Monday, 26 December 2005

Morality and Ideology

In my post earlier today at WatchBlog, I suggested that much of our escalating ideological rancor comes less from extremism than what I referred to as "radical orthodoxy". Subsequently I have discovered that there is a theological concept of radical orthodoxy, which refers to something quite different, more specific, and less objectionable than the sense in which I used the term. Perhaps I should use the term rigid orthodoxy, though that seems rather redundant.

Government Spying

Some may think me remiss for not doing my part to pile on in attacking the Bush Administration for its illegal spying on American citizens and residents without receiving proper authorization. Well, make no mistake: I strongly disapprove. I largely agree with pundits as disparate as conservative George Will and liberal Markos Moulitsas here and here, in believing that this administration overstepped its bounds, and should not expect another free pass based on another plea of "Trust us."

That said, this is not the issue that most animates me.

I did earlier point to this excellent article by Hilzoy at the Washington Monthly who credibly makes the case that this revelation more than many others out of this administration meets a very high bar which he thinks necessary before seriously discussing impeachment. I am pleased that this is a story which has given pause to conservatives and libertarians, often defenders of the President's policies, creating momentum on Capitol Hill for Congressional hearings into the President's actions.

So why is this not front and center on Choosing Hope?

Perhaps it is because I'm so public in my views, that I'm more amused than outraged that my communications could be mined for their possible threat to the national security. I had better be careful, and I should be outraged, but there are plenty of others carrying the torch on this one, and I trust that they will persevere in their relentless call for the reining in of expanded executive power.

Perhaps this is how I might be listened in on. ;-)

But if you want my words, here is part of what I wrote in response to one conservative's ambivalent reaction to this story:
All indications are that FISA is very liberal in granting warrants, and THE PROCEDURES DO NOT REQUIRE ANY DELAY IN STARTING THE SURVEILLANCE and FISA’S DELIBERATIONS REMAIN SECRET. Following the law here would not have hampered any necessary surveillance to protect our security.

The only explanations I see for Bush going around the secret security court are either that he was initiating surveillance that he knew was questionable, or that he simply wanted to extend the power of the Presidency and flout the law.

I’m all for spying on the truly bad guys to keep us safe, but we had a system that allowed the executive branch to do just without tipping our hand, while remaining accountable for its actions through an independent secret court. Judge James Robertson, assigned to the court by Justice Rehnquist has resigned in reaction to this news, expressing through friends “deep concern that the NSA surveillance program, which was personally authorized by President Bush in 2002, was legally questionable and may have tainted the court’s work.”
In spite of relentless attempts to spin this and other stories for temporary bumps in the polls, this is yet another instance of further self-inflicted erosion to the core of support this administration was once able to count on. And yeah, I'm happy about that.

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Mixed News in the Senate

Will Ted Stevens ever give up? It's time that he and the oil development folks faced the fact that the American people do not think it is a reasonable trade to permanently damage a wilderness for a fraction of a year's supply of oil.

Thanks to most of the Senate Democrats and a couple of (three?) Republicans for holding firm and rejecting HR 2863 which would have appended a defense appropriations bill with a measure to open up ANWR (the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) to oil drilling. Special thanks to my own Senator Cantwell in taking a lead in standing up to Ted Stevens and his assault on the environment. The third Republican who earned the question mark was none other than majority leader Frist, who is continuing his practice of voting against cloture when he sees it has failed already. He did so earlier in the week on the Patriot Act vote, and first startled me with the practice on the Bolton nomination vote back in May. As I understand it, as Majority Leader, Frist is able to vote last, and if he sees a measure that he favors is going to fail, he votes against it because only a Senator on the winning side of the vote can initiate the process to revisit the vote later.

Earlier this morning brought bad news, as a budget bill which radically scales back social programs while bringing new tax cuts for the wealthy needed a tie breaking vote from our pro-torture* Vice President in order to pass. The only bright side of this news was that the Democrats were unified in their opposition - even Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu. Still a passed immoral budget is law. This hammers home the point that picking up a seat or three in the upper chamber will help matters without gaining majority.

Breaking News: It looks like the Senate has sent the military appropriations bill back to the House for reconsideration without the ANWR drilling rider. At least that's what I'm guessing Senate Concurrent Resolution 74 (A concurrent resolution correcting the enrollment of H.R. 2863) which just passed does.

*Hey, I don't usually throw out these off-subject gratuitous insults, but my patience with the audacity of these unindicted crooks has worn very thin indeed.

Friday, 16 December 2005

Busy Times

For those who keep very active blogs and post multiple times daily on current events these are very active times indeed. Look how many issues Kos couldn't help writing about in introducing the Midday Open Thread.

Hilzoy has really been on a roll lately over at Obsidian Wings and elsewhere. (some links may be temporarily down)

We can't all be on top of everything all the time. All the more important that we enlist in the army of truth seekers everywhere. When some do take a break, others can keep moving forward. And that army needs to include include liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and communitarians alike. The more of us become democracy's participants, the better. And that had better extend way past the "blogosphere". Care. Learn. Vote. ACT!

mundane question

Historically I've usually set links to open in a new window. It seemed right to me as a style, but lately I've been thinking it may be annoying to some - it's more trouble - and I've learned that those who wish to open links in a new window can right click (is there a Mac way too?) and select open in a new window. I am changing my style not to do so, unless I hear objections here.

Thursday, 15 December 2005

Misplaced Loyalty

Whether it's Chalabi or Mike Brown, Karl Rove or Tom DeLay, one of our President's calling cards is his loyalty to his chosen people far past the point where it might be reasonably expected. It's really a rather unusual political trait, and might be admirable in a sense, in a game where friends are often dropped like hot potatoes when the association might tar one's political future.

In an interview with Brit Hume of Fox News, Bush insists that his relationships with Cheney, Rove, and DeLay are as strong as ever. Our President:
[Cheney]'s got a nasty speculation about whether he's running the government or not running the government, whether I like him or don't like him.

The truth of the matter is, our relationship hasn't changed hardly at all. He's a very close advisor. I view him as a good friend. I had lunch with him today. We discussed a wide variety of topics.

And the good thing about Dick Cheney is when he discusses a topic with me and he gives me his advice, I never read about it in the newspaper the next day. And that's why our relationship is so close and his advice is so valued.

[On Rove]we're still as close as we've ever been. We've been through a lot. When I look back at the presidency and my time in politics, uh, no question Karl had a lot to do with me getting here. And I value his friendship. We're very close.

[On DeLay]Well, I like him. When he's over there, we get our votes through the House. [chuckles] We had a remarkable success of legislative victories. A remarkable string of legislative victories. We've cut the taxes and delivered strong economic growth and vitality. We've had an energy bill that began to put American on its way to independence.
But I really loved his attempt to spin the culture of corruption as a bipartisan problem:
I'm — you know, the Abramoff — I'm frankly, not all that familiar with a lot that's going on up there on Capitol Hill. But it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties. Yes, I mean, it's really important for all of us in public life to have the highest of ethics. So we can only trust the American people.
Thanks, George, for your trust. So will you trust me, this time?

Here's the LA Times article.

I personally have no doubt that but for the fact that so many Republicans are politically indebted to him, Tom DeLay would have been long since out of Congress, and very likely in jail by now.

What's not to get about his shenanigans? No doubt he follows the letter of the law more often than not, but the spirit of fair play or human decency is utterly absent in this man who had the gall to get all sanctimonious during the Terry Schaivo affair, while abetting sex slavery and sweatshop conditions in the Mariannas, coercing votes on the house floor with veiled threats, or killing popular bills in committee which otherwise would pass.

I've never voted for this man who wields so much power in this country, and am confident that an overwhelming margin would toss him out in a nationwide referendum, if we could have such a thing. But W likes him. Choice.

In the Hopper

Being a bit under the weather, there's simply not the time or energy to do any topic justice, but since it may be a while before there is, here's a glimpse at what may be in the hopper.

