Life vs. Personhood

In his insightful discussion of the moral dimensions of the abortion debate, [“An Ethical Challenge,” 12/1/11, TPP] Hank Kalet concludes that “Abortion is allowable – and should remain legal and accessible – because the fetus is not a person; life does not begin at conception, but at a much later stage.” Kalet’s conclusion is in accord with scientific knowledge of embryology and medical understanding of personhood. The frequently stated assertion that “human life begins at conception” is obviously false; human life began gradually many thousands of years ago. The appropriate question is when an individual human life begins, when personhood begins.

The notion that a human life begins at conception is based on the fact that the fertilized egg (zygote) is a living human cell that contains unique DNA and has the potential to develop into a highly complex organism that we all acknowledge to be a human being. However, the prevailing scientific consensus is that these characteristics are not sufficient to establish personhood.

Every day physicians discontinue life support measures because personhood no longer exists, despite the presence of millions of living cells with unique DNA in the body. Living cells with unique DNA clearly do not equal personhood from a scientific/medical perspective. This is particularly evident in the case of organs that are transplanted form deceased donors into living recipients. Such a transplanted kidney contains millions of living cells with the donor’s unique DNA. No one would claim that the donor is still alive as a person.

It will be months before the product of conception develops the neurologic function required for personhood. Medical science has not established exactly when during fetal development this occurs. Most evidence indicates that this is around the end of the second trimester (24 weeks of gestation), which is also when the fetus is potentially capable of surviving outside the womb. The most scientifically valid assessment of the status of the fertilized egg is that it is not a person but has the potential to become a person. Approximately 50% do so; the other half fail to develop, usually due to serious intrinsic biologic abnormalities. Some opponents of abortion argue that potential equals actual.

This is untenable on its face. An abortion performed at 9 or 12 or 14 weeks does not “end the life of a person,” despite the potential to become a person. The scientific case against the notion that a human life begins at conception was presented by a group of 167 scientists, including 11 Nobel Prize winners, in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in 1989. Kalet’s conclusion is scientifically valid.

Robert Blake, MD
Columbia, Mo.

Cockburn Wrong on Peak Oil

Comic Relief; that is the only explanation I can find for why TPP continues to give editorial space to Alexander Cockburn. First it was his willful ignorance and lack of journalistic curiosity in regard to 911 Conspiracy Theorists [“A decade of 9/11 conspiracy theorists,” 10/1/11 TPP]. Then it was Cockburn’s lack of basic logic in his column on “PeakOil” [11/1/11 TPP].

Look, how much thought process does it require to understand that oil is a non renewable resource? Peak Oil is only a matter of “when,” not “if.” The World is burning 30+ billion barrels of oil each year. Worldwide we have not discovered more oil than we have used in a given year since 1981. US oil production peaked in 1970 at 9.6 million barrels a day and currently is at 5.5 million barrels/day. Out of 54 oil producing countries, 45 have gone past peak. No country has ever managed to get back to a former peak and exceed it. Even if the Bakken oil field in North Dakota produces the 24 billion barrels guesstimated in the ground, this is just 4 years of domestic oil consumption. Bakken’s 500,000 barrels/day of production is only 10% of domestic production, 5.5% of daily US consumption and 0.6% of worldwide consumption.

If indeed we are heading for an oil glut, as Cockburn asserts, wouldn’t it make more sense to promote the idea that we should use this temporary reprieve to redouble our efforts to get off oil, rather than suggest, as Cockburn does, that oil ‘shortages’ are nothing more than “contrivances by the oil companies?”

Cockburn’s misconceptions of the issues of Peak Oil and 911 are more than just laughable however, they are irresponsible.

Robert Broadbent
Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Jobs Still a Capitalist

Dean Baker, as a contrast in how capitalism works [“Steve Jobs and Alan Greenspan, 11/1/11 TPP], mentions Steve Jobs vs. Alan Greenspan. Steve Jobs is praised for being the symbol of capitalism when it works. Certainly Jobs deserves praise for his accomplishments. However, he is no less a capitalist than Alan Greenspan as both are exploiters. Steve Jobs (or Apple) is notorious for exploiting workers in China and for pollution in the making of his products. (See Gawker, “What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs.”) Now the 99 percenters are beginning to realize that the success of any one entrepreneur does not translate into benefits for all of society.

Denise D’Anne
San Francisco, Calif.

Circus Maximus

The ongoing debate in pursuit of selecting a GOP candidate to run for the office of President of the United States and Leader of the Free World, has hit such an embarrassing low, that we have become a global laughing stock, and pure delight to countries we have chosen to condemn or ostracize. 

On stage is an array of pompous ignoramuses such as we have never seen before, one faux pas after another, a veritable Stupor Bowl of flubs, gaffes and brain freezes, that would make the Keystone Cops look like a drill team, Dubya a mental giant and writers at Comedy Central green with envy.

This is an obvious dereliction of duty by their corporate handlers, whose laissez faire attitude and lack of direction has wrought this embarrassing grand spectacle.

Not surprising is the fact that a sizeable number of Republicans is nevertheless poised and willing to vote for all of them.

I intended to raise an additional extremely important issue here, but doggonit, I am unable remember what it is.

Joe Bahlke
Red Bluff, Calif.

Voting Better Than Violence

Before 1776, American colonists engaged in protests, strikes, destruction of property (tea) and ultimately violence and war to create a new society based on fairness and justice.

History taught us that these were moral acts patriots committed against British oppression. Now, as the 99% protestors organize using peaceful techniques against Wall Street, dysfunctional government under the control of corporate interests and fraudulent financial institutions (who knows what else?) how does the establishment respond to these legitimate grievances? Simple, first label the protestors not patriots but anarchists, socialists, filthy and lazy.

