Thursday, March 31, 2005

Spare A Tear For The Living, Please

Many tears -- both sincere and crocodilian -- will undoubtedly be shed today over the death of Terri Schiavo.
I felt a sense of relief that this phase of the story has drawn to a close, although I know that there are likely many ugly battles still to come over her funeral, will, legacy, etc.
May I suggest that we save a few of our tears for people whose pain and suffering are not over?
If you don't know who I'm talking about, let me make a few suggestions:
  • The homeless
  • The poor and hungry among us
  • Children injured, maimed and orphaned by war
  • People suffering illness and injury without adequate access to health care
  • Victims of rape, incest, domestic abuse and other violent crimes
  • The falsely accused
  • Victims of torture and terror
  • People persecuted for their beliefs, race, ethnicity, and/or sexuality

The reptiles of the Republican leadership -- Messrs. DeLay and Bush -- have already weighed in with their expressions of grief for Mrs. Schiavo. In his typical odious fashion, Mr. DeLay used the occasion to grandstand against the courts that refused to bow to his will: "Our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most."

Said our astonishingly oily and insincere president, who thinks nothing of attempting to cut the health benefits of veterans and the elderly: "The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak." Is this man even remotely conscious of the depths of his hypocrisy?

The weak who need our protection most are alive and among us. Remember guys? They're the ones you've been trying to push over the cliff for the past five years.

Mr. DeLay was right about one thing: The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." But he doesn't seem to recognize that he is one of the chief villains in the distressing public spectacle that was created around a family's personal tragedy.

The Judiciary Strikes Back

While the snivelling wimps of the Democratic party can't seem to find a way to stand up to the George W. Bush dministration's hostile takeover of government, the judicial branch is showing an admirable willingness to stand up against Bush's efforts to dominate and control it.
In The New York Times this morning, two articles on the front page of the national section provide refreshing evidence that there still is some semblance of independence in the judiciary.
In the case of Terri Schiavo, Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals took Mr. Bush and the Republican Congress to task for acting "in a manner demonstrably at odds with our founding fathers' blueprint for the governance of a free people."
And Judge Anita B. Brody of the Federal District Court in Phildelphia struck down a Bush administration rule empowering employers to cut health benefits for as many as 10 million retirees, and issued a permanent junction barring the administration from enforcing it. Judge Brody's ruling said that the administration's rule was "contrary to Congressional intent and the plain language of the Age discrimination in Employment Act" of 1967.
What is most striking about these two opinions is that both judges were appointed to the bench by George H.W. Bush, the current president's father.
Coupled with recent rulings by the Supreme Court prohibiting the execution of children, supporting Title IX and supporting the rights of older workers to file age-discrimination complaints, these two opinions show that there are some in the U.S. government who don't believe they have to kowtow to the Republicans.
The Democrats may not be doing much to represent the 48 per cent of us who voted against Bush (and the majority who disapprove of him today), but we have some hope that the bench will delay -- if not prevent -- the coup against democracy that the Bush administration appears to be trying to stage.
I've often wondered whether some Supreme Court justices -- particularly Sandra Day O'Connor -- might just be delaying their retirement to keep Bush from filling their slot with another right-wing demagogue a la Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist. If Rehnquist steps down in June as expected, Bush can't cause much damage by filling his spot with a like-minded fascist. But if he gets the opportunity to replace a moderate, or a swing voter like O'Connor, we could be in trouble.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Oh, No. I'm Going To Hell For This. I Know It.

The Terri Schiavo case seems to have brought out the worst in most of us, at one time or another. Here's my own personal moment: When I opened this web page and couldn't stop laughing. Sorry. I couldn't help it.

George W. Bush Is A Threat To My Life

This is personal.
This is not about how stupid or obnoxious George W. Bush is. This is about the many ways in which his actions as president have threatened my own safety and well-being -- my life, in other words.

Global Politics: By following an "Up Yours" strategy towards the world, George W. Bush endangers the lives of Americans, like myself, who frequently travel abroad for business and pleasure. His invasion of Iraq in the face of opposition from almost every country of the world (regardless of his claims of support from the "Coalition of the Willing," there has been virtually no support from the populace of any nation) has dirtied the name of the United States of America, inspired anger and resentment, and increased that chances that my family and I might be the victims of violence when we travel. Five years ago, I was living abroad and felt comfortable traveling virtually anywhere -- including the Middle East. Now, I worry that I will become a target of violence because of the passport I carry. Note to Right-wingnuts: My fears are NOT based on the actions of Al Qaeda. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon inspired the world to support the U.S., an outpouring that Bush and Co. thumbed their noses at, resulting in the current state of global distrust and resentment at the U.S.
In addition, the Bush administration's decision to thumb their collective noses at the treaties that promise us protection (i.e., those "quaint" Geneva conventions) and to engage in disgusting practices such as torture and extraordinary rendition mean that if I am put in danger while travelling internationally, I have a much smaller chance of being safe from similar treatment.

Business: Because of the Bush administration's stirring up of anti-Americanism, my company is reluctant to do business in parts of the world where this sentiment is strong. While I thank my company for their concern over the lives and safety of their employees, I resent the fact that Mr. Bush has cut into our potential to do business globally. Since I am specifically compensated on International deals, Mr. Bush and team have cut deeply into my own revenue potential.

Health: I am a diabetic. Diabetes is a disease for which stem cell research holds some promise in the search for new treatments. The Bush administration's decision not to fund development of new stem cell lines could directly affect the length and quality of my life.
Stem cell research is just one area in which Mr. Bush's actions have worked to my personal detriment. His support for weakening of environmental protections -- oil drilling in the ANWR, easing of regulations on the energy industry -- make it more likely that the global climate will change in ways that are harmful to me, or that I will suffer from pollution-related diseases as I grow older.

Financial Security: As I approach the status popularly known as "senior citizen," I worry increasingly about my ability to retire comfortably. I have worked since my teenage years, and make a comfortable salary, but I have not always made good retirement decisions, and in my early career I left a few jobs before my pension plans vested. Social Security is an important part of my retirement plan. I am a few years younger than the group that Mr. Bush has so generously offered to protect while he attempts to dismantle this safety net for the rest of us.

Family: The Bush administration's global, environmental, health and financial policies affect all of us as individuals, but they affect those we love as well. His social policies, too, are insidious. Many of us have family members who are gay; Mr. Bush is fighting the hopes they have of having their relationships recognized under law. This is not an issue of lifestyle. This affects such things as providing for their loved ones in case of their death, having their loved ones sit beside them at the hospital, and so many other basic, personal, human rights. I am the parent of a teenaged daughter. At 14, she tells me she is not sexually active, and I believe her, but I also know that if she decides to engage in sexual activities, she will have access to adequate protection. But the Bush administration is on the warpath against both contraception and safe, legal abortion, preferring to punish healthy behavior by driving it back into the alleys and basements.

There's more, but this is a start.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Well At Least He's Not An Atheist

Douglas Smith, National Director of Programs for the Boy Scouts of America, has been accused of distributing child pornography. I should try to remember that he is innocent until proven guilty, but there is such a temptation to gloat when confronted with evidence of hypocrisy.
Tom DeLay, beware: You may be next in line for come-uppance!