I have started a post on libertarianism, covering several angles on its relationship to common sense, passion, extremism, and practical political reality. Recognizing both value and danger in its tenets is as important for libertarianism as it is for any political philosophy.

A pure political post will look at the landscape of 2006 Congressional races in a graphical way. That may not happen until January.

I want to focus more on the distressing state of politics in Africa. As depressing as that can be, ignoring it to the extent that American media typically does is inexcusable.

And I want to counter more of the arguments for codified exceptions to a ban on torture or degrading treatment of prisoners. There is a reason, for instance, that we don't codify exceptions for killing one's spouse based on prior abuse. That doesn't mean that wise judges cannot exercise discretion in sentencing. Saying it's OK ahead of time is dangerous. But some think we should trust more the judgment of CIA interrogators than of abused wives. Why?


My recent relative quietude certainly cannot be blamed on a lack of events to comment on. Today's election in Iraq, as scary as the situation is there, is nonetheless a time for hope. It would be the utmost of selfishness to hope for tragic news there for the small political gain that might afford progressive politics at home. We can be united in our wishes for the safe release of Christian Peacemakers Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va.; Norman Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, of Canada.

The passages of Eugene McCarthy and William Proxmire remind me of the courage that ought to be more common than it is in American politics.

Dismay at the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams need not depend on an absolute opposition to the death penalty, or a certainty of his redemption. There are some very committed individuals who are convinced of his innocence of the particular crimes for which he is charged. While I don't know enough to form a full opinion, there certainly is a sufficient combination of troubling factors to suggest his execution should have been delayed at the very least. But even among those who could not muster much sympathy for the former gang kingpin, the case of Cory Maye is truly disturbing. That the tragedy occurred four years ago, and a suddenly awoken man who responded to an intruder by fatally shooting him is incarcerated on death row is beyond the pale. Surely this is clearly a case for a full pardon. It is easy to ignore the dangers of prosecutorial zealotry when those affected have no relation to us.

Proof of the untraceable hackability of Diebold computerized voting machines has led Leon County, Florida elections supervisor Sancho to swear off ever using Diebold equipment again. How would America respond if incontrovertible evidence arose that both the 2000 & 2004 elections were intentionally stolen? Reminds me of my two days of rage in November of last year.

That and Bill Clinton's appearance last week at the conference on global warming reminds me why in spite of my distaste for the man personally he was a far superior leader than our current national embarrassment.

Sunday, 11 December 2005

Democracy's Participants

Who will participate in our democracy, and how deeply?

In an inspirational appearance on PBS's NOW, [full transcript] Francis Moore Lappé reminds us that far more people are active players in our democracy than what is typically suggested by the media. And yet we run the risk of becoming what she calls a "thin democracy" if too many people view their participation as voting (if that) and nothing more.

Some excerpts from her new book Democracy's Edge are published on line, from which I found:
Out of sight of most of us, millions of Americans are satisfying their deep needs for connection with each other and expanding their capacities for effectiveness in the larger world. They are showing us how democracy can become more than a set of unapproachable, distant institutions—how it can become the rewarding way of life I call Living Democracy.

And none too soon!

The indignities and misery of economic insecurity and deepening poverty, the devastation of our ecological home, and the assault on our basic freedoms are of such magnitude that the emerging, more powerful practice of democracy may be our last, best hope.
and this! :
Contemporary social critics see America divided—left versus right, conservative versus liberal, religious versus secular. I disagree and even find these framings destructive. They deflect us from the most critical and perhaps the only division we have to worry about.

It is that between those who believe in democracy—honest dialogue, basic fairness, mutual respect, inclusivity, and reciprocal responsibilities—and those who do not. In the latter category are those willing to put ends over means, violating these core principles in pursuit of an ultimate goal.
Antidemocrats here or abroad include those willing to demonize opponents and even to kill innocent people in pursuit of political power, an idealized future, or a superior afterlife.
This certainly nails one of my most passionate beliefs. Someone who disagrees with me honestly is not my adversary, but rather my partner in an honest search for a better way forward. I can continue to be a liberal, and even sometimes radically so, without viewing conservatism or conservatives as the enemy.

NOW's host David Brancaccio followed his interview with Lappé, with an interview with another of democracy's participants, Diane Wilson, a shrimper from East Texas who confronted corporate abuse of power with effective citizen action. Her book, An Unreasonable Woman, looks to be well worth the read.

Friday, 9 December 2005

Tax Policy & Partisanship

First, hats off to the lone three Republicans in the House, Sherwood Boehlert (NY-23), Fred Upton (MI-6), and Jim Leach (IA-1) for bucking their party and voting against yesterday's Republican tax package HR 4297 which unfortunately passed by a 234-197 margin. The Senate version has yet to be voted on, but may face some problems with some Republican moderates already expressing doubt or opposition. This bill basically extends the Republican practice of giving marginally higher tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans in the name of stimulating investment. In fact it keeps the tax code more complicated for those who have modest capital gains for little if any advantage, and irresponsibly starves our treasury in a time which should call for national sacrifice, especially on the part of those who can best afford it.

Treasury Secretary John Snow gives the usual talking points in favor of stimulating the economy (by giving tax breaks to the wealthy) and is quoted in the Washington Post story:
"Lower tax rates on savings and investment have benefited millions of Americans of all income levels either directly -- through lower taxes on investment returns -- or indirectly through new and better jobs and greater economic security for families," Snow said.
which concludes:
The Tax Policy Center, run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, has concluded that the bottom 80 percent of households would receive 15.8 percent of the House tax cuts' benefit. The top 20 percent would receive 84.2 percent of the benefit. Households earning more than $1 million a year would get 40 percent of the tax cuts, or an average reduction of nearly $51,000.

Numbers such as these have given moderate Republicans pause in the Senate. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) last month single-handedly blocked the Senate Finance Committee from even considering an extension of the dividend and capital gains cuts. Instead, the committee drafted and the Senate approved a five-year, $60 billion tax cut largely aimed at restoring the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and slowing the expansion of the alternative minimum tax.
It is striking to me how unified the Republicans in the House typically are when it comes to tax policy, hence I think it's worth calling out the three exceptions here. Leach is a representative whose integrity and independence I've noted before. Certainly as a percentage, though, the 54 member Republican caucus of the Senate shows considerably more independence from orthodoxy than the 231 member Republican caucus of the House. This is yet another reason that I feel the switch to a Democratically controlled House is more important than a switch in the Senate. The switch in the Senate is going to happen anyway in 2008 if not next year, the switch in the House really needs to happen in 2006.

Saturday, 3 December 2005

Precarious Lives

I'm sharing the following article just sent out by Paul Rogat Loeb:

Paul Rogat Loeb

“Advice to Retirees: Embrace the future,” syndicated columnist Tad Bartimus recently wrote in my local Seattle paper. Sounds good, but for Bartimus the future was a layoff, in a corporate cutback, from a 25-year career at the Associated Press news service. Faced with the Hobson’s choice of agreeing to it or losing all health care access and pension benefits, she suddenly had to find ways to reinvent herself and survive, with less than half of her previously promised pension. She explores how her situation echoes the predicament of more and more Americans, like those who took middle-class futures for granted at companies such as General Motors, Delta Airlines, and Ford, but who now scramble to get by at jobs paying a fraction of the wages they were used to. America's social contract is being ripped apart, she writes—then she backs off to counsel individual adaptation and seeing life as “a banquet,” where we need to savor even the unexpected courses.

I know lots of people like Bartimus’s friend Sue. Sue worked for United Airlines for 23 years, lost her savings when the company’s stock crashed, may lose her pension in the current bankruptcy, and has to supplement her now part-time wages with a second job cleaning houses. I recently spoke in Kokomo, Indiana, where a major Delphi plant is likely to be closed, devastating a once-secure community of decent blue-collar jobs. My brother-in-law, now eking out a living as a substitute teacher, has been out of full time work for almost a decade now, in part because of a heart condition which would saddle any but the largest employers with prohibitively unaffordable insurance costs. Everywhere I go, I encounter people with once-comfortable lives who are borrowing on their houses, running up their credit cards, losing their health insurance, and generally running faster and faster to avoid the economic abyss.

