Sunday, 30 January 2005

No on Gonzales Fliers Are Ready!

Grab them, print them (use a high speed printer if you have one, color not needed), pass them out, and spread the word. Let me know where you passed them out.

Saturday, 29 January 2005

Honoring Courageous Iraqi Voters

Brent Rasmussen at his blog has posted a statement of admiration for Iraqi voters willing to risk their safety in an attempt to bring a democracy to their troubled nation. He's gotten guff for his statement there and at DailyKos, because some on the left see it as accommodation of a morally bankrupt intervention, but I agree with Brent. From the perspective of Iraqis this is a long step away from the tyranny under which they have lived for years, and even though it won't be pretty and the new government will surely be flawed, I too honor their courage. Those on the left trying to transmute the insurgents into a noble resistance are as utterly deceived as are the Christian conservatives who supported Bush based on his 'moral values'. The leaders of the insurgency are as illiberal a force as exists - on this point Christopher Hitchens is dead right. Brent is soliciting support from the blogosphere for his statement, and seems to be getting more conservatives than liberals, Lean Left being a notable exception. This unabashedly liberal blogger won't be shy about joining his list.

Leafleting Suggestions

Printing out the fliers:

> Make sure you are printing out the flier with the image! The all text version is the old one. This page should link to the correct ones now.
> Use a high speed printer if you have one - black & white is fine
> Print on brightly but lightly colored paper, but white if it's all you have
> If you don't have your own, find a shipping or other store that has a paper cutter (scissors would be a major hassle)

Before you go:

> Check your Senators' websites and find out if they've already taken a position, and incorporate it into what you repeat as you pass them out. If they are on the judiciary committee, then they already have taken a stand (along party lines), but people shoud still call even those members, thanking the Dems and asking the Repubs to reconsider.
> Decide ahead of time what you will say to people. Depending on how fast the pedestrian traffic is moving time will be very limited. Have a couple of versions ready.

Choosing your location:

> Choose a high traffic place where people are on the move


> Two people are better than one, the second further along to catch those who missed the first
> Depending on location, 4 or 5 people may be best
> Be ready to sound like a broken record, don't be silent! It's a largely different set of people who are inclined to take political leaflets, than those who take commercial ones - we might as well get them into the more receptive hands. Practice beforehand - I used "Call your Senators about Gonzales nomination" - it's a mouthful, and then "Thank the Senator for her opposition" when the flier was taken. That won't work everywhere. Decide on something you're comfortable with and keep talking.
> Hold a single leaflet out at a time, where it is easy to grab
> Be pleasant, but don't get distracted, ignore the trolls and move on to the next.

Reply to this if you have other suggestions. I'm by no means a veteran at this, and I may be spoiled by living in a relatively liberal community.

Friday, 28 January 2005

It Can't All Happen in Cyberspace

Blogs are uniting against Gonzales, and that's terrific. There's no substitute for face to face contact, though. Creating a buzz on the net is one thing, but being a physical presence in the community is where we have to go.

Living on an island, large segments of my community are funneled through our ferry system every day, and I leafleted those departing commuter runs both yesterday evening and this morning. It's my own community so a lot of people know me and a lot don't. I just got into the rhythm of chanting "Call your senators about the Gonzales' nomination", and when they grabbed the flyer, "Thank Senator Cantwell for her opposition." My leaflet was created in a hurry, but I wanted to make sure it was available for every state, in the belief that this should be a national effort.

Here's the thing. We may have the early part of next week to really push to have more people call. My challenge to whomever wants to take it on, is to make a far more compelling flyer. I think it's a good idea to keep it to a quarter page, to save paper and enforce brevity and punchiness. I have the spreadsheet ready to merge in the Senators' phone numbers for every state, so contact me with your ideas so we can work together this weekend to update the page and spread the word. On my leaflet I refer folks to this page on my blog. So also critique that or suggest or create a better online resource to reference - preferably with a short URL not prone to being misconstrued.

Finally, the best bloggers aren't necessarily the best leafleters, though I found it really invigorating, and heartily recommend it to anyone. Reach out through party or other connections to find people who are effective at finding the places to go and people who are good at hawking flyers. A really massive caller turnout may just be the difference in providing the Democrats with the backbone to filibuster, or even give moderate Republicans pause about voting in such an unpopular choice. Even the right-wingers need to be called, else they will claim their constituents back their crazy agenda. I do appreciate the feeling of futility a progressive Oklahoman must feel when leaving messages with Inhofe and Coburn, but I think their staffers really will tally the calls regardless. Everything counts.