Human Stories

Last Saturday, David Brooks wrote what I thought was a stupid and ill-informed column in The New York Times, arguing that the difference between supporters of Bob and Mary Schindler and those of Michael Schiavo was that the former (the religious right) based their arguments on bedrock issues of faith and humanity, while the latter (everyone else) fell back on dry arguments of policy and procedure.
Baloney. Everyone I know talked about the Schiavo case, and, regardless of their position based their arguments on the question of what constitutes a meaningful life. Is it defined by respiration and heartbeat, or is it something more? What has touched people about this story is the human connection: Our ability to put ourselves in the position of any of the central participants and to imagine how we might react under similar circumstances. And as tired as many of us have become of this story, it does raise profound and complex issues.
David Brooks may have been dead wrong about the differences between right and left on the Schiavo case, but he raised an interesting point: The public tends to react to stories whose human concerns engage their interests (and the fact that a large majority of the American public evidently sympathizes with Michael Schiavo suggests that the "liberals" in this case have made a much stronger human connection than Mr. Brooks gives them credit for).
A much better article on this subject is in this month's American Prospect: A discussion of the abortion debate and how the religious right has gained an advantage by humanizing the fetus at the expense of the childbearer. The author, Jodi Enda, begins her piece with a terrifying story of a woman raped by her estranged husband and then repeatedly frustrated in her efforts to secure an abortion, finally getting the procedure at the cost of losing a job.
Ms. Enda's point is that the left on the abortion front needs to make it clear that the issue is not so much enforcement of a law as it is the protection of real women with real, painful difficulties. Yes, enforcement of the law is important. But we all grumble about laws with which we disagree. It is more difficult to argue against human suffering.
The impulse to be fair and humane has been the foundation of important political struggles such as the labor and civil rights movements. It gave the early battles against "back alley abortions" much of their strength. But having won many of these important battles, it seems to be true that the left then began to rely on the fact that the law was on our side.
This, unfortunately, left the door open for the right to spring forward with painful human stories about reverse discrimination, talented individuals denied jobs because of quotas or closed-shop policies, the death struggles of early-term fetuses. They caught the attention of the public because they played on emotion, put people in the shoes of the "victims".
Are these "human stories" cheap and exploitative? Sure, sometimes, but perhaps only if they exaggerate or misrepresent a situation. In general, it's probably a good thing for people to understand that "dry" legislative and judicial acts have consequences for real people. This understanding is what gives us perspective on politics.
And the right has done a better job of this in recent years than has the left. But if you look at the successes of the left, you see the human factor at every turn.
Bill Clinton's sustained popularity in the face of vicious right-wing attacks was, I believe, largely a result of the public's identification of him as someone who had pulled himself up from an underprivileged upbringing into the most exalted political position in the world. People were willing to forgive his marital peccadilloes because they came across as real, honest human failings.
The left is currently favored in the Social Security battle not because of the hard-to-digest economic arguments, but because a greater portion of the public seems to be able to identify with financially strapped senior citizens trying to survive their final years despite bad decisions they've made along the way than with 20-year-olds out to make a killing in the market.
One of the only moments of effective political opposition I remember from the 2004 presidential campaign was when some Democrats countered the Republicans' nightmare vision of evil, greedy trial lawyers with the story of a child, represented in court by Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards, who had sustained permanent injury from a faulty swimming-pool filter.
The only thing that gives me the occasional glimmer of sympathy for George W. Bush is the thought of how terribly twisted his psyche must have been by his upbringing -- that acerbic, judgmental mother! That distant, tradition-bound father! That Beverly-Hillbillies-in-reverse childhood as a patrician in Midland, Texas! No wonder he spent his youth and young adulthood in an endless, drug- and drink-induced stupor, and climbed out with such a distorted view of the world.
The Schiavo case? I think people have reacted viscerally to the endless pictures and video footage of Terri Schiavo by deciding that they would not want to be kept alive under such circumstances. And, furthermore, I think they are frightened by the snarling visages of Tom DeLay, Randall Terry, Bill Frist, Pat Buchanan and CNN's Nancy Grace, all of whom seem like salivating monsters ready to leap into our homes to force us to submit to their wills.
I have always believed that the biggest thing liberals have going for them is a baseline commitment to fair play. We see healthcare as a human issue of access to good care regardless of economic circumstances, rather than as a way to enhance profits for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. We see education as an inherent right of the citizenry. We recognize that the slippery enticements and usurious interest rates of some credit card companies cause real damage to families. We see that there are real people, with families and responsibilities, behind the demonized "special interest groups" -- otherwise known as teachers, nurses, police and firefighters -- fighting for job security and benefits. We know that gays, and Muslims, and Spanish-speakers, and all of those other unpopular minority groups are actually collections of diverse, living, breathing, feeling individuals with a reasonable claim on happiness and financial security.
The left needs to be a little bit shameless in telling these human stories.

So Much TV, So Little Time

I ordered a DVR from my cable company last week -- they had an offer for a free 30-day trial and I really wanted one anyway -- and have spent some time programming it to record all sorts of programs. All of the series I normally watch, plus those great old movies that only seem to be shown in the middle of the night.
I like the idea that I can watch what I want when I want -- instead of just watching reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond" over and over again because that's what's on when I finish up work -- and that I can fast-forward through the commercials, but I have to say that having all of these recorded programs on the DVR hard drive exerts a strange kind of pressure. I feel like I'm somehow duty bound to watch these things before the hard drive fills up and starts to automatically erase the oldest programs.
This morning, I've got 10 programs on the disk, using up about half the space. The machine is currently recording "Diamonds Are Forever," an old James Bond movie that I've never seen. Last night I watched and erased Sunday's episode of "Arrested Development," and the documentary "Control Room," about the Al-Jazeera news network.
Backlogged on the disk: "Notorious," "My Own Private Idaho," "The Women" (which I should just erase -- I watched about 10 minutes of it before I was overwhelmed by its screehiness and had to turn it off), "The Passion of Joan of Arc" (which I've already seen), "The Fog of War," and a several others.
How silly, to let myself feel pressured and even guilty about not watching all of these recorded programs. Maybe it's just a part of getting used to another new technology. I was hoping this thing would provide more freedom to manage my own schedule and not miss shows I like, but now I am becoming a slave to the limited size of the hard drive.
But isn't that how our consumer culture works? Buy a microwave and feel bad if you're not popping corn day and night, buy a stereo and develop guilt pangs when you don't have enough CDs to provide variety, buy a computer and be compelled to blog endlessly ...
So now, I've got backlogs of work, hobbies, books, music and TV shows. Oy.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter And Renewal

Today is the holiday I grew up calling "American Easter." In my Russian Orthodox household, this day -- the occasion of baskets full of chocolate eggs, jelly beans, green plastic "grass" and, as was always the case for my family, a few books dropped off by the magical spirit of the day -- was distinct from the religious celebration that would occur a few weeks later, during which we stayed up most of the night holding candles and chanting "Christ is Risen. Truly He is Risen." About once every six years or so, the "American" and "Russian" versions of the holiday would occur on the same date, meaning the chocolate eggs and the candles would mingle in our consciousness.
Although all of the other kids in my Roman Catholic neighborhood and most of the ones in my school (except for Sammy Taylor, who was Greek) went to church on American Easter in their holiday outfits, for us it was another Lenten Sunday, which just meant that the church service would be longer and more unitelligible (much of it was conducted in Old Cyrillic, the Russian church's equivalent of Latin) than usual.
But by giving us the child-friendly trappings of Easter on the American holiday, my parents -- and here I need to give all due thanks to my Mom, who led the religious charge in my family (Dad rarely went to church) -- made sure that my siblings and I didn't feel left out of the mainstream. We just got an extra holiday, one made memorable not only by the interminable all-night church vigil, but by the really good food that my mother put into a basket for blessing by the priest: Ham, eggs, cheese Paskha, raisin bread -- all things that supposedly were forbidden to us during Lent.
We never really gave up a lot during Lent. In my household, we always ate fish on Fridays; during Lent we added Wednesdays to the fish routine, and then made it special by going to the Howard Johnsons 99-cent s-for-all-you-can-eat fish fry most weeks.
Although many of my Orthodox and Catholic friends grew up with a similar Friday routine, I've never exactly understood why the denizens of the sea weren't considered on a par with the animals of the land and air, and I sometimes wonder how I would have been expected to react had I been faced with, say, a walrus steak or even a nice fillet of whale. fortunately, my childhood included no such ambiguous dinner choices. We ate tuna or cheese sandwiches for lunch on "fast" days, fried fish or macaroni and cheese for dinner.
Now that I've reminisced, I want to say something about Easter, the most important religious festival in the Eastern Orthodox church. This post is by no means meant to be either proselytizing or offensive to non-Christians. It's just a way to express some thoughts that are linked in my mind.
Easter and spring arrive at roughly the same time, and I am sure -- although this morning I'm feeling too lazy to do any research -- that the timing is not by coincidence. Those early Christians were nothing if not adept at co-opting the dates and rites of earlier pagan festivals in order to win over the hoi polloi.
So, what we have here is a holiday that in many senses is about renewal: Christ's promise of redemption for humanity coupled with the renewal of the land after the harshness of winter. Even here in southern California, spring is a special time, marked by a riot of blooming flowers and fresch scents. The orange blossoms outside my door are wonderful this time of year. And, this year at least, we're looking forward to the rains of winter giving way to warm, sunny days.
Of course, every bright day must have its dark cloud, and the inevitable one these days is the George W. Bush administration. In particular, the issue here is the Bush administration's environmental policies, which I believe say, "Up Yours!" to God in just the same way the administration's foreign policies say, "Up Yours!" to the world at large. A few weeks ago, the Republicans voted to allow oil exploration in Arctic wilderness. They've promoted measures to benefit dirty industries by weakening environmental regulations. They've promulgated a war in the Middle East to ensure that Americans can continue to be mindlessly wasteful of oil.
I received in the mail yesterday a copy of Robert Alter's The Five Books of Moses, a new translation with commentary of the Pentateuch. In reading through the first two chapters, in which the creation is recounted in two slightly divergent ways, I see that in Alter's translation, as in every other I know, humans are given "dominion" over the earth. Etymoligically, dominion shares a Latin root with "domination" and means control. Some commentators, such as that spawn of Satan Ann Coulter, have argued that this gives humans the right to do as they wish with the fruits of the Earth. (In Coulter's words on Hannity & Colmes, June 20, 2001: "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.'")
I believe that attitude is similar to one that would have you wipe your ass on the Christmas sweater your blind Grandma knitted for you -- only inestimably worse. It is the ultimate blasphemy.
Anyone who believes that the world is God's creation should necessarily understand that such a gift deserves our respect. We owe it to God and to ourselves to take care of this gift, to keep it in good condition, to pass it on so that future generations can be awed by its wonders as we have been.
I know that some on the religious right would argue that we have no need to conserve the environment because End Times are near. To that I would say in return that I don't recall anywhere in the Bible where it is stated that we should fatten ourselves up by consuming and excreting God's creation just because it may be our last chance to do so. If I'm not mistaken, that attitude is called hedonism -- the notion that pleasure is a worthy moral value -- and was associated with some ancient Greek philosophies but not, to my knowledge, Christianity or Judaism.
Here's my point: Easter is as good a time as any, and better than most, to reflect on the wondrous Earth that we inhabit. If we believe in the resurrection, in God, in the hope of salvation, we need to understand that respect for God's creation is a huge part of that picture. Take a few minutes out to think about acts of respect, ways in which we can help to preserve and pay respect to this greatest of gifts. Ways to keep the air cleaner, the water more clear, the animals and vegetation that share the Earth with us healthier. It's what we owe to God in return for his gifts.
All of us do things that are harmful to the environment. We drive cars, run the air conditioning, smoke cigarettes. It would be awfully difficult to stop all of that. But by reflecting on small measures we can take -- hang those clothes out to dry in the sun today, instead of running the dryer -- we can collectively make a difference.
Spring gives us the sensory pleasures of color and warmth and scent to help us understand how much this Earth is worth preserving. For Christians at least, Easter gives us reason to believe it may be our duty to do so.
Let Bush and Coulter give their "Up Yours!" to God and his creation.
For the rest of us, it's a great day to stop and say both "Thank you" and "What can I do to help?"

