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Sunday, March 21st, 2010
3:47 pm
Party of No?
I find this "party of no" epithet somewhat confused. Is that really a good political criticism? If, after all, you disagree with the policies being proposed, shouldn't you do your best to prevent them? Shouldn't you, in other words, say "no"?

If the Democrats had stood up to the radical Republican agenda under President Bush and voted no on everything, I would have been proud of them, not critical that they were being too obstructionistic. As it happens, of course, when the Republicans were in power (and even after they weren't) the Democrats unfortunately capitulated to them on pretty much everything of importance, gradually eroding the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution, in the service of amassing even greater power for the government.

(One of the most baffling things about the current neo-revolutionary protests is the fact that they are basically a right-wing phenomenon, seen as protests against the Democrats, and allied with the Republicans. As if somehow all the Republicans' actions over the last decade -- expanding the surveillance state, denying the right to trial by jury, encroaching on freedom of religion, doing away with the ban on torture, etc. (almost literally going one by one through each amendment in the Bill of Rights and dismantling them) and meanwhile accumulating the greatest deficit ever (even after starting with the greatest surplus ever) -- as if all that is somehow "small government" and respectful of our founding documents. What?! I respect the Constitution as much as these "tea partiers" - maybe more - and that's precisely why I disagree with them.)

Anyway, if you do believe that one party is anti-democratic (small "d"), is destroying the principles our country stands for, etc. -- as I believe of the Bush-era Republicans, and as the tea partiers apparently (inexplicably) believe of the current Democrats -- then it stands to reason that you would embrace obstructionism as a strategy. That you would become a "party of no". In fact, far from being a slur, such a label might be one of pride.

That said, however, the Republicans' hypocrisy on the issue of process, of in what ways it is reasonable to hold up Congressional business, has been astounding. After spending years decrying the Democrats for daring to filibuster a few judicial nominees (nominees who were, by the way, not mere run-of-the-mill conservatives, but rather extreme ideologues who hoped to overturn years of precedents -- as the Supreme Court recently did in the Citizens United campaign finance case -- probably merited the rather extreme step of a filibuster), after demanding until they were blue in the face that the Democrats allow an "up-or-down vote", the Republicans themselves then turn around and, now that they're in the minority, start using the filibuster at a completely unprecedented rate, on basically every piece of legislation, as well as a host of nominees (who, by the way, as a group are much more moderate than Bush's army of "unitary executive" supporters and fox-guarding-the-henhouse bureaucrats were).

What was once beyond outrage for the Democrats to do occasionally, is now standard operating procedure for the Republicans, virtually all the time. It's become so common that actually filibustering is rare anymore; just the threat of it has become enough to stop legislation in its tracks. Thus when counting the "number of filibusters" what we are really counting is number of cloture motions filed (motions to end a filibuster). Counting can be complicated, but by any measure, in the last Congress, Republicans filibustered an unprecedented number of times - doubling the previous record - and even after that, they're on track to break their own record in the current Congress. As the AP put it in a March 1, 2010 article, "Last year, the first of the 111th Congress, there were a record 112 cloture votes. In the first two months of 2010, the number already exceeds 40. That means, with 10 months left to run in the 111th Congress, Republicans have turned to the filibuster or threatened its use at a pace that will more than triple the old record."

And by the way, none of this takes into account the non-filibuster delaying tactics that are also being used, such as "holds", an informal Senate procedure that allows only one Senator to hold up business. Kentucky Republican Sen. Bunning, for example, single-handedly placed a hold on popular legislation that would provide unemployment benefits to those who lose their jobs, fund in-progress construction projects, and reimburse doctors for Medicare patients. And, even more radically, earlier this year, Alabama Republican Sen. Shelby held up all of Obama's nominees (of whom there were around 70 still pending, in many cases due to prior Republican obstructionism) in order to win some pork projects ("earmarks") for his own state. It was called a "blanket hold" because it wasn't for any one bill or appointment, but for all of them. In case you were wondering, such a thing had never been done before. Prior to that audacious move, there was no such thing as a "blanket hold".

But even with all that, even while the Republicans try to prevent an up-or-down vote on healthcare reform (and everything else) in the Senate, they have the gall to act as if the Democrats' "deem and pass" ("self-executing rule") plan is somehow anti-democratic because it doesn't allow an "up-or-down" vote on the Senate bill by itself. Because, you know, they're only concerned about preserving procedural traditions, and making sure every bill gets a fair, majority-rules vote. (For what it's worth, it looks like the Democrats have decided not to go that route anyway, and will vote on the bills separately, due to the outcry it created, even though -- see my previous post -- there's nothing radical about it to begin with. They feel comfortable with that approach now, whereas they didn't before, because they realized they could vote through the amendments to the Senate bill before voting on the Senate bill itself, which would have the same effect, while at the same time providing "up-or-down" votes on each piece separately. Now if only the Republicans would ever cave on their ridiculous, unprecedented tactics.)

In sum: obstruction of an agenda you oppose is only natural, and to be expected, and I have no problem with you voting "no" on bills you don't agree with. But...

(1) the Republicans have taken obstructionism to a whole new level, trying to prevent majority-rules votes by using obscure parliamentary workarounds, and by using the filibuster (which was by tradition considered fairly extreme and to be used in extreme cases only) on nearly all business taken up, in essence turning the Senate into a chamber that requires 60 votes for passage instead of 50 (which is contrary to the way it was originally designed). And...

(2) all the while they are claiming that it is the Democrats that are subverting traditional process, even dismantling our democracy, by considering combining two votes into one through a "self-executing rule" (which, like I said, they've decided not to do), or by the use of "reconciliation" (a procedure that requires only a majority vote because it can't be filibustered) in the Senate. The level of Republican hypocrisy is incredible. But on the other hand, has there ever been an issue that that's not true of? Deficits and fiscal responsibility? check. "Pro-family"? check (gay people apparently can't have them). Sexual morality/deviancy? check. "Pro-life"? check (apparently "life" begins at conception, and ends at birth). Reducing the number of abortions? check (sex ed and contraception might help). Protecting the constitution? check (see above). Ensuring the safety of the country/reducing our number of enemies? check. "Spreading democracy"? check. "Playing politics"? check (e.g. politicizing previously apolitical agencies such as the Justice Dept and the EPA; using 9/11 as their personal campaign prop, even though they were the ones who failed to prevent it). Supporting "freedom"? check (see above re the Bill of Rights). Appointing "activist" judges? check. Actual military service? check (see, for example, how much respect John Kerry's medal-worthy service got him, as compared to Bush's avoidance of the same). "Support the troops"? check (to me, supporting someone means keeping them safe instead of putting them in harm's way; not lying to them about why you want to put them in harm's way; allowing them to come home when their contract is up; and increasing, not cutting, their benefits after they get back). Following Christian values? check (I guess that whole part about loving your neighbor wasn't really important to Jesus). Elitism/wealth? check. Extremism/radicalism? check (as defined by introducing ideas that have been outside mainstream debate for the last century). The list of issues on which the Republicans have attacked the Democrats for doing what Republicans themselves are doing to a much greater extent, just goes on and on and on. The right wing noise machine tends to be better funded, and more willing to lie, than any equivalent on the left, and this whole health care debate has just been one more in a long list of examples.

(smack me)

Thursday, March 18th, 2010
3:46 pm
Self-executing rule
What is all this stupid crap about the House supposedly not voting on the health care bill? THEY'RE VOTING ON THE HEALTH CARE BILL. They're taking a vote. If the vote passes, health care reform passes. If the vote fails, health care reform fails. Everybody voting is aware that that's what they're voting on. That's called a vote on health care reform.

The only thing different about the way they're doing it is that they're essentially combining two votes into one. They're taking one vote that will pass both the Senate bill and amendments to it, at the same time. The reason they're doing that is that some Congresspeople are nervous about voting in favor of the Senate bill as it stands, because it has some problems. They are worried that even though those problems will be fixed by the amendments package they also plan to pass, attack ads could be made against them based on the yes vote for the Senate version.

In other words, if you have two separate votes, one on the original (worse) bill, and then one on the amendments (to improve the original), people could still say you voted for the bad one. But if you combine them into one vote, then it's harder for your opponent to make that argument, because you're passing the flawed bill and the corrections at the same time, in the same vote.

Is that kind of a silly reason? Yeah. But it is in no way deceptive or dangerous or anti-democratic, and in no way does it "ram through" the legislation "without a vote". As I explained in the first paragraph, THEY'RE VOTING ON IT. Here's hoping it passes.

(smack me)

Saturday, November 21st, 2009
7:45 pm
New Blog
Just in case anybody is still reading here and not the other, I thought I should mention that I'm writing over at


(smack me)

Thursday, February 19th, 2009
5:25 pm
A lot of people in the abortion debate pretend to draw this clean, bright line between "pro-life" and "pro-choice", as if they were on opposite sides of the spectrum, as if we disagree about more than we agree about, which I don't think we do. A lot of people in the "pro-life" camp infuse their arguments with a good deal of religious and moral language, implying (or stating outright) that theirs is the only ethical position. That they and they alone are "protecting life". That they are right and good, and pro-choicers are wrong, and perhaps evil. That their position is just a natural extension of our common-sense belief in the value of "life", with no additional caveats required. "Life" is the word they use. It is the word they have adopted as their own. They don't talk about being anti-abortion, although technically that would be the most accurate descriptor of their movement and their goals. They talk about "life", which is rhetorically smart, because we all like "life". We all prefer life to its alternative, "death". We all think of ourselves as "pro-life", because we all share this intuition that life is sacred and valuable. Which of course it is. So by co-opting that word, "life", by taping it on their mouths and putting it on license plates and naming their movement after it, they are rhetorically attaching their views on this one specific medical procedure to that shared feeling that we all have that "life is good". Rhetorically smart, but it's disingenuous.

