Friday, September 30, 2005

Philosophy Friday: A Liberal Look At Neoconservatism

I can't say whether this will become any sort of regular feature, but I was in a pensive mood this morning and thus was inspired to take a look at the writings of Shadia Drury, Canada Research Chair in Social Justice and Professor in the Departments of Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Regina. Dr. Drury is giving a lecture tomorrow (according to WPR, at the behest of the Wisconsin Historical Society, though I couldn't find it on their site) on the Neoconservative political movement and its representation by the Iraq war. Many of the points she made this morning on WPR are taken directly from her essay Saving America: Leo Strauss and the neoconservatives, and I think it's worth looking at some of those points in the context of where the Bush Administration, fueled by this Straussian philosophy, is taking the United States.
The first point Drury makes describing the governing philosophy of the neoconservatives is their love of secrecy within the ruling institutions, fueled by Strauss's belief in using information to control the "vulgar masses":

Strauss was very pre-occupied with secrecy because he was convinced that the truth is too harsh for any society to bear; and that the truth-bearers are likely to be persecuted by society - specially a liberal society - because liberal democracy is about as far as one can get from the truth as Strauss understood it.

The Bush Administration has a well-deserved reputation for its secrecy; a fact recognized by members of both political parties. This control of information and political message is especially relevant given the wide availability of information these days. The Bush Administration has been long on political rhetoric and short on the dissemination of actual data concerning the operations of the government. One only has to look at the stonewalling the White House engaged in when confronted with demands for certain documents, concerning the nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and U.N. Diplomat John Bolton, and the court-ordered release of the Abu Ghraib prison pictures. Clearly this is an administration which understands that blocking the release of vital information is essential to maintaining and even forwarding its political positions.

The second aspect of neoconservatism that informs Bush Administration policy is the Straussian belief in the rulership of the elite over the subordinate masses, expressed by Strauss as the contrast of ancient philosophic beliefs in a natural order over more modern philosophies of liberal humanism:

The wise ancients thought that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty; and giving them these sublime treasures was like throwing pearls before swine. Accordingly, they believed that society needs an elite of philosophers or intellectuals to manufacture "noble lies" for the consumption of the masses. Not surprisingly, the ancients had no use for democracy.

In contrast to the ancients, the moderns were the foolish lovers of truth and liberty; they believed in the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They believed that human beings were born free and could be legitimately ruled only by their own consent.

While on its face this idea seem counter to Bush's rhetoric about "spreading democracy"; however, it begins to make more sense when the elite become not philosophers and intellectuals, but leaders of industry and commercial endeavors. The Bush Administration's neoconservative belief in this area is well illustrated by both its social and tax policies. Industry, and the capitalists that control it, are given preferential tax treatment far beyond that which the working class enjoys. The Administration also makes no bones about pushing a social agenda that marginalizes the common people, such as the proposed ban on homosexual marriage or the criminalization of abortion. These social issues are used as a confining framework to keep the "underclass's" attention fixed away from the substantive uses of power by the government that is not in the peoples' best interests.

Given the role of the "elite" to rule over the masses, what then framework would be used to build and maintain that social order:

The goal of the wise is to ennoble the vulgar. But what could possibly ennoble the vulgar? Only weeping, worshipping, and sacrificing could ennoble the masses. Religion and war - perpetual war - would lift the masses from the animality of bourgeois consumption and the pre-occupation with "creature comforts." Instead of personal happiness, they would live their lives in perpetual sacrifice to God and the nation.

This, more than any other tenet of the neoconservative philosophy, informs the politics of the Bush Administration. Both President Bush's open advocacy for a greater religiosity in the nation, informed, naturally, by the conservative evangelical Christianity in which Bush claims to believe, as well as Bush's preference for military solutions to foreign policy issues, clearly illustrate Strauss's "goal of the wise".

Finally, Drury hits on just what the cornerstone of neoconservatism policy is:

[U]se democracy to defeat liberty. Turn the people against their own liberty. Convince them that liberty is licentiousness - that liberty undermines piety, leads to crime, drugs, rampant homosexuality, children out of wedlock, and family breakdown. And worse of all, liberalism is soft on communism or terrorism - whatever happens to be the enemy of the moment. And if you can convince the people that liberty undermines their security, then, you will not have to take away their liberty; they will gladly renounce it.

The above is the Bush Administration's entire platform, stripped of all its misleading rhetoric. It's the Patriot Act, The Marriage Amendment and the War on Terror all broken down to their driving philosophy. This is the brand of democracy that the Bush Administration wishes to implement here and to impose on other nations at the point of the world's most powerful gun. Democracy stripped of liberty, encouched in repressive social ideals and excessive religiosity, funded by government-supported capitalism and sustained by the fear of an ever-present and shadowy "enemy".

Fortunately, only half of the country has bought into the Bush Administration's neoconservative policies, and those numbers are shrinking everyday. The nobility of the human spirit can never be fully quenched by tyranny, even tyranny disguised with the language of liberal democracy.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Baseless Fabric of This Vision

OUR revels are now ended. These our actors
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like the insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

From The Tempest
William Shakespeare

I've had this bit of The Bard poking around in my head for the past week. Seems a good post idea for a blogger dealing with a fussy newborn tonight!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cleaning Up Congress With No DeLay

At last, some good news! Finally, a glimmer of hope that, just maybe, the Republican Party will be held accountable for its complete lack of ethics.

From AMERICAblog:

A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on one count of criminal conspiracy, jeopardizing the Sugar Land Republican's leadership role as the second most powerful Texan in Washington, D.C.

The charge, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years incarceration, stems from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections.

As a liberal, it's been a long time since I've had some good news about Washington politics. Hopefully this is only the beginning.

Karl Rove and Bill Frist should be awfully nervous right about now!

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

To Catch the Conscience of the Right

A vile cadre of Assembly and Senate bills designed to gut various family planning initiatives was scheduled for debate today in the Wisconsin State Senate. Among these onerous bills is yet another incarnation of the so-called Conscience Clause, Assembly Bill 307, the actual text of which can be found at

Essentially what the Conscience Clause legislation does is allow medical personnel and institutions to refuse to perform procedures or dispense medication that said personnel or institutions believe may be used to end a human life. The provider cannot be held liable for the consequences of the refusal nor can an individual be denied employment because of their intention to exercise their rights under the clause. In this current iteration of the bill in Wisconsin, the provider is also not required to transfer a prescription or refer the patient to another provider.

The first problem I have with this bill is that it does not clearly define terms like "euthanasia" or "abortion" as medical science does; instead the definitions are left to the beliefs and "creed" of the individual. The Anti-Choice lobby has re-defined (again) the term abortion to now mean anything which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, a clear deviation from accepted medical science. Given that many forms of chemical contraceptives, including Plan B and Ortho-Tricyclene, can cause a fertilized egg not to implant, this bill essentially gives doctors and pharmacists the green light to deny birth control to women if said doctors or pharmacists choose to believe the Anti-Choice lobby's definition of abortion. This is an egregious violation of women's rights; rights which were fought for and won in the Supreme Court.