Rights Of The Accused

The fascinating lead story in today's New York Times details an effort within the Defense Department to revise the rules for military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. The military wants to shore up the rights of the accused by -- imagine this -- giving them full access to the evidence against them and the right to challenge that evidence, as well as barring confessions obtained by torture.
Opposing this change is the band of White House chicken-hawks led by our nefarious Vice President, Dick Cheney (was ever a man so aptly named? I feel compelled to ask the question every time I hear that moniker)
The military, perhaps cognizant of the protections afforded them under the Geneva conventions, has wisely determined it makes sense to safeguard the human rights of those detained by the U.S. This position makes both moral and common sense.
The chief opponent of this change is a man who had "other priorities" when it came to serving in the military during the Vietnam war. Why should Dick care about the treatment of prisoners? He's never run the risk of being one, never had to face the fear of capture and abuse by a foreign military.
It would be an insult to Franz Kafka to describe as Kafka-esque a process that keeps defendants in the dark about the charges against them, and denies them the right to present a defense. Perhaps a better term would be Saddam Hussein-esque, in deference to the world leader whose policies seem most in line with Mr. Cheney's thoughts.
Mr. Cheney seems determined to lower the moral standing of the United States to the level of Saddam's Iraq. We need to be grateful that we have in the military some leaders who recognize the dangerous path on which this sets our country.
I'm not known as a fan of military action, but I think it is important right now to stand up and applaud the moral stance of the military team proposing these rule changes. They are led by Maj. Gen. John D. Altenburg Jr., Ret., and they deserve our support and gratitude for the simple yet profound act of promoting fairness and human rights in the treatment of those accused of being enemies of the state.

Friday, March 25, 2005

A Gift From The Gods

I wasn't going to write about this any more, but events keep getting in my way.
Here we are on Day 8 of the Terri Schiavo circus.
I watch Jon Stewart crucify the cable news outlets for their comical, over-the-top histrionics.
The news today has been full of "new evidence" that Mrs. Schiavo is more animate than anyone had ever suspected over the last 15 years: I half expect to hear that she has jumped out of bed and rushed off to her lambada class.
Then I turn on a movie I Tivo'd last night: Nothing Sacred, a screwball comedy from 1937 about the media circus that develops around a beautiful girl (Carole Lombard) they believe is dying of radium poisioning. The phoniness of the "concern," the outrage of the mayor and the newspaper editor when they find out the girl is a fake -- it's all a perfect satire of what's been happening this week.
I'm sure Turner Classic Movies scheduled the broadcast of this film long before the current circus erupted, but the timing couldn't be better.
When the move is over, I switch briefly to CNN Headline News, where a bizarre, hysterical female impersonator named Nancy Grace is screaming about Ms. Schiavo. There it is: Nothing Sacred in real time.
I still think the Schiavo story is a heartbreaking tragedy, but the media and the right-wing politicians have so cheapened it that I can't help laughing at their ludicrous theatrics.
I said a few days ago that the only possible positive outcome of this would be a serious national discussion about "life."
Now I think there's another positive outcome: The rapid disintegration of the cable news outlets into the targets of public ridicule that they should have become during the presidential campaign. It's going to be difficult for anyone to take those clowns seriously after their behavior this week.

Time To Re-Establish Perspective

The Terri Schiavo tragedy-turned-political/media-circus has occupied our attention for a week now.
A few days ago, I heard friends starting to wonder: What is the Bush administration trying to get away with while our attentions are diverted?
This morning, on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, Bob Herbert provides part of the answer.
Here's a smattering of what he has to say:
"President Bush believes in an "ownership" society, which means that except for
the wealthy, you're on your own. The president's budget would cut funding for
Medicaid, food stamps, education, transportation, health care for veterans, law
enforcement, medical research and safety inspections for food and drugs. And, of
course, it contains big new tax cuts for the wealthy.
"These are the new
American priorities. Republicans will tell you they were ratified in the last
presidential election. We may be locked in a long and costly war, and federal
deficits may be spiraling toward the moon, but the era of shared sacrifices is
over. This is the era of entrenched exploitation. All sacrifices will be made by
working people and the poor, and the vast bulk of the benefits will accrue to
the rich."

Mr. Herbert is, I think, The New York Times' most principled columnist, an astute defender of the forgotten victims of judicial and legislative abuse. The Times' smartasses -- Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, Frank Rich -- get the lion's share of attention, but Mr. Herbert, in my estimation, provides a much more valuable public service with his measured outrage at society's injustices.
It's time to rejoin Mr. Herbert in pointing out -- loud and clear -- the many, many bad policies and insidious "reforms" that George W. Bush and his team are attempting to foist on the American populace.
My heart continues to go out to Terri Schiavo, Michael Schiavo, Bob and Mary Schindler, and the rest of their grief-stricken and fractured family. But we need, as a society, to be looking out for everyone's protection.
Thank you, Bob Herbert for helping us to refocus.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Hypocrisy Unbound

As if the conservative posturing over Terri Schiavo weren't a revolting enough display of hypocrisy, here come the Republicans of the Florida legislature with a bill aimed at allowing students to sue professors who teach things they don't like. Like the fact of evolution.
Good Lord.
This is the party that wants to limit our right to sue and recover damages in medical malpractice cases, yet they're sponsoring a bill to allow university students to sue professors who teach evolution.
Heaven forbid that universities be a setting for research and knowledge rather than religious dogma.
The only positive aspect about recent events is there is some cause to believe that the Republicans may be overstepping in their kowtowing to the religious right. Poll after poll is showing that people recognize the Terri Schiavo furor as political posturing. Do we dare to hope that people also would realize that science classrooms are not meant to be settings for religion classes?
You know, I have no problem with people believing that God created the world in six days. I just don't think they should carry that belief into biology class, where it is utterly inappropriate and contrary to the evidence and the purpose of the class.

Public Service Announcement: Protect Yourselves From This New Google Feature

Google provides a lot of great services but the one described here is scary, invasive and should be ended. Please read the message and act on it:


Google has implemented a new feature wherein you can type someone's telephone number into the search bar and hit enter and then you will be given a map to their house. Everyone should be aware of this! Note that you can have your phone number removed or blocked. Before forwarding this, I tested it by typing my telephone number into My phone number came up, and when I clicked on the MapQuest link, it actually mapped out where I live. Quite scary. Please look up your own number. Read below for details. Think about it--if a child or student or ANYONE gives out his/her phone number, someone can actually now look it up to find out where he/she lives. The safety issues are obvious, and alarming.
In order to test whether your phone number is mapped, go to: ( . Type your phone number in the search bar (i.e. 555-555-1212) and hit enter. If you want to B L O C K Google from divulging your private information, simply click into your telephone and then click on the Removal Form. Removal takes 48-hours. If you are unlisted in the phone book, you might not be in there, but it is a good idea just to check. If your number does come up if you hit map, it will show you a direct map to your house... Please share this information with your students, friends and family.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Those Bush Boys Love Their Surprises

They're just the cleverest fellows, aren't they? (just ask their Mom)
Big Brother George isn't getting much support on his plan to dismantle Social Security despite spending all kinds of taxpayer money flying around the country and holding phony town meetings, so what happens today?
Why the Social Security Board of Trustees issues a new report that says this program will run dry of funds even sooner than previously predicted. A year earlier, to be exact. If you can't win on your questionable numbers, come out with some new ones!
And Little Brother Jeb can't get any of those nasty judges to agree with him that he should decide whether Terri Schiavo gets to live or die, so he gets a neurologist to review Mrs. Schiavo's medical records (not examine the patient, of course) and pronounce that her diagnonsis was wrong all along! For the past 15 years, all those silly doctors who actually looked at her and ran tests and all that stuff have been just plain wrong. Mrs. Schiavo isn't in a persistent vegetative state after all, this clever Bush neurologist reports; she's "most likely in a state of minimal consciousness."
Aren't these boys clever. If you can't win on the facts, just change 'em to suit you.
Sorry for the sarcasm, but these people just get on my nerves sometimes.

