Tuesday, 31 May 2005

Blessed are the Alternative Newsmakers

Suddenly unafraid of more frequent press conferences, Bush is providing much more fodder for his critics. As reported at CNN, the irony of the juxtaposition of Bush's defense of prisoner treatment at Guantanamo (prisoners often held years without charges) against his concern about due process in Russia for a multi-millionaire convicted of fraud and tax evasion is mind boggling. Whether or not Mikhail Khodorkovsky received a fair trial, the very fact that Bush would call out this wealthy individual's case while defending policies which deny due process to hundreds of detainees speaks volumes about where his sympathies lie.

When Bill Moyers addressed an audience in Seattle, he called the media on their unwillingness to report anything unless some newsmaker spoke about it. Whatever happened to investigative journalism? Well thank goodness groups such as Amnesty International still have status as newsmakers, else our leaders wouldn't get ANY of the tough questions that our democracy deserves that they have to answer. In the absence of an independent, inquisitive press, it is incumbent on the rest of us to become the newsmakers.

President Bush, why do you hate America?

[Update: OK, that last was a throwaway line inspired by the headline of the CNN article. Bush and Cheney are so quick to accuse those who make the charges of abuse as America haters when clearly they have no such information. The point is that it is at least as reasonable to accuse them of the same in the face of evidence that their policies trample on what are thought of by many of us as American values.

They would also like to leave the impression that Amnesty International is basking in 'trash America' talk, but a visit to their home page, shows that they readily move on to other international cases around the world, not at all tied to any ideological bias. If you hunt, however, the charges related to Guantanamo are hardly thrown out casually, as this comprehensive report proves.

No doubt what got Cheney riled was being one of the persons called out as deserving of investigation, and if warranted by such, arrest when traveling to another state.
05/26/05 "Cox News" - Bob Dart - WASHINGTON - Amnesty International USA urged foreign governments Wednesday to use international law to investigate Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other alleged American "architects of torture" at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other prisons where detainees suspected of ties to terrorist groups have been interrogated.
"If those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them," said William Shulz, executive director of the U.S. branch of the international human rights agency.
But Bush would rather complain about possible lack of due process for a Russian multi-millionaire.]

Ideals as a Yardstick

Since I can't compete with the daily bloggers, I've decided to leverage my new status of having been around for more than a year to link to posts of one year ago, if they're not too dated, to make for more frequent entries. Just click on the titles. Looking ahead, though my posts were sparse for the month of June last year.

Monday, 30 May 2005

Just War Theory

I shudder to even utter the phrase, but I do acknowledge there are instances where a moral case can be made for a military response. Thanks to the folks at JustWarTheory.com for summing it up nicely and pointing to these principles which do a good job at constraining the cases for war so tightly that even most pacifists will be appeased. Many just war theorists list the last resort clause at the end, but here it is brought to its proper position.

--A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

--A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.

--A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.

--A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.

--The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

--The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.

--The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Via Political Site of the Day via Mad Kane.

Saturday, 28 May 2005

Engage or Provoke?

People who mostly agree about what is wrong and what should be done to fix it, often disagree about the approach to use in effecting change. My personal preference for engagement over provocation doesn't mean I believe there's no time for provocation, or that those who prefer a provocative course cannot be quite effective. Indeed, often they are more effective, certainly in garnering more attention, but over the long haul BOTH approaches are essential when the forces of dominion have no scruples about how they enforce their will.

I have just added two links to my sidebar, one from each approach. The Conversation Cafe which is slowly spreading from my home state of Washington where it was started, is strictly about engagement, and carefully honors a diversity of opinion. In fact it is incorrect to categorize it as an agent of any particular change other than a return to civility.
The graphic on the front page of the Project for the Old American Century (at time of writing), in contrast is very provocative, and I'd probably not be comfortable wearing it on a t-shirt. Nonetheless, it makes a point, is an attention-getter, and comes far closer to the mark than most Americans want to believe.
I tend to be cautious in what I'm willing to accuse our leaders of, when it is clear to me that even when exercising such caution it is painfully obvious they need to be ousted from power. We somehow missed our opportunity (or perhaps it was stolen
from us) last November, so with Bush as a lame duck there is a legitimate question as to whether simply replacing him next time around with a less offensive administration can heal the deep wounds which have been inflicted on us and the world. More on that later.

