Monday, March 28, 2005

A Fabulous Friedman...

"We are, quite simply, witnessing one of the greatest examples of misplaced priorities in the history of the U.S. presidency," he says:
By doing nothing to lower U.S. oil consumption, we are financing both sides in the war on terrorism and strengthening the worst governments in the world. That is, we are financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars and we are financing the jihadists - and the Saudi, Sudanese and Iranian mosques and charities that support them - through our gasoline purchases. The oil boom is also entrenching the autocrats in Russia and Venezuela, which is becoming Castro's Cuba with oil. By doing nothing to reduce U.S. oil consumption we are also setting up a global competition with China for energy resources, including right on our doorstep in Canada and Venezuela. Don't kid yourself: China's foreign policy today is very simple - holding on to Taiwan and looking for oil.
Read more about his geo-green strategy.

A progressive altar call

What must be avoided at all costs is a tendency to hunker down and commiserate over how embattled we are. We must be outward looking, expansionist and evangelical in our every move.
A very smart article by Christopher Hayes, who thinks progressives need to get "evangelical." In the few days since J. sent me this original, it's been picked up by Truthout and Alternet, as well. Good stuff!

As for Jeb...

See why James Wolcott says "Any blogger who uses the phrase 'the liberal New York Times' without irony should be returned to the pet store as a dead parrot."

Here I go again...

...harping about conservative hypocrisy. Useless, I know. Sadly, the answer to my co-blogger's question is, yes, a little more can probably be said about the Terri Schiavo case --
"What this issue has done is it has galvanized people the way nothing could have done in any off-election year," said Rev. Lou Sheldon, the founder of the group, acknowledging that the case of Ms. Schiavo, a severely brain-damaged Florida woman, had moved many to open their checkbooks. "That is what I see as the blessing that dear Terri's life is offering to the conservative Christian movement in America."
That kind of opportunism might shock you if you hadn't already heard what Tom Delay told the Family Research Council...
"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," Mr. Delay told a conference organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian Group. A recording of the event was provided by the advocacy organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others," Mr. Delay said.
(Yes, relish that a moment: God brought Terri Schiavo to this point so that we could all see how Tom Delay is being persecuted.) And it might shock you if you hadn't already heard of the memo Senate Republicans circulated two weeks ago...
"This is an important moral issue and the pro-life base will be excited that the Senate is debating this important issue," that memo explained. "This is a great issue, because Senator [Ben] Nelson of Florida has already refused to become a cosponsor [of the Schiavo bill] and this is a tough issue for Democrats."
Instead, it's merely disgusting and reprehensible. Much like the spectacle of Mr. Bush flying back to DC (not a few people have remarked on the blazing ironies therein) to sign a bill that apparently everyone knew would not automatically force the reinsertion of Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube. And what a fascinating change of heart Mr. Delay has experienced in the years between his own family tragedy and the more highly exploitable Schindler/Schiavo family tragedy. If there's any good news to be had in any of this, it's that the vast majority of Americans seem to be seeing through the whole charade. (In light of those poll numbers, the Bushies are now downplaying the president's personal convictions in the matter, suggesting that he didn't really want to sign the bill, a maneuver perfectly described by Kevin Drum as "galactically craven".)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Can anything more be said on this sad affair?

Maybe just this: "For honest reporters, the Terri Schiavo case is something of a nightmare," writes Brian Montopoli. To learn why, read his piece in the valuable CJRDaily. Given the amount of media attention devoted to this story, it is astonishing (or maybe just very disappointing) how little actual journalism is being practiced.

What might have been...

The passing of George Kennan evoked a spate of reflections on his life and work, none more insightful than this recent column by James Carroll. Here's a sample:

How we remember the past determines the shape of the future. If Kennan's life reminds us that there was nothing inevitable about the militarized confrontation of the Cold War, it can also help us see an alternative to the belligerent course now being set by Washington. Here is what a Kennan-like preference for political and diplomatic responses over military ones would mean today:

An aggressive movement away from US dependence on nuclear weapons, which is the best way to check proliferation.

Avoiding the militarization of conflict with China, which can needlessly lead to a new Cold War, complete with a rekindled arms race, only now rushing into space.

A prompt end to the war in Iraq, the first step of which is a withdrawal of American forces, paired with a renunciation of all US military bases in the Middle East.
Depriving terrorists of their raison d'etre by defusing Arab and Islamic resentment of American intrusions in the Middle East.

Meeting the gravest threat to national security, which is the global degradation of the environment, by renewing structures of international cooperation.

Bush administration policies run in an exactly opposite direction from the way shown by the life of George Kennan.

As with communism in the early days of the Cold War, we have made a transcendent enemy for ourselves with ''terrorism," imagining a globally organized, ideologically driven threat that far exceeds what actually exists. We have made an idol of a particular notion of ''freedom," forgetting again that freedom from hunger and disease is what the vast majority of humans long for. Once more, we fail to see the ways in which American-style freedom includes dehumanized elements (violence, prurience, greed) that others might properly resist.

In Iraq, we reenact the perverse American script that saves by destroying. In Korea, once again (Secretary Condoleezza Rice resplendent in a military bunker), we imagine that saber rattling helps. As for international institutions like the United Nations and the World Bank, we express our contempt by appointing as representatives their sworn enemies.