Bartimus highlights a real and urgent problem. The promises on which many of us have based our entire economic lives are no longer being honored. We’re increasingly a winner-take-all society, where those at the top gorge on luxury consumption to an extent that makes the Robber Barons look like paupers, while those at the bottom scramble for crumbs. But the solutions Bartimus counsels are exclusively individual. “The trick,” she writes, “it so figure out what comes next,” and to focus “on possibilities, not regrets.” Maybe, she writes, she’ll forge a new future in woodworking, or open a gardening shop.

I hope Bartimus keeps landing on her feet, and I bet that she will. Of course people should, like her, be optimistic and muster all their resourcefulness, creativity, and tenacity to deal with the cards they’re dealt. But we should also work together to help insure a future where everyone gets dealt a decent hand.

The problems Bartimus describes can’t be solved by quietly accepting the global corporate mantra: “It’s here. It’s the future. Get used to it.” It’s not our individual decisions that are gutting our pensions, raising medical costs sky high, and making our lives on this rich and fruitful earth increasingly precarious. The economic squeeze faced by everyone except a handful of individuals at the top comes from thirty years of deliberate political choices--union-busting, regressive tax and trade policies, an eroding minimum wage, and a collapse of moral and political restraints on destructive greed. These pressures have been accelerated vastly since Bush took office. Think of the moral obscenity of funding the rebuilding of New Orleans by cutting food stamps, Medicaid, and low-income energy assistance. They’ll only be reversed by common effort.

I worry that by framing the solution totally in terms of individual adaptation, Bartimus steers her readers away from the major lesson of the stories she tells: that ordinary citizens must join together and speak out on the larger roots of these problems, on the choices we’re allowing to be made in our common name. If we simply buckle down and accept our fate, some of us will indeed find ways to adapt and survive, but many more will fall through the cracks. In a time when we’re taking The Apprentice as a national model, we need less silent adaptation, not more. Life should indeed be a banquet—for all of us. Whether we make it so is contingent on our common actions, not just how well we handle our individual challenges.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association, and winner of the Nautilus Award for best social change book of the year. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See To receive his monthly articles email with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles

Wednesday, 30 November 2005

The Third Type of War Prisoner

Mike Houser makes a good catch of the erroneous categorization of war prisoners into three types by Charles Krauthammer at the Weekly Standard. Krauthammer makes a tortuous defense of retaining the option for torture, but divides war prisoners into ordinary soldiers, terrorists, and terrorists with information. Mike rightly inquires what about the innocent who are suspected of terrorism. Krauthammer conveniently ignores an uncomfortable category.

Independent Pride vs. Reality

How many times have you heard someone say "I vote for the person not the party." Such folks are called proudly independent. How can you argue with that? Political reality argues otherwise in an age when majority parties set the agenda, chair all the committees, and wield substantial power. When one party has succumbed to corruption and controls all the branches of government, such independence becomes foolish.

Jack Whelan sums up his most recent post with this:
And that's why it is so important that the Democrats regain control of Congress in 2006. Not because the Democrats are better human beings than the Republicans, but because the corrupting effect of unchecked power of the Republicans must be stymied. The Republicans have to know that they cannont act without impunity. They cannot control themselves; we shouldn't expect them to.
As ideological removed from Newt Gingrich as I was in 1994, I could not deny that many aspects of the first 100 days of that "Contract with America" had merit. The Democrats had controlled the House for 40 years without interruption, and their behavior had legitimately earned the scorn of the electorate. We see that it has taken the Republicans only 10 years to become as corrupt as the Democrats managed to become in 40.

I can hope that even some Republicans see the need for a switch in control, but must admit that I couldn't bring myself to vote for a Republican in '94, so can imagine how hard it must be for them to buck their ideology for a necessary righting of the ship. Nonetheless, if the Democrats can field a compelling crop of challengers, appropriately tailored to their districts, our country may well get the switch we need in '06.

Saturday, 26 November 2005

Where does "political enthusiasm" lead?

This morning I received an email from a distant friend who recently looked me up. He asked the question:
I would like to know if America's growing enthusiasm for "politics" is spreading lightness or darkness.
Though I've not asked it in quite that way, that is a question which I've been wrestling with as I view all of the newfound passion being exhibited by citizens for our political process. On the one hand I am heartened to see the dissolution of apathy among many who had been politically dormant. On the other hand, the natural tendency to "choose sides" when personal political passions take hold often results in an unhealthy clannishness, which serves to deepen divides along what I often see as false lines.

David Broder on Washington Week in Review last night spoke of a yearning among many Americans for moderation in the face of all the harsh rhetoric which is being served up these days. I cringed when he gave his example, however, because while I share the desire for greater civility in our society, that civility isn't best reached by simply settling on some mushy middle that supposedly only "extremists" would find objectionable. People of conscience should challenge us at the edges, when inertia would allow injustice to prevail.

We should be very clear. Speaking against injustice, against tyranny, against inhumane treatment, or against killing should not be considered divisive because it is "negative" speech. It is rather attempts to conflate ideologies with injustice, tyranny, inhumanity, or murder which are divisive. I am often unhappy with "anti-conservative" talk among my putative comrades which I see as unnecessarily divisive. I fully defend most of liberalism as an honest attempt to point toward a more enlightened future. I take strenuous exception to the dogged denigration of liberalism by the right wing noise machine. But I do not denigrate conservatism in return, in some kind of tit for tat competition. Sure I will decry what I am usually pretty careful to label as the current Republican leadership in the U.S., because it is my honest judgment that corruption and greed has long since overtaken classic conservatism as the driving force behind it. On a case for case basis, I will still defend a liberal position as superior to a classic conservative position where I believe that to be the case. Such a defense should never be shrill. But there are certainly cases where outrage is appropriate.

In the runup to the 2004 election I interacted with many local Democrats who had thrust themselves into the campaign out of a sincere desire to help our nation return to some sanity. I felt a genuine camaraderie there, and yes some of it was borne of outrage. I'm certain there was genuine camaraderie on the other side as well, often felt by truly decent people who felt they were working toward a noble goal. It too often feels like we're stuck in an us or them dichotomy. I desire a camaraderie which crosses the false divide without compromising our deeply held values. We really don't all need to believe the same thing. We can see the goodness of folks across the divide without sacrificing every radical notion, as long as we retain the humility to recognize that some of our ideas may not stand up to reality.

Hope lies in the possibility of synthesis, not annihilation.

Monday, 21 November 2005

Threat or Opportunity

In a recent fit of dismay over America's direction and the future of the planet I mused that maybe our best hope now is that China, in spite of her deeply flawed recent past, and burgeoning development in the face of dwindling resources, will somehow "get it right", and become the leader that keeps us afloat. There's plenty of reason for skepticism, with a human rights record which leaves much to be desired, and, for instance, the huge Three Gorges Dam hydro project there which hardly seems the model of environmental stewardship. Nonetheless, the sheer number of Chinese is a sobering reminder that their handling of their own development may be the single most important factor in determining humanity's future over the next century.

Mark Satin in his most recent Radical Middle newsletter, suggests that our greatest hope may lie in not perceiving the rising economic powers of China, India, and Brazil as threats, but rather as partners with whom our cooperation is essential if we are to move forward with everyone's interests in mind. He suggests following the advice of policy analysts such as Joseph Nye, Jr of Harvard and Lawrence Korb and Robert Boorstin of the Center for American Progress, who suggest a new approach in our engagement with these developing nations.
It involves de-emphasizing the “hard power” (economic and military carrots and sticks) routinely wielded by top officials like John Snow, and vastly increasing what Nye calls “soft power” -- a willingness, even an eagerness, to listen to each other, learn from each other, and work cooperatively with each other on the common problems that confront us all.

(In this view, to the extent that American values are “superior,” they’ll be adopted naturally in the course of cross-cultural exchange and common endeavor. The John Snows of the world will have little to do with it.)

Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have embraced the soft-power-first approach. It requires policymakers to embrace such dicey characteristics as humility and magnanimity, and to commit themselves to focusing more on long-term interests than short-term positions.
Sure, it's more than a little bit frightening to realize our fate depends on good faith partnerships among cultures which have condoned suppression of freedoms, honor killings, and oppression of women. But we see our own strengths in spite of deep flaws, so we should welcome an honest exchange with others in spite of their flaws, or else face the consequences of an antagonism which will bring out the worst in all of us.

By humbly acknowledging our own warts, perhaps we will give permission for new partners to do the same, enabling us to work together toward solutions with a little less of the bad stuff, drawing from the strengths that each of us have to offer. Every possible course is fraught with danger, but if we are to choose hope we must be willing to engage other powers in a cooperative spirit of mutualism, encouraging our better natures to blossom, while facing our common problems boldly and honestly.

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Insisting on a Higher Standard

White phosphorus should not be used as a weapon - period.

Regular readers know that I have a high tolerance for a diversity of opinion, while espousing my usually liberal but rarely strident views. I have a very low tolerance, however, for sanctioning the mistreatment of others, regardless of who they might be.

When Bush nominated the architect of a policy which sanctioned inhumane interrogation techniques to be the chief law enforcement official of the land, I cried foul. When Cheney seeks exceptions to a universal no torture policy, that's not just unwise, it is immoral.

War is an awful, awful business, and it is with good reason that one of just war theory's precepts is that it be used as a last resort. Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq looked more like one based on a last opportunity, not a last resort, and hence I unambiguously opposed it, and marched against it, before we went in. Once in a war, civilian casualties are all but unavoidable. I don't deny that compared to many previous wars, a great deal of effort was placed on minimizing civilian casualties in this one. As the war lengthened, it was inevitable that more lapses in this effort would occur, and it seems likely that one of the most scientifically credible studies which was under-reported in the mainstream American media estimated 100,000 Iraqi deaths, mostly civilian, one year ago. It matters not that the opportunity to go to war may have been lost, with the U.N. inspections process still underway and making progress, it was not a last resort. Period.

So when an Italian source reported about one week ago that the incendiary white phosphorus had been used against a civilian population in Falluja, I was concerned. I did not jump on the story which was being roundly debunked in much of the right leaning press and blogosphere, as I am disinclined to lend credence to a single source without corroboration. Yesterday's admission by the Pentagon that the chemical, colloquially known as 'Willie Pete', had been used as a weapon in Falluja, represented a change in their story from their claim of a week ago:
The US initially denied reports it had used white phosphorus as a weapon in Falluja in November 2004, saying it had been used only for illumination and laying smokescreens. However, the Pentagon has now confirmed the substance was used as an "incendiary weapon" during the assault.
(read the whole thing)

Though they continue to deny that it was used against civilians, and argue that its deployment was not illegal, is it any wonder that such claims have lost credibility with much of the world now that their story has changed?

I will not apologize for my insistence that my nation be held to a higher standard when it comes to the treatment of our enemies, suspected enemies, or those who may be caught in the crossfire.

When Senator Bond was debating Senator Durbin last week in defending his vote against McCain's amendment prohibiting torture and inhumane treatment, he fell back on the argument that the rules would prohibit treatment which is typical for our own recruits at boot camp. Well maybe we should look at our treatment of our own forces, but we should not give carte blanche to unknown agents to interrogate unknown prisoners at unknown locations outside the constraints of international law. Insisting on a higher standard is what America should be all about.

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Liberal Interventionism

Liberal interventionism seems to be something that a lot of bright people are writing about lately. Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias combined to produce this thoughtful article at American Prospect yesterday. My favorite local writer, Jack Whelan, has this to say over at After the Future, and points us to this Dan K reply at the TPM Cafe, including the following frightful observation:
A fire is raging that is threatening to burn the world down. Yet instead of arguing constructively about how to put the fire out, people are consumed instead with arguments about (a) whether it is ever a good idea to light fires and (b) who told the lies that tricked some of us into lighting this one.
Pride often tempts us to find some subtle truth that others are missing, and display it like a peacock's tail. Personally I wouldn't pretend to predict the outcome of bold intervention, whether the intention is noble or not. I was confident enough that going into Iraq was a huge mistake that I took to the streets back in February of 2003. Others on both sides of the issue knew more than me, but when the stakes are high we sometimes must make our best guess and take a position that our moral compass demands of us. I would have been happy to have been proved wrong. I wasn't. There is no joy in that.

I don't know what to do next. But we desperately need some smart, forward thinking, and morally directed people to put their best effort into suggesting some alternatives.

Monday, 7 November 2005

Splinters, Splinters, Everywhere

Here's more evidence that the UNholy alliance between corporate interests and the religious right is cracking up. It was bad enough for evangelicals to learn that their putative allies have been calling them 'wackos' behind their backs, but more are waking up to the fact that corporate interests are orthogonal (when not in direct conflict) to their interests. Already evangelicals as far right as Pat Robertson have bucked the Bush administration in calling on Congress to approve debt relief. The environment had been one issue on which the corporate and religious right leadership had been pretty consistently in lockstep against greener sensibilities, though I've personally known quite a few environmentalist evangelicals. But now evangelical leaders are speaking more forcefully for biblically mandated stewardship of God's creation creating splinters both within the evangelical movement, as well as between them and the corporate polluters. Thanks to Facing South for the inspiration.

Richard Viguerie, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Rush Limbaugh, et al: I believe your glue is finally drying up!

Saturday, 5 November 2005

Tip of the Iceberg

This from Inflatable Dartboard is just brilliant.

Thanks to firedoglake for the find.

Wake Up & Shut Down are Opposites

I have unabashedly celebrated Harry Reid's bold move Tuesday to force the Intelligence Committee's hand in moving forward with their investigation of the Administration's use of intelligence to promote the case for war in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. To those millions of Americans who agree that Bush has been dishonest with the American people from the start of this sad chapter, this was a long awaited WAKE UP in the Senate, which for two hours forced them to address one of the most important issues we face. And yet repeatedly I've seen this action referred to as a 'shut down' of the Senate, including last night on Washington Week in Review.

Call it a stunt or grandstanding if you must, but that closed session was not a shut down, it was a wake up.

Friday, 4 November 2005

Alit... Shhhhhh!: War, Torture, Corruption, Deceit

The Democrats got an early Christmas gift from Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who correctly postponed hearings on the Samuel Alito SCOTUS nomination until January, rebuffing the anxious White House, saying "We have to do it right. We can't do it fast."

I agree with others who believe the GOP is in no position right now to be using the "nuclear option", so politically the Dems are in a great position to filibuster. But the process is important, and it seems to be clear that Alito is a thoughtful and decent man, as well as an intelligent constitutional scholar. The extent to which he would move the judicial philosophy of the court to the right, however, is a genuine concern to liberals and some moderates, and Senator Leahy, the ranking democrat on the Judiciary Committee will not rule out rejecting Alito on ideological grounds.

Two paragraphs, after saying "Shhhhhh!", I'm still writing about Alito. But the break until January gives Democrats more time to focus the nation on the Iraq war, use of torture, corruption, cronyism, and deceit, and that's what they should do in lieu of making more public comments about the Supreme Court nominee. Cheney's support is down to 19% in the latest poll, so I expect Bush's support to fall further. As much as I prefer the higher road, where people of disparate philosophies work together to hammer out sensible policies, the demonstrated unwillingness of the Bush White House or Republican Congressional leadership to engage with their adversaries, combined with their increasingly apparent criminality makes it clear to me that the best course is to pile on and do everything possible to discredit them and render them ineffective.

So I say it's time to be quiet about Alito, and make as much noise as possible about the outrages perpetrated on Americans and the world by Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, DeLay, Scanlon, Abramoff, etc. Reasonable Republicans like Specter can help us against the religious extremists, McCain against the torture promoters, Grassley against the too cozy relationship between Corporate heads and government regulators. Fully discrediting the current leadership will give an opportunity for reasonable voices to rise within the Republican party. We'll need those voices to be there if and when the Democrats take the reins of control back. For now, I will openly long for that day, and add my voice to the rising crescendo of dissent.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

Give 'em Hell, Harry!

