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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I get the tactic, of course - try to define the political “middle ground” ever more to the right - so that Obama raising rich peoples’ tax rates to a rate that is still almost two thirds lower than they were under Eisenhower is “socialism” and “radical wealth redistribution,” rather than being a modest adjustment of the tax code in a more progressive direction.
The thing is, most of the country is extremely tired of, and see right through, Republicans’ cheap attempts at manipulation, and is behind Obama, and they trust him and want him to succeed.
Monday, April 27, 2009
I was about a mile from home when the sky opened up, and it began raining in great, gushing torrents, and as I happened to be nearby, I ducked into the parish church my family attended. This was when Benicia was a lot smaller, folks didn't lock their doors, and the church was never locked.
It was about 8 O'clock, and the sun had long set. Coming from outside, the quiet of the empty Church was quite a contrast. It was built some time in the 1850s, and like most old Catholic churches, it was built of solid masonry and huge timbers - the walls were probably 3 feet think, and it was rich with odors - old wood, candle wax, incense, chrism oil, maybe a bit of perfume or cologne from some Sunday parishioner.
The church was empty, and very silent - broken only by an occasional creak from the rafters as a gust spent itself against the building, or the soft sound of the old wooden pews swelling slightly with moisture in the saturated air.
There were no lights on, but there were candles at the shrines all along the sides of the church; their glow painted the interior a sacred warm gold. A statue of Mother Mary at the front of the church looked with kindness at the pews that every Sunday were filled with sinners, the kind of people that had murdered her Son. The tabernacle held that very same Son, now resurrected and present, and ready to forgive and eager to teach us sinners how to love with real selfless sacrificial Love, Love so overflowing that it would make you die for the sake of your murderers.
I sat in the pew, awed, and let the serenity of that place fill me. There was peace and holy silence and ancient love. I went back to that Church many times that winter. I was 19 years old.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
A conservative faction of the Republican National Committee is urging the GOP to take a harder line against both Democrats and wayward Republicans, drafting a resolution to rename the opposition the “Democrat Socialist Party” and moving to rebuke the three Republican senators who supported the stimulus package.
In an e-mail sent Wednesday to the 168 voting members of the committee, RNC member James Bopp, Jr. accused President Obama of wanting “to restructure American society along socialist ideals.”
“The proposed resolution acknowledges that and calls upon the Democrats to be truthful and honest with the American people by renaming themselves the Democrat Socialist Party,” wrote Bopp, the Republican committeeman from Indiana. “Just as President Reagan’s identification of the Soviet Union as the ‘evil empire’ galvanized opposition to communism, we hope that the accurate depiction of the Democrats as a Socialist Party will galvanize opposition to their march to socialism.”
This is just...just...there are no words. Is this really a strategy they are going to go with? "The Democrat Socialist Party?"
I mean, Democrats could join in their childish game, and rename the GOP "The fascist Hitler-loving Puppy-Murdering Poopy-Pants Party" or something, but what would be the point?
I've noticed again and again that what's missing from lots of discussions between whites about "the Ghetto" is any sense of understanding of the the concrete, complex humanity of the people being discussed. The often glib caricatures used by whites (even relatively well-meaning ones) do not bear virtually any relationship to the actual people who were my neighbors in Richmond, California. For those who know the area, I grew up almost exactly between the Kennedy Manor and Easter Hill housing projects, in a solidly working-class black neighborhood - in the 1960s and into the 1970s (we moved to suburbia in 1976). We were the only white family in the neighborhood.
Do this for me: Think about how long ago, say, 1983 is from the moment in time that you are reading this diary. That was the amount of time separating the folks in the neighborhood in 1970 from a time when they lived in the Jim Crow, pre-civil-rights South, and could be lynched - taken out on some back road, emasculated and hung - for calling a white woman by her first name.
I saw first-hand the psychological devastation that was wrought in people who had experienced that culture: because of an accident of melanin, they could be murdered for performing the intrinsically human act of speaking with kindly familiarity to a woman they might actually be acquainted with.
There was a family down the street I'll call the Millers. Dad worked in the Chevron chemical plant, mom was a part-time secretary at the school district office. 5 kids, the youngest of whom was in my class at Pullman Elementary.
