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Monday, February 28, 2005

And Globalization Done Right Could Be A Good Thing - Honest

Sebastian Mallaby has a good article in today's Washington Post about the successes and pitfalls of globalization. He is mostly glowingly positive about how free trade has increased the economic growth of poor nations. He compares the GDP (gross domestic product) of those third world nations that participated in free trade to those failed nation-states that did not. The ones that became part of the global free market did indeed experience far greater growth of their gross domestic product and had greater overall economic success than those who opted out of the free market.

He also goes into how the assault of 9/11 and the increased threat of terrorism has presented challenges to free trade. The need for better border security and the impediments to the free flow of both products and people are just two of the challenges that need to be dealt with to keep the borders open and the goods and business moving back and forth.

What Mallaby doesn't talk about, however, is whether the growth of the GDP of those countries has in any way benefitted the average worker there. One of the reasons for outsourcing, and with it the success of globalization, is that most of the poorer nations can provide much cheaper labor because their workers have a lower standard of living. Companies also don't have to pay expensive benefits like health insurance and pension plans.

So, how much is the success of globalization and the wealth trickling down to the average worker overseas?

Also, as I've pointed out in other posts, how much is our loss of manufacturing jobs and our whole manufacturing base hurting the U.S.?

Yeah, we're getting cheaper prices at the stores. But our wages are also depressed. For example, in January, we had a net drop in income. In addition, the U.S. has an unsustainably high trade deficit. Our dollars flow out of this country. We consume too many foreign made goods and we borrow too much money to do it. Most economists see storm warnings here.

We're all to blame for this to a certain extent. After all, who doesn't want the cheapest prices? I know I do. I can't keep writing this stuff and not admit that I go for the bargains too (although, it must be said that I don't shop at Wal Mart to get them).

Robert Reich has a good piece in the New York Times about this. He too likes the bargains but realizes the Faustian tradeoff. The lower prices do drive wages down too. What to do?

He comes up with some modest solutions to soften the blow to workers whose jobs go overseas, and to slow down the rush to the bottom with wages. And to soften some of the other wrenching changes that are hurting America's workers. At the same time, his proposals take care not to destroy free trade.

In addition to what he writes, here are some modest reforms I think we can make to actually protect foreign workers from the worst results of the exploitation and also put American workers on a more level playing field. These changes could keep the best results of free trade and open markets, which can be good for the U.S. and worldwide economy, while ameliorating some of the most harmful effects of liberalized markets.

For one thing, free trade done right, with a little fair trade thrown in, does produce greater prosperity for greater numbers of people. And it can encourage a more peaceful world. Trading partners often also become cultural partners. And liberal markets, cultural exchanges and greater contact with other countries often produce more understanding among differing people.

One modest suggestion to offset the problems caused by globalization would be to have an international minimum wage. It could be a low wage, but it would at least establish the princple that there is a minimum below which you cannot exploit labor. Another idea would be some international labor laws that would ensure that there was a certain level of fairness in the way workers were treated in the workplace. Managers couldn't compel workers to toil for more than say ten hours. They would have to make sure that certain minimum health, sanitation and safety standards were met at the workplace. And that there were minimum benefits, including insurance for on the job injuries, health benefits and pensions.

There should also be minimum standards that all nations comply with to ensure that the environment isn't degraded by manufacturing.

The concept of international business law is already established. There are world courts that fine nations for violating free trade rules, like erecting tariffs, and that protect international intellectual property rights. In fact, corporations and business people already do quite a lot to protect free trade and property rights and to keep a level playing field at the business end of it to ensure that markets are open, reciprocal and that investments are protected. How radical is it to extend this protection to workers?

Why not level the playing field so that workers are protected from the worst exploitation in countries like China and also to prevent a rush to the bottom of the wage barrel for Americans?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

And Of Course, There's Junk Economics Too

The biggest problem with our economy is that we are a consumer nation and no longer a producer nation. Our wealth is all paper wealth. It is not based on tangible commodities that we produce at home. America, however, is still the world's market. And that has implications worldwide.

Presently, American companies make their goods in foreign factories, increasingly using foreign, low paid labor. Those goods are then imported back into the United States at cheap prices and Americans buy them, their dollars flowing back out to overseas employees. Of course, American companies do also pocket a profit. That's why they outsource. The cheaper wages they can pay elsewhere provide higher profits for investors at home.

But high paying manufacturing jobs have dried up in the U.S. Now, increasingly, even decently paying service jobs are being outsourced. As our labor force shrinks, so does the market for the goods and services because most foreign workers can't afford them either. Their economies rely on the export dollars they get from the U.S. They don't necessarily buy the goods they produce. We do.

Americans are increasingly not only consumers but borrowers. Most of our purchases are made on credit cards and by going into debt with loans. In addition, ours is a debtor nation, because of our huge deficit.

Recently, South Korea merely suggested that it was going to diversify its currency investments. Since the American dollar is already falling because of all this debt, it caused a plunge in the markets for a few days. More and more, the U.S. is at the mercy of creditor nations who lend us the money to finance our consumption of goods. The same nations that are our creditors are also the nations that actually produce our goods. They have the manufacturing base that we no longer have in our country. And we are in debt to them.

Someday this house of cards is going to fall and fall hard.

And Still They Practice Junk Science

According to an editorial in today's Washington Post, not only is the Bush administration ignoring the overwhelming preponderance of evidence that needle exchange programs prevent the spread of HIV/AIDs, but it is deliberately distorting the conclusions of some scientific studies. In order to support its own opposition to these programs, this administration is cooking the books, so to speak. The studies being used to prop up its own views actually contradicts the assessment that needle exchange programs encourage greater drug use and are ineffective in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDs. Instead, this research demonstrates that these programs are our best shot at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, especially in Asian countries and they do not encourage more drug use either.

As the Post's editorial points out, the authors of the research being misquoted by the administration actually support needle exchange programs and are baffled that their work is being used to support conclusions they don't hold. Here's the money quote:

"The administration claims that the evidence for the effectiveness of needle exchange is shaky. An official who requested anonymity directed us to a number of researchers who have allegedly cast doubt on the pro-exchange consensus. One of them is Steffanie A. Strathdee of the University of California at San Diego; when we contacted her, she responded that her research "supports the expansion of needle exchange programs, not the opposite." Another researcher cited by the administration is Martin T. Schechter of the University of British Columbia; he wrote us that "Our research here in Vancouver has been repeatedly used to cast doubt on needle exchange programs. I believe this is a clear misinterpretation of the facts." Yet a third researcher cited by the administration is Julie Bruneau at the University of Montreal; she told us that "in the vast majority of cases needle exchange programs drive HIV incidence lower." We asked Dr. Bruneau whether she favored needle exchanges in countries such as Russia or Thailand. "Yes, sure," she responded."



Once again, the Bush administration, and it's rightwing allies in Congress, are proving that ideology trumps facts and that they don't respect genuine science.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

And Ungracious Republicans

A few posts back I wrote about gracious Christians, including a young woman named Shelby Knox, who works to promote sex education among high school students. Shelby is from a conservative Texas community that has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and of STDs in the country. Although she's personally in favor of abstinence, she acknowledges that "abstinence only" programs just don't work. They fail to provide teenagers with enough information to protect themselves. You don't have to like the choices that teenagers make. You can still try to convince them that abstinence is the safest, most risk free, and intelligent option. But you should also give them the knowledge to protect themselves from dangerous diseases and unwanted pregnancies if they choose something different. Especially since making foolish choices is part of being a teenager. How about letting them have information they need so they can grow up to regret those choices and make changes. Give them a future, not an early grave.

Now the New York Times has an editorial about Republicans, mostly those in the religious right, who also oppose needle exchange programs, which have a long history of preventing AIDs among drug addicts. Just as with teenage sex, you don't have to like the choices that addicts make. I certainly don't. However, if there's a simple way to prevent drug users from compounding their many problems by, at least, giving them sterile needles, let's support it.

The Republican opponents of needle exchange programs claim that these programs send a mixed message to addicts that drug use is not wrong. The claim is that they encourage drug use by providing safe needles to addicts. If these conservative Republicans had their druthers, they would rather see drug users "suffer the consequences" of their actions than be protected from AIDs.

Of course, many addicts then pass the AIDs virus on to their partners who may be neither drug users nor promiscuous. Innocent people do get caught up in the fall out, especially in a lot of third world countries.

