More legal fun and games from Kent Hovind!

Kent Hovind wants the property he forfeited in his criminal conviction back! He has filed a lis pendens on the property that was seized. I am not a lawyer, and had to look it up, but apparently it’s an intent to make a legal claim on some real estate. I guess you’re not supposed to do that with properties forfeited to the government in a legal process, and which are under an injunction. But the law won’t step ol’ Kent!

So the court has fired back with a threat to hold him in contempt.

Kent E. Hovind is required to appear before the Court at 8:00 a.m., on September 8, 2014, to show cause why he should not be held in criminal contempt of Court, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 401(3) and Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(a). This will be a jury trial and will be held in Courtroom 5, United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, located on One North Palafox Street, Pensacola, Florida 32502.

He has an option to get a court-appointed defense lawyer. I hope he doesn’t, and instead relies on the advice of his wacky right-wing conspiracy theorist buddies, because the shenanigans are always so entertaining. Anyone remember subornation of false muster?

Inhofe is wasting our time

Minnesota’s Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, recently introduced a resolution in the senate that simply stated a clear fact that congress tries to avoid: that climate change is real. James Inhofe (Republican doofus from Oklahoma) got up to insist that he sees nothing, nothing, and that he had a petition from 9,000 cranks that there’s nothing to worry about.

Then Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island rose up to slap him down.

People like Inhofe are a catastrophe for progress and reasonable action on important issues. Could you Oklahomans please stop electing these idiots? We’re getting rid of Bachmann up here in Minnesota, I think it’s only fair that you sacrifice a wingnut, too.

Apparently, stated intent is magic

Sam Harris weighs in on the destruction going on in Gaza. He proceeds very, very carefully, explaining that the situation in Israel is complicated, they’re a largely secular state with a historical justification for their establishment, people with a history of oppression should have a safe haven, wars in any cause all cause casualties, yadda yadda yadda. And I agree emphatically with that. The people of Israel have a secular right to autonomous existence; they have a unique history of persecution (becoming increasingly less unique, unfortunately) and it is morally right to correct an injustice; every war is an evil that has unintended consequences, which is why we should be reluctant to enter them, and only engage when absolutely necessary (and I will also concede that the calculus for determining that is murky). But all that is just a prelude to his justification for Israel’s actions: it’s because their enemies are evil, and deserve it. Somehow, I’m not surprised at that.

Needless to say, in defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things. They have, as they are now, fought wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive losses of innocent life. More civilians have been killed in Gaza in the last few weeks than militants. That’s not a surprise because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Occupying it, fighting wars in it, is guaranteed to get woman and children and other noncombatants killed. And there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely the due to the character of their enemies.

Strangely, he never seems to question the necessity of fighting a war to keep a people oppressed, or considers the possibility that Palestinians see themselves as victims of the Israeli state, ghettoized and kept in a perpetual condition of essential serfdom…and that even that tiny bit of land that they do hold is constantly threatened by settlers and politicians eager to annex the place by one means or another. There is no consideration of alternatives, that maybe war is not the best solution to an extremely complicated (as he knows!) social problem. But to admit that they are committing war crimes, but that it is all the enemy’s fault, is simply disgraceful.

I must emphasize that this is NOT A DEFENSE OF HAMAS. As Harris points out, their goals are indefensible and despicable.

The truth is that there is an obvious, undeniable, and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies. The Israelis are surrounded by people who have explicitly genocidal intentions towards them. The charter of Hamas is explicitly genocidal. It looks forward to a time, based on Koranic prophesy, when the earth itself will cry out for Jewish blood, where the trees and the stones will say “O Muslim, there’s a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.” This is a political document. We are talking about a government that was voted into power by a majority of the Palestinians.

That is an evil statement, and I condemn it whole-heartedly. But condemning one side does not mean I endorse the other — it is possible to see that there is a lot of indefensible and despicable activity on both sides. Also, I’m not saying “a pox upon both houses” — I don’t think the evil Jews deserve to die, any more than I think all those evil Palestinians deserve it. There needs to be a solution to a complicated hatred between both sides, and the simple solution of war until one side is broken does not resolve it. Short of genocide (do I need to argue against that?), it only exacerbates the issues. Does anyone really believe blowing up houses, killing terrorists (and incurring lots of collateral damage), building giant walls, and imposing more and more restrictions on the lives of Palestinians, will actually accommodate themselves to Israeli rule?

