist on the international law of armed conflict. In a column on CNN, she explains that under international law, killing enemy fighters during an armed conflict – a war – is legal. Outside of war, it generally is not, the human right of life prevails. Although this “dual standard for justifiable killing makes the law protecting the right to life more complicated,” it is how international law assesses violent conflicts.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "When you cannot get people to come to church, the alternative is to bring the church to them." - Jack de Jarnette, a founding pastor of Worship at the Water, an outreach service of the Perdido Bay United Methodist Church, that worships Sunday mornings at the Flora-Bama Lounge in Perdido Key, Fla. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
One of the primary criticisms of using drones to kill high-level al Qaeda or Taliban leaders is that they are extra-judicial executions, and that a policy of capturing these militants and putting them on trial would be preferable. In addition, if they were captured, useful intelligence could be gathered. The rejoinder, of course, is how is it possible to capture people living in the remote tribal areas of Pakistan or Yemen?It appears that the technology to answer that question may soon be available. Greg McNeal speculates in Forbes, with a scenario adapted from the Lawfare blog. Someday soon, a drone could launch a non-lethal weapon – something that stuns a person, perhaps a taser – lower a robot to the ground to retrieve the person, then return to the aircraft that returns to its base with the captured prisoner. McNeal concludes, “Regardless of how you do it, it seems like technology is not the biggest hurdle in developing and perfecting drones that can capture rather than kill.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "It is very relaxed here, under the sky, the fresh air. The mind is relaxed. I love gardens." - Winnie Aye, a refugee from Burma, on her participation in a New York City urban garden as part of the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots program that aims to help refugees adjust to their new countries by doing something familiar and empowering: growing things. (USA Today)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. Here is my pick of this week’s books.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
While most of our attention is focused on the use of armed drones attacking suspected militants in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, unarmed surveillance drones are taking to the skies across America, as the Toronto Star recently reported. The first known case of a drone assisting in an arrest occurred last year in North Dakota.“Amid hundreds of hectares of corn and soybeans, far from the closest town, a Predator drone led to the arrests last year of farmer Rodney Brossart and five members of his family. The drone was called in after a dispute over a neighbour’s six lost cows escalated into a 16-hour standoff with police. It is one of the first reported cases where an unmanned drone assisted in the arrest of a U.S. citizen on his own property. It was also a controversial sign of how drones — in all shapes and sizes — are beginning to hover over American skies.”And, far from being an aberration, drones at home are proliferating.“But the federal government has been quietly expanding their use. Even as the wars abroad wind to an end, the military has been pleading for funding for more pilots. Drones cannot be flown now in the United States without FAA approval. But with little public scrutiny, the FAA already has issued at least 266 active testing permits for domestic drone operations, amid safety concerns. … While drone use in the rest of the United States has been largely theoretical, in eastern North Dakota it is becoming a way of life.”Minnesota Public Radio also takes a look at the North Dakota scene, reporting on a drone research project at the University of North Dakota that is about to launch a program that would give sheriffs in 16 North Dakota counties access to two, and perhaps four, drones.“With law enforcement budgets shrinking, technology is playing a greater role in policing. And for agencies that want air coverage, a camera-equipped drone, at a cost of around $50,000, can be a cheaper alternative to owning and operating a piloted airplane or helicopter. Minnesota law enforcement officials have expressed some interest, but without question, North Dakota is where the action is.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
David Axe, in Wired, examines America’s secret drone war in Africa.“More secret bases. More and better unmanned warplanes. More frequent and deadly robotic attacks. Some five years after a U.S. Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle flew the type’s first mission over lawless Somalia, the shadowy American-led drone campaign in the Horn of Africa is targeting Islamic militants more ruthlessly than ever. … It’s part of a broader campaign of jet bombing runs, naval gun bombardment, cruise-missile attacks, raids by Special Operations Forces and assistance to regional armies such as Uganda’s.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
 Quote of the day. "A coward came into destroy us ... and to start a race war, but he came to the wrong place, because it brought us closer together." Amardeep Kaleka, at the first public service at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin since last week’s shootings, in which his father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, the temple''s president, was killed. (Reuters) 
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