Then call out the police to arrest protestors, beat them with batons, and pepper spray them — so much for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. This sheer hypocrisy betrays the ideals of the American Revolution and the Constitution and serves only the interests of the rich and their defenders. Perhaps we should also recall that the American Revolution teaches us to use violence against oppression. Frankly, I would prefer the ballot box to insure justice and fairness.

Donald Connor
Toledo, Ohio


Sadistic brutality against peaceful “occupier” protestors must be stopped immediately and the perpetrators punished. American Constitutional democracy is under attack in the name of law and order. Shades of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan! Fear and intimidation are the tools of fascists and other authoritarians, but they won’t work if Americans stand together and demand social and economic justice.

And legal law enforcement. Reported collusion against the “occupiers” among federal, state and local officials must not be tolerated.

The Nuremberg trials taught us that fanatical bullies in power must be held responsible for their decisions and actions. A group of civil rights activists in Germany filed suit to open a war crimes investigation of Donald Rumsfeld and others responsible for abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons. Why not the International Criminal Court? Well, the USA is not a member and has veto power in the United Nations. Do as we say, not as we do? For shame.

Just following orders? Does that mean CIA, military, and contract interrogators can practice torture, incarceration and murder with impunity? That was the disgraceful defense of Nazi leaders at the Nuremberg Trials, and it didn’t work. Bush/Cheney and their cabal gave the orders and must be held accountable. History teaches that unpunished tyranny inevitably will be repeated.

We must demand that President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Congress investigate and hold accountable everyone who participates in violating the US Constitution. This includes the mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs, other local officials and police officers who authorize or use excessive force against peaceful protesters.

Eileen Siedman
Mill Valley, Calif.

Stay Home And Fight

Winter’s coming and the Occupiers in Northeastern cities are in for their biggest challenge; even bigger than the cats in blue.

Farmer’s Almanac is predicting the type of winter that wasted Robert F. Scott and his South Pole team from the get-go: above freezing temperatures, but very wet. If correct, there is nothing which produces more misery than moisture at 33° F.

But here’s a way in which the Occupiers can be most effective, keep cozy and dry and have fun too. Stay home! That’s right, stay home in an easy chair and chit-chat all day on the phone with the enemy. 

God has yet to allow a more aggressive salesperson on the planet than the Wall Street huckster. This includes both the brokerage house parasite and the national bank “financial adviser.”

Call either one of these guys with a story of $100K to invest and they will talk with you as long as you can keep talking. But more importantly, they will call you back and hound you until you either hand over your green or vehemently push them off. Presently, with an unstable Dow, these guys are especially ravenous.

People are keeping their money in low interest accounts to avoid the volatility, while the banks are holding down yields as a way to force investors back onto the Street. This Mexican stand-off creates an ideal situation for would-be tire kickers.

The point, of course, is that while these wolves are chasing after infiltrators, they will have less opportunity to hunt their real victims.

After a while, Streeters will come to realize that there are phony investors out there. But what will they do, be rude and abrupt with everyone who calls them? Fat chance! They’ll simply have to wade through the swill of pseudo-greed to take what comes.

For their part, the Occupiers will have to sound much like people they are not. But with a bit of research and financial rap development, even a hippie could keep a hungry hawker on the phone.

If OWS tries to fight Old Man Winter, in the end the Streeters will be laughing and tap dancing in their wingtips.

Here’s a way to keep them occupied with their own game.

Ron DiGiovanni
Easton, Pa.

Heading to War Again

It has started. Once again we are hearing Israel’s rhetoric that Iran should be punished and once again the Christian Zionists here are starting to be influenced. It seems we have already forgotten how President Bush was made to accept the reasoning that a stable and a democratic Iraq would be a stabilizing influence in the region which would help our allies (read as Israel). Iraq, on the eve of our attack, was without air-Force, without navy and a depleted army (after fighting Iran for 8 years) and yet it cost us plenty in terms of blood and revenue. Attacking Iran, even if air-bombings, will result in massive retaliation by them — in Iraq, in Afghanistan and on oil-tankers in the Persian Gulf. Neighboring Pakistan will be drawn in because of the cultural affinity (Pakistan’s National Anthem is almost in Farsi). Diplomacy, and not war, is the answer.

G.M. Chandu
Flushing, N.Y.

Give Me an ‘R’

God spoke to Rickey, whispering “Run, Boy, Run”; Or perhaps he only dreamed it, thinking it’d be fun

Or perhaps it was the Devil merely messing with his mind.

Because when he started running he fell rapidly behind; And even with all the yokeling and doing lots of grinning.

Mighty Rick was slipping and certainly wasn’t winning; And still debating onward and hoping not to choke.

While God was up in Heaven laughing at His joke; In the state of Texas, we still love him here

Not only he’s our leader, but one who knows a cheer.

Walter Reinhard
Lockhart, Texas

We The People

I always thought that most things grow from the bottom up and not from the top down. What Occupy Wall Street is doing is turning the polarity from the top back to where it belongs, that the power of America comes from its people, not from businesses, that it is government for the people by the people (all of the people), not the rich or the poor but all the people. OWS has ignited in this country. That it is a massive problem here and We the People have in our power to remedy all problems no matter what the problem. People will wake up and do what they can to remedy the problems. It needs no leadership because it learns as it goes and every person is a voice to all persons. And as they learn and grow, no matter how long it lasts since there is no timeline, then America will return to government by the people for all the People.

S. Einhorn
Tampa, Fla.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2011


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