Thursday, 16 May 2013

Lucky but Troubled

In the four plus years since my last post here, video has exploded, as has twitter, and I've stopped following political blogs myself. I'm on again off again with Facebook, and have yet to open a Twitter account, but may do so soon. This blog proves that adapting to a 140 character limit will be a huge challenge for me. I don't yet know whether this is a real return to posting for me here, but I just posted something on my Facebook page which looks like it just barely qualifies as a tweet:
I'm very very lucky. Even when I'm unlucky, I'm lucky. It's with that very much in mind that I crave a more just and sustainable world.
Please comment if you want Choosing Hope back.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Turning the Page on Torture

By virtue of one of Obama's first executive orders, America has turned the page on torture, and restored much of the moral authority her previous leader had so recklessly discarded. Obama aptly harkened back to the wisdom of our Founding Fathers noting that they insisted we should "observe core standards of conduct not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard"

Not surprisingly, this order and the one closing the detention center at Guantanamo within a year are being hailed internationally and by human rights organizations here in the United States. As someone who worked vociferously to block the nomination of Alberto Gonzales four years ago, based on his authorship of rules loosening our compliance with the Geneva conventions when interrogating suspects, I am delighted and relieved that our new President wasted no time in righting these wrongs. I am especially happy with the unequivocal language of the order, and its application across all branches of government and the military.

It will be interesting to watch reaction in the coming days and weeks from those in the CIA and the military who are or were most impacted by such policies. The outgoing CIA chief, Michael Hayden, defends the now banned procedures, and the outgoing Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Michael McConnell, has repeatedly claimed that enhanced interrogation was critical in obtaining needed intelligence over the past six years. These men, however were Bush appointees. The story changes it seems when talking to career CIA agents who are more closely involved with interrogation.

Dan Froomkin in his most recentWashington Post column quotes an experienced interrogator of terrorists
"'It [Obama's order] is a significant step toward saving American lives,' said Air Force Reserve Maj. Matthew Alexander - the lead interrogator of terrorists who betrayed Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi before his 2006 killing.

"'When I was in Iraq, the No. 1 reason foreign fighters said they were coming into the country to fight was Abu Ghraib,' said Alexander, author of 'How To Break A Terrorist.'"


Retired CIA officer, John Kiriakou, has an even more sweeping positive reaction to Obama's executive order:
Kiriakou said that the reaction to Obama’s harmonization of interrogations policy would get “a very positive reaction” inside the CIA. “There are people at CIA who engaged in what were certified as enhanced [interrogation] techniques, but were never supportive of it,” he said. “This should make people very happy. No one wants to be in harm’s way [legally]. Despite what the Bush White House and Bush Justice Department said was legal, I think people at the CIA understood that this was not legal and [the techniques] were torture.”

Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of CIA operations in Europe during the Bush administration’s first term, agreed. “These people aren’t monsters,” Drumheller said. “They were doing what they were told, and what was the policy of the [Bush] administration.”


Though apologists for the "enhanced interrogation techniques" championed by the Bush Administration will fret aboutimagined lost intelligence resulting from limiting interrogation to humane techniques, they do not do justice to the success of many perfectly legal interrogations, or wish to acknowledge the real harm done to our national interest, our international reputation, or the interrogators themselves when limits are not uniformly enforced and understood. They scoff at a desire to "curry world favor", as if we are not harmed by failing to so, but instead are greatly helped when we lead by example, and generate global good will rather than hatred and animosity.

Human Rights First offers this contrast of reality vs. portrayal of interrogation on TV. Watchblog's own Stephen Daugherty competently debunked the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation techniques in a December article.

The task force that Obama created did leave the door open for future creation of a separate set of guidelines for CIA interrogation of high risk detainees, so that high level terrorist operatives cannot use the Army Field Manual as a blueprint for preparing themselves for resisting interrogation. Obama did not equivocate, however, in asserting that no US operative, employee, or agent would engage in torture, humiliation, or degradation in their treatment of our prisoners.

With the stroke of a pen, the most grievous policy of our recent past has been reversed, and we have returned to the principles on which we were founded.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Gregoire; Goldmark; No on I-985

Washington State Friends,

Now that ballots are in our hands until that moment we attach a stamp and commit them to the US Postal Service, or drop them in a ballot collection drop box on election day, I want to share my own observations.

Once again Washington State is just "blue enough" that I think we can be pretty confident that Obama will carry our state, (and I hope the nation), but several other races are far too close for me to relax, and I hope you will join me in trying to influence these.

You see in my Title the three races I see as the important biggies:

Gregoire 4 Governor -- Peter Goldmark 4 Lands -- NO on Eyman's i-985 Gregoire is excellent enough to support enthusiastically!

Early on my own support for our incumbent Governor was rather luke warm, though I never doubted she would be my clear choice over Dino Rossi. As the race remained surprisingly close, however, I did some research and discovered Rossi's attach ads to be viciously scurrilous, misleading, and downright false. Further, there is ample evidence that Governor Gregoire has been an outstanding administrator of our ship of state, receiving high marks from several sources.

Having heard a number of Obama supporters expressing doubt about Gregoire, and even a friend who asked "What has she really done?", I want to provide links squelch those doubts, answer Rossi's charges, and encourage you all to be full-throated in your enthusiasm for supporting Christine Gregoire in her very tight re-election campaign. She doesn't agree with me on every issue, and hasn't initiated as progressive an agenda as I might prefer, but she is clearly a highly competent administrator, who ought to be ahead in our state by landslide margins but is not. But she lacks charisma, Rossi is clever, and Gregoire's campaign has not be effective in answering his charges.

I have collected these talking points in answer to Rossi's charges:

Tribal Gaming Compact
Projected Deficit
National Economy
Keeping Kids Safe
Foster Care

In addition to what you can read about the deficit there, let me add that these projected deficits of such size for following biennia are hardly anything new, and Gregoire has solved them before. We certainly don't want Rossi's values to be those guiding our policy when cuts have to be made.

Gregoire accomplishments listed at her website

Finally, however you may want to explain it, our state by many measures by Forbes magazine, the Pew Foundation, and other groups is rated one of the best in the nation.


Pass this map
along to anyone you know who believes otherwise. It can't be said to be partisan, as Utah, one of the other two states with the best rating has a Republican Governor and Legislature.

Peter Goldmark for Lands Commissioner

The media does not bring nearly enough attention to this vital statewide elective office which oversees our Department of Natural Resources, manages state owned public lands, provides direction for the protection of our shorelines, and is responsible for a significant source of income for the state by sale and lease of Washington school land.

Peter Goldmark is an exciting candidate for this office, who brings a diverse background, clear intellect, and a positive mission to this race in challenging a Republican opponent, Doug Sutherland, who has supported the desires of extractive industries in allowing them insider knowledge of public lands going up for auction in advance of the public. Sutherland allowed Weyerhauser to clear cut on many state lands pretty much wherever they chose to, often on sensitive slopes, such as those in Lewis County which washed away causing increased devastation in those awful floods a year ago.

Because Goldmark is a rancher from Eastern Washington, he doesn't carry the "Puget Sound liberal environmentalist" stigma so prevalent for many Democrats in those more conservative areas of the state. In fact he has been endorsed by the Yakima Herald, and certainly ran better than Gregoire in conservative areas during the primary. He is in fact sound environmentally with strong endorsements from conservation groups, and is a microbiologist who has attended and contributed to global climate change meetings in Asia. Sutherland, in contrast, has been on record as a climate change skeptic.

Goldmark narrowly was running behind the incumbent in the primary, but if we can spread the word about his qualifications (he is also a former Director of Agriculture for the State) in the Puget Sound region where he has less name recognition, there is every reason to believe that he should win this election.

NO on I-985 -- Tim Eyman's latest attempt to hamstring us

My ballot arrived with this near the top, and it is not nearly obvious enough that this is a Tim Eyman initiative, and an especially bad one at that.

You can find out all about it here.