While Predator and Reaper drones are currently in use, the next generation is already underway. The Northrop Grumman corporation and the U.S. Navy are testing what is known as the X-47B, a drone capable of taking off from and landing on aircraft carriers. From Business Insider, here’s an animated promotional video from Grumman showing what its new drone can do.  As a pair of the aircraft take off, swoop over deserts and mountains, firing missiles at targets on the ground; they look like bats from hell.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
In the news today are two stories of drone victims seeking justice for relatives who have been killed or injured.The Guardian reports on legal action being taken in the U.K. by an Afghan man who lost five relatives in a missile strike. A letter sent to the Ministry of Defense is demanding details of Britain's role in supplying information to the American military "kill list," including “the compilation, review and execution of the list and what form it takes." Habib Rahman, a bank worker in Kabul, lost two brothers, two uncles and his father-in-law in an alleged case of mistaken identity resulting in a U.S. missile attack on their cars on 2 September 2010.And in Pakistan’s Dawn, Waris Husain, a Washington, D.C., based attorney and writer for the newspaper, examines the U.S.  failure to compensate Pakistanis who suffer property loss or physical injury due to drone missions. While some survivors of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have received payments, none have gone to victims of drone attacks in Pakistan, and no U.S. court has accepted a claim by Pakistani civilians. Mr. Husain concludes: “While the US wishes to stabilise its relationship with Pakistan, the CIA shows no signs of minimising it use of drone strikes in Pakistan’s border region, which means a system of compensation for victims is absolutely necessary.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “This is a time for public mourning and public lament.” - Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of a group of religious leaders saying the recent killings at a Sikh temple demand a unified expression of grief. (Chicago Tribune)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
German author and journalist, Dirk Kurbjuweit, in an essay in DER SPIEGEL,reports that the German military is considering whether it should buy armed drones. Given that “Germany is relatively scrupulous in matters of war,” he writes, “the unmanned aircraft seems to be the ideal weapon for the country.” But he then notes the questions that raises in regard to pride, humanity and the law, and argues that so-called “humane” drones are, in fact, the most brutal of weapons.The fundamental question is an ongoing discussion over “whether humane weapons are even feasible. In other words, is it possible to create weapons that somehow protect perpetrators or lessen the damage to victims? In this context, the word humane is not an absolute but a relative concept, referring to a weapon that is less horrific than other weapons.”One of the arguments for humaneness is the precision of the missiles, that they do not destroy as much of the area surrounding their target and thus produce fewer civilian casualties than bombing attacks from aircraft. They also pose no risk to the force using them, further reducing the casualties of war. On the other hand, their relative humaneness makes their use more likely; and the targeted executions of alleged terrorists are dubious under international law.Kurbjuweit concludes:“A humane approach to war is a complex issue. Drones seem relatively humane, but that perception only increases the temptation to use them. They spare one's own troops, which is good, but they pose a great threat to civilians, which is terrible. As a result, the humane approach gives rise to a special form of inhumanity. …But no one should allow themselves to be seduced by the idea that this weapon is humane or good. A drone armed with missiles exposes the essential nature of war in an especially clear way. Because a drone hunts down an individual, the slaughter loses its anonymity. The victim acquires a name and a face, and it becomes abundantly clear what war is all about: the destruction of human beings.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
In a speech yesterday in Washington, administration counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan defended the campaign of drone strikes in Yemen. As reported in the Los Angeles Times:“In his most explicit comments on Washington's largely hidden military and intelligence operations in Yemen, John Brennan said no evidence indicates that the drone strikes are helping recruit members for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the Yemen-based group that is Al Qaeda's most active branch. ... "Brennan said that the drone pilots, who operate the aircraft from remote ground stations, make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. 'And contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP. ...  In short, targeted strikes against the most senior and most dangerous AQAP terrorists are not the problem, they are part of the solution.' "Addressing a common concern, Brennan said that the only targets for drones are militants whose goal is to attack the US or its allies, not those fighting against the Yemeni government. He added that U.S. officials do provide intelligence information to Yemeni armed forces fighting against militants.The report noted that the drone attacks are part of a larger strategy.“U.S. special operations forces have been advising Yemeni military units, and Washington is providing $337 million in aid to Yemen this year, the largest American aid package ever disbursed to the impoverished nation.