Friday, December 24, 2004

Notes from a Red State

Whenever I'm at my parents' house in northern Idaho, I love to read the local papers. This morning I came across two items that hint at how a progressive political movement could sustain itself even in one of the reddest of red states. The spectrum of American political beliefs is more of a circle than a line, and northern Idaho and western Montana are places where the extreme ends of the spectrum literally and figuratively share common ground.

The only truly local daily paper in Sandpoint is the Bonner County Daily Bee, one of a string of local papers owned by Duane Haggadone, a mining-turned-tourism magnate who has almost managed to turn at least one Idaho city--Coeur d'Alene--into a company town. This morning's Bee featured a typical mix of news on its front page: in the right margin two stories of drunken mayhem among the region's un- and under-employed, and a large center feature with color photo about caring for orphan buffalos during the holidays. A story about Christine Gregoire coming out ahead in the Washington vote recount is on page 6; more fighting in Fallujah, page 7.

Better news coverage comes from the Spokesman-Review, a Spokane, Washington daily owned by the Cowles family, perhaps as rich in land and influence in Spokane as Haggadone is in Coeur d'Alene. The Spokesman-Review is trying to become a regional paper by publishing a 'Handle' section in its northern Idaho editions, and opening an office in Coeur d'Alene. This morning the Handle section published a letter to the editor from one Aaron Kin of Moscow, Idaho, titled "Apologies for being me":

It occurred to me, being a white conservative guy living in Idaho, that there is probably a lot of things that I am guilty of that I am totally unaware of. ... I'm sorry I voted for Bush. I really should have voted for the opportunist and gun-control liberal from Massachusetts, because nobody knows what's good for you like someone who will give all your rights to the government. ...I have a lot of apologies to make. That happens when you are politically incorrect and offend every liberal in town, which I do a decent job of. Thank you, and God bless.

What struck me about this letter was not its less-than-coherent recitation of backlash cant, but two other things: First, it amazed me that a conservative in Idaho could somehow muster the feeling of political alienation required to write such a letter. I suppose there are liberals to offend in Moscow--it being a university town, perhaps Mr. Kin doesn't have to look that hard for them. But Kin's letter shows the strength of the backlash, even deep in red country. I also noticed the apparent glee Mr. Kin took in believing he was offending people. This is something I've noticed from encounters with other male Republicans--that it wasn't enough for them to hold Republican political beliefs, they had to go out of their way to offend liberals. They liked being offensive, they liked feeling like they were sticking it to someone.

Part of the appeal of the backlash is that it gives its believers ready access to a rudimentary, bullying form of masculinity. While I do not believe this form of masculinity should be co-opted, to have a broad appeal a progressive message must incorporate some concept of manliness--not in the sense of traditional patriarchy, or juvenile swagger, but rather in the old artisan or cowboy sense of moral, independent, and self-sufficient manliness. The 'Metro v. Retro' politics is exactly the opposite of what's needed, because its version of manliness is centered on consumption and snobbishness.

A small regional weekly, The River Journal, features a column on politics by Montana state senator Jim Elliott in its December 8-17 issue. Under the headline 'Corporations and Democracy,' Elliott gives a capsule history of corporations from the 1600s to the present, emphasizing the historical novelty of the 'personhood' of the corporation, and the departure from their traditional role of fulfilling a public good that neither government nor individuals could easily provide. His concluding message speaks well to both conservatives and progressives:

Today we have a world governed not by nations, but by
international trade agreements drafted by international
corporations, governed by international corporations, with
international trade disputes adjudicated by international
corporations. None of these corporations, by the way, was
voted into power by you or me. Our elected representatives
have ceded control of our lives and livelihoods in the name
of 'world trade.' I believe it is time that elected governments
resumed control of our destinies. At least you can fire them
if you don't like what they do.

These themes of responsibility, accountability and a muscular democratic nationalism are vitally important to progressives and true conservatives alike. A political movement that made them its centerpiece could draw on support from both the left and the right.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

America's Most Immediate Moral Crisis

As we get closer to Christmas, the celebration of Jesus's birth brings those of who profess Christianity not only the hope of Christ's joy, love, and peace, but also the necessity of confronting the stark reality of a world so heart-breakingly estranged from Christ's moral teachings. One could identify any number of pressing moral issues today--poverty, inequality, health care access, preemptive war, materialism, greed, etc. But for me, the moral issue that most immediately pains me as a Christian and citizen of the United States is torture and prisoner abuse being carried out in our name. And over the past few days, we have learned more and more shocking details about these atrocities. (You can read about these degrading, disgusting, and perverted--not to mention physically and emotionally destructive--acts here, here, here, and here.) While these new revelations are not getting as much attention as they deserve, they are out there and sometimes get reported (Thank God for the ACLU, though they might not want me to say it that way...)

Sadly, there are some in our country, too many of them Christians, who seek to minimize or even justify these atrocities as a necessary evil in the war against terrorism. (Never mind that experienced interrogators in the FBI and elsewhere doubt the value of intelligence obtained through torture...) Have we sunk so low in our morality in this society that murky ends somehow justify brutal means? It is time for people of faith to join secular humanists in rising up against this immoral outrage. If we do not hold political leaders and military operatives responsible for these atrocities, then aren't we complicit in them? What can we do to bring more attention to this issue? WWJD? (It is interesting to remember that Jesus himself suffered from prisoner abuse and, ultimately, brutal execution.) Any ideas?