The second problem I have with this legislation is its failure to require a pharmacist or doctor to refer the patient to another provider. This effectively allows the doctor or pharmacist to completely force their moral views onto their patient, with no recourse! Such utter contempt for American values is breathtaking, though not surprising coming from the Anti-Choice crowd. Now, perhaps in more urban areas like Milwaukee or Madison, where clinics and pharmacies are plentiful, this refusal to transfer the prescription or refer the patient is not so much of a practical hardship. But out here, in rural Wisconsin, there may only be 1 pharmacy in a given town, if any at all. The patient is, at best, inconvenienced by a potentially lengthy drive to another town to receive their prescription or treatment. A patient lacking transportation could, in effect, have their medicine or medical care utterly denied them, again with no recourse.

The final problem I have with the Conscience Clause is the elevation of the moral beliefs of the individual over the service they have been paid to provide. Remember, a pharmacy not only cannot, for example, fire a pharmacist for refusing to dispense birth control but they cannot even ask that pharmacist in an interview whether or not he or she would dispense birth control if required. It is wrong to give one select group of people preferential treatment so that they may impose a certain moral guideline on others. By way of personal example, I find it immoral that corporations get such bountiful tax breaks. However, I don't have the option of refusing to take advantage of those tax breaks on behalf of my employer, nor should I. I am free to find another line of work if my conscience bothers me, and so are these few doctors and pharmacists that might wish to abuse their patients with this so-called Conscience Clause.

[It is worth noting that, as of today, not one, single physician's or pharmacist's advocacy group had registered its support for this bill. In fact, the one and only registered supporter of AB307 was Wisconsin Right To Life. Funny, in a "there goes the country" sort of way...]

Monday, September 26, 2005

Some Heated Words on Global Warming

Could it be that the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may finally change some Republican minds about global warming? Sir John Lawton, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, hopes so:
"The increased intensity of these kinds of extreme storms is very likely to be due to global warming," Lawton told the newspaper in an interview.

"If this makes the climate loonies in the States realise we've got a problem, some good will come out of a truly awful situation," said Lawton.

It has become crystal clear in recent years that the trend in the United States is away from scientific knowledge and the debate over global warming is no exception. Conservative business leaders, along with the Republican party they own, have only recently begun to admit that global warming even exists. However, they largely still refuse to acknowledge the role of industrial pollution in exacerbating the problem.

The most frightening part is that Rita and Katrina may be just a taste of things to come. Sir John Lawton again:
Lawton said hurricanes were getting more intense, just as computer models predicted they would, because of the rising temperature of the sea.

"Increasingly it looks like a smoking gun," he said.

"It's a fair conclusion to draw that global warming, caused to a substantial extent by people, is driving increased sea surface temperatures and increasing the violence of hurricanes."

How much further storm-related damage can the United States withstand? We are only mid-way through the 2005 hurricane season and the chance for at least one more storm is quite significant. How can the U.S. economy, already weakened by the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush Administration and the disastrous war in Iraq, withstand another major blow to its infrastructure?

I don't know the answer to these questions but I do know that they are questions to which the Bush Administration will likely have to find some answers and soon.

I am not overwhelmed with confidence...

[From the Progressive Bloggers Union]

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Media Complicity Fuels the Phony Intelligent Design Debate

I have a good friend who is a conservative Evangelical Christian and he and I have spent much time and printer ink debating the theory of evolution against his belief in intelligent design creationism. One of the points he made to me was that the scientists in the United States have been very lax in properly presenting evolution to the public, which, in his opinion, is why fewer people don't see the obvious shortcomings of the theory. Now, obviously I don't believe for one moment that there is any legitimate question as to the validity of the theory of evolution; it is one of the foundational scientific theories and has been proven time and again for over 150 years.

However, the point about evolution being properly presented to the masses is a fair point. A big part of the problem, both with the explanation of the theory and with the presentation of the so-called "debate" between evolution and creationism, is the media's failure to adequately present the facts of the theory of evolution.

From Chris Mooney and Matthew C. Nisbet of the Columbia Journalism Review:
As evolution, driven by such events[The Dover, PA, Federal Court Case.], shifts out of scientific realms and into political and legal ones, it ceases to be covered by context-oriented science reporters and is instead bounced to political pages, opinion pages, and television news. And all these venues, in their various ways, tend to deemphasize the strong scientific case in favor of evolution and instead lend credence to the notion that a growing "controversy" exists over evolutionary science. This notion may be politically convenient, but it is false.

The reason the idea of a debate between evolution and intelligent design has gained traction with the public, aside from our country's strong religious culture, is the media's lack of in-depth coverage on the issue. The very idea that the theory of evolution is full of holes and is, in essence, debatable, is just not true. It's a clear example of the sensationalism of the media; hard science doesn't have the pop culture allure of a good ideological controversy.

A big part of the blame lies with the lack of specialization in the media, particularly among the major TV news providers. A general beat reporter may not have the scientific background to accurately report on the facts of evolution and the falsehoods of intelligent design. This tends to result in a "Side A says X" while "Side B says Y" style of reporting, thus perpetuating the illusion of a legitimate debate. What is needed are more journalists with specializations in scienceparticularlyry those disciplines for which the theory of evolution is a foundational theory.

Another part of the problem is the complexity of the theory of evolution. The mechanisms by which evolution works can get extremely complicated, especially when framed within the study of genetics. It's hard science that requires much study and contemplation to get a good understanding of thintricacieses of the theory. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to the over-generalizations and simplifications that the debate relies upon.

This complexity is, in my opinion, one of the most important reasons why intelligent design has no place being taught in the science classroom. Sadly, our children are already not receiving adequate teaching of the theory of evolution. As a country, we cannot afford to further dilute science education in the name of religious ideology. If our children are given a comprehensive treatment of evolution in school, then I am confident that this fraudulent debate will disappear.

The theory of evolution is a foundational scientific theory, every bit as concrete as the theory of gravity (possibly more so!). Intelligent design, a new and, frankly, dull iteration ocreationismim, is nothing more than metaphysics; a religious belief couched in pseudo-scientific language. There is no debate, except that which is perpetrated by the un-informed media and conservative political organizations.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Email From Outer Wingnuttia: Katrina Edition

As we all know, nothing brings out the bile in the Hard Right like a poor minority getting uppity. It's fascinating how very differently the two sides of the political spectrum viewed the catastrophe in New Orleans. The Left expressed our concern about the failure of the federal government's response and the revelation to the entire country of the grinding poverty that a large of chunk of Americans live with every day. The Right was outraged most by the looting and by the implication that their Boy King might finally have to take responsibility for something that happened in the government he leads.

Reasonable people on either side can disagree on where the blame lies. Sadly, reasonable has nothing to do with this email. From the mouthiest of the mouth-breathers, the most knuckle-headed of the knuckle-draggers, comes Email from Outer Wingnuttia: Katrina Edition:

Been sitting here with my ass in a wad, wanting to speak out about the bullshit going on in New Orleans.

Thanks for updating me on the body part out of which you'll now be speaking.

For the people of New Orleans... First we would like to say, Sorry for your loss.

All the warmth of a 3-for-a-dollar sympathy card.

With that said, Lets go through a few hurricane rules: (Unlike an earthquake, we know it's coming)

All right! Time to get down to the business of telling other people how to live, a Wingnut specialty.

#1. A mandatory evacuation means just that... Get the hell out. Don't blame the Government after they tell you to go. If they hadn't said anything, I can see the argument. They said get out... if you didn't, it's your fault, not theirs. (We don't want to hear it, even if you don't have a car, you can get out.)