Elie Wiesel, in Legends of Our Time, wrote this:

Every Jew, somewhere in his being, should set apart a zone of hate — healthy, virile hate — for what the German personifies and for what persists in the German.

Should we use that to argue against the legitimacy of Israel? It’s an example of emphatic hatred directed at a whole people (even though he walks it back in a footnote — he’s decrying racism, not all Germans — and he also visited Germany and felt no desire to kill everyone he met.) Persecution tends to do that to people, to feed the fires of hatred. It’s not an excuse, but when you kill and torture and oppress, normal human beings tend not to reply with love and forgiveness.

Then Harris trots out the most stupid argument ever.

Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we—the Americans, or Western Europeans—have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done.

I’ve been hearing a lot of this sort of thing, and it’s nonsense. With American gun laws, I could buy an assault rifle, modify it to be fully automatic, get a couple of extra large clips, and march into the local Catholic church and gun down the entire congregation (NO, I would never do such a thing). We have that power. So if I get a rifle and shoot just one Catholic as they were walking down the street (also never going to do that), could I use the excuse that I was exercising commendable restraint? If I did kill 10 innocent people, could I then claim that I was being judged by a different standard, because I could have parked a truck full of fertilizer explosive outside the building and killed hundreds and destroyed the whole church, just like Tim McVeigh?

No. I judge by a consistent moral standard, rather than the relative one Harris is using. Killing people is not a good thing, whether it’s one or a thousand or six million, and the existence of one gigantic moral atrocity, like the Holocaust or the Indian genocide, does not suddenly diminish the significance of numerically smaller crimes. It’s horror all the way around.

There is also a kind of moral blindness at work here. He says the condemnation is out of proportion to what they’ve actually done…so what exactly have they done? Harris comes right out and tells us.

But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza—especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel—and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them. And there is no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be stuck. They see these images, and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation, and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue that this is a kind of moral illusion, borne of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as of a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it.

The “Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation”. Stop right there. What do you mean, we critics are “stuck”? Isn’t that a terrible, awful fact of Middle East history that is being blithely glossed over? Of course it is. Sam Harris apparently does not think it’s that big a deal that the Palestinians are suffering under an occupation, and for someone who wants to claim we have to look at the big picture to see the causes of the conflict, he doesn’t seem to see how that could have led to the hatred expressed by Hamas. Again, not to excuse it…but if you want to address it, you can’t simply call the Palestinians evil bad guys and offer no solutions other than shooting them. Both sides have deep antecedents and a thousand justifications.

See the Elie Wiesel quote above. Many of the Palestinians hate the Israelis, no small wonder. You don’t fix it by shooting their cousin, or dropping a bomb on the local schoolhouse.

But all that matters to Harris is intent.

And this gets to the heart of the moral difference between Israel and her enemies. And this is something I discussed in The End of Faith. To see this moral difference, you have to ask what each side would do if they had the power to do it.

What would the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted? Well, we know the answer to that question, because they can do more or less anything they want. The Israeli army could kill everyone in Gaza tomorrow. So what does that mean? Well, it means that, when they drop a bomb on a beach and kill four Palestinian children, as happened last week, this is almost certainly an accident. They’re not targeting children. They could target as many children as they want. Every time a Palestinian child dies, Israel edges ever closer to becoming an international pariah. So the Israelis take great pains not to kill children and other noncombatants. 

Whoa. So the reason we know that Israel would not commit genocide if they could do anything they wanted is because right now they have total power and can do anything they want, and they aren’t committing genocide. But that’s not true! Israel’s military power is strongly dependent on foreign support — maintaining good relations with the United States is a major constraint (well, maybe not that constraining, because so far it looks like Congress rolls over and does whatever Israel asks). Further, in his cautious prelude, Harris emphasized that Israel has a complex society with a very strong secular component — there are Jewish elements who resist the idea of wholesale murder, too. Right now, Israel has external and internal constraints, so it’s silly to argue that they don’t.