My preference for engagement comes in large measure because I am keenly aware that plenty of decent people, whether they voted for Bush or Kerry or someone else, are very worth reaching out to, and are alienated by such provocation. Do I believe that Bush and Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld and DeLay and Frist are liars motivated variously by vanity, greed, power lust, convenience, and meanness? Well frankly, I do believe that. But I certainly don't believe it of all Republicans or all conservatives. And I stop short of calling the aforementioned politicians 'evil', because I agree with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties, either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.
How can we expect those good-hearted individuals of a conservative bent not to dismiss all those who disagree as irrelevant and even mean if they are so dismissed by most of those of a liberal bent? Without bridges, no change will happen; for a small minority screaming foul against a monied powerful minority will be squashed, unless it makes important alliances.

But let's return to the conundrum of the majority of the American voters having (ostensibly) returned to power the very administration whose hubris and militarism has alienated much of the civilized world, with no apparent opportunity to finally vote them out. I'm serious when I state that I think we would be better off right now if Bush could and would run again in 2008. With the current makeup of Congress, impeachment seems far-fetched, but that's the tonic recommended by former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts, in his recent article America's Reputation in Tatters, which begins:
George W. Bush and his gang of neocon warmongers have destroyed America's reputation. It is likely to stay destroyed, because at this point the only way to restore America's reputation would be to impeach and convict President Bush for intentionally deceiving Congress and the American people in order to start a war of aggression against a country that posed no threat to the U.S. America can redeem itself only by holding Bush accountable.
He continues in scathing fashion, and I can only marvel at the irony that someone associated with the last Presidency which took me to the local federal building in protest against ill-conceived military intervention in Central America, is more provocative than I am in lambasting the current administration.

Honoring a Whistleblower

Thanks to Rowan at Uncommon Thought Journal for pointing me to the story of Sibel Edmonds and a site for taking action. If one measures justice by the extent to which the truthtellers are honored and the liars and secret holders punished, then we're not doing very well right now. Thanks to Republican Senator Grassley (IA) for joining Democrat Leahy (VT) in seeking an open probe on this case.

Friday, 27 May 2005

Whence the Labor Movement?

"The labor movement isn't dying, it's being murdered"
So said Rose Ann DeMoro in her interview this week on PBS' NOW. DeMoro related the fallout from Schwartzenegger's recent attempt to suspend a rule slated to take effect at the beginning of this year establishing a ratio of one nurse for every five patients in California hospitals. The California Nurses Association's response has been instrumental in Schwarzenegger's plummetting approval ratings.

Earlier on the show, David Brancaccio reviewed the history of the hard won successes of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida to force Taco Bell and its parent company Yum to finally play a role in enforcing humane treatment and fair pay for migrant workers.

Both stories show that in spite of the war the right has been waging on the labor movement both in buying governmental favors for business and in selling the public a narrow perception of labor causes, gritty perseverence can eventually pay dividends in the direction of dignity for hard working laborers who society relies on but often fails to respect.

Consumers can play a role here. Let's not let the pendulum swing all the way back to the pre-labor dawn of the industrial age.

Losing Count Means Losing Humanity

I can't say it any better than Diane does in this sobering diary.
We memorialize the names and faces of our dead to remind us that every one of them was an individual just like us, who valued his or her life no less than we do, and whose death is a tragedy for those left behind no less than ours would be for our loved ones. Recognizing our shared humanity brings home to us the size of the tragedy in every single life lost, and - ideally - teaches us that in a real "culture of life" the decision to go to war is never taken lightly. As Israeli Knesset Member Yossi Sarid put it, on contemplating the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis alike in the current intifada:

"We are still trying to count, and to remember them as individuals, but with so many dead, it's hard to keep track. But we're making an effort, because to lose count is to lose one's humanity."
The diary goes on to memorialize 100 Iraqis who have lost their lives, in these instances at the hands of the American military. By all means let us honor the American lives lost, but let's honor the importance of every life, especially those innocently trapped in a situation not of their own making.

Thanks to the wonderful new weblog, Metaphors for Life for the tip.

