Sunday, 12 November 2006

John Haynes Holmes & Harry Emerson Fosdick

Two forward thinking theologians active in the early part of the twentieth century have been brought to my attention recently. Harry Emerson Fosdick began his ministry in the Baptist tradition of my own upbringing, while John Holmes Haynes started his ministry in the Unitarian tradition which I have now adopted in its Unitarian Universalist incarnation. Both were outspoken liberals within their traditions, creating some uproar in their day, but also engendering a dedicated following of progressive religious thinkers.

Reading their brief biographies points up the extent to which we share the same battles simply in different garb as those of our forebears, and that those on both sides of these battles have their foibles as they do their inspiration. Anyone with insight into the lives of either of these two, or perhaps on any interaction between them is invited to comment here.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Keep it Simple, Congress

Already I have some more advice for the new Democratic majorities in Congress.

Write some really simple legislation.

Americans are already disgusted with the "I'll scratch your back, if you'll scratch mine" system of governance in which bills become absurd conglomerations of disparate issues which no one wholly agrees with and no one wholly disagrees with. With majorities, Democrats have an opportunity to just say no to that process, and put bills in front of the President which are popular with the American people and carry no baggage that spoil their central theme.

Minimum wage is a great example. Democrats should avoid the temptation to fill a minimum wage bill with liberal riders. Make the President's veto, if he dares, mean exactly that he thinks it's ok for employers to pay sub-poverty wages.

Reverse the worst of the Republican legislation of the last 12 years a piece at a time. There's so much to do - make each piece of it as simple as possible. Allow the government to negotiate the best prices with pharmaceuticals for prescription drugs. Reverse the media consolidation rules which squelch diversity of opinion broadcast over TV and radio. Etc, etc, etc. One at a time the American people can come to understand that Democratic leadership is in their best interest. But only if the Democrats deliver that leadership.

No doubt Bush will be dusting off his veto pen at long last, but maybe there's a limit to the number of popular bills that an unpopular president can get away with vetoing. Opportunities abound; I'm choosing hope.

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Russ Feingold, 2008: A Principled Progressive

[Update 12 Nov: Russ Feingold on Saturday, 11 November 2006, withdrew his name from consideration for the Democratic ticket for 2008. Who can blame anyone for not wanting to go through a grueling campaign, much less actually have to run the executive branch of government. If he says he's out, I believe him - Feingold has always been a man of his word. I maintain the central sentiment of this message nonetheless. A principled stand for progressive values, consistently applied can win the respect of the American people, even when those values are frequently deemed to be "more liberal" than the average American. Dare to dream!]


A 12 year stranglehold on the lower chamber of our Congress by the greed-driven faction of the Republican party has been decisively broken. The grown ups (hopefully) can now set the agenda, and reasonable Republicans can participate.

So why wait on looking toward 2008?

It's time to break the right-left dichotomy myth as well.

Principled Progressive values are common sense compassionate values which in their simplest form are shared by the majority of the American people.

Russ Feingold has represented those values consistently with integrity and grace.

They'll say he's "too far left". Let him speak. America is ready to listen.

They said Howard Dean's 50 state strategy was nuts. It wasn't. Dean has been a great nuts and bolts leader of the Democratic Party.

Russ Feingold can be an inspirational leader of our great nation.

Dare to dream!

Fire Rumsfeld, Jail Cheney, Impeach Bush!

Nay, do it not ye Dems of the new majorities.

However little doubt you may have that those criminal miscreants deserve such fates, the agenda of the 110th Congress must not and will not be consumed with recriminations, but rather with doing the necessary business of this nation which has been so woefully neglected over the last six years.

At this time, expedience must trump justice. The not-so-perilous Nancy Pelosi realizes it well, and in spite of the hue and cry from the right over her misperceived extremism, all indications are she gets it, and will successfully negotiate the balance between overplaying the Democrats' hand and governing too timidly.

Investigations will occur, and rightly so! But the emphasis will be (or should be) on uncovering corruption that has remained hidden, not on targeted witch hunts of particular individuals.

Front and center instead will be popular measures like raising the minimum wage, retracting the ban on negotiating prices with big pharmaceuticals, breaking the link between lobbyists and legislation, and finally enacting all the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. "Drain the GOP swamp", Ms Pelosi, America won't find it so controversial.

As for the title actions of this post? Well this observer suspects Rumsfeld may see the writing on the wall and take care of the first himself by resigning without giving Bush a choice in the matter. Calls for his resignation or dismissal are already much broader than ever, coming from scarcely ideologically driven sources. Bringing our Vice President to justice for his lies and reckless policies may never happen. He will be shamed by history, however, when all is said and done, as will his boss who delegated his responsibilities in foreign policy to a naive band of fools whose hubris led to a destabilization of the Middle East which we will have to live with for years to come. I'm afraid the Dems don't have the magic glue for fixing that pot, much less the authority to do much if they did.