Yes, because of course some Wingnut, probably from rural Kansas (they're thick there), knows so much better how to react to a hurricane than the folks who've lived their entire lives on the Gulf Coast. With no car, what were they to do? Walk? Radio to Scotty to beam them up? Many of the people that stayed behind were sick and/or elderly or had family and friends that were. Of course, that squares just fine with the Wingnuts; taking care of yourself first is their Golden Rule. Moreover, where were they to go? The impoverished don't tend to have nice vacation homes or the funds to pay premium hotel rates for a few days away from home. It's the government's fault for not being prepared to deal with such an obvious problem. It is all Americans' faults for allowing this sort of abject poverty to exist in the wealthiest country on Earth. Shame on all of us!

#2. If there is an emergency, stock up on water and non-perishables. If you didn't do this, it's not the governments fault you're starving.

Yeah, having your food and water submerged in 20 feet of brackish, toxic filth for a few days is no reason to waste it.

#2a. If you run out of food and water, find a store that has some. (Remember, shoes, TV's, DVD's and CD's are not edible. Leave them alone.)

So it's OK to loot as long as it's food and water? That's pretty progressive for a Wingnut. May be time for a little "evacuation" to Gitmo for re-education.

#2b. If the local store is too looted of food or water, leave your neighbor's tv and stereo alone. (See # 2a) They worked hard to get their stuff. Just because they were smart enough to leave during a mandatory evacuation, doesn't give you the right to take their stuff... it's theirs, not yours.

Looting your neighbor's house is wrong. Looting Wal-Mart? Well, Wal-Mart can afford it, especially given that all that flood-damaged merchandise would be written off as a casualty loss anyway. See, unlike the poor of New Orleans, large business owners can actually afford flood insurance without having to give up other things, like food and clothing. Besides, the looting of New Orleans was way, WAY over-exaggerated , mostly by Fox News. It was young hoodlums acting out during a time of great upheaval, not the decline of Western morality. In any case, the Wingnuts know it's only looting when it's done by poor minorities. When it's done by companies like Enron, WorldCom and United Airlines, it's called "free market capitalism".

#3. If someone comes in to help you, don't shoot at them and then complain no one is helping you. I'm not getting shot to help save some dumbass who didn't leave when told to do so.

None of the cases of aid personnel being shot at panned out. Just nervous aid workers over-reacting. Completely understandable, except to the Wingnuts, who expect violence from poor blacks.

#4. If you are in your house that is completely under water, your belongings are probably too far gone for anyone to want them. If someone does want them, Let them have them and hopefully they'll die in the filth. Just leave! (For goodness sakes, it's New Orleans, find a voodoo warrior and put a curse on them)

Ironic advice coming from the same group that thinks it must be lawful to have an M-16 to protect their homes from hordes of burglars wandering the suburbs. And, please, no talk of Voudun. If there's anything Wingnuts don't understand, it's religion.

#5. My tax money s hould not pay to rebuild a 2 million dollar house, a sports stadium or a floating casino. Also, my tax money shouldn't go to rebuild a city that is under sea level. You wouldn't build your house on quicksand would you? You want to live below sea-level, do your country some good and join the Navy.

Hey, I actually agree with that first sentiment. The wealthy and businesses already have the economy and government grossly tilted in their favor. They need no further help. Alas, then he ruins the ride. New Orleans is the busiest port in North America, especially for petroleum and natural gas imports. Ports have to be built on the water; makes it easier to dock ships that way. New Orleans wasn't built by thrill-seekers wanting to dare the business end of a natural disaster. It was built by commerce, something Wingnuts are supposed to worship as Most High. Perhaps if the Republicans would stop stripping the teeth out of environmental regulations, then it wouldn't be legal for real estate developers to drain protected wetlands and build cheap homes on them.

#6. Regardless what the Poverty Pimps Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton want you to believe, The US Government didn't create the Hurricane as a way to eradicate the black people of New Orleans; (Neither did Russia as a way to destroy America). The US Government didn't cause global warming that caused the hurricane (We've been coming out of an ice age for over a million years).

I've met Jesse Jackson; very decent fellow. He and Al Sharpton are no angels but they've dedicated their lives to higher causes and have done much more good than ill. U.S. Industry has contributed more to global warming than any other single factor on Earth and we continue to do more damage every day. Along with religion, science is the other thing Wingnuts can't seem to get their heads around.

#7. The government isn't responsible for giving you anything. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but you gotta work for what you want. McDonalds and Walmart are always hiring, get a damn job and stop spooning off the people who are actually working for a living.

Now THAT'S some classic Conservative pap right there. "All poor people are lazy!" "It's a proven fact that blacks always carry weapons!" "Poor minorities prefer social welfare to an honest day's work!" Racist bullshit, all of it. Everyone knows that those welfare queens try to get minimum wage jobs at McDonald's but they can't get their Cadillacs into the parking lot. This is the Land of the Free to Get Mine and Screw All of You and the Home of the Bravery of Sending Poor People's Kids to Fight Needless Wars.

President Kennedy said it best... "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

I prefer this quote from JFK:
For in the final analysis, our most basic common link, is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children's futures, and we are all mortal.
John F. Kennedy, Speech at The American University, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1963
US Democratic politician (1917 - 1963)

Thank you for allowing me to rant.

YourYou're welcome. Now, please, go away and take your white hood and burning cross with you.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Not That There Is Anything Wrong With This...

As a follow up to my last post I give you: Wendell and Cass

Wendell and Cass, two penguins at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn, live in a soap opera world of seduction and intrigue. Among the 22 male and 10 female African black-footed penguins in the aquarium's exhibit, tales of love, lust and betrayal are the norm. These birds mate for life. But given the disproportionate male-female ratio at the aquarium, some of the females flirt profusely and dump their partners for single males with better nests.

Wendell and Cass, however, take no part in these cunning schemes. They have been completely devoted to each other for the last eight years. In fact, neither one of them has ever been with anyone else, says their keeper, Stephanie Mitchell.

But the partnership of Wendell and Cass adds drama in another way. They're both male. That is to say, they're gay penguins.

What will we tell the children? Anyone who watches Oswald on Noggin knows that gay penguins abide.

At the Central Park Zoo, Silo and Roy, two male Chinstrap penguins, have been in an exclusive relationship for four years. Last mating season, they even fostered an egg together.

"They got all excited when we gave them the egg," said Rob Gramzay, senior keeper for polar birds at the zoo. He took the egg from a young, inexperienced couple that hatched an extra and gave it to Silo and Roy. "And they did a really great job of taking care of the chick and feeding it."

And James Dobson's head just exploded.

I'm thinking the fundamentalist Conservative Christians need to stick with the Bible. Biology doesn't seem to be their strong suit.

[Thank to anonymous and Charlotte Smith for the tip!]

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

And Tennessee Tuxedo Shall Lead Them

I've often speculated at the inspiration for Conservative ideas here in America. Where do they come from? What clandestine think tank, what fundamentalist religious scholars ponder the great unanswered questions of modern Conservatism? What holy symbol rises proudly as the representation of Conservative Christian ideals? The Crucifix? Heavens, no! The Bible? Nay, sir. Dare I say, the Constitution? It is to laugh!

