Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ignoring The Hearts And Minds

As the debate over the Israel/Hezbollah conflict rages on, a clear difference has emerged between the way liberals and conservatives address the issue. Primarily, it seems conservatives are addressing this as a moral issue. Countless times in countless places the mantra of "Israel has the right to defend itself" gets repeated ad nauseum, including within the Bush administration. Another conservative favorite, "One doesn't negotiate with terrorists", has seen a huge resurgence as well. Both of these are very broad policy stances, predicated on a moral belief about the evil of terrorism. Both have room for debate on their merits and interpretations. I, for example, hold that it's obvious that the first is true, but disagree that the second is always a certainty. Both Israel and the United States have negotiated with terrorist organizations in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

However, the biggest difference between liberal and conservative thought on this issue is that, generally, liberals have been talking about the practical implications of Israeli policy while conservatives are defending Israel's moral imperative. I don't fault conservatives for this, but I do see a huge danger in the potential blind spots it causes. While I, as a liberal, see Israel's right to defend itself as a starting point for debate on the conflict, conservatives really seem to see it as the end. It's become the blanket justification for every action Israel takes and every action the Bush administration doesn't. Both liberals and conservatives in America want the Israeli people to be safe. Liberals have been standing alone, however, when the issue of safety is extended to Lebanon and couched in a strategy of ending the open warfare. As I said yesterday, I believe conservatives see a moral purity and expediency in war that makes them support it as the first and best option for dealing with intractable foreign policy problems. No amount of history seems to shake this certainty.

I don't believe for one minute that Israel is going to accomplish its goals by bombing Lebanon to pieces. Israeli leaders have repeatedly said they have no desire to occupy Lebanon again and Hezbollah really has no reason to lay down its arms. Israel's attacks on Lebanon are further destabilizing an already weak democracy and, as history has shown time and again, government instability is the best breeding ground for terrorism and authoritarian rule. Hezbollah has no incentive to disarm and neither Syria nor Iran have any incentive to isolate Hezbollah. Israel has effectively backed itself into a corner from which no escape route is a good option.

The only way forward for Israel that either marginalizes or stops Hezbollah altogether must involve multi-lateral talks with the other states in the region and international support for a strong, democratic Lebanon. Currently, Israel's punishment of Lebanon is weakening the government and alienating the people. For a few anecdotal examples, here are some quotes from the people of Lebanon, courtesy of Dahr Jamail of IPS News, via Alternet:

"Does our country not have the right to move forward like other democracies," says Nidal Mothman, a 35-year-old taxi driver in downtown Beirut. "We hate the American government for giving the green light for the Israelis to bomb us back to the stone age."


"How many Hezbollah have they killed," Mothman said. "Maybe just a few, while they've killed over 350 Lebanese civilians. What kind of war are they waging against my country?"


Foreign war ships are crowding ports as evacuation of foreign nationals continues. "Yes, we see the priorities of the western countries as they evacuate their people," 55-year-old clothing merchant in the Hamra district of Beirut, Ayad Harrar said. "So you see, screw the Lebanese, they do not matter to us. This is what their governments are saying to us by these actions."

Harrar said people are shocked that his country was once again plunged into war, just when they thought they had found peace.

"This afternoon it is calm, but we all know that when they finish evacuating their people, we will be bombed once more," Harrar said. "It is not possible to live a life while we live under these conditions; not knowing when our day to die is coming from more Israeli bombs."

The only hope of ending Hezbollah's influence in Lebanon is to convince the Lebanese to reject that influence, while giving the Lebanese the economic and military support they need to supplant Hezbollah's role. Hezbollah's style of entrenchment in southern Lebanon is not unlike a mafia protection racket. Hezbollah provides humanitarian services, political representation and, to a certain degree, at least the promise of armed protection, in exchange for political (and financial) clout and a civilian population to shield its activities. The only way to break this racket is to shift the hearts and minds of the Lebanese and provide them an alternative to Hezbollah's "protection". Thus far, Israel has managed to confirm exactly what Hezbollah is selling to the Lebanese Shia, while the United States has failed to step in and provide an alternative to the protection racket. Both nations have managed to further isolate the Lebanese and lend political justification to Hezbollah's anti-Western rhetoric. As an alternate path, perhaps negotiations with Syria and Iran could help de-fang Hezbollah, but the Bush administration has refused that as well. So nothing gets done while Lebanese and Israeli civilians die by the scores.

