Focal Points Blog

Pope Francis Blesses Environment, McKibben Gives Pope His Blessing

The fearless that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The fearless that Pope Francis displayed in his papal encyclical letter on global warming flies in the face of cynicism that many experience about institutions. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Recent years have exposed the emptiness of the free market ideology — arguably a theology — and U.S. intervention. In turn American voters have staged some dramatic about-faces: from George W. Bush to Barack Obama (or our idealized version of him before he proceeded to continue and even double-down on — surveillance — some of Bush’s policies); from Scott Brown to Elizabeth Warren; and Mike Bloomberg to Bill de Blasio. But none of these can compare with the series of popes culminating in the ossified Benedict XVI to Francis, who didn’t take long to reveal himself as a champion of the dispossessed (and I’m speaking as a former Catholic to whom no love was lost on the church).
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No Game Will Be Changed by Attacking the Islamic State From Turkey

The political will to dismantle the Islamic State is lacking.  (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The political will to dismantle the Islamic State is lacking.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

At the end of last month, after lengthy negotiations, Turkey consented to U.S. use of its bases to mount strikes against the Islamic State. At the National Interest, Micah Zenko writes:

This latest development was characterized as a “game-changer” by a senior Obama administration official, in particular for more intensive bombing of the Islamic State in northern Syria. Rather than flying from carriers or Persian Gulf bases, flying out of Incirlik significantly increases the time that coalition strike aircraft can loiter above Islamic State-controlled territories and, potentially, provide close air support for coalition-backed opposition forces on the ground, including the Pentagon-trained rebels that entered Syria on July 12.

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Nuclear Weapons Forever Synonymous With Overkill

Nuclear weapons can never fulfill the requirements of just war theory. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

Nuclear weapons can never fulfill the requirements of just war theory. (Photo: John Parie / U.S. Air Force)

Whether or not one supports a state’s development and deployment of a nuclear weapons program, it’s tough to argue that nukes don’t represent, to one degree or another, overkill. In the course of doing research for a book I’m writing about an element of nuclear weapons and disarmament, I had occasion to reach much of  a book published in 1986 titled Nuclear War: the Moral Dimension.
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Abe’s WWII Statement and Self-Defense Bill Boost Japan-China Relations

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been taking constructive measures to ease tensions with China since late 2014. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been taking constructive measures to ease tensions with China since late 2014. (Photo: Flickr Commons)

(The views presented are not necessarily those of Focal Points.)

By reiterating Japan’s “unshakable” apology for World War II and legalizing the necessary enhancements to operate its Self-Defense Forces like a normal national armed force of a state, Shinzo Abe (Prime Minister 2006-7, 2012-present) has done a meritorious job to consummate Japan’s statehood, thus enabling the Japan-China relation to move on to another stage of collaboration in due course.

For as long as two decades after the Treaty of Peace and Friendship was sealed by Takeo Fukuda (PM 1976-8) and Deng Xiaoping in 1978, Japan and China maintained a smooth working relation, particularly in trade and fixed investments. Despite the ongoing islands dispute, a joint statement was issued in June 2008 at the Tokyo summit between Yasuo Fukuda (PM 2007-8) and Hu Jintao (President 2003-13) to attest their commitment in working out a joint East China Sea development scheme. Anticipation was actually high for a deal. “Rumors circulated in early February (2008) that a breakthrough was close … that the dispute might be nearing some kind of resolution”. Details of two scenarios regarding the Chunxiao complex, median line and names of the selected oil exploitation corporations as the terms of the resolution were disclosed [Note 1].
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East-Central Europe’s Moral Revolution

Polish philosopher Zbigniew Szawarski felt that a new totalitarianism, a product of Solidarity and the Catholic Church, replaced Communist totalitarianism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Polish philosopher Zbigniew Szawarski felt that a new totalitarianism, a product of Solidarity and the Catholic Church, replaced Communist totalitarianism. (Photo: John Feffer)

Some of the most powerful critiques of the Communist governments in East-Central Europe were moral. Vaclav Havel, for instance, argued that the regimes, with their propaganda and inequalities and corruption, were built on a foundation of lies. He proposed the alternative of “living in truth,” which in its rejection of collaborating with a system of lies was at its essence a moral act. It wasn’t, in other words, a question of whether the system worked, in terms of delivering the economic goods or keeping the streets safe and clean. The question was whether the system allowed people to live with integrity. Havel and other dissidents tried to do so and were thrown into jail for their efforts.