Friends, it is the penguin. Specifically, those found in the documentary March of the Penguins, currently the second-highest grossing documentary of all time.

From Sarah Gilbert at BloggingBaby:

Conservatives are insisting that the penguins illustrate their talking points, whether it be monogamy, or intelligent design, or the Christian walk of life that sometimes includes backsliding (the penguins falling behind the group) and having difficulty finding the "good" path (things change, you have to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit). One pundit even claims the film is anti-gay marriage.

Yes, fellow liberals, the mystery is solved. While mice and dolphins may be the smartest creatures on Earth, penguins are clearly the most righteous.

And, lest you think I'm picking on the Conservative Christians because I'm mean, here is a study guide on March of the Penguins, courtesy of the United Methodist Church. See if you can tackle a few of these ponderables:

What Christian values are illustrated in the actions of the penguins? Can God use animals to teach us?

Were you surprised by the strong role the male penguin played in parenting?

Do you believe they are capable of love, trust and courage? Does it matter to you?

This is a study guide for adults, I might add.

Now, I don't mean to be too hard on the Conservative Christians; there are plenty of blogs out there for that. But this whole line of thought is absurd. Morality is a uniquely human creation and the idea that we can learn about marital relations and gay civil rights from a bunch of flightless birds in the Antarctic is just plain ridiculous.

Besides, everyone knows penguins are liberal anyway...

Monday, September 19, 2005

Gay Marriage Ban Out of "Focus"

The nationwide campaign by conservative religious fundamentalists to forbid equal marriage rights to homosexuals reared its ugly head again in Wisconsin this week. Glenn Stanton, Director of Social Research and Cultural Affairs for Focus on the Family, is set to debate Evan Wolfson, renowned gay rights advocate and executive director of Freedom to Marry, at UW-Madison on September 21st. Wisconsin Public Radio featured both guests for a half-hour each this morning to preview each side of the debate.

The debate is in preparation for what is likely to be a showdown in 2006 over a state constitutional amendment banning all but heterosexual marriages. From Tom Scharbach at PurpleScarf blog:

In November 2006, Wisconsin may be at ground zero in the battle for civil rights for gays and lesbians, when a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships may be on the ballot.

A large voter turnout is expected in that election, a general election in which Governor Jim Doyle, Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, and Senator Herb Kohl will be up for re-election, as well as all state Assembly representatives and half the state Senate. Political observers say Gard and other Republicans are attempting to leverage the amendment fight in a bid to help defeat Democratic candidates in 2006.

Wisconsin has tended to lean more socially conservative in recent years, which leaves the 2006 election as a big concern for those, like myself, who support equal rights for homosexuals. The good news is that when examples like Massachusettes are considered, it appears that the right of gays to marry is gaining more acceptance with the everday people of the country. Marriage has been legal there for over a year and Boston has yet to be smote by a pillar of fire. However, organizations like Focus on the Family, whose "primary reason for existence is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ", have made discrimination against homosexuals one of the core pillars of their political platform.

Let's look at some of Mr. Stanton's less-than-compelling reasons for wanting to deny equal rights to his fellow Americans.

Marriage in the United States has traditionally always been between one man and one woman.

True, but misleading. Yes, the civic institution of marriage has been between one man and one woman in the United States. But the implication of the above statement is that, because marriage has an aspect of "tradition", it should not be changed. The true history of marriage in the United States has been one of frequent revision. The right of women to end a marriage has been added, as has the right to marry those of other races. Women are no longer considered the legal property of men and married couples have gained the right to use birth control. A plethora of legal rights and protections have been enacted concurrent to the understanding of a basic right to privacy within a marriage. Clearly, whatever marriage may be in the United States today, it has changed significantly when compared to the same institution of 20, 50 or 100 years ago.

Gay marriage creates a motherless or fatherless environment which is detrimental to a child.

Patently false. As I've written about in a previous post there is not one shred of evidence that having homosexuals for parents has any ill effects on the development of children. This is a bald-faced lie; ironic, given the contents of the Ten Commandments with which one would expect an executive of Focus on the Family to be familiar. As any parent knows, there is an entire spectrum of qualities that make one a mother or father. What Stanton argues here is nothing but pointless gender stereotyping.

Homosexuals already have the same rights to marry as heterosexuals. They just choose not to exercise them.

I have to confess that this was a new argument I hadn't heard before. It's basically predicated on the notion that living a homosexual lifestyle is a choice, regardless of sexual orientation. A gay man has the right to marry a woman the same as a heterosexual man, but the gay man chooses not to because of his lifestyle. This seems to me a particularly cruel and unjust expression of bigotry; reminiscent of the treatment of blacks in the South during the Jim Crow era. A right constrained by a loss of liberty is no right at all! Perhaps we should change marriage so that everyone must have a Druidic wedding ceremony by law. Would Mr. Stanton be offended at being forced to engage in a pagan ritual in order to marry? By his own reasoning, he shouldn't be, as he still has the right to marry as long as he sets aside his Christian lifestyle.

Sadly, I suspect that the religious conservatives will likely win this battle, though I also expect a vigorous series of court battles to follow. This level of cultural tyranny will not sit well with liberal Madison. It's my sincere hope that one day, so-called Christian organizations like Focus on the Family will actually read and follow some of the teachings of the man whose name they so casually toss about.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Time to Amend "Advise and Consent"

I've finally had a chance to catch up on the spectacular study in boredom that was the John Roberts' confirmation hearing and I have only one response: confirm the guy already! What an utter waste of time and Senators' salaries was this farce of a Congressional hearing. I would challenge anyone, Right or Left, to describe even one concrete belief that Roberts illuminated during the hearings. I guess we can assume that he is a Conservative, given that he was nominated by Bush. But what else do we really know? His tenure as a federal judge has been too short to compile much of a record and his writings as an attorney indicate a competent lawyer representing his Republican clients. Perhaps he believes as his clients did and perhaps he does not; one would have suspected that an entire week of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee would have shed some light on the truth of Roberts beliefs.
For my own part, I believe him to be exactly what every liberal American was dreading: a conservative ideologue whose tenure as Chief Justice will likely signal the end of many of the social gains made throughout the past 50 years.
I believe to a certainty that the right to an abortion as we've known it in this country is on borrowed time. Abortion may likely be the most contentious social issue in this country and, frankly, opponents of it have fought a better fight. They have been relentless, exploiting every possible opportunity to whittle away at a woman's right to choose. Given that Roe vs. Wade was predicated on a right to privacy with which many conservatives, including fellow Justices Thomas and Scalia, believe does not exist, I believe it will be overturned as it stands by the Roberts Court. This will, in effect, return abortion to the states as a legal matter, which is a very bad scenario for my current home of Wisconsin, given that the Wisconsin law banning abortion is still technically enforceable minus the federal law suspending it. However, I don't imagine that the Anti-choice lobby will rest on its laurels after an overturning of Roe vs. Wade; I fully expect a nationwide push for a federal ban on abortion that will effectively end the right to choose and relegate to women a second-class citizen status. I can't imagine anything less American, but then the values I consider American seem to have little to do with the direction of the country any longer.
I also believe that many of the social programs that help support the disadvantaged shall go by the wayside. Conservatives have made no secret of their disdain for the "welfare state", by which they mean the social programs wrought by Roosevelt's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society. The power of the federal government to enact these programs was predicated on a certain interpretation of the commerce clause from the Constitution. Again, this interpretation is something that both Scalia and Thomas have argued against and against which John Roberts has advocated in his writings as an attorney.
A reinterpretation of concepts like the right to privacy and the role of the federal government threaten to drastically alter the social contract which the U.S. government has made with its citizens. The frightening part is that, given the social conditions brought to light by the Katrina disaster, the government support programs we already have really haven't been functioning all that well. As a liberal, I believe one of the purposes of the federal government is to redress the inequities of our society, be they predicated on race, birth or circumstance. If the views of Roberts, Scalia and Thomas become the mainstream of judicial thought, the widening class divide in this country will be cemented for generations.