On the Senate floor today:

- - - - Harry Reid's Statement - - - -

I've not heard Senator Reid's name mentioned as a potential nominee for President on the 2008 Democratic ticket. I wouldn't blame him if he doesn't want the job, but after today I bet his name will start cropping up. Thanks, Jane!

Libby Replaced by Two Who Are Unfit

While most of the press dutifully follows the important Supreme Court nomination, someone is paying attention to our administration's willful disregard for common sense and decency, by replacing indicted insider Libby with two other insiders linked to spreading misinformation and authoring pro-torture policies. It's a pretty sure bet that if the truth were all exposed, it would be a lot more than just Scooter Libby confined to a prison cell. I'm all for due process, but there are some who have been executed for less egregious offenses than Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld, to name a few are probably guilty of. Those who have inside knowledge of any crimes have a patriotic duty to expose them to the American public. There seem to be a whole lot of people who have gotten it backwards, and are endangering our national security in the name of protecting it.

Thanks to Basie! for keeping his eye on the ball.

Monday, 31 October 2005

Anticipating the Firestorm

The emails have not yet started to flood in. I'm sure the advocacy groups are currently working overtime collecting the data on Samuel Alito's judicial decisions so that they can make their case to their constituents to oppose or support his nomination to the Supreme Court. MoveOn was quick on the trigger, though, and have already launched their campaign to collect a quarter million signatures in 48 hours in opposition to Alito's elevation to the Supreme Court.

Really though, the firestorm I am anticipating is not the predictable one which will be waged in public among the various interest groups and their constituents, but the more subtle one which will take place in the Senate Judiciary Committee and if approved there on the floor of the Senate. I figure it is time to dredge up last May's Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Nominations which was brokered in the famous compromise of 14 to avoid the rancor of the nuclear option. The agreement is only binding upon the 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats who signed it, and is not as broad as some would have us believe. Specifically the Democrats agreed:
Signatories will exercise their responsibilities under the Advice and Consent Clause of the United States Constitution in good faith. Nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her own discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.
A frequent misreading of this document is that since the earlier section of the document exempted the use of the filibuster by the signatories against non-Supreme nominees Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor, and Priscilla Owen, that there is an implicit acknowledgement that their nominations do not constitute extraordinary circumstances. Such a reading would equally imply that the Republican signatories were acknowledging that William Myers and Henry Saad did exemplify extraordinary circumstances which the Democrats would have a right to filibuster. No, Part I of the compromise, was just that - a compromise to avoid the protraction of debate on the then current set of judicial nominees, so that business could proceed and the threat of the "nuclear option" could be deferred at the least.

Nuclear Option: dispensing with the Senate rule that 60% of the Senate is required to stop discussion (invoke cloture) and force a vote on a nominee.

It does mean that any of the (Democratic) signatories who do take part in a filibuster are on the hook to defend their perception of a candidate's nomination as an extraordinary circumstance, as any of the (Republican) signatories would be on the hook to claim otherwise before ceding to any Republican attempt to invoke the nuclear option. These Senators actually know each other well enough to have a pretty good idea if the others are being disingenuous, but I really think the Democrats have the upper hand here. If one or several make a sincere case that a nomination is extraordinary - and note that the memorandum does not exclude ideological considerations - then any of these more moderate Republican signatories will be hard pressed to cry foul. Further, the weakened Presidency and embattled Republican party has already spent its political capital for this kind of fight. Now it's true that the Republicans, if they are otherwise united, only need to peel off two or three of their signatory fellows to reverse the cloture rule, but it's an even more risky game for them given the higher likelihood that they will become the minority party in 2006 or 2008.

Alito may not be the firebreather that Bork was, nor the lightweight that Miers was perceived to be, but he has a long record which won't play well among civil libertarians, consumer advocates, or the suburban social moderates. Roberts and Alito may not be that different, but Roberts record was shorter and afforded him better play under questioning. His confirmation without any recorded cloture vote - a voice vote I'm guessing - with only 22 Nays in the final tally also establishes that the Democrats are playing nice, so far.

My sense is that the fight is upon us, and with the weakening of public support for Bush and the GOP, right now I'm betting against his confirmation. He may not even get out of committee if Specter decides that it's time to stand up to the right wing of his party.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Activists Take to the Streets

I wasn't able to join yesterday morning in the action at Seattle's downtown viaduct which generated publicity for the opponents of the potentially deadly Initiative 912, but I was there in spirit. Darryl at Hominid Views posted a nice article about it. Thanks you all for getting off your duffs and making a statement.

Progressive Tax Reform Introduced

Ron Wyden, Oregon's Democratic Senator, should earn special kudos for his bold tax plan, the “Fair Flat Tax Act of 2005”, which he introduced this morning. Here is a bold approach to real reform of the tax code which has much to recommend it to both progressives and fiscal conservatives.

Wyden doesn't cave to the flat tax purists, retaining a three tiered progressive rate structure. He also retains the most popular deductions, such as home mortgage (a political necessity, though not truly progressive), child tax credit, and charitable deductions, but does away with a lot of the gratuitous special favor exemptions which have complicated the code over the years. The claim is that those making under $150,000 will see a tax break with this plan, and yet the budget gains $100 billion dollars over all. A large part of this increase is due to the plan's institution of a flat corporate tax rate which would undo the myriad of exceptions currently in place, as well as taxing dividend and capital gains income at the same rate as earned income.

Of course the investment community will squawk about any increase in capital gains taxes, and how that will dampen investment, but I don't believe it for a minute. Those inclined to invest and trade stocks are not going to stop simply because their gains will be taxed at a somewhat higher rate, and those who have modest gains will no longer have to wade through convoluted worksheets and formulas on their Schedule D all for the possibility of saving $17.13. For great specifics on the actual economic impact of this plan, I recommend Steve Novick's excellent article at Blue Oregon. Novick notes that "Studies of capital gains tax cut proposals at the Federal level have repeatedly disproved the economic arguments for capital gains tax cuts", and cites some details of several of these studies.

Other positive features are a credit against state income and sales tax which can be taken advantage of without itemization, and a simplified form that will enable many taxpayers to file a one page return. Now I would have liked (scroll to bullet points) to see charitable contribution deductions to move off of the itemized page as well, but I did not see that mentioned in the summary on Wyden's Senate page.

I don't think Wyden's plan has much chance of passage as long as the Republicans control both houses, but it can be a rallying point for Democrats in the upcoming campaigns, and in staving off unfounded charges that they lack ideas.

Thanks to Kari Chisholm of Mandate Media for alerting me to this wonderful proposal.

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

They Just Don't Get It

Our Vice President can't let go of the idea that torture stay on the table as a weapon against terrorism. Facing an explicit ban on torture, passed by the Senate by a 90-9 vote, Cheney and CIA director Porter Goss met with Senator McCain in a last ditch effort to exclude from the torture ban clandestine counterterrorism operations overseas by agencies other than the Pentagon "if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack."

Proponents of such exceptions like to dream up hypothetical situations in which torture might be the leverage needed to extract information that could directly avert an act of terrorism. The problem is that information thus obtained is unlikely to be any more correct than what could be obtained otherwise. Furthermore these exceptions never are confined to such hypothetical cases, but are left to the discretion of those who have the power. Having such power inevitably leads to abuse and creates a culture of acceptance for the unacceptable.

Have we learned nothing from Abu Ghraib?

Washington Post editorial

[UPDATE: Far better than the Washington Post editorial, I just found this excellent posting by the Doctor over at]

Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Schadenfreude, Fitzmas, & Plamegate Frenzy

It would have been so much cleaner if America (or that critical 10%) had woken up one year earlier and decisively changed regimes at the ballot box.

While much of the left awaits in excited anticipation of what indictments may be handed down, I share Jack Whelan's trepidation about what that will actually mean for our nation's future.
I'm worried. It just seems that the country is particularly vulnerable right now, that things are being held together with paper clips and duct tape. If these guys go down, they are not going down without a fight. Things could get pretty messy.