Every day, in every way, "compassionate conservatisim" is proving to be nothing more than an empty slogan devoid of compassion and common sense.

Friday, February 25, 2005

And They Said There's No Class Warfare

In today's New York Times, Paul Krugman continues exposing the rightwing plot to discredit the AARP because of that venerable organization's opposition to so-called Social Security reform Bush-style.

Maureen Dowd wrote about this "slime" job, as she called it, in yesterday's Times and I carried something about it, with a link, on this blog yesterday. This is one the progressives can't afford to drop.

As Krugman points out, today, the rightwing's attempts, so far, have been so clumsy that the usual progressive suspects have been astounded at how the conservatives have been fumbling this assault. But the game ain't over and Republicans and their allies have too good a record at converting failed economic policies into successes by coupling them with the culture wars.

And even the Washington Post, which is far more centrist than the Times, made mention today that some of the same consultants who were responsible for the anti-Kerry Swiftboat ads are now working with a consortium of conservative organizations to sell the Social Security privatization package.

The one thing you've got to give Republicans credit for is that they come up with great sounding names that confuse the issue. All of these organizations have names that claim to "Save Social Security," etc. And every one of them is a front organization for business groups, like the National Manufacturers Association and the Business Roundtable, that are far more interested in supporting the interests of greedy corporations than helping ordinary working people to actually have a decent retirement.

If companies really wanted to cut expenses, save money, and return a greater profit to their investors, they could give their CEOs and corporate heads less money and less perks. Instead, heads of corporations receive obscenely huge salary and benefits packages. And if they should fail to deliver profits and get ousted by their boards of directors, they leave their companies with "Golden Parachutes" that reward them far more generously for their failure than the average American worker gets when he or she leaves the same company after a lifetime of dedicated and successful service.

Business leaders do not have your best interests at heart. Not in this battle for Social Security and not in any battle. Their loyalty is to themselves and their cronies. To their class. The problem is they know they're in a class war. But so far it's been a guerrilla war because progressives are afraid to call it what it is. The battle to save Social Security is one of those seminal events that is finally exposing this class war for what it truly is. As is outsourcing and huge tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, which has led to our country being bled dry of its resources.

Again, see yesterday's blog, with its link to Tom Friedman, who discusses some of the other ways that our economy is in trouble because of the huge deficits this Administration has accumulated in order to reward its buddies for their support.

Folks, there's a name for this. It's called "crony capitalism." And it hurts those of us who are not cronies, not part of their class. So, pass the ammunition, already.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sage Can Be Devil's Advocate Any Time In My Book

Sage wrote in a Comment:

"Let me play devil's advocate here... bad pun, eh? he's the guy getting cut short in the book, IF GRACE IS TRUE.I haven't read the book, but I think I read several reviews of it when it came out (was it about 3 years old--I should go check, but that'd be too much work).It seems to me that if there is no hell, what do you do with those people who don't want to go to heaven (think C. S. Lewis, THE GREAT DIVORCE) or with those folks who would destroy heaven if they brought their baggage with them.What would Don Giovanni do to heaven? Could heaven be heaven without all residents being willing to submit to God? Is our adversion to hell due to the images we have of it from poets more than from scripture? What scripture passages are metaphorical and what ones are descriptive? If life comes from God, would the absence of God (hell) be eternal punishment or is eternal death just that? Is the fear of hell a good reason to "come to Jesus" or a good reason to modify our behavior? just some thoughts. Thanks for your thoughtful posts."


Actually, Sage, I was originally trying to make a political as well as religious point about what a gracious and progressive Christianity would look like. However, you raise some very interesting and valid points about a subject that interests me very much: Salvation.

Firstly, you mentioned one of my favorite authors, CS Lewis, and I loved The Great Divorce. Lewis, I believe, once said that hell is "God's great compliment to man." By that he meant that God's great, and incredibly gracious, gift of free will would be meaningless without the possibility of rejecting heaven and an eternity with God. So, for that reason, I will concede that hell is a possibility. Because humans must be free to reject God. Hell has been defined as the ultimate despair, which is knowing that one has chosen the absence of God, and of good, for all eternity. Lewis, however, also said "the gates of hell are locked from the inside."

I believe I once heard Lewis referred to as a "neo-Orthodox" Christian, meaning that although he believed in hell, he thought that God's saving grace could extend beyond the grave. The Orthodox usually believe that upon death one goes either to heaven, hell or purgatory immediately. If one is damned to hell, there can be no escape or hope of salvation. Lewis wrote The Great Divorce to dispute that belief. Although he thought that many would, in fact, deliberately choose to reject salvation, he also believed that redemption was possible and was even offered to those in hell. He once said that whether it is hell or purgatory depends upon whether the soul accepts redemption.

Many people who consider themselves universalists don't deny the existence of punishment and purification after death. It's not hell, but eternal damnation that they object to. Indeed, priest, novelist and sociologist, Andrew Greeley, does not deny the possibility of hell but frequently expresses the belief that God will in some way find a way and a means to reconcile all souls to her (Greeley frequently refers to God as "she"). It's Greeley's faith that God's love will be so irresistable and God will be so persistent that all will eventually be won over to redemption. That is probably where I stand. I believe that hell must remain a possibility or free will is impossible. But I believe that God's persistence and God's love will prove irresistable to the human soul.

One other thought to keep in mind, though, is that there have been hellish experiences reported by those who have had near death experiences. The vast majority of NDEers have positive experiences. But, as the literature on the subject expands, more negative experiences have been reported as well. So, that something hellish exists is probably true. Every religion, by the way, has a concept of hell. In fact, while Americans frequently think that Buddhism does not have that concept, but preaches reincarnation and karma instead, Buddhism has not just one hell but thousands of hell realms as well as heavenly abodes and Pure Lands. It also believes that those who are greedy and gluttinous could be reborn as "hungry ghosts" which are entities with large stomachs and tiny throats that make it impossible to ever get enough food to satisfy one's hunger. However, the Buddhists believe that all the hell realms, heavenly abodes, reincarnations, and hungry ghosts are both temporary and caused by our own minds at death. However, the important thing is that the concept of hell is not unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Every human has a hunger for justice, which is what leads us to believe in hell. The question is, if not from God, where would that hunger come from? That is one of CS Lewis' proofs for an existence of God. That the concept of fairness, justice and goodness are so universal.

As for your other question about the nature of hell and how metaphorical our images of it are, don't know, I've never been there, not even in an NDE.

Bushwacked ... all the news that fits

There were several good pieces on today's New York Times editorial page that have a common thread running through them. Read them and see if you come to the same conclusion about the Bush Administration that I do.

First, there's a New York Time's editorial that points out that the new governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, who used to be Bush's budget director and one of the architects of Bush's tax cuts and the concommittant budget deficit, has stunned the political world. Governor Daniels has decided, and announced, that Indiana needs to raise its taxes. The Daniels' tax increase would be only on the wealthiest Indianans and would be "temporary." As the Times points out, that's also what Daniels said about the federal tax cuts, which helped make a healthy surplus go away only to be replaced by a gaping deficit.

What neither Daniels nor the Times pointed out, however, is that Indiana's problems are partly a result of those federal tax cuts. When the federal government cut taxes, it also passed some of the budget items that it used to fund onto the states. It was only inevitable that state taxes would then have to rise. The states now have to pay for more of their own services and also have less revenue coming in because Republican tax cut fever also spread to the state level.

After all, everybody wanted less taxes. Everybody wanted services cut, until it was their favorite service. When pushed to actually name the cuts, it turns out there's not much there to slash. What do you want less of, police service, fewer schools and teachers, less snow removal, less trash removal? Everybody thinks there's so much to cut from poor people. But the welfare system has already been reformed. There just are fewer welfare queens out there to blame for our fiscal irrresponsibility. And it turns out that if you "starve the beast" as Stephen Moore, the ultra conservative founder of the Club for Growth calls it, you just have to do with less service yourself. If you're not rich like Moore, that turns out to be a drag. Oh I know, we can, maybe, cut corporate welfare. Maybe eliminate sweetheart deals for multimillionaire sports team owners who build themselves stadiums at public expense. Nope, won't even cut that either.

But it was actually a Republican who once famously said, "there's no free lunch."