George F. Kennan was a good man. Despite himself, he helped launch his nation down a dangerous road. In regretting that, he spent his life calling for another way. The ultimate ''realist," he legitimized the idealist's dream. War is not the answer. America can honor this prophet by heeding him at last.

Let the Church Say Amen!

We could say that about every post -- but in this case, it's the title of a brand-new documentary film that's premiering on PBS next week (check your local station for viewing time) as part of the "Independent Lens" series. Produced, directed, and edited by a friend of a friend, "Let the Church Say Amen" creates a portrait of a small storefront church in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC. You'll be amazed and inspired by the stories of folks working to make a better life for themselves in the shadow of the White House. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Global Fund Victory!

The Senate approved an amendment to the Budget Resolution that will increase money to the Global Fund from $300 million (after Bush's proposed cuts) to $800 million. (Previous post here.)

Now, what would they call this if he were a Democrat?

Rick Santorum is "rethinking" his position on the death penalty, in light of the campaign to end the death penalty launched by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, in light of changing opinion polls...

Maybe he thought it was the Hypocritic Oath?

From this great Progress Report:
Bill Frist has been positioning himself in the media as a champion for Schiavo's interests. Yet, much of Schiavo's medical care has been financed by $1,000,000 from two medical malpractice lawsuits Schiavo won after her heart attack 15 years ago. Frist has been leading the charge to limit recovery for people like Schiavo who are severely debilitated. If Frist is successful, people like Schiavo would not be able to recover any punitive damages no matter how severe their injuries.
He's also been positioning himself as a medical expert on a case about which he knows little more than than his colleagues:
In a speech last week on the Senate floor, Frist said that "speaking more as a physician than as a U.S. senator," he believed there was "insufficient information to conclude that Terri Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state."

Frist — who as a surgeon performed more than 150 heart and lung transplants — said his conclusion was based on a review of footage of the brain-damaged Florida woman whose parents are seeking to reconnect her feeding tube. He said he also consulted court documents and spoke to a neurologist who examined Schiavo two years ago.

Frist's comments raised eyebrows in the medical community.

Although there are no official rules against the practice, ethicists said, it is generally considered unprofessional for a doctor to make or question a diagnosis on the basis of incomplete information.

"In general, physicians would consider it unprofessional for doctors to take clinical stands on issues without adequate clinical data," said Dr. Neil Wenger, head of the ethics committee at UCLA Medical Center.

William J. Winslade, a bioethicist and law professor at the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, was more direct. Frist "has no business making a diagnosis from a video," he said.

"One step closer to theocracy..."

Please see Juan Cole today on "The Schiavo Case and the Islamization of the Republican Party":
The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model.

The Muslim fundamentalists use a provision of Islamic law called "bringing to account" (hisba). As Al-Ahram weekly notes, "Hisba signifies a case filed by an individual on behalf of society when the plaintiff feels that great harm has been done to religion." Hisba is a medieval idea that had all be lapsed when the fundamentalists brought it back in the 1970s and 1980s.
Read the whole thing; it's informative and sobering, and concludes:
Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah Delay isn't different from his counterparts in Iran.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Why, indeed?

Salon's Eric Boehlert wonders why the press is studiously ignoring public opinion polls showing that the American public overwhelmingly support Michael Schiavo's case:
Recent polling data, in outlets from Fox News to the Washington Post, shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans back the position of Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, that he, and not his wife's parents, should have the final say about removing the feeding tube of his wife, who has been severely brain-damaged and incapacitated for the past 15 years. The polling data seriously undercuts the notion that Americans are deeply divided on the Schiavo case. Yet ever since March 18, when Republicans began their unprecedented push to intervene legislatively in a state court case that had already been heard by 19 judges, the press has all but disregarded the polls.

The Schiavo episode highlights not only how far to the right the GOP-controlled Congress has lunged -- a 2003 Fox News poll found just 2 percent of Americans think the government should decide this type of right-to-die issue -- but also how paralyzed the mainstream press has become in pointing out the obvious: that the GOP leadership often operates well outside the mainstream of America. The press's timidity is important because publicizing the poll results might extend the debate from one that focuses exclusively on a complicated moral and ethical dilemma to one that also examines just how far a radical and powerful group of religious conservatives are willing to go to push their political beliefs on the public.
Just as every judge who has heard the Schiavo case so far has ruled in Michael's favor, so has every poll taken shown that the majority of the public supports the husband's position. In survey after survey dating from 2003 to the present, asked who should have the final right-to-die decision, the majority of Americans have answered: the spouse. From national polls (e.g., ABC News/Washington Post, 65-25; and Fox News, 50-31) to statewide polls (e.g., KING-TV in Washington, 67-19; and St. Petersburg Times in Florida, 75-13) to unscientific, interactive polls (e.g., CNN, 65-26; and MSNBC, 63-37), the response has always been the same. A 2003 poll by CNN/USA Today had a similar result: Eighty percent agreed that a spouse should be allowed to decide whether to end the life of a person in a persistent vegetative state.