Americans convinced themselves in electing this administration they were putting the grownups back into power, but they're discovering now that instead they put in a callow frat-boy who might be the only one left standing when all the dust settles. I don't know about you, but that makes me pretty nervous. He's got three more years. It's one thing to pop the country's balloon about what they really have in this man, but once the balloon is popped, there he is. ...

When abstractly considered, being rid of Cheney and Rove would seem to be a good thing. But their boy in the oval office is in over his head in the best of circumstances. How confident do you feel about his stability and his capability to deal with the kind of firestorm it looks like his administration is about to face?
When I gave my speech to my County's Democratic Convention 18 months ago, friends had advised me to cut the line about "blowing the cover of CIA operatives for political payback" as news that was 'too old'. But it seemed central to me as a cornerstone of this administration's shameless mendacity. Suddenly that old news is revived, and everyone is on pins and needles. Well it's 12 months too late.

Don't get me wrong - I'll take the scandal and hope it finally destroys their credibility as Watergate did for the much tamer Nixon - but I have no illusions that the scars left behind won't be painful.

Monday, 24 October 2005

Rosa Parks

On the day of her passing, we thank Rosa Parks for her important role in bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice. But we also thank those who came before her, those who worked with her, and those who have come since.

The Rosa Parks story is frequently taken out of context, and there is a misimpression that it just happened one day out of the blue. Parks earned her renown after years of involvement. From Paul Loeb's article:

[the] familiar rendition of her story had stripped the Montgomery, Ala., boycott of its most important context. Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had spent 12 years helping lead the local NAACP chapter. The summer before, Parks had attended a 10-day training session at Tennessee's labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she'd met an older generation of civil rights activists and discussed the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision banning "separate but equal" schools.

In other words, Parks didn't come out of nowhere. She didn't single-handedly give birth to the civil rights efforts. Instead, she was part of an existing movement for change at a time when success was far from certain.

This in no way diminishes the power and historical importance of her refusal to give up her seat. But it does remind us that this tremendously consequential act might never have taken place without the humble and frustrating work that she and others did earlier on. It reminds us that her initial step of getting involved was just as courageous and critical as the fabled moment when she refused to move to the back of the bus.

As a white male in 2005, I live in greater freedom to the extent that oppression has been lifted from others. One of Martin Luther King Jr.'s great insights was in recognizing the oppressive effect of oppression not only on the oppressed, but also on the oppressor and upon those expected to take the role of the oppressor. To the extent that inequity was still palpable in the sixties when I was growing up in Georgia, I can tell you that it was unpleasant for me. Of course it was ever so much worse for those on the other end of the inequity.

[Addendum: For additional background on Rosa Parks's action, the role of others, and the Montgomery bus boycott, please see Sheelzebub's excellent post at Preemptive Karma.]

Disaster Fatigue, but remember Pakistan

It's been barely over two weeks since a natural disaster which in most ordinary years would be the deadliest of the year. The enormity of the tragedy, though, took a few days to impinge on my consciousness, and then I was off for a week to attend a high school reunion, and realized just this week that the whole event had slipped my mind.

Over 80,000 confirmed dead, hundreds of thousands homeless, disaster relief the most difficult ever, and it had slipped my mind? What is wrong with me? What is wrong with our media? Did someone make an executive decision that Americans were just too fatigued by disaster, and we would spare them the 'hype' of this particular set of unfortunates?

I just scanned the major news outlets on the web, and most of them don't even have a link from the front news page related to this tragedy. Sure Wilma is bearing down on Florida, and deserves the top spot right now, but over a dozen other stories are sharing its headlines, while this deadly quake has been shoved to a scant mention and link on the World page. If I recall the tsunami remained front page news for weeks, yet here with a tragic dearth of emergency response, the major news media seem to be choosing to just skip this inconvenient tragedy.

A recent diary by media girl at DailyKos decries the lack of attention being paid to this by bloggers as well. Well, it's not too late to help, so let's get creative and think of ways to challenge others to dig deep, even as we challenge ourselves to do the same.

I know I am suffering from donation fatigue myself this year, with the tsunami, West Africa and Southern Africa famine, and Katrina already making this a record donation year for me. But Mercy Corps and other relief agencies are still out there ready to turn our cash into relief, so I am recommitting myself to fundraising for Pakistan two or three times as much as I shelled out myself for tsunami relief. If your company matches your donations, and you are not already at the limit of what they will match, I urge you to dig deep yet again and be a part of alleviating this suffering.

Saturday, 22 October 2005

Local Elections

My ballot for the November elections came in the mail yesterday, along with the Washington State Voters Guide to the array of Initiatives and ballot measures up for vote. I've already written about my opposition to the foolish Initiative 912, and will be joining my fellows who are distrustful of the insurance industry in voting against I-330. I've not yet decided to vote for I-336, the lawyers alternative to 330. I like its promotion of transparency, but worry about the possibility that it may be too punitive of doctors in high risk fields. Both initiatives are outrageously long. It's amusing to see the 330 proponents try to leverage public distrust of lawyers in fighting for their initiative, as if there weren't a whole team of lawyers in the middle of putting it together.

One can do a lot worse than simply to reflexively vote against every initiative, as there is a solid argument that in a republic we ought to elect competent representatives whose job is to hammer out the details of public policy. I don't share the faith of some who think it's better to put everything up to a direct vote of the people, when so many rely on sketchy information to make these far-reaching decisions which often tend to bankrupt their states. In Washington State, the Resolutions coming out of the Legislature are a different matter, as the hammering out has already been done in a bipartisan setting. Certain legislative changes require public approval, however, and in the absence of compelling information that something is amiss with them, I tend to vote in favor of those. This year we have a Senate Resolution which I see passed the state legislative bodies with 46-0 & 90-2 majorities. Nobody is going to convince me that our legislators are that bad. Unlike the Patriot Act, which passed Congress by a similar margins, this bill is quite short, so there should have been time to understand it fully.

Our Republican Secretary of State, Sam Reed, who oversees the elections, seems reasonable enough, but I do take issue with this statement in the guide:
I urge you to research the issues, to prepare for voting changes, and most importantly, to exercise this great privilege.
He's included the right list, but if voting itself is granted a more important status than researching the issues we doom ourselves to undesirable results. It should read:
I urge you to prepare for voting changes and to exercise this great privilege, but most importantly to research the issues, so that you may make an informed decision. You may abstain on any measures or candidates about which you are unsure, and the rest of your votes will still count!
Happy voting, everybody! Let me know about the initiatives which may be threatening solvency or civil rights in your state.

Thursday, 6 October 2005

So Much News

So Little Time

These days it would be a full time job to do blogging any justice. I've never felt obliged to comment on all major current events here, but when everything seems to be happening at once, it's just overwhelming. So let me recommend some other sites:

For great insights on the Plame case and Rove's upcoming testimony, check out Firedoglake, where Jane Hamsher has recently teamed up with ReddHedd to deliver all the sinister speculations as the wheels are coming off BushCo. Great Photoshopping of Rove's recent trip up, Jane! ;-)

Ordinarily I'd be anxious to deliver some commentary on the excellent vote coming out of the Senate last night. John McCain has disappointed me frequently in the past year, but this is the arena where I expect him to shine, and he did not disappoint. 90-9! Way to go Senators! Oklahoma is the lone state of total shame on this one. My heart goes out to all you believers in human decency in the Sooner State.

With the Supreme Court season coming into full gear and a nomination still on the table, don't forget to check in on SCOTUSblog for all the latest.

There has been a lot of tragic local news in the Puget Sound area recently, with the crash of a Medic Helicopter carrying the pilot and two nurses, the death of two scientists, crushed by logs rolling off a truck on Tuesday, and the usual assortment of fires and crime.

That and a friend of mine is prominently featured on Grist, where he is ready to take all questions on the impact of Mangrove destruction and how we can help in the fight to abate it. Go Alfredo!