Still, I realize that in the larger picture we are inflicting greater harm on even more people through the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and we need to condemn that as a moral outrage as well. However, something about the whole idea of prisoners totally under our control being subjected to horrific abuse seems like such a morally clear place to start. If we can't stand up for principles and values on this issue, what sinful activity couldn't we rationalize?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Boot licking: alumni magazines kowtow to power

In the past couple of years the academy has come under fire as a cesspool of liberal back-patting that leaves no room for political disagreement (though the fact that the American government has become an echo chamber for radical conservatives does not seem to rouse similar concerns). Personally, I think there may be some merit to such critiques, but that is a topic for another post.

Here, I would like to highlight the great service that the liberal media wing of the liberal academy-- otherwise known as alumni magazines-- has been performing for the corporate and administrative status quo lately.

First of all, I was appalled to read in the PAW (Princeton Alumni Weekly), less than a month ahead of the general elections, a hagiographic article on Donald Rumsfeld '54 (you will have to click on "Print archives" on the left sidebar, and then select the Oct. 6 issue and click on "Features" to get to the article). Fortunately, many of my fellow alums registered their dismay on the letters page in subsequent issues: Jeff Wells '84 writes, "I had no idea Rummy was such a great guy. This certainly changes my view of him as the arrogant architect of a failed war strategy and violator of the Geneva Convention."

And now the CAM (Cambridge Alumni Magazine) runs a profile of alum John Browne (click on "Profile 1"), the CEO of British Petroleum, that cannot be described as anything other than fawning. The article acknowledges that BP has been "a natural target for protesters," and even runs a couple of colorful photos of protesters, but the author has not bothered to find out what the protests are about or whether they are likely to be well-founded. He did not interview a single protester. But boy, do they make pretty illustrations with their rainbow-colored umbrellas and their Tibetan flags!

Instead, the author allows his interviewee to airily dismiss the possibility that a large corporation could be corrupt: "There are rules and regulations," Browne assures us, and "there are witnesses around," in the form of the company's staff, to preclude any malfeasance. Um, tell that to all the Americans who lost their life savings in the Enron collapse. We've got rules and regulations, too, and Enron had ample staff, some of whom have since come under federal indictment. And-- call me a radical-- I believe that just because something's legal doesn't mean it's ethical.

Anyway, I'm no journalist, but something tells me that simply talking to the CEO and searching the company website is not the way to form a reasoned judgment about a controversial figure or a controversial company.

Shame on you, alumni magazines! I recognize that you're supposed to be boosters, but it's horrible to watch you prostitute yourselves to powerful men.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Response to Recent United Methodist Church Trial

I doubt they will print this (UPDATE, 12/13/04: I AM PLEASED TO REPORT THAT THEY *ARE* PLANNING TO PRINT MY LETTER, SOMETIME BEFORE THE END OF THE MONTH!), but here is the Letter to the Editor I just submitted to the United Methodist Reporter, a national newspaper delivered to churchgoers around the country:

To the Editor:

The United Methodist Church is sick. Our public face is the shameful defrocking of the very able Rev. Beth Stroud of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia ("Church court revokes lesbian pastor's ministerial credentials" by Linda Green & Linda Bloom, 12/08/04)
for no other reason than her honesty about living in a long-term, faithful covenant relationship with a person she loves.

Meanwhile, the working poor in the U.S. and impoverished people around the world languish in neglect despite the Gospel call to help the poor and powerless. Shouldn't we instead try to make headlines by giving our bold and uncompromising public support to a living wage, universal health care, protecting social security, more equitable trade relations, and global efforts to combat terrible diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria? The world so badly needs the prophetic voices of the followers of Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, our nation’s President claims to be a United Methodist yet severely violates our moral teachings. He invades and bombs a country that posed no immediate threat to us, killing as many as 100,000 innocent civilians already, and in clear violation of international law. He presided over the barbaric treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq as well as abuses deemed by the Red Cross as “tantamount to torture” at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Our Church’s hands are so bloody with sin, yet instead of owning up to our larger moral responsibilities, we harshly judge one of God’s humble and dedicated servants in local church ministry. And we have the arrogance to throw her out in the name of “morality.” The United Methodist Church has become truly depraved.

God help us.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

election oddities roundup

I said a few days ago that I would supply a list of some of the more interesting oddities from the U.S. 2004 election. Well, here they are:

A nice review of the whole fraud issue.

A fascinating study of North Carolina oddities, which has received far less attention than I think it deserves.

A formal list of queries on abnormalities in Ohio.

Most recently, a sworn affidavit from a computer programmer claiming he was hired to write vote rigging software for a Florida Republican.

And, finally, a skeptical opinion from a leading progressive magazine, which at least takes the claims somewhat seriously rather than just ignoring or mocking them as many media reports have done.

I'm still 50/50 on vote fraud, keeping an open mind. I think it is certainly worth looking into, and the evidence so far is at least suggestive of some fishy things going on. Whether it will all amount to large-scale fraud that changed election outcomes remains to be seen, but that's just the point: it remains to be seen. Shouldn't every American citizen want to see this whole thing investigated more thoroughly?

Monday, December 06, 2004

Pirates of the world, unite!

I would like to provide a comprehensive list of important books to read, like christian_left did, but my reading is neither so broad nor so organized. I would, however, like to recommend from my recent reading Marcus Rediker's Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age (Beacon Press, 2004). I will attempt to make a case for its political and cultural relevance.