Thursday, 27 January 2005

That Chip On His Shoulder

Bush is demonstrating clearly that his commitment to spending his "political capital" far exceeds any putative bipartisan spirit. When he speaks of bipartisanship, he means getting Democrats to act like Republicans, which has happened all too frequently since 1994 and the rise of the DLC.

Spending capital, means testing the limits of just how much the other party can be pushed around--daring them to stop him. Gonzales' nomination is part of that, and so is this:
on Dec. 23, while Americans were distracted by the holidays, the president gave his corporate backers (especially those in the energy and mining industries) a Christmas present: He announced his intent to renominate seven of the [ten] filibustered [federal judicial] candidates. (The other three were given the option of being renominated, but withdrew themselves from consideration.)
I could see maybe two or three renominations in cases where one believed the objection was far more political than meritorious. But Bush was going after the whole lot. Many of these judges were ideologues, and/or in corporate pockets, with questionable credentials at best. (I highly recommend reading Glenn Scherer's whole frightening article over at Grist Magazine.) But Bush's thinking is "Hey, we picked up three seats in the Senate, let's try putting them all through, and force the Democrats to appear obstructionist in order to block them.

There's more than one Republican with qualms about one party controlling all branches of government, but the problem is that doesn't translate into their voting against their own representative. Oy vey!

Wednesday, 26 January 2005

Judiciary Democrats Unite Against Gonzales

The unanimity among Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee is very encouraging. Boxer's courage on Foreign Relations and on the Senate floor vis-a-vis the Rice nomination is perhaps contagious. I would never have advised a filibuster against Rice, however. This one is different.

Obstructionism in defense of sanity, and the very reputation of our nation, is no vice! Call your senators regardless of their party! Call the leading moderate Republicans [McCain, Hagel, Chafee, Snowe, Collins, Lugar, Specter] as well. If enough see the potential damage to our country of this ill-advised choice for Attorney General, maybe we won't even have to filibuster.

Tuesday, 25 January 2005

Be Resolute and Strong, but also Kind and Fair

Anger is a motivating initial response when the sheer meanness or short-sightedness of a policy or appointment really hits home. And in our action and reaction it is right and just to speak the truth plainly, when we see fear exploited - to gut a noble program; or wage a war; or excuse inhumane behavior. But if our compassion is limited to only those who agree with us, then we will stand alone and be marginalized. Only when we demonstrate our caring for those whose fear is being exploited successfully, and even for those who are exploiting it, can we reach out and in time have the truth we see so clearly be seen more broadly, and eventually accepted as obvious in the mainstream culture.

Nelson Mandela after years in prison tells us in his essay, The Dark Years,
I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred; he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. ... For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
From The Impossible Will Take a Little While, edited by Paul Loeb.


Call your Senators now!
Their phone numbers are here

Let them know that you oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States.

This is from a letter to the editor at Stars & Stripes signed by many prominent retired military officers:
As retired professional military leaders of the U.S. armed forces, we are deeply concerned about the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales to be attorney general. We feel that his views concerning the role of the Geneva Conventions in U.S. detention and interrogation policy and practice have put soldiers in harm’s way.

During his tenure as White House counsel, Gonzales appears to have played a significant role in shaping U.S. detention and interrogation operations in Afghanistan; Iraq; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.

Today, it is clear that these operations have:

--Fostered greater animosity toward the United States;
--Undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts; and
--Added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.
Not convinced? Scroll to the bottom and follow the links.

        Calling tips:
- Give your name
- State your purpose clearly
- Be calm and be brief

Remember you are talking to a staffer who is basically taking a tally. They are not responsible for the President's choices, only for registering your opinion.

If you feel, as I have come to feel, that this is one of those rare cases where the Democrats should employ a filibuster (voting against cloture), then let them know that.

If you want to go the extra mile, call the most moderate Republicans in the Senate and urge them to draw the line with their Democratic colleagues against this ill-advised appointment.

202-224-2921 Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island
202-224-2235 John McCain of Arizona
202-224-2523 Susan Collins of Maine
202-224-5344 Olympia Snowe of Maine
202-224-4814 Richard Lugar of Indiana
202-224-4224 Chuck Hagel of Nebraska
202-224-4254 Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania

An assessment of the Gonzales hearing with more links
Another assessment by the Quakers
An article from The Nation
My article at WatchBlog
DailyKos has generated a lot of excellent discussion on the nomination here and here and here and here.