In another article, Maureen Dowd takes on USA Next, a pro-Republican group that is trying to discredit the AARP. USA Next supports the Bush administration's Social Security reform plan. The AARP doesn't and, of course, is a formidable political rival. So, in order to push the Bush agenda, USA Next must also destroy the credibility of AARP. To do that, it's been running ads accusing the AARP of supporting gay marriage and of being opposed to the war in Iraq and veterans.

As Dowd points out, what the Ohio chapter of AARP opposed was specific language in a bill that would have made it impossible not just for gays but even for hetrosexuals to live together and pool resources. This is similar to a "defense of marriage" bill in Virginia. In its zealous attempt to forbid civil unions for gays, it could have the effect of preventing non-gay adults, who happen to be of the same sex, from entering into a mortgage or other contracts to share resources. The problem with this is that it could impact senior citizens negatively.

Often the only way to stay out of assisted living and to maintain independence, as people get older, is to team up with others. When somebody elderly loses a spouse, it becomes harder to maintain and run a home on their own. Sometimes, a roomate to share expenses and chores and just to be a companion can keep people living on their own longer. And when two good friends team up, they might want to give each other power of attorney and the right to give medical consent for each other in an emergency. With families so scattered, it makes sense that sometimes you can't wait for your next of kin, who might be a daughter or son thousands of miles away, to fly in just to give permission for an emergency medical procedure. That's a situation that I'm going to face someday with my aging parents who live in Florida, while I'm in Virginia. If one of them is left alone, that person is either going to need to move in with a good friend who can give informed consent in an emergency, or the one who is left is going to have to give up their home and go into a nursing home. So, that's why AARP is opposed to some of these laws. It's not the sex, gay or otherwise. It's the wording of the bills and how it affects all senior citizens.

And for the veterans issue, AARP simply hasn't taken any position. But considering how many AARP members are still also members of "the Greatest Generation", I'd find it hard to believe that they're an anti-veterans organization. Hogwash to that.

The same people who did the duplicitous Swiftboat ads, by the way, are behind this slime job of AARP. As Dowd points out, this is the hit and run crowd that always does Bush's dirty work.

Finally, Tom Friedman has an op ed article on the coming fiscal crisis because our nation will not raise taxes, will not save money, and will not give up its dependence on foreign oil.

As anybody who has followed the business news lately will know, South Korea announced that it was going to diversify its currency investments. That caused our stock market to panic and go into a slump. The dollar has been steadily declining against the Euro for a long time. South Korea quickly announced, the next day, that it was not selling its dollars, it was merely going to slow down and not buy so many in the future since the dollar has been losing value. However, if other nation's follow South Korea's example, and stop investing in our currency, it will continue to drop in value against the Euro, the Yen, and the Chinese Yuan (which is tied artificially to the dollar anyway and so is valued too high, which is a whole other issue). If the value of the dollar drops, interest rates will climb even higher. Right now, the safest investment that middle class people have is their homes. They are counting on the value of their homes to go up. However, if interest rates rise, mortgage rates go up too and the real estate bubble will surely deflate as fast as the dot com bubble did a few years ago. The stock market will react to this shock by going down too. As Friedman rightly points out, the stock market crash of 1987 also started with a currency crisis (and too high deficits under the Reagan administration).

As Friedman said, it is a sign of the economy's poor health that it is so vulnerable. But the Bush administration's skyrocketing deficit is to blame for a lot of this instability.

Let's see, here's the common thread that I talked about above, our economy is rocky because of the deficit, the governor of Indiana, who is one of the architects of that same deficit is now saying that Indiana's taxes have to be raised because of the deficit, and the pro-Bush USA Next is going after the AARP with false advertising to discredit the organization for opposing the Bush proposals for Social Security reform, which is a rocky proposition because of the deficits.

Ok, what does all this have in common? The common thread is how much can we really trust the Bush administration. They've been wrong about the economy. They've been ruthlessly dishonest in the way they treat credible opponents of their schemes. They were wrong about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. Their deficits are starting to come home to roost in ways that are roiling economic markets. The stock market has been dropping. And now, they want to reform Social Security in ways that will depend on that volatile stock market for our pensions just at a time when this could be the dumbest investment.

Why don't we just all take the payroll tax and just go to Vegas and hit the slots. It would make as much sense as trusting this administration to fix Social Security.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Gracious Christians

There's a wonderful book by Phillip Gulley and James Mulloland called If Grace is True . In this book, the two authors lay out a universalist Christianity that claims that all will be saved. They make the startling (in traditional Christian circles) claim that there is no hell or Satan. Both authors pastor Quaker churches in the Midwest and originally come from an Evangelical background.

The universalist approach that they take to salvation theology is by no means new. It's always been a minority opinion within the church and has usually been condemned as heresy by both Evangelical and mainline denominations. However, it's a position that has had some mighty impressive followers including Origen, St. Jerome, and in modern times Madeleine L'Engle among others.

In a second book, If God is Love, the authors explore the further implications of a grace-based theology and how gracious Christians would act in the everyday world, including a paradigm for a gracious politics that cares about the poor, the dispossessed, the jailed, and in general "the least of these."

Based on their experiences as pastors, the authors explore a variety of situations and how the Church would respond differently if it truly believed in a loving God. They recount painful experiences with ungracious churches in their youth.

In addition, here's another story of a gracious Christian, Shelby Knox, from Lubbock, Texas. She started as a conservative Southern Baptist. But as a teenager, she noticed that many of her classmates in Lubbock's high schools were getting pregnant and Lubbock has one of the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Disesases. Lubbock schools taught abstinence only programs.

To Shelby, it was clear that her classmates were not getting adequate information to make informed, responsible decisions and were paying the price with unwanted pregnancies and diseases. And so she began lobbying for better sex education for high school students.

Shelby, personally, does believe in abstinence as the best prevention. However, it's just not realistic to think that every kid is going to be able to stay abstinent until they marry, or are old enough to act more responsibly.

No kid should have to have a kid because they don't know basic protection. And no child should have to suffer with a sexually transmitted disease.

Years ago in my place of employment, we had a program on AIDS/HIV Prevention. After a bunch of health professionals gave very dry and technical speeches, a young man with blond hair that just brushed his collar got up to speak to us. He told us that he was going to show us what AIDS looked like. We, all jaded adults in an urban setting, thought he was going to tell us some sad story about somebody he knew. We got ready to be bored. We'd heard it all.

Then, silently, he just turned himself around and when he was facing us again, he held out his arms, as if to present himself. We realized that this handsome youth, still in high school, still innocent looking, was the face of AIDS. As the meaning of this silent and eloquent witness dawned on the jaded adults in the audience, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

No child should have to risk AIDS because the only education on prevention that they get is "just say no."

Of course abstinence is best, is safest. But there is a next best. And any school that doesn't tell it's teenagers this is guilty of gross negligence.

Gracious Christians like Shelby Knox know this.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Rest In Peace

Most of us working in blogging owe a great deal to the pioneers of what was called "the New Journalism" back in the sixties. They include writers like Tom Wolfe and, of course, Hunter Thompson, who was discovered dead by his own hand today.

Thompson was the larger than life subject of most of his own nonfiction reports in major magazine and he was one of those innovative journalists who challenged the gray, institutional prose of the corporate pages of respectable newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and other news outlets of the day.

Of course, the press in America has always had a colorful side, with its tabloids and yellow journalism, but by the 1950s, respectable newspapers and magazines had grown colorless in their respectability and their veneer of objectivity.

Journalists like Thompson, Wolfe, Joan Didion, Pete Hamill, and Jimmy Breslin challenged the cult of objectivity and brought life to their subjects by writing about them from a more personal point of view and often with colorful and quirky language. Their vivid descriptions of their subjects brought the reader intimately into the world they were describing and gave us an insight into the minds and hearts of those they interviewed, and even into themselves as writers. Their work frequently read like the best fiction. These writers shared their personal insights and reactions to their subjects with their readers and were tremendously generous with their views in ways that the traditional media couldn't be.

Thompson was perhaps the most radical of all of them with his self-invented brand of gonzo journalism.

Although most bloggers don't ride with motorcycle gangs or imbibe huge and life threatening amounts of drugs and alcohol as Hunter Thompson did, we all practice a personal style of journalism where we do more than investigate and report facts. Like Thompson, we share insights, opinions, feelings and our own life experiences with our readers. We do personal journalism and it no longer feels strange to readers. In fact, they look forward to it and want to know our reactions to our subjects as much as they want the hard facts.