Rediker describes seamen as a maritime proletariat, and the ships they worked on as the factories of the 18th century world--the machines through which large amounts of capital were accumulated. Turning pirate--or choosing to go 'on the account,' in 18th century terms--was as much a labor action as an attempt to get rich. Of use for us today, I think, is the description of the communal and democratic nature of pirate society. The ship was held to be common property, and important decisions (such as who would be captain) were voted on by the crew. Any wealth generated by the operation of the ship was distributed in shares to the entire crew in accordance with compacts (usually written) agreed upon beforehand by the entire crew.

This form of communal self-organization in opposition to the state and to capital is an important precedent for those seeking to resist the current near-hegemony of free market corporate capitalism. Keeping even the idea of such forms of society alive in an age increasingly dominated by obsequience to hierarchy, profit and blind self-interest helps preserve the hope for viable alternative movements. And, although I tend not to believe in national characters, the figure of the rebel against authority and privilege is vitally important to the American mythos. A political movement that incorporated a revival of purposeful rebelliousness could tap into cultural currents very powerful to American society.

Rediker may have an overly romantic view of pirates and pirate society, but his scholarship seems quite sound. For a more in-depth survey of the world of the 18th century seaman, Rediker's earlier, more scholarly book, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seaman, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750 (Cambridge UP, 1987) is also quite good, though longer and less entertaining.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Recent Items of Interest

Given the sorry state of politico-religious discourse in our society, it seems ironic that the major TV networks would reject an ad from the United Church of Christ advocating inclusivity and tolerance, but they have. I guess any non-right-wing version of Christianity is too controversial for the public airwaves.

On a totally different subject, I have been addicted to following the underground debates over possible evidence of fraud in the 2004 U.S. election vote. There are many people, left and right, who have quickly dismissed all such speculation...but I find myself keeping an open mind, at least for now. When you start digging into it, there's a lot going on that's hard to explain. At some point, perhaps I'll present a review of what I see as the most puzzling and suggestive bits of evidence. For now, here is a nice recent review of the subject. Perhaps all of this will come to nothing in the end, but I have a hard time dismissing it out of hand--especially given the blatant hypocrisy of what the U.S. is advocating right now in the Ukraine--and given how the whole issue cuts to the heart of our democratic system itself.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Religious Right vs. Religious Left...on NBC

Can you imagine how fun it would be to see these four guys in the same room?

Dr. Jerry Falwell, The Faith and Values Coalition
Dr. Richard Land, President, Ethics & Religious Liberty Comm., Sou. Baptist Conv.
Reverend Al Sharpton, National Action Network
Reverend Jim Wallis, Convener, Call to Renewal, Editor, Sojourners Magazine

In fact, these four men engaged in heated debate last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press"...I couldn't resist watching. Jim Wallis is one of the sanest and most reasonable voices in the politics and religion debate today...but do right-wing leaders really want to quit the great polarizing fights that have fueled their popularity and driven a gigantic wedge through the working-class heart of America? (I also enjoyed many of Sharpton's zingers, although he is apparently less sanguine than Wallis about the possibility of "conciliation" between the Religious Right and the Religious Left...) But perhaps my favorite small moment was when Richard Land briefly chastised his fellow conservative Jerry Falwell for betting with Sharpton over the presidential election outcome. But, on the whole, a very entertaining (if sobering) exchange.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Money won the elections (quelle surprise)

This shouldn't surprise anyone, but check out's rundown of money spent compared with results in national races this year. In the great majority of cases, the person who spent the most won.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Holiday Book List

With the approaching holiday season and its associated opportunities to purchase gifts for loved ones, I thought it might be nice to post my "citizenship list" of books that I think every American should read. Perhaps at some point in the future, I can post reviews or summaries of some of these books, as well as new ones I come across. What distinguishes these books from many other good ones out there is that each of them is based on solid research that illuminates some particular issue of public importance. In other words, they are books that educate citizens.

Happy Thanksgiving!

* * *

My “Citizenship List”:

Anderson, Elijah. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City. New York: Norton, 1999.

Barlett, Donald L., and James B. Steele. America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Bollier, David. Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Caufield, Catherine. Masters of Illusion: The World Bank and the Poverty of Nations. New York: Holt, 1996.

Cohen, David. Chasing the Red, White, and Blue: A Journey in Tocqueville's Footsteps through Contemporary America. New York: Picador, 2001.

Donahue, Brian. Reclaiming the Commons: Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

Dyer, Joel. Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City Is Only the Beginning. Boulder: Westview Press, 1998.

Dyer, Joel. The Perpetual Prisoner Machine: How America Profits from Crime. Boulder: Westview Press, 2000.

Edin, Kathryn, and Laura Lein. Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1997.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Metropolitan, 2001.

Estes, Ralph. Tyranny of the Bottom Line: Why Corporations Make Good People Do Bad Things. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1996.

Frank, Thomas. One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Frank, Thomas. What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. New York: Metropolitan, 2004.

Greider, William. One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Greider, William. Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Himmelstein, David, Steffie Woolhandler, and Ida Hellander. Bleeding the Patient: The Consequences of Corporate Health Care. Monroe, Me.: Common Courage Press, 2001.

Kahlenberg, Richard D. All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice. Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2001.

Kahlenberg, Richard D. The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

Kuttner, Robert. Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Loeb, Paul Rogat. Soul of a Citizen: Living with Conviction in a Cynical Time. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999.

Manning, Robert D. Credit Card Nation: The Consequences of America's Addiction to Credit. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

Nader, Ralph, and Wesley J. Smith. No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America. New York: Random House, 1996.

