Sunday, 19 February 2006

Widening Our Circles

In the sixties Paul Simon sardonically wrote and sang:
I have no need of friendship
friendship causes pain
Its laughter and its loving I disdain
I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock, I am an island
And a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.
Of course, no one is truly an island, yet there is no denying that widening our circles of friendship and love does invite more pain into our lives. This weekend, my own beloved community experienced the brutal shock of that truth as two were lost to senseless tragedy and two more injured and orphaned. We could shrink into our shells in a futile attempt to insulate ourselves from further pain, but no instead we reach out and invite even more. For it is within our beloved communities that we find healing, which is so much more important than the avoidance of pain. In faith we widen our circles even further. As one of those so tragically taken from us said two years ago:
We all have the power to create a positive life. When you look within and find the glimmerings of what brings you energy and joy, say yes to those inklings, even though you don’t know where that path will take you. Faith and trust are qualities we must all embrace if we are to hear our directions from God or our guiding spirit.
The wounds from two such positive lives ended far too soon will not heal quickly for the very many souls whom they have touched. But they will be best honored if, in time, we can say yes to those glimmerings, those inklings, to joy and to hope.

Goodbye Ken
Goodbye Kathy

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

What if it was his daughter?

If true, this is horrifying.
According to Iraqi officials, U.S. officials delayed the scheduled release of six female prisoners whom they knew had already been found innocent because of [American journalist Jill Carroll's] kidnappers' demand for their release. Then they refused to speed up the review of the files of the five remaining female prisoners, in violation of a policy of giving priority to females in the review of detainee files for release.
Jeanne's title of this post at Body and Soul would be fully warranted, and I am afraid that it is. That Jill Carroll's pleas may have actually delayed the release of women prisoners slated for release anyway has gotten scant play in the American press, though I did find this passage in a January 22 news release from Reuters:
As U.S. and Iraqi forces hunted for kidnapped American reporter Jill Carroll, Iraq's Justice Ministry said six women prisoners held by U.S. forces would be released within a week.

Carroll's abductors threatened to kill her if all women prisoners in Iraq were not freed.

A joint Iraqi-U.S. review board approved the release of the women on Jan. 17, before the kidnappers made their demand, but U.S. officials then apparently delayed freeing them so that it did not look like they were giving in to the hostage-takers.

"They delayed their release because of the connection with the kidnapping of the American journalist," a Justice Ministry spokesman said.

Truly I understand the tragic necessity of allowing the worst, in order not to set the precedent for further kidnappings if it becomes apparent they are successful. But to delay a process that would have happened anyway, just to assure that no one thinks there is capitulation is unconscionable. We can always declare it to be unrelated to the demand, especially when it is.

Even most conservatives will jump on callousness this severe, as is evident by the unpopularity of this RedState diary. When will they come to recognize that callousness in our Republican leaders?

Jill Carroll, I hope you make it back, and that your captors are eventually brought to justice.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Golden Medal; Golden Heart

Joey Cheek won a gold medal for the US in speed skating yesterday. But it was his announcement at a press conference that was truly golden:
Cheek announced that he would donate the $25,000 bonus the United States Olympic Committee gives to gold-medal winners to Right to Play, a charity organization founded by former Norwegian Olympic speedskating champion Johann Olav Koss to help disadvantaged children around the world.

"I have a pretty unique opportunity here, so I'm going to take advantage of it while I can," Cheek said at his post-race news conference. "I have been blessed by competing in the Olympics in speedskating. ... I always felt if I ever did something big like this, I wanted to be prepared to give something back."

Cheek chose to give his money specifically to help in Chad, where he said there are 60,000 children who have been displaced from their homes. [refugees from the violence in Darfur] I'll take his word for it, since this is something he has been researching. He met with Koss and looked into the financial structure of the organization to be sure it wasn't one of those charities with top-heavy administrative costs that eat up the donations.

"It's Right to Play" Cheek said. The organization's mission is "To improve the lives of children in the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace."