We all owe Hunter Thompson and the other "New Journalists" of an earlier era a tremendous debt for pushing the envelope when they did. Before there was blogging, they dared to light up a dull gray sky with verbal pyrotechnics and added light, action, and life to journalism.

So, rest in peace, Hunter Thompson.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Miz Mellie, Please Pass Them Smellin' Salts, Aunt Pitty Pat is Havin' One of Her Fits

First of all, I'd like to present the first Aunt Pitty Pat Award to the unknown female professor who, upon hearing Harvard President Larry Summers' remarks, was quoted as saying, "if I'd stayed I would have blacked out or thrown up."

This ridiculous woman has probably set back the feminist cause more than Larry Summers' remarks ever could have. Anti feminists are rightly having a field day with her vapors. If she had to lose her cool, couldn't she just have said that she would've given him a right hook to the jaw instead? No, because then she wouldn't have been a professional victim. She would actually have been a ballsy woman and a good role model for some little girl. Who knows, maybe one of those little girls would even have gotten interested in her field of science.

For those who don't yet know, Summers has stirred up a storm of controversy once again at Harvard because of remarks that he made concerning the dearth of women in the hard sciences and mathematics.

In a Washington Post article, Sally Quinn questions the actual importance it makes to women if they in fact really don't have an innate aptitude for the hard sciences and math.

The truth is we don't know for sure what is hardwired into each sex. We have some theories and Summers was, in his own words, being deliberately provocative by throwing out some unpopular theories as to why women don't go into this field. He was trying to stir a discussion and challenge scientists to explore this troubling situation.

I am not so naive that I don't recognize that when women don't enter the sciences they are turning their backs on positions that have power, influence, and that often pay well. However, aren't there other professions that also have those advantages where women are having not just great success, but are also highly visible?

What if women really don't have an aptitude or interest in engineering, hard sciences and abstract higher math? Does that actually negate the accomplishments they've had in the fields of law, medicine, research, literature, journalism, the military, and business? Women have achieved stellar results in a diversity of fields. Why is one particular aptitude, one special type of ability and intelligence more important than all these others?

To say this is not to promote stereotypes. If one were to relegate women to just the fields of the arts, teaching, writing and the soft sciences, yes that would be prejudice. But women have visibly made their marks in many non traditional fields.

Here's the thing. Nowadays, women have successfully challenged all the conventional wisdom about where they do or do not belong. Women are serving in the military and have forced their way, often with legal challenges, into the nation's top military academies. They've proved that they are tough enough and can compete with men in areas that are not traditional for them. I think that if a woman is interested in engineering and hard science, then she would have no qualms about pursuing it and kicking open any doors that stood in her way. And that's the way it should be. But, if women are not signing up for these classes and not applying for the jobs, maybe it's because they're not interested in the field

Whenever a woman who qualifies is turned down or turned away because of her gender, I'll be there fighting for her rights. But when people get mad at somebody for making the mere suggestion that maybe women aren't in a field simply because they're not interested, I'll also be there to defend that person's right to raise that question.

And by the way, when somebody finishes reviving that unnamed and distraught professor, perhaps she can take a big breath and, if she's actually a scientist, perhaps she'll design an experiment that proves President Summers wrong, or at least publishes a reasonable and well researched article that does so. That would be the best feminist response. Because, we're really not that emotional. We're capable of logic and rational argumentation. But we just might not want to build a bridge.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Are You A Social Sinner

Alas, Anonymous is a Woman is not anonymous enough. A flu bug knew where I live and came and got me. So, I'll be down for the count for a few days. However, above is a link to an interesting article on Catholic social teaching.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Anti-War Candidates, Security Moms and Democrats

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats need to convince the public, especially the security moms, that they can be trusted with national defense, an area where they are consistently outpolled by Republicans. Pundits also argue that the anti-war position of many prominent Democrats is going to continue to hurt them with these security moms at the polls unless they find some way to recast themselves as strong supporters of the military.

I agree. I think that Democrats have not made a good enough argument that one can oppose a particular war and not be a pacifist. Part of the problem, of course, is that many Democrats in Congress, such as John Kerry, originally did support giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Their vote was based on faulty intelligence that suggested that Iraq was far more of a threat than it was. I think it's fair to say, "if I knew then what I know now, yes I'd vote differently." Everybody, in fact, was snookered by this Administration.

Yeah, I know that in theory they did not deliberately "cook the books" when it came to intelligence reports, but that they were as fooled as the senators and represenatives by the faulty intelligence. Yet there were reports, by Seymour Hirsch in the New Yorker among others, that Dick Cheney had been visiting the CIA and that some agents, in fact, did feel they were under pressure to produce information that supported the Administration's contentions about weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, no less than Colin Powell angrily rejected one report and refused to quote it. And both former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and security advisor Richard Clark wrote in separate books that the Bush Administration was obssessed with Iraq from day one of the administration, long before 9/11 even happened. And this Administration has a history of cherry picking the facts they want and ignoring those that don't suit their agenda. So, a good case can be made that they wanted to get us into Iraq for reasons that actually had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, defending our nation from attack or real national defense of any kind.

Any case that Democrats make to convince the public that they take national defense as seriously as Republicans has to begin with the distinction between the war in Afghanistan and that in Iraq.

A real case can be made that it was right to invade Afghanistan and terribly wrong to do the same in Iraq, even given what little we knew about WMDs in the beginning. This is the position of former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, no leftwing dove. Senator Graham sat on the Senate Security Committee. At one point, he chaired it. And he was convinced that Saudi Arabia was a far bigger threat to our security than Iraq. He began a run for president specifically because he was opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Yet he was never a peacenik.

To start with, like another presidential candidate famously opposed to the war in Iraq, he supported our incursion into Afghanistan. That other presidential candidate, by the way, was Howard Dean, who has always insisted that he was no dove and that he supported going into Aghanistan, just as Graham did. Here's the reason why.

It is not true that al Queda was a stateless terrorist organization, which would indeed have made it hard to retaliate for the dreadful attack they launched on us. They were indeed under the sponsorship of a state. And they had the full support of that state when they attacked us. Furthermore, that state insisted on protecting them and harboring them even when we asked for al Queda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, to be handed over to proper authorities for trial as terrorists. Afghanistan's Taliban, the recognized, official rulers of that state refused to turn over bin Laden, continued to give safe harbor and support to al Queda and was intimately tied to them. In fact, the Taliban's leader and bin Laden were related through marriage.

That's why it was morally and politically justified to attack Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban. Not one western nation, not even France objected. Even the Arab world gave support to the U.S. in Afghanistan. And the anti-war protests here at home were small. The war against Afghanistan actually enjoyed popular support because it was perceived as a war of self-defense. It was, by every definition, a just war. And a necessary one. To have not answered this attack would indeed have invited more and worse from al Queda. They had proven many times over that they viewed Americans as cowards who would not retaliate. We needed to prove them wrong. And we needed to weaken them. Which we did. And for that, I do commend President George Bush.

However, when we began to contemplate attacking Iraq, the whole mood of the world changed toward us. Suddenly, most of the citizens of western Europe opposed our aggression We went from being seen in a sympathetic light to being villifed even by those whose governments supported the war, like Great Britain.

And the anti-war opposition grew in the U.S. People who rallied proudly round the flag suddenly found themselves at anti-war demonstrations. This nation was once again a divided nation. What was the difference?

Where Afghanistan was a just war, there was no real justification for invading Iraq. It was totally a war of choice. And it was a very bad choice that has left us arguably more unsafe. For one thing, it has swallowed up both military and financial resources that prevented us from capturing Osam bin Laden and decimating al Queda. Instead, they have recouped in the wild tribal lands and mountains that border Pakistan. While weaker than they were before 9/11, they still present a threat to our security.

In addition, as today's Washington Post has pointed out, Iraq has gone from being a secular nation with a tyranical leader but no real nuclear weapons threat to an Islamist nation that now looks sympatheticaly towards Iran, which Bush has called one of the axis of evil. With the Iraqi election of the Shiites and Kurds, who are expected to support Iran just as we are getting ready to pressure them to give up their nuclear ambitions, we have gotten a little less safe. And unlike in Iraq, the nuclear threat in Iran is real, as it is in North Korea, another nation whose genuine threat we are less able to address because of our incredibly careless adventure in Iraq.