Nestle, Marion. Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Teixeira, Ruy, and Joel Rogers. America's Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

'Dead check'

A piece in the Village Voice from Evan Wright, the author of the best book I've read about the combat experiences of US troops in Iraq.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Book review: Singer, The President of Good and Evil (2004)

In his book The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush , Peter Singer systematically analyzes President Bush's moral system, assuming from the outset that the president adheres to a coherent moral system, and questioning (a) the strength of the system, and (b) the extent to which he succeeds in adhering to it. His sources are Bush's own words, both in public speeches and as reported in, for example, Bob Woodward's book about the lead-up to the Iraq war. He also looks at the Bush administration's policies and analyzes how consistent or inconsistent they are with his rhetoric.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Singer concludes in the end that Bush is a "conspicuous failure" because his ethic is "intuitive" rather than systematic, led by his gut rather than by coherent principles. Measured in the context of utilitarian, Christian, and individual rights frameworks, his actions and statements have been wildly inconsistent. In the final chapter, Singer suggests that in terms of moral development, Bush may have reached the level of advanced conventional morality-- the level that psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg says boys generaly reach at the age of thirteen-- without continuing to the level of post-conventional morality. The post-conventional level is the level at which we understand the *reasons* behind the rules, and how to prioritize when rules are in conflict, guided by more complex principles such as the Golden Rule rather than simpler ones like the Ten Commandments (thou shalt not).

Thus, Bush and his cabinet adhere almost fanatically to superficial rules of morality without any concern for more complex judgments, which results in grave moral failures. They insist, for example, that it was "technically accurate" for Bush to say in his State of the Union address, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," because the British had, in fact, reported that-- despite the fact that the CIA had already told the British and the White House that the claim was probably not true [214-5]. So their grasp on the moral high ground rests on the "technical" truth of the statement, regardless of the fact that saying such a thing in a major national address leads the country to believe something that is false, with fatal consequences.

As for the paradox that everyone who meets Bush seems to think he's a fundamentally decent person, while his administration has been one of the most draconian and mendacious in American history, Singer offers this hypothesis/conspiracy theory. Bush is the "gentleman" pawn of his "philosopher" entourage, influential members of which were trained by Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. He notes that William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and other important advisers are Straussians, though I'm not sure what that means. Wolfowitz, I know, was actually trained by Strauss as a Ph.D. student at Chicago, but I'm not sure about the others.

Strauss's theory, according to Singer, is that two versions of the truth exist: one for the masses unable to grasp higher knowledge, and one for the philosophers who have the capacity to soar to "the peaks of human excellence" [221]. An example of the former kind of truth: that God will punish evil and reward good. An example of the latter kind of truth: that no God exists, but inculcating belief in God helps maintain social order. The philosopher's role as a leader is to keep the masses in line by using the former kinds of truths, and to keep them from interfering with other philosophers' ascent to said peaks of excellence. He does this by enlisting "gentlemen," who in the words of classicist Miles Burnyeat, "come, preferably, from patrician urban backgrounds and have money without having to work too hard for it...Such 'gentlemen' are idealistic, devoted to virtuous ends, and sympathetic to philosophy." [221-2] Recognize anyone? So Bush, in this reading, is the pawn who professes and promotes a virtue that his puppeteers actually think is meaningless. Anyhow, the Straussians in the administration were instrumental in masterminding the Iraq war, and in fact they were the main players in the Project for a New American Century.

This book will not convince many people who are not already inclined to think badly of Bush. Personally, I admire Peter Singer and I think he is terrific at taking you through moral decision-making in an analytical but accessible way. And I think he's dead on in identifying the logical inconsistencies and weak foundation of Bush's moral reasoning. But I believe that MOST people (including me) don't work from a coherent philosophical framework when they make decisions, and I think that MOST people won't, therefore, be surprised or alarmed that the president doesn't either. So ultimately I think this book, clear and engaging as it is, is hopelessly confined to a small audience of ethics wonks (if there is such a thing) and people addicted to Bush-bashing.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Stages of Grief

Denial: What about all those provisional ballots? Surely, something must have gone wrong in Broward County! I can see the headlines now: “Election Fraud Annuls Results: International monitors investigating.”

Anger: All right, America, you got what you deserve! Obviously you do not pay attention to what is really going on in this country – probably get all your information from talk radio and Fox news! I’m outta here…

Depression: We worked so hard – and what good did it do? It makes no sense to try and bring about positive change – with so many who just don’t care! It’s so depressing – with attacks on both Fallujah and Social Security announced just 2 days after the election.

Acceptance: OK. We know that Kerry was not going to be our Saviour. ( But he was SO “Not Bush”!) So nothing’s changed. There remains a lot of work to do. We have to keep informed, network, unite when necessary to take a stand, and keep working on our own areas, in our own ways to make this American democracy – as Bruce Springsteen put it: the country we carry in our hearts – a reality.
We have to look beyond the daily patter of the mainstream media – all about the red states and the blue states and that the election was decided on moral issues. Hogwash! What is moral about people working hard and being too poor to pay for shelter, food and health care? What is moral about 1448 (so far today) American soldiers dying in Iraq to make the country safe for economic exploitation?
Nor was the election a referendum on gay marriage – as analysis of the results indicates. Bush gained no more points in states with a referendum on gay marriage than he did in other states. Also, as regards to a “mandate” to move toward theocracy, Bush gained more among less religious voters than he did among those who identified themselves as most religious.
The reality is that the election was darned close. And more people passionately cared about the outcome than any time in recent history. And they aren’t all red and blue states, either – they’re purple, (unless you live in Idaho, Utah or Wyoming.) Progressive causes gained ground as a result of the election process and the dialogue about real issues like the widening gap between rich and the poor; lack of health care; and the moves to limit civil rights, damage the environment and basically become an immoral, imperialist power.
This is no time to give up – or even to rest – just time to keep on keeping on.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Post-election demographics