What is "life", after all? If you're going to claim that your position on this specific issue is identical to believing in the value of "life", it's important to analyze this claim. One major question in the abortion debate is always "when does life begin?" Does it begin at birth? At conception? At viability? But technically, there is no beginning of "life" (or rather, there was just one, ever). A sperm cell is alive, after all; an egg is alive. So is a stem cell, a brain cell, a skin cell, a muscle cell, and all the rest. I'm not trying to be nitpicky, but that's what "life" is. Cells of living organisms are living cells, including the sperm and the egg that combine to eventually form a new person. Life does not begin at conception or at birth or anywhere in between; as best we can tell, it began about three and a half billion years ago and hasn't stopped since. "Life" is not really what you are so interested in protecting, because not only are fetuses alive, but animals are alive, plants are alive, bacteria are alive, etc. So someone whose primary goal is to protect "life" would not only be against abortion, but also against antibiotics and pesticides and antibacterial soap. I'm also not sure how they would survive without being able to eat any animals or plants at all.

Obviously, nobody actually holds this position -- which is my point. Talking about the sacredness of "life" is all well and good, but nobody actually believes that no life should ever be taken. It's all a balancing act: whose rights are more important, and under what circumstances? All non-vegetarians believe that their right to eat something tasty outweighs an animal's right to life. Most people believe that your own right to life outweighs that of someone who breaks into your home armed and dangerous. Many "pro-life" conservatives are suprisingly cavalier about the right to life of innocent civilians who were misfortunate enough to be born in a country that our government is currently at war with. All I'm saying is: there are tradeoffs here, and rather than one side being morally good and right and pure, and the other being immoral and wrong, it's just a matter of minor disagreements over how those tradeoffs (that we all believe in) work out, about where the final balance lies.

Maybe all this sounds obvious, but my point is just to make sure people realize how messy the concepts of "pro-life" and "sanctity of life" and so forth really are, because people fall into this rhetorical trap of saying that they're against abortion becuase they're protecting life, as if pro-choicers care nothing about life. Of course we do. The two sides of this issue are remarkably close together; we both value life, we both value personal freedom and privacy, we both agree that government should not intrude into people's private lives or medical decisions, we both agree that preventing an unwanted pregnancy in the first place is better than undergoing a surgical procedure to terminate it, and we both agree that there are some exceptions to the "right to life" -- maybe in war, or for people convicted of murder, or in the case of self-defense, or when a person suffers from a painful terminal illness, or about whether animals have a right to life. All we are arguing about is where those exceptions exist and where they don't.

So with that in mind, let's try to refrain from this whole pure, clean moral-high-ground schtick about the sanctity of "life". I'll accept that argument when you put the same amount of effort into aid to the poor to prevent starvation, expanding healthcare since thousands of people die every year due to lack of it, solving international problems diplomatically instead of through violence, promoting condom use to halt the spread of AIDS, and other such concerns that lead to the deaths of millions -- and all of that is not even taking into account the importance of QUALITY of life (which for many people is more important than the mere fact of being alive). Rightwingers have so much concern for the children of poor women up until they're born, at a time when that "baby" is not even aware that it exists, but then seem to have no concern for the "life" or well-being of the baby that they just forced to be brought into the world.

In one last wrinkle, I also want to acknowledge the important difference between what is right morally and what is right legally. What prompted me to start writing all this was reading a blog post about abortion, and one commenter wrote something to the effect of: "I am pro-life. I would never have an abortion myself because I believe it is wrong. But I understand that I am not the entire world of women. Not everyone shares my beliefs, or my particular life circumstances, and I have no desire to force my opinion on other women." That, of course, regardless of the label the commenter uses, is pretty much the definition of pro-choice, not pro-life. You can believe abortion is wrong generally, or wrong for you, without believing that it must be illegal, and that all women who get pregnant must be forced to carry their pregnancies to term, even if the pregnancies are unwanted, or are the result of rape, or if the woman can't afford to raise a child, or simply can't afford to be immobilized due to pregnancy, or if the pregnancy has complications and threatens her own health, or other issues.

The term "pro-life" is truly synonymous with "anti-abortion", because that is their goal: to prohibit abortion. And many for that reason, people get confused and think that "pro-choice" means "pro-abortion", but it doesn't, of course. It just means that the government should stay out of it, and let women and couples make their own choices. Usually, of course, that choice is to have the baby. Nobody outside the Chinese government wants to force anybody to have an abortion against their will. Pro-choice is in no way anti-life. But "pro-life" is absolutely anti-choice: taking away the right to make that decision, and forcing women to remain pregnant against their will, is not just a side consequence of their position; it is precisely their whole position. Their position is that women should not be able to make that choice; they should have to have the baby. The pro-life slogan "choose life" is actually at odds with the pro-life position. In reality it would have to be a pro-choice slogan, since only pro-choicers would allow anyone to actually "choose life"; pro-lifers would take away the ability to make that choice; an honest slogan for them would be "we chose life for you". The choice isn't yours to make.

Similarly, when all the right-wing pundits were praising 17-year-old Bristol Palin's decision to have her baby instead of get an abortion, by doing so they were implicitly acknowledging that it is, after all, her decision to make. That's pro-choice. When she (Bristol Palin) recently criticized the media, saying, "They thought that my mom was going to make me have the baby, [but] it was my choice to have the baby, and that kind of stuff just bothered me," she is making a pro-choice argument: it was her choice to have the baby, not her mom's or anyone else's. It was her choice. By the way, the Daily Show did a really excellent segment on this topic, here:


So what do we mean by "protecting life"? Making sure every fertilized egg gets a chance to be born? Do the thousands of frozen embryos at fertility clinics all have a right to life too, and do we have to find women to implant them into? If a fertility clinic catches fire and you are running out of the building, do you grab the three-year-old child you see and carry him or her to safety? Or do you grab the case of 100 frozen embryos? What do we mean by "protecting life"? Does it include protecting the quality of life of actual conscious, breathing, born persons? Do we mean having as much concern for the life of an Iraqi as the life of an American? (And recognizing that, as tragic as 9/11 was because so many people were killed, we have killed many, many, many more innocent people in all the equally unprovoked wars that we have started.) Does it mean promoting nutrition education to reduce the incidence of preventable BigMac-induced heart attacks and strokes? Or maybe outlawing Big Macs altogether? Or even outlawing meat-eating, in order to protect human health and the lives of animals? Or criminalizing extreme sports such as skydiving, since they are dangerous to "life"? Or providing more funding for welfare programs to prevent deaths caused by poverty? Or making Jainism the national religion, forbidding the killing even of rodents or insects? Or legally requiring a parent to donate a kidney when it could save their child's life? Prohibiting sex to halt the spread of HIV? Or making birth control illegal in order to maximize the amount of "life" created? Or forbidding doctors from performing an urgently necessary operation on a pregnant woman due to risks to the fetus? Or prosecuting abortion the same as pre-meditated murder and throwing women who have an abortion in jail? Mandating the use of seatbelts and motorcylcle helmets even though that infringes on our freedom? Or prohibiting cars and motorcycles altogether because so many people die in car accidents each year? Or giving everyone a government-mandated salary and government-approved diet, to ensure that everyone has an equal chance at survival, prioritizing mere existence over quality of life? There are a million and a half policies that promote "life", and some are good public policy and some aren't. "Pro-life" is a meaningless term, because we all value life. It's just that there are all these trade-offs between that value and all of our other values, such as freedom and autonomy, and the tradeoff between being technically alive and having any quality of life (which makes life worth living in the first place).

(4 bruises | smack me)

Friday, January 30th, 2009
8:18 pm
When Something Goes Wrong (Lessons from Salmonella Peanuts)
When something goes wrong, the sensible and necessary response is two-pronged: (1) fix the problem as soon as possible, and (2) find out what (or who) caused said problem, and take steps to prevent it from recurring.

You already know this, I know. It's our approach when it comes to crime (a car was stolen? Step 1: find the car and return to owner. Step 2: imprison the thief so he won't do it again, and to deter future grand theft auto).

It's the procedure when there's an inflight problem with a space shuttle. First of all, keep the astronauts safe, but just as importantly, figure out what went wrong, where and why and what or who was respsonsible, so that it doesn't happen again.

And, as we would expect, it has been the government's response to the recent salmonella contamination of peanuts and peanut butter. First of all, recall the tainted products. Fix the immediate problem. But just as importantly, investigate where, how, and why these products became contaminated. (It looks like they've tracked it down to a Peanut Corp plant in Georgia.) Because if you don't stop a problem at its source, you're just treating the symptom, not the disease. If you don't understand the history behind the problem, you're doomed to repeat it.

It's just the most obvious, most common-sensible, and most effective way to deal with any kind of problem. But if it's so obvious, why am I belaboring the point so?

Because it isn't our approach to one of the most serious problems facing our country. The Bush administration eavesdropped on civilian-to-civilian calls within the U.S. with no warrant. They approved the torture of prisoners in our custody. They held people, including U.S. citizens, in prison for years without showing any kind of evidence. They deliberately manipulated intelligence to make the case for war. To be succinct, they broke the law.

This is a problem. Now, we took the first step and threw the bums out. But remember, step two is just as important. What guarantee do we have right now that the current administration, or any future administration, will not abuse their powers in the same ways? Maybe you trust Obama to be good, but what about the next Republican in office? Or maybe you trusted that Condoleezza Rice wouldn't listen in on private phone calls for improper business or political purposes, but what about Hillary Clinton?

The point is we are not just supposed to trust that our Dear Leaders will use their unchecked power for the Greater Good. Congress needs to exercise its power of oversight and begin an investigation into what happened. There are reasons we have checks and balances, and there are reasons we have criminal statutes. If someone breaks a law, they are held accountable. And it's not just to keep them off the streets; it's to deter future crimes. If people can steal cars without getting punished for it, what's going to keep everyone with the opportunity from stealing lots of cars? If Presidents and Vice-Presidents and other government agents can break the law, can imprison whoever they want on no evidence but their own say-so, what is going to keep it from happening again, and again, and again?

So the first thing we need is investigations. Fact-finding commissions. If no crimes were committed, there is no reason to worry about a simple investigation to figure out what happened and who did it. Sunlight, after all, is the best disinfectant.

And then, if we discover that crimes were committed (which we pretty much know they were, because administration officials have pretty much admitted it), then come prosecutions. We can't skip this step! If we do, we become one of the lawless, autocratic, tyrannical regimes that we love so much to hate. There's a reason crimes have punishments, and it's to keep them from happening again.