Mostly, PLEASE, just make sure everyone knows I-985 is an Eyman initiative!

Additional notes:

I am an enthusiastic backer of I-1000.

I will definitely vote NO on I-1029, which is a well-intended measure that just doesn't come close to meeting my very high bar for supporting initiatives. It's costly and complicated, with a high potential for undesirable unintended consequences.

There are good things in it which would be worth urging our legislators to enact, but as a package it is not the sort of thing that makes sense to legislate by public initiative.

I encourage you to learn about Randy Dorn's candidacy and qualifications to be Superintendent of Public Schools.

Kitsap residents, I encourage you to vote for Jeanette Dalton over her unqualified opponent for Kitsap County Superior Court.

Finally, mailing your ballot early will eliminate all of those pesky Get Out the Vote reminder calls in the final weeks. And just to be safe - do not mail your ballot on the final day. Mail dropped off on Bainbridge sometimes does not get postmarked until it arrives to be sorted in Tacoma. If it is already late in the day on Monday, November 3rd, I think you are better off dropping your ballot at one of the ballot drop-off locations.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Senate: looking ahead & party balance

The Democratic pickup in the Senate is looking bigger than first expected, but Republicans need not be too glum long term. If they return to more traditional conservative values, stop alienating moderates, and act honestly as a minority party, they will make a comeback. Otherwise another party WILL step in to fill in the void.

We face so many huge challenges and problems currently. Have we come to the end of American Exceptionalism? Will we enter a worldwide depression? Will climate change overtake the planet disastrously? Doing our level best to answer all of these questions in the negative should be our focus.

Nonetheless, some people worry about one-party rule. The structure of our politics pretty much guarantees that some form of opposition will gain traction, so I believe such concerns are overblown. The Republicans just a few years back thought that they had an opportunity to establish a permanent majority. I confess that I was worried that Bush's willingness to ignore the Constitution might lead to real disenfranchisement of any opposition, and set the stage for something close to a coup. But the pendulum is swinging, and appears to be swinging pretty hard right now.

Which brings me back to Congress. Let's assume for the moment that Obama will win - not a guarantee but a likelihood. What will it mean for our nation if the Democrats are virtually filibuster proof in the Senate, and significantly extend their lead in the House? Many conservatives are genuinely worried that "the liberals will go wild", and more and more you hear talk from the right about impending "socialism". We liberals are entertaining some hopes that finally some actually liberal policy positions can be given the chance that they have been denied since Reagan's ascendancy.

To those who fear balance will be lost, consider that balance takes various forms. The obvious Party balance between executive and legislative branches, or between the two houses of Congress are not likely to be present for the next four years. But there still is a time balance in play.

It is not necessarily best that divided government be the order of the day for all times. Periods of time with one party or the other in both elected branches do present the opportunity to actually implement plans that otherwise face gridlock. Our democratic process for replacing politicians means that even when one party has both Congress and the Presidency, some caution needs to be exercised if those positions are to be maintained.

There is also ideological balance within parties. In order to win seats, the Democrats have run increasingly conservative candidates in known conservative districts and states. A truly socialist agenda is not likely when so many Democrats in the Senate are far more conservative than moderate and liberal Republicans of 30 or 40 years ago. And in the House, disaffection with the ruling party can change the majority in fairly short order, with every position standing for re-election every two years.

Because of six year terms, it is easier to look further ahead in the Senate, to possible party changes. Let's look at this election, that of 2010, and that of 2012, and even 2014, to see what we can anticipate.

This year the Democrats WILL expand their lead, and this was virtually guaranteed already when the current class of Senators was elected in 2002, an extraordinarily good year for Republicans. With the current economic crisis, and sullying of the Republican name brand, the extent of Democratic expansion has changed from 4-6 seats, to more likely 7-8 seats, and an outside chance of as many as 11, if Chambliss of Georgia, McConnell of Kentucky, and Wicker of Mississippi were all to be defeated.

In 2010, the party affiliation of Senators whose terms are up for re-election is more evenly divided, with similar numbers in safe vs non-safe seats for both parties. Depending on what happens between now and then, either party could pickup a few seats on up to a maximum of 8 or 9, though I would guess the net change to be 2 or less.

In 2012, the Republicans will almost certainly pick up multiple seats. Depending on outcomes this year and two years from now, this is their next realistic opportunity to pick up a majority. Given the likely larger than expected Democratic win in this election, 2014 will be yet another election in which Republicans should again make gains in the Senate. Again contingent upon their ability to return to more traditional conservative values, while avoiding alienating moderates, Republicans have a very high likelihood of becoming the majority party in the Senate by 2014.

My crystal ball pretty much ends there, as so much depends on intervening events which cannot be foretold.

Logically, the Senate is the body which is most likely to be Republican, since the less populated states of the Plains and Intermountain West, tend to be more conservative, while the House with heavier urban representation, should logically be easier for the Democrats to retain.

The importance of time balance, especially in the House has been hammered home with the corruption of the Democratic reign of some 40 years up to the Gingrich Revolution of 1994, and the subsequent corruption of Republicans developed over their 12 year reign from 1995 to 2006. If we can get redistricting reform enacted which reduces gerrymandering and the creation of safe seats, that would greatly reduce the likelihood that either party could retain control in the house in such long runs that corruption perverts the process as much as has happened in recent times. Iowa has set the standard for redistricting reform, and other states should follow suit. Look to Maryland(D), Florida(R), and Texas(D then R) as gross examples of partisan gerrymandering gone bananas, though it can be found in most states to one degree or another.

As I hinted in my opening, it is still possible that the Republican Party implodes and can't agree on its fundamental principles, losing its grip on enough of the electorate that it really does relegate itself to obsolescence. I think that is unlikely, since it is in a better position than any other party to right its ship and remain the dominant second party in America. The Democratic Party in spite of its recent successes is also at risk if it remains stodgily dependent on constituencies that are taken for granted, and doesn't demonstrate more political agility than it sometimes does. Should either party truly stumble though, other parties will surely enter the vacuum created, and opposition politics will remain in place for years to come. Personally I would be delighted to see another party replace the Republicans as the second dominant party, but I'm surely not holding my breath for that day. Rs and Ds are likely to remain the tags we see next to candidates' names on the ballots for many election cycles to come.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Improving American Justice

Yesterday I blogged about the case of Troy Anthony Davis, not only here, but on other forums as well. Fortunately the U. S. Supreme Court in emergency session yesterday gave Davis a reprieve, at least until next Monday when they are scheduled to decide whether they take Davis' final appeal, and if they do, at least until it is resolved.

One of my posts yesterday, at PoliWatch, drew the response - and I paraphrase:
With all of the crises we face at this time, who really cares about justice for one man? You have lost your sense of proportion.
Here is my reply:

Thank you for daring to ask the salient question! And I do mean that sincerely. Why indeed should I focus on the case of one man? That question is in fact in the back of my head when I write these articles. With injustice rampant around the globe, wars ravaging hundreds of thousands, millions dying from hunger, fundamental rights denied those who are not in power, and a whole host of issues here in the United States that impact huge swaths of our population, and indeed nearly every one of us ultimately - What does it matter?

Why Troy Anthony Davis?

I am pleased to answer that question.

We tout our system of justice as exemplary and fair and deliberative. "Innocent until proven guilty"; "everyone gets their day in court"; "the blind eye of justice"; "justice will be served"; American justice should be among the best in the world. Now, of course there will be hiccoughs - instances where local corruption perverts the proper delivery of justice.

If the case of Troy Anthony Davis were only that - a rare and local instance, where perhaps overzealous prosecutors coerced witness testimony - then you would be right to suggest that my focusing on it would be a disservice to more important topics for discussion.

I don't believe it is a hiccough.

For me, Davis' case is symptomatic of a number of fundamental problems with criminal justice in the United States. Yes it is extraordinary in bringing together many of these issues in one case, but that is what makes it noteworthy.