Israel has elected a government that is aggressively militant. If that government were released from all restraints, I suspect that they’d push for an even more thorough campaign of extermination. But that’s speculation about intent — I’m more interested in the actual evidence. I look at the casualties, and there sure seem to be a lot of dead Palestinians for an enemy that takes “great pains not to kill children and other noncombatants”. And then there’s the distribution of the deaths.

The United Nations estimates that more than 70% of the Palestinians killed were civilians, including 226 youths and 117 women. More than 150 were members of armed groups, the United Nations says.

UNICEF said Monday that about two-thirds of the children killed were 12 years old or younger.

We’re supposed to believe in reason and evidence. When I see a thousand dead bodies, many of them children, and city blocks reduced to rubble, I tend not to accept the claim that that was reasonable restraint. Likewise, when Hamas launches rockets into Jewish suburbs, I tend not to accept that they are acting under reasonable restraint.

We get another of those hypocritical arguments used by IDF apologists.

The truth is that everything you need to know about the moral imbalance between Israel and her enemies can be understood on the topic of human shields. Who uses human shields? Well, Hamas certainly does. They shoot their rockets from residential neighborhoods, from beside schools, and hospitals, and mosques. Muslims in other recent conflicts, in Iraq and elsewhere, have also used human shields. They have laid their rifles on the shoulders of their own children and shot from behind their bodies.

OK. So we should excuse the deaths of all the civilians caused by the Israeli military because they are a regrettable and unavoidable consequence of fighting in an urban area with a high civilian population density. But we have to blame the Palestinians for fighting in their homes in an urban area with a high civilian population density — they should have found some nice open fields somewhere and deployed an army that could be met by the Israeli army, I guess.

And please, please stop characterizing specific groups with specific issues and causes with global Islamism. I despise that religion myself, but that does not mean you can simply lump Palestinians under the thumb of Israel with Muslims in Iraq or unsourced claims that Muslims use their own children as shields, or complaining about ISIS when talking about the events in Gaza. Let’s start by recognizing that Palestinians have legitimate grievances, as Harris tacitly acknowledges, and not ignoring them under the umbrella of simply declaring them wicked and deserving of all that they get.


Here is an example of Israel’s measured response.

So is that the new plan, Israel?

I’m now even more disgusted. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University made a statement about the ‘realities’ of their conflict.

“You have to understand the culture in which we live,” said Kedar. “The only thing that deters [Hamas leaders] is a threat to the connection between their heads and their shoulders.” When presenter Yossi Hadar asked if that “could filter down” the organization’s ranks, Kedar replied: “No, because lower down the considerations are entirely different. Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

When Hadar said, “We can’t take such steps, of course,” Kedar continued: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

He isn’t actually saying they should start raping Palestinian women, but he just threw it out there as the only way to stop suicide bombers. It’s an actively evil proposition, and it doesn’t even make sense. Would raping their mothers and sisters suddenly reconcile Palestinians to Israeli occupation and oppression? There’s not much knowledge of human behavior there.

Democrat behaving badly

The appointed Democratic senator from Montana, John Walsh, has a master’s degree from the United States Army War College. But does he deserve it?

An examination of the 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy” and posted online by The Times, revealed that about a third of Mr. Walsh’s 2007 paper consisted of verbatim language and extremely similar passages to other sources, without any kind of attribution.

“Another third is attributed to sources through footnotes but uses other authors’ exact — or almost exact — language without quotation marks,” The Times said.

That first clause made me pause…you can get a master’s by writing a 14-page paper? My undergraduate students write far more than that every semester. Thanks, War College, for cheapening the value of a degree so much!

Even if two thirds of the essay weren’t plagiarized (really, he wrote about 4½ pages to get his degree?), I’d say that isn’t graduate level work.