Tuesday, 24 May 2005

Was I Overwrought?

I think not. It was one year ago that I introduced the concept of "not how far right, but how far wrong" and it still rings true.

Comity Prevails

While some will argue that the dangerous imbalance of power which threatens our nation is only aided by compromises which provide an illusion of balance, I cannot help but be heartened that dialogue has averted for now a rancorous showdown in the United States Senate over the so-called nuclear option.

Just this morning I learned in an email from MoveOn.org, that a deal was brokered late yesterday among 14 Senators, 7 from each party, in which the minority party will retain their right to filibuster nominees they consider unfit for the judiciary, in exchange for agreeing to vote for cloture on three of the controversial nominees currently awaiting Senate confirmation. It was amusing to see that MoveOn and President Bush both hailed the agreement, though with very different spins.

Being a compromise, I'm not entirely happy with it, but on the whole there is much to be happy about, and unsurprisingly many centrists are elated. Whether this "centrist" coalition of senators may broker some compromise on Social Security as South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham seemed to suggest on Hardball, remains to be seen. Graham's participation in the group interests me, as he continues to stand out as a principled conservative in the Senate. Though I was disappointed that he capitulated to his party and voted for Alberto Gonzales' nomination both in committee and on the Senate floor, his questioning of Gonzales in the Judiciary hearings convinced me that he was genuinely displeased with Gonzales' behavior in approving relaxed interrogation procedures.

Other good news in this, is that William Myers nomination to the 9th District Court appears all but dead, and I believe it spells the end to Bill Frist's Presidential ambitions. The one possible downside to that is that a Frist nomination may have been more beatable, but I've learned to be very wary of hope which resides in the strategy of a weaker opponent. It is also gratifying to hear James Dobson wail like a sore loser, exposing himself further as an enemy of moderation. While that's hardly news to many of us, remember that his effectiveness in riling the right against gay marriage was largely effective because he comes off as so fatherly and reasonable in his radio addresses to those susceptible to his message.

On the down side is the likely, though not assured, confirmation of three very conservative appointments to prominent positions, the worst of which is probably William Pryor, whose recess appointment and radicalism was effectively rebuked by Senator Leahy in this press release from last year. I'm less well acquainted with Priscilla Owen, but must confess from what I've heard from Janice Rogers Brown, that while she is certainly an ideologue, prone to radical sounding statements, she has a sharp intellect and is probably qualified on judicial grounds, though I dread her potential impact when regulatory matters come up for review, given her pro-business bias.

Russ Feingold, for whom I have an abiding admiration, did express disappointment with the compromise, but overall I share with Kos relief that comity has prevailed, dialogue averted confrontation, and the minority retains some semblance of a check on the power of the Republicans in power.

Wednesday, 18 May 2005

War Is Still Awful

One year ago today I launched this web log by stating this obvious truth in a plaintive plea to those who would justify war, to not lose sight of its monstrousness in defending those rare cases in which it might be called for. Never have I made any naive claims that "Saddam was not so bad", or that "Islamic fundamentalist terrorists will just leave us alone if only we would stop being bullies." But aside from the plain evidence that this administration's actual reasons for going to war were different from those which they claimed beforehand, or recast afterward, we must not take our eyes off the enormous cost of any war in lives lost, dreams destroyed, and psyches irreparably damaged.

Stephen Daugherty, whose writing at WatchBlog inspired me to begin this site, wrote in a recent piece:
War is a beast to be kept on a tight leash.

There are those who think they can unleash it, and not have it turn on them. Wrong. Wars are ravenous beasts that rarely stay under control. The only good reason to let loose such a monster is to turn it on another like it, to let it tear that brother of his to shreds. Those who fail to exhaust the monster and force its rest at the end will find themselves staring down the muzzle into the red eyes of the demon they've freed.
That is but a small excerpt from a series of seven articles Daugherty wrote, entitled "Tumblers in the Lock of Time" in which he lays out his perspective on the current state of affairs in our world. As the inspiration for my deciding to share my voice in this medium, I'm pleased to see Stephen continuing to share his clear-headed thinking. Here are quick links to those recent articles:
Science & Technology
Having 'labeled' myself as a pacifist at the outset, I also introduced one year ago my persistent theme of being wary of labels, and how they reduce complexity into one-dimensionality. I hope that any consistent reader of Delivering Hope can testify that contrarian views held in good faith are treated fairly here, and mockery is largely absent, reserved only for those offerings which are intended to deceive or insult. Do come back, there is much left to explore.

