Most Americans favor troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

I’d like to unpack a little American zeitgeist for you on the Afghan war.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 64% of Americans now think the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting; and an even more overwhelming 73% want a “substantial number of U.S. combat forces” to withdraw this summer.

To get a sense of the demographics of this vox populi, this same group of folks when asked about the Tea Party, replied 36% favorable, 48% unfavorable, with 16% having no opinion—seemingly, an accurate cross-section of the U.S. populace.

U.S. General David Petraeus reported on Tuesday and Wednesday to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, withdrawal of “some combat forces” may be included in a future set of policy recommendations for President Obama.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Michele Flournoy, stated that the proposed drawdown of U.S. and coalition troops, between now and 2014, “…in no way signals our abandonment of Afghanistan. President Obama and President Karzai have agreed that the United States and Afghanistan will have an enduring strategic partnership beyond 2014, and we are currently working with the Afghans on the details of that partnership.”

The problem with our near decade long war in Afghanistan is that the strategy is not based on any lessons learned from history, cannot be sustained due to America’s economic over-extension, and does not have clearly defined, nor tenable goals for success. With recent developments in the Middle East, our boots-on-the-ground traditional military deployment in Afghanistan, to fight a decentralized, asymmetrical foe (al-Qaeda), puts America squarely on the wrong side of history.

Eight years of bungling.

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Lawsuit against Jimmy Carter’s book is assault on Freedom of Speech

A class action lawsuit has just been filed in New York against former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid.” The suit, captioned Unterberg et al. v. Jimmy Carter et al., is the latest salvo from the right-wing activist Israel Law Center, which claims to be an “Israeli based civil right organization”.

According to the five individuals named in the complaint, Carter’s book is, “in fact demonstrably false, misleading, and deceptive,” and because they felt they were “sold” on Carter’s book being truthful, well, they felt they’ve been harmed, and in as much, have now sued the publisher Simon & Schuster, and the author, Jimmy Carter for $5 million dollars.

The fantastical nature of this lawsuit reminds me of the “birther” lawsuits, claiming President Obama wasn’t born in America and therefore disqualified to serve as her President.

This case, attempting to gag a Nobel Peace Prize winning former President, is just as absurd—however, the litigants do graciously offer an alternative where there wouldn’t be cause—if President Carter and Simon & Schuster only had promoted and sold the book as “the anti-Israel screed that it is.”

This misplaced pro-Israeli patriotism is a ridiculous waste of the court’s time and probably qualifies as a harassment lawsuit, which may result in the overly zealous parties having to pay Carter’s and Simon & Schuster’s legal fees. You cannot justify use of a state consumer protection statute to attack the US Constitution’s First Amendment protections for the mere publishing and sale of a book. That’s like trying to say a tugboat’s as big as an Aircraft Carrier. You can say it, but it isn’t.

Now, the people suing “wish to be clear” that they’re not suing to challenge President Carter’s right to publish a book, nor his right to “forward his virulently anti-Israeli bias”, but rather, they’re suing because he wrote a non-fiction book and claimed it to be so.

The suit was announced as, “”¦the first time a former President and a publishing house have been sued for violating consumer protection laws by knowingly publishing inaccurate information while promoting a book as factual.” That puts them out on a limb, for sure.

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Healing collective trauma will lead to peace in the Holy Land

The author and Brit Olam founder, Ofer Lifschitz, visiting Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2004. Photo: (DeLear/Lifschitz)

There’s a common misperception that the constant state of warfare and conflict that besets the Holy Land, Eretz Israel, or in Arabic, Bilad Ash’ Sham, is a result of some cultural or racial flaw—“oh, they’ve been fighting for two thousand years, they’ll never stop.”

Even the most cursory examination of human history reveals skirmishes, battles, and wars, interwoven throughout our timeline, have been perpetrated by all religions, races, and cultures. People are people. And a kinder gentler human civilization can be had, but it has to be taught, and then walked.

As I observed in a report on the Holy Land in 2009—contrary to popular belief—history’s wars and military campaigns have been launched largely due to political agendas, power struggles, or naked resource/land grabs—and although often cloaked in religious trappings—religion has primarily been used as a war-making tool; to mobilize foot soldiers, and rally public opinion when necessary.

Humans are pack animals (viz. “leader of the pack”, not “backpack”), and in modern civilization, we have been arranged into herds within herds; overlapping groupings and interchangeable associations, class, race, religion. But in order to change the perpetual dynamic of two warring peoples, polarized, locked in conflict—efforts must be taken to bring the poles together. This can be accomplished through education by blurring ethnocentric distinctions, emphasizing the universality of what it means to be human—our basic needs, hopes, and dreams. A facet of this ‘coming together’ process involves a sincere effort to understand the life experiences and background of the different societies at play—to be aware—and especially—to empathize with individual and/or group trauma.

While working with an inspiring new organization called the Euphrates Institute, founder Janessa Gans relayed a profound concept from Palestinian nonviolence activist Sami Awad with the Holy Land Trust

“It is up to the Palestinians to do what the international community has failed to do for the Jewish people: to heal the trauma they have experienced.”

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Realizing Eutopia: teach the children to move a mountain stone by stone

Blending enlightened visions into the real world, the crux of eutopian desire.