Which is why it has been so startling to find so few mentions by major news outlets of the recent polls regarding the Schiavo controversy...
It's an important story - the case of the disappearing poll data - and I hope it shows up on a non-registration site, soon, for those unwilling to watch the ads on Salon.


You've probably noticed a new profile in the sidebar, and a couple of new posts from the same! 'abc' is one of the folks I promised (last fall) would be joining Left At The Altar and I'm thrilled to say "welcome! and thanks!"

Where were they when we really needed this?

So the U.S. Catholic bishops have launched a new campaign against the death penalty. Too bad they couldn't have made this move before November 2, 2004. It would be nice if more religious leaders could get in front of public opinion on issues like this, rather than (as the bishops did) wait for the polling data.
Sound familiar? But progressive Christians in the UK are trying to learn from the mistakes of their American counterparts:
Don't hand religion to the right

The secular left must stop sniping and realise it has Christian allies

Giles Fraser and William Whyte
Friday March 18, 2005
The Guardian

For decades, the political class on this side of the Atlantic has prided itself on the absence of religious culture wars. The obsession with abortion, gay marriage and obscenity, the alliance between the secular and religious right - these are peculiarly American pathologies. It couldn't happen here. After all, we're just not religious enough.

Except it does seem to be happening here. In making abortion an election issue, Michael Howard has prompted the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, pointedly to warn against assuming "that Catholics would be more in support of the Labour party". Elsewhere, the Christian right targets the BBC, and the Church of England is being colonised by homophobic evangelicals with broad smiles and loads of PR savvy. No wonder the cogs are whirring at Conservative central office on how best to exploit the voting power of religion.

In contrast, the left continues to push religion away. They "don't do God", in Alastair Campbell's famous phrase. Even those politicians of the left who "do God" privately have to be effectively outed, as Ruth Kelly was over her membership of Opus Dei. It never used to be like this. There has long been an affinity between the church and the left. The Liberal party was sustained by the so-called nonconformist conscience and the Labour party famously derived more from Methodism than Marx - Keir Hardie once describing socialism as "the embodiment of Christianity in our industrial system". Later both CND and the anti-apartheid movement were inspired by Christian socialism.

Even comparatively recently things were looking up for the religious left. Tony Blair is a member of the Christian socialist movement and in Rowan Williams the Church of England has a self-confessed "bearded lefty" at the top. Yet instead of a renaissance there has been a decline. The Archbishop of Canterbury is now a virtual prisoner of the religious right. And Labour Christians seem silent and impotent. How did we get to here?

In the first place, the religious left has found itself constantly challenged by the secular left. Whilst the religious right and neo-conservatives have worked together, progressives have split and split again. Blair is too embarrassed to talk the language of faith because he knows it would alienate his allies. Some object to religion on principle. Others insist that a Christian response is inevitably intolerant, exclusive, even racist. So left secularists welcomed Jubilee 2000 but ignored the fact that the Jubilee is a biblical concept.

But progressive Christians also seem incapable of confronting the religious right on its own terms. Jesus offered a political manifesto that emphasised non-violence, social justice and the redistribution of wealth - yet all this is drowned out by those who use the text to justify a narrow, authoritarian and morally judgmental form of social respectability. The irony is that the religious right and the secular left have effectively joined forces to promote the idea that the Bible is reactionary. For the secular left, the more the Bible can be described in this way, the easier it is to rubbish. Thus the religious right is free to claim a monopoly on Christianity. And the Christian left, hounded from both sides, finds itself shouted into silence.

Does this matter? Well, yes. Religion isn't going away; if anything, it is making a comeback. Nearly three-quarters of the population declared themselves Christian in the 2001 census. The old belief that religion would wither and die has beenexposed as simplistic. In this environment, the secular left needs to suspend worn-out hostilities and realise that many people of faith are fellow travellers in the fight for social justice. Otherwise, the coalition of Christian and secular conservatives will grow stronger. That will further damage the church, turning it into an intolerant sect. But it will also undermine progressive politics.

All of which requires a new courage from the Christian left. They need to toughen up, get organised and invoke the spirit of millions of Christians, from St Francis to Donald Soper, who have fought against injustice throughout the ages. Twenty years ago, Faith in the City was a prophetic call to Britain: condemning the selfishness of Thatcherism and the greed of 1980s Britain. The current campaign, Make Poverty History, is a similarly significant moment.

But the present situation also demands a reassessment by the secular left of the religious left. Because only the religious left is capable of challenging the religious right with the language of faith. The secular left, in short, needs to stop sniping and start making new friends. In America, the Christian right and the neocons have grown strong by working together. Now so must we.

· Dr Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney; Dr William Whyte is Fellow in History at St John's College, Oxford
A friend sent me this new essay by Bill Moyers. It's a bit repetitious of his recent writings, but it never hurts to repeat observations like:
There are times when what we journalists see and intend to write about dispassionately sends a shiver down the spine, shaking us from our neutrality. This has been happening to me frequently of late as one story after another drives home the fact that the delusional is no longer marginal but has come in from the fringe to influence the seats of power. We are witnessing today a coupling of ideology and theology that threatens our ability to meet the growing ecological crisis.


Moyers spends some time looking at the role of fundamentalist readings of one of the most curious and fascinating texts, the Book of Revelation. For an interpretation that is both more authentic and meaningful for progressives, see this study by Wes Howard-Brook and Anthony Gwyther. (I long to teach this book in a Sunday school class, but have been rebuffed so far.)