To get back to the peanuts, like I said, people have actually been following this (reasonable, normal, obvious) problem-solving technique and finding out what went wrong, and traced the salmonella outbreak to a Peanut Corp plant in Georgia.

It was nice to read in the paper today that "Federal health officials have begun a criminal investigation into the actions of the Peanut Corporation of America, which knowingly sold contaminated peanut butter and peanut products to major food makers." The article notes that ordinarily the Justice Department would not reveal there is an investigation in process, "but did so in this case after several influential members of Congress demanded a criminal investigation in recent days."

This investigation (and potentially, later, prosecution) is right and good. We should absolutely protect our food supply, and this is the most effective way to do it. But apparently these Congress members are missing the disconnect between their behavior in the one domain (peanuts) and the other (war crimes and violations of our Constitution).

Article cited is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/31/health/31peanut.html?_r=2&hp

(smack me)

Monday, January 26th, 2009
1:00 pm
Breasts on Facebook
The NYT says Facebook has been removing some users' photos showing breastfeeding (if they show any nipple) based on its policy that pictures uploaded cannot be "obscene, pornographic, or sexually explicit." Is that fair? Breastfeeding is obviously not sexually explicit since it's not a sex act; it's not pornographic because it's not meant to arouse (content produced for lactation fetishists aside); so, is it obscene? Or, should it be allowed on Facebook?

The act itself is not "obscene"; it is a natural, healthy part of life. But then again, as one commenter I saw pointed out, so is urination. So is defecation, and so, for that matter, is sex itself. But that doesn't mean pictures of those acts are not "obscene"; on the contrary, they are pretty much the archetypal examples of obscenity.

Protesters of Facebook's policy have argued that "If they were removing all photos of any exposed chest — male or female — in any context, at least that would be fair [...] But they’re targeting women with these rules. They’ve deemed women’s breasts obscene and dangerous for children and it’s preposterous."

But that argument is a little bit ludicrous, and surely a little disingenuous as well. Facebook is not "targeting women". It's not as if Facebook invented this determination that women's chests are obscene and men's are not; that's society's rule. Facebook is just enforcing it. Whether it's right or wrong, men can walk around topless and women cannot. When a man bares his chest in a movie or a magazine, it's not nudity; when a woman does, it is. Facebook is just enforcing this standard (double standard?); it didn't create it.

Even if we want to allow an exception for breastfeeding pictures, I think Facebook is on fairly solid ground here. There spokesman told the Times, "We can agree that there is context where nudity is not obscene, but we are reviewing thousands of complaints a day. Whether it’s obscene, art, or a natural act — we’d rather just leave it at nudity and draw the line there."

Personally, I don't care. I'm pretty sure that seeing boobs (in any context) doesn't offend me. And I really don't think that nudity (of probably any kind) is nearly as harmful to children as our Puritanical society seems to believe. I really think there's no good reason to censor breastfeeding photos where there's a little nip slip, but there's probably also no good reason to censor any other topless photos that people might post. I mean, are they really hurting anybody? (It's not like if we allow it people will start using Facebook as a porn site; it's not exactly hard to find pictures of boobs elsewhere online.) But for now, unless or until cultural norms change, Facebook's policy is consistent with them. If you want to claim that society at large is persecuting women for not allowing them to expose their nipples in public, then that's a consistent claim, and maybe you're right. But it's not Facebook's fault.

(smack me)

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
6:07 pm
On Breaking the Law
On MSNBC's Hardball just now, Chris Matthews was discussing House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers' support for war crimes investigations and a Truth and Reconciliation committee, to investigate lawbreaking by the Bush administration. Matthews then turned to ask the opinion of neoconservative think-tanker Frank Gaffney, who claimed that such investigations would be a "witch hunt", and "would reduce us to banana republic territory".

It's amazing how these people can go on TV and spout these completely nonsensical, even counterfactual, opinions, and without the slightest sense of irony.

Let's get this straight: investigating whether or not crimes were committed, and prosecuting anyone who breaks laws (even if they happen to be political leaders) is "banana republic territory", while allowing our Leaders to break laws without consequences is not??

These people's lack of self-awareness is just incredible. Do they even listen to what they say? Having a ruler who is above the law is basically the definition of an undemocratic "banana republic"; the principle that no one is above the law, not even the president, is one of the founding ideas of this nation. When these neocons argue for executive immunity, they are in essence advocating tyranny.

(It also makes you also wonder: where was this "unitary executive" philosophy that "if the President does it, that means it's not illegal" when Clinton was president? Apparently only presidents with an (R) after their name are above the law, while "Democrat" presidents are not.)

To his credit, Matthews was basing his questions on the (obviously sound and true) logical chain that says:

(1) Did the administration approve waterboarding? We know the answer is yes. Cheney himself has admitted it to the press.

(2) Is waterboarding torture (i.e. is it illegal)? Despite all the misinformation spread by these right-wing think tanks and talking heads, again, we know the answer is yes. In our nation's history, we have always considered it to be torture, and have even prosecuted others for engaging in it.

(3) Therefore, we know the administration broke the law. Why would they not be held accountable? In this country, the president is - like every other person - subject to the rule of law. If political leaders break the law, they can and must be prosecuted, just like anyone else. When a ruler is above the law, and can break laws without consequences, then that is the very definition of tyranny or a "banana republic", and is just about the most anti-American, undemocratic idea that there is.


I also have one side question: how is it possible that these neoconservatives still receive any credibility from the mainstream media to come on these shows as guests and debate this issues at all, given that in all their predictions and claims they have never been anything but consistently, demonstrably wrong?

(smack me)

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008
7:46 pm
Election Reaction
Here in Peru it's just another day, people going about their business. Maybe it's the same in the U.S.; I suspect not, but I don´t know. But it isn't for me. I'm walking around with a bright, glowing sun in my chest, radiating, bursting. I can't remember the last time I was this happy, or had this much hope for the future. If ever. For the first time in maybe my whole life, I feel like the country I grew up in might actually be sane. For once in my life I don't feel like part of an embattled, misunderstood minority. I don't feel like I exist on a different plane from the entire country, or maybe even the entire human race. I feel included, embraced, understood. Not only because Obama won, but because the reaction of the country (and the rest of the world, which is also celebrating) is one that makes sense, that recognizes that this is a historic moment, that recognizing this is a big deal, it is important, and it is GOOD. For a moment at least, all the meaningless-hate-filled-rhetoric-spewing blowhards were unable to scream "terrorist! socialist! hussein! black panthers!" and were forced to acknowledge their wrongness, their unpopularity, and their mortality as a breed -- and to acknowledge this black man with a funny name, with an international genealogy and upbringing, who thinks and speaks with intelligence and reason instead of knee-jerk partisan barbs (in short, the opposite of everything they have stood for) -- forced to acknowledge him as President. As their President. And the nation celebrated. And the world cheered. And for once, for the first time in my adult life, the nation seems of healthy mind, reasonable, able to recognize the obvious poisonousness of the governance and the politics of the last eight years, and of the right-wing machine in general, and reject it.

And reject it we did. We, the American people, finally stood up and said no to the people who have been trying to shame us and divide us and scare us into giving them more power. We finally, together, repudiated that political movement. And repudiating it was necessary. It is not sufficient, but it was absolutely necessary. I know there's a lot of work to do. There are a lot of beltway establishment figures who will put a lot of pressure on Obama to continue the same (failed) (Republican) policies of years past. But I hope and believe that he is too smart to listen to that same old advice that says that in order to succeed, Democrats need to be more like Republicans. No! If this election was anything, it was a reaction against the Republican party, of the way they have run things (and run things into the ground) over the last eight years. If we look at 2006 together with 2008, a wave election followed by another wave election, when was the last time we saw the will of the people expressed with such clarity? These pundits who argue that this is a "center-right nation", since that is their new catchphrase, and that Obama should tack center, not left -- what nation are they looking at? Barack Obama won by a huge margin, basing his entire campaign around one word: Change. Change is what people want, and change is what they expect. It is the height of idiocy for these people to suggest that "the people" want him to become more similar to those Republicans that "the people" just chucked out of office by the truckload. Elections have consequences.

And no, we're not there yet. This is one victory, but the work ahead is real. This victory gives us a chance for real change, but it is not the change in and of itself. (At least mostly.) First and foremost, restoring the Constitution is vital, and I don't know where we are with that; it wasn't even on the radar in this campaign, inexplicably. If there is only one issue I care about, it is that. The Constition has been shredded, trampled, ignored, and derided during Bush's presidency, and reinstating constitutional guarantees - and ideally punishing those who break such laws - is, for me, priority number one. Results from yesterday's election also show we still have a long way to go on marriage equality. Proposition 8 in California, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, seems to have passed, which is just horrific. If something like that can pass even in California, then is there any hope anywhere? This also means we're going to have to listen to pundits arguing that the people of California have spoken, have overridden the ruling of the liberal courts, and so on and so forth, as if it was relevant. Fundamental rights shouldn't be up for majority vote! If a majority of citizens voted to ban mixed-race marriages, would that be acceptable? Of course not. On same-sex marriage, I don't know where we go from here. And there are other issues too, and of course Obama hasn't even been sworn in yet. But the symbolism itself is a victory. No one can seriously argue that the country doesn't want change.

With regard to the Senate, I'm very happy with the way things seem to be ending up. Minnesota still seems to be undecided, and I would really like Franken to win there, since he's such a liberal icon. Also it would have been nice symbolically for Mitch McConnell to lose. But overall I'm happy. I would honestly rather the Democrats have less than 60 seats, if 60 would only be attained with Liebermann. Because then there would be a lot of pressure to not punish him; he would continue to be important. But now he's nothing, as he deserves to be. The Democrats should give him nothing and take everything away from him that they can. If it causes him to nominally move to the other party, so be it. He already is one of them in everything but name. I'm not a vengeful, retribution-hungry person, but I'm sorry, in a national election, when every Democratic politician, every Democratic officeholder, every Democratic voter, has been pulling so hard for an Obama victory, has been so worried, has been supporting Obama and giving up time volunteering, filling him with their hopes and dreams and recognizing the historical nature of this candicacy -- at a time like that, for someone to actively work against his election, to spout horrible smears against him, that person is not a Democrat. If he would rather be a Republican, he should by all means go ahead. It's not about "ideological purism"; it's about the party standing for something, anything.