Tuesday, 17 May 2005

Conscience is not a Choice

Thanks to Kos, for pointing me to this article, which I highly recommend you read, about Sergeant Kevin Benderman whose courage and resolve may earn him seven years in prison.
"If I have to go to prison because I don't want to kill anybody, so be it."
Benderman applied for conscientious objector status when his unit was called up to go back to Iraq while he was still haunted by "the image of a young Iraqi girl, no more than eight or nine, one arm severely burnt and blistered, and the sound of her screams." Where does this notion come from that conscientious objection isn't real unless it pre-exists? Well we know that it practically comes from impossibility of waging a war of any length if a precedent is established that one can declare CO status after enlistment. That doesn't make the legitimacy of many such claims invalid, however.

I also noticed an article the other day about the new 15-month enlistments being offered. Why would anybody believe the military would honor a still shorter term, when it hasn't been honoring longer terms with its abhorrent and immoral stop loss policy? They're desperate and have no honor, yet expect their soldiers to have endless honor even after reality awakens a conscience to the horror of what they may be asked to do.

Thursday, 12 May 2005

The 'Nuclear' ...er 'Constitutional' Option

Several sources speculate that the ploy to end the two centuries old filibuster, commonly called the Nuclear Option may come as early as next week. A spate of frantic emails from Democrats stream unabated into my email in-box, exhorting me to take action (and pay money.) Eric Myers sums it up nicely, though in a single sentence: "if a judicial nominee is so weak as to be incapable of moving over the speed bump of a filibuster, is America better served by removing the speed bump, or the nominee?"

Sunday, 8 May 2005

Faith Partners

Those of us with unorthodox theologies err terribly if we disregard voices as being not worthy of consideration, simply because they emanate from within religious frameworks that we do not personally accept. The more I read, the more I realize that anyone who speaks from a deep moral center is deserving of a wide audience. Whether that person argues against all abortion or for important exceptions to its abolition; whether that person argues against all war of for important exceptions to anti-militarism; whether that person finds their strength in the life and teachings of Jesus, or in the Eightfold Noble Path of Gautama, this agnostic is certain that a genuine and deep religious conviction gives many adherents of various faiths very real strength and power in their ability to stand for their convictions.

Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner's Magazine, writes plainly in his new book, God's Politics, about the self-defeating squeamish reluctance of so many on the Left to use moral language, or worse to wrongly ennoble the evil actions of, for instance, the Iraqi insurgents, even as he excoriates those on the Right for applying selective morality to the politics of the day in conformance with the desires of those who have most successfully politicized religion to the benefit of America's Republican Party. From the introduction of this book subtitled "Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It", Wallis writes:
The ways in which both parties' visions are morally and politically incomplete must now be taken up by people of faith. That can best be done by reaching into both the conservative Christian communities who voted for George Bush and more liberal Christian communities who voted for John Kerry.

It's time to spark a public conversation in this country over what the "moral values" in politics should be--and how broadly and deeply they should be defined. Religion doesn't fall neatly into Right and Left categories. If there were ever candidates running with a strong set of personal moral values and a commitment to social justice and peace, they could build many bridges to the other side. Personal and social responsibility are both at the heart of religion, and the two together could make a very powerful and compelling political vision for the future of our bitterly divided nation.
After reading a few chapters of Wallis' book, I stumbled across this interesting project by the folks at Faith Forward to gather many voices of faith who offer a counterpoint to the mainstream impression that those who are concerned with "moral values" are predominately Republican voters.