And somehow, the Democrats have to lay out this criticism of Bush's foreign policy failure to the American people. They must make the case that this administration has shown poor judgement and has failed miserably in Iraq. Because of this blunder, we are more vulnerable than ever. If I were a security mom, I'd be very scared and very mad at Bush right now. And it's the Democrats' job to explain to those security moms why they should be so afraid and why they need to vote the Republicans who showed such poor judgement out of office.

The Democrats must also present the case that this administration is now cutting funds for urban first responders. It has failed to secure the ports, both sea and air. And it is not prepared to deal with a bioterrorist assault. It couldn't even handle providing adequate protection for flu season. The Democrats need to remind the public that they were the ones who insisted upon stronger security and a professional Transportation Authority to provide security at our airports, replacing the reprehensible incompetency of the private companies, like Argenbright, who did the job before 9/11 and failed to do a better job even after that day. It was also the Democrats, led by Senator Joe Lieberman, who fought for a Homeland Security Department when Bush was originally opposed.

Democrats need to make a case that it was their ideas, which Republican only adopted grudgingly, that have made our country a little bit safer today and not the neo-conservative Republican inspired invasion of Iraq.

Sometimes You Get the Iraq You Get, Not the Iraq You Want

The Washington Post had this insightful analysis of the election results in Iraq. According to the Post's article, the winning Shiites and Kurds, far from being the secular and liberal forces that would usher in a western style democracy, with separation of church and state and liberal economic markets, as the neo conservatives had hoped, are dedicated to an Islamist form of government based on the Koran and they are spiritually close with the Iranian regime. Here's the money quote:

"Added Rami Khouri, Arab analyst and editor of Beirut's Daily Star: "The
idea that the United States would get a quick, stable, prosperous, pro-American
and pro-Israel Iraq has not happened. Most of the neoconservative assumptions
about what would happen have proven false."


And this is not the first time that we have miscalculated in this region to our later detriment. We originally also supported Saddam Hussein in his Baathist revolt in the sixties. And in the seventies, we supported the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan in their fight against the Soviet Union. At that time, at the tail end of the Cold War, it seemed like a good idea since we really believed that the enemy of our enemy was our friend. Unfortunately, the Taliban, Al Queda, and Osama bin Laden all proved that theory wrong. American aid, which was seen as a way to weaken the Soviet Union, only led to the destabilization of Afghanistan and was directly responsible for that unholy trinity's rise to power, which later brought deadly blowback for us.

Nation building is a dangerous game, especially in the Islamic world. The reason is that you almost never get the results you expect from other people. As history has shown time and again, other people in different regions of the world really, really do not hold the same values that we do. That is not to denigrate them. In the vast scheme of things, they may be right. We may be wrong. Maybe I should be ordering my burqa right now so that I too can get to paradise and have 72 virgins. Uh, no, that's for the men. Why then should I get that burqa? Do women get 72 Brad Pittmans? If not, is Paradise as unequal for them as life in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and now Iraq?

Anyway, the point is that we can't force people to pick the people that we want them to pick when they start with totally different cultural and religious assumptions. The irony is that Iraq was a secular nation under Saddam Hussein. For years, our foreign policy played the Iraqis off against the Iranians to keep either country from becoming the dominant one in the oil rich Gulf, as the Post article also pointed out. Now, we've assisted the Iranians' spiritual cousins in their bid to come to power. What is to stop the two of them from uniting and dumping us?

And I doubt that either of these nations is going to support Israel or a truly democratic and secular Middle East. Don't look for models of westernized political and economic stability to bloom from this desert any time soon. And yet that was precisely the fall back argument for our invasion that the neo conservatives gave when no WMDs turned up.

Let me see. We never found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. There never was a clear link between the 9/11 terrorists and Saddam Hussein, although there were plenty of links between them and Saudi Arabia. Oh yeah, and we never did catch Osama. You know, the guy who actually attacked America?

Given all this, it would seem that the purple thumbs and general air of triumph that was displayed by Congress at the recent State of the Union address was a wee bit premature. As it turns out we're actually 0 for 0 with this war of choice.

Given their general level of judgment and competence, is this really an Administration you want to trust with the rest of your future, like Social Security reform?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Thanks Sage.

I want to thank Sage for the thought-provoking comments about my Lent post. And Sage raises some interesting points and questions. Let me give you back some of my thoughts on this topic.

It's true that Protestant flocks have indeed stayed with ministers who have committed transgressions, the most visible being the extravagant sins of some of the larger than life televangelists, such as Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert (and can somebody please tell me why they're always named "Jim"?

However, most of those very public ministers were involved with bilking their gullible followers and building extravagant surroundings for themselves. In some cases, like the above ministers, they also committed adultery and preyed upon female parishoners. But, and this is an important distinction, whatever their sins, they mostly involved transgressions against other consenting adults.

However, they did take advantage of the elderly and lonely, the shut in who was often ill and desperately yearning for hope, and the young and idealistic (especially young and idealistic women). There sins, transgressions, and crimes, however, did not usually involve children. At least not with these most public ministers.

Many of their parishoners did indeed stay with them, and even defend them. However, mostly, these men, when exposed, also publicly repented. True, it may have been crocodile tears, but man did those tears flow as they sonorously admitted that they were sinners.

To my way of explaining their success at retaining their flocks' loyalty, I think it's because the world, and Americans in particular, are suckers for repentant sinners. And I don't mean this to be flip. The enduring popularity of the figure of Mary Magdalen (although we now know that she was probably not quite the penitent prostitute that ancient Church tradition portrayed her to be) is an indication of people's yearning for redemption. It's the ancient hope that beats in all of our hearts. Because we all realize that we are less than perfect, we all long for the promise that we can be redeemed. I think that's what may be behind the enduring ability of televangelists to reinvent themselves after they get caught, literally with one hand in the collection plate and the other hand on some young woman's thigh. They, like the ancient and sentimental images of the Magdalen, are symbols of the redeemability of all of us. Since most of us are not larger than life, if even these extravagant sinners can find redemption, so then can we with our much less extravagant transgressions.

However, a gullible flock that chooses to stay in a church is far different from one that has no place to go because the church is believed to be the mediator for their salvation, which was my point. At no point did the people who rallied to Jimmy Swaggert or Jim Bakker believe that their salvation would be affected if they refused to support these men. It was that they believed in and were moved by the televangelists' performances. And in neither case were the pastors accused of molesting children.

I am not really familiar with many cases of other lesser known Protestant pastors who were involved with child molestation. I am sure that the problem exists. My whole point was not that only Catholic priests molest children. The point was that if it happened to a Methodist or Lutheran parish, it would be easier for the parishoners to leave and find another church, or even another denomination since most Protestants believe that salvation flows from a relationship with Jesus, not from their church's administration of the sacraments, including the sacrament of confession, which is possibly more important than the Eucharist, since to a faithful Catholic, without confession and absolution of a priest, you are not necessarily fit to receive communion. That's where they really get hold of you, not the Eucharist, but reconciliation and the need for priestly abolution. At least, that's how I see it

But Sage also asked a very interesting question that I need to think about before I try to answer it. I don't know if I can. But here it is.

"Are people in the pews more attracted to the clergy (be it the symbol they
respresent in the Catholic church or the charm of the Protestant preacher, than
they are to Jesus Christ?"


It's certainly something to think about. And if anybody else out there happens upon this and wants to comment, I'd be very interested in what they'd think.

And thank you, again, Sage for your comments.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Lent 2005

I am a Catholic. I am a Catholic by choice, not chance. Not a cradle Catholic but a convert. And from Judaism yet. I have joined the Inquisition. Or so my parents would think.

I am always leaving Catholicism. Years ago, I had a friend who, when asked, would always quip that for Lent he was giving up Catholicism. It got big laughs. For Lent, I go back to Catholicism. Go figure.

The reason this is important is because over at Beliefnet, the resident conservative blogger has been having a field day of frothing homophobia, posting links all over the place about how the Church's pedophilia scandal was caused by a gay culture in the priesthood. This is in reaction to the conviction of Paul Shands, who by all accounts was an active and prolific pedophile. He hurt many children. Today, he is a tired, defeated old man. But, oh, in his day.

I share Loose Cannon's outrage at Paul Shands' actions. How can anybody not? However, no, I don't agree that it was caused by a gay culture. The real cause was a culture of privilege, authoritarianism and arrogance.