The oldest boy, who I'll call Duane, had had polio, and walked with a pronounced limp. Duane had one of the kindest, most tender hearts I've ever been privileged to know. He used to look out for me sometimes when things in the neighborhood got rough.
One day when I was...oh, probably 6 years old, I was over at the Millers' house visiting my friend from school, and Duane got the new Chihuahua dog they had just gotten, and handed the dog to me to see - and the little mutt bit me on the stomach and held on with its teeth. I screamed with pain and fear, and Duane hurriedly got the dog off me.
His mom came running, and when I told her what had happened, Duane, right there on the spot, was beaten by his mom. She shoved him, his bad leg just collapsed, and his mother just...attacked. He got the beating of his life right there in front of me.
When she was done, she turned to me and apologized in anxious tones: "Duane didn't mean it - he was just playing - just tell your mama it was an accident..."
At the time, it struck me as strange - here was this big, powerful woman, and she was begging for my forgiveness?
She had met my parents, had sat and talked with my mom many times over coffee - she knew my parents were about the furthest thing possible from the racists she had left behind in Alabama.
But here's the thing I've realized since. In a time in her life no more remote from that moment than 1983 is from us today, Duane's carelessness with a white boy might have put their well-being, even their lives, in danger. She struck Duane not out of anger, but deep, unreasoning terror.
The neighborhood could be, at times, almost saturated with an atmosphere of latent violence - but there was also deep, overflowing, selfless love, a love so profound and simple and deep that it gave me a taste of what heaven might be like.
There was elderly Mrs. Pender next door, who had had a stroke and walked with a walker. Her husband, Mr Pender, had the most awe-inspiring lawn on the block - he probably weeded the thing with tweezers - but his wife was the real gift to the neighborhood. She would take me in sometimes when the 'hood got extra crazy, and tell me that she knew, just knew, that one day I would grow up to be someone really special. (Mrs. Pender is now long dead, and heaven is a richer place for her being there. RIP, Mrs. Pender.)
There's the elderly black lady I met one day when I was selling door-to-door. The whole enterprise, while technically not fraudulent, was making me pretty uncomfortable. Lots of the salesmen loved selling to ghetto addresses - they would just wave a couple free months of service in the naive residents' faces, kinda forget to mention the charges that would hit after that two month grace period, and rack up sales. I worked the ghetto when I had to, but hated it - I felt like Judas.
One day, I knocked on some humble little basement-apartment door, and the door opened to reveal a frail, elderly woman...who had the kindest eyes I had ever seen - it was as if she were staring right through the glib salesman veneer, past all the BS, and directly into my soul, and genuinely appreciating, unconditionally loving, the qualities she saw there. It was as if I were staring dumbstruck into the very Face of Christ. I could sell no more.
There are spiritual treasures heaped in our ghettos among the poverty and violence, and one of the more tragic facts of our culture is that the vast majority of whites have absolutely no clue about the riches to be found there.
There is a woman I know who lost both of her grandchildren to murder - both in their mid-teens. To see this woman is to see a person who has been almost physically crushed by grief - she walks with stooped shoulders, and to look into her face is to see care-lines that have little to do with age, and lots to do with having gazed heartbroken into the coffins of two grandchildren she had loved with primal, protective, simple, profound, unconditional love.
And yet, she has refused to believe that murder, that hatred, that retaliation is all there is in this world. She spends practically every waking moment working in outreach programs for at-risk youth. She sees some straighten out their lives and make it out. Some she loses to murder or prison. The ones in prison, she writes to; the ones who were murdered, she prays for and with their families. Her actual first name is "Hope" and she is a saint.
I also have some very painful memories of my childhood, some of which are the reasons I suffer from PTSD, but I must say I've never found elsewhere the kind of simple, stripped-down, elemental love I witnessed and experienced in the old neighborhood. If only more Americans could see that Hope and they are in the very same world. They and Hope could help each other heal.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
But years ago, I was at the home of a friend whose daughter was a meth addict (I've lived an interesting life...) and the daughter had discovered that she was pregnant - and did nothing for 4 months. She eventually went to a clinic for an abortion - her mother and I learned of this when daughter screamed for her mother from the bathroom.