Do you have an advanced directive?

In case the Terri Schiavo travesty has got you thinking about having advanced directives in place (and according to the group Aging With Dignity, requests for forms are up tenfold - they're sending out 2000 living wills a day), here are some resources:

  • The American Bar Association tool kit

  • The American Academy of Family Physicians

  • U.S. Living Will Registry (which electronically stores living will and organ donor info and makes the info available to health care providers 24 hours/day)

  • California's resource page is terrific. Your state may have one, too. (Check the ABA site.)

    If thinking about this stuff gives you the creeps, please read the book Talking About Death Won't Kill You by Virginia Morris, excerpted here.

    This is a very simple thing to do, it will give you peace of mind, and it could help to prevent exactly the kind of pain and turmoil the Schiavo/Schindler/US Congress case is heaping upon an already tragic situation.
  • Sunday, March 20, 2005

    Got this email plea from
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    If you check their site as often as I do, you know they're doing good work. Throw 'em a bone if you can. I'll model the behavior and go do that right now.
    This Jonah Goldberg column illustrates why some people should never attempt complex reasoning exercises without adult supervision. (Thanks, J!)
    Here's how well those abstinence-only sex "education" programs (the ones getting the only education-related increase in the Bush Budget this year) are working. Sociologists studied data from a study of 11,000 teenagers and young adults tested for sexually transmitted diseases. A portion of this group had taken virginity pledges.

  • There was no statistically significant difference between the percentage of people who took a so-called virginity pledge and were infected with an STD and those who didn't pledge.

  • 88% of sexually active people who took the pledge had intercourse before marriage.

  • People who took an abstinence pledge were less likely to get tested and treated for venereal disease, which means they may be infected longer than others.

  • Sexually active pledgers were less likely to use condoms the first time they had sex.
  • Digby nails the Terri Schiavo travesty:
    The Days Of Our Lives
    Tom DeLay of Texas says:

    "Mrs. Schiavo's life is not slipping away - it is being violently wrenched from her body in an act of medical terrorism," DeLay said. "Mr. Schiavo's attorney's characterization of the premeditated starvation and dehydration of a helpless woman as 'her dying process' is as disturbing as it is unacceptable. What is happening to her is not compassion - it is homicide. She doesn't need to die, and as long as Terri Schiavo can breathe and her supporters can pray, we will not rest."
    By now most people who read liberal blogs are aware that George W. Bush signed a law in Texas that expressly gave hospitals the right to remove life support if the patient could not pay and there was no hope of revival, regardless of the patient's family's wishes. It is called the Texas Futile Care Law. Under this law, a baby was removed from life support against his mother's wishes in Texas just this week. A 68 year old man was given a temporary reprieve by the Texas courts just yesterday.

    Those of us who read liberal blogs are also aware that Republicans have voted en masse to pull the plug (no pun intended) on medicaid funding that pays for the kind of care that someone like Terry Schiavo and many others who are not so severely brain damaged need all across this country.

    Those of us who read liberal blogs also understand that that the tort reform that is being contemplated by the Republican congress would preclude malpractice claims like that which has paid for Terry Schiavo's care thus far.

    Those of us who read liebral blogs are aware that the bankruptcy bill will make it even more difficult for families who suffer a catastrophic illness like Terry Schiavos because they will not be able to declare chapter 7 bankruptcy and get a fresh start when the gargantuan medical bills become overwhelming.

    And those of us who read liberal blogs also know that this grandstanding by the congress is a purely political move designed to appease the religious right and that the legal maneuverings being employed would be anathema to any true small government conservative.

    Those who don't read liberal blogs, on the other hand, are seeing a spectacle on television in which the news anchors repeatedly say that the congress is "stepping in to save Terry Schiavo" mimicking the unctuous words of Tom Delay as they grovel and leer at the family and nod sympathetically at the sanctimonious phonies who are using this issue for their political gain.

    This is why we cannot trust the mainstream media. Most people get their news from television. And television is presenting this issue as a round the clock one dimensional soap opera pitting the "family", the congress and the church against this woman's husband and the judicial system that upheld Terry Schiavo's right and explicit request that she be allowed to die if extraordinary means were required to keep her alive. The ghoulish infotainment industry is making a killing by acceding once again to trumped up right wing sensationalism.

    This issue gets to the essence of the culture war. Shall the state be allowed to interfere in the most delicate, complicated personal matters of life, death and health because a particular religious constituency holds that their belief system should override each individual's right to make these personal decisions for him or herself. And it isn't the allegedly statist/communist/socialist left that is agitating for the government to tell Americans how they must live and how they must die.

    One of the things that we need to help America understand is that there is a big difference between the way the two parties perceive the role of government in its citizens' personal lives. Democrats want the government to collect money from all its citizens in order to deliver services to the people. The Republicans want the government to collect money from working people in order to dictate individual citizen's personal decisions. You tell me which is the bigger intrusion into the average American's liberty?
    Read the whole post. Folks, this is going to be one of those issues where the Right generates thousands of impassioned, reflexive phone calls and emails to the White House and Congress. If you have strong feelings about the unprecedented role Congress is playing in this, they need to hear from you, too.
    Fitting for the second anniversary of the illegal invasion of Iraq... How often can they be actually caught lying about justifications for aggression, and still get away with it? Via Atrios, read this:
    In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

    But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.