Finally, speaking of how we can help, here is a long overdue tip of the cap to one of the most positive blogs I've encountered, so what can I do? which always looks to action rather than complaint in encountering the injustices of the world. Karama Neal, the host, is currently celebrating the blog's anniversary by pledging a donation to three worthy organizations for each comment left here.

Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Death With Dignity Before the Court

Chief Justice Roberts was immediately thrust into presiding over a highly controversial case today. The ability of doctors in Oregon to legally prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients is being challenged by the U.S. Attorney General's office. In his very last day in office, Attorney General Ashcroft drew my ire by ruling that under the Controlled Substances Act, doctors' licenses to prescribe drugs could be revoked if they prescribed lethal doses for terminally ill patients meeting the qualifications of Oregon's Assisted Suicide Law, approved twice by Oregon voters, most recently by a wide margin.

The case is controversial, but it boggles my mind why it should be. Common decency and compassion dictate that patients enduring great pain, or facing terminal conditions should be able to obtain prescriptions making it possible for them to painlessly hasten their own passing. Assuming that we get past the current push toward theocracy in our country, one can easily imagine a day when people of the future will look back on this case as we currently look back on the Dred Scott decision. They (hopefully) will shake their heads in amazement and ask "You mean back then you could only get those prescriptions in Oregon?!"

Early indications are that Roberts is leaning toward ruling for the Attorney General's office. Supreme Court scholar, Jan Crawford Greenberg was quoted tonight on PBS' Newshour:
Chief Justice Roberts asked lawyers on both sides of this issue very aggressive questions; he saved most of his aggressive questions for the lawyer for the state of Oregon who was defending Oregon's law.
Souter, O'Connor, and Ginsberg were clearly more aggressive in questioning DOJ lawyer Paul Clement. But O'Connor may not get to rule in this case if her replacement is confirmed before a decision has been written, and previous precedent has been that such decisions are deferred in cases where the retiring justice would render a deciding vote.

Onlookers are split in reading how the court is likely to rule on this one, with Greenberg calling it too close to say, death with dignity activists Compassion & Choices writing "the Court is unlikely to uphold the Ashcroft Directive", and SCOTUSblog seeming to lean toward believing the feds will prevail. The calculus is that Souter, Ginsberg, and O'Connor will likely be joined by Stevens and/or Breyer, while Kennedy is more likely to join Thomas, Scalia, and Roberts in upholding the Attorney General's strictures against these prescriptions. Precedent would then hold the decision up until Miers joined the court, where immediately we would have a test of whether Bush has succeeded in tilting the court toward a ruling for the religious right. Perhaps Thomas or one of the conservatives could surprise us by allowing states' rights considerations to trump their cultural conservatism.

Compassion & Choices provides a full set of links at their summary page which goes on to say
The Justices appear reluctant to read the Controlled Substances so broadly. Several Justices repeatedly asked how Congress had empowered the Attorney General to preempt Oregon's law. With no sufficient answer, it seems clear the Attorney General exceeded his authority.

While I appreciate concerns for abuse of any death with dignity law, the Oregon law has multiple safeguards, and the history of its application bears out that it has not been abused, with those taking advantage of its provisions being exactly the sort of cases for whom it was designed. Concerns that it might be applied disproportionately among the poor or those whose primary motivation is to not be a burden on their families have not been borne out. It has also provided great comfort to many who know they have the means to choose for themselves when enough is enough.

In my view, concern for the patient should trump all other considerations in determining medical care. When the patient cannot be made comfortable and is expected to die within six months, it strikes me as the height of audacity and hypocrisy for anyone else to shake their finger at the sufferer and tell them they have no right to hasten their own death. If an animal is suffering we consider it an act of kindness to put them out of their misery. How much clearer it is in the case of a human being who can cogently express their desire to hasten their death, to allow them a dignified and painless method of doing so.

Doctors opposing this law point to their oath "to do no harm." If they cannot save the patient or alleviate their suffering, then they ARE doing harm by denying the patient a painless way out.

Monday, 3 October 2005

Culture of Corruption

The cynics are certain that power will win, always finding a way to circumvent what should be the consequences of corruption. The naive believe that justice will eventually triumph. Reality is a bit of a crap shoot, but by exposing corruption and exposing it relentlessly, we can at least increase the odds that justice will prevail.

Thanks to Evergreen Politics for pointing out the new Jonathan Alter article in Newsweek, which provides historical context for the current culture of corruption.

Sunday, 2 October 2005

Congress Critter Calling Campaign

With Republicans reeling, there's no better time I can imagine for the concerned public to start hammering their representatives in Congress for reform and passage of a few bills that Tom DeLay managed to keep from ever coming to a vote.

It may be hard to generate public outrage over inappropriate procedural power in the hands of the majority leader, but the public can easily understand flagrant mistreatment of guest workers, and perhaps the need to limit corporate consolidation of media ownership. These are two bills that I know of which were proposed in the House of Representatives, which had bipartisan support and a high likelihood of passing, but which were never brought to a vote because DeLay had political debts to uphold, and was able to use his position to keep them off the floor.

Now is the time for Democrats, and Republicans for that matter, to re-introduce these pieces of legislation and insist that they get a fair hearing in Congress. I don't trust them to act on their own - we need to start a nationwide calling / letter writing / leafleting / emailing campaign to let our Congress critters know that we DO care about having popular measures getting a vote in Congress. George Miller has introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2005, which one site lists as bill 2429 and another lists as 3732. But 3732 appears at another location to be a Republican sponsored bill to credit employers of tipped minimum wage earners. I'm looking into the discrepancy.

At any rate, we need to push Congress at this critical time to take on the issues that DeLay pocketed, and bring more public scrutiny to the process.

[UPDATE: The George Miller bill which includes an increase in the minimum wage is H.R. 2429; and a nearly identical bill introduced by Sherwood Boehlert of New York is H.R. 3413. Both are now stuck in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where DeLay apparently used his influence to keep them parked there. I have sent an email to my Congressman, Jay Inslee, seeking his advice on how citizens might most effectively have a voice concerning bills which are stuck in Committee. Certainly contacting your Representative is always appropriate, but those on the relevant committee may be the best to contact. I'm especially thinking of any Republicans there who are in contested Districts. I'll report back with further info.

ALSO - If you have any information on the particular legislation from much longer ago which had been proposed to limit media consolidation, but which the Majority Leader used his power to keep from coming up, PLEASE let me know with a comment here.]

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

At Long Last!

May this be but one large crack in the glacier of corruption.

I know, it's only an indictment, but DeLay has already stepped down as Majority Leader.

I had speculated that the TRMPAC shenanigans were the most likely to bring DeLay down, but with the extra attention on him, I'd sure like progressives to hammer The Hammer with the whole laundry list of his immoral behavior, starting with his support of worker mistreatment and sex slavery in the Mariannas. As I suggested before, while we may need to bring them down with nits, let's not ignore the elephant!

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Another Political Test

Now after that recent post in which I insist that there are some noble underpinnings of conservatism, I follow Mike's link and discover that I am supposedly a:

You are a

Social Liberal
(63% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(13% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test

This in spite of the fact that I disagreed with the assertion that we would be better off with no huge corporations and should have only small businesses instead.

In a comic afterward to the test, the creators ask:
AND FINALLY, if you could make up ONE new law and have it enforced FOREVER, by goons, what would your law be? Use your imagination, let your despotic instincts run free.
What to choose!? What to choose?! (aside from suggesting that no one should ever be able to enforce any law using goons) I rolled the metaphorical dice and came up with:
Con artists and corporate executives who are convicted of bamboozling seniors or other vulnerable people out of their life savings should have all of their wealth confiscated and returned to their victims, and be forced to use their business skills creatively behind bars for ten years to make restitution to the disadvantaged.

Monday, 26 September 2005

Who Said It?

