Sunday, February 19, 2006

Thinking About Cheney the Reckless Hunter

I've noticed a fair amount of debate among Progressives over the past week about how to deal with Cheney's reckless hunting mishap of last weekend. Some argue that it is distracting from more important issues, while others applaud any negative attention to Cheney's secrecy, arrogance, and bad decision-making style--especially if it can be tied metaphorically to larger public issues. (And Cheney can't exactly blame people for speculating about why he would delay publicly reporting the shooting for so long or for failing to submit to any serious scrutiny--such as blood alcohol testing--can he? Any prosecutor or jury would have to be suspicious about that...)

But I want to offer a new angle on the story. Wasn't it just a day or two before the ill-fated hunting trip when we learned that indicted Scooter Libby had claimed in grand jury testimony that he was authorized by his superiors to reveal Valerie Plame's CIA cover? And who was Libby's boss before his indictment? Why, Dick Cheney, of course. Everyone hearing Libby's statement knew that he meant Cheney.

It has become increasingly clear that Cheney is implicated in so much of the Bush Administration's malfeasance. Of all the top government officials making ridiculous and unsubstantiated claims before the invasion of Iraq about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction or his supposed ties to Al-Qaeda, it was Cheney who uttered some of the most cocksure and bold assertions (lies?) And Cheney has been at the center of speculation about who orchestrated the attempt to smear James Wilson, who debunked the crude forgeries that supposedly showed Iraq trying to obtain uranium from Africa.

We also know from numerous news reports that Cheney often uses his hunting trips as a way to deal with stress or blow of steam, to refresh himself after being under the pressure of public criticism or scrutiny. So it stands to reason that Libby's grand jury revelation implicating Cheney might have been weighing on his mind pretty heavily. Could it be that Cheney is under so much stress over possible prosecution--in this and other simmering scandals--that he was unable to focus as carefully while he was hunting? Could there actually be a closer link between this accident and other more public scandals? It is not unusual for people under great stress to have accidents. To make poor decisions. To have lapses in judgment.

I wonder if it might be better for Cheney to simply resign his office and try to get himself pulled back together. I'm serious. If the pressure over his involvement in scandals is making him a danger to friends and family, then it would be better for both the country as a whole and his personal life for him to focus on his own mental health. Perhaps we, the American people, should be demanding that he step down so he doesn't have the burden of so much public responsibility while dealing with all these crises and scandals.

Meanwhile, on a completely different subject, I would like to commend Senator Russ Feingold for his courageous, articulate, and passionate statement against the Patriot Act renewal "compromise." We cannot sacrifice our liberties and freedoms. No one in Congress is working harder than Russ Feingold to keep the USA from descending into the Orwellian land of "1984" it too early to endorse a Presidential candidate for 2008?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The #1 U.S. Domestic Issue to Address?

Obviously the war in Iraq remains a key issue for our political leaders in the U.S. to address. Meanwhile, on the domestic front, this recent posting at Donkey Rising argues that HEALTH CARE should perhaps be priority #1. I agree, and I hope that Democrats can take on the task of serious health care reform (and then get elected!), because the Republicans in power are completely dropping the ball on this one.

And let me add a moral (and a little bit religious) perspective to the poll and opinion survey analysis given in the link above. There are so many people in the U.S. suffering due to the spiraling costs of health care. It is hard for me to just stand by and watch while feeling strongly that Jesus would have wanted to do something about this. And this isn't something we can deal with through individual charity to poor people. There are millions of ordinary working people across America who simply can't afford adequate health care. We need to band together as a society and the only way we can truly deal with a problem of this magnitude is to demand that our government get involved. Whether you are a person of faith or not, I have a hard time imagining any moral system that would let such inequalities persist when it has to do with issues of basic human survival and health.

Of course, if you are yourself without health insurance, or are stuck on one of those really bad plans that can often inhibit health care more than provide it, or if you know somebody who has inadequate health coverage (which would be just about everyone except George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their elite cronies), then I don't need to convince you. You know that the system is broken. Let's have some compassion and work together to try to fix it. I hope some political leaders (are you listening, Democratic hopefuls?) will propose and truly fight for a universal health care plan with single-payer features to contain costs and provide coverage for everyone.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Religion in Public Life

I have struggled over the past few days to understand the furor over the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. It seems to be getting more press over here in Germany, but a fair amount in the USA as well. Now it appears that the Danish embassy in Syria has been set on fire, and lots of Muslims have been vehemently protesting in the streets of many cities. The whole issue is tricky for many of us on the Progressive Left, especially Christians, because while we strongly support the freedom of expression, it is also painful to see deeply-held religious views so blatantly disrespected. Frankly, I have to admit that my first response was probably like that of most American citizens: What is wrong with free expression? Why do Muslims in the Middle East have to try to censor newspapers in Europe? And the images themselves don't seem so bad to my eyes, even imagining an equivalent satire of the Christian religion. We can't try to enforce one religious group's views of what constitutes blasphemy in a secular and pluralistic society, now can we?