2004 was the breaking point, I think, and it is where we liberals may have lost the war. The opportunity to stop the radical right-wing agenda of Bush and his cronies was squandered by an opposition party so long entrenched within the Washington establishment that they refuse to even acknowledge the ground they've given. Attempts at bi-partisan centrism have resulted time and again in the Democrats being compromised on their ideals while the Republicans walk away with more meat for their base.

In light of all this, it is tragic to me that our Senate could not take this last opportunity to at least let America see where the future is taking us. The confirmation of John Roberts was a sad joke, as is likely any further confirmation hearings in the future. That is why I say they should be done away with. Clearly most Americans believe in majority rule without limitation now anyway; the winning party gets to run the country and those with different ideals must take a seat and be silent.
Well, so be it. The rest of the country is about to learn what we liberals have known for years: the Right wants a corporate-dominated state that can act without conscience or reprisal. They want a land where the American dream is no longer one of opportunity but one limited to the fortune of birth and entrepreneurial success. A land where economic prosperity is the only worthwhile goal, encapsulated in a Dark Age morality fueled by religious fundamentalism. A nation where learning will be the purview of the privileged and the middle class will once again be an exploited mass of cheap labor striving for opportunity that doesn't exist.

Perhaps it's not too late. 2006 will tell the tale of changing America. Let's hope that it's not a story about a "Golden Age" that has passed us by.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Boondoggle on the Bayou

I subjected myself last night to the inane ramblings of our Commander-in-Chief for the sole purpose of trying to glean some hint, some clue as to how his administration will begin to put the Gulf Coast back in working order. It's a fairly frightening prospect: the party of no government about to embark on one of the largest government-administered reconstruction projects in the history of the United States. Given what I already know about Bush's inability to govern effectively, I believe it's time to peruse last night's address to get a little taste of things to come.

First, I have to comment on the Broadway-style staging for the speech. Given that electricity had not yet been restored to the French Quarter by the time Bush gave his speech, the background lighting on Jackson Square was brought in for dramatic effect, likely to underscore Bush's "The Coast shall rise again" emotional theme. I also couldn't help but notice the finely manicured lawn, sans flood waters, showing the nation a picture of an unsullied New Orleans very removed from the images running around the clock in the mainstream media. A grimly determined Bush, marching in his faux-cowboy canter, sleeves rolled-up for "hard work", of which he will be little involved, giving what sounded like an overblown Chamber of Commerce address. All in all, the effect looked staged, badly, I might add, and served only to underscore the Bush Administration's fixation on appearance over results. I have to believe that even his most devoted supporters must be tiring of this dog-and-pony show by now.

On to a couple of snippets from the sermon speech, skipping the ridiculous inspirational pap:

We've also witnessed the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous nation should ever have to know -- fellow Americans calling out for food and water, vulnerable people left at the mercy of criminals who had no mercy, and the bodies of the dead lying uncovered and untended in the street.

I bolded my favorite part of this sentence. Bush has an almost fetish-like fascination with the stereotype of the "bad guy". It informs most aspects of his public policy. Clearly there was some looting and some violence in the aftermath of Katrina, but the extent of it was ridiculously overblown by the so-called Liberal Media, especially Fox News. This also plays off of his "cruel and wasteful storm" comment in the introduction of his speech; again, a paean to the "good vs. evil" comic book world view that Bush continually espouses.

Federal funds will cover the great majority of the costs of repairing public infrastructure in the disaster zone, from roads and bridges to schools and water systems. Our goal is to get the work done quickly. And taxpayers expect this work to be done honestly and wisely -- so we'll have a team of inspectors general reviewing all expenditures.

Massive federal funds available for reconstruction projects? Sounds suspiciously like the Iraq war. Now, where are the no-bid contracts? Oh, here they are. Why rely on the "free market" that Republicans worship when you can have taxpayer-funded crony capitalism?

Clearly, communities will need to move decisively to change zoning laws and building codes,

Within this zone, we should provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment, tax relief for small businesses, incentives to companies that create jobs, and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again.

I include these two snippets together because they are essentially both conveying the same message from President Bush to his most staunch supporters, the business owners. That message is, of course, that the Republican agenda of tax cuts and Republican regulatory support for businesses will not only continue but be augmented by the Katrina reconstruction. Bush's mention of minority-owned businesses is nothing but a red herring; a bit of empty political rhetoric meant to soothe the collective conscience of his wealthy, white base. The destruction wrought by Katrina tore away the facade of Bush's "One America" and revealed the truth of the poverty-stricken masses that the Bush Administration has ignored for the past five years.

This pledge of more tax cuts and financial support for businesses dovetails nicely into the over-arching issue with Bush's massive reconstruction plan; namely, how will the United States pay for rebuilding the Gulf Coast? Clearly, Bush is not going to roll-back any of his tax cuts or raise taxes. Republican ideologues have spent too much time, money and effort in unchaining the concept of taxation from civic responsibility to make any sort of correction to the agenda now. It's worked only too well. Americans no longer see taxes as part of their social contract; they no longer see taxes as the great equalizer among the economic classes that taxes once were. Republicans have trumpeted to the masses that taxes are a great burden, placed upon the hard-working people of America by spend-happy politicians, instead of being the responsibility of each citizen for the government services they need and want, and the American people have listened all too well.

Ironically, this same Bush Administration that decries the burden of taxation is also the most fiscally reckless in U.S. history. This leaves us with yet another Republican administration with runaway federal debt and budget deficits, which will only grow worse as the reconstruction costs rise. This will result in rising debt carrying costs for a debt-saturated populace already feeling the sting of exploding energy costs and stagnant wages. It's past time for some fiscal responsibility from the Republican leadership; the burden of paying for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast should not rest on the shoulders of the working class while the wealthy continue to receive massive tax relief. That is unfair and un-American!

In the Katrina reconstruction, the Bush Administration demonstrates once again its belief that ideology and political gain trump the needs of the country. Bush has been absent time and again when leadership has been called for and this latest boondoggle will, sadly, be no different.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Baby Pics from the Hospital

Gifted-1 outside the hospital (she couldn't escape the camera completely!)

Cecelia ready to go home.

Samurai Sam playing nurse in the operating room.

Being born is hard; it's hard work! Everybody knows that.

(It's hard to be glib at 3:30 in the morning.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Problem with the Pledge

Leading children in public schools in a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance was, once again, struck down as unconstitutional, this time by U.S. district judge Lawrence Karlton.

From JS Online:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."