Print more leaflets

Phone Calls are Suggested

Daily Kos's hotspur believes that phone calls are more effective than emails in getting through to your senators, and provides all the phone numbers in his post.

Armando continues to track this issue closely, and opposition is mounting. We've got to keep the pressure on.

If Gonzales' nomination gets through committee, as is likely, but with significant opposition, then it's on to pressuring EVERY senator to take a stand against this brazen attempt to install someone who disdains international law as America's top law enforcement official.

Monday, 24 January 2005

Act on Gonzales Nomination Now!

Do you live in Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, or Wisconsin?

The Judiciary Committee takes this up again on Wednesday. Go to my earlier post, and scroll to the bottom for the links to Senators' web forms or email addresses.

FDA Approval & Tort Reform

Here is a fine article over at Corp Reform - Not Tort Reform which debunks the notion that corporations should be immune from liabilities arising from federally approved products. Will Republicans push to tag such an immunity onto any tort reform package they try to push through? Will Democrats in committee have any negotiating power to limit such measures before the bills get out of committee?

I've watched enough specials, just on PBS' NOW, to be wary of taking any prescriptions for drugs approved in the last 12 or so years. What are the best pressure points to express our outrage at the chummy relationships between the regulators and the regulated? Write Congress; write the FDA; boycott the drugs; protest the pharmaceuticals; demand media attention for the problem? Probably all of the above.

Sunday, 23 January 2005

Facing Contradiction

The original name of this blog was "Well, Duh!" I ultimately found that too smug, but I kept the tag line, "Permitting Ourselves to State the Obvious", because the premise still stands. Folks often start being attached to ideologies, parties, or causes, and lose sight of the important stuff that mattered causing them to become active in the first place.

Liberal bloggers frequently ignore this obvious truth:

Saddam Hussein was a tyrannical monster whose removal from power is a wonderful development.

Yes, the following truths are also obvious:

It is wrong to lie to justify going to war.
It is wrong to kill innocents in war.
It is wrong to use depleted uranium in bombs to create bunker busters when the long term effects of its use will poison innocents.
It is wrong to justify a culture which resulted in the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

I find the behavior of the Bush administration repugnant on so many levels, that I will continue to speak out against it, and yet the overthrow of Saddam is such an extraordinarily good thing, that I cannot be dismissively certain that it doesn't outweigh all of the outrages perpetrated toward that end. Now given that the incompetent way in which it was handled is creating all manner of other problems, from the loss of respect for America in the world, to the rise of recruitment of anti-American jihadists, and the potential for Iraq's future to continue to look very bleak and Iran to become a threat we can no longer credibly handle, then the balance of what the future holds may indeed be worse than simply leaving Saddam in power. But I am not certain of that.

I am certain that there was a better way to depose him. But I'm extremely skeptical that Gore, for instance, would have started a course of action that would have seen Saddam out of power by 2008. That doesn't mean that I am not quite confident that the world as a whole would be better off had Gore been elected in 2000, but on average, the people of Iraq, may actually be indebted to our bungling cowboy. That's why in the end, in spite of my outrage at Bush's lies and handling of the Iraq war, it was actually more the domestic front than the international one which cemented my commitment to voting for Kerry last year.

Saturday, 22 January 2005

Move over Ted, Barbara's Arrived

While others equivocate(Biden), orate(Obama), and antiquate(Kennedy), Barbara Boxer has stepped into the ring and made many a liberal proud, as she shows no fear in challenging a suspect election or a prevaricating Secretary of State nominee in her opening statement for Dr. Rice's hearing.

Are Filibusters an Endangered Species?

The United States Senate is a crusty old institution, replete with an anachronistic smorgasbord of traditions, customs, and rules of decorum. I recall hearing that freshmen members are formally indoctrinated to those rules at or around the time of their swearing in. Though some decline in adherence to those rules has been noted, by and large it is a less rancorous body than the House. Through history, invariably Senators have found creative ways to circumvent the rules to make their point, while instances of outright violation of the rules have resulted in fistfights on the senate floor.