So anyway, despite the uphill slog that the future holds, for the first time I can remember, I'm hopeful, I'm proud, and mostly I'm just happy. The results of this presidential contest are so good for the country, for the world, for all of our souls! I can't remember a time I could have honestly said I was proud to be an American. I've always cherished the American ideals, the concepts our nation is supposed to stand for. It's just that in my adult life, the US government has done virtually nothing to uphold those values, and instead has systematically chipped away at them. In the last eight years, I can think of precious few acts of government that were noble, selfless, or even arguably morally right. Everything was about war, hate, partisan politics, self-aggrandizement, and accumulation of power. But today is different. Today I am so proud of my country. I am proud to be a part of a country that I feel finally has a chance to regain its moral standing, its respect in the world, and - importantly - its self-respect too. I am so happy, so hopeful, and so stunned. I am just overcome. And as those who know me will know, I'm not exactly a person that that happens to very often. But everything really can change now. Not that it necessarily will - like I said, there's a lot of work left to do - but it can, whereas it couldn't before. I'm proud of my country for electing him; I'm proud of myself for casting a vote for him. I feel like it's something I will be proud of my whole life, whether or not it would make any difference to the outcome of the election, even if I lived in a solidly red state, I just feel good that I was able to vote for him. It really is a historic moment.*

*I swear if those people on TV last night said "an historic" moment/candidate/election/whatever one more time I was going to scream. In American English, the word starts with a consonant sound and words that start with consonants use "a", not "an". "An" sounds and feels unnatural for a reason - it's wrong! No matter what your grammar books or English teachers said.

(xposted facebook, open salon)

(smack me)

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008
3:20 pm
"I don't follow/like/care about politics"
Maybe you don´t want to get involved in politics, but life is politics. What you do all day every day is political. What you say to people is political. What you eat is political. What you wear is political. What you buy is political. Your decision not to get involved in politics because it's ugly is political.

The "fair and balanced" newsmedia makes it look like both sides are equally ugly, because if they don't they're afraid they'll be accused of bias. But both sides are not equally ugly. -- And guess what, media? You still get accused of bias. -- Just like Democrats who sell out to Republican positions on national security and foreign policy out of fear of being called weak, and still get called weak just the same. It's just how the right-wing attack machine works: there is no concern for the truth of their claims; it´s just spewed invective.

And that's my point. Yes, politicians and pundits on both sides select the best statistics and facts to use, they spin, they play games with expectations, and they try to put their candidate (or their party or their position) in the best possible light. However, both sides don't just outright lie at an equal rate. Both sides don't assert that only their candidate/position/supporters are the "real American" ones. Both sides don't mock the other on the basis of gender and race. Both sides don't imply the other guy is a terrorist, for crying out loud. Both sides don't spew hate and venom in rallies and on the airwaves. Only one side does those things, and that is the right. The Republicans. With very few exceptions, it is only them that engages in this kind of dirty, dishonorable, dishonest campaigning. The Democrats consistently treat Republicans as opponents; only the Republicans treat their opponents as enemies. --

And not only their enemies, but enemies of the nation. It's amazing they're brash enough to even try it, but what's most amazing is that it worked for five years. No more, though. People finally seem to realize that it´s ludicrous, the idea that there is any sizeable portion of the American populace that actually wishes harm to the country, or the country's soldiers, or anything along those lines. Yet that is the claim the Republicans had been advancing, and the media repeating unquestioningly, as if it were even remotely possible. Did they really believe that our motive for wanting to end the war was to hurt the troops, instead of protect them? It seems impossible, but that was the claim that was made. It also seems impossible that they could actually believe Democrats are "anti-American" in the sense of wishing harm on the country. -- Rank and file Democratic citizens bad enough, but to think that about a group of politicians whose aim is to govern that country? We move from possibly sincere concern to outright dishonesty. Democrats campaign for government office because they want to govern. The only people who have sought government positions in order to not govern are the hardcore right wing, who want to "drown the government in a bathtub". (Which, by the way, is how we end up with messes like the mismanagement of hurricane Katrina -- elect people who believe the government should stay out of the business of governing, and what do you expect?)

And there's only one side that bases their campaigns around this kind of attack on a person's loyalty or character. And there's only one side that builds their campaigns around attacks on the masculinity of the men -- and the femininity of the women -- that oppose them. And, again, the media repeats these attacks, which are generated purely in the right-wing echo chamber, as if they were legitimate campaign issues, legitimate news, legitimate concerns of the public, because, they claim, "people are talking about it". It's dispicable and it's unfair and when they just report these baseless character attacks and invented facts without checking the truth of them, it actually gives the advantage to whichever side lies more (in this case, we know who that is). And it does make you want to turn off to politics. But it´s all coming from one side.

Why does that matter? Because that's what they want. They do it on purpose, for just that reason. So that you, real person, reasonable person, average American voter, will turn off to politics. So that you will think politics is all just an ugly power game, all dirty and dishonest and you don't want to get involved. And you will opt out. Which was their goal all along. They don't want you voting, because they know you don´t like them and their divisive politics and their ugly smears and their extreme positions on the issues. They don´t want you to join the game, to weigh the issues like the reasonable person you are, to think for yourself and express your power, to be a political actor. They don't want the election to be decided on the issues, because they know you don´t agree with them. That is why they do this on purpose, make elections ugly and about trivial personality themes. It's because they can´t win on the issues, because most Americans disagree with them. So making it about toughness or ruralness or "real American"-ness is their only option. They only want people voting who are frothing at the mouth over their few wedge issues and their slimy character smears.

They don't want you, average, reasonable American voter, to be part of the process, because you will vote against them. So they get you out of the game, by making you cynical about the game itself. By poisoning the political dialogue, they ensure that you will stay out. As long as you think politics is just trash, and forget that elections have consequences, they will keep winning. At the beginning, I said even your decision to opt out of politics was a political act. That's because you can´t truly get out of the system. Life is politics. And just like your myriad other everyday choices that affect the world around you, this choice empowers one political faction over another. In opting out of the system because it's ugly, you give your support to the people who made it ugly and keep it ugly. You think you are being neutral and staying out of it, but you are playing precisely into their hands and lending them your support. For them, a vote suppressed is as good as a vote earned. And when you don't vote because you don't like them, you and up supporting the very ones you didn't like.

And it's important. Because, yes, life is politics, but it's more than that, it's bigger than that. Politics is life. What do I mean? Elections have consequences. It matters who is governing, because they affect so many things about our daily lives. I mean, you may only think you care about a small handful of political issues, or less, or even none. People who vote may only vote based on their one pet issue, whether it's the war or abortion or whatever. But who you vote for, or don't vote for, won't just have power over that one issue, they have power over every tiny aspect of our lives, and not just ours but our childrens', our parents', our neighbors', and the lives of people in other countries too. Maybe someone votes Republican just because (after listening to right wing propaganda) they're afraid the Democrats are going to take their guns away. But under the Republican administration their quality of life goes down in countless ways. Their kids' school loses funding, the cost of prescriptions goes up, the quality of public services such as roads and libraries diminishes, they remain without healthcare, their friend in the army gets killed in Iraq, their neighbor down the road has a large unexpected medical expense and needs to file for bankruptcy but no longer can, insurance premiums go up, credit card and home loan interest rates go up, twenty years from now they develop a tumor due to pollutants in their air and water that the Republican administration didn't care about cleaning up or preventing, wages stagnate, CEOs make millions while the working class barely hangs on. All the little ways that government affects our lives, from the price of college tuition to the ability to assemble in public without being stared down by a line of police in riot gear (or to make a phone call without fear that Big Government is listening in).

It´s not just about that one pet issue; it is all of your life. And no matter how much you think gay people shouldn't get married, it is just not more important than all of that. It´s just not. It is your life. And it is important. And you can't opt out of it, even if you try. You have strength as a voter, you have power as a consumer. If you want there to be change in your world, in your country, in your town, you need to be that change. Without it, things will continue as they have been: ugly and disappointing, and not benefitting anyone except those who already have power, and are using it to screw you over. As a side note, here in Peru, voting is mandatory; everyone does it, and you're fined if you don't. If there are any downsides to that policy, I don´t see them. Get involved. If you don't create the change you want, who is going to?

This year, we have a historic opportunity, because we have a historic candidate. Obama could be the kind of President that will be remembered for generations. He's not John Kerry. He's not a bland politician who we only like because he's not Bush. He's not just more of the same, extending the long line of uninspiring old white guys from rich backgrounds with no new ideas. No, Obama is really something new. He will transform this country; the red-blue map shows he's already started to. And it looks like he will win, although this far out nothing is certain, and it looks like polls have started to tighten again in recent days (which is scary). So we can't be complacent. Voting is important. Voting for Obama is important. Don't you want to tell your grandkids that you did? So, because I can't say it any better myself, I'm just going to cut and paste these five reasons (boldface added) that we can't lie down yet, and we have to get out and VOTE:


1. The polls may be wrong. This is an unprecedented election. No one knows how racism may affect what voters tell pollsters—or what they do in the voting booth. And the polls are narrowing anyway. In the last few days, John McCain has gained ground in most national polls, as his campaign has gone even more negative.

2. Dirty tricks. Republicans are already illegally purging voters from the rolls in some states. They're whipping up hysteria over ACORN to justify more challenges to new voters. Misleading flyers about the voting process have started appearing in black neighborhoods. And of course, many counties still use unsecure voting machines.

3. October surprise. In politics, 15 days is a long time. The next McCain smear could dominate the news for a week. There could be a crisis with Iran, or Bin Laden could release another tape, or worse.

4. Those who forget history... In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote after trailing by seven points in the final days of the race. In 1980, Reagan was eight points down in the polls in late October and came back to win. Races can shift—fast!