The real scandal was never that lots of priests molested some children and got away with it. For it was never lots of priests to start with. It was a few priests who had many victims because their superiors knew what they were doing and shielded them.The bishops even moved them from parish to parish where they could rack up even more victims. The problem wasn't only the priests, it was the bishops. The knew.

And it wasnt the culture of forgiveness as some bishops now like to say. Do they forgive abortion? Do they forgive openly gay individuals in mature, adult, consensual, and loving relationships? Do they forgive anybody who dares to publicly disagree with them? No, they do not. Many of the same bishops who wanted to refuse communion to John Kerry, who, after all, never even performed or had an abortion, are the ones who shielded pedophile priests.

I am going to now make a rash statement. But I think I can defend it.

I do not think that a scandal of this proportion could have occurred in any other denomination. The real problem is not gay culture or arrogant bishops. It's the theology.

In any other church, mosque, or synagogue, if a leader was caught molesting children, the parishoners, or members, would leave in droves. They would pull their money, their support, and their children's bodies. Why can't Catholics do that?

Because, unlike Protestants, they truly, truly believe that salvation comes from Jesus Christ, as mediated through the sacraments, which must be given by a priest in a church. Where Protestants believe that salvation is through a direct relationship with Jesus Christ and that communion is a symbolic act, Catholics believe that Christ is mystically and truly present in the wafer and wine and that without a priest to celebrate this communion, they are not fully saved.

It is through Christ, ultimately, that salvation comes, but there is, and must be, an intermediary. And to deliberately refuse the sacraments of the Church is to be doubly damned because that is an act of apostasy.

I don't know if this is a true or false belief. Many Protestants would say that one's relationship with Christ, plus reading and following scripture (Solo Scriptura) is sufficient for salvation. But, if Catholics are right that more is needed, then what these priests were allowed to get away with was an even more dreadful betrayal of of the faithful because it trapped them with an unholy choice between leaving the church they loved and risking their salvation or submitting to arrogant monsters.

Would the Holy Spirit really allow a situation where ordinary parishoners were so vulnerable to the whims of their hierarchy? I just don't know.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Raising Kaine in Virginia

Tim Kaine that is.

I promise not to turn a post on last weekend's Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Saturday night, into a "how I spent my vacation" report.

But enthusiastic Democrats were basically done licking their wounds over the defeat in the Presidential race. The wonderful thing about Virginia having a different race every year is that Democrats, and Republicans, really have much less time to brood and let bitterness fester like a wound. Within days after Kerry's sad defeat, my husband, the labor curmudgeon, was already plotting out new slogans and strategies to get labor on board for Tim Kaine.

At the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Kaine began his speech by recounting his time as a missionary in South America. He gave a moving testament to the humility it took for a priest friend of his to accept a gift of food from an impoverished and hungry family. At first, Kaine was horrified that this priest, whom he admired so much, was taking food that could have gone to feed the givers' family who were very much in need of nutrition.

On a long and silent ride back from the family's home the priest told Kaine that he knew what his younger helper was thinking. Believe me, the priest said, it takes more humility to take this gift. But could you imagine how that family would have felt had we refused them the one thing they were able to give? It would have been to deny them their human dignity.

Our dignity is in our ability to give to others. The poor often know this far better than the greedy and wealthy.

Kaine is in an interesting position. He is a devout Catholic, pro-life and against the death penalty. He has fought the good fight for social justice issues in his church parish, in city hall, and as Lt. Governor, at the state level. Many pundits in Virginia believe, however, that his stance on the death penalty will hurt him in this state. Virginia, after all, is only behind Texas in the amount of executions it holds yearly.

Several years ago, I worked with St Mary of Sorrows Social Action Committee, in Burke, Virginia. I was one of a group of people that used to meet at the cemetery of the historic church, which was built before the Civil War by Irish railroad workers, and served as a hospital during the Civil War. We met to commemorate every execution that took place in Virginia. We literally met every week or so that year. It was a particularly blood year, even by Virginia standards.

In my state, innocent men and women have been put to death. Virginia had a unique law, the 21 Day Rule. After 21 days, no new evidence could be presented in an appeal, even if it was so compelling that it would have exonerated a convicted person on death row. Innocent was not the point. A former attorney general, Mary Sue Terry, actually said that once. And she was a pro-choice Democrat, a supposed progressive. Yeah right.

Anyway, even conservatives supported and passed a law that finally abolished the 21 Day Rule. But DNA evidence exonerated a man who had spent most of his adult life on death row before this shocked people into acting.

However, it's going to be interesting to see how Tim Kaine does in this election. I want to see if I'm correct. Because I really think so-called conservative Christians don't really mean it. Christianity, that is.

They're about climbing into our beds and dictating whom we sleep with, but not about visiting the prisoner, feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless. But, let's see.

Meanwhile, here's another good link about Kaine and his opponent, Jerry Kilgore. You have to scroll down to get to it, but it's a link to several newspaper articles reviewing the performance of Kaine and Kilgore in their first debate. Also, if you scroll down and look on the right side, you'll find a link "abortion" , which will give you Tim's stand on that issue. Now go and study.


Sunday, February 06, 2005

And What I Said About Iraq

In a previous entry I expressed my doubts about Dick and George's excellent adventure in Iraq. Even while everybody was getting misty-eyed about the success of the election, I questioned something that no other pundit seemed even to be picking up on, how all the woman in what was once a highly secularized, westernized country were suddenly wearing black veils from head to toe. I recalled newspaper and magazine articles, prior to America's invasion, where Iraqi women expressely mentioned their fear that an American invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein would lead to a take over of the government by the clerics and the set up of Shariah as the law of Iraq. Now, none of these women liked Saddam Hussein. Everybody, Iraqi and American recognized that he was an amoral tyrant with two sons even more vicious than he was.

But the danger of his removal was that a power vaccuum was created that could allow militant Islam to rush in. Now this article show that that is a very real possibility. Meanwhile, Cheney and Rumsfeld, on today's round of television shows, are saying that they are not concerned about the possibility that Iraq may go fundamentalist. Their logic is that we can't expect an Iraqi democracy to be exactly like an American democracy. Translated, that means, there will be no separation of mosque and state and, once America leaves, no real protection for equal rights for women. Indeed, the constitituion that Iraqi clerics are supporting calls explicitly for denying women equal rights in marriage, divorce, and inheritance. And for enforcing the veil.


Friday, February 04, 2005

And, Yes I'm Really Going to Go, But First ...

Click on the link above for an excellent discussion in Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish, about Hillary Clinton's comments on abortion.

I don't always agree with Sullivan, especially his opinions of the war in Iraq and Social Security and health insurance reform, but he's frequently insightful on moral issues. And he's even not entirely wrong about Iraq either.

Now, I'm really, really outta here until Sunday.

But Before I Go ...

There's an excellent explanation, over at the New York Times today, of why President Bush's Social Security reform is indeed a risky scheme. Paul Krugman, one of their most insightful columnists and an awarding winning economist, has written an excellent explanation of why retirees won't get a better return on their investment and why it won't do anything to improve the financial problems with the Social Security system. Click Krugman to see it. (The Krugman link did not work, but if you click on my title, it'll take you to the article (don't ask me why but it works) And here for an excellent article on, from the Miami Herald, on why some top economists believe that the President is overstating the crisis.

Reminder: Did anybody ever find the Weapons of Mass Destruction that threatened us with the mushroom cloud? This is an administration prone to hyperbole.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Gone Fishing ...

I'll be gone for a few days. But I will still be working - I'm always working, typical Washington workaholic. I'm going to Richmond, Virginia for the State Democratic Party winter meetings and their Jefferson Jackson Day Dinner. The keynote address is being given by Senator Joseph Biden. I've heard him before - years ago in South Florida. If I remember correctly, he's a helluva speaker. I'll report back what I hear.

I'm also going to do a reality check with Virginia Dems to see if there's any support for my ideas for reviving the Democratic Party. I'll post my ideas in any case, and let you all know what other activists think.

Why this is important is because Virginia is a red state with a popular and effective Democratic governor. He's being talked about in the national press as a possible presidential contender in 2008.

Virginia also has a gubenatorial race next year - and our governor, Mark Warner, can't run again. Virginia by some weirdness is the ultimate term limit state - one term and you're out. Which means you start off a lame duck. It's either a great opportunity because you can't be voted out again so you don't have to give a damn. You can go for the brass ring.

