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