5. Landslide. Even with Barack Obama in the White House, passing universal health care and a new clean-energy policy is going to be hard. Insurance, drug and oil companies will fight us every step of the way. We need the kind of landslide that will give Barack a huge mandate.

(smack me)

Monday, May 5th, 2008
12:13 pm
"Horse dies at Kentucky Derby"
The Guardian article linked below is about the horse who won the Kentucky Derby: "after she had crossed the finishing line, while cooling down, she suddenly collapsed on to her knees with her ankles fractured and the on-call vet said there was no way to save her." So she had to be "put down." The article also notes similar things happening at other races in recent years, and quotes the Washington Post as saying that horse racing is in a "moral crisis". To which I say: great.

But here's the Guardian article (quoting the WaPo article) again: "The paper said that horses were being over-bred and over-raced, 'until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions'." And I just have to ask: their bodies can't support their own ambitions? I really don't think this is a case of the horses saying, "Naw, I'm okay, coach. Put me back in. I want to play. Put me back in." The horse doesn't dream of winning races. The horse doesn't make money from winning races. This is us, people, working the horses and beating the horses and pushing the horses farther than their bodies can bear, because of our own ambitions, not theirs. To pretend otherwise is simply to try to avoid responsibility for something we caused.


(2 bruises | smack me)

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
12:48 am
Going to Peru
I'm going to be leaving in January to go to Peru for several months. I started a new LJ for stuff relating to that, which is jef_s. I'll probably be posting mostly over there from now on. But stuff unrelated to that experience, such as comments on U.S. domestic politics or something, I'll probably keep here. If you want to add my new journal to your friendlist, I'd be flattered. If not, your choice. The new LJ will also be at http://veg.fea.st/blog.html but if you're already an LJ user it might be easier for you to look at it here on the LJ site.

(smack me)

Monday, November 12th, 2007
9:56 am
Veterans' Day (written 9/3/06, edited and posted for the first time today)
I'm an old-school liberal -- one exception being that I do place a lot of importance on having a balanced budget and not bequeathing millions in debt for our children to pay off -- but I pretty much agree with standard liberal doctrine on most issues. Specifically what I'm talking about is I think it is right and fair and good for the rich to give to the government and the government to turn around and give to the poor, in the form of aid programs. I think we (the rich) owe it to them (the poor), not necessarily because we've done wrong by them, but out of a basic measure of kindness and decency and justice. Kindness and decency are always good, but maybe you think they're better served outside of the role of government. That is, private charities and churches and things should help the poor, but the government shouldn't require it of everyone. An honest disagreement. So we come to justice.

Ensuring justice seems like the whole point of having a government, after all. Protect the weak and innocent, punish the guilty, rein in the powerful, etc. And justice would say that people who work their butts off for their whole life should be able to provide a decent living for themselves and their families, and to retire comfortably. But there are lots of people in the poor and lower middle classes who work their butts off, and are unable to provide that. And that's not to say that rich people didn't work their butts off, because most of them did too. Most of everyone works their butt off or has done so in the past. But rich people and Republicans see their wealth as rightfully theirs because they worked hard for it, whereas liberals see the flip side of that, which is that there are lots of other people who worked just as hard, and who aren't reaping the same benefits. And that's injustice.

And it's injustice especially because it's not just random chance that some end up richer than others. The process is affected by a variety of factors that make it hard for people born poor to move up the economic ladder. Conservatives always object to this statement and point out counterexamples and think that it's somehow unpatriotic to believe this. First of all, whether it's unpatriotic or not (and it isn't), it's true. Secondly, the counterexamples that exist don't prove it wrong, because no one's saying moving up is impossible or it never happens, just that it's the exception, not the rule, and social mobility is not merit-based. And thirdly, yes, it is harder in many other countries to move up the economic ladder than it is here, but that doesn't mean that the barriers here don't exist.

I don't want to go on too long about this because this is not my main point; I just want to say that I do believe that we as a society, as a government, owe some things to those who can't provide them for themselves. Public education should be improved, not abandoned, and it should be more available to all. Kids shouldn't be forced to drop out of school to work to feed their families, and higher education should not be prohibitively expensive. Everyone should have access to affordable health care, including birth control and prenatal care and health care (including prevention) for infants and children. Everyone who works should be paid a living wage. There are certain basic things that everyone deserves and if due to fate someone didn't get them, then the rest of us owe it to that person to provide them. That is the basis of this old-school liberal mentality: that we have inalienable rights not just to life, but to those basic things that make life worth having. The difference between an annual income of $100,000 and $105,000 is barely noticeable, but between $10,000 and $15,000 is all the difference in the world. And we owe it to them.

What does this have to do with Veterans' Day?

I wanted to say all that so that you see where I'm coming from, but my main point here is not about aid to the poor at all, it's about veterans. Because even though I do believe the government should provide for the poor, there is absolutely no one that the government owes more to than military veterans. Not philanthropists, not farmers, not even teachers. Many of these people have sacrificed a lot for the common good, but no one sacrifices to the extent that veterans have, and not at the government's request. Because the government asked (or told) these people to go, and they went. It could have been a good reason or a bad reason, a just war or an unjust one, a popular war or an unpopular one, a war of self-defense or of aggression, a war against fascism or a war for oil; none of that makes any difference, so we can set all those heated political debates aside. What matters is that this country, this government, asked these people to give up everything, and these people went. The government, for good reasons or bad, asked these people to risk their lives, their limbs, their health, their sanity, their everything. It asked them to leave their families and friends and lovers with the possibility of never seeing them again, to become killers, to form close bonds with strangers only to see their new and only friends killed and maimed, and to potentially give up even their very lives, which many of them did. And, in death or in life, the government owes these people.

Those who survived in some cases came back worse than those who died. Maimed and beaten, physically and mentally and emotionally. Blind or paraplegic or with a variety of other atrocities inflicted on their bodies, wheelchair bound or affected by trauma-related mental disorders, maybe unable to earn a good living for themselves anymore or forced to deal with seeing a killer in the mirror every day for the rest of their lives: these people gave up everything for their country and their government. And the country and the government owe them everything in return. Even the ones who come back perfectly healthy made exactly the same risk, and the government owes them just as much. And for those who died and their "survived bys", for all the people who lost their husbands and wives, for all the parents who lost their children and all the children who lost their parents, the government owes them too because they have taken away something that can never be replaced. Even if it is an unjust war, even if it is for nothing more than to line Dick Cheney's pockets, even if the people who conceived of and started the war are evil and heartless profiteers, the people who are doing the fighting and the dying are not fighting for those reasons. They fight because their country and their government has told them that it's the right thing to do, that they are fighting for their country and fighting to keep safe their friends and families back home, that what they are doing is honorable and glorious. And for that reason it is the ultimate in dishonor for this government to not provide for those people upon their return.

It's bad enough for the government to lie to them and to the rest of the country about a threat to us that never existed. It's bad enough for the people in the government to send thousands of Americans to die for their own personal vendettas and flawed political ideologies and economic opportunities. It's bad enough to bomb and kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians in a far away land. It's bad enough to ask our citizens to die without even being straight with them as to why. It's bad enough to send them into war with insufficient armor to protect them and insufficient troop strength to accomplish anything lasting. It's bad enough to not have a plan for peace, or even for the inevitable post-invasion chaos. It's bad enough to lie to the American people about why one of our cities was attacked, and by whom. It's bad enough to not even have a basic enough understanding of humans to know that when you attack and kill people, they will like you less, not more. It's bad enough to exploit one of our greatest national tragedies ever for your own pre-existing political agenda. It's bad enough to not do any honest research into the nature of the country you plan to occupy so that you might have disabused yourself of any preconceived misconceptions such as that we would be greeted as liberators or that the war would last weeks not months or that the Iraqi government had any weapons of mass destruction or any ability to get or make them.

It's bad enough that you make yourselves out to be concerned about the welfare of the people you are sending to die for a lie, much less the only people to be so concerned, questioning the patriotism of those who disagree with you and using "support the troops" as if it somehow meant to support sending them to die and leaving them there indefinitely without enough armor and without a plan, instead of to support keeping them safe at home with their families, or at least bringing them back on some sort of reasonable time scale. All these things are bad enough, but the worst of all, the absolutely vomit-inducing portion of the whole disgusting charade, is that this government, this administration, this party, who paint themselves to be friends of the troops (and the only friends of the troops), have developed the pattern of cutting and opposing veterans' benefits. If this group cared for even one second about the welfare of the troops they would approve these measures. Not just out of kindness or decency, but because we owe it to them! And it's not so much because they're fighting to save democracy or to defend us from terrorists. Neither of those things are true, and it's beyond unfortunate that those fighting have been duped as much as the rest of us. The government owes the veterans, not because they necessarily fought for our freedom (in some cases, unfortunately, they fought for a lie), but because the government asked everything of them.

It owes them full and complete health care at the very least. Everyone deserves health care, but health care for veterans should be completely comprehensive and totally free. If the government can risk or take away your life or health then it should be willing to provide them back to you, no strings attached. For those who die in battle or from wounds received in battle, the families should receive a large (and I mean large) stipend. Veterans and their families and the families of the deceased should receive free counseling to work through any potential issues that could have been generated by the experience, which is hard on the soldier and also on the family left behind. Veterans of all ages should receive free higher education (university or trade school) if they so desire, in the interest of getting them marketable skills and better jobs. Veterans who are unable to work should be paid for the rest of their lives, and paid enough to live comfortably. I don't actually know in great detail what veterans do get or how their benefits work, and I'm sure there are more needs that someone who is more familiar with their issues would be able to think of, but my position is basically that the government asked for everything from these people, and the government needs to give them everything in return.

It's about justice.

(smack me)

9:25 am
This is parody, right?

(smack me)

Friday, October 12th, 2007
11:49 am
Study finds abortion bans have little effect on abortion rates

Whether or not abortion is legal DOES NOT SIGNIFICANTLY AFFECT the rate at which it happens.

"The largest, most comprehensive global study of abortion ever undertaken has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women.

"Moreover, the authors found that abortion was a very safe procedure for women in countries where it is legal, but extremely dangerous for women in countries where it is outlawed and performed underground."

Got that? Making abortion illegal WILL NOT prevent abortion from happening; it will only make it less safe for the women doing it. Regardless of the morality of abortion, criminalizing it will not end it. If you believe it's wrong, work to end it. Making it illegal won't do that. It will just make it less safe, and cost more women's lives. Therefore, if your stance is "pro-life", if your concern is saving lives, then you should work to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare." Why? Because regardless of whether or not abortion is "killing babies", criminalization won't end it; it will only cost more lives (those of the mothers)!

That's the end of that argument; it's simple, it's clean, and if you have a response to it I'd love to hear it. Of course, as anybody reading this probably knows, my own opinion isn't that abortion is wrong. But that is irrelevant to the argument made above, which does not depend one way or the other on the morality of abortion. But here's more of my opinion on the subject:

If I can't terminate my own pregancy, I wonder what kind of control I have over my body and my life. If I didn't want to get pregnant, didn't mean to get pregnant, or worst of all, got raped and got pregnant, I absolutely have the right to not carry that pregancy to term. There is no reason to bring a child into this world who is unwanted, or possibly unable to be taken care of.

Futhermore, "pro-lifers", I'll take your position that every life is sacred seriously when you also fight to end the war, stop the death penalty, save Darfur, and ensure quality medical care to people in this country who can't afford it. In other words, when you start caring as much about the lives of the born as you do the unborn. As long as people on the political right continue to argue for so many other policies that cause the loss of life and against so many other policies that would prevent the loss of life, it is hard to take them at their word on their reasons for opposing abortion. One instead thinks that it is part of their way of punishing sexual behavior they disapprove of. No contraception, no abortion, no homosexuality, no premarital sex, no prostitution, no adultery, no pornography; you'd think the greatest threat to our country was sex, instead of, say, a tyrant king president declaring the constitution itself illegal and creating ever more enemies filled with nothing but hatred for the U.S.

Not to mention that if abortion is murder, then is every woman who decides not to be pregnant going to be charged as a murderer, or at the very least an accomplice? Even if they were raped, if they end their pregancy they could go to jail for years (or, ironically, face the death penalty) for murder? I mean what are you really arguing for here? Do you want there to be police investigations into whether or not an abortion occured? The interior of women's bodies as crime scenes and their uteruses as evidence? Because that is where the logic of outlawing abortion inevitably leads us, and what is currently the case in the "pro-life nation" of El Salvador, as linked to above.

(smack me)

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
10:46 am
To the girl whose husband was killed in Iraq
You're hurting. I want to help you. I know you need comfort. I know I need to do that, but I don't know how. I want to end your pain, but I'm no good at the interpersonal; I'm only good on a larger scale: the societal, the political. I don't have any answers for you. You're here; you're crying. I don't know what to say to you. I can be a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen, but I'm at a loss for pearls of wisdom to ease your pain. What can be said? He's gone. You'll miss him forever. You're a pretty girl and I hate to see you cry. Maybe that's sexist or lookist of me but it's true. I know what you need is words of comfort and not abstract policy lectures. But I don't know what those words are. I don't know how to help you now. I only know how to help the hundreds and thousands of others that will be in your position unless we do something. I'm sorry that that's no comfort to you now. But it's important. "Who can think of politics at a time like this?", I know. Maybe you don't care about politics; they're petty and stupid and uninteresting. "What do they have to do with me; why should I care?"

This is what they have to do with you. This is why you should care.

Midwestern military family. Maybe you voted for Bush twice. Maybe you thought the left didn't support the troops. But you see, this is what we were trying to prevent.

This is your life now; your husband is dead. You will not have children with him. You will not live happily ever after. He is not coming back. He was killed in Iraq, and if we had ended this war already, he wouldn't have been.

This is why politics matter. It's not a game; it's not about power or empty partisan contests. It's about your husband's life, and the lives of many other husbands and wives, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. All those who will continue to be killed as long as this war continues.

I don't know how to help you now. But I know how to help them, these future victims. How to save their husbands' or daughters' lives, and save others from your fate. A fate I wouldn't wish on anyone. But I can't help you now. It's too late. We could have prevented it. We could have. But all we can do now is look to the future. To keep it from happening again.

This is what we need to do:

(1) First and foremost, apply all possible pressure to end this war. Bring the troops home; don't let any more die for this lost cause that was a fraud from the beginning. Don't be cowed by cheap rhetoric that says you don't support the troops. You supported your husband, and you support all the troops. You know that, and blowhards calling you names won't change it. Support means a desire to keep them alive, not to send them off to fight and die for nothing.

(2) Honestly investigate and question how we got into this war in the first place. If we let the liars who got us here get away with it, we set ourselves up to be lied to again. If the administration did nothing wrong, they won't mind the investigation because they have nothing to hide. If they oppose the investigation, that is a sign of guilt. If lies were told (and they were), if facts were "fixed around the policy" (and they were), then those things should be uncovered, acknowledged, and accepted, and their perpetrators held responsible. It's not about politics, and it's not even simply about justice; it's about making sure it doesn't happen again. That's why we punish people for crimes, and this is no different. We must learn from our mistakes.

(3) Next time this all holy patriotic rhetoric is thrown around, don't let yourself or your friends and family get so caught up in self-righteousness and anger and glorification of the U.S.A. that we rush into war on a whim, without doing everything we can to avoid it, without going through the proper diplomatic channels first. The entire world was telling us to slow down and wait for the inspections, which were working. Our president told us they weren't working because they weren't finding anything, but that's because there was nothing there to find. They were working. And we let ourselves get so hot-headed that we rushed in, we thought we were invincible, we thought (and we were led to believe) that the war would last "weeks, not months". Four and a half years later and there's no sign of it stopping any time soon. We rushed in without listening to those whose cooler heads, had they prevailed, might have prevented us all this pain and chaos. It's a serious decision to go to war, because it's a serious undertaking, with serious consequences. And it requires serious, thoughtful consideration, serious planning (which beyond the fall of Baghdad we didn't have) and serious debate. And that means serious opposition: a real weighing of options and an honest dialogue about how, and whether, to proceed. Silencing critics and questioning their loyalty is just bullying, plain and simple, and it is a hallmark of intellectual dishonesty, the last resort of those who have no better argument. It certainly has no place in the making of such a momentous decision. And yet, far from being excluded from our discourse, it was pretty much all one could hear. Media talking heads are just as to blame as government entities for that one.

(4) Right now, stop lending any credibility to those who have been wrong all along. It seems like an obvious point, but the country and especially the Washington power brokers, government and media alike, have not learned that lesson. The vast majority of the people who cheered on this rush to war with false information and false arguments, and have defended it with false facts and false optimism ever since, still hold their positions and have admitted no error and faced no consequences. And even those who have admitted error have shown no sign of correcting their behavior. These people, government leaders and pundits, TV talking heads and newspaper editorialists, are NOT to be deemed credible as they trot out ever more false information and misleading, cherrypicked statistics to try to prove their point that "we're making progress". (The same thing they've been saying for the past four years, and yet where is the progress? To the contrary, their goals of what would even constitute progress have gradually diminished.) And especially do not believe them as they try to sell us on how big a threat Iran is. The newsmedia has not gotten any more skeptical of government claims, has not improved, and is preparing itself to be misled in exactly the same way. We can't accept these empty arguments and tough, meaningless rhetoric anymore. We can't bring back those we have lost, but we can't allow ourselves to repeat the error, not this year, not next year, not ten or twenty or a hundred years from now. We need to learn a lesson from this mistake, and what we need to learn is that (a) some people benefit from war while the rest of us suffer (b) those people will try to advance that agenda (c) those people include political leaders who gain in the polls when they can create a common enemy, arms manufacturers and contractors who benefit financially, and the political chattering class who get off and get popular on talking tough and being manly but who face no risks themselves. But the most important thing to learn is (d) government leaders lie. Even the president. Their words shold not be taken at face value; if there are facts that contradict their statements, those facts should be accepted and the government's claims discarded. "We have to support him because he's the president" is not an American style of thought. The president is not the king, or the pope. He is not above the law, and he is not infallible. There were plenty of people who fought and died so that we could live in a country free of kings and tyranny and all-powerful government invasions of privacy, with freedom of speech and no national religion -- and the right-wing censors and authoritarians are doing their best to end all that. What would the country's founders have thought of our current political discourse (not to mention our current foreign and domestic policies of unconstitutional Big Brother government spying that goes unpunished, unconstitutional torture and rendition, unconstitutional imprisonment without due process, etc., etc.)?

(5) Do not let your patriotism or virtue be questioned because you are trying to stop the war or because you want the truth revealed. Those who blithely advocate war without regard for its consequences are idiots and cowards, and are willing to send your husband to die, and for what? For their own glory, nothing else. It is absurd to say anyone who opposes a war opposes their country or opposes the troops. We oppose the war because we support the troops, and the rest of the citizenry, and don't want to see their lives lost unless it is absolutely necessary. And this war wasn't. It was a war of choice and of aggression. Iraq did nothing to us: we were the aggressors; we were the attackers. Is it any wonder we are so hated throughout the world? They don't "hate us for our freedom"; what could that even mean? They hate us because we brutalize them. The U.S. is by no means the worst country in the world, but neither is it infallible, and just because we live here doesn't mean we have to think it is. We try to improve our country, try to keep it from doing bad things, because we love it, and we don't want bad things to happen to it in return. If America is attacked or destroyed, it won't be "because of our freedoms"; it will be because of all the enemies we've created for ourselves around the world by meddling in their affairs, replacing democratically elected leaders with dictators that we preferred. These are matters of history, of fact, and pointing them out is not unpatriotic; it is the supreme act of patriotism. How can we make our country better if we refuse to see its faults? Closing our eyes does not make them go away, and denying them does not make them untrue.