Half an hour before we heard from Cheek, 2002 gold medalist and Monday's 10th-place finisher Casey FitzRandolph said, "You've got certain guys that you root for, and Joey's one of them. I root for guys not because of what country they're from so much as what type of people they are."
But I also like this quote from the Yahoo account of the story:
"I don't know how I skated that fast," Cheek said. "At some level, it's empowering to think about someone other than yourself. It's right that I help some people get the chance that I have had.

"We athletes are superstitious, goofy people," Cheek said. "It's kind of absurd. I've trained my whole life for this but I am skating around in a skintight suit. It's a little ridiculous.

"I can take the time to sit up here and gush or I can do something worthwhile."

The humanitarian crisis in Darfur has claimed between 180,000 and 300,000 lives, and displaced more than two million people.

Cheek's role model is former Norwegian speedskater Johan-Olaf Koss, who made a similar contribution in 1994 when the program was called Olympic Aid.

"The things he has done for other people have been an inspiration for me," Cheek said. "It's my hope that I can assist some people and walk in his large shoes."

Cheek had the plan in mind after meeting with Right to Play leaders in the Olympic Village this week.

"I have been kind of plotting this in my head. I wanted to be prepared if the stars aligned," Cheek said. "They have got a great program and they have done a lot of good."

Cheek said he plans to visit Darfur in a couple of months and might petition the US State Department to allow more US funds for relief work.
Perhaps an athlete can partially restore America's good name which our leaders have been working so hard to throw away.

Endorse an End to Torture

From the National Religious Campaign Against Torture:
Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear. It degrades everyone involved --policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation's most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable. ...
It continues in simple and direct language, imploring our leaders to remove all ambiguity about our commitment to eschew torture or the rendition of prisoners to states where they may be tortured. It is sponsored by a coalition of liberal and conservative theologians and others from many faith traditions.

Please follow the link, read the statement, and endorse it. There will be an opportunity to make an optional donation if you would like.

Thank you to Mary at Pacific Views for calling my attention to this important cause.

Monday, 13 February 2006

Not my focus, but ...

Generally I ignore the kneejerk idiocy of screamers at Free Republic, figuring it's just as easy to find comparable examples on the left, say in the comments at Atrios or Democratic Underground. Let's worry more about the idiocy of those who actually hold the reins of power.

But the right wing echo chamber is real and it's a good thing that not all reasonable people ignore it. It does in fact feed public perceptions far too much for my liking, so I'm glad some are vigilant at exposing its hypocrisies.

Angelica, at Battle Panda, found some priceless comments from Free Republic during Clinton's days expressing outrage at his use of the FISA process to obtain warrants rather than doing it in open court. Do you think these same folks are beside themselves now that W is even bypassing the FISA process?

Angelica summarizes:
So now you know. Circumventing the FISA court is just a part of doing your job as a commander in chief if your name is G.W. Bush. But going through the FISA courts instead of getting a warrant in open court is a jaw-droppingly Kafkaesque abuse of executive privileges if you happen to be Bill Clinton.
She also pointed me to a wonderful screed by Glenn Greenwald noting the utter misapprehension of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" by Bush loyalists:
Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush.
One might call it just talk, but Greenwald backs it up with examples aplenty.

Dean Repeats my Seattle Shout

The headline screamed at me on my birthday morning:

       VP Cheney authorized aide to leak in CIA case
A temporary joyful madness of schadenfreude overtook me. This was it, finally the break in that story that would force Cheney out of office. And there I was screaming that Cheney must resign on a downtown Seattle street corner.

Later I read a story which says Libby has no plans to cover himself by implicating superiors, discover that this is NOT front page news everywhere or the big buzz on the morning talk shows (other than Air America), and settle back into my hopeful state that it nonetheless presages undeniable revelations that could bring Cheney down.

The next day brought us the article by Paul Pillar, former CIA official who was National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, an insider who reiterated the charge that the decision to go to war came first and the intelligence to justify it was found to make the case. I write about that here.