    Pakistan's role as both the buyer and the seller was concealed to cover up the part played by Washington's partner in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, according to the officials, who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity. In addition, a North Korea-Pakistan transfer would not have been news to the U.S. allies, which have known of such transfers for years and viewed them as a business matter between sovereign states.

    The Bush administration's approach, intended to isolate North Korea, instead left allies increasingly doubtful as they began to learn that the briefings omitted essential details about the transaction, U.S. officials and foreign diplomats said in interviews. North Korea responded to public reports last month about the briefings by withdrawing from talks with its neighbors and the United States.

    In an effort to repair the damage, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is traveling through East Asia this weekend trying to get the six-nation talks back on track. The impasse was expected to dominate talks today in Seoul and then Beijing, which wields the greatest influence with North Korea.

    The new details follow a string of controversies concerning the Bush administration's use of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion in March 2003, the White House offered a public case against Iraq that concealed dissent on nearly every element of intelligence and included interpretations unsupported by the evidence.
    (There's more.)

    Friday, March 18, 2005

    I'm sitting here with a friend who will be joining Left At The Altar as a team blogger, showing her Blogger quirks, etc. She recommends this article as a somewhat more nuanced portrait of the person we should nevertheless oppose vigorously as president of the World Bank.

    Thursday, March 17, 2005

    Slacktivist's spoofy hermeneutics are priceless themselves, but - simpleton that I am - I just love this joke:
    So this gorilla walks into a bar. The gorilla slaps a $10 bill on the counter and says, "Give me a beer."

    Bartender figures what does a gorilla know? So he gives him the beer, but only gives him $1 in change. It's a slow night, though, so the bartender figures he should make some conversation. "We don't get many gorillas in here," he says.

    Gorilla says, "Yeah, well at $9 a beer I'm not surprised."
    I'm told it's an old one; where has it been all my life?

    Wednesday, March 16, 2005

    The fact is that this President has a better record of having his judicial nominees approved than any President in the past twenty-five years. Only ten of 214 nominations have been turned down.

    So it is clear that this attempt to strip away these important checks and balances is not about judges. It is about the desire for absolute power.
    See the text of Harry Reid's terrific letter to Senator Frist, and the text of his remarks today, here. It's good stuff.
    Forget unethical. How are DeLay's dealings not just plain illegal? (It's really a staggering list.)
    Bush has been wanting to give ANWR to his oil industry friends for a very long time, even though they don't actually want it. So why would he incentivize research into alternate forms of energy, let alone admit that we already have the technology to build 500-mpg automobiles?
    What a surprise that a president as disdainful of the poor as George Bush would nominate as World Bank head a man who says things like "These people are not fighting because they're poor. They're poor because they fight all the time."
    This is devastating - but not entirely unexpected - news:
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted to keep, in a broad federal budget legislation, the language that would open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil drilling.

    The Bush administration wants to give energy companies access to the refuge's billions of barrels of oil to boost domestic supplies and help reduce U.S. dependence on crude imports.

    Although the Senate vote on Wednesday was a major step forward for supporters of drilling in ANWR, it remains unclear if the measure will win the full support of Congress.

    The Senate is expected to vote on its budget bill later this week. The House of Representatives, which has approved drilling in the refuge in the past, would still have to adopt the Senate's drilling language when lawmakers from both chambers negotiate a final budget bill. However, House Republicans have cautioned that it will be difficult for both chambers to negotiate an overall budget deal this year.
    There is still some hope that Congress will not approve this, because it remains an unpopular position among their constituents.

    Saturday, March 12, 2005

    See Paul Krugman on the reprehensible bankruptcy bill zipping along to the president with the support of many so-called Democrats. Then read the revolting letter sent to House Speaker Dennis Hastert by House Democrats equally hellbent on selling out the middle and working classes. It's getting harder by the day to identify with the Democratic party -- at least as it's represented by the DLC and these Republican wannabees.
    I don't know what to make of Santorum's involvement in this, but I sure can't argue with the plan: Santorum (R-PA) and Durbin (D-IL) are co-sponsoring an amendment that will add $500 million to the Bush budget for the Global Fund's AIDS programs. I've found no evidence of sneaky gag rules or anything (I doubt Durbin would stand for that). This seems to be a genuine (desperately needed) measure to counteract Bush's badly "misguided" cuts to the programs. The amendment will come up in the Senate on March 16. Please throw some calls and emails to your Senators. Go here for more info and an emailer with suggested content. Or you can use that nifty "Contact Congress" box I've add on the sidebar. But please do this right away!
    Just as we learn that Arnold is creating his own fake news videos, there's a very interesting, very long feature in the New York Times on the extent and sophistication of fake news segment (aka "government propaganda") production in the first term of the Bush administration. (Update: Here's a link to the Times story via Truthout that doesn't require registration.)