But what compelled me to take a break from other activities and post anything today, was discovering this powerful message from a minister from my own community. The Reverend Doctor Dee Eisenhauer writes:
I stand for peace in part because I know that to do harm is harmful to the one who wounds and kills others. I learned this from my Dad, a gentle, thoughtful man who has been in his lifetime a farmer, lumberjack, sawmill operator, teacher, builder, and school bus driver. His first adult job was as an air force warrior in the Vietnam war, an excellent navigator who flew numerous bombing missions. When asked these days what he did in the war, he answers simply, “I was a mass murderer.” No human being should be put in that position. It’s inhuman.
and later this:
I feel strongly about these convictions of mine, as I’m sure you feel strongly about your ideas and your work for peace. I think it’s important that we be strong and articulate about what we believe and why. But I also want to say a word about being peaceful people as we seek peace. I think we need to look, act, and sound peaceful as we pour our heart-felt efforts into creating peace. We have to guard against allowing a heated and strident political atmosphere to determine how we express ourselves both within the many branches of the peace movement and as we turn toward the public or to those we perceive as opponents.

... Humility will help us cool our jets a little even as we seek to create peace. Here is a teaching I have found helpful for many years: I am right about 80% of what I believe and wrong about 20%; the trouble is, I don’t know which is the 80 and which is the 20. Some reserve even about our best ideas is appropriate. It’s not that there is no “right” and “wrong”—a huge liberal mistake—but in our speech we seek always to persuade and not pulverize, realizing we may be in error.

Sunday, 1 May 2005

Consumers and Conservationists

Most of us are both.

Whether we define ourselves as Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, evangelical or agnostic, rich or poor, most Americans do want to protect the environment, and almost all of us want to be able to purchase goods at competitive prices. All but the most rabid libertartians will concede that it's worth a few cents of increase in the cost of goods to have regulations which, for instance, prevent industry from contaminating our air to toxic levels. Where the debate grows fierce is both in how and by whom regulation should be applied, and what level of regulation is necessary to forestall catastrophe.

There is a lot of macro speculation that is necessarily part of the analysis, and many on both sides of this debate are guilty of taking certain facts as articles of faith while dismissing arguments to the contrary as stupid or uninformed. The precautionary principle reasonably warns that if there is a significant risk of global catastrophe, it is prudent to take steps to curtail that risk rather than gamble our future on the rosier speculation of those who think the risk is overblown. The precautionary principle can be taken too far, however, and stultify the possibility of our working through a problem and developing new technologies which may render the dirty ways of doing things unnecessary. The idea of nothing ventured, nothing gained can apply to civilization as a whole. In spite of the possibility that we may have planted the seeds of our own demise in following the cultural mandate beyond our planet's capability to sustain us, who among us is really wishing that we still lived in the stone age?

In these times, however, dire warnings about global warming, topsoil loss, disappearing fisheries and forests, and population growth seem supported by enough top scientists to warrant taking a precautionary approach in BOTH curbing the excesses which exacerbate these frightening trends, AND aggressively pursuing new technologies which can bring more comfort to those in developing nations without depleting our resources for future generations. Whether it's already too late for our species, or we are on the brink, or our survival instinct will keep us innovating out of self-destruction, or the "doom and gloom crowd" are just wrong, can't we find the grace to undertake respectful dialogue on these issues without resorting to mockery of those who disagree with us?

At the very least we need to separate the most compelling risks from the lesser ones, and stop assuming truth or falsity by association. Wrong once doesn't mean always wrong, and right once doesn't mean always right.

When our future is at stake, it is more important that we get it right together, than that we win any particular argument.

Cost of Gas

Many Americans seem to think they have a God-given right to cheap gasoline in perpetuity, but anyone who's paying attention knows that we're living on borrowed time and have to solve the global energy demand outside of fossil fuels within a generation or two at the most.

Mick Horan's blog, which I just discovered has a wonderful little graphic which should serve to remind us that our whining about $2.50 / gallon prices is just so much parochial unreality. My contrarian view that the sooner we get to $5 / gal the better, does not come without a personal grimace, but the longer our appetite is subsidized, the more we procrastinate a real solution.

Absolutely we should be attentive to the hardships which such prices put
on those of little means, and take actions to mitigate them, but the laughable spin Bush is putting on his plan for progressive indexing, ignores the patently unprogressive policies which are advanced at every opportunity to transfer wealth from the workers to the advantaged class in our society.

Fortunately there are more than a few Americans who are seeking long-term solutions, including those at the Apollo Alliance, who have modeled their call for energy independence after Kennedy's call for the vision to send a man to the moon.