Back in 1993-94, I embarked on an exciting journey with my first experience in public service through helping a public teacher friend of mine. I was working in the entertainment field and was introduced by orchestral conductor John Axelrod to an innovative educator and fellow Harvard alum, TH Culhane. TH eventually began teaching at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles and we started co-creating a curriculum blending entertainment with education by folding lessons and material into media composition.

With the student’s short attention spans due to the “MTV generation” factor, we thought we could engage sustained attention by involving the kids by having them work with media technology in creating their own projects—but only drawing from a palette of information and compositional choices we’d previously laid out.

We recorded the students and worked with them in the studio developing a unique curricula entitled, “Eutopia”.

Decoding the Past

Eu-topia, as opposed to U-topia.

In Greek, Topos means “place”.

Eu- is the Greek prefix for “good” or “well”, as in eu-phoria (well-being), eu-phony (good voice or sound), or eu-logy (good words).

Eu-topia, or “good-place” —versus—Ou-topia, or “no-place”.

Now, it has been presumed that St. Thomas More in authoring Utopia in 1516, was alluding to the impossibility of the proposition of, say, humanity arriving at a peaceful and equitable coexistence. Historically, the contention has been that Utopia meant “no-place”, as in, Ou-Topia, Ou- being the Greek prefix for “No”. “Utopians” are Pollyannaish unrealistic idealists; and to use a common expression, prone to making “perfect the enemy of the good”.

But if this was the case, why did More leave out the O and name his book Utopia?

Maybe this was a code for only the perceptive to perceive?

Interestingly, there isn’t any other occurrence of the Greek prefix Ou- in English besides its supposed use in “utopia”, but there are plenty of Eu- “Greek-lish” words like eulogy, euphony, etc.

If one Googles the topic today, the double entendre of either “ou-topia”, or “eu-topia” is out there and readily available. But back in ’93 when TH and I researched the issue, this was not the case. We hadn’t found any illumination as to some hidden double-meaning in references to More’s coinage of the term Utopia.

Our thesis was that in the spirit of the times, Thomas More was communicating a very important message “to those with eyes to see”. Utopia was not a fanciful and escapist imaginary tale, a “no-place”, but rather, the public introduction of significant enlightened social philosophies, such as complete religious freedom, communal ownership of land, no private property, and education for women and men alike.

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St. Louis County passes new energy conservation building code

2009 International Energy Conservation Code will save 12-15% energy consumption for new homes.

On June 29th, the St. Louis County Council gave the green light to updated residential building codes that will save homeowners hundreds in energy costs through new energy efficiency standards. St. Louis County is home to approximately one million residents, part of the Greater Metropolitan St. Louis area.

The savings are particularly beneficial for Missourians in the long term due to projected coal-generated energy costs rising faster than in other states.

Some facts to consider:

  • 82.4% of Missouri’s power is coal-generated, while its only 50% nationwide
  • Nationally, coal accounts for 83% of US Carbon Emissions
  • US Residential Electricity prices have gone up 50% in last decade

The adoption of the new codes means that updated energy efficiency building standards will be in effect everywhere in St. Louis County that is unincorporated or in municipalities that look to the County for code enforcement. St. Louis County is home to over 90 municipalities, many of which enforce their own building codes. There is still work to do among those municipalities that perform their own code enforcement and have yet to adopt the updated energy conservation codes.

Although eventually near-zero energy buildings and ultra-low energy homes may be the ultimate sustainable solution, the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) establishes a set of minimum energy efficiency standards that will save homeowners on average between 12-15% energy usage.

The Energy & Cost Savings Analysis of 2009 IECC Efficiency Improvements from the Energy Efficiency Codes Coalition concludes,

ICF International’s analysis estimates that homes built to the 2009 IECC standards will save 12.2% under the simple “prescriptive” method and could save 14.7% or more using the more complicated “performance-based” method.

The City of St. Louis is not within St. Louis County, so this code adoption does not affect the city. There is, however, hope that the City of St. Louis will follow the lead of St. Louis County soon, as well as St. Charles County, which lies to the West of St. Louis County. St. Charles County has a population of approximately 350,000, and is one of the fastest growing counties in the country, which makes the adoption of energy efficient building codes extremely important.

Ultimately, “sustainability” means behaving in such a way as to preserve and protect the existing ecosystem for future generations to enjoy—leaving things just how you’ve found them.

On sustainability,

There is abundant scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably, and returning human use of natural resources to within sustainable limits will require a major collective effort. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganizing living conditions (e.g., ecovillages, eco-municipalities and sustainable cities), reappraising economic sectors (permaculture, green building, sustainable agriculture), or work practices (sustainable architecture), using science to develop new technologies (green technologies, renewable energy), to adjustments in individual lifestyles that conserve natural resources.

Energy Efficiency is the fastest and cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote a cleaner and more sustainable environment. National groups like the Sierra Club, US Green Building Council and local ones, the Missouri Association of Accredited Energy Professionals (MAAEP) and the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri all support the new codes. Through the adoption of the 2009 Energy Conservation Code, energy efficient homes and businesses will make a substantive contribution creating a cleaner environment tomorrow.

Byron DeLear, a genuine progressive, is running in the Democratic primary for Missouri’s 79th District. The election is this coming Tuesday.