Then of course yesterday the comical since it wasn't deadly story of Cheney's spraying his millionaire friend with shotgun pellets while hunting. (Jane H and ReddHead really made hay with this one over at firedoglake.)(pnwt115)

This morning I find that my Seattle shout is being repeated by DNC Chair Howard Dean who says Cheney must resign if the leak authorization is true.

I smell an interesting couple of weeks coming up politically. Of course there will probably be some bombshell coming out from the Administration to try to distract us from their own bad news. We shall see.

If you are looking for smart partisan news more frequently than I tend to report it, may I suggest the Irregular Times which I revisited this weekend after a long time away. They also feature a nice look, and columns which behave the right way when the windows are resized - gee I wish mine did that.

Friday, 10 February 2006

Background on Cory Maye

In my resolve this week, along with my cohorts at What is Liberalism? and others, to bring more attention to the injustice of Cory Maye's capital conviction in Mississippi, it has been brought to my attention that the case is only briefly mentioned here. You can find ample links to actions you can take beyond just signing the petition over at my diary at DailyKos.

I will add here my response to one cautionary remark by someone uncomfortable with leaving too much address data when signing the petition:
The more address that is up there, the more verifiable is your identity, which helps for authenticity, as is explained here. The email address you leave is kept private, but can be used for verification later as necessary as well. We each have our individual levels of comfort about posting personal information, but I encourage people to be as public as your comfort allows you. Activism is not about hiding behind a computer screen.

Brutal Truths & Bridges of Hope

Truth wears no labels.

Truth shows up in surprising places.

Truth cannot be cornered and packaged.

Of course, we all have our own truths, and we get comfortable with the set of truths we know; we hang out in certain crowds; we can't resist packaging the truth as we understand it; but we all get blindsided from time to time.

I suppose I take it as a point of pride that I repeatedly question my own assumptions. Why do I think that? How do I know that's true? What does that person with the opposite opinion know that I may not? It turns some people away. They think I'm wishy washy - a flip-flopper. But it hardly means that I don't have deep convictions.

One such conviction is that it is wrong to judge someone for a trait over which they have no control. Always. But it does not follow that someone who does so wrongly judge others is himself always wrong about everything. He may see a brutal truth to which I am blind. Still I'll more often look for truth among those who first demonstrate the most compassion. It just stands to reason that the odds are better there. But occasionally close examination will reveal them to be dead wrong - about some things.

So we need to confront the brutal truths which come from disparate perspectives. But hatred can sometimes come disguised as brutal truth, so healthy skepticism is necessary to accompany that willingness to listen to opinions which challenge our assumptions. But with no willingness to listen then all is reduced to argument and divisiveness will reign.

Hmm. I can imagine someone reading this as a lot of airy nothing. But humor me, and stick with it for just a little longer. Because I'm not just saying that we need the brutal truth tellers from all sides (and we do) - even as we need the listeners who will help filter out some of the accompanying nonsense and expose it as chaff. We need the doubters like me, and we need those who are really sure of their paths and will not waver - and sometimes I'm like that too. But we need something else.

We need the bridgers. Those who can show us the bridges of hope. The bridgers are my heroes. Bridgers are no strangers to the brutal truths - but they find brutal truths on both sides of the divides and can speak to groups of people who find it difficult to speak to each other.

Today I bought myself a birthday present. A Call to Conscience: The Landmark Speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On 7 audio CDs. King was the consumate bridger. Such bridgers are rare, but there may be more of them than we sometimes imagine. Few attain the profile that King did in his too short life.

Can a wealthy, idolized rock star be a bridger? It doesn't seem likely. But then there's Bono. I've long liked U2's music, but then I like a lot of rock and roll. What I really like is what Bono has done with his celebrity. Thanks to Bob Wratz of BrightEyesDimView for pointing me to Bono's homily (free subscription required) at the National Prayer Breakfast one week ago. I want to excerpt some highlights, but it's hard - it works best as a whole. You know the old "read the whole thing" exhortation. But here's a little after he is talking about how churches came around to confront the AIDS epidemic after a slow start born of judgmentalism:
But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.