I won't go into any detail about what happened next, but I will say that what ended up on her bathroom floor rendered irrelevant any consideration of her daughter "controlling her body" - there on the bathroom floor -- tiny, vulnerable, and dead -- was the...aftermath of a 4-months-along abortion.
When I hear women say "I have a right to control my body," I agree with them - control of one's body is one of the most basic rights there is, and that is what is so heinous about crimes like torture and rape.
And it is true that women have been controlled by abusive husbands throughout history by being impregnated -- with the specific purpose of complicating her escape from the abuse. This is an appalling offense in my view, and abortion is used to destroy the effectiveness of that particular tactic. Any legal restrictions on abortion ought to be accompanied by some other legal means to make the price of that particular form of abuse something that would make Faust blanch.
But what was on that bathroom floor that day had no role in any of that history. It was not a "means of oppression," it was not a "part of her body," at least not in the same way her liver, or even uterus, is; it (she, actually) was undeniably a Being in her own right, and she was tiny, vulnerable, and dead. For me, that will always be the inescapable reality of what abortion is. For me, that trumps any claim that the abortion issue is all about the woman's body. There is another body to account for.
And by the way - if any Democratic member of Congress is implicated in these war crimes (let's just call them what they are), they should stand trial and, if convicted, face lengthy prison sentences also. Torture should mean certain ruin, prison and disgrace to any politician who orders, enables, or abides it.
Isn’t revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can’t afford?
No, it isn’t, because America is more than a collection of policies. We are, or at least we used to be, a nation of moral ideals. In the past, our government has sometimes done an imperfect job of upholding those ideals. But never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.
And the only way we can regain our moral compass, not just for the sake of our position in the world, but for the sake of our own national conscience, is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.
...For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.
It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.
Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.
We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.
[C]an someone explain to me how [the conservative base] can live with the dissonance in their heads when they say in one breath that the Bush administration was absolutely right to employ torture, secret prisons and indefinite detention and in the next breath scream like banshees that Obama is the second coming of Hitler and Stalin, the two most infamous purveyors of torture, secret prisons and indefinite detention of the 20th century?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) went on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show last night, to talk about the fallout from the release last week of the Bush administration's torture memos. And his appearance added to the growing sense that pressure is mounting to hold the memos' authors accountable.
Accountability is non-negotiable, it seems to me. Unless there are unacceptable costs imposed on those who order torture, it will happen again. That much is virtually certain.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I find it disturbing that we’re actually debating the concept of torturing people, but what I really don’t get is the defense of torture by Christians. I say this not because Christians are better than others, but because, from the Christian standpoint, what we do to one another, even to the least among us and to the worst of sinners, we do to Christ. We show our love and respect for God in how we treat one another. A Christian who defends torturing a human person defends, in a sense, torturing Him in whose image and likeness we are all made.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice?
My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America." Once again, I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.
With the Utmost Respect,
-Capt. Ian Fishback
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division,
I remain irrevocably persuaded that if you and I truly believe in the principles of justice and the equality of every man, however humble, before the law, that form the very backbone that this country was founded on, then we must press forward a widespread and public investigation of this matter with all our combined efforts. I think that it was Winston Churchill who once said, "A country without conscience is a country without a soul, and a country without a soul is a country that cannot survive." I feel that we must take some positive action on this matter. I hope that you will launch an investigation immediately and keep me informed of your progress. If you cannot, then I don't know what other course of action to take.
- Ron Ridenhour, in a 1969 letter to selected members of congress concerning the My Lai massacre.
My understanding is that, done right, the downtown-to-downtown travel time is often competitive with air travel. Los Angeles is about 300 miles away from San Francisco. The actual flight time is about 45 minutes or so; however, if you add to that the time you spend driving to San Fran airport, finding parking, going through security, getting to your gate - and doing all that in reverse at LAX - and high-speed rail might actually be quicker.
UPDATE: Joe Biden explains further:
What we're talking about is a vision for high-speed rail in America. Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city. No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes. (Laughter.) Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination. Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.
Now, all of you know this is not some fanciful, pie-in-the-sky vision of the future. It is now. It is happening right now. It's been happening for decades. The problem is it's been happening elsewhere, not here.
In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations. In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined. China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now. And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next: a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour. So it's being done; it's just not being done here.
There's no reason why we can't do this. This is America. There's no reason why the future of travel should lie somewhere else beyond our borders. Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system –- and everybody stands to benefit.
The trick with melisma in an R&B song is to use it with restraint. Using melisma for a particular phrase in an otherwise understated performance calls attention to that phrase, and communicates angst or joy at a deeper level than the more matter-of-fact actual lyric. A perfect example is Sam Cooke's "Lost and Looking," which is just his voice and a stand-up bass. It's an incredible performance:
At a Duncanville, Texas, Wal-Mart, the union has signed up 58 employees, representing a little more than 10% of the store's 500 employees. Several workers said the company's strong performance during the recession encouraged them to sign union cards in an effort to get better wages and benefits.
Linda Haluska, an overnight stocker at a Wal-Mart in Glendale, Ill., said Wal-Mart is "a good place to work, but it would be better with a union." Since February, Ms. Haluska said her store has held five or six meetings attended by managers from the Wal-Mart corporate office to discuss unionization. Ms. Haluska and other workers said the meetings are aimed at dissuading workers from supporting the union. "They are not giving us the full picture, just enough to discourage you."
This is why passage of the Employee Free Choice Act is so vital. The playing field is not level. The purpose of such meetings is to intimidate workers into not joining the union. Opponents of EFCA claim that union members might intimidate workers into signing union cards if that legislation passes, but these meetings are more intimidating than anything organized labor could ever manage because MANAGEMENT HAS THE POWER TO FIRE YOU. Unions don't.
Exactly right. The EFCA will help equalize the power relationship between management and labor, and good lord, the powers that be can't have that. Their yachts need helipads, after all.
Mukasey and Hayden complain that the president has tied the hands of future presidents in this. Yes, he has. What Obama understands is that what is truly vital is that this dark and shameful period not become a workable precedent. It must be repudiated at the very heart of the American political system, and removed like the cancer it is.
The question of prosecution remains. It's a painful decision. My view is that those who pay the legal price should be, first and foremost, those who authorized this at the highest levels. My view is also that it is a travesty that the Abu Ghraib reservists were prosecuted, and yet far, far more culpable people are claiming it would be too divisive to prosecute them. My view is that no one is above the law, and that when a society based on law prosecutes the powerless and excuses the powerful, it is corroding its own soul.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
This, however, is not encouraging:
Saying that it is a “time for reflection, not retribution,” Mr Obama reiterated his opposition to a extensive investigation of controversial counter-terrorism programs.
It is not "retribution" to obey the demands of justice. As I said before, the precedent of torture needs to be strongly and unequivocally condemned; the perpetrators need to suffer significant penalties, including prison terms, so that the next president who is tempted to authorize torture will blanch at the price.
Torture is so dangerous to democracy that it needs to be excised root and branch. Half-measures are like cutting out only half of a malignant tumor.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
For a while, conservatives were on the cutting-edge of political thinking. They had all the new ideas. They were shaking things up and redefining reality. Remember? It was an aide to President George W. Bush who reportedly coined the phrase “reality-based community,” and he meant it as a disparaging description of sissy liberals who deal with reality on its own terms instead of molding new realities with manly action.
Here’s the thing about redefining reality: you can’t do it. Reality is reality, baby. And all your brilliant ideas and manly sweat and smug self-confidence are plankton to reality’s big Blue Whale.
Monday, April 13, 2009
National Journal's national security blog is debating whether we should have a truth commission on torture. Brian Michael Jenkins is against the idea:
A truth commission on torture could be ruinously divisive. It would smack of political vendetta and fuel narrow partisan agendas on both sides. It would lead to spectacle, not edification. It could end up giving rogues the aura of martyrs. Let history be their judge.
To which the only response can be: have we decided as a nation that war crimes should not be prosecuted if they are committed by members of the American government? Are we formally going to withdraw from the Geneva Conventions - or just violate them with impunity while pretending that we take them seriously? Those are the actual questions: not policy matters, but core legal issues that tell you whether a country is governed by the rule of law or not.
My own view is that a "truth commission" is too lenient; prosecutions and, on guilty verdicts, lengthy prison terms are the only way to stop torture from occurring again.