Karlton said he was bound by precedent of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 ruled in favor of Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

This ruling should push the conflict over the Pledge directly onto the itinerary of the soon-to-be John Roberts Supreme Court. Previously the SCOTUS dismissed the case, saying Newdow did not have standing to bring suit on behalf of his daughter, of which he did not have custody. No such easy side-step exists for the Court this time and, hopefully, the issue can be settled once and for all.

The conflict over the constitutionality of reciting the Pledge in public schools centers around the inclusion of the words "Under God", added in 1954 at the behest of the Knights of Columbus. The original pledge, written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy in 1892, did not contain mention of God anywhere. This change of wording, popularly endorsed as a confirmation of the United States' religious culture in opposition to the Soviet Union, has resulted in changing a pledge of patriotism to a public prayer, a challenge to which was an assured eventuality.

I agree with Micheal Newdow. The inclusion of the wording "Under God" in the Pledge fundamentally cuts against the protection of religious freedom in the United States. It is a blatant attempt to forward the idea that the United States is a Christian nation by design, an idea which has gained traction recently with many modern Evangelical Christians and which has no factual historical basis.

In addition to the "Christian nation" ideology defense of the Pledge, is the argument that such overt references to God are a part of the cultural character of the United States and as such are "harmless". I disagree. I think this is a subtle attempt to marginalize those who disagree with the established Christian majority in the United States. Such opposition to the dominance of majority opinion is what the Bill of Rights was written to protect. Moreover, for many, the Christian God is not a part of their individual American culture; to treat such individuals as outside the mainstream of that culture is to marginalize the very ideal of social plurality the Founding Fathers worked to instill.

Michael Newdow, the attorney who brought the original case in 2002 and is representing the families in the case ruled on by Judge Karlton, puts the cultural argument in perspective:

"Imagine every morning if the teachers had the children stand up, place their hands over their hearts, and say, 'We are one nation that denies God exists,'" Newdow said.

"I think that everybody would not be sitting here saying, 'Oh, what harm is that.' They'd be furious. And that's exactly what goes on against atheists. And it shouldn't."

This kind of case will undoubtedly be unpopular with a majority of the public. But, again, that's the whole point. This is a minority group, non-Christians, challenging a government-endorsed symbol whose intention is to tacitly align the culture of the nation with the beliefs of the Christian majority. It's another example of the Christian majority in the United States attempting to circumvent the Establishment Clause and have their faith enshrined above all others as an American institution.

My response to them is the same as my response to school-led prayer and government-funded "faith-based" initiatives: if Evangelical Christians want their religion established as the "One True American Faith", then they should do it honestly by introducing legislation that amends the Establishment Clause. If the United States is to be a mandated Christian nation, then our Constitution needs to reflect such openly and honestly.

Any thing less is a tacit admission by the Evangelical Christian community that their view of the Constitution and the philosophy of its Framers, is wrong.

Which, of course, it is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

One More Baby Pic for the Day!

The link below leads to Cecelia Rose's newborn announcement. A big thanks from our family to all the folks at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital.

Cecelia Rose.

Cecelia and Family

Samurai Sam with Cecelia.

Oma Rhonda with Cecelia.

The Whole Crew - Samurai Sam, Olivia, Cecelia and Liam.

The Whole Crew, Part II: Samurai Sam, Liam, Cecelia and Olivia.

(I will get pictures of Gifted-1, in spite of her best efforts to elude me!)

Pictures of Cecelia Rose

Via the wonder of one-hour photo!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Behold, The Child!

Finally Gifted-1 and I have made it home from the hospital with the newest member of our family, Cecelia Rose. Cecelia was born Thursday morning at 10:20 AM via a planned C-Section and weighed 9 lbs. 4 oz. and measured 19.75 inches in length (2nd in weight but first in length out of our three!).
Late in the day on Thursday, the neonatologist became concerned about Cecelia's erratic breathing and diagnosed her with having fluid in her lungs. Cecelia was admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and was kept under observation until Saturday afternoon. We, of course, were quite worried but were given every reassurance that many big C-Section babies have such problems and that Cecelia would pull through just fine. Fortunately, they were right and all our new gray hair is for nothing!
Mommy and baby are resting quietly now at home (well, baby is resting, anyway) and our other two are thrilled to wonder at having a new sibling. Thanks to everyone who checked by A Beginner's Mind and I hope to be back on the beat soon.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Procreation Time, Baby!

Just a quick post to let everyone know that our new baby girl, Cecelia Rose, is going to be born tomorrow so likely no blogging. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, as my invincible wife, Gifted-1, is subjected to her third C-section. I will update my blog as I can in the next few days, hopefully with pictures!

Thanks everyone and see you in a couple of days!

Love and Peace,

Samurai Sam

Nero Still Fiddling

Just when it seems like George W. Bush couldn't have been any further out of touch with the situation in New Orleans, we get this little gem from Nancy Pelosi (D - California):

At a news conference, Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush's choice for head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency had "absolutely no credentials."

She related that she had urged Bush at the White House on Tuesday to fire Michael Brown.

"He said 'Why would I do that?'" Pelosi said.

"'I said because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week.' And he said 'What didn't go right?'"

"Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she added. [From SFGate, via AMERICAblog.]

It's bad enough that a political appointee of Bush's has done such an egregious job as head of FEMA. But for the President of the United States to completely deny that there were any deficiencies in the Federal Government's response is just breathtaking. What crass incompetence we have in our highest executive office!

This is simply proof positive that the Republican Party's ideology is not a proper governing ideology. After all, how can the party that wants to, in the words of Grover Norquist, drown the Federal Government in a bathtub, be the proper or even logical stewards of it? Clearly, as they have demonstrated this week, they cannot be trusted to safeguard this country against any sort of disaster, be it natural or otherwise. A political party that has, as part of its platform, a clear hostility towards government agencies, should damn sure not be running those same agencies!

Please, America, it is time to put the grown-ups back in charge. George W. Bush and his crony appointees are in too far over their heads and our country is not safe with them in control. We need responsible leadership, not the college roommate of a campaign fund raiser.

(Psst! Mr. Reid, Ms. Clinton, Mr. Biden...this is where the Opposition Party is supposed to step in! Dr. Dean, are you there? Hello? Just follow Ms. Pelosi, she knows where we should be going!)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Galloway Terrifies Wisconsin Republican

The University of Wisconsin - Madison next week welcomes British MP George Galloway, an outspoken Socialist and critic of the Iraq war, to speak on campus, likely as part of a speaking tour behind Galloway's new book. Of course, here in Republican-controlled Wisconsin, sometimes free speech is just a little bit too, well, free for our elected representatives. Out in front of the pack this time, all a-furied with righteous indignation, is Representative Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, a pro-war Neo-conservative given the opportunity this morning to air his grievances with Galloway's message on WPR.

Suder claims many things about Galloway, which I will address a bit of below, but also levels much criticism at the UW of Madison for even allowing Galloway to speak. Suder claims to be interested in how much tax-payer money and/or student fees were spent on the engagement, which is somewhat facetious as the various sponsors of the event have made it clear that the funds being used were either donated or are to be collected via ticket sales. Galloway was invited to UW - Madison by the Havens Center at the UW - Madison sociology department and the International Socialist Organization, of which only the Havens Center is taxpayer funded and only donated $250 anyway. Thus, it is clear that Suder's problem with the speaking engagement has nothing to do with money (unusual for a Republican, I know!) and everything to do with silencing a voice with which Suder is ideologically uncomfortable.

The following are some of the criticisms leveled against Galloway by Suder:

Galloway made statements on Al-Jazeera calling for a jihad against British and American troops in Iraq.

Despite an exhaustive search, I was unable to find any such statement by Galloway anywhere. This leads me to believe that Suder either made it up whole cloth or, more likely, is taking something Galloway said completely out of context and twisting it to suit his political purposes. Bravo for Suder if this is the case, as it's a sure-fire way to attain a high-level government appointment under a Republican Presidential administration. Just review the writings and speeches of Donald Rumsfeld or Condoleeza Rice to settle any doubt about that.

More likely, Suder's issue comes from Galloway's stance against the war in Iraq, of which Suder is an unabashed fan and supporter. Suder claims that he has no problem with anti-war sentiment, which is an obvious lie, but then accuses Galloway of harming British and American troop morale with Galloway's opinions.

The truth, from Galloway himself via the Respect Coalition website, paints a different picture:

We urge the [British] government to remove people in this country from harms way, as the Spanish government acted to remove its people from harm, by ending the occupation of Iraq and by turning its full attention to the development of a real solution to the wider conflicts in the Middle East.

Only then will the innocents here and abroad be able to enjoy a life free of the threat of needless violence.

Clearly Galloway is advocating for an end to violence and return home of the British troops in harms way, a concern he has extended to all the soldiers fighting in Iraq regardless of nationality. Galloway clearly distinguishes between the warmongering civilian leaders advocating the illegal war in Iraq and the soldiers forced to fight it, a difference Republicans like Suder have worked hard to blur in the minds of the American people.

Galloway was a friend and ally of Saddam Hussein and received oil subsidy "kick-backs" from the Hussein regime.

This canard has been trotted out many times in opposition to Galloway and he has neatly refuted them each time, lately last Spring before the U.S. Senate:

"I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when the British and American governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas. I have a better record of opposition to Saddam Hussein than you do."


"I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try and bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war, and on the second of the two occasions, I met him to try and persuade him to let Dr Hans Blix and the United Nations weapons inspectors back into the country."

Galloway has also refuted accusations that he was an oil trader and received "kick-backs" via the U.N. Oil for Food program, winning £150,000 in libel damages stemming from such.

In light of what Suder had to say on WPR this morning, it seems clear that his real agenda has little to do with George Galloway and much more to do with Suder's support of the Iraq war. Suder, like other Republican war hawks, believes the nation should be striving for a kind of war-footing solidarity with the Bush Administration; that voices inoppositionn to the war are dangerous to the troops and should be silenced. They endeavor to create an atmosphere in which the American people are convinced that they must march in lockstep with the Republican party's pro-war agenda or have their patriotism called into question. Apologies for making the comparison, but this is exactly what Hitler and his Nazi's did in Germany in the 1930's.
Nothing could be more un-American than the curtailing of dissenting voices in a time of war, be they American, British or any other nationality. What Suder at least seems to be advocating for is the type of political environment that existed in monarchist Europe; that war-making is the purview of government and the people need to get in line and support the war machine. This is anethema to democracy, for what could be more important than the role of the people in controlling the government than where military endeavors are concerned?

One other ridiculous complaint that Suder trots out is the accusation that U.W. - Madison works to actively quash conservative voices, a charge which Eye on Wisconsin blog neatly disassembles:

Suder also makes the weak charge that It's no wonder that conservative views are not welcome on the Madison Campus. Well actually, Scott, don't you recall Robert Novak speaking in the same place not that long ago? Where was your outrage over someone that hates America so much that he helps threaten our national security in outing a CIA operative? Also such notable right wing extremists such as Ralph Reed have spoken in similar events.

It's obvious that Representative Suder is much more interested in silencing views in opposition to his own than in any contrived concern over the consequences of Galloway's upcoming speech. Suder and his fellow Neo-conservatives understand only too well what happens when their arguments are subjected to the cold, harsh reality of the truth and that's the weapon of choice that George Galloway bring to bear.

Monday, September 05, 2005

A Busy Day

The Samurai Sam household was very busy today preparing for the arrival of our new daughter on Thursday. Thus, no time today for my normal liberal soap-box pontificating.

If you are less strapped for time and money than I, please consider donating at the link below for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Thanks!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The End of the Oil Culture

The pain in the pocketbook is very real here in Wisconsin. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, gasoline prices have skyrocketed straight out of control. To make matters worse, many here in Vernon county, one of the poorest in the state, are facing the onset of autumn with the reality of growing fuel oil heating costs. Perhaps it's time, finally, for the United States to take a serious look at our dependence on oil (and by extension, gasoline) and look at ways to reduce our need of it.

Joe Baker at the Rock River Times nails it:

When demand outstrips supply, growth [development] will stop.

That means oil prices will soar until it is high enough to force demand downward.

The coming energy crunch will end our present car-crazy suburban lifestyle and force us to adopt alternative ways.

It is unfathomable to me how this reality continues to elude the thoughts of most Americans. Someday, likely in the next ten to twenty years, our country's voracious appetite for oil will be left unsated. All of the experts agree that there is a finite amount of oil on the planet and that, at some point, the supply will begin to decline. So why are we doing so little in regards to our transportation network as a country to prepare for this eventuality?

The first reason is federal government policy in the wake of the 1970's oil crisis. Most Asian and European nations took away from that time a sense of just how fragile and limited a petroleum-dependent infrastructure would be. They chose to heavily tax gasoline and petroleum, thereby forcing consumers and businesses to look for options that freed them from petroleum dependence. Consumer demand forced the development of extensive public transportation networks and much more stringent fuel economy standards for automobiles.
In the U.S., by contrast, our government took the stance that a cheap supply of oil would be the engine to drive our economy. The good and bad news is that it worked. Good news because the United States experienced unparalleled economic growth in the past 20 years, resulting in one of the highest economic qualities-of-life in the world. The bad news is that very little has been done to deal with the eventuality of diminishing petroleum supply. American automobiles have a mandated average fuel economy of an anemic 27.5 mpg in highway mileage, a figure which is actually impressive given the even more generous CAFE standards for the massive SUV's that have become the vogue fashion items of wealthy suburbanites. While most major American cities have public transportation, only New York and Chicago have truly extensive networks, and even these cities face massive automobile traffic each day. As the price of gasoline climbs higher and higher, the urban/suburban architecture of American cities becomes less and less economically viable.

The second reason for the lack of energy conservation in the American transportation network is the pop cultural significance of automobiles. Nothing is a more intrinsically recognized part of Americana than the automobile. From the classy cars of the 50's to the 70's muscle cars to today's monster SUV's, automobiles are one of the most recognizable American innovations and are cultural icons. Especially flashy automobiles with big engines, lots of horsepower and, unfortunately, the worst gas mileage to be found on the planet. One only has to watch a suburban Chicago soccer mom at the local Jewel-Osco loading groceries into a Hummer H2 (and I have!)to realize that Americans have a fanatical devotion to the feeling of power that comes with a monstrous, gas-guzzling behemoth. The only hope we have for a better energy future and less dependence on foreign oil is to somehow change this image. The recent upsurge in the popularity of hybrid cars shows that change is possible, but it's slow and time is running out!