I'm sorry this is of no help to you now. I want to help you; I want to take away your pain, but I can't. All we can do is keep it from happening again. End this war; end all wars except those that are truly necessary (and we haven't seen one of those in over 60 years, and yet lately we find ourselves almost perpetually at war, and every local bully is propped up to be the next great Hitler threat). We are only creating more enemies for ourselves. (In two senses: Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no intent to attack us, therefore we "created" that enemy, a figment of our imagination; on the other hand, now there really are thousands of Iraqis who hate us for what we did, and who now support the more radical groups that really do want to attack us, so we "created" those enemies too, not in our heads, but in the real world.) So is it unpatriotic or morally wrong in some way to want to prevent our government from creating more enemies, more people who may attack us in the future? Is it unpatriotic or wrong to want to save our soldiers' lives instead of sending them off to kill and to die in a country they have no beef with and no business being in in the first place? George Bush and the Republicans support the troops like an exterminator supports bugs. Their actions have led to the soldiers' deaths. There were those of us who argued against it from the beginning, but we were called unpatriotic and told we didn't support those whose lives we were trying to save. The war is a tragedy, the so-called debate we have in this country is a tragedy, and it's time we wake up and end it.

(smack me)

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007
12:08 pm
$3 Billion per Week
The Washington Post is reporting that "the cost of the war in Iraq now exceeds $3 billion a week."

I would just like to point out that means that, given that there are (roughly) 300 million Americans, that works out to $10 per week, or about $40 per month, for every single American.

So yeah:
Rent $500/month
Electric $80/month
Water $25/month
Cable $30/month
IRAQ WAR $40/month

You're paying for it.

(h/t War Room)

(smack me)

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007
5:08 pm
The Candidates

I don't always agree with her positions, but I believe that in foreign policy she has the most knowledge and experience, and would be least likely to make a stupid blunder that will end up costing us in years to come (which we have had too many of already). On fronts domestic and foreign, she has the strength and resolve and political and leadership skills to be most able to turn plans into action; to make it work. Even though she is a little bit too militaristic and quite a bit too corporate for my tastes, she never disappoints me with her intimate knowledge and understanding of policy details, which is vitally important and something that we haven't seen from a president since her husband left office. And even though she accepts more corporate soft money than some of the other Democratic candidates, which I don't like, she is a feminist and an egalitarian at heart, and in truth she would be a great president. My greatest overriding concern about her is based on my deeply held belief that it is Clintonesque triangulation that made the Democratic party as weak as it has been for the last decade, and she engages in that no less than Bill did. However, she, like Bill, has the ability to do the job, and do the job well, and would be a hundred times better than the Current Occupant.

And she can win the general election. I've heard so many people argue that there's a certain proportion of the population that's not going to vote for her just because she's a woman, but let's face it, anyone that backwards and prejudiced is going to vote Republican anyway no matter who our candidate is. You also hear the argument that so many people already dislike her there's no way she can win; but the reason people dislike her is because the right has already been smearing her for a decade and a half. No matter who the Democratic candidate is, they will get the same smear job; it won't make any difference. (Look at Kerry, we nominated him because he was a moderate and a war hero with 3 purple hearts or whatever, and they smeared him as a weak, liberal flip-flopper, attacking his war record and mocking his medals. Trying to pick a candidate to pre-emptively avoid these criticisms is not effective and is not the way to win an election.) At least with Hillary we have already heard the attacks. Besides, it is absolutely about time we had a female president, and so sue me for being sentimental, I am truly touched by the buttons the Clinton campaign is giving out to little girls that say "I can be president". So though she's not perfect, no candidate is, and I would be proud to vote for her.


Obama has what Democratic politicians often don't, which is personality and charisma. He sees the big picture and he is able to articulate it in a way that is inpsiring to listen to. Whether he becomes president in 2009, or later, or never, he will be a great political leader in this country.

I strongly believe that people should vote based on policy positions and not on personality, and that is one striking difference between many Democrats and many Republicans. On countless issues, from the war in Iraq to healthcare to abortion to social security, something like 2/3 of the populace agrees more closely with Democratic positions than with Republican positions (part of that is due to Clintonesque triangulation, I admit). But if the candidate isn't "somebody you could drink a beer with" then maybe a third of those people won't vote for him (or her) anyway. So they end up shooting their own self-interests in the foot, and we end up with president who has no policy skills (or even understanding), who the majority of the American people disagree with on a majority of issues, and who ends up with a 30% approval rating. But gee he looks like a good guy. So in short, charisma (unfortunately) matters in a candidate. Because if the Democrats put forward a candidate with strength and personality, even though he will be mercilessly dragged through the mud by the right-wing spin machine, he could come out of it with enough of those beer-drinking voters to win the election. While policy should be enough to win, the last presidential election showed that a personality the majority likes beats policies the majority like, but the combination of policy and personality should be unstoppable, and Obama has it. He is also more liberal (meaning he values people over corporations) than Clinton, which for me is a good thing. If the election was on domestic issues only, I would vote for him over Clinton hands down. However, he does have less experience with foreign policy, and in our current mess of a foreign policy situation, experience there is important.

Bottom line on Obama: He makes me feel good to be a Democrat, and gives me hope not only for our party, but for our country. Plus it's absolutely about time we had a black (or half-black or whatever; non-white) president, and if he wins the nomination, I will be proud to vote for him.


I like Edwards. I think he's great. Not necessarily better than Obama or Clinton, but easily as good. I don't know why he doesn't do better in the polls. I think the only reason is he doesn't get treated as as much of a major player by the newsmedia, which is in turn only because he doesn't raise as much money as the other two frontrunners. To me, he focuses on the right issues, namely poverty and equality. His priorities are in the right place, and (as with Obama) you can tell he geniuinely cares for people. He's not as inspiring as Obama or as experienced as Clinton, but he's a little bit of both. But he's got good brains and a good heart and, like with Clinton, I like his attention to policy detail. That's important because ideals and intentions aren't the only things that have to be right; if the details are wrong and the policy is ineffective, it almost doesn't matter what the intent was. On the other hand, Edwards is just another middle-aged white guy and haven't we had enough of them already? Doesn't it feel a little bit wrong to vote for somebody else when we could have the first woman or first black person behind the desk in the Oval Office? Either way, he's an excellent candidate, whose policy emphases reflect what I might call Real Values (as distinguished from the hateful "values" of the right), and I would be proud to vote for him.

The thing is, any one of these candidates would be better than any of the Republicans, who at every debate and in every stump speech do nothing other than try to prove their balls are bigger than each other's. Giuliani, McCain, and the rest (with the possible exception of Ron Paul) would be as bad as Bush has been, and for all the same reasons. They all want to prolong, if not escalate, the war, which is obviously not working and is obviously opposed by the majority of the population. None seem to have any problem with the ways the current administration have been breaking the law, and even violating the Constitution. The Republican party today is all about loyalty. There is no higher virtue. Small government? Balanced budget? Non-interventionism? Rule of law? None of these things matter to the current crop of Republicans. They would continue exactly the same disastrous (and not to mention patently illegal) policies of the current administration without batting an eye. "Not listening to polls" might be seen as a strength, but ignoring the will of the American people (which is, after all, the same thing) shouldn't be.

(I know it's only August 2007 but this stuff is everywhere so you can't help thinking about it. Sorry.)

(smack me)

Monday, July 9th, 2007
10:12 am
"" A "national underground network" of pink pistol-packing lesbians is terrorizing America. "All across the country," they are raping young girls, attacking heterosexual males at random, and forcibly indoctrinating children as young as 10 into the homosexual lifestyle, according to a shocking June 21 segment on the popular Fox News Channel program, "The O'Reilly Factor." ""


(3 bruises | smack me)

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007
2:53 pm
It's a complex issue because people on both the political left and the right have reasons for both opposing and supporting the entry of people into this country, and for opposing and supporting those people becoming citizens. Here are some of the motivations at work:

-right-wing all-American xenophobia says shut down the borders (oppose immigration and citizenship)
-right-wing corporate interests say legalize the cheap labor (support immigration but oppose citizenship)
-left-wing all-American populism and union interests worry about quantity and quality of jobs (oppose immigration)
-immigrants and those concerned about them want them to have a fair shot at decent wages and freedom from living in fear of the immigration raid (support immigration and citizenship)

So populists and union interests, historically left-wing, find themselves allied with right-wing xenophobes and racists, on the issue of "keeping the foreigners out". For the lefties who support this position, they're legitimately worried about losing their jobs, or declining pay and benefits and working conditions due to the presence of people who will accept less.

And the political group that has historically fought for increased rights and improved quality of life for the powerless ("the left") finds itself divided over whether to fight for American labor, as they always have against corporations, or to fight for immigrants, who are far more disadvantaged and powerless. Humanitarians who legitimately have everyone's best interests at heart are conflicted because they believe Mexicans have as much of a right to a decent job and a living wage as Americans do; and yet the influx of undocumented workers leads to a decline in working conditions in America.

Meanwhile, the softest of bleeding hearts who care only about helping the outcasts and may ignore potential negative ramifications find themselves allied with the cold-heartedest corporate billionaires who have always been their bitter enemies, because both want to allow the immigrants to be here and get jobs. The lefties want it because the immigrants' lives are improved with the jobs, and the corporations want it because they don't have to pay these workers as much as native workers. It's a win-win for these two parties, but it's a lose-lose for the average Americans that are already here because either they lose their job or they accept lower wages and benefits. The presence of the immigrants brings down job quality and quantity.

Our immigration policy needs to be based in the reality of people's economic motivations. For example, increased border control won't do the job (not by itself, anyway). As long as Mexican citizens can come to America and get an illegal job that pays them more than they would make at home, they will continue to do that; it's about incentives. Increased border control won't stop it any more than the war on drugs has stopped illegal drugs, because the economic incentives are just too great for people to not sell drugs, and the economic incentives are just too great not to attempt a border crossing. (And in the case of immigration, unlike drug smuggling, the only punishment a potential immigrant is really risking is that of being sent back to where they would already be anyway; in other words, there's very little chance of loss, only of gain.) Looking (like a freakonomist) at the incentives people are presented with explains their behavior. And their behavior won't change unless the incentives change. So if our goal is to stop people coming in entirely, we need to either make Mexico richer or the U.S. poorer so they have no reason to be here instead of there, or we need increased border security AND harsh punishments for attempted border-crossers -- and the punishments would have to be quite harsh in order to provide a strong enough counter-incentive to balance out a lifetime of relative prosperity. In fact, they'd have to be so harsh as to be inhumane, possibly cruel and unusual, and definitely out of proportion with the nature of the crime; this course of action should never be allowed. In other words, people are going to continue to come. I don't see any way around it. We can't change the nature of the U.S. or Mexican economy that drastically, and nor would we want to. And we don't want to live in a police state where people are beaten or shot for merely attempting to enter our country. So people will continue to come; the incentives are simply in favor of it.