    Thursday, March 10, 2005

    The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is starting an "E-Advocacy" network. Sign up here for action alerts. (Thanks, JC!)
    Welcome, strange bedfellows:
    A core group of influential evangelical leaders has put its considerable political power behind a cause that has barely registered on the evangelical agenda, fighting global warming.

    These church leaders, scientists, writers and heads of international aid agencies argue that global warming is an urgent threat, a cause of poverty and a Christian issue because the Bible mandates stewardship of God's creation.
    More in the Times. (Thanks, A!)
    Some good news! The Clear Skies Initiative (or, as this headline more appropriately calls it, "Utility Pollution bill") died in committee.
    Amen, Father Jake:
    We turned a blind eye to the massacre in Fallujah. We ignored the warnings from our own allies regarding our sledgehammer tactics. We send a few guards to prison and dismiss the torture of Abu Ghraib as an isolated incident. Recently it came to light that the CIA has been jetting suspected terrorists to isolated spots for "interrogation" (spook code for "torture") since 1992. Most likely this will be forgotten within a week or so as well. We have seen videos of American troops killing wounded Iraqis. And now we pour 300 rounds into a car carrying an Italian journalist, free from captivity for less than an hour, who just happens to be an anti-war Communist. How can the American people continue to so easily dismiss the atrocities being committed in our name?

    Some will claim that it is "unpatriotic" to speak of these war crimes. I suggest to you that it is unpatriotic to be silent about them. I love this nation. I volunteered and served honorably in the military during the Vietnam era. I consider myself a patroit, and see it as our patriotic duty to call to account an administration that has shown such a blatant disregard for human lives. This is not the American way. And is by no stretch of the imagination the Christian way. These actions do not represent my faith or my nation. They must be condemned, those responsible, including the leadership, must be held accountable, and we must pull US troops out of Iraq immediately.
    Food for thought. While Amy Sullivan doesn't really answer her question, "What would Falwell do?", she does retrace the faltering footsteps of the Religious Left during the last 30 years -- then leaves it to us to find our way back to the trail (with the not-terribly-original-or-helpful conclusion, "the religious left will need to do more to make itself heard"). It's in Salon, so you'll have to watch a brief ad if you're not a subscriber.

    Monday, March 07, 2005

    Wow - look what Bush advisor James Baker said:
    "It may surprise you a little bit, but maybe it's because I'm a hunter and a fisherman, but I think we need to a pay a little more attention to what we need to do to protect our environment," he told the Houston Forum Club.

    "When you have energy companies like Shell and British Petroleum, both of which are perhaps represented in this room, saying there is a problem with excess carbon dioxide emission, I think we ought to listen," Baker said.
    The Revealer has a short excerpt from a new Mother Jones article by Garret Keizer. To get the entire article online, you need a subscription - which I don't have (I've been trying hard to reduce the number of periodicals that come to our door). But the whole issue looked good enough - with other articles on, e.g., wildlife management incentives, asthma epidemics, and tax policies - that I bought it when I spotted it at one of my favorite used bookstores.

    The article is "Left, Right, & Wrong: What's missing from the debate over values in America." It's like a really good sermon: it shakes you up and inspires you at the same time. The Revealer folks said, "This is not Jim Wallis. This is so much better." And I have to agree, all due respect to Jim Wallis (I am trying to squeeze in God's Politics when I finish my assigned reading each night). I know - from talking to friends and reading the (increasingly rare???) comments on this site - that a lot of liberals and progressives are tired and dispirited right now. I include myself in that group. But I was really charged up after reading Keizer. For one thing, it's just great writing:
    The Christian right preaches an extremely selective version of its own creed, long on Leviticus and short on Luke, with scant regard for the prophets and no end of veneration for the profits. Its message goes largely unchallenged, partly through general ignorance of biblical tradition and partly because liberal believers and nonbelievers alike wish to maintain a respectable distance from the rhetoric of fundamentalism. This amounts to a regrettable abandonment of tactics. One of Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals" was "Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules" - a tough act to pull off if one doesn't even know the rule book."
    True, the "right" seems to be completely unperturbed by evidence of their own hypocrisies -- partly, I sometimes suspect, because they think anything they can get away with must have God's blessing. Cheat on an election? Hey, if it gets the candidate of the Christian Right elected, then it's OK!

    Keizer takes on liberal reluctance to embrace religious language, noting that just because Bush uses the word "evil" in appalling and offensive ways does not mean liberals should stop using it when the situation calls for it:
    Tell me what else you would call the predicament of 9 million American children with no health insurance? An oversight? Is a preemptive war in which thousands of innocent people get blown to pieces simply "a mistake"? Are the annual and largely preventable workplace deaths of nearly twice as many Americans as died on September 11 merely a glitch in human evolution? Does anybody do anything wrong anymore - or is everybody just doing the best that they can, in which case isn't the most progressive course simply to go with the flow? Perhaps if we wait a billion years, Dick Cheney will be the Dalai Lama.

    Whether you choose to call it evil or simply the truth, the widening inequality fostered by the social policies of the right effects the very same "eroion of moral values" from which the right promises to defend us.
    But here's the part I'm still chewing on:
    The essential problem of the American left is not that it uses the wrong language or doesn't read the Bible or doesn't know how to relate to just-plain folks. The essential problem of the American left is that it has been displaced. Its current position in the liberal imagination is that of a dumped first wife.