Now let me quickly add here that there is also a lot that is right about our system of justice. There are many extraordinarily talented police officers and detectives who follow the book and get good results, and many fine and talented prosecutors and judges who combine knowledge of the law with an earnest desire to serve justice who are a credit to our system.

But I believe there are some systemic issues and prevailing mistaken attitudes which are poisoning our system, and this case highlights a number of them.

Capital Punishment
The most obvious for most readers is the very presence of capital punishment. For me it is not the most important issue here - but it is clearly the one which speaks loudest to the most.

When there is a chance (and there is always a debate in quantifying that) that the convicted person facing extermination might be innocent, would we not be better off simply taking the death penalty off the list of possible punishments, as have most of the worlds nations?

Pressure to Gain Convictions
Next there is a pervasive attitude which prioritizes conviction over justice. Whether it is haste and impatience, or an ego driven desire to run up the number of convictions one can claim, there is little denying that many in law enforcement and prosecution succumb to the pressure to solve every case, and are too willing to overlook contravailing evidence which might suggest that their first suspicion was wrong. Now some of that is just human nature, which is bound to show up in any system of justice. But I contend that a renewed emphasis on the deliberative intent of our justice system, and a reduction in incentive to just find somebody to charge and convict, could go a long way toward reducing the haste which often results in wrongful convictions.

This is the area where I see the issue as being far broader than just the case of Troy Anthony Davis. In fact the capital punishment aspect of his case unfortunately obscures a much broader issue. How many innocent people (regardless of whether Davis is innocent or not), are suffering the grave and extraordinary punishment of spending years or the rest of their lives behind bars, simply because some cop, or prosecutor, or judge, or jury, or combination thereof, was too impatient to come to a conclusion which resolved the case? How much have we as a society lost by not having these people be productive members of society rather than a drain on our resources?

This is not just the fault of law enforcement and the courts. We really are all to blame for bringing this pressure on the system to come up with convictions, no matter whether they are correct.

Resistance to Correct Miscarriages of Justice
It has always been one of my pet peeves, that once convicted, justice usually becomes anything but swift when newly uncovered contravailing evidence suggests that we might have locked up the wrong person. Troy Davis' case highlights this concern strongly. It is plain to me that there was sufficient contravailing evidence early in this case to suggest that a new trial should have been granted at any of numerous points along the way. When such evidence is strong enough, I believe that is cause for the immediate release of the prisoner. We now have technology such as electronic ankle bracelets which could serve as a precaution against the suspect skipping town before their new trial. If Davis gets a
new trial, and his conviction is overturned, then assuming that he is innocent, he still would have suffered a very grave injustice. Based on the percentage of cases which have been overturned with exonerating DNA evidence as a result of the Innocence Project, we have every reason to suspect that there are a large number of prisoners who are wrongly incarcerated in these United States.

Racism / Classism / Influence
Finally it is never wrong to point out that we must always struggle to keep justice blind, and avoid the influence of race, class, and position in both who law enforcement suspects, and how we administer justice, and how we sentence the convicted. It is impossible to eliminate influence, no matter how perfect a system of justice might be. But eliminating such influence should be the beacon for which we aim, and evidence as shown by the statistics of who is incarcerated, and who isn't, strongly indicates that we fall far short of the mark.

In Conclusion
Individual stories make for compelling cases which individual readers can comprehend. I find the case of Troy Anthony Davis to be compelling. No doubt that is partly because I am a native Georgian, and also because I have heard the compelling testimony of his sister broadcast on my community radio station here in the Seattle area. I am pleased that the U. S. Supreme Court has given him a reprieve from his sentence, at least until next Monday when they decide whether or not to hear his last appeal, and if they do until they resolve the case.

The individual story allows the reader to connect at a more personal level with issues which we all should be concerned with. The media often gives undue attention to certain cases because of their celebrity or sensationalism, whether that be O. J. Simpson, Jon Benet Ramsey, or Paris Hilton. Those cases often distract us from more important issues.

I contend that in contrast to those, the case of Troy Anthony Davis has the potential to bring our attention to issues worth facing. If we care about our system of justice, then we all should care.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Troy Davis' Last Chance

The U.S. Supreme Court is in emergency session reviewing the case of Troy Anthony Davis according to CNN.

This is a story of a likely wrongful prosecution which I've been following since Amy Goodman brought it to my attention about a year ago. So I was dismayed yesterday morning to wake up to the news that Davis' execution for the 1989 murder of a police officer was scheduled for this evening. Then I got busy and woke up this morning to the same news. I had planned to at least make a phone call yesterday. A man's life was in the balance, and I forgot!

Of course I was extremely unlikely to have any effect. Though I grew up in Georgia, I no longer live there. At this point we can only pray that a stay is granted, or better still a new trial. I am thoroughly convinced this man is innocent, but how anyone can suggest that there is not a reasonable doubt after 7 of 9 witnesses recanted is quite beyond me.

My earlier posts on the case are here and here.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

My Quick Sheet

As PCO (Precinct Committee Officer) for my precinct, I've created a "quick sheet" to hand out to my neighbors as I canvass for Obama, Gov. Gregoire, and Lands Commissioner Challenger Peter Goldmark.

We all already get tons of mailers from so many campaigns, that I hate to add to the paper - so it had to be small, informative, and cover issues people might not know about.

I decided it would be excessive to yack on about every single Democratic Candidate, so I focused on the races I felt are most important, and give out web site URLs where recipients can start their research for those, and for those important "non-partisan" races and initiatives, for which I'm not lacking an opinion.

Attaining brevity is my biggest challenge, but I managed to fit readable type on a half sheet (though you'll have to click on the image below to make it a readable size), and stuck my modified version of the Washington Post graphic showing the impact of the tax plans of our two Presidential candidates on the other. I print two to a sheet, and cut them down the middle.



Flip side rotated:


The Washington Post image while very informative at a glance, unfortunately has the potential to reinforce some of the faulty stereotyping that the free market fundamentalist right (and libertarian) elements in this country do of liberal policy. Because the graph shows CHANGE in taxation after the Bush tax cuts to the very wealthiest individuals expire, some will look at it and wrongly interpret it as radical wealth redistribution. In the original image, the problem was exacerbated by the width of the lines showing tax increases for segments of the population representing 1/1000th and 1/100th of the total population being just as wide as the lines showing the tax reductions for much larger portions of the population. So I made those lines much thinner and widened the other ones to partially make up for this visual misrepresentation. I also highlighted the salient summary points in circles to the side. Finally you should note that the totals at the bottom show averages as a mean, heavily weighting the tax increases for the very wealthy rather than giving the median tax cut for those families that fall in the middle in terms of income. What's interesting about that, is that shows that Obama's plan is much more fiscally responsible in providing revenue, while still advantaging a huge percentage of the population in ways that will really help them.

Because I'll be handing these out, I hope to make some of these points as I go. You should feel free to make your own quick sheet for your own district and use this graphic if you like in your own canvassing. There is a 2-up pdf of the graphic here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Failed Economic Philosopy

Obama:
What we’ve seen the last few days is nothing less than the final verdict on an economic philosophy that has completely failed.


In contrast McCain yesterday morning repeated his quip that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong"
oops! McCain later yesterday: "We are in a total crisis."

And the Republicans, including John McCain, want to privatize Social Security. At least the Democrats (and a few Republicans who got an earful from their constituents) stopped that disaster. Can you imagine if Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, and AIG were taking care of some huge chunk of that public trust?

Obama has it right - and he's been consistent. It's "I still need to be educated [on the economy]" McCain whose message bounces around to suit the latest story. Looking at his record, however, he has a consistently deregulatory approach.

After years of relaxing the rules for financial institutions, and failing to properly enforce those which remain, the party which decries any liberal inclination to tighten regulations as "socialist" is essentially nationalizing troubled corporations, allowing taxpayers to take on the risk, while bailing out the speculators. Sure Democrats collaborated on this disaster, but Republicans, free market fundamentalists, and the greed-heads on Wall Street have led the charge. I expect we will see a few sacrificial lambs among the worst of the speculators, but plenty of folks will flee the scene with millions while tens of thousands of victims will face foreclosure or worse as a result of this fiasco.