The filibuster, though not constitutionally established, is a vaunted tradition dating back at least to Jefferson's day, which actually has its roots in expediting the proceedings. Ironically it has come to be known as a time consuming obstructionist technique, and it is easy to understand why some might regard it as antiquated. Still it remains one of the primary tools of a minority party to rein in potential excesses of the majority party. This article speculates on the possibility of the end of the filibuster in the coming session:
Now, with 55 Republicans in the Senate, Frist is ready to act to change the rules. Here is the likely option. At some point early next year, as Senate Democrats are blocking action on a Bush judicial nominee and the Republicans have another cloture vote that falls short of the 60 needed to end debate, Frist will raise a constitutional point of order, saying that a supermajority requirement for confirmation of a judicial nominee is unconstitutional. The vice president, sitting in the chair, will agree.

The issue will be brought to a vote, in which a simple majority can affirm the ruling of the chair. But--here's the rub--a constitutional point of order in the Senate is itself debatable, and can itself be filibustered. That issue will undoubtedly be raised by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Minority Leader, and any honest Parliamentarian will agree.

The vice president will overrule the Parliamentarian and recognize a motion to table, which is not debatable. Over the howls of outrage of Democrats--led no doubt by West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd--the Republicans will vote, affirm the ruling of the chair, and pass the judicial nomination by a simple majority.

This set of actions is something Frist seriously contemplated last year. He didn't act for several reasons. One is the damage that would come to Senate comity. Another is that he likely didn't have the votes.

Now, he may well have the votes, but it is not a slam dunk. Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Dick Lugar (Ind.), among others, have to be agonizing over the whirlwind that they and everybody else may reap from this action. Other veteran Republican senators, with a longer view of history, also have to know that there will come a time when activist liberal Democrats are back in the saddle, and that this precedent, which can be extended effortlessly to various and sundry policy matters, will come back to haunt conservatives.
I've already expressed concern about potential overuse of filibusters by Democrats which could give them the obstructionist label. Removing the possibility of a filibuster, however, carries grave concerns for overreaching on the part of the majority party. The deterrent effect of knowing the possibility of a filibuster exists keeps excesses in check, and helps Democrats in committee keep the most objectionable clauses out of bills.

Friday, 21 January 2005

A Time to Say No

Now that Gonzales is out of the judiciary, it is time to contact every senator about their upcoming votes. If you want to leaflet go to this page and print out the appropriate flyer for your state - preferably on brightly colored paper - and go down to the transit center, mall, or local hangout.

[UPDATE 2 (UPDATE 1 is at end):
Daily Kos's hotspur believes that phone calls are more effective than emails in getting through to your senators, and provides all the phone numbers in his post.

Armando continues to track this issue closely, and opposition is mounting. We've got to keep the pressure on. If it gets through committee but with significant opposition, then it's on to pressuring EVERY senator to take a stand against this brazen attempt to install someone who disdains international law as America's top law enforcement official.]

Armando, over at DailyKos, was right on target in what he wrote about the Democrats' role and responsibilities vis-a-vis the Gonzales confirmation, and cabinet confirmations in general:
Democratic Senators ... regarding the level of deference a President is accorded in the formation of his Cabinet ... have argued that the standard of review for a Cabinet position nominee is lower than that applied to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

... But higher deference is not the equivalent of a free pass. Some standards remain. Otherwise there would be no role at all for the Senate. ...

Alberto Gonzales can not, by any measure, meet the minimum standard required to approve his confirmation as Attorney General of the United States of America. Many would quibble about his qualifications ...

But one issue unconditionally DISQUALIFIES Gonzales as an acceptable choice for Attorney General - his indefensible role in providing a legal apologia for torture as official policy of the United States.
It may be a credit to our system that partisans don't routinely vote against all cabinet nominees with whom they have policy differences, but that doesn't mean they should give carte blanche to the President to install any ideologue regardless of qualifications. I just hope these Democrats have learned something from the bitter experience of having played nice by granting Bush a free pass for military action in Iraq in the fall of 2002, and then getting labelled as "flip-floppers" when he abused the privilege.

It now looks like we have at least another week to contact our Senators with strong messages. Sure it's a long shot, but if the Democrats would stand united, and the six most moderate Republicans were flooded with millions of objections from around the country, maybe we could get his nomination withdrawn without need for a filibuster. I'm planning to write both of my Senators (again), and send emails to McCain, Hagel, Specter, Collins, Snowe, Lugar, and Chafee.

I have no illusions that these moderate Republican Senators are going to get any progressive legislation through in the coming session, but they are our best defense against the extreme excesses we're likely to encounter. It's not a secret, they might as well hear from us.