Even Grover Can Get One Right

It's hard to believe, but Grover Norquist has sided with the good guys in the fight against renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. Here's what he says, according to Newhouse News:
"The government always asks for too much power after a crisis," said Grover
Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and an influential White House
ally who has broken ranks on the Patriot Act. "There's no shame in saying, `We
asked for too much and now we're giving some back.' Then the message isn't, `The
Bush administration overreached,' but, `All administrations overreach.' It makes
them more credible."

Norquist's allies in this battle? The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conservative Union and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
Maybe there is just a little bit of hope for everyone.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Schiavo Case? It's All About Tom. Just Ask Him.

The New York Times this morning prints the following quotes from Tom DeLay, spoken at a conference organized by the Family Research Council (tape recording provided by Americans United for Separation of Church and State):
"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America ... This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."
So, if I understand this correctly, Mrs. Schiavo is just an instrument of the Lord, whose unhappy fate was engineered as a means of demonstrating how unfair those cussed liberals are to Mr. DeLay.
This guy is complete and utter scum. Scum.

The Circus

Politicians and the media have succeeded in turning the Terri Schiavo story, a true family tragedy, into a three-ring circus. Whatever happens in this case today and in the future, it will be remembered as a low moment in our national life, one in which a family's pain was played heartlessly for political gain and television ratings.
I actually have no problem believing that Jeb and George W. Bush, Tom DeLay and others have strong personal feelings about Mrs. Schiavo's fate. This is the kind of story that troubles a person's soul because it raises serious questions about the quality and value of life -- in fact, about what constitutes life.
What I have a horrible problem with is the political grandstanding in which the Bushes and DeLay have engaged. These politicians, who have shown little regard for the daily sufferings of the poor and sick in the United States and the world, are jumping up and down on Mrs. Schiavo's frail body, using her to proclaim their belief in a "culture of life." Bull.
A true culture of life must be concerned not just with the endpoints, but with the countless events that happen between those extremes, and the character and quality that society can help to ensure for everyone, including and perhaps especially the weakest. That is how our humanity should be judged.
Somehow, these Republicans never fail us. Just when I'm willing to give them some credit for taking an honest position on a difficult issue involving personal values and convictions, they prove me a patsy by turning the whole thing into a political circus.
What a fool I am.
While I have not reached back and looked at all of the details of this case, from what I have read it seems that the medical community and the judiciary -- who have spent many hours trying to understand it -- have been relatively uniform in their beliefs and decisions regarding Mrs. Schiavo. There really does appear to be little life there, and little reason for hope. She may continue to breathe, but it seems unlikely that improvement is possible.
Yet politicians with little or no understanding of Mrs. Schiavo's condition or prospects have taken it upon themselves to carry a banner in her name.
Mrs. Schiavo's case is not unique, except perhaps in the way it has divided her family. Families make painfully difficult decisions about their failing loved ones every day. As governor of Texas, George W. Bush signed into effect a law that took many of these decisions away from the families and put them in the hands of the hospitals.
If there is to be any positive outcome in the hooplah over Terri Schiavo's death, let it happen in the way of a national discussion about health care and how we, as a society, provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. That would be a legacy to honor.

Sunday, March 20, 2005


This interview with Michael Schiavo in the St. Petersburg Times is one of the most heartbreaking I have ever read. If anyone thinks he is uncaring about his wife and her condition, just read it. Here's a brief excerpt:
"Instead of worrying about my wife, who was granted her wishes by the state
courts the past seven years, they should worry about the pedophiles killing
young girls," Schiavo said, referring to a local case. "Why doesn't Congress
worry about people not having health insurance? Or the budget? Let's talk about
all the children who don't have homes."
He said U.S. House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay, who is leading a charge to extend Terri Schiavo's life, is a "little
slithering snake" pandering for votes.
"To make comments that Terri would
want to live, how do they know?" Schiavo said of the members of Congress who
want to keep his wife alive.
"Have they ever met her?" Schiavo said. "What
color are her eyes? What's her middle name? What's her favorite color? They
don't have any clue who Terri is. They should all be ashamed of themselves."

There are no winners here, no matter what happens. Just a family torn apart by a human tragedy and then invaded by politics.

Culture of Life

The Terri Schiavo story is one that truly deserves to be called heartbreaking: A woman in a vegetative states for 15 years, her family members bitterly torn over conflicting desires to, on the one hand, accept fate and move on and, on the other, to hold out hope. Whatever the final outcome of this case, there will be no winner unless, by some event that truly would have to be considered a miracle, Mrs. Schiavo were to return to full consciousness. Any other conclusion simply ends the main thread of the story.
But in reading the news accounts of the latest maneuvers in this deeply disturbing case, I am struck by the ideologies at work: The "death with dignity" advocates urging the courts and legislatures to stay out of the case and allow Mrs. Schiavo's husband, the legal next of kin, to have her feeding tube removed so that she may die; the "culture of life" proponents arguing, in contrast, that defenseless patients such as Mrs. Schiavo should be protected and their lives preserved.
It's impossible for me to call either position wrong.
But as I step back from the emotions of the story, I become interested by the fact that when the word "life" is invoked in political arguments, the focus always seems to be on its endpoints. Abortion, capital punishment, euthenasia, genocide. That is the context in which we bring the word "life" into politics.
Certainly birth and death are dramatic, and often traumatic. We are riveted by these events. But life is a continuum, is it not? It's what happens between birth and death. (The word, by the way, comes from Germanic roots and refers to the body). Opportunity, education, poverty, love, sex, sickness, service, war, crime and a myriad of others all happen during our lives. Why isn't the word "life" invoked every time we discuss these?
The Schiavo case is messy, and it's scary, and it's painful -- and large numbers of people care about it. Because death is a prospect that faces all of us eventually, we feel we have a stake in this battle, even if we aren't sure how we feel about it.
What I want to say here is that I believe "life" and the "quality of life" should be the overriding concerns of our government and politics, and that each and every political decision should addressed in the context of our philosophies about life.
Maybe we already do so subconsciously, indirectly, intuitively. But I would argue that we would be well-served as a society to make these thoughts explicit, to put them at the center of our political debates. Focusing on the issue of life would, I contend, bring our politics home to us, establish a connection between seemingly arcane policy matters and our daily existence -- in effect, help us to care.
People apathetic to politics will sometimes say that the debates don't affect their lives. Those of us who are more involved know that this is not true. But I am concerned that not enough effort goes into helping people to understand why, for example, the decision to make the neo-conservative imperialist Paul Wolfowitz head of the World Bank is worth worrying about in personal terms (I would argue that it's in some ways a safety issue -- the appointment of Wolfowitz is another "up yours" message from the U.S. government to the planet, and one that I fear will lead to hardening of the perception that the United States lacks respect for other nations. And I continue to believe that that perception of lack of respect is one of the leading causes of the resentment that leads to attacks on U.S. citizens. So in essence, George W. Bush has threatened my life and the lives of my loved ones, when we travel abroad, when we work, when we attempt to pursue our inalienable right to happiness by exploring the world).
Issues such as bankruptcy law "reform" can be difficult to understand when couched in terms of Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13. But understood as the effects of a credit card company foreclosing on the mortgage of a family whose head is suffering from cancer, it hits home hard.
Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, teamed the word "Life" with "Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" and described them as inalienable rights, arguing that the purpose of government was to preserve these human rights. I think we all need to remember that cogent argument as we debate public policy: It's all about -- and always about -- preserving our rights.
For progressives, that means effectively arguing that rights are not just about the freedom of individuals. It means that we are all in the same boat, and that my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are all tied up with the similar rights of others. To give the devil all due credit, conservatives have been somewhat more successful with tying issues to "life" than have progressives, because they have been able to appeal to the selfish instincts of people. Progressives, on the other hand, have to make the somewhat circular argument that what benefits society and humanity as a whole ultimately will benefit the individual. It's not all about me, it's all about us.
George W. Bush and Pope John Paul II both have famously aligned themselves with a "culture of life" centered almost entirely around the issue of abortion rights, which both oppose. The Pope has the consistency of vision to also oppose the death penalty. Consistency not being a quality that is either valued or particularly present in the Bush administration, the President has no trouble diverging from his support of life on the capital punishment issue.
The rest of us need to take the hint, and make sure that every issue that affects politicians is explained to our family, friends, peers, colleagues and opponents in terms of its effect on life -- the life of the individual, the life of United States society, the life of the planet.
Friday was the third time in the past five years that Mrs. Schiavo's feeding tube has been removed by court order. Today could mark the third time it has been ordered to be reinserted. Most of us will be troubled about this case no matter what happens. But some value can come from this family's pain if it can help us to understand that every decision we make, or choose not to make, is about life.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Back Home Again

Nine days on the road. That's too long. Saw some family and old friends, and accomplished my business purposes, but it's good to be back home. Looking forward to some blog time this weekend.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Republicans and Voting Rights

There's a scary column in the Chicago Sun-Times by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, about Republican plans to gut the Voting Rights Act when it comes up for re-authorization in 2007. Anyone who doubts that conservatives are opposed to the sharing of power throughout the populace should read this piece about a particularly devious tactic the Republicans want to use: Make the act permanent, setting it up to be ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the basis that it is discriminatory.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The "Why" Of Social Security Reform

There's an excellent column by John Steinberg at The Raw Story site, discussing why George W. Bush has gone on his "jihad" against Social Security. I have considered and decided against taking a stab at explaining Bush's personal motives in this fight, but Mr. Steinberg does a fine job of taking on the topic.
Here's an excerpt:
"One of Dubya’s newer rhetorical sleights is the use of the phrase “ownership
society” to describe the dismantling of the social safety net and the
individualization of risk. But when George Bush talks about the ownership
society, what he really means is that he wants to create an atmosphere in which
there is no guilt associated with ownership – a place where those who inherit
wealth will feel unapologetically entitled to it.
"This, then, is the New Entitlement."