    What now sleeps on her old side of the bed is a purportedly leftist solution to the same bougeois conundrum that faces the right: namely, how to maintain a semblance of moral decency while enjoying the spoils of a winner-take-all economic system. Or, put another way, how to maintain the illusion that you can be a good person and want a good society without either kind of goodness costing you a dime.
    (Pause for reflection.)
    The solution of the right, which now masquerades in the costume of "values," is to locate a domain of bogus moral absolutes at the gray zones of moral decision - e.g., those having to do with prenatal life, terminal illness, matrimonial law, and Oval Office blow jobs - while pursuing a foreign policy based on preemptive violence and a domestic policy based on theft (or whatever is the preferred value-neutral term for the disinheritance of an entire country unto the third and fourth generations).

    The current liberal solution is slightly more subtle and perhaps more benign: a multicultural caste system in which people of all races, creeds, genders and sexual orientations eat dinner at the same upscale restaurant (where I eat, too), while people of all races, creeds, genders, and sexual orientations eat dinner out of the garbage Dumpster out back. And the only thing more global than the menu is the crew scrubbing the pots."
    As Jeanne D'Arc titled an unrelated post recently, "Something about camels and needles' eyes..." (Hint: She's referring to this vexing little passage.) But Keizer continues,
    Both solutions are marked by a wily propensity to talk about any kind of conflict except class conflict. Having duly explored the polarities of black and white, male and female, gay and straight, we now distract ourselves by talking ad nauseum about Blue States and Red States, a construction that wants only a Dr. Seuss or a special edition of Dungeons & Dragons to achieve its final apotheosis in the realm of Whoozits and elves. The true enemy of progressivism is not the Red State Voter. The true enemy of progressivism is preciousness.
    If the prevailing left-liberal response to the 2004 election is yet another change of position, another revisionist move toward centrist policies, we will have done nothing more than to demonstrate that our theocratic adversaries on the right are right: namely, that the secularist tradition of democratic liberalism lacks a moral core. Democrats seem prepared to subordinate every value to that of winning, failing to realize that they can never win - especially in a time of international terror and domestic disarray - until they subordinate winning to conviction.
    I know he's not the first person since the election to say that. In fact, many of us have in our myriad, clumsy ways. But it really rings out when it follows - as it does here - Keizer's challenge to the so-called progressive agenda, which he says "has to consist of something more radical than reminding the minimum-wage custodian to sort the recyclables when he takes out the trash...It might mean that we have to relinquish more of our disposable income in order to reduce the numbers of disposable people. It might mean something as radical as saying so." By the time I finished this article, I felt like I'd just "heard" one of the best sermons of my life (no offense to a few of those very good sermon-givers who happen to read this blog!). It ends on this note:
    So what am I saying? I am saying the best way for the left to discover the values suitable to a pluralistic society is in a committed struggle with those forces that are hell-bent on reshaping America as a sentimental Victorian empire where Mammon is Lord and compassion is king and all the luck that any poor person needs is for a rich man to be visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve. This is a struggle that promises to be hard and protracted. It promises that we will live through a formative time, a potentially glorious time - but only if we can accept what Martin Luther King Jr. told us, that a person who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for. If we on the left can conceive of no value worthy of sacrifice, then we live for no worthier purpose than to grouse and grow old. I am finished with the politics of incest and retreat, with wayward glances to Canada and nostalgic mooning over the '60s and the cyberspace Rapture of the virtual Elect. I am done with equivocal thanksgiving. This is a good moment in which to be alive, or as a Lakota warrior is supposed to have said before riding out to meet a man named George at a river named the Little Bighorn, "It is a good day to die."
    Blogger problems. I know... it's free; beggars can't be choosers, etc. But when one posts as spuriously and fleetingly as I do, trying to smack something up when no one is looking, or when I should be doing other things - like studying - it's REALLY IRRITATING to have the little "loading" gauge frozen in place for long moments at a time before it finally flips to a "server can't be found" page.

    Friday, March 04, 2005

    An Absolutely Fabulous column by William Pitt, of
    A History of the Bush Administration in One Sentence

    Just because the Supreme Court set a poison precedent and appointed Bush, who brought in his crowd of neocon yahoos that no one discussed during the 2000 campaign because we 'Muricans vote for the man and not the mob of frothing dogs that come in his wake, just because the twin bill of unreasonably massive tax cuts were combined with economic depth-charge that was the Enron/Arthur Andersen scandal that was umbilically connected to the White House, just because the economy (not to mention our whole psyche) absorbed another blow when four commercial airplanes somehow managed to pierce the most impenetrable air defense system in the history of the universe, fooling the entire intelligence community as well if you believe what you hear on Fox...