A sizable anti-Gonzales demonstration on the Capitol steps would be welcome as well.

[UPDATE: This still isn't out of the judiciary committee - so ...
Do you live in Alabama, Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, or Wisconsin?

Time is running short to make your voice heard regarding the nomination of Alberto Gonzales. I believe the Senate Judiciary Committee is taking it up again this Wednesday. Please call or write your senator, especially if you have a senator on the committee. Even if your senator on the committee is Republican write them and get your Republican friends and relatives who have sufficient common sense to understand why AG is a bad choice for AG to write them. Let them know the position of Attorney General is far too important to be left in the hands of someone whose credibility has been irreparably damaged by his known legal counsel. That counsel has in some measure contributed to prisoner abuse cases at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, which have tarnished our nation's reputation as an example for Justice. Even though Gonzales himself may be an upstanding citizen, (and remember your Senators may know Gonzales, and be unmoved by letters and calls which attack him personally) this public record of counsel damages his effectiveness and credibility from the outset. Be respectful but firm. President Bush needs to find another choice for this important position from the large pool of qualified candidates.

Act today or tomorrow!]

Thursday, 20 January 2005

Comparative Outrage

This won't be tidy. I just have some open questions, both to myself and to others old enough to compare.

Anyone in a position of power, no matter how benign or well-intended, will make decisions which are bound to result in justifiable outrage from some quarters. In a country as powerful as ours there will be some whoppers. Reagan and this Bush are the two Presidents who have most stoked my indignation, as I was still acquiring my political sensibilities during Vietnam and Watergate.

Finding myself nodding as I saw the "Worst President Ever" posters being held along the inaugural route as the event was piped into my kitchen today, got me to thinking about comparing outrages. I understand why many, even with a long political pedigree might justly so judge Bush 43. But the charge is not without some irony. To be sure, the sheer audacity of fabricating stories, or at the least shading the truth , to justify a military conquest of a sovereign state was unprecedented. But when one compares Saddam's regime or the Taliban to the Sandinistas, or Ho Chi Minh, or certainly Allende's democratically elected government, there's a pretty simple case to be made that at least Bush is ousting among the most illiberal tyrants imaginable. The factor going against Bush aside from audaciousness, is the likely foolishness of the enterprise from a purely nationalistic standpoint. This, rather than moral outrage, is the source of the trepidation coming from pundits on the right such as Buchanan or the center (I'd say leaning right) Friedman.

On the domestic front, the unabashed favoritism of big business over environment or the poor, is very comparable to what we had under Reagan. Indeed I'd say that perhaps the only reason Reagan wasn't much worse than Bush was that he had to work with the Democratic Congress. Bush has actually increased funding to every area of government, albeit much of that money has been piped through the hands of corporate interests to whom he is indebted. At least if one is to believe Jim Hightower, and his research, while likely cherry-picked, seems pretty solid to me.

On the secrecy front, Helen Thomas will tell us that Bush outdoes Nixon. Those whose indignation is stoked on entirely different fronts, will see Clinton, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, or Roosevelt as more outrageous. Comparing such outrages may be like comparing apples and oranges, but still comparisons can be made, and I'd love to hear some of yours. (I know Blogger has this annoying trait of wanting you to create a blog to respond with a name, but you can circumvent that by clicking the Anonymous button, and then signing your name if you want to.)

Wednesday, 19 January 2005

Feeling a Little Blue?

This collection of essays may be therapeutic in this month of inaugurations and confirmation hearings. You can try to identify the the authors of the several quotes in the first seconds before their names appear.

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

BuyBlue revamped

Though I listed it prominently in my sidebar a few weeks ago, I haven't yet publicly promoted, as they were reconstructing their site after refining their methodology. I hope their research methods stand the test of time and those interested in the best data for this type of research are supportive. The data is still a bit thin at this date. I'll be commenting in the future on other serious efforts to evaluate good Corporate Citizenship, as we compare adversarial groups, membership groups, awards conferring groups and others. I believe a good mix of all these things is called for. Regardless of how wary we may be generally of corporations, in the end significant positive change all but requires some form of corporate cooperation.