Ruy Teixeira has a series of good posts reviewing the demographics of voters in the 2004 election.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Political maps

Anyone interested in seeing graphic displays of partisanship should take a look at the maps collected in this BOP News post.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Calling people of ordinary conscience

Good grief, America! What is wrong with you? The man racks up debt in your name, gets your children killed and maimed, says he regrets nothing, and you haven’t changed the locks? If I were Dr. Phil, I’d say this is an unhealthy codependency you’ve got going here. Get some backbone and get that man out of your life for good. What’s that? You think you don’t deserve a better president? Girlfriend, we need to get you to a therapist, and fast.

Seriously. I confess I was blindsided. For weeks I’ve been thinking that if the election were clean, Kerry would be our next president. But the election was apparently as clean as it ever is, and Kerry lost. I’m surprised and disappointed.

Still, this may be a blessing in disguise. I think a lot of people were thinking of a Kerry victory as a panacea, as if things would be fine if only we could get Bush out of office. But of course things would not have been fine. Our soldiers would still have been wandering around in the desert, surrounded by unidentified enemies. We would still have a massive deficit and an anemic economy to deal with. The mistrust festering between the midwest and the coasts, between the south and the northeast, between the religious and the secular, would be no less purulent. But if Kerry had won, I think many of the people the Bush administration has switched on to politics (like me) would have switched right off again, feeling that we’d dodged the bullet and the danger was past.

I'm coming to realize what anyone who gets involved realizes eventually: activism is a lifetime charge. Recently I read two books that come to opposite conclusions about the effectiveness of struggle: Orwell’s 1984 and Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. In 1984, Winston Smith’s effort to resist Big Brother’s authoritarian regime gets him tortured physically and psychologically and eventually executed. It’s a result that’s forecast from the beginning of the book and plays out almost mechanically, shockingly inexorable. Not great beach reading. Similarly, Mandela’s opposition to the apartheid regime got him 27 years in prison, privation and abuse, and alienation from his family. But Mandela never, ever gave up. He managed to fight injustice and indignity throughout his whole life, almost never letting bitterness or rage distract him. He treated everyone around him, including prison guards, as fellow sufferers in an unjust system, and he’s become a symbol of hope and resistance in our time.

The thing I want to emphasize is this: Mandela was not alone. In Pretoria, middle class white women stood in the streets holding protest signs. During the sham Treason Trial of 1956-1961, an Indian woman, Mrs. Thayanagee Pillay, made Mandela a hot lunch every single day. White lawyers defended the Treason Triallists for free and journalists publicized the injustice of the Trial abroad. In Holland, ordinary people descended on grocery stores and slapped stickers on the South African oranges reading, “When you eat this orange you support the killing and oppression of black people.” In America, students held sit-ins at university campuses to persuade their administrations to divest from South African companies. Some of those people did not live to see apartheid end; some of them only lived long enough to see the violence worsen in the 1980s. But even when things seemed to be stagnant, or changing for the worse, those people kept on. They saw what Winston Smith saw—the ostracism, the danger, the seeming futility of their efforts—and they decided that a struggle with no visible result is better than no struggle at all. Resistance itself humanizes.

There are more of us like Mrs. Thayanagee Pillay than like Nelson Mandela, I think. But without that little old lady bringing lunch, without the protestors on the steps of Parliament, without foreign divestment and boycotts, Nelson Mandela would have been Winston Smith. Because of them, instead of ending by accepting tyranny and a bullet in the brain, as Winston does, Nelson ends with the words: “I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”

So I guess what I’m saying is: let’s keep walking. This election was not a choice between salvation and damnation. A Kerry win would not have let us off the hook, but a Bush win gives us fewer opportunities to make excuses, to withdraw into our own lives and stop trying to connect with other people and promote change. So get out your posterboard and your markers and get busy. There are lots of little ways to resist and dissent, to stay involved in our communities and try to make life better for people there. And it’s important, because it is only when people of ordinary conscience are active that people of extraordinary conscience can appear.

The day after the day after...

So this is to be our time in the wilderness. What should be the next steps for progressives? This election clearly shows us to be outnumbered by those who actively support the corporate theocracy of the Republicans, and those who support it based on false assumptions of its morality, competence, or economics.

My feelings are a combination of numb resignation ('you'll get what you voted for, America'), and moral outrage. Somehow the people who supported Bush must be awakened to their moral culpability for the continuing war in Iraq, the degradation of the environment, the increasing concentration of wealth and power, the development of the US as the world's largest and most dangerous Third World nation--a theocratic plutocracy set to wage constant war against a world we tower over, yet are convinced is about to destroy us. Kill to protect a culture of life; war against the non-threatening in the interest of our safety; strength through the constant awareness of our insecurity.

This system cannot last, of course. It will destroy itself in time, or be destroyed. But we must help it end sooner rather than later; bring it down by undermining its foundations rather than waiting for it to explode. The lives of too many people depend on us succeeding.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Day After...