Take a few minutes and read the whole article.

Benefits For All?

Just enough time for a short post this morning.
The New York Times today offers a long, fascinating expose on the federal government's use of pre-packaged public relations spots masquerading as news. "Video news releases" they're called, and many of us have read about them in recent weeks. The Bush administration spent $254 million of taxpayer money during its first term on these pieces, which often are aired without any indication that they are government releases rather than independent journalism.
It's a well-done article, thorough and fair, but there was a passage early on that bothered me. In discussing the distribution of canned "news" reports on administration initiatives, the authors write:

"It is also a world where all participants benefit.
"Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material.
Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars.
The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the
government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The
administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the
guise of traditional reporting."

What troubles me about that?
The exclusion of the audience from the list of "all participants." Now maybe that's fair enough by the author's definition. The audience might be considered a "recipient" rather than a "participant" of these faux news reports. But it seems to me that that's a dimunition of the role of journalism in society, particularly troubling when the source is the most highly esteemed daily newspaper in the United States.
Journalism should play a vital role in the education of the public, and in order for that to happen, readers and viewers must be considered full participants in the enterprise.
What's missing from this locution is the sense that journalism is a responsibility, a public trust. And the omission of the public as a participant in the passage above suggests that that sense of responsibility is disappearing from even our most trusted media sources.
I do not want to suggest that the troubling passage cited above is anything more than a poorly expressed thought in an otherwise admirable piece. That happens, and given the general tone of the piece, I suspect that the authors might be willing to rethink that phrasing.
The point of their story, of course, is that the public does not benefit from propoganda disguised as reporting.
I am a strong believer in advocacy journalism, but I believe it should always be branded as such. The consequences of not doing so are, in the extreme, the recycling of press releases as practiced by "Jeff Gannon" at the now-defunct Talon News Service, or more insidiously, in the disguised advocacy labeled as "fair and balanced" by Fox News.
This is probably the passage we should be most concerned about:

"And on Friday, the Justice Department and the Office of Management and
Budget circulated a memorandum instructing all executive branch agencies to
ignore the G.A.O. findings."

This is a nose-thumbing directed at a finding by the Government Accountability Office that federal agencies are not permitted to produce pre-packaged reports "that conceal or do not clearly identify for the television viewing audience that the agency was the source of those materials."
Bottom line: The George W. Bush administration feels free to ignore its own watchdogs
Managers of several news outlets cited in the Times report either pleaded ignorance or denied using canned segments in the face of evidence that they had done so. Some stopped returning the reporters' calls when their misdeeds were pointed out to them.
Journalists have to make decisions every day about what is news and what is not. Clearly there is always judgment at work. Time pressures and resource constraints may contribute to the decision to air a received video rather than producing an original report. But the lazy decision to air packaged press releases as news reports is not the kind of judgment that can be justified under any circumstances.
Yes, the viewing and reading public participates in the news. They use the information they receive to make decisions at the polling place and in the conduct of their personal lives. Public respect for journalism has plummeted in recent years, partly due to charges of masked advocacy (our liberal media, anyone?). Newspapers as well as radio and television stations are now operated as major corporations, and act to protect their own business interests.
The policies of the Bush administration in limiting access to real information and masking public relations efforts as news may have played a role in diminishing respect for journalism, but it really is the judgments of the journalists themselves and the corporate interests they represent who are leading to the demise of impartial journalism as we have known it for the last 100 years. When the Michael Jackson trial and Martha Stewart's prison release are considered more newsworthy than the U.S. budget deficit, government disregard for civil liberties and promotion of torture, we have corporate America coupled with journalistic laziness to thank.
I know that journalists often say that they highlight stories that people are interested in, and that that is why we have so much focus on trivial celebrity news. What is not said is that many people -- those with limited time for the news -- simply don't know that other things are happening about which they might care. Difficult stories are not only not being fully explained, they're not even being told.
The notion of an independent "fourth estate" has been relegated to the Internet where scrappy, determined individuals (see links at left) continue to uncover misdeeds, inconsistencies and consequential stories that have been ignored by the mainstream media. They're mostly advocates, but they're also mostly honest about their points of view and agendas.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Social Security, Liberals and Conservatives

While I'm on an etymology kick, let's take a look at these three terms.
I've written a lot about Social Security recently. I believe passionately that it is a program worth preserving -- in fact, that it represents the best impulses of our society. The words "social" and "security" are both Latinate. "Social" comes from socialus, meaning united or living with others; "security" from se cura, free from care. The use of the words to designate a program to help assure that the elderly living among us are adequately provided for is, I think, an appropriate and even graceful construct.
Now let's look at the word "liberal." Again, it's from the Latin, in this case liberalis, meaning noble, generous and pertaining to a free man.
And "conservative"? It's from the Latin conservare, meaning to keep or preserve.
As political terms, both liberal and conservative came into use in the years following the French revolution, as ways of describing those who promoted political freedom and those who favored restoration of the clerical and monarchical order.
So, from its first political usage, conservatism had to do with putting power in the hands of the church and an absolute ruler. It had to do not with keeping an existing political system, but with reversion to a previous one. Today's American conservatives sometimes argue that their goal is less government, but their adherance to the French term to describe themselves suggests a goal of more concentrated power, power vested in the hands of a small ruling class rather than handed over to the populace.
Interestingly, the first conservatives also used a tactic much in favor among today's American right: The charge that liberalism is equivalent to lawlessness. Online Etymology Dictionary tells us that in a purely political sense, the word "liberal" was first flung as a pejorative by these French conservatives at their opponents. Sound familiar?
Whether the etymology of the two words is consistent with their use in political discourse is a topic that could be (and is) argued endlessly.
For a jaded perspective, it's always worth checking in with Ambrose Bierce, who in his wonderfully funny Devil's Dictionary, provides the following definition:
"Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as
distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others."

But in looking at the two words and their history in political usage, I think the following definitions could be considered accurate:
Conservativism is the desire to keep existing power structures in place, and to concentrate that power, to keep it from being diluted, spread out.
Liberalism is the desire to share political power throughout the populace, to encourage participation in political life by as many as possible.
This is consistent not only with the origin of the political designations in post-Revolutionary France, but, I think, with recent American history. The Civil Rights movement is the strongest example, but efforts by conservatives in recent elections to suppress voter registration and by liberals to expand it to minorities, ex-felons and the like fall into place as well.
I would like to make clear that only relatively recently have the terms liberal and conservative come to be closely aligned with the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Forty years ago, liberals and conservatives were distributed widely throughout both parties, and many Republicans could boast of strong support of liberal initiatives like Civil Rights. But one of the legacies of the Reagan revolution in 1980 was the wresting of control of the Republican party by its most conservative elements -- in particular the religious right and the anti-tax absolutists.
Party affiliation is a tactical positioning, a way of aligning oneself with an organization that in general supports one's political goals.
Liberalism and conservativism are philosophical positions.
I have written harshly about the party loyalty of the few remaining liberal Republicans -- Christine Todd Whitman, John McCain, Olympia Snowe and others, who have maintained party loyalty despite their increasing isoluation from their party's prevailing views. I think that in siding at critical moments with a party that no longer either subscribes to their views or welcomes them, they damage the political causes in which they believe. And in winning their local elections by voicing their own views, then siding nationally with a party that rejects them, they display a level of political hypocrisy that I believe needs to be addressed.
The parties of today are no longer the parties that existed when they came to political adulthood. They need to move on. Neither party is a big tent any more. And I think that's probably a good thing in the long run. Let's have parties that truly address political philosophies, and let's use our political forums -- the U.S. Congress and the various state legislative bodies -- as places of discussion and compromise.
I would be far from heartbroken if a third, centrist party, emerged that turned all of our political organizations into minorities that had to form tactical alliances on specific issues. Maybe we would end up with a real, vibrant political life in this country.
So, I started out this posting with a discussion of the etymology of Social Security. How does that play into this discussion? Well, given the definitions I proposed for Liberalism and Conservatism, I think Social Security can be defined politically as Liberalism at its best. Senior citizens have become one of the most important, politically active demographic groups in this country because of this program that has helped to ensure that their economic needs are provided for, giving them time to read, study and act on political issues. The alternative -- seniors struggling for survival and comfort -- would limit their ability to engage in the political freedoms we value as a nation. It would restrict political life to a subset, those whose creature comforts were guaranteed. Damaging the Social Security system would, in effect, disenfranchise large numbers of seniors.
We do not want this to happen. And that potential effect needs to be understood.
Those of us who proudly call ourselves liberals need to fight to ensure that liberal programs such as Social Security survive so that its recipients have the time and strength to participate in our political processes.