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 19 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "We must all do something for peace. We must stop this insanity of worshipping the gods of metal. We must take a stand against evil and idolatry. This is our destiny at the most critical time of human history. But it’s also the greatest opportunity ever offered to any group of people in the history of our world—to save our world from complete annihilation." - Father George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Air Force who served as a priest for the airmen who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, in a 1985 speech. Today is the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. (The Plough)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
According to the Associated Press, over the past two days, in two separate strikes, U.S. drones killed 10 al-Qaida militants in Yemen.The first attack late Monday hit two vehicles carrying seven passengers in the southern town of Radda, killing them all. Another U.S. drone targeted a second vehicle on Tuesday carrying three militants in the Zoukaika region of Hadramawt. One of the dead was identified as Abdullah Awad al-Masri, described as one of the "most dangerous elements" of al-Qaida in the militant stronghold of Bayda province and the man in charge of a bomb-making lab.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
The Deseret News (Salt Lake City) published a thoughtful editorial this week raising some of the questions that need to be asked about drones. After citing the statistics on drone strikes and deaths over the last number of years, the editorial continues:“This raises ethical questions about the way drones are changing modern warfare. As with nuclear weapons, which likewise changed war and its moral calculus, they prompt the question: Just because we can do something, does it mean we should?Drones enable a warfare of focused assassinations. This strategy risks fewer American lives and is relatively easy to execute from a distance. But should risk and convenience drive the way we think about targeted killings? Do we have a clear sense of whether or when they cross a moral line? Who in our military hierarchy decides who lives and who dies, and what criteria do they use? For a country that stands for the idea that justice should be decided fairly in courts of law rather than through contests of might, is there a line between justified killings and war crimes? How does our moral framework account for the hundreds of innocent civilians, including women and children, chalked up to collateral damage? … The country may well come down on the side of drone strikes as a new keystone of national security. But it should do so as the result of a full discussion of the facts and a careful shaping of policies. This discussion has not yet happened. It needs to.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "It's better late than never that the U.S. government is cleaning up the environment for our children. They have to do as much as possible and as quickly as possible." - Vo Duoc, 58, who has diabetes, while his wife battles breast cancer and their daughter has remained childless after suffering repeated miscarriages. The family lives near the former U.S. military base in Danang where the defoliant Agent Orange was stored during the Vietnam War, and were recently found to have elevated levels of dioxin in their blood. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International is holding a convention this week in Las Vegas, with an expected 8,000 attendees, 500 exhibitors, and representatives from 40 countries. The Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith writes this morning that on Sunday, Franciscan Father Louis Vitale and CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin were informed their attendance was not desired as they were attempting to secure convention credentials. Smith explains:“For Vitale, who served in the Air Force before joining the Franciscans, the advanced technology hasn't translated into cleaner combat. The much-touted precision of the drone aircraft has kept American military out of harm's way, but it hasn't eliminated the high price of civilian casualties in the war zones.To many, this is part of the price paid to defeat a treacherous enemy and maintain our national security. To Vitale, Benjamin and their colleagues, it's too great a price. And then he asks, "What is the impact on the people, what is the impact on our own people?"The priest believes the incidents of predator operators suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will be epidemic. His own experiences are anecdotal, he admits, but his conversations with British and U.S. military drone operators have been deeply troubling. Those onboard cameras not only spot suspected enemy targets, he notes, but they also reveal the damage wrought in unprecedented detail.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "Never before has the entire nation turned its attention on the Sikh community. This is unprecedented, which means we have an unprecedented opportunity for people to learn about Sikhs and reach out to their Sikh neighbors." - Valarie Kaur, an interfaith activist and maker of "Divided We Fall," a film that documents hostility toward Sikhs immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. (Christian Science Monitor)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