In reaction to Friday's resignation of Food and Drug Administration chief Lester Crawford, one U.S. Senator remarked:
In recent years, the FDA has demonstrated a too-cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry and an attitude of shielding rather than disclosing information. Now is the time to reform the FDA's culture and reassert that the agency's top priority is what's good for John Q. Public when it comes to reviewing drugs in the marketplace and making new miracle medicines available.
One of those anti-corporate liberal Democrats, you ask? Nope.

I wonder about the relationship between Crawford's resignation last Friday, and the resignation of Susan F. Wood, three weeks earlier in exasperation over the FDA's decision to further delay a ruling on whether the morning after pill should be made more easily accessible. Her comment at the time:
I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled.
When I was a boy in school in the sixties, in the conservative South, my interest in science was universally regarded as a good thing. Do parents these days pray that their youngsters won't be corrupted by their secularist science teachers?

Does Wood now regret her resignation? Did hers in some way contribute to Crawford's decision last week? Anybody have the "inside dope" at the FDA?

Satirical "Lost" Bush Speech

If conservatives were consistently this brilliant in expounding their ideas, then they certainly would be quite formidable, but then they would also be less frightening. Unless, of course, you subscribe to the notion that the underpinnings of conservatism are ethically bereft, and all eloquence in defense of its policies is tantamount to cynical trickery.

As a liberal (usually) who is most annoyed by the dogged conflation by the right of liberalism with moral decay, one of my fundamental liberal notions is that sound values based on concern for our fellow humans can honestly lead people to different conclusions. It would be hypocritical of me to not acknowledge that some conservative values have merit, when my most scathing rebuke of many right-wingers is their refusal to acknowledge any merit to either the underpinnings of liberal thought, or an occasional success borne of liberal policy.

ScrappleFace consistently publishes intelligent satire from a pretty far right perspective. His attacks of the Bush administration are pretty consistently delivered from Bush's right. But while I would often vehemently disagree with author Scott Ott's prosriptions for an improved public policy, he strikes me as being in touch with the nobler underpinnings of conservatism, so much of his commentary rings true in spite of my disagreement.

Many on the left would dismiss Ott's frequent quotations of MLK's oratory as disningenuous because he clearly opposes many of the left's proscriptions for equal opportunity. But I see no reason to believe that his implied belief in equal opportunity is not genuine, simply because he mocks systems which he sees as fostering dependency and removing incentives for positive living and contribution to society. In fact I agree that any liberal system for promoting diversity and opportunity for the less advantaged needs to avoid those potential maladies, while I suspect that Ott would agree that any conservative system which demands responsibility and accountability should implement checks to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable by the powerful.

In the current political climate, I find myself unambiguously allied with "the left" because I see the rise of corporatism as a real threat to the egalitarian ideal which has been advanced in fits and starts over the last two centuries. The current leadership of the Republican party is marching us toward an ever increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor which is in dire need of reversal. Many leaders of the opposition rightly point to the importance of framing in the right's success in gaining currency for their ideas in the national dialogue. They will point also to the technique of smearing the ideas associated with liberalism in changing the tenor of the debate. The implication is that progressives need to wage a similar campaign in reverse to compensate for the current imbalance. They may be right.

My fear is that when all the focus is put into winning the argument for one's "side" we lose sight of the values that were the underpinning of our ideology, and we contribute to the poisoning of the dialogue for those of good intent on both sides of the debate. But we don't need to lose sight of those values. The liberal values of generosity, enablement, fairness, openness, and freedom of thought can remain central to our discussion of the issues. We can agree with conservatives that personal responsibilty, accountability, temperance, and caution are worthy values to keep in drafting a way forward, without compromising our own ideals.

This is why I find no inconsistency in declaring myself to be both liberal and conservative, even though I supported the supposedly "far-left" candidacy of Dennis Kucinich in the last election. It's why I never stop looking for signs of reason from some in the Republican party, because ultimately we need a synthesis of ideas rather than a one-sided solution. Too often compromises are tactical rather than principled and we get a muddled centrism which brings some of the worst from both parties together. But not always. There are success stories out there. We must find them and model them if we are to choose hope for our future.

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Monday, 19 September 2005

The Country We Want

Carla, of Preemptive Karma asks her readers what kind of government they want. She gives her own answers, followed by some responses here. She evoked this response from me:

I want a government and a nation that respects the necessity of opposing forces.

I want a country where individuals are always free and often inspired to aspire to greatness, chase their passions, and help their fellow citizens.

I want a country where greatness and selflessness is encouraged, but greed and meanness is discouraged.

I want balance in government, with opposing forces designed to assure that power is never concentrated in the hands of too few individuals.

I want transparency in government, and fluidity between the governing and the governed.

I want a balance between a respect for the privacy of the individual and the need for individuals and corporations to own up to their responsibilities.

I want a government that understands that personhood is an attribute of individuals, not corporations.

In short we need to recognize the truth of this reflection of James Madison nearly 200 years ago:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In forming a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Then I went back and read her list in more detail. She hit some truths I missed, and had a somewhat different emphasis. I really like what she had to say about foreign affairs and leading by example.

I do think people should speak more frequently about their ideals, as there is a tendency to get hung up in all the methods and get attached to processes when goals are what's important. My emphasis on balance and opposition is a nod to process which I nonetheless believe to be critical, because human nature is unfortunately reliably corruptible. But we can give individuals a lot of rope as long as there are balancing forces in play.

Sunday, 18 September 2005

Cronyism Continues Unabated

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is something one might expect of politicians and public officials, especially when attempting to recover from a public relations disaster. The current administration shows no such inclination. If anything they seem to glory in goading their opponents into making accusations of wrongdoing which may not be provable, by behaving like the child next to the open cookie jar.
  • "Nothing improper happened in our secret energy task force, but we're not telling who was there."
  • "Scalia might cast the deciding vote in protecting that secret, but you just have to trust us that he can do so impartially in spite of his friendship and recent duck hunting trip with Cheney."
  • "We'll straighten out those little overcharges (honest errors, of course!) by Halliburton in their Iraq contract work. How dare you suggest their getting the no bid contract had anything to do with Cheney's connection!"
And the list goes on.

I sometimes wonder if they repeatedly push the envelope as some sort of loyalty test. Maintain plausible deniability, but intentionally create the appearance of impropriety whether or not impropriety existed, to keep your opponents fishing, and to flush out the less than fully faithful among your insiders. The only other explanation I can think of is analogous to the serial criminal whose behavior becomes progressively bolder and more outrageous with each crime.

The Katrina cleanup and reconstruction effort has the silver lining of providing jobs at least, and Federal officials are the first to agree with many Democrats that such jobs should go to locals from the affected gulf region. But administration critics quickly predicted the first line recipients of Federal aid would be none other than those corporations to whom they owe their election. FEMA wasted no time in proving them right by outsourcing the body recovery effort to a subsidiary of a company owned by Bush family friend Robert Waltrip. And to further test our suspicions, it is a company which has been involved in previous scandals, dating back to Bush's tenure as Texas Governor.

The news of this outsourcing hasn't been widely reported by the major networks, but has been corroborated by Reuters, a Louisiana TV station, the San Luis Obispo News, the News Insider, and the Contra Costa Times. Deepening the left's suspicions of potential new criminal behavior by the private contractor, is the order that no pictures be allowed, and reporters are not to be within 300 feet of the work.

Of course, none of this is proof that any new wrongdoing or misinformation is planned. It is possible that in spite of the connections, Kenyon International was the closest available contractor to deal with a body recovery effort of this magnitude - I don't know. Preventing the gruesome display of dead bodies on the nightly news before next of kin has been properly notified has arguable merit. It is claimed that the contract is being given with a 10% discount.

But how many times are we expected to believe that "the dog ate his homework", before we demand accountability from Bush and his pals. Cronyism is rampant throughout this administration, and I can no longer take them seriously about anything. The only path I see left for this government regaining credibility is for the whole lot of them to resign or be tossed out. I know that won't happen. They'll turn out all of their best speechwriters to regain the trust of those that can be turned. The tipping point may have finally been passed, however.

Thanks to Hungry Blues, and Body and Soul, for alerting me to this story.

See also: