Monday, January 31, 2005

The Vote and the War

Here's a really good point by John Aravosis of AMERICAblog:

Yes, the elections in Iraq are great. But was it worth hundreds of billions of dollars of OUR money and an ongoing costs of billions per week? Was it worth 1500 American lives, and counting? I'm not so sure, and I doubt the US public is so sure. It's cute for politicians like Bush to play the "isn't it sweet that they can vote" game, and try to deflect us from the cost. But politics, like life, is about costs. If you asked the American public if they'd pay $500 billion and 3,000 American lives and put the country into a massive deficit for the US to go it alone and free some third world country from dictatorship so they could vote in free elections, I'm not so sure folks would be so quick to say yes.

Health Care and the Middle Class

It seems clear that Bush wants to destroy the middle class. Why he wants to do this is bewildering given our comsumer based economy. Who is going to buy the products that bring profits to the big corporations if the masses have no disposable income? I guess the Republicans aren't thinking that far ahead. They just want to do away with minimum wage, relegate the elderly to poverty and undermine a health care system based on shared risk. Far from working to get everyone properly insured, this administration is working to make sure no one is insured - at least not with the kind of insurance that makes early detection and preventive medical care part of the package.

The Los Angeles Times reports on this issue in its article, "Healthcare Overhaul Is Quietly Underway" by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar.

Emboldened by their success at the polls, the Bush administration and Republican leaders in Congress believe they have a new opportunity to move the nation away from the system of employer-provided health insurance that has covered most orking Americans for the last half-century.

In its place, they want to erect a system in which workers — instead of looking to employers for health insurance — would take personal responsibility for protecting themselves and their families: They would buy high-deductible "catastrophic" insurance policies to cover major medical needs, then pay routine costs with money set aside in tax-sheltered health savings accounts.

Elements of that approach have been on the conservative agenda for years, but what has suddenly put it on the fast track is GOP confidence that the political balance of power has changed.
Critics say the Republican approach is really an attempt to shift the risks, massive costs and knotty problems of healthcare from employers to individuals. And they say the GOP is moving forward with far less public attention or debate than have surrounded Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security.

Indeed, Bush's health insurance agenda is far more developed than his Social Security plans and is advancing at a rapid clip through a combination of actions by government, insurers, employers and individuals.

Health savings accounts, known as HSAs, have already been approved. They were created as a little-noticed appendage to the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill.

Of course what will happen is that poor people will continue to use the emergency room for primary care and middle class people will put off going to the doctor until there is a serious problem.

A typical catastrophic health insurance plan carries an annual deductible of about $1,600 for an individual when purchased through a large employer. That means the worker pays the first $1,600 of healthcare expenses each year. By contrast, under the more comprehensive, employer-provided health insurance programs common today, the company begins to pay after about $300 in expenses have been incurred. Deductibles for families are considerably higher under both types of plans.

"There's an issue about whether these things will work," Rodgers said. "[But] we could end up coming back 10 years from now and everybody will have high-deductible plans and [health savings accounts]."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who agrees with Bush that individuals should take more responsibility for controlling health costs, is nonetheless skeptical that HSAs, coupled with high-deductible insurance, will prove workable as a substitute for the present system."

I think the American people are going to want more of a safety net than the administration has been willing to commit to this far," Wyden said.

Still, catastrophic health insurance is gaining credibility as a policy option.

This article was also picked up by Smirking Chimp and I found the following post among the comments:

The company we work for is doing this now. This year, we were forced to enroll in a healthcare plan that "gave" us a debit card with $3000 on it to cover all our family's healthcare costs for the year. We are responsible for shopping for the best prices and services with no help from the insurance company or our health care people at work. When we asked how we are supposed to know what prices are fair and reasonable when we go to the doctor, no one was able to answer us or give us any lists of costs or information. We basically were told it was up to us to figure it out by calling around.

We asked specifics to try to get an answer. For example, what if our kid gets a bad ear infection? Do we try to get him in to see his doctor and let the doctor decide if he needs to be admitted to the hospital for IV fluids and antibiotics? Or should we go straight to the emergency room? Which is more economical? Their answer: That's something you'll have to find out. We don't know, and it's not our job.

On our first two visits to the doctor this year, check-ups, the doctor's offices weren't even able to tell us what we'd be charged for our visits.

Nationwide? Loooovely. That should be a real nightmare.

I do not know how to say this more clearly: this is not right. Morally, this is not right. The rich will always be able to afford the best of medical care. And I wonder if Congress is going to drop its comprehensive medical coverage for its members in favor of catastrophic insurance only. This whole enterprise is one more plan to force the working and professional classes into subsidizing the obscene profits of the big corporations and the equally obscene salaries of their CEOs.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

A different Inauguration Day

If I seem to have Inauguration Day on my mind, it's because rituals and symbols are powerful and they matter. I want to share with you a piece by Sister Joan Chittester, whom I have admired for years. Apparently she is living in Ireland these days because she notes what was on the front page in Irish newspapers on January 20. In "What the Rest of the World Watched on Inauguration Day " she writes:

Dublin, on U.S. Inauguration Day, didn't seem to notice. Oh, they played a few clips that night of the American president saying, "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."

But that was not their lead story.

The picture on the front page of The Irish Times was a large four-color picture of a small Iraqi girl. Her little body was a coil of steel. She sat knees up, cowering, screaming madly into the dark night. Her white clothes and spread hands and small tight face were blood-spattered. The blood was the blood of her father and mother, shot through the car window in Tal Afar by American soldiers while she sat beside her parents in the car, her four brothers and sisters in the back seat.

A series of pictures of the incident played on the inside page, as well. A 12-year-old brother, wounded in the fray, falls face down out of the car when the car door opens, the pictures show. In another, a soldier decked out in battle gear, holds a large automatic weapon on the four children, all potential enemies, all possible suicide bombers, apparently, as they cling traumatized to one another in the back seat and the child on the ground goes on screaming in her parent's blood.

A few days ago, someone sent me an email full of pictures of the hardships American servicepeople undergo with the instruction: "Support our troops because they are protecting our freedom". Here's what I wrote back:

If anything those pictures should convince us of the horrors of war and make us work more than ever to BRING OUR TROOPS HOME. They are not “protecting our freedom” The Iraqis never threatened our freedom in any way. We attacked them entirely without provocation based on out and out lies thereby instigating a precedent-breaking doctrine for United States foreign policy known as “pre-emptive war”. They did not have weapons of mass destruction and even if they did, so do we. Does that give other nations the right to attack us? They had nothing to do with 9-11 and any suggestion that they did is simply a lie. They were not Muslim extremists – they were a secular state and Saddam had only contempt for Bin Laden. Yes, Saddam was a brutal dictator but there are plenty of those in the world; are we to attack them all? We attacked them to steal their oil and to hand obscene profits to Halliburton. If anything the war is only enhancing recruitment efforts for militant extremists who, because of the instability in Iraq due to our invasion, are now streaming into the country, and who, by the way, hate our policies, not our freedom. Anyway, this administration is doing its level best to take away all our freedoms (remember the Bill of Rights that’s been decimated; all except the 2nd amendment that is. I suppose Gonzales thinks that’s also “quaint” the way he thinks the Geneva Conventions are “quaint”). Heck, nothing probably makes the terrorists happier than to see Americans sell their liberty down the river due to fear. I grieve for my country which I love more than I can tell you and of which I am now deeply, deeply ashamed.

I now feel more than ashamed. I don't even have a word for the feeling I have upon reading about that little girl covered in her parents' blood.

More on the Inauguration Address

I know I've posted about this before but Beliefnet has published an article entitled, "Decoding Bush's God-Talk" which is considerably more broad-reaching than the information I offered you earlier about the biblical allusions within the inauguration address. I suggest you put the examples below together with the earlier post to get a really comprehensive picture of the religious language the president employed. Another helpful analysis of Bush's use of God-talk is found in an article by David Domke and Kevin Coe at Common Dreams.

I find it quite disturbing that the president is deliberately using code to speak to his base in ways that bypass the awareness of those who are not right-wing religionists all the while paying lip-service to tolerance. Here are the highlights:

"After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet, years of repose, years of sabbatical—and then there came a day of fire."
[This phrase contains three religious allusions. The first is reminiscent of Hebrew Bible language, which refers throughout to Judgment Day as a day of fire; the second allusion is to the New Testament Book of Revelation, which also refers to Judgment Day as a day of fire; the third reference is to the story of Pentecost, found in the New Testament Book of Acts, in which the Holy Spirit descends to earth as wind and fire. In addition, "Day of Fire" is the name of an up-and-coming Christian rock band.]

"From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this Earth has rights, and dignity and matchless value because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and Earth."
[Elegant phrasing that resonates with Christians, Jews and Muslims.]

"Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave."
[This is a reference to the Apostle Paul, writing in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.]

"America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies"
[Resonant among Catholics because Pope John Paul II uses "human dignity" often when opposing abortion, euthanasia, and poverty.]

"You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, [This is a nod to evangelicals and conservative Catholics, have been united with the president in their disdain for moral relativism.] and courage triumphs."

"In America's ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character—on integrity and tolerance toward others and the rule of conscience in our own lives." [This is a way to show his religious tolerance and pluralism, particularly to seculars, as well as liberal Christians and Jews.]

"That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, [These words will please evangelicals, particularly activists such as Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family.] and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran and the varied faiths of our people." [Here, the president moves seamlessly to liberal God-talk that will soothe moderate Americans and will thrill the nation's Muslims, who say they've been betrayed by the Bush Administration's Patriot Act.]

"In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service and mercy and a heart for the weak." [Resonant with Catholics, who hear these words in liturgies, prayers and official writing.]

"Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor [Vague reference to Jesus, who says in Matthew 22:39, "Love your neighbor as yourself."] and surround the lost with love."

"Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth." [Resonant with pro-life Christians.]

"From the perspective of a single day, including this day of dedication, [Resonant for most religious folks. For example: Protestants who hold "dedication" ceremonies for their newborns; Mormons who use the term when they "dedicate" new temples; Christians and Jews who understand the term to mean "sabbath" and who also use the phrase when "dedicating" new churches and synagogues; and Buddhists who use the term to describe specific holy days] the issues and questions before our country are many."

"We felt the unity and fellowship..." [Well-worn Protestant word, often used to describe Sunday coffee hours and the general feeling of community Christians have when they are together]

"And we can feel that same unity and pride whenever America acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free."
[This one is loaded with meaning. The main meaning comes from the Bible, where it appears in Isaiah 61, and then again when Jesus declares in Luke 4 that God has sent him to "set the captives free." But evangelicals also use the term to refer to what they call spiritual warfare, meaning the war between Christians and the devil. They also use this term to refer to setting people free from homosexuality and from addiction to pornography. It is also used in reference to people who aren't Christian, who need to be "set free" from their current beliefs. In addition, it resonates among Jews thinking about Passover. And the phrase is a nod to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who often used words like this in his speeches.]

"We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; [Here, the president responds to particular criticism from moderates, who've been alarmed by conservative Christians who have been saying that America is a special country, a "chosen nation" akin to the Biblical Israel.] God moves and chooses as he wills." [Nice rhetorical switch. This phrase explains what more mainstream (but still conservative) evangelicals believe--that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and in control of all things. This idea harkens to the theology of John Calvin, whose theology centering on "the sovereignty of God" has gained renewed popularity among evangelicals. Click here for Deborah Caldwell's 2002 article about George Bush's religious rhetoric.]

"We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul." [Poetic language that resonate well with religious people because these are universally accepted spiritual words]

"History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction set by liberty and the author of liberty." [More Calvinist language]

"May God bless you, and may he watch over [Somewhat unexpected wording, again harkening to the "awesome God" of Calvin who is attentive to the world] the United States of America."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The VP is an embarrassment

Well, finally the Washington Post is showing some guts and is complaining about the way Dick Cheney represented us at the Auschwitz Anniversary ceremony on Thursday:

At [Thursday's] gathering of world leaders in southern Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United States was represented by Vice President Cheney. The ceremony at the Nazi death camp was outdoors, so those in attendance, such as French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were wearing dark, formal overcoats and dress shoes or boots. Because it was cold and snowing, they were also wearing gentlemen's hats. In short, they were dressed for the inclement weather as well as the sobriety and dignity of the event.

The vice president, however, was dressed in the kind of attire one typically wears to operate a snow blower.

Cheney stood out in a sea of black-coated world leaders because he was wearing an olive drab parka with a fur-trimmed hood. It is embroidered with his name. It reminded one of the way in which children's clothes are inscribed with their names before they are sent away to camp. And indeed, the vice president looked like an awkward boy amid the well-dressed adults.

Like other attendees, the vice president was wearing a hat. But it was not a fedora or a Stetson or a fur hat or any kind of hat that one might wear to a memorial service as the representative of one's country. Instead, it was a knit ski cap, embroidered with the words "Staff 2001." It was the kind of hat a conventioneer might find in a goodie bag.

It is also worth mentioning that Cheney was wearing hiking boots -- thick, brown, lace-up ones. Did he think he was going to have to hike the 44 miles from Krakow -- where he had made remarks earlier in the day -- to Auschwitz?

There is no excuse for it. Cheney is essentially thumbing his nose at Europe and yes, the Europeans were insulted. It was cold for the Inauguration but the Vice President dressed with all due solemnity for that occasion. Can you imagine going to Auschwitz and wearing a ski cap that says "Staff" on it???

Not only was his attire inappropriate but he used the opportunity he had to speak in order to score points for the administration's warmongering agenda. Mike Whitney writes the following:

The appearance of Dick Cheney at the 60 year commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz is an affront to anyone who has even minimal regard for the horrendous suffering of the victims of the Holocaust. Cheney is the driving force behind America's global resource-war and is personally liable for the estimated 100,000 dead Iraqis and countless others maimed or wounded. To hear Cheney recite his duplicitous platitudes about "freedom" and "evil" is enough to leave even the most hardened cynic among us retching.

"The story of the camps reminds us that evil is real and it must be called by its name and it must be confronted," Cheney opined.

Yes, Dick, and we also appreciate the "banality of evil" that appears in the form of dumpy, mid-level, plant managers whose meaningless lives of plodding mediocrity are only enriched by rising to power, where their fascination with inflicting pain on other human beings can be fully realized.

Is there a more apt summary of Cheney's miserable tenure in government?

How could the architect of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air force base and the countless other gulags in the Cheney archipelago of concentration camps, be invited to speak at Auschwitz?

It boggles the mind.

Are the Jews who suffered under Hitler's despotic boot-heel comforted by the idea that the latest flourish of racism and sectarian hatred is now directed at Muslims rather than Jews?

If so, that's false comfort, indeed.

The root of racism is everywhere the same; only the names and the groups are changed. Cheney's record on the topic is entirely straightforward. He fought to defend Africa's apartheid government to the very end. He supported the Reagan administration's decision to put Nelson Mandela on the State Dept "list of terrorists". He resisted "tooth-and-nail" the movement to celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday as a national holiday. And, now, he presides over a chain of prison camps that exclusively houses Muslims; the unwitting victims of his apocryphal war on terror.

Is there a difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Islam? Or is it just part of a broader political calculation?

Cheney's delusional ramblings were not without their moments of stunning irony: "The death camps were created by men with a high opinion of themselves-some of them well-educated and possessed of refined manners-but without conscience. And, where there is no conscience, there is no tolerance towards defense against evil...and no limit to the crimes that follow."

It seems to me that Cheney may have begun work on his own epitaph?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Cat Blogging Friday!

This is the best picture of Henry ever!

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

An Anti-War Republican

The following questions were asked during a speech before the US House of Representatives by Republican Congressman Ron Paul. I am especially concerned about number 17 and number 22.

If we’re willing to consider a different foreign policy, we should ask ourselves a few questions:

1. What if the policies of foreign intervention, entangling alliances, policing the world, nation building, and spreading our values through force are deeply flawed?

2. What if it is true that Saddam Hussein never had weapons of mass destruction?

3. What if it is true that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were never allies?

4. What if it is true that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein did nothing to enhance our national security?

5. What if our current policy in the Middle East leads to the overthrow of our client oil states in the region?

6. What if the American people really knew that more than 20,000 American troops have suffered serious casualties or died in the Iraq war, and 9% of our forces already have been made incapable of returning to battle?

7. What if it turns out there are many more guerrilla fighters in Iraq than our government admits?

8. What if there really have been 100,000 civilian Iraqi casualties, as some claim, and what is an acceptable price for “doing good?”

9. What if Rumsfeld is replaced for the wrong reasons, and things become worse under a Defense Secretary who demands more troops and an expansion of the war?

10. What if we discover that, when they do vote, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis support Islamic (Sharia) law over western secular law, and want our troops removed?

11. What if those who correctly warned of the disaster awaiting us in Iraq are never asked for their opinion of what should be done now?

12. What if the only solution for Iraq is to divide the country into three separate regions, recognizing the principle of self-determination while rejecting the artificial boundaries created in 1918 by non-Iraqis?

13. What if it turns out radical Muslims don’t hate us for our freedoms, but rather for our policies in the Middle East that directly affected Arabs and Muslims?

14. What if the invasion and occupation of Iraq actually distracted from pursuing and capturing Osama bin Laden?

15. What if we discover that democracy can’t be spread with force of arms?

16. What if democracy is deeply flawed, and instead we should be talking about liberty, property rights, free markets, the rule of law, localized government, weak centralized government, and self-determination promoted through persuasion, not force?

17. What if Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda actually welcomed our invasion and occupation of Arab/Muslim Iraq as proof of their accusations against us, and it served as a magnificent recruiting tool for them?

18. What if our policy greatly increased and prolonged our vulnerability to terrorists and guerilla attacks both at home and abroad?

19. What if the Pentagon, as reported by its Defense Science Board, actually recognized the dangers of our policy before the invasion, and their warnings were ignored or denied?

20. What if the argument that by fighting over there, we won’t have to fight here, is wrong, and the opposite is true?

21. What if we can never be safer by giving up some of our freedoms?

22. What if the principle of pre-emptive war is adopted by Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and others, “justified” by current U.S. policy?

23. What if pre-emptive war and pre-emptive guilt stem from the same flawed policy of authoritarianism, though we fail to recognize it?

24. What if Pakistan is not a trustworthy ally, and turns on us when conditions deteriorate?

25. What if plans are being laid to provoke Syria and/or Iran into actions that would be used to justify a military response and pre-emptive war against them?

26. What if our policy of democratization of the Middle East fails, and ends up fueling a Russian-Chinese alliance that we regret-- an alliance not achieved even at the height of the Cold War?

27. What if the policy forbidding profiling at our borders and airports is deeply flawed?

28. What if presuming the guilt of a suspected terrorist without a trial leads to the total undermining of constitutional protections for American citizens when arrested?

29. What if we discover the army is too small to continue policies of pre-emption and nation-building? What if a military draft is the only way to mobilize enough troops?

30. What if the “stop-loss” program is actually an egregious violation of trust and a breach of contract between the government and soldiers? What if it actually is a backdoor draft, leading to unbridled cynicism and rebellion against a voluntary army and generating support for a draft of both men and women? Will lying to troops lead to rebellion and anger toward the political leadership running the war?

31. What if the Pentagon’s legal task-force opinion that the President is not bound by international or federal law regarding torture stands unchallenged, and sets a precedent which ultimately harms Americans, while totally disregarding the moral, practical, and legal arguments against such a policy?

32. What if the intelligence reform legislation-- which gives us bigger, more expensive bureaucracy-- doesn’t bolster our security, and distracts us from the real problem of revamping our interventionist foreign policy?

33. What if we suddenly discover we are the aggressors, and we are losing an unwinnable guerrilla war?

34. What if we discover, too late, that we can’t afford this war-- and that our policies have led to a dollar collapse, rampant inflation, high interest rates, and a severe economic downturn?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Mandatory Gambling

Someone at Digby posted the following comment. This sums it up:

Wall Street retirement plan; broker-managed, commission-based accounts; from those wonderful folks who gave you Enron...

Help out Bush's buddies; open a Wall Street account today. It doesn't matter how your account does, Bush's cronies will be all right--they'll always be guaranteed a fee. And maybe, if you're lucky, his brokerage pals will get rich enough to contribute to one of the faith-based organizations that you'll need in your old age.

Senator Byrd and the Rice Confirmation Vote

The Guardian has published the Senate roll call on the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. It is disheartening to see that 32 Democratic senators voted in her favor. Only 12 had the courage to vote no.

One of those 12 was the truly great Senator Robert Byrd. Throughout the Bush administration, Byrd's articles and speeches have gladdened my heart. He invariably steeps his remarks with references to the Constitution (a copy of which he always keeps in his breast pocket) as well as the writings of the Founders. A true patriot, Senator Byrd is a voice crying in the wilderness reminding us over and over of what it means to be a republic.

His speech on the Senate floor given in opposition to Rice's nomination is just one powerful example. I give you only a brief excerpt here and I urgently recommend that you read the entire transcript.

There is no question that the President has the inherent authority to repel attacks against our country, but this National Security Strategy is unconstitutional on its face. It takes the checks and balances established in the Constitution that limit the President’s ability to use our military at his pleasure, and throws them out the window.

This doctrine of preemptive strikes places the sole decision of war and peace in the hands of the President and undermines the Constitutional power of Congress to declare war. The Founding Fathers required that such an important issue of war be debated by the elected representatives of the people in the Legislative Branch precisely because no single man could be trusted with such an awesome power as bringing a nation to war by his decision alone. And yet, that it exactly what the National Security Strategy proposes.

Not only does this pernicious doctrine of preemptive war contradict the Constitution, it barely acknowledges its existence. The National Security Strategy makes only one passing reference to the Constitution: it states that "America’s constitution" -- that is "constitution" with a small C -- "has served us well." As if the Constitution does not still serve this country well! One might ask if that reference to the Constitution was intended to be a compliment or an obituary?

As National Security Advisor, Dr. Rice was in charge of developing the National Security Strategy. She also spoke out forcefully in support of the dangerous doctrine of preemptive war. In one speech, she argues that there need not be an imminent threat before the United States attacks another nation: "So as a matter of common sense," said Dr. Rice on October 1, 2002, "the United States must be prepared to take action, when necessary, before threats have fully materialized."

But that "matter of common sense" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. For that matter, isn’t it possible to disagree with this “matter of common sense?” What is common sense to one might not be shared by another. What’s more, matters of common sense can lead people to the wrong conclusions. John Dickinson, the chief author of the Articles of Confederation, said in 1787, “Experience must be our only guide; reason may mislead us.” As for me, I will heed the experience of Founding Fathers, as enshrined in the Constitution, over the reason and “common sense” of the Administration’s National Security Strategy.

We can all agree that the President, any President, has the inherent duty and power to repel an attack on the United States. But where in the Constitution can the President claim the right to strike at another nation before it has even threatened our country, as Dr. Rice asserted in that speech? To put it plainly, Dr. Rice has asserted that the President holds far more of the war power than the Constitution grants him.

Senator Byrd is in his 80s. I pray that he's able to hang on a little longer and not deprive us of his sanity and eloquence any time soon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Bloodiest Day

Multiply this times 36. That's today.

Climate Change Catastrophe

Sometimes I feel like Cassandra - cursed with the ability to see into the future only not to be believed. A few days ago someone remarked on the unseasonably mild weather for this time of year in Tulsa. "It seems like spring," she exclaimed with a delighted smile on her face.

"Yes," I replied. "It's very disturbing."

"Disturbing? Why would you say that?"

"Well," I continued. "I'm deeply concerned about global warming."

"Oh," she answered dismissively. "We don't know; we don't know. Nobody really knows what's going to happen. Anyway, I don't worry about it. I selfishly am glad that, if anything happens, it won't happen in my lifetime anyway."

My heart sank for it was just another example of scientific illiteracy so rampant in this country. We do know. And it is already happening, yes, in our lifetime. The glaciers are melting. The arctic ice cap is thinning. Wildlife habitats are being destroyed. Grass is now surviving year round in Antarctica. The coral reefs are dying. Heat waves in places not accustomed to heat are causing thousands of deaths. Insurance companies are gravely concerned. The Pentagon has said that global climate change is the greatest security and defense issue of the 21st Century - more serious than terrorism.

We may be quickly reaching the point of no return according to Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to an article in the UK paper the Independent,

[Dr Pachauri] told an international conference attended by 114 governments in Mauritius this month that he personally believes that the world has "already reached the level of dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere" and called for immediate and "very deep" cuts in the pollution if humanity is to "survive".

His comments rocked the Bush administration - which immediately tried to slap him down - not least because it put him in his post after Exxon, the major oil company most opposed to international action on global warming, complained that his predecessor was too "aggressive" on the issue.
He told delegates: "Climate change is for real. We have just a small window of opportunity and it is closing rather rapidly. There is not a moment to lose."

Another Independent article, this one by Michael McCarthy, also reports on the upcoming catastrophe:

The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt out by a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics from around the world - and it is remarkably brief. In as little as 10 years, or even less, their report indicates, the point of no return with global warming may have been reached.

The report,
Meeting The Climate Challenge, is aimed at policymakers in every country, from national leaders down. It has been timed to coincide with Tony Blair's promised efforts to advance climate change policy in 2005 as chairman of both the G8 group of rich countries and the European Union.

And it breaks new ground by putting a figure - for the first time in such a high-level document - on the danger point of global warming, that is, the temperature rise beyond which the world would be irretrievably committed to disastrous changes. These could include widespread agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease, sea-level rise and the death of forests - with the added possibility of abrupt catastrophic events such as "runaway" global warming, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off of the Gulf Stream. The report says this point will be two degrees centigrade above the average world temperature prevailing in 1750 before the industrial revolution, when human activities - mainly the production of waste gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which retain the sun's heat in the atmosphere - first started to affect the climate. But it points out that global average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees since then, with more rises already in the pipeline - so the world has little more than a single degree of temperature latitude before the crucial point is reached.

I have wondered for some time at the callousness of those who put temporary profits ahead of the ultimate survival of human life on this planet. Do these politicians and business people not have children and grandchildren? Do they honestly think that an ideological belief system will really change scientific reality? Or is the delusion so great that the need not to know takes precedence over the truth? Believing the earth is flat does not make it so. Believing the sun revolves around the earth does not make it so. And believing that global warming is not real does not make it so.

Sometimes I think humanity as a species has a collective death wish. I only hope and pray that the critical mass of those who are aware is reached soon enough to avert the catastrophe. As a serious meditator I give myself peace and consolation by being willing to let go of my attachment to the idea of humankind surviving, of having a future on this planet. It is a radical way, to be sure, of maintaining equanimity and not giving in to despair or panic. And it is tragic, to be sure, that such a strategy is necessary today.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Bush Phase Two

I want to recommend an article by Peter Laurie published in The Barbados Daily Nation for the sake of this brilliantly executed sentence:

The American right has found the perfect Orwellian instrument for achieving its goals: a global “war on terror” so ill-defined that it can never end; so all-inclusive that anyone can be named an enemy; and so rooted in fear-mongering that any right may be violated and any liberty trampled in the name of a spurious patriotism.

Laurie outlines the three-fold alliance between "bigoted Christian fundamentalists; a greedy clique within corporate America; and the war-mongering neo-conservatives" and suggests that even Tony Blair may not be able to stomach "Bush Phase Two".

Impermanence and a little Shelley

Meditating on impermanence is the best strategy I know for surviving the current political climate with equanimity. I've thought of "Ozimandius" a number of times over the past few months and so I identified with the person who posted the whole sonnet on one of the Eschaton comment boards last night. I offer it here for you with the recommendation that we visualize the picture painted by these marvelously descriptive words as a way of centering and gaining perspective:

by Percy Bysshe Shelley
First Published in 1817

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said--"Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Monday, January 24, 2005

An Orgy of Excess

Back when I was in the music business we had an ironic saying to help ourselves put up with less than great conductors: "Bad taste is better than no taste at all." I've come across a number of articles lately that point out what the $40 million price tag for the inauguration could have paid for in terms of relief for tsunami victims and armor for our fighting men and women in Iraq. I actually sent an email to the president urging him to opt for a simple inauguration and to allocate the money saved for relief efforts. Somehow I had the hope that if enough other people made the same demand the administration would at least get the message that many of us considered the overly elaborate celebrations during wartime to be inappropriate. Personally, I find it astonishing that this member of a prominent and wealthy upper class family would indulge in such appallingly bad taste. But this is a president who also indulges the affectation in himself of wearing cowboy boots with a tuxedo.

One of the American newspapers I truly admire is the San Francisco Chronicle. I want to recommend a column in today's edition by Harley Sorenson who has similar views to mine on the inauguration extravaganza.

If it had been up to me, last week's inauguration would have been held in the Oval Office or some similar venue, with perhaps only a few dozen people on hand. It would have cost ... oh, I don't know ... perhaps $12. Instead of paralyzing the District of Columbia and turning it into a kind of fortress prison, it would have inconvenienced almost nobody.

Disliking George W. Bush as I do, I would like to fault him for last week's excesses, but I'm afraid they all do it. There seems to be a competition. Each new chief executive that you and I hire seems to strive to be more obscenely gaudy than all those before him.

For novelty, last week's show had the added fillip of forced isolation for dissenters. What a country!

I've never been a fan of pomp and circumstance. Perhaps shows like the one last week are too reminiscent of similar shows in Red Square on May Days. Or I think of those impressive rallies held by the Germans in the 1930s, or the Chinese communists in more recent years. Central American dictators were once famous for their fancy uniforms and their impressive parades and ceremonies. Those shows remind me of evil, and I hate to see them in our nation's capital.

And why, I wonder, do we always have to flex our muscles at these events? All nations seem to do it. Think of the massive military displays by the Soviets during their heyday. I'd prefer a display of our accomplishments rather than proof of our ability to kill.

Sorenson also has exasperated words to say about the inauguration address:

Bush's speech last week was delivered well. He seems to be growing with his job. But the speech's content was sorely lacking. They say the speech went through 41 revisions. I would have recommended 42.

What did our president say about the continuing problem of election fraud in the United States? What did he say about our medical treatment problems? About the millions of workers out of work or holding down mere survival jobs far below their capabilities? How about our growing national debt, our inability to live within our means? How about the real economic crises in cities and counties and states? How about our effect on climate change? What are we doing to preserve our environment? How are we preparing for the diminution of the world's oil reserves?

Finally, as someone who worked in and around Washington D.C. for most of my adult life, I want to express my disgust that Bush forced the District of Columbia to foot the bill for the extra security needed in the city. Traditionally that is paid for by the administration in power. But, of course, D.C. went for Kerry so what can we expect?

The Bible Code

Matthew Rothschild has done us an enormous service with his latest article in the Progressive. He has listed the biblical allusions embedded within the inauguration address that may well be lost on anyone but evangelicals and fundamentalists. It's clear that Bush was sending the message to his base that he's with them and one of them.

When Bush thanked the American people for granting him patience in “good measure,” he was echoing Luke 6:38, “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure. . . .”

When Bush talked of the “ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever,” he was echoing Hebrews 13:8, which says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

When Bush talked about the “untamed fire of freedom” in a passage that included the phrase “hope kindles hope,” he was echoing passages from eremiah. For instance, Jeremiah 17:27 says: “I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem.” And Jeremiah 50:32 says: “I will kindle a fire in her towns that will consume all who are around her.”

There are many other passages in the Bible that have a raging fire in them. For instance, Isaiah 33:14: “The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: ‘Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with
everlasting burning?’ ”

When Bush talked about the day when “the captives are set free,” he was echoing Ephesians 4:7-9, which says: “He led the captives free.”

When Bush talked about the day “the unjust encounter justice,” he was echoing Job 27, which states, “May my enemies be like the wicked, my adversaries like the unjust.” (This section of Job says that the unjust and the wicked and the ruthless will meet a grisly fate: “However many his children, their fate is the sword; his offspring will never have enough to eat.”)

When Bush talked about the need to “surround the lost with love,” he was echoing the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15.

When Bush said, “History also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty,” he was being none too subtle. But he was also alluding to Acts 3:15 (“You killed the author of life”) and Hebrews 12:2 (“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”).

Toward the end, when Bush said, “Freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul,” he was echoing Psalm 107: “For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. Such as sit in darkness. . . .”

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Social Security and 'Newspeak'

"Two and two are four." "Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane."WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.--George Orwell, from his novel 1984 (1949)

Susan Jacoby has written an insightful article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, "Hear 'Reform,' Think 'Destroy': Bush warps the language in his effort to kill Social Security". In it she writes:

In a 1946 essay titled "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell observed that all political language is designed "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

As President Bush begins his second term, he has already demonstrated the truth of Orwell's dictum by persuading much of the windy news media to attach the word "reform" to his plan for fundamental change in the way Social Security is financed. Each time television or radio newscasters use the phrase "Social Security reform," as they do every day, they send a message to the American public that Social Security is a broken system in need of fixing.

Social Security doesn't need fixing. It is the most successful social program in the United States of all time and, if we do nothing to it at all, it will be able to provide full benefits until 2042. At that point - again if we do nothing at all - it will be able to provide more than 70% of scheduled benefits. Social Security taxes were already raised in the 80s to accommodate the retirement of the baby boomers; we have no crisis regarding the next generation soon to retire. All we need to do is raise the cap on taxable income and the future problem will be solved. It is outrageous that someone who makes $87,000 a year pays the same Social Security tax as someone with an income of $870,000.

I know it's been said that Bush wants to dismantle Social Security on ideological grounds - that is, he sees the program as socialism and he's in favor, rather, of what he calls "personal responsibility". I know Bush has also made it clear that he believes the churches - not government - should provide the social safety net and he has already made good on that by funneling vast amounts of public money into so-called faith based initiatives. But I think there's an even deeper motivation at work. A desperate population is a pliable one. If people are constantly struggling to meet their most basic needs they are more easily controlled and Bush needs to prevent any possibility of social unrest or protest in order to further his goals of world domination.

So the effort to change Social Security as we know it is only secondarily a domestic matter; it is primarily about foreign policy. The right wing powers-that-be are trying to disempower the American public in order to engage in war-mongering relatively unhindered. Keeping the majority of people in the country constantly fearful regarding their basic survival needs is a sinister but ever so effective way of doing just that.

Best Protest Picture EVER

Saturday, January 22, 2005

All the news that's fit to print

I know it's the slogan of the New York Times. And I want you to know that I do read articles from the Times on a regular basis. But what I'm really talking about is the Guardian of London. Every morning when I boot up the computer, the first site I log onto is the Guardian. I trust it more than any American newspaper. I'm afraid I lost confidence in both the New York Times and the Washington Post for a number of reasons -- most pointedly due to their roles in beating the drums of war in the lead up to our adventure in Iraq.

There's been a banner advertisement for subscriptions on the Guardian web page just lately. Reading it validated my decision to turn to international newspapers for reliable information and also caused a great sadness to come over me. The banner reads:

Many US citizens think the world backed the war in Iraq.
Maybe it's the papers they're reading.

It is disgraceful that the outside world does not view our newspapers as worthy of respect. Then again it is disgraceful that we have a president who boasts of not reading the newspapers at all. When I was a freshman in high school I had a social studies teacher who basically put us all on notice that we would fail his class if we didn't read the paper every day. He was the teacher who insisted that we memorize the names of every cabinet member and Supreme Court justice at the time. As it happens, I was in his class when I got the news that President Kennedy had been shot. I suppose the juxtaposition of my teacher's encouragement regarding current events and the trauma of a president's assassination having taken place in the same class set the stage for my later intense interest in politics.

The Guardian article I want to call your attention to today is about the possible influence of the right wing Roman Catholic organization Opus Dei on the British government. "The group, long notorious for its secretiveness, its recruitment methods and its association with Franco's Spain, has never been popular in Britain, which prefers its religion to be understated." There is concern that Ruth Kelly, the new secretary of state for education, is a member or, at least, she will not deny being a member. If so, it is just one more example of the troubling trend of extreme relgious right wing influence in the governments of Britain and the United States. Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are indeed members of this highly authoritarian and repressive institution. Interestingly, Thomas has recently been quoted as saying that the oath a justice takes is not to the Constitution but to God. I always thought it was to the people while invoking God's help. Maybe I'm splitting hairs here but Thomas' comment makes me a bit nervous all the same.

I call these matters to your attention under the rubric of "theocracy watch". Secret organizations which have as their hallmark the severe restriction of freedom are definitely a concern of mine once they manifest within the corridors of secular power. That the manifestation is indeed taking place is indisputable.

Posting Comments

I was just informed this evening that I neglected to program this new blog so that anybody can comment. I have corrected that but the new setting only goes into effect with this posting. So you can post as "Anonymous" (sign your name in the body of your comment if you like) without having to register first - but not, unfortunately, with the two postings below.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Caring about the Bill of Rights

All right. Enough is enough. For weeks I have reluctantly stopped myself from posting a number of political articles on Meditation Matters because I want that original blog to be devoted to the meditative principles - with a few exceptions for overwhelmingly needed action such as contributing to the Tsunami relief effort and protesting the inauguration. I know that people check into Meditation Matters for information - and perhaps even inspiration - to motivate them in their spiritual practice. But today I have found a passage that I cannot bear not to post and so I am creating a new blog. This one is unapologetically political just as I am napologetically a progressive.

Here's the passage from the film "The American President":

For the record: Yes, I am a card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U. But the more important question is why aren't you, Bob? This is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question. Why would a senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for president, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, then, folks, you're smarter than I am, because I didn't understand it until a couple of minutes ago. Everybody knows America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say, "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating, at the top of his lungs, that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest." Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

And yes, for the record, I too am a card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U. Not only that, I have a monthly pledge automatically debited from my account. And I am a proud member of the A.C.L.U. because I am a proud patriot - that is, I love the principles on which this country was founded. When I lived in Ireland I often rode a bus that went past the American Embassy. And whenever I caught sight of the American flag I automatically put my hand over my heart and gave thanks for my citizenship and the heritage of The Enlightenment. Now my country has turned into something I hardly recognize. We have attacked and invaded a sovereign country without provocation and have based our actions on lies. We are torturing people both at home and abroad. We are detaining people – citizens and non-citizens – indefinitely, without charges and without access to the courts. We have passed laws that limit our civil rights. Our people are losing the right to dissent. The big corporations are taking over - aided and abetted by the current administration - and profit is all that matters. The social safety net is in the process of being dismantled and environmental protections have been thrown out the window. We have backed out of nuclear proliferation and test ban treaties and have stepped up our nuclear weapons programs. The religious right is attempting to establish a theocracy in this country and our constitutionally supported traditional separation of church and state is being distressingly eroded. We are, in fact, becoming terrifyingly fascist.

And so I propose to use this blog to call to your attention important articles and editorials on these and other related issues. I hope those of you who are regular readers of Meditation Matters will read this one too and, more than that, will use the "comments" opportunity at the end of each posting as a way to respond. Let us be committed to informing ourselves and to giving encouragement and support to each other.

Friday Cat-Blogging!

Yes, it's a brand new blog. But it's also Friday so we have to have cats!

Here's Henry in his high up hidey-hole:

And here's Leroy enjoying an afternoon snack!