The Common Good

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Love, Friendship, and Solidarity

A posthumous book of Christopher Hitchens’ essays was published this week with the title Mortality. Seven chapters are previously published essays, and the eighth is a series of notes he wrote in his last days in the hospital. In a review, Christopher Buckley writes that Hitchens’

“… greatest gift of all may have been the gift of friendship. At his memorial service in New York City, 31 people, virtually all of them boldface names, rose to speak in his memory. One selection was from the introduction Christopher wrote for the paperback reissue of “Hitch-22” while gravely ill:”

‘Another element of my memoir — the stupendous importance of love, friendship and solidarity — has been made immensely more vivid to me by recent experience. I can’t hope to convey the full effect of the embraces and avowals, but I can perhaps offer a crumb of counsel. If there is anybody known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or the making of it. The difference made will almost certainly be more than you have calculated.’”

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From Particular to General

When and how one may draw general conclusions from particular evidence is a frequently debated question. One example is museums – do historical museums exist to preserve the evidence and artifacts of a particular experience, or should they attempt to draw generalized lessons from that experience? A thoughtful piece by Edward Rothstein in the New York Times examines how Holocaust museums in Israel are being retooled to educate on what are seen as the “universal lessons.” 

Rothstein takes issue, arguing that this

“leaves Holocaust museums intellectually orphaned. What “lessons” are we supposed to take away? The impulse has been to generalize, to say that a Holocaust museum can’t be “just” about the murder of Jews during World War II.

“Why? Is there a problem, say, with an American slavery museum being “just” about American slavery? Why should Holocaust museums deal with notions of tolerance or racism in general, or even genocide in general? Why do we think that the proper lesson comes from generalizing rather than comprehending the particular? The moment we generalize, we strip away details: we lose information and create equivalences that may be fallacious.”

I’m inclined to agree. Some events in history deserve to be remembered and pondered in their own right, not simply as things from which to draw general lessons.

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DRONE WATCH: Protesting Drones

As the number of drone attacks on Pakistan and Yemen continue to increase, protests against them are growing.

On Sunday, some 40 people gathered to protest near the New York Air National Guard headquarters at Hancock Field in DeWitt, N.Y. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported

“The group Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drone and End the Wars chose Sunday for its event because the 174th Fighter Wing at Hancock was changing its name to 174th Attack Wing, which reflects the change in mission at the base from flying fighter aircraft to MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft.”

On Monday, two activists were convicted in federal court for trespassing at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri while protesting the use of drones. The Associated Press reported

“Retired minister Ron Faust of suburban Kansas City and Brian Terrell, a member of the Catholic Worker Movement from Maloy, Iowa, were among a group of 40 protesters who demonstrated at the air base in mid-April. They were arrested after entering a restricted area without permission.”

“We were there not to commit a crime, but to prevent one,” Terrell said, describing seeing in person a 9-year-old girl in an Afghani refugee camp missing an arm from what he said was a wayward drone strike. … Faust, a 69-year-old retired Disciples of Christ minister, compared drone strikes to ‘premeditated murder’ that cheapen the value of human life by allowing shooters to be as detached from their targets as video game players.”

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Hungry in America

It’s the time of year when various government agencies release their reports for the previous year, in this case, 2011. The annual report on poverty is due from the Census Bureau next week, and, according to AP, early reports are that

“The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.”

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its annual report on household food security. (If you want all the detailed statistical tables, here is the full report.) Not surprisingly, the results showed a growing number people in the U.S. going hungry. 17.9 million households (14.9 percent of households) were  “food insecure.” That means at some point during the year, those households did not have enough food due to lack of money. Of those, 6.8 million households (5.7 percent of households and one-third of all food-insecure households) had “very low food security.” That means at some point during the year, some household members went hungry. According to their answers on the survey, these folks reported that “the food they bought just did not last and they did not have money to get more,” and that “an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food.”

It is hardly the time to reduce assistance to hungry families, but as McClatchy News noted,

“The survey data comes as congressional Republicans … push for massive cuts in food stamp-program funding to curb enrollment growth and to help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food stamp funding, but by a smaller amount.”

Without programs such as SNAP (food stamps) school lunches, the Women, Infant and Children nutrition program; there would be many more food insecure families in America.

Here’s the data in a helpful infographic from McClatchy.

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Willing to Work, Where Are the Jobs?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly employment report for August this morning. In the numbers that make the headlines, 96,000 jobs were added and the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent – 12.5 million people. The numbers behind the headlines are mixed.

Across the major demographic groups, the unemployment rates for adult men (7.6 percent), adult women (7.3 percent), teenagers (24.6 percent), whites (7.2 percent), blacks (14.1 percent), and Hispanics (10.2 percent) showed little or no change. In the macro picture, 5 million people, 40 percent of those unemployed, are “long-term unemployed” (those jobless for 27 weeks or more.) 8 million people who are considered employed are referred to as “involuntary part-time workers,” meaning they are working part time because their hours have been cut or they are can’t find a full-time job.

 But it’s the people who aren’t even counted that give me pause. 2.6 million people are considered “marginally attached to the labor force,” meaning they want work, have looked for a job sometime in the past year, but didn’t look during August. So, they don’t count. Of these, 844,000 are “discouraged workers,” meaning they aren’t looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available for them. They also don’t count.

