Tuesday, 20 March 2007

My Apologies to Senator Byrd

In a post on March 7, I lambasted the Senate for its silence back in February and March of 2003, when it had become apparent that Bush was determined to invade Iraq in spite of unfinished inspections by the UN, widespread global disapproval, and wealth of evidence that it was an awful idea. I cited Russell Feingold of Wisconsin as the sole voice of reason. Well after making essentially the same post yesterday at Watchblog, reader Phillipe called my attention to this speech by Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, which concludes:
... to turn one's frustration and anger into the kind of extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign policy debacle that the world is currently witnessing is inexcusable from any Administration charged with the awesome power and responsibility of guiding the destiny of the greatest superpower on the planet. Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this Administration are outrageous. There is no other word.

Yet this chamber is hauntingly silent. On what is possibly the eve of horrific infliction of death and destruction on the population of the nation of Iraq -- a population, I might add, of which over 50% is under age 15 -- this chamber is silent. On what is possibly only days before we send thousands of our own citizens to face unimagined horrors of chemical and biological warfare -- this chamber is silent. On the eve of what could possibly be a vicious terrorist attack in retaliation for our attack on Iraq, it is business as usual in the United States Senate.

We are truly "sleepwalking through history." In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.

To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort, not a first choice. I truly must question the judgment of any President who can say that a massive unprovoked military attack on a nation which is over 50% children is "in the highest moral traditions of our country". This war is not necessary at this time. Pressure appears to be having a good result in Iraq. Our mistake was to put ourselves in a corner so quickly. Our challenge is to now find a graceful way out of a box of our own making. Perhaps there is still a way if we allow more time.

The whole speech is worth a read. Byrd was not some brilliant prognosticator -- he was merely stating the obvious. There are quite a few other Senators who should be hanging their heads in shame.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Another Day to Let Your Opposition Be Known

Find a rally, vigil, or protest in your area!

Responsibility for Sweatshops and Child Labor

When I hear stories, such as the awful conditions under which young teenagers in Guatemala are forced to work to prepare products for export to the United States market, I feel despair that objections to the facilitation of such outrages by lauded free trade agreements are dismissed as the ravings of lefty loonies.

I don't claim to know that such abuses would be less in the absence of these agreements. Indeed that is a question not sufficiently answered by the Democracy Now report. But I don't believe the pretense of ignorance on the part of the corporations in this country about these abuses. At some level it is appropriate that we be bothered by the extent to which our comfort is made to depend on the misery of others.

If free trade can be used as a lever to force changes and better conditions for the oppressed in distant lands, I'll gladly hail that. But the extent to which these stories must find their expression in the alternative media suggest a willing complicity in need of greater exposure. Thank you Amy Goodman, for your role in making these stories more widely known.

Whatever you may believe about what make the best trade policies, it is not extreme to decry the abuse of under aged workers, or any workers, in the service of providing cheaper goods for the privileged among us. If that's how capitalism works, then capitalism is broken.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Looks Good So Far

Following up on my Mauritania post, the news so far is promising.

The final paragraph speaks to the uncertainty yet ahead:
The critical moment will come when the army must return to the barracks, according to Cedric Jourde, a political scientist at Ottawa University who closely follows Mauritanian politics. He said it remained to be seen to what extent the military would "accept to be subordinated to a non-military head of state" and civilian government.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Good Luck, Mauritania

And sometimes luck has more to do with outcomes than people like to acknowledge.

In just a few hours the West African nation of Mauritania will begin holding its first legitimate presidential election. In this case Mauritania's good fortune was the good will and integrity of Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who took the reins of power in a military coup in August of 2005, ousting strongman Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya who was in Saudi Arabia at the time, attending King Fahd's funeral. Vall pledged to bring democracy, liberate the press, and hold national elections within two years.

True to his word, the press is no longer muzzled, an independent judiciary appears to be established, and a constitution is in place guaranteeing basic liberties and intended to prevent dictatorships. Many involved in the overhaul have urged Vall to stay, but like our own George Washington who refused to stay in power, Vall will not hear of it.
"The problem for Mauritanians is that for the first time in their lives, they don't know what the outcome of the election will be ... Psychologically it's very hard. It terrifies them," said Col Vall, who before the coup headed the country's national police."But it's a fear that must be overcome."
Promises are cheap, and dictators frequently refer to their nations as democracies, holding phony elections periodically to fabricate legitimacy. It's no wonder Mauritania was presumed to be no different, showing as red for undemocratic on this map I created a year ago based on the research of OTFord at the Stewardship Project. Perhaps it can follow in the footsteps of Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Malawi which have made progress toward democracy in the last 15 years, and soon be colored blue.

What I really don't know is whether the institutions Vall has created in 17 short months are strong enough to withstand the temptations of a newly elected president to return autocratic rule to a country where such has been the norm. A dense field of 19 candidates (none constitutionally allowed to be associated with previous dictators) complicates the equation as this West African nation approaches its new day of hope.

Mauritania, good luck!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Bill Moyers speaks again

Regular readers (those few of you) know that I'm a huge devotee of Bill Moyers. But if you're looking for his recent speech on income inequality which he delivered at the National Conference for Media Reform, you probably want to go here. I'm pleased to find out about it myself - not because I saw it featured somewhere on TV or a major publication - but because my blog has suddenly been hit predominately by folks looking for it.