And yet McCain claims Obama will "raise your taxes", in spite of independent analysis of the two campaigns' promises which shows Obama's plan lowers taxes MORE than McCain's for over 80% of Americans.


courtesy Washington Post; Alchemy Today; and a study by the Tax Policy Center

McCain's charge is only true if he is talking to the wealthiest 1% of Americans, and even then the raise in taxes is only based on allowing Bush's tax cuts to expire. Calculate your estimated tax cut under the two plans to discover whether McCain is talking to you.

America wake up! McCain only has your economic interests at heart if you earn over $300,000 annually, and even then what good is tax relief if the economy is falling apart around you. I don't think he wants to screw up, but he doesn't even have a clue who he should surround himself with for economic advice. His pal Phil Gramm was his chief economic advisor up until a week after Gramm opined America had become "a nation of whiners", inflicted with only a "mental recession".

Obama in contrast picks his people based on their intellect, and includes many who don't always agree with him. Now there's a refreshing change.

The AIG rescue is only the latest shoe to drop. America we can't afford much more of this. It's time for real leadership. It's time for new inspiration. Obama is clearly our best hope. As he says
The dream of the American people must not be endangered anymore!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Being Partisan without Partisan Blinders

What is best for our nation? What is best for our society? What is best for our planet?

In a complex world, there is no one simple answer to such questions. World views can help us shape how we approach solving the world's problems, but those views can also blind us to solutions that others may offer.

If you consider yourself a Republican, you may be convinced that most Democrats are more interested in seeing Republicans fail than in working across the aisle to solve problems. If you consider yourself a Democrat, you may be convinced that most Republicans are more interested in seeing Democrats fail than in working across the aisle to solve problems. Many Independents and supporters of third parties are convinced that partisan blindness in both parties has stalemated Washington's ability to solve anything.

We partisans are often guilty as charged. But not always. It is possible to be partisan without partisan blinders. But it takes discipline.

It is easier to remove the blinders in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. I can honestly say that in the days following 9/11 seven years ago, I was looking to our President - to MY President - with great hope that he would make good decisions, based on sound reasoning and a long view of the future. The polls which showed Bush's approval climb to 90% in the aftermath of that crisis are testament to the fact that most Democrats were NOT wanting Republicans to fail at that frightening moment in history. Even among the 10% who continued to express disapproval of Bush, I am quite confident that a large fraction did not WANT him to screw up. 90% approval did not mean that the country was momentarily mostly Republican, but rather that we were Americans first. It was an expression of hope that we would rise above partisanship.

Within two or three years after 2001, we returned to a state of deep division, and now seven years later we remain largely divided on where to go from here, in spite of having two candidates who both profess the intent to put country ahead of party. There have been times when I confess to wishing that a particular (usually Republican, but sometimes bipartisan) economic policy would fail, because I felt so certain that it was part of a larger policy direction which I saw as directly harmful to large segments of the populace. It's rather like hoping that your child who has an obvious gambling addiction does not have a run of luck luring him into taking foolish risks with larger portions of his nest egg.

In the arena of foreign policy, however, I have never been so cynical. As convinced as I was in 2003 that invading Iraq was an awful blunder, I truly prayed that those weapons would be found, Saddam would be toppled to the cheers of Iraqis, and order would be restored to Iraq in a fairly democratic fashion. I feared with good reason that it would not be so neat, but what transpired eclipsed even my fears. When the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were revealed in 2004, I was deeply saddened, but still hoped that Rumsfeld would quickly resign or be dismissed, the policies which nurtured such atrocities would be unambiguously repudiated by the Bush administration, some of our international reputation would be restored, and then surely we would elect a Democrat to the Presidency to restore it further. When I and many fellow Democrats were calling on my party in 2007 to be tougher about funding the war at current levels and demanding a commitment to a withdrawal process, and Bush responded instead (after the Democrats' capitulation) with a plan for a surge, I thought that was foolish. I believed it was too little too late, but nonetheless, I hoped in spite of my fears that it would work. Honestly, I have been relieved at the reduction in violence that has resulted since, certainly in part due to the surge. Though there is plenty of evidence that serious political problems remain unresolved in Iraq, the resultant reduction in violence may put us in a better position to draw down our overstressed troops. I am happy with good news, even if it may be spun politically to the advantage of those who advocate policies that I disagree with.

You can always find cynics or partisans who are so blinded by their own world view that they will spin ANY news to the advantage of their ideology. That is true of any party or any world view, so the existence of these cynics is NOT evidence either against or for whatever ideology they are trying to advance. Often we focus on the cynics or the demagogues or the corrupt politicians as if they prove the wrongness of their side, rather than recognizing that we should instead debate the issues directly. Often that focus is cynically intentional, due to the historic success of straw man arguments in lieu of solid analysis.

Partisanship is not evil in and of itself. I still believe that government ought to play an important role in regulating industry to protect the concerns of employees, consumers, and our environment. I believe my party is more likely to advocate such a role than is the Republican Party. But when Republicans and conservatives counsel that we must pay heed that regulation does not cripple the natural ability of markets to provide goods to consumers at competitive prices, we should see the truth in that and be willing to compromise accordingly, and make sure that new regulations are not too onerous or restrictive.

On a whole host of issues, from civil liberties - to foreign diplomacy - to a healthy partnership between science and government - to the rights of workers to engage in collective bargaining - and so on, I am more inclined to take a more liberal position and agree with Democrats more often. But that doesn't mean that I cannot also respect reasoned conservative cautions against excesses which might give too much authority to government or honor the rights of some to the detriment or danger of others. I am proud of my liberal values, but that doesn't mean that I don't have conservative values as well. Bush and Republican Congresses of the past have angered me often by their dismissive disdain for liberal values which I cherish, but they have angered ME as well for their abandonment of some of the best conservative values which they supposedly espouse.

This year we face a choice between candidates who both claim to represent a break from the partisan politics of the past. I will be heartily endorsing and arguing in favor of Obama whose speeches and writing eloquently and closely reflect my own beliefs and values. I will also be pointing to reasons to be suspicious that McCain and Palin will not be likely to become the change agents they claim, as they surround themselves with lobbyists and Republican partisans with heavy ties to politics as usual, and often when researched, real political corruption.

But let me also here confess to two things which my fellow partisan Democrats will cringe to read. I have no crystal ball assuring me that if he is elected that Obama won't capitulate to forces that honor the status quo, the influence of big business, and the most powerful lobbying groups of the traditional Democrats. In fact I am pretty certain he won't be able to completely avoid such influences, as we can already see in his pragmatic inclusion of advisors suggesting some of that. But the extent to which his campaign has been financed by many different individuals gives me real hope that he will be able to chart new ground in breaking with lockstep adherence to DLC initiatives or the politics of the past.

And secondly, as much as I worry otherwise, if McCain is elected you may be assured that I will be praying that his ascendancy to an executive role will free him to truly break with the past, root out corruption in government, return to his previous positions against torture, and against irresponsible tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, and challenge his own party where they are unduly influenced by money. In terms of policy positions, I will necessarily be disappointed, because McCain will be aligned with positions I believe to be flawed, but if he is true to his "maverick" persona, and a Democratic Congress can act as a balance, that would truly be a step forward from the Bush years.

So I have risked having my own words used against me. For some that is a cardinal sin of politics. But I do so for this reason: I ask readers of this column or any other to bear in mind that every writer will tend to reveal that which supports their beliefs and not their doubts. The person behind those words may be an ideologue incapable of seeing any alternate view point, but maybe they are not. Perhaps that writer who seeks to convince that Obama is a disaster waiting to happen, or that McCain is a sure ticket to World War III, actually hopes they are wrong should the candidate of their fears be elected. In this post, let me assure all that I will hope for the best regardless of whom we elect this November. In future posts, I may not sound so much that way.