Now that election day is here, it's time to start thinking about what comes next for both the Kerry administration and for the progressives who helped elect him. Despite my continuing concerns about domestic social and economic issues, I think that the new president needs to focus most on foreign policy. America must feel safer in the world, lest the militarism currently infecting our politics grows more powerful. In that case, whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in power, civil liberties will continue to erode, and only the most hawkish in resume or rhetoric will be able to run for federal office. More on this later, maybe--I'm off now to help get out the vote.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Apocalypse Now

In the Sunday NY Times, Ron Suskind states that evangelical Christians, “the core of the energetic ‘base’ … believes that their leader is a messenger from God.” Lincoln Chafee, Republican senator from Rhode Island, has said: The issue of Bush “announcing that ‘I carry the word of God’ is the key to the election.”

Bush himself has been quoted as having recently told a group of Amish in Pennsylvania:
“I trust God speaks through me.”

It is gratifying to read that this message does not resonate well even with Christians.

“God is not a Republican, neither is he a Democrat, and their candidates are wonderful Christians, but neither of their parties has a direct line to God.... It is known that the Bible is very accommodating and respects divergence of opinion and our ability to choose. People who use their Bible to reach their own ends do a great disservice to Christianity." Zimbabwean Bishop Patrick Mutume

Keeping to the religious theme, a bumpersticker noted on Sojourners website: Bush/Cheney 04: Because you don’t change horsemen mid-apocalypse

It is also rumored there that the price of real estate in New Zealand is due to rise dramatically should Bush win the election.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I'm Voting for Andy Griffith

After the first debate was described as 'Andy Griffith versus Barney Fife,' I suppose this was inevitable: Dubya, The Movie. Still, it's amusing. Brought to our attention by the Progressive Populist.

DailyKos informs us of a BBC report showing private detectives hired by the Florida GOP conducting under-cover surveillance of early voters as part of a campaign to challenge African-American voters, create long lines at polling stations, and discourage turn-out. Why are the Republicans trying to limit the number of voters on Nov. 2? Because they love freedom.

Also from DailyKos, a story that really should be getting more attention from the press: The Bush administration denied the military permission to strike at Abu Musab Zarqawi before the invasion of Iraq because to do so would have eliminated one of their reasons to invade Iraq.

Monday, October 25, 2004

New Yorker endorses Kerry

For the first time in its history, the New Yorker endorses a cadidate for president. No surprise that it's Kerry. No surprise, either, that it's a fine piece of writing. Definitely worth reading.

Headlines from around the web...

An article from the San Francisco Chronicle looks at part of the effort to develop a religious progressive movement in opposition to the religious right.

A contributor to The Gadflyer looks at the AMA's claim that high malpractice insurance premiums are driving doctors into retirement and hurting patient care.

An economist writes for Slate that Bush's tax cuts are unfair... To the rich:
"the rich already pay too much—it seems patently unfair to ask anyone to pay over 30 times as much as his neighbors (unless he receives 30 times as much in government services, which strikes me as implausible). If you share my sense of fairness, you'll join me in condemning the president's tax policy."

Another economist has a website the automatically downloads state poll results and uses margins of error to predict probabilities of Kerry and Bush results. Currently 64% chance of a Kerry victory.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Silver Lining?

I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from the vigorous pro-Kerry campaigning and get-out-the-vote that seems to be sweeping like wildfire...but I've long wondered if there would be a silver lining to a Bush victory. Now one of my favorite public intellectuals, William Greider, is saying in public something I've been thinking about myself: that whoever is in the White House the next four years is going to face a serious economic meltdown. That, combined with the Iraq quagmire, is likely to seriously undermine the next administration. The Bush Administration may not believe in reality-based decision-making, but reality (economic, imperial, and otherwise) has a way of asserting itself over the long run despite any level of denial.

That said, I am still predicting (and hoping for) a Kerry victory on Nov 2nd. Even if it dooms his presidency, Kerry will be far better able to handle the multiple crises when they explode in his face.

Bush is president but Kerry's a lawyer?

The St. Petersburg Times has profiles of the presidential candidates on its website, and in the basic biographical data, lists Bush's occupation as "president," and Kerry's as "attorney." So let me get this straight: John Kerry has been a United States Senator for twenty years but his core identity is a lawyer? Give me a break.

Friday Browsing Roundup has a link up to a good anti-Bush ad. The makers of the ad are also asking for contributions to help buy air time.

TPM continues its Karl Rove Dirty Tricks Watch, today noting efforts in Ohio to misinform voters of the location of their polling places.

More on the religious front: New Donkey covers the news that the Vatican has said No, John Kerry is not a heretic. Good for them--they're getting much better at this sort of thing. It took them what, 400 years to decide that Galileo wasn't a heretic?

Some good things on recently:

Middle East expert Juan Cole tries his hand at both psychoanalysis and dissecting US youth culture in this unintentionally amusing post on the rapper Eminem.

The hawkish New Republic endorses Kerry (registration required--check out BugMeNot site for public registrations). Without, alas, admitting the folly of their ways.

Finally, a piece from on misconceptions of the racial and socioeconomic makeup of the US military. Useful to read before making arguments about how the armed forces prey on the American underclass. According to the author, David L. Englin, a recent Pentagon survey shows US military inductees are not significantly poorer or less educated than the US population as a whole. Interesting, though I wonder what the result would be if you looked at the services seperately? My guess is that Army inductees are significantly poorer, more likely to be black or hispanic, and less educated than the population as a whole. Also, Englin's contention that combat units are less poor, more white and more educated can also be read as a selection bias: Combat posts are the best way to earn advancement in the military; those serving for a lack of civilian employment opportunities are probably disproportionately channeled toward support units with less chance for upward mobility.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Recent News Roundup

Some items from today's web browsing:

We learn via about the Bush campaign's response to Pat Robertson's claim that Bush was as certain as "a contented Christian with four aces" that there would be no American casualties in Iraq.