Those who collaborated with the system may once have done so out of political commitment. But by the 1970s and 1980s, collaboration was more a function of opportunism. Party membership came with certain benefits. And those who didn’t agree with the system but also didn’t speak out against it were preserving whatever privileges they enjoyed, even if it was only the privilege of not being in jail. This was the moral critique of dissidents like Havel.
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Historic Sites Fill a Variety of the Islamic State’s Needs, None of Them Good

The Islamic State alternately destroys and loots historic sites. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State alternately destroys and loots historic sites. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The beheading by the Islamic State of “Mr. Palmyra,” Khalid al-Asaad, the retired chief of antiquities for historic Syrian site, Palmyra was the latest insult to both the citizens and the cultural heritage of the territory it conquers. It should be noted that it’s thought that Asaad was first tortured, but apparently refused to reveal the whereabouts of certain antiquities that the Islamic State sought.

Asaad’s execution follows on the heels of two historic tombs in Palmyra that the Islamic State blew up in June. To the Islamic State, historic sites serve three functions.
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The Islamic State Succeeds Despite Breaking All the Rules of Insurgency

Current Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seems to have done all he can to surpass the viciousness of his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.(Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Current Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seems to have done all he can to surpass the viciousness of his predecessor, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

In a New York Review of Books review titled The Mystery of ISIS, the anonymous author (described by the editors as a former official of a NATO country who has “wide experience in the Middle East”) describes how the Islamic State established itself and continued to grow against all the odds. The author doesn’t even begin to explain its success: he/she is just portraying the paradox of it in all its bloody glory.
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Finally, Science Beginning to Prove Torture Doesn’t Work

Successful interrogation requires craft and empathy, not brute force. Pictured: Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. (Photo: Shane McCoy / Wikipedia)

Successful interrogation requires craft and empathy, not brute force. Pictured: Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. (Photo: Shane McCoy / Wikipedia)

For a long time those opposed to torture, specifically when it’s conducted in recent years by the CIA and U.S. military on terrorism suspects, have maintained that — never mind the extent to which it undermines U.S. claims to moral leadership (though I’m afraid that horse left the barn long ago) — torture doesn’t work. But, until now, there’s been a lack of sufficient research or science to back up those claims.
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U.S. Military Campaign Against the Islamic State: If It Looks Like a War

Like many terrorist organizations, the Islamic State may become a legitimate state one day. Pictured: Raqqa, Syria, the de facto capital of the Islamic State. (Photo: Beshr O / Flickr Commons)

The U.S. is waging war on the Islamic State without a renewed AUMF. Pictured: the Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, Syria. (Photo: Beshr / Flickr Commons)

Many of us (myself, for instance) are unaware of the extent of U.S. military operations against the Islamic State. Turns out, writes Robert Golan-Vilella at the National Interest, the coalition has mounted nearly 6,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, with 3,300 U.S. troops deployed to Iraq. But…

Congress has yet to vote to authorize this war. Instead, the White House has argued that the Islamic State is covered under the terms of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).

At an event at the libertarian Cato Institute, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia)

… blasted his colleagues in Congress for their passivity and for their failure to vote on a new authorization thus far. Yet it’s the executive branch’s conduct that deserves particular attention. The United States began its operations against the Islamic State last August. The White House, as noted above, has maintained that it already has the legal authority to wage this conflict under the 2001 AUMF (and under the 2002 AUMF that authorized the Iraq War). It sent its proposed draft text for an AUMF against the Islamic State to Congress this February—six months after the operation had already started—and has not made any significant effort to try to win its passage. The Obama administration has stated repeatedly that it would welcome a vote in Congress to express support for the ongoing mission. But it has been equally clear that it doesn’t see a new congressional authorization as necessary, and that Operation Inherent Resolve will go on whether Congress votes for it or not.

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East-Central Europe’s Goldilocks Generation

Krastev, Ivan JohnFeffer.com

Ivan Krastev is a political theorist and commentator on the post-Soviet era. (Photo: JohnFeffer.com)

 

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

If you were of a certain age and with certain skills, the changes that took place in 1989 in East-Central Europe created an enormous world of opportunity. Those young enough to change with the times could suddenly rise to the heights of politics and business. And if you spoke English – or were willing to learn it very quickly – you could become an intermediary with the West and enter an entirely different world of possibility.

Some people were too old to take advantage of the changes. They couldn’t retool, couldn’t pick up the necessary language and computer skills. As for those who were very young at the time of the changes – and everyone born afterwards — they took the new world as a given. They didn’t realize how lucky there were.
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