I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.
Ok, it was more than a little - but wasn't it worth it? At the National Prayer Breakfast, with Bush and Congressional and religious leaders in attendance.

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Just a Silly Daydream

Family obligations kept me from listening to the State of the Union address last week. So I've made up my own.

Bush supporters complain of Bush detractors that there is nothing he could say that would make them happy. And you know what, they're close to right. The actions of this administration have been so consistent in many ways, that mere words alone could hardly assuage the anguish we feel at this administration's constant assault on so many of the values we hold dear.

I began contemplating what sort of speech Bush could have given that would have earned him my respect. If he made an utter about-face and gave a speech that one might expect from Ted Kennedy, proclaiming a new liberal day in America, I just wouldn't believe him. No, he would have to show me something different, but somehow square it with his abysmal record. Here, perhaps, is the speech which would have finally earned him my respect:

My fellow Americans,

The state of our Union remains strong on many fronts, with high employment, manageable inflation, the strongest defense in the world, and most importantly a diverse citizenry, comprised of millions of exceptional individuals whose abilities, inventiveness, compassion, and industriousness embody the hope for generations to come for American prosperity and idealism. Beneath these strengths, however, I must report that there lie some mighty troubles, which must be faced squarely and addressed aggressively before they eat away at the fabric of all that is great in our republic. I come to you tonight humbly acknowledging that I must share in the blame for these underlying afflictions which threaten the future that we all want for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

When I came before you as a candidate for this office six years ago, declaring myself as a compassionate conservative who sought to be a uniter, not a divider, I meant it. I have personally known liberals, conservatives, and moderates, all of whom share the desire to do what is best for themselves, for their loved ones, and for their fellow citizens. Working together I believed we could find a way to move this country forward.

However, I seriously misjudged the extent to which my particular tactics for stimulating the economy would draw the ire of those who, also earnestly, believe those tactics to be severely misguided and injurious to less advantaged Americans. When my dear friends, who are the captains of industry, explain to me how cutting taxes, especially on inherited wealth and investment, is key to rejuvenating the economy, I believed them and I still do. But when billionairres such as Bill Gates, Sr join the chorus of liberal and Democratic voices who point out that such tax cuts have the immediate result of increasing the gap between the wealthiest Americans and those of less means, I can understand the angry resentment which has divided rather than united America.

These same captains of industry, fine people who love their children and relish clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, assured me that their industries could do a much smarter job of regulating themselves. They explained how so many of the environmental laws were burdensome, damaged the economy, and put us at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. Of course, I believed them, and I still do. Industry is smarter about regulating itself than a bureaucratically laden government ever can be. But I misjudged the grave distrust that many Americans have for allowing industry to police themselves. Very reasonable clear-headed thinkers really believe there is a danger that the lure of profits might coerce industry-appointed regulators to endanger our environment. I had intended to unite us, but instead I have divided America.

When terrorists struck their fateful blow on September 11 of 2001, we were united in our grief for those who were lost or whose lives were awfully changed forever. We were united in horror that anyone could so delight in such wanton destruction. However, I seriously underestimated the passion with which a large minority of Americans revere certain freedoms and their privacy. Our secret wiretapping program, for instance, was a common sense precaution against the terrorists gaining the upper hand. But after it was revealed, we discovered that it, as with other elements of the PATRIOT Act, was seen as a terrible invasion upon the liberties of ordinary Americans who had no connection with terrorists. My administration lost the trust of millions of Americans doing what we thought was necessary in our defense, and some really reasonable people are telling me that those measures are illegal. I had intended to unite us, but instead I have divided America.