Fellow liberals, conservatives, libertarians, communitarians, greens, Americans, and humans, Peace be with you all, and may wisdom guide our electorate and our future leaders.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Another Deregulation Disaster

Eight years of Bush-Cheney have given us ample proof that simplistic allegiance to the mantras of free market fundamentalism give way to economic disaster. As Henry Paulson, pragmatic Treasury Secretary, moved to have the government take control of mortgage lending giants Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac, it is harder and harder to defend privatization and deregulation as the cornerstones of sound economic policy.

Of course none of this stopped most Republicans at their recent convention from acting like they still carry the torch for smaller government and freer markets. Economic ideologues steeped in the language of the supremacy of the market over government controls aren't likely to admit that blind adherence to their philosophy by so many since the Reagan years has cost us dearly.

I'm sure we will continue to hear about the evils of "burdensome regulations" proposed by Democrats and liberals. Conservative Senator Bunning of Kentucky amusingly called for the resignations of Paulson and Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke, saying "they have taken the free market out of the free market." Bunning has clearly sipped too much of the free market fundamentalism Kool-Aid.

But don't misunderstand. There IS plenty to criticize in the Paulson plan. Senator Obama while he generally supports the plan, expressed concern that we "not allow government intervention to protect investors and speculators who relied on the government to reap massive profits." Economist Max Fraad Wolff speaking on Democracy Now! this morning pointed to the government assumption of risk without fully taking over the institutions, and the likelihood that the government will end up taking on the role of a collection agency, gathering debt from homeowners to pay off debt to investors, foreign and otherwise. The help for struggling homeowners is meek in comparison. He offers a quick history lesson, and some amusing insights into Governor Palin's comments about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is definitely worth a read.

Make no mistake that regulations can be burdensome. Often the mega-corporations which write them make them unnecessarily complicated, disadvantaging smaller firms who might want to compete. But if you are still convinced that deregulation and privatization are always necessarily better, let's review some recent troubles which had their genesis in deregulation:

  • Sub-prime lending

  • Wall Street investment scandals

  • Media consolidation

  • Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, etc corporate scandals

Yes, of course, there were also criminal acts involved in many of the corporate scandals, but deregulation allowed so much wrongdoing to go on legally, that disaster was simply bound to happen sooner or later.

Our economy is complicated. We need the best and the brightest conferring to determine the role government can play in regulating markets sanely. Not with some ideological pablum whether from the Heritage Foundation or the Socialist Labor Party.

America should be ready for some sane re-regulation. Regulation which allows markets enough freedom to flourish, but denies corporate bosses the authorship of all the rules. There is no reason that regulation can't be both stronger and less complicated. First we need to check the influence of lobbyists.

Fortunately both Presidential campaigns have decried the influence of lobbyists. I'm more inclined to go with Obama who has refused lobbyist money, than McCain who has former lobbyists as key campaign staffers. I understand that it's not all black and white. Obama's campaign is not void of lobbyist influence, and McCain has on occasions stood up to lobbyists. But on balance Obama will have less campaign obligations to lobbyists, and McCain may have significant blind spots where the former interests of his staffers are concerned. I'll hope for the best regardless who wins.

More importantly, America needs to turn the page, and say good bye and good riddance to the failed mantra of deregulation for deregulation's sake.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Jim Leach On Our Troubled Times

While the tone of the Democratic Convention's opening night was pretty predictable, there were some surprises. Ted Kennedy's capacity to deliver a rousing address on the heels of his brain surgery, and the rhetorical gifts of Obama's wife, family, and in-laws were displayed. Former Republican Congressman Jim Leach provided a lesson in history and civics.

I focus on Leach's speech, not because it was riveting - it definitely was not that - but because his perspective represents an honest assessment from a practical politician who is no longer in the game. PBS pundits were quick to dismiss him as an anomaly among Republicans. But among Republicans in my own family and circle of friends, I see important chords and connections. Our political process has been poisoned, and people of vastly differing ideologies can agree about that, even when they agree about little else.

As quoted in the Iowa Independent Leach said
“In troubled times, it was understood that country comes before party,” Leach said after listing several examples of bipartisanship in U.S. history.

“Little is riskier to the national interest than more of the same,” he continued. “America needs new ideas, new energy, a new generation of leadership.”

“Hence I stand before you,” he concluded, praising both his own party and the party whose delegates he was addressing, “proud of my party’s contributions to America’s history, but, as a citizen, proud as well of the good judgment and good people of this party in nominating a transcendent candidate, who I am convinced will recapture the American dream and be a truly great president.”

The great irony of the 2008 election to this observer is that BOTH presidential candidates seem painfully aware of how our poisoned process constrains politicians time and again from acting in the public interest, even when as individuals that would be their first choice. I believe both Obama and McCain genuinely want to reform the process, yet as Senators and as Presidential candidates both are themselves trapped to a large extent within the poisoned process. Once elected, Presidents have more latitude to act independently, but still face enormous inertia in the machinery of government, pressure from their party, and during first term, concerns about being reelected.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of real policy differences between McCain and Obama, that will result in different choices being made. It is an error to assume that just because your party's candidate takes a position different from your own that it is a result of their failure to stand up to some powerful interest. Sometimes they genuinely have a different opinion. But there is no denying the enormous influence that the power establishment has on our policy, regardless of which party is in power.

On Iraq policy, I expect either McCain or Obama to follow through on their campaign promise, and in both of those cases I believe they genuinely believe in their own plan. Obama will change the mission and McCain will not. Ironically the practical effect may be little different, as neither will withdraw precipitously, but both are likely to withdraw all but a residual force within their first term. On foreign policy generally, I think Obama is more likely to seek diplomatic solutions, while McCain will be quicker to resort to military solutions. Either will employ both tools, but the tipping point will be different.

But on other issues, both candidates have bent to the pressure of their parties and/or powerful corporate interests. McCain's stated commitment to uphold all of the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans, in spite of having derided them in the past, is certainly a case in point. I really don't believe McCain has truly had a change of heart, but his party demands he stay in lockstep with their anti-tax dogma. I suppose that as President he may move to his more natural position, but at this point that would be a broken promise.

Obama capitulated on giving telecoms immunity for their role in Bush's surveillance program. He painted his reversal as a practical political compromise, so there is no implied promise that future decisions around surveillance programs or corporate accountability will be reflected in that decision.

In a McCain Presidency it would be telling to discover whether his "maverick" inclination to support environmental causes will be seriously compromised by his indebtedness to corporate polluters who might balk at policies they consider bad for their bottom line. In an Obama Presidency it would be telling to discover whether he enacts the bold structural changes [many outlined in this multipage pdf] that are needed to create real opportunity for the working poor and transparency in government, or if they will take a back seat to political expediency and corporate pressure.

There is no crystal ball to tell us just how much either man might succeed in breaking out of the "politics as usual" mode. Cynics will tell us not at all, while dreamers may imagine transcendent change. I may be a registered Democrat, but I am an American first, and it is my hope that some significant transformation will take place regardless of the winner this November. Clearly Obama's vision as laid out in The Audacity of Hope and his speeches is more aligned with my own. Many Americans, such as Jim Leach, who may not agree with some of the particulars are nonetheless inspired by his aspirational message.

In the next two weeks we have the opportunity to hear these two candidates address their conventions and set the tone for the election. As flawed as the process is, I believe we have a better choice this year than we have in quite a long time. It's a good thing too, because we certainly live in troubled times.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Obama's Luck Is America's Opportunity

We often take our good fortune for granted. Especially the luck we are born into, can easily be forgotten even as we take advantage of our heritage, our citizenship, and our freedoms. I have always felt extraordinarily fortunate to be an American. Today America is lucky!