The Long War Journal, citing AFP, reports that the first known U.S. drone strike in Yemen in more than a month took place Saturday:“The U.S. killed five al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighters in a drone airstrike in eastern Yemen. The strike is the first in Yemen in more than a month.The unmanned Predators or Reapers fired a pair of missiles at a vehicle in Al Qotn in Hadramout province earlier today, AFP reported. Five AQAP fighters were killed in the strike.No senior AQAP leaders or operatives are reported to have been killed in the strike. The identities of those killed have not been disclosed.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Sixty-seven years ago today, at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, it was a sunny morning in Hiroshima, Japan, a city of more than 300,000 people. Some were on their way to work, children were playing in the streets. Suddenly the sky exploded in a brilliant and hellish flash of light as a 15 kiloton nuclear bomb was dropped from a U.S. plane in the sky overhead. More than 70,000 people were instantly killed, some with their bodies etched into the pavement like eerie shadows. By the end of the year, as many as 140,000 had died, after five years, the toll was estimated as high as 200,000. Three days after Hiroshima, on August 9, 1945, a second nuclear bomb was used against Nagasaki, Japan. An estimated 75,000 people were killed in that explosion.Today, according to the Associated Press, the annual ceremonies held in Hiroshima’s peace park to commemorate the bombing were attended by 50,000 people, including representatives from 70 countries. Two Americans with family ties to the bombings also attended.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “I firmly believe that the demand for freedom from nuclear weapons will soon spread out from Hiroshima, encircle the globe, and lead us to genuine world peace.” - Kazumi Matsui, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, at ceremonies marking today’s 67th anniversary of the nuclear bombing of that city. (Washington Post/AP)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "Every day eaters have the opportunity to vote with their forks and support small-scale farmers, investing resources in their communities, stimulating their local economies, and keeping ag land in sustainable production." Dave Stockdale, executive director of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, which operates a farmer’s market in San Francisco. (Associated Press)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post takes a look at an emerging “drone culture.”“There has been far too little discussion of the moral calculus involved in using flying robots as tools of assassination. At the very least, the whole thing should leave us uneasy. Collateral damage — the killing of innocents — can be minimized but not eliminated. And even if only “bad” people are killed, this isn’t war as we’ve traditionally understood it. Drone attacks are more like state-sponsored homicide.”After also looking at proposals for the domestic use of surveillance drones, and urging a “much-needed debate,” he concludes,“The idea of robots acting as guardians of public order has become a staple of dystopian fantasy — “Terminator,” “Minority Report,” “The Matrix.” It is our duty to keep that stuff in the movies, where it belongs.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Using data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian has created an interactive map of drone strikes in Pakistan, showing the location of known strikes. Each is marked with a red dot, clicking on it shows the date and number of casualties. According to the data, there have been more than 330 strikes, with estimates of up to 3,247 casualties — including up to 852 civilians. The map is a useful and educational tool.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
Imagine a job where you sit in front of a computer monitor, toggling a joystick that controls a drone, watching a family 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. You’re watching mothers and fathers with their children, children playing soccer; you watch them wake up in the morning, do their work, visit with their neighbors, and go to sleep at night.Then one day when mom and the kids go off to market, the order comes to obliterate dad with a missile from high overhead. “Dad,” of course, is a “suspected militant,” which means he may or may not be a Taliban fighter, and that is all the justification needed to kill him.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 20 weeks ago
 Quote of the day. "People are terrified. They fear a situation that is becoming more and more violent and uncertain." Chaldean Christian Bishop Antoine Audo after a prayer service for peace at St. Joseph''s Church in Aleppo, Syria. (Chicago Tribune)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released its update for July of drone strikes and other US military and paramilitary actions in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. The major conclusions:Pakistan: CIA drones kill more people in July than any month so far this year after Pakistan reopens its border to Nato supply convoys.Yemen: The US restarts Yemen’s $112m military aid programme as al Qaeda appears to return to more familiar terror tactics.Somalia: Three al Shabaab militants are executed for ‘spying’ for western agencies, as the UN claims that more than 60 unknown air sorties took place over Somalia in the past year.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "I have reached the conclusion that the atmosphere today, and the reality that exists in the House of Representatives, no longer encourages the finding of common ground." - Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), announcing that he will retire rather than seek re-election this fall. (MSNBC)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