But the more I thought about it, I realized that I really don't understand at all the worldview of many (most?) Muslims that causes them to take such offense. I just live in such a radically different world that I could not comprehend why depicting a religious figure could be so bad. As a Christian, I am so accustomed to seeing depictions of Jesus (and even God in some cartoons) that I think nothing of it. Maybe I need to imagine something completely different that would make me feel just as offended. Like, for example, when hate-mongers picket liberal churches or pastors with signs reading "God hates fags" (sic). To me, even typing those words seems almost like blasphemy. If a newspaper, Christian or secular, had printed a news story announcing those words as fact, I would have felt extremely offended, because to me one of the non-negotiable central tenets of my Christian faith is that God loves EVERYBODY. I would probably go protest in the streets and boycott any newspaper that proclaimed as a supposed matter of fact that God hates gay people, or anybody for that matter.

Perhaps the most helpful brief commentary on this issue is a brief diary posted by scorponic at dailykos. As someone who has watched the whole thing unfold in Denmark, scorponic points out the larger context of the developing controversy. Those of us on the Progressive Left may just wish this whole mess to go away--and, indeed, it is just adding fuel to the fire for right-wing extremists in both Western and Middle Eastern countries. But I think we can't ignore it entirely. It is hard to fully support (or oppose) either side in this controversy, but I hope that perhaps some voices of tolerance and mutual understanding can begin to edge us away from the horrid "clash of civilizations" rhetoric that events like this seem to enable.

On a completely different subject, if you haven't seen Bono's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, they are powerful and well worth reading.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Three Links of the Day

In a desperate attempt to keep this blog looking fresh despite the brief shelf life of my last post, I hereby present my three links of the day, gleaned from some of my favorite websites (commondreams, huffingtonpost, dailykos, etc.):

1. Is there a golden thread linking the GOP-Abramoff scandal with ripping off American Indians? Even if the connections to Abramoff turn out to be thin--note that I'm not suggesting they are, and I certainly support pursuing this case further--it is worthwhile just to learn about this huge class action lawsuit involving gross federal mismanagement of Indian trust lands. U.S. citizens, in particular, should be educating themselves about this issue, if we care even a tiny bit about rectifying in some small way the huge injustices perpetrated against Indians in our nation's history. I have to plead guilty myself to not knowing enough about this whole mess before, even though I have an interest in federal land law and American Indian history.

2. On the lighter (?) knew there were researchers studying everything imaginable, right? Well, take a look at this news report on a fascinating study based on brain scans and detailed questionnaires. Apparently, people with strong partisan political views are often incapable of fairly evaluating information that contracticts their pre-existing biases--and their (should I say, our?) cerebral "reward centers" became stimulated when they simply rejected the discordant information. Kind of like drug addicts, they note. (Other researchers at the same conference apparently found a correlation between Republican partisanship and holding implicit negative views about Black people...hmmmm....I guess many of the great political ad-makers and campaign strategists probably knew that already.) Denial of information that does not fit a preconceived worldview seems to be a particularly salient problem nowadays.

3. Continuing the theme of how people deny information that does not fit their worldview, I wonder if one issue that most Americans, Republican and Democrat, have a hard time re-examining is 9/11. I have checked in from time to time on the growing, but still relatively marginal, movement to radically revise the official account of what happened on 9/11. Every time I delve into this world, I have a hard time dismissing the arguments put forward by some of these people, who are often derided as "conspiracy theorists." The thing is, not all of their arguments are wacko, and in fact, there seems to be substantial evidence supporting the alternative scenarios. What am I talking about, you ask? Take a look at this website, which is among the most thoroughly researched and thoughtful that I've seen--and even includes some peer reviewed papers by scientists, engineers, and other scholars. I admire their bravery and dogged pursuit of wherever the evidence seems to lead them, even if it conflicts with the stories most of us believe in order to avoid having to confront the worst scenarios. I have no idea, really, if these people are on to something. But it certainly seems worth keeping an open mind.