Barack Obama freely acknowledges the role that fortune has played in his rise to political prominence. Of his campaign for the U.S. Senate in The Audacity of Hope Obama wrote:
My campaign had gone so well that it looked like a fluke. ... Not one of [my Democratic opponents] ran a negative TV ad. ... My Republican opponent was felled by a divorce scandal. ... Later, some reporters would declare me the luckiest politician in the entire fifty states. Privately, some of my staff bristled at this assessment, feeling that it discounted our hard work and the appeal of our message. Still, there was no point in denying my almost spooky good fortune.
Geraldine Ferraro during the just concluded primary campaign famously declared that Obama was lucky to be in his position, and would not be so if he were white. In fact Obama's mixed race heritage is part of who he is, and thus part of the context from which he can powerfully declare that we should "eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white." Would Clinton have been the presumptive front runner in this campaign if she were not the wife of a previous President? Did that make her lucky? One could suggest that McCain is "lucky" to have been a POW because it is part of his story which gives him credibility today.

Luck comes and goes, but only fools fail to take advantage of that which falls into our laps. America, after 8 years of a disastrous presidency, a huge stroke of fortune has fallen into our lap. Obama's luck is our luck. And here is why:

We have evolved a political system which has many advantages, but in which honesty in politicians is routinely punished. Absolute candor is political suicide, and every successful politician, including Barack Obama understands this. Most of us shade the truth to our own advantage in our every day lives, and share that which puts us in a good light more than that which does not. Unfortunately years and years as a politician, causes the most successful to become so adept at this game that they become less and less aware of how dishonest they have become. Obama is quite skilled at choosing his words in such a way that his message appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans. He's good at the political game, and his candor is not absolute. But the brevity of his political life and the luck he has had in rising to this level without more and nastier political opposition mean that he has retained more candor than we have come to expect from our Presidential candidates. For many Americans - even many who do not share Obama's political philosophy - that makes his message refreshing, and a breath of fresh air compared to what we've come to expect.

Obama is politically savvy enough to weave in pieces of the sound bites which help sell the message, but when taken in whole paragraphs, he also makes sense and his message is coherent and at its heart truthful. "Change" sells, so the word is employed over and over again - and we can roll our eyes - but that's politics. What I care about is that his aspirational approach is inspiring hope, his intellect backs up those aspirations, and his realism tempers his methods.

McCain complained about Obama referring to McCain's bid as Bush's third term, but when you take the whole of what Obama said, for instance in his speech last night in Minneapolis, you find that he is honest about the distinctions between Bush and McCain. Americans by a large majority ARE disillusioned with the policies of George W. Bush, and it would be politically foolish for any Democratic candidate NOT to point to the many policy similarities between Bush and the promises of McCain. But more than the simple sound bite, here is what Obama actually said:
Because while John McCain can legitimately tout moments of independence from his party in the past, such independence has not been the hallmark of his presidential campaign.

It's not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush ninety-five percent of the time, as he did in the Senate last year.

It's not change when he offers four more years of Bush economic policies that have failed to create well-paying jobs, or insure our workers, or help Americans afford the skyrocketing cost of college -- policies that have lowered the real incomes of the average American family, widened the gap between Wall Street and Main Street, and left our children with a mountain of debt.

And it's not change when he promises to continue a policy in Iraq that asks everything of our brave men and women in uniform and nothing of Iraqi politicians -- a policy where all we look for are reasons to stay in Iraq, while we spend billions of dollars a month on a war that isn't making the American people any safer.
McCain is a very different person than Bush, and should he become President, I still have some hope that he will bring much needed reform to that branch of government. Either of these candidates seems likely to bring some more transparency back to the executive branch. But McCain is still tied to the policies of his party, and Obama is offering a clean break from that without insisting on a lock-step partisan agenda that will cement the divisions in this nation. From the prologue of The Audacity of Hope:
I am a Democrat; my views on most topics correspond more closely to the editorial pages of the New York Times than those of the Wall Street Journal. I am angry about policies that consistently favor the wealthy and powerful over average Americans, and insist that government has an important role in opening up opportunity to all. I believe in evolution, scientific inquiry, and global warming; I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect, and I am suspicious of using government to impose anybody's religious beliefs--including my own--on nonbelievers. Furthermore, I am a prisoner of my own biography: I can't help but view the American experience through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful of how generations of people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and class continue to shape our lives.

But that is not all that I am. I also think my party can be smug, detached, and dogmatic at times. I believe in the free market, competition, and entrepreneurship, and think no small number of government programs don't work as advertised. I wish the country had fewer lawyers and more engineers. I think America has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world; I carry few illusions about our enemies, and revere the courage and competence of our military. I reject a politics that is based solely on racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or victimhood generally. I think much of what ails the inner city involves a breakdown in culture that will not be cured by money alone, and that our values and spiritual life matter at least as much as our GDP.

Undoubtedly, some of these views will get me in trouble. I am new enough on the national political scene that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views. As such, I am bound to disappoint some of them. Which perhaps indicates a second, more intimate theme to this book--namely, how I, or anybody in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.
I for one, feel very fortunate to have a major party nominee for the Presidency who can write with such candor, and I am equally committed, should he be elected to hold him to his implied commitment to avoid the pitfalls of success. America, today we are lucky and have a great opportunity to turn the page. Tomorrow and in the coming years we will need to continue to work to cash in on this opportunity. Citizenship does not end at the ballot box.

Friday, 30 May 2008

End Our Rogue Nation Status!

Over one hundred nations agreed this week to outlaw cluster bombs. But along with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Israel, the U.S. opted out of the agreement. These munitions infamously kill and maim disproportionate numbers of non-combatants, and are prone to leave behind live fragments which can detonate months and years later.

In yet another embarrassing break from an international movement toward a saner and more humane consensus, our government has chosen to defend the indefensible, and support the manufacture of weapons primarily used by our military and those of the other holdout nations. Whether on banning torture, rights of habeus corpus, or actions in response to global warming, this administration again thumbs it nose at international attempts to address serious issues of human rights with common sense agreements.

We have become one of those rogue nations we claim to oppose.

With respect to torture and global warming at least, there is good reason to hope that the next administration, whether led by Obama or McCain, will steer us back toward the mainstream of the community of nations. This has nothing to do with liberal vs. conservative arguments, but rather with common decency. The rule of law, whether it be state, national, or international, best serves us when abhorrent extremes are marginalized. Such laws and treaties need not be perfect to have some positive impact. Sure, some of the signatories to these agreements do so only for propaganda purposes, but that's no reason to oppose them. In fact, by being on record, nations may held to account later when their actions do not match their commitments.

Though some of his more recent votes have been disappointing, McCain has been outspoken in the past in opposition to the Bush administration's relaxations of the prohibitions against torture. We can hope that should he become Commander in Chief he would be truer to his earlier sentiments and move us toward a more enlightened foreign policy.

Disappointingly however, both McCain and Clinton voted against an unsuccessful Feinstein amendment in 2006 which aimed to limit the deployment of cluster munitions in proximity to civilian populations. Obama voted for the amendment. If our government's voice joins the majority strongly in support of banning such capriciously destructive weaponry, one can imagine the pressure on other holdout nations to join such treaties would be greatly increased.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

People versus Systems

After watching the outstanding rented movie "Children of Men" the other week, I viewed the 'mini-documentary' that came as an extra feature, entitled "the Possibility of Hope". Though a bit disjointed, it included commentary from a number of futurists, activists, and thinkers, including Naomi Klein, whose compassionate and insightful analysis is well worth sharing.
When people fall in love with what seems to be a perfect theory, a set of rules, and they love those rules more than they love people or places. In fact they begin to see the messy reality of life as interfering with the beauty, the imagined beauty, that exists only in their text, only in the sacred texts, whether they’re economic texts, or religious texts, or some dream of racial purity. I think we need to fear people who love systems more than people because the flip side of the love is the hatred for anything or anyone that interferes with the realization of that system, and this is the other thing about dangerous utopias, is that they can’t coexist with other ideas. They need the whole stage.
In her recent book, "The Shock Doctrine", Klein exposes the role of free market fundamentalism in what she has coined disaster capitalism. I find it compelling that Klein's quote above can serve equally well as an indictment of free market fundamentalism or strident Marxism.