Monday, 17 January 2005

Reverse Robinhoodism

The debate over whether there is a Social Security crisis is one I've been wary of. On the one hand it makes me nervous for Democrats to stake their ground with a Polyannaish sounding argument that the crisis is invented, when in fact we know that the government is gushing red ink, and long-term entitlements loom over the entire mess. But I know that privatizing a portion of the program is an absurd proposition which only further defunds Social Security, and further transfers wealth from the average worker to the big operators in the financial sector. In fact if one looks at the sequence of events from the creation of Social Security to the Reagan regressive tax change which "saved" it, to the current move toward privatization, can it not be pretty clearly shown that taken together this is the largest, most brazen case of stealing from the working class to enrich the wealthy class ever engineered by government?

Economics is not my strongest suit, but my blogging friends, Mike and Eric have both weighed in convincingly on the subject.

The Content of our Character

...I say to you today my friends, that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed--we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day, even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, that one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!
I was only six and a half years old in August of 1963 when those words were spoken, and my awareness of them didn't come until later, but I do remember sitting in the den of my suburban Atlanta home when the tragic news of Dr. King's assassination in Memphis was announced less than five years later.

Being from the South I sometimes confront assumptions about what it must have meant to grow up with the legacy of racism, but being in Atlanta, Martin Luther King, Jr was part of my legacy as well, even as a white kid in the suburbs. Red state or blue state, white or black, 'liberal' or 'conservative', Christian, atheist, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, or deist, we should all be judged by the content of our character. That's the crux of what matters, and those who try to divide us never succeed in getting the 'better' character on one side or the other.

Whether I'm right or wrong, I've judged the character of our current leadership to be sorely lacking and morally repugnant, and consider it my patriotic duty to continue to expose their corruption and cry for justice. Alas the majority of the counter-inaugural protests on Thursday come sponsored by strident ideologues who can't properly represent the outrage that's felt by reasonable Americans of diverse political persuasions. The best of the bunch that I've found is a plan for inaugural attendees to turn their back on Bush when his motorcade passes.

Whatever may occur this Thursday, all I can hope is that during the next four years we continue to find our voice and have it heard loudly and broadly, not as the voice of extremism but rather the voice of sanity and compassion. That voice may be radical when it needs to be radical, calm when it needs to be calm, reaching out to opponents when that is appropriate, but it should always informed by the call of justice. Here's to the memory of Dr. King.

Tuesday, 11 January 2005

Preacher dies with heaven on his lips

Everywhere I look these days I see the relevance of the book I just finished -- Bruce Bawer's "Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity". When this bizarre headline caught my eye, I found the minister's church's own article on his death. I dug a bit further on their web site as further confirmation that his was very much what Bawer would refer to as a "Church of Law". These several quotes point to the sad truth of Bawer's analysis of a legalistic approach to Christianity:
... everyone of us is much much worse than we care to believe we are ...

... For those who trust in Him, there is no more need of “measuring up” and working hard to satisfy God’s righteous demand. ...

... Have you realized ... the hopelessness of your attempts to “be good”?
Isn't the subtext that we humans are just so awful that there's no point in trying to behave; just grab our free salvation and coast.

Bawer's book which I hope to review here in greater detail before long, points to alternative approaches to Christianity which could open its doors to those whose upbringing and innate moral sense led them to believe there was no place in the 'traditional' church for them.

Friday, 7 January 2005

Cross-Ideological Alliances

With divisive partisanship, culture wars, and worldview analysis all seemingly on the increase, is there reason to hope for moderation, compromise, and indeed simply the willingness for those on different sides of a debate to acknowledge some truth in the arguments of their adversaries? My take is that there is always hope - at least long term - for forward steps toward healing, understanding, and enlightenment. More often than not enlightenment implies a realization that some assumption one has been operating under is either mistaken or incomplete. Enlightenment therefore is more likely to come by reading and paying attention to views which are contrary to one's own. It does not necessarily mean "switching sides", though it may mean realizing that the accepted separation into sides is a false one.

I have recently discovered an ideological soul mate in David Brin, who asks:
With whom should you ally yourself? Someone who shares your immediate political campaign, while disagreeing with you utterly over long-term goals? Or someone who shares your deep agenda for a better world, but disagrees over immediate tactics?

Most people -- when it is posed that way -- choose the latter. After all, tactics are a matter for pragmatic debate. We can try out all sorts of methods. Success may call for a mix of your way and mine.
When conservatives argue that there's a tendency among liberal academics to subscribe to certain orthodoxies about what is true, and what can be mockingly dismissed, they are largely correct. Of course they don't as readily see the same phenomenon operating on their side of the fence. They are aware of all the differences of opinion there, which are freely aired, just as the academics are keenly aware of their own differences among themselves. On both sides however, there are subjects which are taboo - but shouldn't be.