On the other hand, you become ineffective pretty fast for the same reason - you can't run again.

Anyway, I'll report back what I see and here.

Social Security Reform, Bah Humbug!

I'll have much more to say about the SOTU later. But two things:

I'm as happy as anybody that the Iraquis had their elections. Nobody should begrudge them the triumph of that. And yes all of those who voted were incredibly brave people. Congratulations.

However, I'm still not hearing an exit strategy for us. Although I don't want to rob anybody of the triumph of that election, the truth is Vietnam had many, many elections and we still stayed there for ten years longer than we should have.

And about Social Security. Our President keeps insisting on calling it a crisis and scaring people that the system is going to be bankrupt and unable to pay out benefits if something radical and risky isn't done faster than immediately.

But plenty of voices are arguing that that's not so. The system will not be bankrupt for 75 years. That's the estimate of the Congressional Budget Office, which is considerably more non-partisan than the White House or even the Social Security Administration, which after all is filled with Bush appointees. Plenty of actual experts challenge the notion that there is an impending crisis. Yes, the system needs fixing. But far less than the radical overhaul that Bush is pushing.

To those who insist on remaining scared and inducing panic in others by calling it a crisis, I have one question. Is this Social Security crisis somewhere over there with the Iraqui weapons of mass destruction this administration assured was an imminent threat?

Bush may have "political capital" from his one percentage point victory in November, but it seems he and his administration have long ago squandered their credibility capital. Dare I bring back a phrase from the sixities? Sure I dare. These people have a credibility gap.

Here is a link to the New York Times. When you get to the main page, there is a link on the right to a bunch of articles explaining it far better than I could (sorry I couldn't link you to the specific site, but every time I tried, the link would not work, whether I cut and pasted it or retyped it myself.) There is a depth of discussion, including articles on how privatization has not worked at all in Chile. People there are not getting the returns they were promised when they switched over. And that program is supposedly very similar to the one being considered to reform our Social Security System. And according to the Los Angeles Times, besides being riskier than the present system privatization does nothing to solve the financial problems. In fact, it adds to the budget deficit and will cost more money. Doesn't help save Social Security at all.

Here's a scary thought. What if Al Gore was right the first time. This is a risky scheme with more of that fuzzy math. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Say It Ain't So, Andrew

One of my favorite bloggers, indeed a pioneer in the blogging world, is cutting back. The indefatiguable Andrew Sullivan says in his blog today that he is going to cut back his posts to finish writing a book, travel, and spend some time in more thoughtful and deliberative types of writing.

He writes:
"I know I've maddened and delighted, inspired and infuriated, provoked and calmed, irritated and moved you. I know this because you've told me in what now amount to hundreds of thousands of emails. I've made friends with people I have never met. I've learned more from your emails than I ever would from merely reading the papers. I am immeasurably grateful for that ..."

I am only small fish compared to him and some of my other favorite bloggers like Mickey Kaus who produces Kausfiles. However it's because of Sullivan that I decided to plunge into the blogosphere. In addition to maddening, delighting and infuriating me, he inspired and provoked me into starting this blog. Because of his early pioneering efforts and his unshakeable conviction that the blogosphere is the modern equivalent of the New England town hall meeting where every voice got heard and every opinion mattered, here I am.

Now, if you haven't already done so, I urge anybody who sees this page to surf over to Andrew Sullivan's incomprabable blog. Now, while we're talking about how he's infuriated me lately ...
a


It's A Dirty Job ...

Yeah, but somebody's gotta do it. I mean, defend the dummies of the world. The ones with the appalling opinions that sensible people wish would shut up. One of those dummies is a Colorado professor named Ward Churchill. While riding into work this morning, I heard the following report from NPR about him. Here's the money quote:

"Colorado legislators and some students are calling on the University of
Colorado to fire a professor who wrote an essay comparing some victims of the
Sept. 11 attacks to Nazis. Ward Churchill's essay went largely unnoticed until
an upstate New York college invited him to speak this week. The invitation drew
protests from victims' families and was cancelled after the college received
death threats."
According the rest of the NPR report, he actually likened these victims to "little Eichmans." His point is that they were not innocent bystanders because some of them worked for companies that support the economic and political structure of America, which he, no doubt, finds reprehensible. He further said, in his essay, that they were merely getting a taste of what America has inflicted upon the Palestinians and other oppressed groups.

So, according to his logic, some secretary or mailroom delivery boy who was unlucky enough to be in the World Trade Center on that tragic day got what she or he deserved for supporting "American Imperialism in the third world." Yeah, right. And every blonde who wears a mini-skirt is asking to be raped. I thought we dispensed with blaming the victim eons ago. Silly me.

If Professor Churchill isn't a candidate for one of Andrew Sullivan's Sontag Awards, I don't know what is.

However, however ...

Although I obviously don't agree with the good professor, I also disagree with those who pressured the New York school into disinviting him to speak and even more with those who are pressing to have him fired from the University of Colorado. This goes beyond the first amendment protections. In truth, Professor Churchill already has that protection, regardless of whether either school caves to the pressure. That's because all the first amendment does is to protect citizens from government censorship. Our government can't officially silence us, and most important, it can't throw us into jail for speaking our minds, regardless of how unpopular or stupid our opinions may be.

And as far as I know, neither the federal government nor the state of Colorado is hauling Professor Churchill's butt to jail. Nor are they shutting down the magazine that published his essay or the bookstores that might carry any books he might have written. They are doing nothing to interfere with his right to speak.

However, the first amendment does not guarantee anybody a podium either. That means that if I don't like your views, I am not legally obligated to post them on my blog (although I might because I'm a contrarian). A magazine editor does not have to publish them in his magazine. A bookstore is not obligated to stock his books and a university does not have to invite him to speak.

Having said that, I think it's bad policy, once the invitation has been issued to disinvite somebody and it's even worse policy to fire him or her because of public pressure to do so.

As much as you, I, or the vast majority of people may dislike hearing this guy's opinions, I personally believe passionately in the "marketplace of ideas." This goes beyond an anti-censhorship position. It's actually a free market issue.

The very best way to combat a reprehensible idea is to debate it publicly. By now, history should have taught us that bad ideas never go away no matter how much you try to censor them. Regardless of how vigorously Europe tries to quash hate speech, neo Nazis rear their ugly skinheads. And no matter how many times well-intentioned people try to ban it, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion keeps getting recycled.

Anything you censor only continues to fester like a pustular boil. But expose it to the fresh air and sunshine of the bustling marketplace where different ideas jostle for attention, and it's like lancing that boil. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor. Yes, I know better, but I just couldn't resist.)

Many of the people who are pushing for Professor Churchill to be fired are Republicans, including campus Young Republicans. To me this is very sad because some of those same conservative students, on other campuses, have themselves been the victims of the urge to censor coming from the left. Such political correctness may keep you from having to listen to things you don't like to hear. But somebody else is also hearing those ideas, even if it is in the underground; and by your ignoring them, you lose the opportunity to respond and truly combat bad ideas.

The only way to shut down bad ideas is to debate them freely and openly. Anybody who doesn't believe that doesn't have faith in the free market. And that's a failure of nerve.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Democrats in Search of a Future

The Democrats are about to do something that will affect their own fate and, if they do it right, hopefully, the future of this nation. Yes, they’re about to gather to pick their new leader. But the real significance is not just that they’re picking a new chairman. It’s whom they pick that will signal a lot about the direction the party intends to take over these next few years and whether they can win back the House, Senate and even the White House.

Are they going to lurch to the right? Will they slip leftward? Depends on the candidate they choose.

My hands-on favorite is Howard Dean. Let me confess straight up that I wasn’t a Deaniac during the primaries. I honestly didn’t think Dean would have made a good president, and so my choices were, in order of preference: John Edwards and John Kerry. And I don’t regret it. Both were excellent candidates. The Kerry-Edwards campaign, however, left a great deal to be desired. I’m not talking about the ground operation, the state-by-state get out the vote drives. The ground operation couldn’t have been better. But the campaign strategy, with it’s confused messages, it’s slowness to respond to attacks, and its refusal to go negative when Bush did is a whole other thing. Let’s just say, I am so very glad that Bob Shrum is getting a new day job and I wish him all the best at it. So that he doesn’t come back to run any other presidential races for the Democrats.