Well formulated systems can be essential for guiding societies toward affluence, justice, fairness, and progress, but if we worship the system and forget its purpose, extraordinary pain and suffering can result.

I revere my nation's Constitution because it has by and large guided us toward becoming a more just society even than the one that our founders originally wrought. People are right to be wary of trifling modifications to that document, which may solve some perceived problem of the moment, but may not stand the test of time. Nonetheless, it is extraordinary that it has lasted so long without a rewrite, and only infrequent amendments. I think it may be worth exploring some cautiously approached methods for revisiting that document - if not in the near term, then in preparation for future strains on it. We should want to preserve that which has made it so durable, and perhaps some judiciously prepared amendments are all we will need, but the value of a Constitution lay in its ability to sustain the most honorable precepts on which it was founded, not in any inherent sacredness.

Last December, I watched with interest an interview with Sanford Levinson, author of "Our Undemocratic Constitution". While I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon, the subject is certainly worthy of discussion.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Four Years On

As I approach the fourth anniversary of starting this web log, I offer a little self-indulgent look at its history. I generally try to avoid this sort of thing, but in considering whether it's worth continuing an endeavor which gathers no profit and has a clearly limited influence, I made a couple of observations which I'll now share.

In the run up to the 2004 election, I was a man possessed - convinced we stood at a critical crossroads with an opportunity to resoundingly set aside a disastrous presidency. When that didn't happen, my effort had developed a life of its own, and I continued to post, but over time found other uses for my time, and the posts waned. Nonetheless I've felt compelled to keep this going at a lower level. Here's a month by month histogram of my posts since the inception of Choosing Hope:

In the background I have utilized a couple of utilities to track visitors and how they've found me. I've tended to write about subjects that I feel don't get enough attention, and often focus on individuals who are not as widely covered elsewhere, though I write plenty about those who do have power and influence. It is interesting to me to find which individuals that I've written about have been drawn the most visitors to my site by way of search engines. After weighing a couple of such measures, I came up with the following list of the 48 individuals that have led people here, starting with the most frequent - perhaps a surprise:

Craig Watkins
Bill Moyers
Walker Willingham
George Bush
Barack Obama
Muhammad Yunus
Dick Cheney
Troy Anthony Davis
Rush Limbaugh
Vaclav Havel
Rosa Parks
Harry Emerson Fosdick
Holly Near
Hillary Clinton
Paul Loeb
Cory Maye
Martin Luther King Jr
Dennis Kucinich
Jimmy Carter
Dumisani Maraire
Margaret Mead
William Haynes Holmes
Russ Feingold
Jim Hightower
Johan Olav Koss
Anthony Kennedy
Donald Rumsfeld
Robert Byrd
Maher Arar
Tom DeLay
Laura Denyes
Molly Ivins
Alberto Gonzales
Upton Sinclair
Bud Cummins
Joey Cheek
Amy Goodman
Ronald Reagan
Thomas Friedman
Cedric Jourde
Richard Rodriguez
Ted Kennedy
Richard Nixon
Margaret Atwood
John Kerry
Wangari Maathai
Cindy Sheehan
Nancy Pearcey

There are some jarring juxtapositions there, but I'll take my place between Bill Moyers and George Bush without complaing. ;-)

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Georgia Supreme Court fails justice

In a follow up to a story I reported here in November, the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia rejected by a 4-3 vote, Troy Anthony Davis' request for a new trial. Davis was sentenced to die for the 1989 murder of a Savannah, Georgia police officer. He has maintained his innocence from the outset, 7 of 9 witnesses have recanted their testimony, no physical evidence tied him to the murder, and there is a credible different suspect for the crime. Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote the dissenting opinion. She agreed with the majority that recantation testimony is inherently suspect, but maintained that:
If recantation testimony, either alone or supported by other evidence, shows convincingly that prior trial testimony was false, it simply defies all logic and morality to hold that it must be disregarded categorically.
Unfortunately, common sense was in the minority, as happens all too often in these times.

Winter Soldiers Ignored

How is the mainstream media dealing with the inconvenient tragedies brought to light by Iraq war veterans who gathered over four days last weekend in Maryland? They are ignoring them. Five years after the invasion of Iraq, and nearly 4000 dead American soldiers later, many brave individuals have brought their poignant testimony to an event that deserves more exposure.

War is hell - always. At rare and tragic times in human history war is surely necessary. But ignoring its tragic reality creates a climate in which war is entered into far too easily.

We honor the dead soldiers as we should. The financial cost of war gets a fair amount of attention. But the tragic results of war are far more numerous than those two awful tally sheets.

Winter Soldier II
, sponsored by Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), mirrors an earlier event from 1971 at which John Kerry famously testified. War hawks love to mock these events as "far left" gatherings, and consider the testimony of these veterans as treasonous and "un-American". The dozens of veterans who have chosen to speak understand how they will be unjustly vilified because of that choice, and yet their conscience demands no less of them. We can be sure that they are only the tip of the iceberg, among returnees whose humanity has been challenged in ways that it never should.

The "Rules of Engagement" for the Iraq war have been exposed as an ever shifting standard, and the extent to which they have been followed is often in flux, and largely depending on the mindset of the military leaders of individual operations. Soldiers who returned for many tours of duty related the generally declining standards as time wore on, as soldiers and leaders became hardened by their experiences. The nature of the battle, where the enemy was often difficult to identify, made tragic deaths and maiming of innocents more and more commonplace with time.

Democracy Now has been airing this testimony this week, and will continue that tomorrow. IVAW has live blogged the event. I challenge you to listen or read and tell me that these soldiers are lying, or that their experiences do not challenge notions of decency in how this war is being waged.

One sample piece of testimony came from Corporal Washburn of the Marines:
Something else we were actually encouraged to do, almost with a wink and a nudge, was to carry drop weapons or, by my third tour, drop shovels. What that basically is, is we would carry these weapons or shovels with us, because in case we accidentally did shoot a civilian, we could just toss the weapon on the body and make them look like they were an insurgent. Or, you know, like my friend here were saying, we were told by my third tour that if they were carrying a shovel or—you know, and a heavy bag, if they were digging anywhere, especially near roads, that we could shoot them. And so, we actually carried these tools and weapons in our vehicles in case we accidentally shot an innocent civilian, and we could just toss it on them and be like, “Well, he was digging. I was within the rules of engagement.” And this was commonly encouraged, but only behind closed doors. It wasn’t obviously a public announcement that they would make. But, yeah, it was pretty common.
This is nowhere close to the most shocking testimony I've seen, but it is indicative of the layers of disconnect between the reality and the official, and between the official and the "ideal". No one expects that war will not be accompanied by horror, but when the horrible becomes sanctioned to one degree or another by a White House Counsel, or a military directive, or a commander's prerogative, we guarantee that the horror will become pervasive.

It is not easy to pay attention to this tragedy. The mainstream media knows that it is easier to simply ignore Winter Soldier II, and the questions which it raises. They have an election to cover and celebrities' misdeeds to watch. Meanwhile innocent citizens continue to be killed and maimed, our reputation continues to be dragged to greater depths, and soldiers return home with injuries both physical and psychological which will impact them for life, and a training in violence that in many cases will haunt us once again.

We cannot learn if we will not look.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Cross-Ideological Appeal

Obama's appeal to voters across the ideological spectrum is positively the best thing about his candidacy. It certainly arouses suspicion among a fraction of liberals and progressives, and exasperation among a fraction of conservatives, but it makes perfect sense. Liberalism and conservatism coexist within every decent thinking human being.

We have been taught to think of ideology as a linear continuum between left and right. It has been my song and dance since I started writing here to point to the fallacy of that notion, even though I occasionally fall victim to it myself. There was a kernel of truth in that famous quote of Churchill's, but unfortunately he framed it in such a way as to reinforce a false dichotomy.