On the PBS Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently interviewed Karl Marlantes, a highly-decorated Vietnam veteran, Rhodes Scholar, author, and PTSD survivor. Their deeply moving discussion focused on what happens to young soldiers in combat, the eventual trauma of having killed fellow human beings, and the assistance they need upon returning home."'Thou shalt not kill' is a tenet you just do not violate, and so all your young life, that's drilled into your head. And then suddenly, you're 18 or 19 and they're saying, ‘Go get ‘em and kill for your country.' And then you come back and it's like, ‘Well, thou shalt not kill' again. Believe me, that's a difficult thing to deal with," Marlantes tells Bill. "You take a young man and put him in the role of God, where he is asked to take a life - that's something no 19-year-old is able to handle." … “The people that fight it are going to be fighting these battles, these spiritual, psychological battles most of their lives. And they need help. And I think that we have to be prepared as a nation that if we're going to commit a 19 year old to war, we're going to have to give him some help. And we're going to have to give his family some help. I mean, for every soldier with post-traumatic stress, there's a wife that is sitting there wondering what in the hell is happening to her husband. And why is this- what's going on here? She needs help and the kids need help.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
Quote of the day. “Teenagers our age don’t really care about the environment. But we’re learning that all the decisions you make now are going to hurt or help you in the future.” - Joshua McCloud, 16, an Atlanta student spending the summer working in a program whose goal is to move promising minority students with a predisposition to nature into professions where conservation, the environment and natural resources are a theme. (New York Times)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
A U.S. drone attack on Sunday killed at least seven suspected militants in Pakistan. The Pakistani newspaper DAWN reported that the seven were Uzbek nationals living in the compound that was hit by six missiles.This latest attack comes just before Pakistan’s head of intelligence is to visit Washington.  CBS News reported drones will be a topic of the discussions:“Pakistan will press the U.S. at a top-level intelligence summit this week to end unilateral drone strikes aimed at suspected militants along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Though the Thursday meeting in Washington between Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam, head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and CIA chief Gen. David Petraeus is meant to ease the tension between the two allies, Pakistani and Western officials warn the issue of drone strikes may yield little common ground.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "The science of HIV and treatment is coming along, and everyone is excited. We forget there’s a real-life implementation that has to occur." - Yvette Calderon, adult urgent-care director at Jacobi Medical Center in New York, on the social, cultural and economic barriers that prevent the most at-risk groups from receiving the treatment and support necessary to save their lives. (McClatchy Newspapers)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 21 weeks ago
In drone news this week:The British Ministry of Defense acknowledged that Royal Air Force pilots flew U.S. Predator drones in Libya last year. According to The Guardian, “It is not known how many missions were flown by the British, or how many targets were destroyed by them.”The Washington Post reported: “The skies over Somalia have become so congested with drones that the unmanned aircraft pose a danger to air traffic and potentially violate a long-standing arms embargo against the war-torn country, according to United Nations officials. In a recently completed report, U.N. officials describe several narrowly averted disasters in which drones crashed into a refu­gee camp, flew dangerously close to a fuel dump and almost collided with a large passenger plane over Mogadishu, the capital.”Concern over the privacy implications of domestic drone use is growing, reports the Washington Times. From the report: “This week, Rep. Ted Poe, a Texas Republican and former judge, will introduce the Preserving American Privacy Act, which sets strict limits on when, and for what purpose, law enforcement agencies and other entities can use unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.”As many as six missiles were fired from drones on a “militant hideout” in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 12 “suspected militants.” Read stories in DAWN, CNN, Reuters, AFP.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 22 weeks ago
It’s a hot summer evening in a Midwestern town. The grass is glimmering in the bright lights, contrasting with the brown dirt of the base cut-outs and pitcher’s mound.  On the field, nine to a side, young men are dreaming of making The Show, although one suspects that in their hearts they know most of them won’t. There are no big city teams flush with cash, no mega-millionaire superstars. The park is half-filled with fans, many of them families out for an evening together. It’s a diverse slice of America; white, African American, Latino, a few Asian. Young boys, and a few girls, sitting in the stands with their gloves on, awaiting a hoped-for foul ball souvenir. Dinner is bratwurst or a chili cheese dog, followed by peanuts or popcorn. 