There is much this country needs and there are people available and willing to do the job. What is lacking is the will to put them to work.  

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DRONE WATCH: Six Killed in Yemen

U.S. drones continue to hammer Yemen today. Reuters reports an attack this morning

A U.S. drone strike killed six suspected Islamist militants in eastern Yemen on Wednesday, a security official said, the latest sign of a Washington-backed campaign against al Qaeda-linked fighters in the impoverished country. The drone fired eight missiles at a house where fighters were thought to be hiding in the Wadi al-Ain area of Hadramout province, a witness told Reuters. Eight people managed to escape, the witness added.

Meanwhile, the attack on Sunday that killed 14 civilians is now being investigated as coming from a drone. Initially, the strike was said to have come from Yemeni planes, although the Yemen Post and Al Jazeera reported sources saying it was a drone. On Monday, CNN quoted “three security officials” calling it a U.S. drone. Today, AFP reports

Yemeni authorities have sent tribal representatives to investigate civilian deaths in an apparent US drone strike targeting an Al-Qaeda commander, one of them told AFP on Tuesday. Three women and a child were among 14 people killed in Sunday's strike near the town of Radaa, 130 kilometres (80 miles) southeast of Sanaa, targeting Al-Qaeda's Abdelrauf al-Dahab who escaped unharmed, local officials said.

 

 

 

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DRONE WATCH: August 2012 Update

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has released its monthly report on covert actions in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Pakistan: August sees the highest number of CIA strikes in Pakistan since October 2011. A number of senior militants are killed along with at least two named civilians.

July 2012 actions

Total CIA strikes in August: 7
Total killed in strikes in August: 29-65, of whom at least 2 were reportedly civilians

For the Bureau’s full Pakistan databases click here.

Yemen: At least 26 people are killed in five confirmed US drone strikes in Yemen. This is still less than the May peak. Civilian casualties are confirmed for the first time since May.

August 2012 actions

Confirmed US drone strikes: 5
Further reported/possible US strike events: 1
Total reported killed in US operations: 26-33
Civilians reported killed in US strikes: 2

Click here for the full Yemen data.

Somalia: For the fourth month no US military actions are reported in Somalia.

Click here for the Bureau’s full data on Somalia.

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DRONE WATCH: Drone Weekend

U.S. drones are having a busy weekend, killing people in both Pakistan and Yemen.

On Saturday, an attack in Pakistan is reported to have killed six people. Pakistan’s The Nation reports that “A U.S. drone strike targeting a compound on Saturday killed at least six suspected militants in North Waziristan’s Datta Khel tehsil bordering Afghanistan.” DAWN newspaper added that six drones flying low in Dattakhel fired four rockets on a vehicle and a house.”

On Sunday, AP reported a strike in Yemen killed five people, including a top al-Qaida militant wanted for allegedly masterminding a 2002 attack on a French oil tanker.

In a separate attack, 14 civilians were killed when a disputed strike hit two cars. In the same story, AP reported:

“Yemeni fighter planes mistakenly hit vehicles carrying civilians traveling south of the capital, killing 14. Military officials said the airstrikes in Radda in the province of Bayda were based on faulty intelligence that the passengers were al-Qaida members. Missiles fired from the warplanes hit two vehicles carrying local residents returning to their villages. Tribesman Sheik Ahmed Ali said the dead included three women and three children.”

The Yemen Post, however, cites “local sources” saying the attack was by a U.S, drone. Al Jazeera, citing officials and local tribal leaders, also reported the attack as a drone strike. Bloomberg, citing an “independent Yemeni news website,” reported that “it wasn’t clear whether the strike was launched from a U.S. drone or a Yemeni warplane.”

Either way, 14 civilians are dead due to faulty intelligence. Ultimately, that is more important than the source of the missiles that killed them.

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DRONE WATCH: Yemen Attack Kills Eight.

Last week was drone week in Pakistan, this week it’s Yemen. Two deaths were reported in an attack on a car on Tuesday, at least four in another car on Wednesday, and another attack today that killed eight. Reuters reports:

“Eight Islamist militants were killed by a U.S. drone strike on Friday in a remote part of Hadramout, a Yemeni official said, the third such strike in the eastern Yemeni province this week.

Yemen's defense ministry said on its website that eight al Qaeda members were killed in an air strike on their vehicle in the isolated, desert district of Hawra. The local official, who declined to be named, said it was a drone strike.

The men were heavily armed, carrying machine-guns and explosives, the ministry said. The local official said the men were thought to have been on the way to carry out an attack.

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BREAKING: Massive Earthquake Hits Philippines This Morning

According to Reuters (via Chicago Tribune):

An earthquake of 7.9 magnitude struck off the Philippines on Friday and a tsunami warning has been issued for the region, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The quake was centered off the east coast, 91 miles off the town of Guiuan in Samar province at a depth of about 20 miles, USGS said.

The tsunami warning was issued for the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea and other islands in the Pacific including the U.S. state of Hawaii.

CNN.com adds:

"An earthquake of this size has the potential to generate a destructive tsunami that can strike coastlines near the epicenter within minutes and more distant coastlines within hours," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The quake struck just before 8:50 p.m. local time, the agency said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

 

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