Friday, April 10, 2009
The sacrifice is done; yes, My Mass is complete;
But not My Mother's, and not yours, my other Self.
My Mother still must cradle in her arms
The lifeless body of the son she bore.
You too must part from those you love, and grief will come to you.
In your bereavements, think of this: A multitude of souls were saved by Mary's sharing in my calvary. Your grief, also, can be the price of souls.
Clarence Enzler, Everyone's Way of the Cross
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
So teabag your little hearts out, my noble friends! Take to the streets, and demand the conservative dream -- absolute inaction on every front! Turn the economic crisis into an opportunity to finally, at long last, give a damn about the actions of your leaders, who we have just now noticed might be of an opposing political party! Yes, take to the streets on behalf of the John Galts of the world: that's what Fox News Corporation has told you to do, and what the stock traders of CNBC demand of you! Take a day off work and wave those little white bags so that an executive responsible for financial crisis will not find their yearly bonus jeopardized by scandalous government intervention, or people making one hundred times your annual income will not be taxed a Stalinesque three percent more (marginal rate) than they presently are! Throw your little pouches of aromatic leaves high into the air, shout your grievances, demand the factories close and the government remain unresponsive, because that's what conservatives everywhere want to see!
So far, discussion of the responsibility of far right paranoids' fueling the kind of rampage that left three cops dead in the Mark Poplawski case has been abstract. Now we find out that Poplawski actually posted Glenn Beck's insane FEMA concentration camp segment to a neo-Nazi website.
Monday, April 06, 2009
I believe there is a link between this crime and the growing calls from the increasingly hysterical right wing for "revolution" to "save freedom" -- all because Obama wants to raise tax rates on rich people to rates that are still lower than during the presidency of that notorious Leninist, Ronald Reagan, and less than half what they were during the presidency of that totalitarian monster, Republican president Dwight David Eisenhower.
I think the point here is that hatred and paranoia emanating from Beck/Limbaugh/Savage et al is causing the more unstable elements of the far right to do tragic things. I expect this to continue; Hate-stirrers of the right will just keep speaking in apocalyptic code of "liberals" wanting to "ban the bible" and "take away our freedom", with the expectation that eventually some nutcase will "rid them of this meddlesome priest."
Sunday, April 05, 2009
So I’m sitting in my bedroom, watching my wife change the diaper of our ultra-cute (yet manly) little boy. He’s only been alive for two months, and he doesn’t do much but eat, poop, cry, and smile. And I love him. I would die to save his life. But would I kill for him? The comment above is not a question. It is a statement that argues that I cannot die to save my son’s life, that I can only kill to save his life. It contains the Myth of Redemptive Violence in all its power, and is rooted in a sort of material agnosticism. Saving life requires the salvation of both body and soul, not simply the protection of our skin and organs. Defeating evil looks a lot more like a cross than a gun.
I will not sit back and let my son’s life be destroyed. But our Tradition and our Gospel makes a startling claim: evil cannot be conquered by the shedding of blood, unless it is our blood that is shed. It is every Christian’s good lot to suffer and die for the Kingdom of God. It’s Lent, folks. We should know that goodness in this world means sacrifice. Refusing to hate means becoming vulnerable to the cross. That’s a ‘duh’ part of our faith. What’s more difficult for us to understand is “why” and “how”. Why does the cross defeat evil? How does the cross defeat evil?
This is the question that prevented me from re-enlisting in the Army once my 4 years were up; it was not so much dying that scared me, but killing. What happens to the soul of someone who is killed in the act of using a flame thrower on his fellow men? I never had a good answer to that question, and so I could not in good conscience continue my military service.
More to the point, I perceived that giving oneself over to the false god of Violence was in some way necessary for success in the military.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
The motive for spreading this lie is transparent; it is an allusion to the fear among ignorant people that Obama is some sort of secret Muslim (whose Christian pastor is some sort of atheistic communist. Or something. The right has always been better at being loud and paranoid than at being consistent or logical...but I digress).
Well, the story has been pretty thoroughly debunked by by Dahlia Lithwick in Slate.
Sheesh. To think I was once a Republican. They've progressed steadily from cynical fear-mongering to outright nut-casery, in the span of 10 years. I used to find it hilarious; now it is just sad. Bill Buckley is spinning in his grave.