So what happens as the price of gasoline climbs to $5, 6$ or even 7$ per gallon? True, that rising cost may finally remind the Big 3 automakers that gas-guzzling road hogs are not the responsible product to be peddling. The terrible reality is, however, that oil affects every aspect of our economy. It inflates the cost of every good we consume in the form of increased shipping costs. It's reflected in increased heating costs for a huge chunk of the country, many citizens of which cannot afford much in the way of increased expenses. The problem is exacerbated by how entrenched it is. For a personal example, as the cost of gas increases in Wisconsin, I cannot just run out to the local car dealership and buy a new, more fuel efficient vehicle without making some major financial commitments. Nor can I suddenly reduce my 150-mile daily commute without some major hassles and resume writing. The damage from our irresponsible energy policies, re-affirmed once again by the Bush Administration's egregious oil company welfare program (known to the rest of us as the Energy Act of 2005), is extensive and not easily corrected.

Baker again:

Obviously, the first and foremost step is conservation, then rising use of whatever alternative energies are available. Meantime, we need to get that contingency plan in place and begin thinking about what may happen as the social fabric unravels.

And we'd better start today. Our petroleum habit is unsustainable and the longer we wait to break it, the more severe the withdrawal will be.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

But Thou Rejoice With Liberal Joy!

England and America in 1782

O thou that sendest out the man
To rule by land and sea,
Strong mother of a Lion-line,
Be proud of those strong sons of thine
Who wrench’d their rights from thee!
What wonder if in noble heat
Those men thine arms withstood,
Retaught the lesson thou hadst taught,
And in thy spirit with thee fought–
Who sprang from English blood!

But thou rejoice with liberal joy,
Lift up thy rocky face,
And shatter, when the storms are black,
In many a streaming torrent back,
The seas that shock thy base!

Whatever harmonies of law
The growing world assume,
Thy work is thine–the single note
From that deep chord which Hampden smote
Will vibrate to the doom.

-Alfred Lord Tennyson

The events of the last week brought this poem to my mind.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Republican Assault on Irony

We already know that the NRA gun lobby owns the Republican party in Wisconsin, but sometimes they make it just a bit too obvious.

A press release from Wisconsin A.G. Lautenschlager, via WisPolitics:

The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint alleging a violation of the state public records law by State Senator David Zien (R-Eau Claire) and Representative Scott Gunderson (R-Waterford) asking the court to compel the state legislators to release the draft of a bill that would allow Wisconsin residents to carry concealed weapons...


Press reports have indicated Rep. Gunderson has shared a draft of the bill with a lobbyist of the National Rifle Association (NRA), but refuses to share it with DOJ attorneys.

You have to love the irony of a bill to carry concealed weapons being concealed from the public and the Department of Justice. For all of Gunderson's talk about the fourth or so iteration of his concealed carry bill being for public safety, I think it's pretty clear what's really motivating Representative Gunderson.

I think A.G. Lautenschlager puts it best:

"Wisconsin citizens have the right to know what legislation is being considered by the State Legislature - that's not a privilege reserved for the gun lobby,"

The new Republican Party slogan for 2005: "No Lobbyist Left Behind!"

In Mourning

The General says it better than I ever could.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Disaster Along the Class Divide

As the full extent of the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina becomes more apparent, so also does the latent racism and classism that is sadly still existent in the United States today. There are numerous ways this bigotry can take shape, but several notable breeds of it have become very prominent in regards to the disaster in New Orleans. Some examples of this bigotry I've heard in person in the last week; folks actually expressing to me views that I consider so anti-social that I'm barely able to remain civil. Others I have read online or see elsewhere in the MSM. Let me take a stab at shedding some liberal understanding onto a few of these misconceptions:

People living in a hurricane-threatened area deserve what they get.

This smug declarative from a diseased mind is appalling mainly for its myopic ignorance. Every geographical part of the United States runs the risk of some kind of natural disaster. Blizzards in the Rockies, tornadoes in the Midwest, heat waves in the Southwest and hurricanes in the South and Southeast. Recently a record number of tornadoes touched down in Wisconsin, doing extensive damage to numerous towns across the southern part of the state. Yet, not one time did I hear anyone saying "Well, we chose to live in the Midwest...". No, they were too busy petitioning FEMA for disaster relief! Yet certain people from this area have no problem whatsoever with criticizing those that live along the Gulf Coast for living in danger of a hurricane. It's an ignorance born of rooted regionalism: where one lives is a sensible place, regardless of the danger, but where others live is foolish because the risks are different.

Those that stayed behind after the evacuation get what they deserve.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people seem to think that abandoning one's home is just easy as pie! Nothing to worry about! Just jump in the car and head off to stay with the family or at a hotel for a few days. Of course, it won't be only a few days this time. For many, it will be for the rest of their lives.
Now, I don't doubt that there are some folks able to evacuate that are too stubborn or too much the thrillseekers to do so and I don't have much sympathy for those folks. But for many, evacuation is a very tough option, particularly in the areas of the Deep South that are prone to hurricane destruction. It's no secret that Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are among the poorest states in the Union; it's tragic that it should be so but the reality is there. Many of the folks that weathered Katrina couldn't evacuate. Perhaps they had no access to an automobile, couldn't afford public transportation, had no family in which to turn or couldn't afford a hotel room; the list goes on. Undoubtedly many of the people that remained behind did so for medical or logistical reasons. The point is that evacuating one's home is a much different prospect when you have no money and no viable transportation and those that are so quick to criticize the people caught in Hurricane Katrina would do well to reflect on how they would react if asked to flee their homes.

The looters should be shot and their bodies strung or stacked up as a warning to other looters.

This is a paraphrase of something I actually read at Free Republic, one of the most vile, right-wing hate sites on the net. The problem of looting is a complex issue and really has to be looked at in terms of what's being taken, by whom and why.
The answers to the first question, "What's being taken?", seem to fall into two distinct categories: necessary items and desired items. If someone is going to survive, they're going to need the basics, and I think taking such from the local Wal-Mart in this situation is just fine. Only the most die-hard ideologue would argue that such is stealing.
The problem arises when looting extends to things like plasma TV's and firearms. Many of the people still remaining in the city have lost everything. The poorest parts of New Orleans were the hardest hit by both the hurricane and the flooding that followed. Those living in poverty likely don't have insurance, savings or investments to fall back on. Their only life-lines are charitable organizations like the Red Cross and a currently Republican-controlled Federal Government that is ideologically opposed to social welfare programs. So I can accept that there is an economic justification for looting, even if I don't agree with the moral issue.

At the end of the day, though, the aftermath of Katrina will serve to demonstrate the terrible truth of the economic division of race that still persists in this country. A co-worker of mine expressed the opinion that the race and work ethic of those remaining in New Orleans were the reasons for the looting and lack of evacuation. I found this incredibly sad that, 30 years removed from the civil rights era, the same bigotry still remains. I am hopeful, however, that the events of this past week will help shed some light on the issue and bring it into national prominence once again.

[Update: Scott McClellan was on CNN over lunch and, when asked about the refugees taking food, water and other essentials, McClellan responded with the President's "zero tolerance" policy towards looting of any kind. "Compassionate Conservatism" at its finest. Maybe if the poor folks of New Orleans get together and incorporate, they'll get the help they need from the Bush Administration...]