Respect and Perspective

Two very interesting words.
They share an etymology: Both are based on the Latin "spec," to look.
Their prefixes give them distinct meanings, but what I find interesting is that neither term is typically used in ways that truly reflect the meaning provided by its prefix.
Respect, literally, means to look again, or to look back. That may be done in honor -- as the word generally is construed -- but is not necessary.
Perspective means looking through, or thoroughly. To do so requires a point of view, but a point of view is not perspective. One might say that a point of view is a necessary but not sufficient condition for perspective.
Looking back over my postings in this blog, I know that they often do not display either respect or perspective in those truest senses (or even in their more common senses).
They are often reflexive, rather than reflective. Another interesting case: Two words that share a Latin etymology (to bend again) but have come to be used in significantly different ways over time. The first has come over time to be associated with movement of the body, especially involuntary movement; the second with bending of light or thought. (if, like me, you are interested in the origin of words, you might check out the Online Etymology Dictionary.
To cite the most common example in this blog, I tend to react reflexively to George W. Bush. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with reflexive action. Our reflexes protect us, and I think my conditioning to find the words and actions of George W. Bush repugnant is a reflex that may indeed guard against being taken in by his misrepresentations of fact and intention.
Nor is there anything wrong with the perspective of left-wing politics. However, without effort to look through and thoroughly at an issue, that perspective may flatten and become as shallow as the one I am criticizing.
I'm not writing this to beat up on myself. Blogging has been an important exercise for me, one that has allowed me to redevelop the habit of writing. The fact that I write and post in my spare time is undoubtedly a good thing for my continued development of my intellect and for self-discipline.
That my thoughts have been flowing freely and are easily converted to words has been therapeutic for me, and may even have provided some entertainment or enlightenment for those who have stopped by here. At least that's what some have told me.
But I want my writing to be respectful and to have a fully exercised perspective, so that it has greater value both for myself and for those who stumble across it.
The fact that I have been travelling and attending meetings for several days (and have another week's worth ahead of me) has given me less time to write, but more time to reflect on those goals.
Respect and perspective in their truest etymological senses. I want to keep those concepts in mind, to bump up my writing to a higher level of seriousness.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

John Grisham, the Death Penalty and Exoneration

USA Today reports that John Grisham is writing his first non-fiction book, the story of Ronald Keith Williamson, a one-time promising baseball player who was wrongly convicted of murder, spent 12 years in prison, and came within 5 days of execution before being exonerated in 1999 by DNA evidence.
Maybe treatment of a story like this by a writer as popular as Mr. Grisham will help to change thinking about capital punishment. Mr. Grisham has dealt with the death penalty before, in The Chamber, but that was fiction and was really the story of a family rather than a piece on the death penalty itself.
Exoneration cases have become a popular argument against the death penalty, and have even been the subject of a play that was recently televised. I know that innocent people have been wrongly convicted, and if showcasing these is what it takes to bring the unfairness of capital punishment into focus, so be it.
Execution by the state of even a single innocent person should be enough to stop the practice.
With the recent decision by the Supreme Court on execution of minors, and now Mr. Grisham's account, maybe the problems with capital punishment will gain greater understanding.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Getting Over It

The Raw Story this morning gives some publicity to comments by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who told an audience in Tennessee that he and his fellow South Carolinians have had a hard time "getting over" Abraham Lincoln. "We don't do Lincoln Day dinners in South Carolina," he told them.
Strange, yet not really surprising words, coming from a Republican talking about the greatest of all Republican presidents.
The Democratic National Committee has rightly pointed out that the comment is inappropriate and offensive, which no doubt will compel the Ann Coulters and Christie Whitmans of the world to point out that Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Like a younger sibling fighting back, their first line of defense generally seems to be, "Well you're poopier!"
I'm not going to defend Sen. Byrd's Klan membership, but I will point out that it was 70 years ago and he has not only apologized but characterized it as his biggest mistake in life. Even Mississippi's Senator Trent Lott has apologized for his insensitive remarks at the 100th birthday party of Strom Thurmond a few years ago.
I don't want to make either too much or too little of Sen. Graham's comment either. Clearly, it was insensitive, coming from a politician who represents a state that is 30 per cent African American. But I suspect it was thoughtless rather than malicious. So, it's a sin, but not a greivous one, if he does the right thing and apologizes for his insensitivity. As iddybud points out this morning, he probably is reflecting the views of a good portion of his constituency, and that really is the bigger problem.
Still, Sen. Graham should apologize --and not least of all to Ronald Reagan, who once admonished party members never to speak ill of a fellow Republican.

Monday, March 07, 2005


I had never paid much attention to jazz.
Growing up, I was a pop fan, as were my siblings. My parents, who came to adulthood during the swing era, had some old Benny Goodman records as well as a bit of Sergio Mendes and Herb Alpert, and I do vaguely remember my sister buying an album or two by Thelonius Monk and Wes Montgomery, but overall, jazz was not really part of my vocabulary.
In college, I occasionally tried to listen to what was at the time current in jazz, but I found the music of Return To Forever and Weather Report dissonant and ugly -- it sounds like a band tuning up, I remember saying -- and on the other hand found Chuck Mangione and Al Jarreau to be just a little better than Muzak.
So, anyway, I never knew much about jazz.
Then, recently, I watched Ken Burns' television series, Jazz, and my eyes began to open. One episode a weekend, I learned something about the history of this musical form.
In addition to the series, I read through the companion coffee-table book (though not consecutively. I read bits and pieces about the artists I have become interested in).
Now, it has become a passion. I'm listening to Miles Davis as I write this. John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie have been in my CD players for the past few weeks. So has Billie Holiday, but mostly the late-career, raspy voiced Lady Day, who I find much more interesting than the earlier swinging Billie. Still, she's the only vocalist I'm much interested in at the moment -- although I'm going to try some Sarah Vaughn.
For one who previously listened to little besides vocal pop and rock music, that's saying something.
I still don't think I like fusion or free-form jazz. I'm not sure I could take Cecil Taylor.
I'm more drawn to swing, bebop and the smooth jazz of the late 1950s and early 1960s than to other periods. And bossa nova. Although I'm generally not much on orchestral arrangements of pop music, I think it serves as a great setting for Charlie Parker's improvisations.
So now, I'm a jazz expert.
Well, I am as far as you know. I'll spout my opinions of "Bird" and "The Prez" as if I know what I'm talking about.
It's fun to gain an appreciation for a whole new genre of music. I don't care if you think I don't know what I'm talking about.
I'm having fun.

Bush Actually Managed To Keep A Straight Face While Saying This ...

"We want democracy in Lebanon to succeed. And we know it cannot succeed so long as she is occupied by a foreign power," Bush added.

Thanks to Reuters, The Brad Blog and Watching the Watchers.

Beginning of the Story

The White House denial that journalist Giuliana Sgrena was targeted by troops as a convoy drove her to freedom should be the beginning of the story, but I suspect the MSM will consider it the end.
Here's why the story merits further investigation:
  • What we have right now is a stand-off on the facts. The military says Sgrena's fast-moving convoy did not respond to signals to stop; Sgrena says she saw no signals and the convoy was moving slowly when it was hit by a rain of bullets that killed her bodyguard.
  • There's the tantalizing hint -- admittedly unsupported by evidence at this point -- that Sgrena has information that the U.S. military does not want released. Sgrena, a well-known leftist reporter strongly opposed to the war, says her captors told her the U.S. did not want her to be released.
  • There's the tie to the Eason Jordan story. Mr. Jordan, a CNN executive, was hounded out of his job by right-wing bloggers after suggesting in a private forum that journalists had been targeted by the military in Iraq.
  • And there's the thought-provoking logic provided today by Francesca, blogging at francesca's liberal wingnut corner, who asks which side has more to lose by lying about this story: Sgrena, who stands to lose her credibility as a journalist, or military personnel who might be trying to disguise their actions.
Right now there is no evidence that Sgrena and her protectors were targeted by troops. Bush has promised a full investigation. But we know by now that Bush administration investigations are merely delaying tactics (after almost 2 years, we're still trying to find out who outed Valerie Plame).
The press, which clearly has been targeted by the Bush administration's policies, if not by troops, has a duty to both itself and to the public trust to dig as deeply as possible into this story in an effort to find out what really happened on the road to the Baghdad airport, and why. They need to be a step ahead of the Bush cover-up machine.
But I'm afraid that a combination of laziness and fear of repercussions from a vindictive White House will keep them from taking this step to preserve their own status as a free press.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

A Real Villain

I've mentioned my old college classmate Grover Norquist a few times in posts on this blog.
He's a real villain, on both economic and social issues. And he's Karl Rove's best friend, which should in itself be a crime. I used to think he was kind of funny, but he's done too much damage. I've lost my sense of humor about Grover.
Here's an interesting link to some posts that discuss his paid representation of organizations that may be tied to terrorism:

Small Thoughts

I don't think a whole lot of Frank Rich. As a columnist, he fits the same profile as Maureen Dowd -- writers so betaken with their own cleverness that they subjugate truth and reason to expressions of their own superiority (compare their work to the principled writings of someone like Bob Herbert and you see the difference). And I think his self-aggrandizing feud with Bill O'Reilly is a case of well-matched (dim)wits. But I think Mr. Rich hits the nail right on the head in his column today in The New York Times. It's a sort of eulogy for Dan Rather's career, in which he acknowledges Rather's shortcomings but points out that few other news outlets have even attempted anything resembling serious reporting in recent years.
He focuses part of the article on the MSM's shameful failure to pursue the Gannongate story, with its obvious national security implications. Those of us screaming in the blogosphere owe him at least a small "thank you" for mentioning it.