Howard Dean is the only one currently running for party chairman who seems to truly understand the problem, which is that it’s the mechanics of the Democratic Party that need fixing, not the message. And especially not the values.

Dean won me over with the following quote: “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for. But I admire their discipline.”

Bingo.

And not just their discipline, but also their skill at crafting strategy, their dedication to core values, their sense of who their base is, and their investment in ideas. It’s been said before, and it can’t be repeated too often, conservative Republicans haven’t focused on winning an election here and there; they’ve built a movement. They have an overarching strategy and the discipline to implement it.

For tips on how they succeeded we need to study, not Jerry Falwell, but Karl Rove. Yes, we do indeed need to imitate the Republicans to get back in the game and win elections. But it’s not their message that we ought to be copying, it’s their methods. To modify slightly a line that originally came from James Carville, “It’s the strategy, stupid.”

Let’s look at what our strategy shouldn’t be:

DO WE REALLY NEED ALABAMA?

Tim Roemer, one of the other candidates for the chairman’s post and a respected former congressman, is basing his campaign on the need for the party to move to the center. “We have evacuated the South,” he contends.

For years, everybody in both parties and the pundits who follow them, like the camp women who followed General Hooker’s civil war troops, have assumed that the key to winning a national election lies in the South and Southwest.

But is that conventional wisdom really true?

Ok, let’s take Alabama as an example. In the last election, Alabamans, in their infinite wisdom, voted to keep on their books the law that segregated schools. Of course, their schools are no longer segregated since, by federal law, all the state segregation laws were overturned thirty years ago and Alabama public schools are probably more integrated than many suburban schools in Boston. However, in a referendum to remove the segregationist language from an already invalid law, just as a formality and a concession to reality, the citizens voted it down and instead chose to keep segregation in schools as a state law, if not an actual fact. And here’s why.

The language in the new law that would have replaced it, would have affirmed that every child has a constitutional right to a public education. Opponents of replacing the segregationist law pointed out that guaranteeing the right to public education for all children could have led to increased taxes to support more schools.

Without commenting on the wisdom, logic, or sincerity of that reasoning, would somebody please tell me that they actually believe that these voters are ever going to be the core of the Democratic Party? Do we want them to be?

Call me crazy here but somehow I think there’s a better way to win elections than to pander to Southern bigots, whatever rationale they give for their bigotry, or right wing religious fanatics who want to dictate what goes on in people’s bedrooms, doctors’ offices, and pulpits.

THE REPUBLICAN WAY TO DO IT.

Yes, we need to steal a page from Karl Rove’s playbook But let’s take the right one.

When the Republicans were losing elections, they never suggested moving to the left, or even too far to the center. They never even suggested ditching their religious base in the South and implementing a Northern strategy.

But we should.

Now, I’ll be the first to confess that the only time in high school that I passed math was when I broke my wrist in gym and my coach, who was also a math teacher, gave me extra tutoring in geometry. But even I can count. And the one thing that even a math-challenged blogger like me knows is that there are more voters in the Northeastern states than there are on the great prairie of the Midwest or the savannahs of the South. When you see all those red versus blue maps, with their wide swath of red in the middle of the country, meant to intimidate us into thinking that it is somehow undemocratic and elitist to dispute the wisdom of those states’ voter preferences because they occupy what appears to be most of the country, it helps to keep in mind that those states often contain a lot of land, mountains, rocks, trees, otter and deer. Rocks, trees, deer, and otter don’t vote. Nor do silos and barns. People vote. And those places often have more mountains and rocks than people. So do the reds really represent a significant majority in this country, despite what the map looks like?

Perhaps it’s more elitist and undemocratic to constantly dismiss the citizens of people- dense urban areas like Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and San Francisco who vote differently than voters do in Montana, Idaho, and rural Alabama. Not everybody in LA is a movie star. Nor is the average voter in Washington, DC a well-connected K Street lobbyist. Many of the citizens of these, and other urban centers, are actually poor people who need the earned income tax credit, social security benefits, better schools, less guns on their streets, better after school programs, and better jobs more than they need Baptist preachers telling them whom they should sleep with or an investment counselor telling them how to invest in their private social security accounts.

This whole idea that professional pundits hold that the votes and opinions of those in New York and California are less valid or moral than those of the voters in the so-called “fly over” areas is actually reverse snobbery. It’s an undemocratic and rightwing notion that ought to be examined far more carefully before being accepted as the conventional wisdom.

For example, my own family in New York City is not wealthy. They’re not like the characters in the television show “Sex and the City.” Not a Samantha or a Carrie in the bunch. Nor a Will or a Grace. They are teachers, secretaries, waitresses and beauticians (not hair stylists in fancy salons). In short, they’re the middleclass. One of my cousins, in fact, teaches special education for the Archdiocese of New York. There are many people, like my family, in the blue states who attend churches and synagogues and mosques and Buddhist, Hindu, or Jain temples. They too are people of faith. And, yes, they vote blue. They vote for better education, and also for tolerance for gays. They vote against the war in Iraq and for more funding for tighter security at New York’s seaports and airports. And they do vote for choice for women. They understood John Kerry’s equation because they too personally oppose abortion but know too well the agony that women go through when confronted by an unwanted pregnancy. They know because they’ve counseled them in schools as well as churches and clinics. So, they also vote for better access to contraceptives that they themselves probably won’t use. In short, they vote their conscience and their compassion.

I am not ashamed to be one of those urban, ethnic, Northeastern and liberal voters. We are the base of the Democratic Party. And we’re the ones its strategy should begin with.

Just as Karl Rove excites the Republican base in Alabama with amendments to ban gay marriage and support school prayer, Democrats should start by energizing our base with talk about the importance of fighting poverty, saving Social Security, and defending civil rights for Blacks, women, and gays. Instead of trying to reinvent ourselves to appeal to those in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Idaho, how about standing up for what we actually believe, regaining the respect and trust of disaffected Democrats, and winning voters in New York, California, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington State, Maryland, Massachusetts, and even Ohio? Seems like there are actually quite a lot of states where we are competitive. And where there also are lots of actual, you know, voters.

The important thing to remember is that Howard Dean is the one person running for the chairmanship of the Democratic Party who understands the things I’m talking about. He still wants to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. On the other hand, Tim Roemer said, we need to appeal to more than just the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

But, like Howard Dean, I believe, no, we really don’t.




A Cynic In the Briar Patch

Ok, I really, really don't want to be the skunk at the garden party. And I am as happy as anybody else that the voting went relatively well in Iraq. I would love to see a genuine democracy there, or anywhere. I feel it's the best form of government. Or, as was observed by Winston Churchill, the worst form of government - except for everything else.

However, in today's Washington Post several columnists, notably Richard Cohen and E.J. Dionne, made the point that our joy at the elections should be moderated by caution. As many others have also pointed out, the rule of the majority is only half of what it takes to be a modern constitutional and representative democracy. The other half, no less important, is respect for the rights of the minority. Even we still have occasional trouble with that one. And, so, we do have to wait to see how the Shiite majority treats the Sunni minority.

But there's another group whose rights need protecting. And something else the jubiliant photos are showing that, so far, no other pundit has picked up on. That's the women in veils. All the women in black veils. Long lines of them queued up to vote.

It's great that they're voting. But I remember long before America invaded Iraq, most of the photos of the women in the newspapers showed secular, westernized women with their hair nicely coiffed and wearing modest and fashionable dresses and pantsuits. In interviews many women, who were in business and active in their communities, expressed fear that an American invasion, if it unleashed chaos, would leave a vaccum that religious factions would fill. These women expressed no desire to give up western clothes, put on a veil, or lose their freedom to move around their country. In fact, one of those interviewed owned a beauty shop. So, no I don't think she'd voluntarily don a veil. But I bet she's wearing one now. I'd make that guess because that's all I ever see in the newspapers. How about you?

Look, there's nothing wrong with devout Muslim women wearing veils. In fact, I think that the French law forbidding it in French schools was just plain wrong. But what I think I'm seeing here is women who have put on the veil because that's the only safe way they can leave their homes.

I am heartened that twenty-five women seem to have been elected to public office in Iraq; so they're not exactly the Taliban over there. Still, I wonder about all those women who used to go to hairdressers, wear nice dresses and lipstick, and who even served in the Iraqi army once. And is the black veil there really their choice? Freedom, after all, frequently boils down to the facts and small change of daily life.