If that's you, you're probably looking at my set of posts referencing Moyers, so come back and visit. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture he gave here in Seattle two years ago. You can read my report several articles below.

And remember, if there's any way to do so: always choose hope!

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Loving & Hating the U.S. Senate

Equivocation must be one of the defining qualifications for a career in politics. Learning how to take a stand while not offending those who disagree is often a hallmark of any successful politician, but with few exceptions Senators have elevated this skill to an artform.

As we approach the four year anniversary of the disastrous decision to invade another country with insufficient provocation or planning, I've been thinking of the Senate's role in that disaster, and searching for documentation about just what they were up to in the weeks before the invasion.

In October of 2002, by a 77-23 vote, the United States Senate authorized the President to use the U.S. Armed Forces against Iraq. So 23 Senators shared my distrust of this President to prudently make such a decision. That said, I can understand the concerns around reports of Saddam's weapons program and a complete lack of trust in his government which could lead some Senators plenty wary of war to legitimately feel it was in the interest of national security to give our President latitude to make that decision without the ordinary Congressional restraint. I disagreed then, and I think history has already proved me and the 23 right, but there is a difference between the authorization (an act of trust) and the decision to invade (an abuse of that trust).

My own Democratic Senator, Maria Cantwell, who voted for the authorization very capably equivocated in her press release at that time, declaring among other things:
If, for some reason, the U.N. Security Council does not act, I will expect the President to make a major and aggressive diplomatic effort to enlist other partners around the globe in doing the right thing to stop the Hussein threat. ... Mr. President, my vote for this resolution does not mean that I am convinced of the Administration has answered all the questions. I believe the following issues must be addressed before the U.N. or the U.S. move forward with military action.

First: Continued Multilateral Approach. [followed by details...]
Second: Successful Military Strategy. [followed by details...]
Third: A Postwar Commitment Strategy. [followed by details...]
Fourth: Fighting the Broader War on Terrorism. [followed by details...]
Fifth: Maintaining Middle East Stability. [followed by details...]
Sixth: Protecting Iraqi Civilians. [followed by details...]

Mr. President, I hope our vote tonight and the President's multilateral efforts lead to a successful result where we would not need to use them. But if we do, these men and women will meet the task with professionalism, conviction and resolve.

Mr. President, I do not now, nor have I ever believed that military action is a preferred method to address international conflict. But sometimes it is necessary.
Cantwell covered her tracks, and could rightly claim that the President's actions in taking us into war in March of 2003 did not meet the test she found implicit in the resolution. In my view more of those constraints needed to be explicit within any such resolution at the least. Sadly though, in the final days leading up to the invasion when it became increasingly clear that the administration would not wait for the UN Inspectors who had not yet finished their job, there was far too little outcry from Senators (e.g. exhibit Cantwell's lack of outcry here or here) objecting to the administration's abuse of their authorization. I'm not impressed by the claim that they were rolled by Powell's act at the U.N., or Bush's lies at the State of the Union address. In spite of sharing the general sense that Colin Powell was honorable and upright, the whole business smelled fishy enough to me that February of 2003 saw me thus:

There were Senators on both sides of that vote who should have been crying foul, but as has too often been the case, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin gave us the lonely voice of reason,
I believe that the administration has not made clear to the American people, however, the magnitude of the task the country is setting for itself – not only with regard to the military engagement, but with regard to occupation and reconstruction.
His resolution called on the President to further report to congress before sending troops to war, explicitly calling out many of the same requirements Cantwell found implicit in the resolution. Feingold's resolution was read twice then referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations.

Most of our Senators are extremely bright. I believe most of them really do care about serving the interests of our nation. But this invasion didn't pass the smell test for me or millions of people around the world, and yet this body was strangely mute.

Many in the anti-war crowd have damned them for the October resolution, but I damn them even more for their February-March 2003 silence. How could it be so blazingly obvious to this citizen and millions of others around the world, and yet draw scarcely a peep out of the senior legislative body of the republic leading the charge to war?

We can speculate that those who voted for the resolution felt obliged to accept the Administration reports, and that they and others who voted against it chafed against the possible repercussions of appearing less than fully supportive of the troops whose lives would be on the line. Fear that the campaign might be fully successful and draw to a nice conclusion no doubt muted some who figured their political careers would come to an abrupt end if they questioned Bush and ended up on the wrong side of what might become a wildly popular war.

Oh, the timidity! Have they learned nothing? They can't even adopt a resolution against a "surge" in 2007 that clearly does NOT have popular or congressional support.

Feingold remains the shining star

You may surmise that I dislike every other Senator, but it's not true. Many garner my admiration for one reason or another. But when it comes to speaking one's truth without equivocation, Russell Feingold stands alone.

The PATRIOT Act: 96-Russ

It's pretty sad that only one Senator could bring himself to vote against a massive bill being rushed through the chamber before anyone had time to read it. Feingold hadn't had time either, but he read enough to find Constitutionally questionable provisions that many now agree should never have become law.

I'm not the only person out here who finds strength of character appealing. Feingold should be the standard. And look - he doesn't even come from one of the solidly blue states. Wisconsin has elected and re-elected this darling of progressives across the country, not because he is liberal, but because he is genuine.

Senators, your job is not to worry about the political calculus of every move you make and every word you say or write. Your job is to take care of our nation and represent your values honestly to your constituents. Show your character and your voters just might surprise you.