Many people seem to be aware that the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is a home of evil and bigotry. But I'm wondering: Have the major Baptist organizations in the U.S. denounced this band of lunatics? Don't know. Just asking.
If they haven't, they are remiss. There's no Christian love going on in that place.


I've been pretty vitriolic towards Christine Todd Whitman in my blog postings lately. I think I have good reason: Her depiction of herself as a moderate voice of reason who can lead the Republican party to a sustained majority in the electorate masks the fact that for at least the past 25 years, she and other so-called Republican moderates have been willing to stand ally themselves with the more vicious voices in the party in order to win elections. Now that the far-right "social conservatives" have been emboldened to the point where they suggest that Ms. Whitman and others of her ilk have no place in Republican-land, Ms. Whitman is whining that people need to listen to her, that she represents the true values of the party.
I stand behind what I have said about Ms. Whitman. But I want to make it clear that she is far from a lone voice of hypocrisy within the Republican party. Others who have walked -- and continue to walk -- this shameful walk include:
  • Colin Powell
    Rudolph Giuliani
  • George Pataki
  • Olympia Snowe
  • Susan Collins
  • Lincoln Chafee
  • John McCain
I'm leaving out Arnold Schwarzenegger because I think he is something more insidious: A far-right wing nut masking himself as a moderate. The people I have named above are, I believe, truly moderate, but they commit a grave error when they retain their loyalty to a party that since 1980 has left them behind, that has adopted platform after platform that make it clear they have no interest in moderation.
These people are enablers. Their presence in the party allows the conservatives to put forward a face of reason (remember last summer's ugly performances at the Republican convention?) and enables them to win the votes of people who would be seriously disturbed by the party's real positions on issues such as abortion, equal rights for women, and Social Security.
Whitman, Powell and McCain have been publicly humiliated by the Bush/Cheney administration, which has rejected their every attempt to inject a note of reason into political life. And yet all three of them swallowed any convictions they might have and worked to re-elect this sorry regime.
In some ways, this moderate crew is worse than the Santorums and the Frists. At least the latter group is open and honest about their opposition to democracy as we know it.
And while I think it is important to work to defeat villains like Santorum at the polls in 2006, I think it might be equally productive to campaign hard against the Snowes and McCains: After all, if these guys could be elected, would their states really be reluctant to send to Congress some people who would restore the Democratic party's majority?
I know a lot of people believe that the Republican moderates protect us from the party's extreme. To them I say: Name one time we've benefitted from their moderation. Seems to me they vote along party lines in almost every case. What good does their personal moderation do us?
Just thinking out loud here. Tell me where I'm going wrong.

Friendly Fire

Almost immediately, it was obvious that something strange had taken place. Nicola Calipari, an Italian secret agent who was driving kidnapped journalist Giuliana Sgrena to freedom following her release Friday in Baghdad, was killed in an attack on their car. Sgrena was injured in the incident.
Shortly thereafter, it emerged that the car was set upon by "friendly fire" from United States-led forces. Calipari died trying to shield Sgrena, a reporter for a leftist paper, Il Manifesto, from bullets.
Ms. Sgrena, an opponent of the Iraq war, believes she was targeted by the U.S. Her captors had told her that, "The Americans don't want you to go back." There have been suggestions from some quarters that Ms. Sgrena has information about actions in Iraq that the United States does not want to be released.
U.S. military officials say they tried to stop the car -- using hand signals, flashing lights and warning shots before firing at the car's engine. Ms. Sgrena says she saw no such warnings as a passenger in the vehicle. She contends in an article published in her paper today that the car was travelling slowly and that the troops fired without motive, as soon as the car was lit up by a search light.
Calipari was killed instantly by a single shot in the head. One of the points of controversy in this story is how a bullet aimed at the car's engine could have hit Mr. Calipari in the head. Not being a firearms expert -- and being well aware of what often happens when I aim a tennis ball at a target -- I don't have an opinion on whether that line of inquiry is justified.
For his part Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met with the U.S. ambassador to Italy and demanded and explanation.
Calipari, an experienced hostage negotiator, is being mourned as a hero in Italy, a country whose populace is strongly opposed to the war in Iraq despite a government that supports the Bush administration.
You can read all of this in the news.
You can also read that George W. Bush has promised a full investigation.
There's where it gets really weird: The use of the words "Bush" and "investigation" in the same sentence. This administration is hardly known for its candor in either investigating or admitting to misdeeds.
When in the last 4 years have we had any sort of honest, unbiased, thorough investigation of any action by this administration? It hasn't happened in the White House, it hasn't happened in Congress, and it sure as hell hasn't happened in the press, despite the fact that the press has been victimized in several high-profile cases.
I know that the right-wingnuts first response to any suggestion that we need investigations is to bring up the Clinton-Whitewater-Lewinsky case and start screaming about how we lefties wanted to constrain Kenneth Starr.
But, whatever they say, that investigation -- which was ordered by the Democratic administration, not the Repugnican Congress -- was allowed to proceed to completion despite widespread belief that it was a money-wasting fishing expedition.
Here's my short list of issues which have not been fully investigated during the George W. Bush administration. I welcome anyone who happens to read this post to add to my list:
  • The policies that led to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo
  • Extraordinary rendition -- the abduction of people with suspected ties to terrorist organizations and transport of those people to countries that practice torture
  • The White House security breach that allowed a male prostitute using the pseudonym Jeff Gannon to enter the west wing posing as a reporter every day for two years straight
  • The leak of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame's name to journalists including right-wingnut Robert Novak, who printed a story that included this information
  • Charges of price-fixing against Halliburton, the government contractor formerly headed up by Vice President Dick Cheney
  • The manipulation of information that allowed the administration to falsely build a case for invasion of Iraq
  • The dismissal of intelligence information in the summer of 2001 that warned repeatedly about the possibility that Al Qaeda would attack targets in the United States
  • Dick Cheney's Energy task force
  • Ties between the administration and Enron

What have I missed?

A final point: It's rather ironic that this incident would take place just a couple of weeks after CNN's Eason Jordan was forced to resign over ridicule from the right-wing blogs about a private statement he made suggesting that journalists may have been targeted by U.S. forces in Iraq. Once again, my counsel to my daughter springs to mind: The truth will always prevail in the end. Let's see how this plays out.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

No Wonder There's a Friggin' Deficit ...

Salon reports that our tax dollars are funding the Bush administration's latest effort to win support for its nefarious Social Security destruction program. Headqarters is a new "war room" in the Treasury Department.
Here's the lead to the story:
March 5, 2005 WASHINGTON (AP) -- A new Social Security war room
inside the Treasury Department is pumping out information to sell President
Bush's plan, much like any political campaign might do. It's part of a
coordinated effort by the Bush administration.
The internal, taxpayer-funded
campaigning is backed up by television advertisements, grass-roots organizing
and lobbying from business and other groups that support the Bush plan.
president's opponents are organized too, though they do not enjoy the resources
of the White House or Treasury to sell their message.

This is simply too much to tolerate. Not only do those of us on the left have to battle this plan, we have to pay for our opponents' ammunition!!!
And you know what? I don't care if Clinton did the same thing. It's wrong and it needs to stop! NOW!!!

A Great Saturday Video

I'm passing on links to the hilarious Bill Maher/Robin Williams/Joe Biden video on Gannongate. Found them at Comments From Left Field, a blog I've just discovered. Thanks, Mike.
QuickTimeDSL 56K
Windows MediaDSL 56K


The All-Spin Zone has a disturbing post this morning detailing the history of a murder in New Jersey and the ways in which ideology led to false conclusions. The gist of the story: A Coptic Christian family of four was found murdered. The father had made some anti-Islamic postings to Internet bulletin board, leading to speculation that the family had been murdered by Islamists in retribution.
In particular, some Christian outlets portrayed this as a murder of Christians by Moslems. More recently, a neighbor of the slain family has been charged with the murders, and robbery identified as the motive.
All-Spin Zone is right: The ideologues who immediately turned this into a Christian "victim" story are unlikely to retract their libel. But there are other lessons for all of us, I think.
This troubling story is a perfect example of the ways in which prejudice causes us (and I believe thyat we can all be guilty of it) to quickly jump to erroneous conclusions that then take much, much longer to step back from. It's an important lesson.
Yes, the wingnuts were crazy on this one, but we all must safeguard against the temptation to jump to easy conclusions.