From Amy Sullivan at Washington Monthly's Political Animal: It's a truism in American political circles that Bush is deeply faithful. But, judged by his actions rather than his words, Ayelish McGarvey of the American Prospect says, "Bush is no devout evangelical. In fact, he may not be a Christian at all." Says McGarvey: "Ironically for a man who once famously named Jesus as his favorite political philosopher during a campaign debate, it is remarkably difficult to pinpoint a single instance wherein Christian teaching has won out over partisan politics in the Bush White House." Most politics these days--Dem and Rep--is driven by a corrosive ends-justify-the-means attitude, but the Republicans have taken this to new extremes (see below).

Also, if you've not seen it already, it's worth reading Ron Suskind's NY Times Magazine article on the Bush administration's disdain for the 'reality-based community.'

(get your predictions in now!)

With the election less than two weeks away, obsessive poll-watchers are hungry for more information. More! MORE! With that in mind, provides a good set of electoral college update pages. Looks pretty good for Kerry right now, I think.

For more cheery polls, see Donkey Rising.

Looking at the low numbers for Bush, his approval ratings mired in the mid-40s, the growing number of conservatives (even blood relatives) leaving his ranks, and the large increases in Democratic voter registrations and almost manic get-out-the-vote campaigns, my prediction is that Bush barely breaks 47% in the popular vote on Nov. 2, and that Kerry wins both Florida and Ohio to trounce the incumbent in the electoral college. On a contrary note, though, see this Economist article how the well-run Republican party dominates the Democratic "adhocracy." (Way off base if you ask me. Though the Dems are relatively disorganized, we'll see how well-run the Reps are as they tear each other to pieces after Bush loses. Or even, perhaps, if he wins.)

Many times during this political season, I have read the news of both campaigns and thought, 'hell, I could do a better job than that.' If you have too, tells us that the Christian Science Monitor is offering a downloadable simulation game where you can play campaign manager. (Alas, we Mac users are left out of the fun again--someone will have to tell me how the game goes.) Politicalwire also mentions a couple of other politics games, in case you're interested.

How might the Republicans do better than my prediction? By cheating, that's how. Efforts are currently underway via various legal and illegal methods to keep Dems from voting. In his Guardian column, DailyKos author Markos Moulitsas offers a handy summary of some of these nefarious dealings, and a collection of websites tracking the latest developments: "There are several clearing houses of voter suppression and fraud online, like the Voter Registration Fraud Clearinghouse and Vote Watch 2004."

Some fraudsters are already receiving their just desserts. Politicalwire delivers this item from the Rocky Mountain News: A Colorado Republican "stealing campaign signs late one night got nabbed when he ran across a low-hanging driveway chain, fell face first onto a pilfered sign and the concrete and knocked himself unconscious."Randall Wagner, 50, was trying to steal a sign for congressional candidate Dave Thomas and "had signs for other Democratic candidates in his Toyota pickup."

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Bush Must Repent?

George W. Bush likes to present himself as the faithful Christian candidate, but members of his own denomination, the United Methodists, are calling on him to repent for his deception and disgregard of human life in the Iraq war (see Although I am not a big fan of efforts to throw anybody out of the Church, it is refreshing to see someone willing to assail the morally corrupt behavior of the current administration from an avowedly Christian point of view. I suspect that this effort will not attract too much support in the end, even though many of us sympathize with it, because most of us don't want to set a precedent of disciplining church members for not following church law to the letter in their political lives. Still, it is worth noting that Bush has been dismissive of faith-based points of view that criticize his administration's policies and decisions, even when those criticisms come from his own denomination. For example, when the United Methodist Council of Bishops called for alternatives to the rush to war in Iraq, it seems like Bush refused to even meet with them.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Conspiracy theory update, OR, The Mystery of Bush's Brain

Just what was the mysterious bulge on Bush's back during the first debate? Speculation began in the blogosphere, then erupted into mainstream press. Now, says that a 'technical expert' says it looks to him like a sort of transmitter. What's more, video has surfaced from a much earlier Bush speech in which a CNN broadcast seems to have picked up the voice of someone saying Bush's words moments before Bush himself spoke them. Mmmm....

But why would the President need a transmitter--and why didn't it help him do better during the debate? Well, it could be because he is suffering from PRE-SENILE DEMENTIA. As evidence, look at this comparison of his debate performances in the Texas governor's race and the first presidential debate.

Some sort of mental breakdown might also explain why Bush insisted that Dick Cheney be with him when he met with the 9/11 commission, and why Bush's handlers take such extreme steps to isolate him from reporters, protestors, or anyone wearing a John Kerry button. And of course news of the President's condition cannot be allowed to leak out before the election, so his annual physical exam had to be cancelled.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Fake Kerry quotes at FOX and NY Times

A flurry of reports about supposed Kerry statements that it turns out were either just made up or heard second or third hand and never checked.

First, Josh Marshall catches a story on FOX News that contains quotes from Kerry like "
Didn't my nails and cuticles look great?" Did Kerry really say things like that? Nope--the quotes were made up as a joke by the FOX reporter covering the Kerry campaign, and 'accidentally' posted on the FOX News website before being retracted. What will happen to the reporter--will he be fired or maybe reassigned to some other beat? FOX isn't saying.