The next question is what do we do with these people? They aren't evil, after all, they aren't criminals; they only come in hopes of a better life for themselves or their children. Shouldn't they be allowed that life? Who are we to keep it from them? Just because we were born here does that give us more of a right to economic prosperity? We could just have easily been born south of the border, and then we'd be the ones fighting to get in. We haven't done anything to earn the quality of life we have here; why should anyone else have to do more than we did? They should have to pay their taxes, sure, and register with the selective service as long as the rest of us have to do that too, but who says we can impose other requirements on them? How is that our prerogative?

On the other hand, their presence here dilutes our workforce with people who are used to less and who will accept less. The compassionate argument would say that that's all the more reason they should have the job, because if they're willing to accept less, they clearly need the money more. However, this leads to a decline in not only number of jobs but in quality of jobs, because there are workers present who don't have the union history of fighting for their rights and who are willing to accept less.

My proposal:

(1) The path to citizenship should be easy for those already in the country. You shouldn't have to learn English; you shouldn't have to pass a U.S. history and goverment exam; you shouldn't have to pay a large fee. The notion of immigrants becoming citizens shouldn't be opposed as "amnesty"; it should be enouraged and should be incentivized. People born in this country don't have to learn English in order to become a citizen, and nor do they have to know anything about how our goverment works. These citizenship exams ask plenty of questions that plenty of American citizens don't know the answers to. Oh, and on loyalty oaths, they're basically just stupid and pointless because they do no good and serve no purpose; how do they prevent anyone from doing anything they were otherwise going to do? The reason for making citizenship easy is because we want all the labor done in this country to be legal, on the books, and subject to and abiding by all laws and codes relating to minimum wages, overtime pay, workplace safety, etc. It's impossible to regulate activities that are illegal; this is also used as an argument for legalizing drugs and for not outlawing abortion: if you want something to be done properly and safely, it needs to be legal, and regulated, and the regulations need to be enforced. Otherwise it thrives on the black market.

(2) Regulations about hiring undocumenteds should be strongly enforced. Businesses should be punished severely for having undocumented workers, and the workers themselves should face punishments - fines as well as deportation - for working without documents. This will discourage undocumented labor. A slap on the wrist to major corporations will not suffice; there need to be actual punishments that will hurt the company, and the regulations need to be enforced. Some of the cost of enforcement can be paid for in fines, just as we can fund IRS audits through fines on the misdeeds those audits uncover. And between the punishment for working illegally and the ease of becoming a citizen, the workers themselves will become legal citizens. As citizens, they will have no fear of being deported and will thus not fear all law enforcement and goverment agencies. This means they will have no reason not to report their employers' violations of health and safety laws or wage practices. They will in this sense be able to help enforce these regulations, just as citizen workers now function in this role. But as it stands now, workplace violations go unreported in places that hire illegal labor, because the employees can't report them without exposing themselves. Thus we will decrease the amount of cheap, off-the-books labor in this country, which will mean a higher standard of living for the immigrants themselves, and less risk of a decline in standard of living for the native Americans (for lack of a better term) who currently fear loss of job or loss of job quality (e.g., loss of salary, loss of safety regulations, etc.)

(3) As for the border, we need to do our best to make sure we don't have tons of people coming in, because once they're in, citizenship and good jobs will be easy. But we shouldn't waste billions of dollars on it, because even fences and walls can be jumped, cut, or broken. As long as the incentives are there, people will continue to come. We should still enforce our border requirements and not just let everyone in. But our border is fairly secure, and we don't want to live in East Germany or Communist China where people don't have the freedom to come and go as they please, and we don't want to spend more on border security than the (fictional) perfectly secure border would gain us.

(4) Ultimately, requiring citizenship won't be enough, because even though we won't have businesses paying less than minimum wage, there will still be immigrant workers who are willing to accept a lower wage for work than native American union workers, for instance. The only ways around this are to increase the minimum wage, which our new Congress has just done, and to encourage unionization of all workers in the relevant industries, including immigrant workers. Union leaders need to make clear that joining the unions will be better for them because they'll get better wages. The workers will be able to join because they won't be working illegally and thus in fear of exposing themselves.

(5) We may not be able to adequately deal with this issue without confronting free trade more generally. My proposal is designed to make sure everyone working here is paid fairly and has good working conditions. The only problem with this is it keeps the cost of American products high, whereas the cost of imports from countries with lower labor standards will be less. This is already the current state of affairs, but ensuring a living wage to all workers in the U.S. won't help that situation. (It's still the right thing to do, though.) Free trade can provide cheaper goods to both trading partners, as basic economic theory shows, and thus seems beneficial. But the real world cost is to the health and quality of life of the workers. Free trade is great and should be encouraged -- but free trade only with countries that live up to certain human rights and living wage standards. If you don't live up to those standards, we're not going to trade with you. Trade is beneficial to both parties, and so we may pay a price (in the increased costs of consumer goods) for taking this ethical stand. But first of all, we don't need all this cheap plastic crap we surround ourselves with; it being more expensive would not be the great tragedy we might think. And secondly, it's the right thing to do, and when the issue is presented to most people in this way they tend to agree. It's more important to cut off support for what is in essence slavery than it is to be able to afford more and more material "stuff". Furthermore, trade is beneficial to both partners, and not only will we pay a price for cutting off trade, but our trade partner (e.g. China) will suffer also. And whereas we can probably find other places to buy (or can produce ourselves) whatever we need, by refusing to buy from these countries we have eliminated a large portion of their market. Trade is better and more important for the seller than the buyer (that's why all countries like to have more exports than imports, and our large "trade deficit" is cause for concern). So the other country (e.g. China) will be pressured, via economic incentives, to improve their human rights policies. We need to do this while we still have any economic power in the world. And, by the way, we need to wean ourselves off of Middle Eastern oil for the same reasons. We have the alternative technology; we just need it to be widely available.

By the way, I haven't looked into how my proposal above compares to the current immigration bill (which is supported by the President as well as a majority of the Democrats in Congress), or any of the proposed amendments to it; I haven't looked into what those proposals suggest exactly. I've heard about the "guest worker" program, which does seem to make sense, because it basically just allows for legal recognition and regulation of what is already occurring all the time. But I'm skeptical of it because it stands to benefit Big American Business more than anyone else, it seems, and if the alternative is Corporate America being forced to pay more to the laborers that support it, then that wouldn't be a bad thing. The gap between rich and poor is ever widening in this country, and could use a little help in the other direction.

(smack me)

Thursday, June 21st, 2007
11:28 am
What is a Catholic to do?
Our oh-so-unbiased media has made us all aware of the Catholic church's stance on abortion and gay marriage, and thus we are led to believe that it is naturally allied with the Republican party in this country, and all good Catholics (or even all good Christians) should vote Republican, even to the point of John Kerry famously being denied communion due to his pro-choice position. The message we hear over and over is that devout Catholics are and should be all Republicans, due to these issues.

What we don't hear is that the Catholic church:

* opposes the war in Iraq, and questions the morality of war in general:
In 2003, Cardinal Ratzinger (future Pope Benedict XVI) said, "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq.... To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'." This is a far cry from Republicans in this country (especially in 2003) who not only supported the war, but attacked those who so much as questioned it. And note: how much media play did this story get as compared to the church condemning Kerry on abortion?
* opposes the death penalty
The church says that the death penalty should be allowed only when there is no bloodless alternative that will keep the public safe. Pope John Paul II believed that in modern life there are always alternatives, and therefore he was opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances, a position which is so left-wing it has become virtually taboo in the U.S. since 9/11
* supports humane treatment of animals
The Catechism states, "Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.... It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly."

In a 2002 interview Ratzinger criticized the "industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."
*opposes the mistreatment of homosexuals
Even though many who hate homosexuals and verbally (or physically) abuse them believe that they are acting in accordance with their religion, their religion promotes kindness. As Ratzinger said, "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."
*supports the conservation of the natural environment
There is a long history of the Catholic church viewing nature as God's creation, and thus not ours to defile. Pope John Paul II wrote, "There is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflicts, and continued injustice among peoples and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature.... a new ecological awareness is beginning to emerge which, rather than being downplayed, ought to be encouraged to develop into concrete programs and initiatives."
The conclusion to be drawn from this is the one that Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics, makes: that the church is not naturally allied with either political party, and should not be a member of either political party, but should stand apart, and be critical of both parties, and hold both parties to certain moral standards. It seems that this is utterly reasonable, even self-evident, and yet it is not applied in practice, even by priests or bishops themselves. After all, was anyone ever denied communion for supporting the war?

The church has become too entrenched with the right wing in this country, even while the right wing supports war, torture, and hate. So the Christian Right fights against abortion (a position that is legitimate, but in my view misguided) and against letting gay people have the legal benefits of marriage (um, why again? Nobody's saying they have to be married in the eyes of the Catholic church; just that they should have the same legal rights). They fight against euthanasia (mercifully letting someone die) but not against the death penalty (forcibly killing someone). The Christian Left, on the other hand, when they were powerful, fought (with leaders like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.) for civil rights. It was the Christian Left that started the abolitionist movement to begin with. The Christian Left today continues to fight for social justice, for the rights of the weak, for aid to the poor, and for peace. Although I do believe that these positions more accurately reflect Biblical teachings and priorities than do the positions of the Christian Right, that is not my point here; my point is merely that the Right does not have a monopoly on Christians, or even on Catholics (who are widely viewed as more politically conservative). The church also embraces a lot of positions that are considered liberal in this country today; but for some reason we never hear about those. (Hint: the reason is the right-wing noise machine that controls our mainstream media's political discourse.) That's all.

(smack me)

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