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 22 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "It's hard to live without water." - Mike Wahlfield of Wahlfield Drilling in Comstock Park, Mich., on record demands for water as the Midwest drought worsens. (USA Today)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 22 weeks ago
Dexter Filkins, a former New York Times reporter who covered the war in Afghanistan, has a long and sobering but well worth reading piece in The New Yorker.  Pondering the question of whether civil war will hit Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves, he writes:After eleven years, nearly two thousand Americans killed, sixteen thousand Americans wounded, nearly four hundred billion dollars spent, and more than twelve thousand Afghan civilians dead since 2007, the war in Afghanistan has come to this: the United States is leaving, mission not accomplished. Objectives once deemed indispensable, such as nation-building and counterinsurgency, have been abandoned or downgraded, either because they haven’t worked or because there’s no longer enough time to achieve them. Even the education of girls, a signal achievement of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, is at risk. By the end of 2014, when the last Americans are due to stop fighting, the Taliban will not be defeated. A Western-style democracy will not be in place. The economy will not be self-sustaining. No senior Afghan official will likely be imprisoned for any crime, no matter how egregious. And it’s a good bet that, in some remote mountain valley, even Al Qaeda, which brought the United States to Afghanistan in the first place, will be carrying on.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 22 weeks ago
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit yesterday against Obama administration officials for authorizing the targeted killings of three US citizens by drone strikes in Yemen last year.  The Christian Science Monitor reports the complaint“… charges that the US practice of maintaining “kill lists” that target suspected terrorists – including US citizens – violates the citizens’ constitutional right to due process of law and the right to be free from unreasonable seizure by the government.“This suit is an effort to enforce the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law,” Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU said.”The suit was filed on behalf of the families of  Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born member of the militant Islamic group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Samir Khan, a US citizen since 1998; and Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman.Pardiss Kebriaei, a CCR staff attorney, said in a statement:“The US program of sending drones into countries in and against which it is not at war and eliminating so-called enemies on the basis of executive memos and conference calls is illegal, out of control, and must end.”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 22 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "I think I have come a long, long way from when I was ordained. It isn’t about serving the church in the way you have envisioned, from the altar, and from the position of authority and power. But it is learning what human nature is, and what the struggles of people are. And where Jesus really is." - Msgr. Gerald Ryan, 92, New York City''s oldest working priest, has been a quiet force behind his Bronx community. (New York Times)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 22 weeks ago
Reported by the Washington Post:Russia and China on Thursday vetoed a U.S.-backed U.N. Security Council resolution threatening the Syrian government with sanctions, upending four months of diplomatic aimed at stemming a crisis that has left more than 14,000 dead. …The vote, and the increasingly bloodshed in the Syrian capital, were a clear sign that a political resolution to the conflict in Syria remains out of reach.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
As more details of this morning’s bombing in Damascus are known, the casualty list is growing.  Among those killed were  Syria’s Defense Minister, Deputy Defense Minister (who was President Bashir’s brother-in-law), and a senior general who was also a former Defense Minister. The head of the National Security Office and the Interior Minister were among those seriously wounded.In an early afternoon story, the Associated Press quoted U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the crisis in Syria is "rapidly spinning out of control.” British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, who spoke at a press conference with Panetta, said the Assad government is suffering "probably some fragmentation around the edges" as it struggles to keep a grip on power. "There is a sense that the situation is deteriorating and is becoming more and more unpredictable," Hammond said.A later AP report noted:"Rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had been planning it for two months and finally decided to plant the bomb in the room where the top government security officials in charge of crushing the revolt were holding a crisis meeting."Reuters reported this afternoon on the continuing violence:"The government vowed to retaliate, and residents said army helicopters fired machine guns and in some cases rockets at several residential districts. Television footage showed rebels storming a security base in southern Damascus. By nightfall, activists said Syrian army artillery had begun shelling the capital from the mountains that overlook it."As the violence escalates, let us pray for a peaceful resolution in Syria, especially for the civilians caught between the two forces.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