When a brutal dictator in an oil-rich nation in the Middle East is believed to be accruing weapons of mass destruction, and my good friends who conceived of the Project for the New American Century assured me that his overthrow can only be accomplished by American initiative and is critical to our planet's future, I believed them. I anticipated that the American people would be united in their resolve to crush his dictatorship and attempt to bring Democracy to this fragile but important corner of our planet. After it was discovered that the weapons did not exist, and that the cost of the war in lives of our own men and women, in the lives of innocent civilians in the area, in the trust of the global community, and in dollars were all exponentially larger than we anticipated, the anger which would be felt toward our government for making that decision was beyond what any of us thought possible. Cindy Sheehan personified for many the heartfelt revulsion that many Americans had toward the deployment of our troops for what we believed to be a noble cause, but what for many was a foolish boondoggle. I had intended to unite us, but instead I have divided America.

When nature ripped savagely into the heart of our Gulf coast, Americans responded heroically to assist their neighbors rendered homeless. I responded with great faith in my good friends who I trusted to get the job done. I discovered that competence must trump loyalty though, when lives are at stake, and our government lost the trust of more of our citizens, as our treasury took another hit at a time when it could ill afford that.

When the combined effects of all these policies, nobly undertaken: Cutting taxes; Funding a protracted war; Passing health care reform; responding to disaster, but too late and without proper planning, combined to convert a huge surplus into a huge deficit, I find that even conservatives who have long supported my policies are questioning the wisdom of pushing forward without directly confronting this deficit. Their solutions of ending programs dear to liberals is in direct conflict with liberal solutions of ending the tax cuts for the wealthy and reducing non-essential military expenditures. I had intended to unite us, but instead I have divided America.

My good friend, and partner in this enterprise, Dick Cheney, has failed to agree with me that a dramatic change in leadership is required at this time, and so effective immediately, sadly, I am dismissing him from his post as Vice-President. Told of my plans, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld has already tendered his resignation. And effective tomorrow, because my desire to unite rather than divide America is truly sincere, I will resign my office of President of the United States, and as provided by the Constitution, Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, will take the oath of office. Please give to him your support and prayers as we all work together to preserve the dream that is America.

God bless America!

All right, all right, it doesn't really square with Bush's past - his refusal to admit error, what we know that he really DID have to know about, and gosh in places he sure sounds a lot more like Walker Willingham than George Bush - but hey, it's just a silly daydream.

Monday, 6 February 2006

Caring About Africa

Africa is all too easily ignored by much of the world, especially the United States, and in particular Presidents in their State of the Union addresses.

One of my favorite resources on the web is O.T. Ford's Stewardship Project, which ignores no place. While I've occasionally disagreed with some particulars of his opinions, such as his willingness to accept Bush's Iraq war as better than simply leaving Saddam in power, I have nothing but the greatest respect for the thoroughness and seeming accuracy with which he portrays the Political Status of the States of the world, with respect to the extent to which they exhibit majority control by the people or not.

While certainly there is a wide range between the most oppressive states and the most liberal democratic states, I am inclined to accept Ford's quick categorization of most states into one realm or the other. He is not prone to the typical temptation of assigning status based on their claimed or putative ideology. Africa tends to be a continent where autocratic or oligarchic regimes are the norm, though there has been some encouraging movement of late in nations such as Nigeria, Liberia, Malawi, and Burundi. The reader of the map should be warned that significant oppression, especially of certain minorities, may linger in many of the "blue" nations, while some of the "orange" nations do show some movement toward liberalization. Overall the state of human rights remains awfully bleak across the continent.

I've never seen this type of information captured on a map before, so I have used Ford's analysis to create a first glimpse of Africa as it stands today. Eventually I am interested in furthering this analysis. For instance we might subdivide those nations where some regions are acting autonomously, or more finely designate the status of the states, or look at recent or historical trends. But until now, I've never even seen a snapshot.

[UPDATE: An excellent diary, What's the Matter with Africa, appeared today on DailyKos which is well worth the read. I added my map in the comments, since lots of maps were included in the diary and the comments.]