    ...despite a blizzard of warnings and a raft of information from the previous administration, just because a bunch of anthrax got mailed to Democrats by the Ashcroft wing of the Republican Party in what were obvious assassination attempts and yet nothing but nothing has been done about it, just because the 9/11 attack was immediately and I mean the day after immediately grasped as an excuse to invade Iraq, just because virtually everyone in the administration lied with their bare faces hanging out about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, terrorism ties in Iraq, so break out the plastic sheeting and duct tape because we're all gonna die, just because they did this in no small part to win the 2002 midterms by any means necessary, just because 1,502 American soldiers have been killed looking for the 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons (which is 1,000,00 lbs.) of sarin and mustard and VX nerve agent, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, arial drones to spray the aforementioned stuff, and let's not forget the uranium from Niger for use in Iraq's robust nukular program, all of which was described to the letter by Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address, all of which remains on the White House website on a page titled 'Disarm Saddam Hussein,' just because the medical journal Lancet estimates that as many as 198,000 Iraqi citizens have been killed as well in the war to get at this stuff, just because none of the stuff was there, and by the way nonee of the stuff was there, and did I mention that none of the stuff was there, just because the idea that Hussein was allied with bin Laden was laughable because Osama has wanted Saddam's head on his battle standard for decades, just because the true source of world terrorism, which is Wahabbist extremism in Saudi Arabia, goes completely unaddressed because the Houses of Bush and Saud have been partnered for decades, just because so much of 9/11 and this 'War on Terra' has to do with business arrangements going awry between these two Houses, just because a deep-cover CIA agent who was working to track any person or nation or group that would give weapons of mass destruction to terrorists got her cover and her network blown by Administration officials who wanted to shut her husband and any other potential whistleblowers the hell up, just because the front company she was working out of called Brewster Jennings and Associates was likewise blown, thus torpedoing other agents and their networks, just because absolutely all of this went virtually unreported by the mainstream media until it was too late, if it was reported at all, just because dangerous spies like Ahmad Chalabi used Judy Miller and the New York Times to disseminate the lie that Iraq was riddled with weapons, thus opening the floodgates for the rest of the media to repeat the lie because once the Times says it, it must be true, just because this lack of reporting combined with an astounding level of cheerleading from the aforementioned media combined with some good old-fashioned vote fraud in places like Ohio, Florida and New Mexico gave the aforementioned group of yahoos four more years and a congressional majority in both houses of congress, just because this means the Iraq war will continue and Iran will probably be next and draconian legislation further restricting our rights will get passed along with things like the Bankruptcy bill and media reform of any kind will be nowhere on the menu, just because a lot of the Justices on the Supreme Court are sure to step down or die soon and Bush will be able to recraft that high court for the next 20 years, just because the Christian Reconstructionists are becoming mainstream with their goal of having every American singing "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me" in a droning monochromatic hypnotized voice all day every day...

    ...doesn't mean anyone should be worried or anything. Get a grip.

    Thursday, March 03, 2005

    "The thing we desperately need is to face the way it is."
    -- Theresa Mancuso(quoted in Annie Dillard, For the Time Being, p. 19)

    There are moments - contemplating global warming and mass extinctions - that I wonder what I think I'm going to accomplish with my ethics studies, and whether there's really time to learn (to teach) new ways of thinking and being in the world. Many perfectly sensible scientists believe it's too late to stop (or even slow) the destruction, and that we must now turn to planning for it, coping with it. But even that is impossible if we can't get the administration (or our own SUV-driving neighbors, for that matter) to "face the way it is."

    When the Kyoto Protocol took effect a couple weeks ago, George Monbiot wrote about (western) human denial in the face of mounting indisputable evidence of catastrophic climate change. The whole (short) column is worth reading, but this part resonates:
    But there’s a much bigger problem here. The denial of climate change, while out of tune with the science, is consistent with – even necessary for – the outlook of almost all the world’s economists. Modern economics, whether informed by Marx or Keynes or Hayek, is premised on the notion that the planet has an infinite capacity to supply us with wealth and absorb our pollution. The cure to all ills is endless growth. Yet endless growth, in a finite world, is impossible. Pull this rug from under the dominant economic theories, and the whole system of thought collapses.

    And this, of course, is beyond contemplation. It mocks the dreams of both left and right, of every child and parent and worker. It destroys all notions of progress. If the engines of progress – technology and its amplification of human endeavour – have merely accelarated our rush to the brink, then everything we thought was true is false. Brought up to believe that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, we are now discovering that it is better to curse the darkness than to burn your house down.

    Our economists are exposed by climatologists as utopian fantasists, the leaders of a millenarian cult as mad as – and far more dangerous than – any religious fundamentalism. But their theories govern our lives, so those who insist that physics and biology still apply are ridiculed by a global consensus founded on wishful thinking.

    And this leads us, I think, to a further reason for turning our eyes away. When terrorists threaten us, it shows that we must count for something, that we are important enough to kill. They confirm the grand narrative of our lives, in which we strive through thickets of good and evil towards an ultimate purpose. But there is no glory in the threat of climate change. The story it tells us is of yeast in a barrel, feeding and farting until they are poisoned by their own waste. It is too squalid an ending for our anthropocentric conceit to accept.

    The challenge of climate change is not, primarily, a technical one. It is possible greatly to reduce our environmental impact by investing in energy efficiency, though as the Exeter conference concluded, “energy efficiency improvements under the present market system are not enough to offset increases in demand caused by economic growth.”(6) It is possible to generate far more of the energy we consume by benign means. But if our political leaders are to save the people rather than the people’s fantasies, then the way we see ourselves must begin to shift. We will succeed in tackling climate change only when we accept that we belong to the material world.