Churchill wrote “Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has not heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.” Today I counter that any mature adult who lacks all conservative values has no brain, and any who lacks all liberal values has no heart.

Watchblog's conservative editor Dana Tuszke has come out for Obama. This does not mean that she has abandoned her deeply felt conservative values. My wholehearted support for the same candidate does not mean I'm not still the champion of liberal and progressive causes that I've always been. It's not that either one of us is compromising on some mushy middle, though some will insist that's exactly what we're doing. We both see in one human being a principled man who can understand and empathize with both sides of an issue, but still take a position and defend it. As Paul Siegel points out, we don't have to agree on every point.

Obama has a demonstrated ability to work across the aisle to create substantive legislation. He did so in the Illinois legislature on a regular basis, including getting Republican support for the requirement that all police interrogations in homicide investigations be recorded. You can see in that single July, 2003 press release from Illinois' Republican Governor Blagojevich, that Obama's name is mentioned prominently in connection with three different pieces of legislation. Concern about police misconduct is typically labeled as a liberal cause, but when the solution addresses the concern directly without tying law enforcements hands too severely, reasonable conservatives can get behind it, because after all it serves no one for hidden misconduct to result in prosecutions of the wrong people. By having the concern of a liberal while understanding the legitimate concerns of conservatives, Obama was able to broker a deal which worked and satisfied a working majority from both sides.

In his short tenure in the United States Senate, Obama has crafted major legislation in concert with Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana to address nuclear proliferation, and significant reform legislation with the very conservative Tom Coburn of Oklahoma enforcing greater transparency in federal spending. Both these bills have passed. Perhaps neither is perfect, but both address real and pressing concerns that people across the political spectrum may share.

Three years ago I wrote of the need for cross-ideological alliances. In Obama, Americans of different stripes are seeing a bridge to span those differences and seek solutions that acknowledge the legitimate concerns of differing perspectives. It's not that every solution Obama suggests will be the magic bullet that solves some problem once and for all. He is certainly not that delusional, even if some of his supporters may be. But an approach to problem solving that lays off of vilification, concentrating instead on cooperation is sorely needed. To have such an approach be at the core of a presidency bodes well for our future.

Americans, there is no need for you to stop being liberal or conservative or moderate. Even radically liberal or radically conservative ideas should be gladly put on the table and debated. Radical thinking has helped humankind on more than one occasion. When people rail against extremism, they should instead be attacking orthodoxy. It is the inflexible thinking which insists that ideas coming from outside one's own perspective are therefore worthless which paralyzes us. Talk to people who disagree with you. LISTEN to people who disagree with you. My great hope for an Obama presidency comes not from a naive belief that his message of hope will translate into a perfect set of policies. My great hope comes from a belief that he can be a catalyst for us to move beyond our differences and slowly replace the attitudes of "my way or the highway" with a genuine concern for our future and our descendants' future.

Yes We Can!

Sunday, 10 February 2008

No Other Choice

I just belatedly posted two articles that I had previously posted only at WatchBlog, giving them the dates of their authorship there. In fact, there's been little difference in content in the last several months between what's been posted here, and what you would find linked at my Watchblog page. Perhaps it's a better use of my time to publish at a site which gets a modest amount of traffic, rather than one that gets very little. But Choosing Hope remains my own little corner of the "blogosphere" and I suppose I am loath to abandon it entirely. Also I see that it continues to get some traffic - much of it lately from one particular reader in Tempe, who seems to be systematically reading everything I've written. I'm flattered. Tempe, you should drop me a note. Also thanks to Adrian for your latest comments to my December posting.

The Obama article actually preceded by a couple of weeks my own stepping up of activity on his campaign. I think I was talking myself into it more than anything else. Mustering one's enthusiasm for a particular candidate's campaign requires greater suspension of skepticism the later into life we are, but I'm bound and determined to remain an idealist at heart as long as I possible can. I read screeds from the left damning Barack for his associations with establishment military folks. Many (not just the left) point to his rhetoric as being a little too pat, a lot too vague, and failing to take on hard issues directly. (I don't know what they expect in a stump speech.) I understand the concerns about how effective he can be once in office, as some remind me of the difficulties Carter had in implementing his agenda, or more sinisterly point to the fate of JFK, to whom Obama has been compared.

But I ask, just who am I supposed to be for? If I am to choose hope, as the title of my blog implies, how can I do anything but embrace this campaign whose central theme is about just that?

So most of what I've written lately has been in the form of emails, whether to Obama elists, relatives in Georgia, friends and neighbors, or Democratic party people. Perhaps over the next few days, I'll share some snippets. Or give a report from the caucus I chaired here in Washington State yesterday, where we sent 5 Obama delegates and 1 Clinton delegate on to the Legislative District caucus.

It has certainly been enjoyable to let go and be surrounded by all this enthusiasm, youthful and otherwise. A very nice birthday celebration for me, indeed.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Sorting out Superdelegates

Are they an anti-democratic outrage or a reasonable protection against an even more undemocratic brokered convention? Born out of the rancor which was the messy Democratic convention of 1968, the introduction of superdelegates is getting more attention this year as the race for the nomination remains close.

I have heard concerns expressed among some fellow Obama supporters that the superdelegates who are party insiders, are heavily skewed toward Clinton, and will tip the nomination to Clinton, even if Obama wins a clear majority of the other delegates. That scenario, in my view, is highly unlikely. Some have misreported the percentage of superdelegates as being close to or even over 40%, when in fact the actual percentage is 19.6%.

Still, that is certainly enough superdelegates to tip the nomination in a different direction than the duly elected delegates in a close campaign such as this one. Such a development would be a huge public relations disaster for the Democratic Party. Party insiders understand that, and I am confident there would be tremendous pressure on superdelegates to avoid it, regardless of which candidate would be affected.

Currently among the 796 superdelegates, 211 are pledged to Clinton & 128 are pledged to Obama, while 457 remain unpledged. (Other counts vary, but not substantially.) Clinton's lead in superdelegates therefore CURRENTLY is larger than her total lead. However, if Obama starts to pull ahead in future contests, but not enough to clinch the nomination with regular delegates, there will be strong pressure on the superdelegates to swing his way rather than create a situation where Clinton gets the nomination solely because of her backing by party regulars. In fact there would be pressure on previously committed Clinton superdelegates to switch rather than create a controversy that would damage the party and hurt the nominee's chances in November.

Call me naive, and I could be wrong, but actually I think practical politics will save us from this fear. That's not to say that I think Obama will win. Clinton still has a huge advantage from the inside machinery. But I believe she'll need to win the majority, or very close to the majority of the regular delegates to win the nomination.

Superdelegates may yet present the party with a PR dilemma if the race remains very close, with different methods of determination showing a different candidate ahead. For instance, what if Obama gains a small 10 to 50 vote lead among the regular delegates, but Clinton can point to a small but real popular vote margin among actual voters in the combined primaries? Or what if Clinton can claim she would have the regular delegate lead by sitting the Florida and Michigan delegates, even when ceding all of the uncommitted delegates to Obama, but Obama is clearly faring better in more recent head-to-head polling against the Republican nominee, as he is currently trending.

While I am confident that a significant number of the superdelegates will be motivated to support the candidate that the public feels has earned the nomination, if both candidates can stake convincing claims to that title, then all bets are off.

People will continue to challenge the logic of even having superdelegates, but we should remember that its genesis stemmed from concerns about brokered conventions, in which the winner can be determined in back rooms, and ultimately have far less to do with who the rank and file have voted for. The thinking was that by having party regulars, a large number of whom were duly elected by their own constituents, constitute a significant minority of the delegates, these folks could be counted on to follow popular trends to help to give a clear leader the majority, when multiple candidacies have split the delegate count sufficiently to otherwise keep that from happening. Since Edwards, the only additional candidate likely to have received significant numbers of delegates, dropped out before Super Tuesday, it turns out the the superdelegates are unlikely to play that role this year.