The Middle East, untangled and unknotted

Slate has published a fascinating grid explaining all the relationships between different groups entangled in the Middle East. Countries that hate each other have a red cranky face, countries that like each other have a green smiley face, and the yellow confused faces mean the two countries have a complicated relationship. If you go to the link, each point on the grid is clickable, and reveals a short summary of the relationship. At last, we can understand everything…until the faces change next week.

Unfortunately, the only clarity that emerges is that everyone hates ISIS, and most of the groups hate Al Qaida. I also see that hate faces outnumber happy faces 43 to 17.

But I have a solution! Every country should follow the US and Israel’s lead, and bomb, topple, annihilate, or otherwise destroy every country with a hate face. Just pick your favorite country and look down either row or column, and have them go to war with every country that’s red on the grid. The yellow ‘it’s complicated’ faces do complicate this approach, unsurprisingly, but I’m pretty sure that after you blow up their neighbors, they’ll either go green or red. It’ll evolve towards greater simplicity, naturally.

The survivors after this apocalyptic orgy of destruction will be any country that has nothing but green or yellow faces in their column, which means a wave of happiness and peace will sweep across the region. Easy. All solved. Victory!

You can even examine the grid now and predict who the victor will be.

My only prayer is that Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee

This is news to me, but it’s an old story that needs wider circulation. Hillary Clinton is a conservative Christian with ties to the anti-choice movement. She’s not imbedded deeply in that crap, but she likes to affectionately skirt the edges of it.

That’s enough for me — my nightmare would be an election with Clinton vs. some ratbag Republican, with me in the voting booth vomiting all over the ballot.

Can we please have a secular candidate? Please, please, please?

No more US support for Israel

They no longer hold the moral high ground, if ever they did. The massacre in Shejaiya is an obscenity.

Two small bodies lie on the metal table inside the morgue at Gaza’s Shifa hospital. Omama is nine years old. Her right forearm is mangled and charred and the top half of her skull has been smashed in. Beside her lies her seven year-old brother. His name is not certain. It might be Hamza or it might be Khalil. Relatives are having trouble identifying him because his head has been shorn off. Their parents will not mourn them—because they are dead too.

All of them were killed in Shejaiya, one of Gaza’s poorest and most crowded neighborhoods, which came under a brutal and sustained assault by the Israeli military today.

90 dead. The Israeli military was firing artillery shells into a residential neighborhood. It’s unconscionable, indiscriminate murder.

"Those of us who worked in Shifa can say that last night was the worst night of our lives," says Dr. Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor at Shifa. He has come to Gaza many times to provide medical assistance, including during the previous two Israeli assaults in 2008/2009 and 2012.

"Israeli impunity is a huge medical problem," Gilbert says. "Every single dead child and adult, and all the injuries, all the amputations, are one hundred percent preventable. This is a man-made disaster. Cynically planned and brutally executed by the government of Israel."

I’ve had people try to tell me that it is justifiable — that Hamas is firing rockets into Israeli neighborhoods. I freely grant that trying to kill random citizens with rockets is also unconscionable, whether it’s done by Palestinians, Israelis, or Americans. But how can anyone condemn one and not the other?

We should not be propping up the vile and bloody government of Israel anymore. Maybe if they’re deprived of the teat of unquestioning US aid, they’ll realize that they can’t afford to solve their problems with attempted genocide.

Although why a Jewish state would need any kind of compulsion to recognize that is surprising.

Fightin’ words

This weekend, Elizabeth Warren spoke at Netroots Nation. This is what I want. This is what I would like the Democratic party to be.

We have to talk about what does it mean to be a progressive, an American.

We believe Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth, and we’re willing to fight for it.

We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality, and we will fight for it.

We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage, and we will fight for it.

We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them.

We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt, and we will fight for it.

We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions, and we will fight for it.

We believe — and I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014 — we believe in equal pay for equal work, and we will fight for it.

We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all of America, and we will fight for it.

We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform, and we will fight for it.

And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!

Right here  in this room this is where it happens. This is 21st century democracy. This is where we decide that we the people will fight for this together, and we’re going to win!

Everyone seems to be assuming that Hillary Clinton is going to be the frontrunner for the next presidential election. Can she be this strong on the right things?