There is an understandable concern that ceding certain points is strategically dangerous, because "the other side isn't going to give an inch, so we can't afford to." This sort of turf protection, though, is short-sighted and forces people into silly corners where they are left defending indefensible positions.

In the run up to last year's election, in spite of my dismay that it wasn't blazingly obvious to most sensible people, regardless of how they self-identified, that Bush was a dangerous choice, I discovered that the constellation of people with whom I can most naturally relate included a fair number who made (sometimes nuanced!) decisions to support Bush. As perplexing as their choice may be to me, it is nonetheless very encouraging to know there is potential for dialog across this divide.

There are two sides to what has been referred to as polarization in our society. To be sure the vilification of the other which accompanies it, is hurtful and stymies progress toward solutions. But if passion can be harnessed with calm reason, people will realize that there are areas of agreement. Natural cross-ideological alliances can be nurtured to bring change that most will be happy with, and good can happen even in the darkest times.

For example, we can look for allies on "the right" who agree that the worst examples of corporate wrong-doing often need much stronger penalties. I look at the successes of Eliot Spitzer in reining in excesses in the financial industry. This interview of James Cramer by David Brancaccio on NOW was instructive:
BRANCACCIO: You're a man who has long experience hanging out with captains of industry, people in the business community. What do they tell you when the name Eliot Spitzer comes up in conversation?

CRAMER: If they're in a group, they'll tell me that he's the Anti-Christ. If they're individual and we're alone at a bar, best thing. Best thing that ever happened. Because for the most part people want to be good, but whole cultures have flourished where the people who are honest don't do as well as the people who are dishonest. I think that Eliot is changing the calculus back to where the honesty is rewarded and the dishonest is out of favor again. Most people want to be honest.

And while seeking areas where our supposed adversaries, are actually inclined at some level to agree with us, we should be willing to cede areas where those traditionally thought of as "the other side" have the stronger argument. For instance, we can acknowledge that there are indeed plenty of individual regulations, such as the total ban on DDT, which were in retrospect too onerous, and need revision. There is a temptation to see every potential concession as a bargaining chip, but every instance where we defend a weak position in anticipation of a trade, becomes instead a liability which can be used to tarnish the whole of what are important principles.

So while I won't shy away, for now, from referring to myself as liberal or progressive, the label should never substitute for particulars, and if you catch me bending to orthodoxy rather than reason, please challenge me.

Tuesday, 4 January 2005

Gonzales may be worse than Ashcroft

John Ashcroft was indeed an ideologue, but at core he had integrity, albeit to values often at odds with my own. I don't see the same integrity in Alberto Gonzales who "participated in a dramatic weakening of U.S. commitments to the Geneva Conventions and against torture" and was willing to justify doing so. Hence I have written to my own two Senators:
Senator Murray [or Cantwell],

I am deeply troubled by the appointment of Alberto Gonzales as the top law enforcement officer of the United States, when he has shown a callous disregard for the rule of reasonable international law vis-a-vis the Geneva Conventions in recent history.

Please ask TOUGH questions at the confirmation hearings. Also please urge your fellow Senators to vote against his confirmation if they cannot in good conscience see his selection as Attorney General to be supported on it merits. While I am not in favor of a filibuster in this case, or dragging it out beyond the asking of reasonable questions, I believe it is a case which calls for a large minority of our senators to dissent. Getting our more reasoned Republicans such as McCain, Collins, Hagel, and Snowe to oppose his nomination could make it an historically close vote for a confirmation and send a message to the Administration to avoid the nomination of contentious ideologues to such important positions.

So please vote for cloture, but against confirmation, and urge your fellows to do the same.

Sincerely yours,
Walker Willingham
I think that my Senators will be hearing a lot from me over the next four years.

[UPDATE: Senator Cantwell (or more likely her office's sophisticated email response robot) responded very quickly. She (it) assured me that the Senator took her role of confirming nominees very seriously, and that she did "intend to carefully review and observe the confirmation hearings and study Gonzales record as Judge before" arriving at a decision. No vote is expected until later this month. The hot air coming out of the White House did little to assuage me that it was anything much better than "tortured logic" that led to his confirmation.]