Second, scroll down to the Updates on today's Daily Howler, where Maureen Dowd and her colleagues at the NY Times are taken to task for repeatedly using a quote from Kerry--"Who among us does not like NASCAR"--that Kerry never said. The original post from the Howler is overly long and frenzied, but contains more details about how Dowd got the quote. Though the NYT has probably known for some time that the quote is false, they have never apologized or issued a retraction.

Friday, October 01, 2004

What does 'Lumpenlogocracy' mean?

logocrats = people who gain their authority from use of words and other symbols (i.e. professional groups such as scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, college professors)

lumpen = prefix in social theory denoting the part of the group that is lowest and least powerful; most common usage is "lumpenproletariat": "The lowest, most degraded stratum of the proletariat. Used originally in Marxist theory to describe those members of the proletariat, especially criminals, vagrants, and the unemployed, who lacked class consciousness." (according to the dictionary)

lumpen-logocrats = unemployed or insecurely employed people with higher degrees, stereotypically people with Ph.D's who drive cabs or wait tables for a living...or perhaps Ph.D's who cannot find tenure-track jobs and have to cobble together a living from teaching classes here and there (usage from sociologist Charles Derber and his colleagues)

lumpenlogocracy = perhaps an oxymoron, since "-cracy" usually refers to who rules in a society (e.g., democracy, plutocracy, autocracy), and thus anyone who is "lumpen" can't really be "-cracy"...on the other hand, it is a kind of daring statement that the lowest professionals are trying to assert their authority

[Note: this post was created on 10-18-2005 as a linkable container for information removed from the web log's sidebar when the blog roll was added.]

Best description of the debate (so far)

From Tom Shales's critique in the Washington Post:

One longtime political observer -- among the friends canvassed by this critic -- was more irreverent about the debate and how the two debaters came off: "It was Andy Griffith meets Barney Fife," he said, with Kerry in the Griffith role -- solid, sanguine, sensible -- and Bush as the nervous Fife.

It's also amusing to note from this article that good old Dan Rather refuses to describe the 'debate' as a debate--instead, he refers to it always as a 'joint appearance.' Good for you, Mr. Rather. Um, too bad about those documents, huh?

Kudos (Koodohs? Kudoughs? Whatever) to Peter Jennings and ABC, too. I watched their debate coverage last night and was mightily pleased that they did not interview any of the spinmeisters fogging up the lenses and microphones of other organizations in 'spin alley.'

Post Debate

In the papers this morning, most accounts of the debate give Kerry the win. A friend of mine with a staunchly Republican family, however, tells me that last night she phoned her parents and siblings to get their impressions, and all of them thought Bush had 'stuck to his guns' and won hands down. So maybe Bush's consistency played well with his base. The LA Times says (registration required), on the other hand, that some undecided voters in Allentown, PA, were won over by Kerry during the debate, and that
Those in the crowd laughed several times when Bush smirked or stammered, and several undecided voters said afterward that they found Kerry more articulate and decisive.

To me, Bush seemed irritable and uncomfortable. And he really said only two things for every question: 'Criticizing my policies sends the wrong message to the troops,' and 'Being President is hard.'

Did anyone else notice that Bush did not answer Lehrer's question whether Bush really believed that electing Kerry would make a terrorist attack on the US more likely? Bush said, to paraphrase, 'I don't believe that will happen, because Kerry won't be elected.'

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Ask not what you can do for your country

Even though I had already decided I wasn’t voting for him in November, I watched Dick Cheney address his acolytes last night. Having only read his comments in print before, I was curious to see our vice president speak. But I also wanted to see some of the delegates because at this point, I'm genuinely baffled: what can they be thinking? These RNC delegates are not just supportive, they're inspired. They're so turned on at the thought of a second Bush term that they've taken a week out of their lives to travel across the country and listen to political speeches.

On TV, they looked like ordinary enough folks, the usual mix of fat and thin, conservatively dressed and lavishly costumed, vacant-eyed and intent. But watching them interrupt Cheney to chant "USA! USA! USA!" and "Flip flop! Flip flop!" and "Four more years! Four more years!", I grew more and more perplexed (and Cheney grew more and more annoyed. He makes it look like such a hassle, this seeking the consent of the governed). I thought: who are these people? The speakers are spending 90% of their time talking about how our lives will be in danger for the foreseeable future, and you're waving your arms over your heads like you're at a rock concert? What is it about Judge Doom up there saying evil men are after you that just makes you feel like dancin'?

I can understand exuberance in response to vision, the current that courses through you when you hear a man say "one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." But Dick Cheney's vision was unredeemably dark, nothing but the black waters of war all the way to the
horizon, not even a tiny green island of peace for us to aim at. It was a future without any possibility for compromise with dissenters-- such as, say, the world community. You could almost hear the festive crackle of bridges burning every time he growled "U.N.".

His is a world in which we as ordinary Americans can do nothing to make life better, safer, or fairer-- nothing except trust our leaders and kill our enemies. After all, as Zell Miller reminded protesters in his speech, "It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest." Our leaders require nothing more of me than my acquiescence. That's something that's been bothering me ever since I heard John McCain wrap up his convention speech by saying, "Keep your courage." Our courage to do what? Except for the soldiers and their families, who embody courage in its rawest form, the rest of us haven't been asked to do a darn thing that might require courage. Surely I can help America in other ways than by shopping or killing. Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, please: inspire me. Exhort me. Encourage me. But don't just tell me to trust you and get out of the way.