World Opinion

The role of "World Opinion" has played prominently in two stories I've been following this week. It's a topic I've alluded to before, and one about which I find the stance of many Americans and, particularly, the Bush administration, both fascinating and horrifying.
In the Supreme Court's ruling that execution of minors constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, world opinion is cited in both Anthony Kennedy's opinion for the majority and Antonin Scalia's dissent. Kennedy says that the fact that execution of minors is banned throughout the rest of the world was a factor in the majority's holding that standards have evolved to the point where it must now be excluded from the American judicial system. Scalia, on the other hand, excoriated the majority for allowing world opinion to figure into their opinion.
Scalia may have been appointed to the court by President Reagan, but in his comments this week, he personifies the Bush administration's "Up Yours" attitude towards the world.
That attitude was expressed -- and then retracted -- by the administration's United Nations team this week when it insisted on an amendment to a document reaffirming the closing declaration of the 1995 Beijing meeting of the United Nations Commission on Women. The U.S. -- actually I want to say the Bush administration, since I certainly do not consider myself party to their views -- wanted an amendment stating that abortion was not a human right, and that no "new" human rights were being created.
In the face of uniform opposition by THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD, the Bushies dropped the amendment and the document was adopted unanimously yesterday. But they held up the commission's meeting for an entire week with their foolishness, a development for which The New York Times rightly says the United States should apologize.
Here's why the Bush position was both ridiculous and outrageous: The 1995 declaration was non-binding, and specifically left enormous latitude on the issue of abortion by saying only that where it is legal it should be safe.
Is that what the Bushies are opposed to? Are they now going to tackle abortion by trying to ensure that it is unsafe even where legal?
Ellen Sauerbrey, once an obnoxious right-wing candidate for governor of Maryland and now a Bush administration thug who "represents" us at the current U.N. commission meeting, argues, as reported in the Times this morning, that her mischief "succeeded, I think, in achieving the goal that was very important to the United States -- that we have clarified that we are not creating new international human rights."
That's an important goal? NOT creating new human rights??
In the Bush administration's view, I guess, the fewer human rights the world recognizes, the better.
Hmmm.... Could they have been worried that protection against torture and execution would be considered human rights?

The Reuters report on the signing (courtesy of The Left Coaster) is a bit more colorful in its description of the humiliation of the United States. An excerpt:

"Jeers and catcalls greeted the top U.S. delegate to a global
women's conference on Friday as she stressed Washington's opposition to abortion
and support for sexual abstinence and fidelity."

Bottom line on this topic: Opposition to a statement affirming that women have human rights is simply offensive. Period.
Laura Bush and those drunken twins should be making it very clear to W that his team has humiliated the United States in the eyes of the world once again (excuse the nastiness, but these people do have a way of getting under my skin).
But anyway, I started out here planning to write about world opinion, and whether it should be important to the United States. Anyone who has read any of my postings probably has no question about where I stand on this.
Like it or not, we are part of a global community, and the more we embrace that community and welcome it as part of our family, the better the chances that our species will survive for a few more generations.
From a religious stance: God gave this world to all creatures, not just those in a particular geography. To workship Him, we must respect all of his creation.
From a more earthbound perspective, here are a few things I want to say:
Nationhood is an eroding concept.
I don't mean that national borders are about to fall and the one-world government is ready to take over (sorry, Apocalypse watchers). What I mean is that technology has made such enormous changes in the way we live and work, that every issue now must be considered in terms of its global implications.
In short, technology really has turned the Earth into a global village. It may take time for the political world to catch up, but there's plenty of evidence.
Right now, for example, I am writing to a web site that is globally accessible. Regimes in some countries may be trying to block receipt of electronic communications such as this, but they are fighting a losing battle.
The Internet has changed communication in ways that even television and the telephone did not in previous generations.
It has changed business. I work for a company that produces business software, specifically designed for global deployment over the web.
It has changed society. Bloggers and e-mailers around the world now stay in touch despite time differences and political borders.
It has changed news. We've all read about -- and sometimes participated in -- Gannongate, the Dan Rather persecution, and other recent stories in which the blogosphere filled in gaps left by the MSM. Some of the blogs from military personnel in Iraq seem to be the only way we get anything close to the truth.
It has changed politics. Many people -- like me, for instance -- first heard the term "blog" in relation to Howard Dean's grassroots campaign for the presidency last year. Dr. Dean now heads the Democratic party. The ether is full of blogs left and right that compete for attention. (see the left-hand column of this blog for links to some left-minded, left-handed blogs)
Technology has opened doors of communication that will never be closed, despite the efforts of policians to put up roadblocks. Where once physical isolation was sufficient to justify a nationalistic mindset, such a mindset is now a simple denial of reality.
I've read a few times lately that right now we are in a "golden age" of Internet freedom that will shortly disappear. Yes, that may be somewhat true. What we know today as the web and the "blogosphere" may change due to short-sighted and short-term political efforts such as one going on right now to regulate political speech on the Internet, but I believe that continued innovation will stay one step ahead of the regulators.

A Shout-Out To My Brother

I hadn't heard from my younger brother in several months. It was getting to the point that my wife and I were wondering if something awful was going on. So it was a great surprise and pleasure this morning to get a long e-mail from him. What inspired him to write?
He found this blog!!!
So here's a shout-out to Jim. Glad to hear that life is coming together for you. Keep in touch.
And happy blogging.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Acting On Their Principles

The All-Spin Zone and The Brad Blog alert us to the news that every Republican member of the House of Representatives voted against an amendment that would have required "that states provide a minimum required number of functioning and accurate voting machines and poll workers for all precincts."
A few days ago, I pondered why conservatives seemed to be reluctant to say what they mean when they are doing things like, for example, subpoenaeing medical records in Kansas in an effort to prosecute women and their doctors for late-term abortions. (Phill Kline, the Kansas attorney general, has subsequently acknowledged that he is on an abortion-rights witch-hunt, evidently feeling emboldened in his "righteous" cause)
Well, here's a case where Republicans make it clear exactly what they want -- no safeguards to ensure that voters get an equal chance to cast their ballots regardless of demographics -- and I'm sorry they are so forthcoming.
It seems at least they could have enough of a sense of shame to mask their racist hijinks.
But of course, who knows what might have happened if they'd actually put sufficient voting machines in predominantly African-American precincts in Ohio?
The amendment, offered by Democratic Reps. John Conyers and Maxine Waters, was to a bill providing a plan for special elections in the unlikely case that a large number of congressional representatives were wiped out in a terrorits act.
Conyers argued eloquently that Congress should perhaps be more concerned about voters who lost their franchise in the last two presidential elections due to discriminatory policies.
But the GOP? They're apparently all for discrimination when it comes to ensuring phony victories. It's disgusting. Is there really NOT ONE congressional Republican with a sense of morality and fair play?
Christie Whitman: Defend your gang of thugs all you want. Their real colors can't be hidden behind so-called moderates like you.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Today's Losing Number

Grandma's Coming To Stay!! Forever!!!!

The Left Coaster's Mary published a nice piece this morning on how the Bush administration strategists are using Social Security as a wedge issue to divide older voters from younger ones. As she notes, a recent Pew survey shows that younger voters are the only ones who consistently support privatization efforts.
That makes a certain kind of selfish sense: Young people who invest in stocks have, based on history, some reason to hope that over the long term -- 30 or 40 years -- their investments will pay off nicely.
Now, I've written at length about why "investment" is the wrong term to link with Social Security, so I won't go into that again. I'd rather focus here on the social aspects of a move toward privatization.
As I've said in the past, Social Security is designed in part to protect those who have made bad decisions and investments during their working life. Presumably that could include the parents and grandparents of some of these kids who think privatization is a great idea.
Well, maybe it's time to scare them with one of the most frightening declarations in the English language: "Grandma's Coming to Stay!! Forever!!!!"
Many of us have seen well-tended and manicured retirement communities such as the various Sun City's. Social Security helps to contribute to the financial stability that allows many seniors to live in such areas and remain independent until very late in life.
Take away the safety net, and more and more families will face the prospect of either poverty-stricken, potentially homeless seniors or grandparents who have had to move in and put themselves in the care of their children and grandchildren.
We've got my mother-in-law living with us these days. While I love her dearly and am willing to make the adjustments necessary to accommodate an 87-year-old, mostly deaf, frighteningly frail famjily member and her beloved dog, I can assure you life would be easier if she were living on her own. Which she was doing until a few years ago.
I say this as a well-settled, middle-aged man. If I had had to face this prospect as a young man whose grandparent had no place to go, I would have been pretty much horrified at what it did to my lifestyle (I realize that may not say much for me, but I'm being honest here).
So, all of you kids who believe it when Bush promises you pie in the sky, just remember that you may be sharing your big stock-market returns -- and your apartments -- with the grandparents whose financial security you have pulled out from under them.
Oh, and as for the AARP -- the right's new favorite target -- let's all remember that the main thing they promote is an active and indedependent life for older Americans.