Still I will savor this moment, knowing that the repudiation of the power corrupt Republican leadership was shared by liberals, moderates, and conservatives alike. This is still, on balance, a conservative nation, but we learned last night that shutting out voices of reason from the other side can only last so long. I don't think Democrats will make the same mistake, at least not now. And perhaps conservatives will learn in the next two years that the principled cravings of progressive Democrats are not as out of touch with mainstream American values as they have been led to believe.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

My Land, Your Land, Our Land

My home state of Washington must fend off an atrociously crafted property rights initiative, I-933, in next Tuesday's election. A recent poll suggests cause for great hope in both this race and the other initiatives in my state. If it proves true, I believe it will be the first time ever that I voted on the winning side of every initiative here.

Property rights measures often succeed by appealing to Americans' notions about property ownership and the American dream. "Property fairness" is the rallying cry of its supporters. My own predisposition is to be very distrustful of property rights movements, which are often motivated by greed and selfishness at the expense of the public good. That doesn't mean I cannot acknowledge instances where simplistically crafted regulations constrain reasonable uses of people's land creating justifiable resentment against government. But the answer doesn't lie in a simplistically crafted initiative voted on by the public at large, rather than having elected representatives hammer out the details to mitigate problems with existing regulation.

Even the Yakima Herald-Republic in conservative eastern Washington farm country was able to recognize the problems with an initiative approach to solving these complex issues:
About the most positive thing we can say about Initiative 933 is that it is a good example of why it's bad public policy to write complex state laws by initiative -- absent the give-and-take of debate and compromise in the legislative arena.
No doubt their predisposition on property rights differs considerably from mine, but even so we've come to the same conclusion.

The down side to having such strong predispositions is that I'm less inclined to become as fully informed as I might about issues where I'm more doubtful of my own stance. I reacted strongly against an online libertartian-right "voters guide" sent me by a libertarian leaning friend. While I am sufficiently informed to be quite certain that I-933 would make bad law, that certainty has hampered me from doing the background research to make that case to someone who doesn't share my predispositions.

Hence my follow up answer to her was couched in some uncertainty:
I don't pretend to be an expert, but my impression is that 933 proponents claim that the state, counties, and municipalities frequently write regulations which are in abridgement of the state constitution because they do devalue the property without compensation, and that their initiative simply enforces the constitution.

I believe some claims of devaluation are specious, some are correct, and some are debatable. For just about any issue one can find gray areas. In my opinion this initiative gives ammunition to any property owner whose personal interpretation of any post-1996 regulation leads him/her to believe there property has been devalued to sue for damages or to have the regulation overturned. Having encountered folks I deem as "property rights yahoos" in action before, that has me seeing red. Lots of these folks are motivated by greed and get their undies in a bunch at some perceived injustice when reasonable regulations spell out that there are certain uses prohibited of their land. Some may even seek compensation for potential profits they are being denied that they really didn't even intend to take advantage of.

If someone buys land at some point when regulations at the time of purchase allow them to build a residence and regulations change to disallow that, then I believe the current constitution should come into play to protect their interests, and they should either be allowed to build or be compensated for takings. Again, I'm not an expert, but I believe such cases don't require this initiative. While there may be cases where an owner has been unreasonably hurt by regulation, and deserves redress, this initiative is not the silver bullet for providing that redress. In spite of a few exceptions written into 933, its language adopts a far too broad approach which in the completely accurate words of the No campaign "goes too far, and costs too much."
I further acknowledged that there are some cases of eminent domain abuse, such as the Kelo decision, where I actually sided with the conservative justices. The public good argument didn't fly in that case for me - rather it seemed like a municipality caving to moneyed interests. Especially in an instance where the result of the decision is to force someone out of their own home so it can be developed into a condominium to be sold to wealthier people.

So I am not always kneejerk reactive against property rights, but an early fondness for William Faulkner and the Native American sensibility about the land and ownership do cause me to cast a wary eye toward those for whom property rights is their most burning issue. So while I won't be burning the paperwork that the bank has given me regarding my investment in a certain plot of land, I will always regard it with a certain bemused attitude toward the concept that human beings own little pieces of the earth's crust. Any piece of land is part of a system which takes precedence over anyone's putative ownership of that piece. An ownership system is fine as long as ownership obliges the owner to appropriate stewardship of their holding. The land after all will be around long after we depart.

Thanks to Land Use Watch from neighboring Oregon for the pointer to the recent encouraging poll.