Many discussions about the use of drones center on whether using drones is “moral,” that is, does it satisfy just war doctrine? Is the use of an unpiloted drone morally different from a jet fighter, a helicopter gunship, or an infantryman with a rifle?Scott Shane, national security reporter for the New York Times, recently attempted to argue "The Moral Case for Drones." Frankly, his case is weak. Shane dismisses as “baggage” a number of the most important arguments: “their lethal operations inside sovereign countries that are not at war with the United States raise contentious legal questions. They have become a radicalizing force in some Muslim countries. And proliferation will inevitably put them in the hands of odious regimes.”Then the rest of the column deals with whether or not civilians are being killed.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "… in virtually every public controversy, most thoughtful people secretly believe both sides.The second, which has kept my confidence from turning into arrogance, is that it is entirely possible for you to disagree with me without being, on that account, either a scoundrel or a fool." - William Raspberry, longtime Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, with the two important lessons he said he had learned. Mr. Raspberry died yesterday at 76. (Washington Post)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
Talks between the U.S. and Pakistan on drone attacks will resume this month, including a visit by the head of Pakistan’s intelligence agency to Washington. The U.S. continues to see the strikes as essential to its counter-terrorism efforts, and Pakistan continues to see them as a violation of its sovereignty. Associated Press reports:"They start at an impasse, with the U.S. already determined to reject Pakistan's demands to end CIA drone strikes. Pakistani officials will also be pushing a plan to replace the CIA drone campaign with Pakistani F-16 strikes, and eventually its own armed drone fleet — a proposal that U.S. officials say they have rejected many times before. The divergent views reflect the deterioration in U.S.-Pakistani ties over the last 18 months, and the hardening of positions on both sides."The Pakistani newspaper DAWN adds this from a “senior Pakistani security official” via Agence France-Presse: “This visit comes against the backdrop of extensive consultations between civilian and military leadership and the general has been authorised to take a firm stand on drones issue during his talks,”
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "Please let me catch her, please let me catch her. That's all I could say. Let me catch the little baby. I think about my daughter, and you know, she's a little kid.” - Stephen St. Bernard, 52, a New York City bus driver, on his thoughts as he safely caught a 7-year old girl who fell from a 3rd floor window. (MSNBC)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
Quote of the day. "Close to 60 per cent of Yemeni children under the age of five today are suffering from chronic malnutrition. That makes Yemen the country with the highest level of chronic malnutrition in the world after Afghanistan." - Gert Kapelari, representative of the United Nations Children''s Fund (UNICEF). (Al Jazeera)
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
Ever wondered how the poverty rate has changed over the years?  And how that breaks down by various demographic categories? You could spend several hours poring through the annual reports by the Census Bureau and find all the data.Here’s an easier (and more interesting) way. Our friends at Demos, an organization that “combines research, policy development and advocacy to influence public debate and catalyze change,” have created a series of interactive graphs that can answer all your questions.Tracking American Poverty & Policy contains the data on the U.S. poverty rate annually from 1967 to 2010, including the rate of those in “deep” poverty and those near poverty when you zoom in on the graph. Then follows a set of graphs for the same time period by race, gender, age, educational level, and family; with the same three breakdowns.It’s a useful resource for historical data on poverty, and it’s fun to play with the graphs to find the data.
Posted by Duane Shank 2 years 23 weeks ago
Members of Congress with common interests often create a caucus to advocate for that interest. Some have become permanent institutions – think the Congressional Black Caucus – others are more short-term. One of the more recent, reported by Arizona Public Radio, is the Unmanned Systems Caucus. Its role?“Primarily, the caucus advocates for drones — those pilot-less planes infamous for their role targeting insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re used as a spy tool in Iran, a drug-fighting tool in Mexico and an anti-smuggling tool along the U.S.-Mexico border. … The drone caucus — like the technology it promotes — is becoming increasingly important in the nation’s capitol as the government looks to unmanned vehicles to help save money on defense, better patrol the country’s borders and provide a new tool to U.S. law enforcement agencies and civilians.”And that advocacy is being rewarded. The report cites Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with First Street Research Group, a D.C.-based company that analyzes lobbying data:“Many of the drone caucus members are well supported by the industry they endorse. According to Bronstein-Moffly’s data, the 58 drone caucus members received a total of $2.3 million in contributions from political action committees affiliated with drone manufacturers since 2011.”