[I may have to change this blog's name to "Samurai Sam Yacking About The Middle East" pretty soon. I promise I'll find something else to pontificate upon soon. This issue has just really struck a chord with me... S. Sam]

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Abyss Gazing Back

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146
German philosopher (1844 - 1900)

Possibly because I was in an ornery mood, I chose, on Friday afternoon, to visit a rightwing political site with the goal of getting a true measure of conservative thought on the Israel/Hezbollah conflict. I am chock full of opinions on what motivates American conservatives, and I wanted to see if my biases were simply too great or if conservatism really has warped into something awful. The blog was Ace of Spades (Google it if you're interested) and it's somewhat of a poor man's Free Republic. There was much name-calling and ad hominem attacks on my political affiliations (Yes, I am a "Draft Gore 'moonbat'") but some of the commenters actually rose up and attempted to have a somewhat reasonable discussion. It's that discussion that left me feeling particularly bleak about the prospects of living in conservative America.

See, I can deal with the name calling and the "I hate you 'cause yer not on my team" crowd-following that occurs at any large blog. What I have a hard time wrapping my head around is the realization that, in the debate between liberals and conservatives over the Middle East, we're not even close to arguing the same thing. A common myth about political discourse in the U.S. is that both liberals and conservatives are working towards the common goal of a better America and only differ on the particulars of how to create that America. While being complete garbage, this myth persists largely because it's comforting to us liberals. We generally like to believe the best of everyone and it confirms our worldview to believe that our opponents on the Right are acting with good intentions. Sadly, that's not the case.

Every debate I've had about the Israel/Hezbollah conflict and every discussion I've read about it on progressive blogs has been premised on one goal: end the violence. Progressives are busy discussing how to bring the conflict back under control and have been outraged at our government's lack of a response. We see the lives being lost on each side and we wonder how to stem the tide of bloodshed that threatens to flood the whole region. We want the Israeli and Lebanese people out of danger and in a position to put their lives back together, just as we'd want if we were caught up in a similar conflict. We want all the relevant parties to sit down together and work out solutions that bring at least a modicum of stability to the two countries' borders and that establish a way forward for greater security. And many of us, myself included, actually believed that conservatives wanted at least some of that. I no longer believe that.

After reading and/or debating at many conservative blogs, reading conservative pundits and conservative think-tank treatises, I finally think I understand the conservative point of view on the conflict. And it ain't pretty...

First, conservatives view the world in very stark black and white, "good guys vs. bad guys" terms. This view frames every debate they have about foreign policy. In the sphere of conservative thought the U.S. and Israel are always, ALWAYS the "good guys". Criticism of either is not welcome, unless it is set in this black and white framework. Thus, a discussion of the current Middle East conflict is almost a non-starter for conservatives. Since Israel must be the "good guy", anyone Israel opposes is, by default, the "bad guy" and thus is deserving of whatever actions Israel takes.

Second, conservatives have no moral problem with the concept of collective punishment. There have been precious few cries for moderation in the Israeli response to Hezbollah's kidnapping raid and most of those have been transparent attempts by the Bush administration to curry favor with our few Arab allies. Conservative ideology holds that there is simply no such thing as an "innocent civilian" in Lebanon these days; since Hezbollah is entrenched in the country, the people must somehow be tacitly approving Hezbollah's presence. There is no talk about mitigating circumstances, about Hezbollah terrorists forcing their presence and their goals on people too economically poor and politcally powerless to resist. For a great example illustrating this line of thought, just read this gut-wrencher from Alan Dershowitz (via Digby):

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.

If the media were to adopt this "continuum," it would be informative to learn how many of the "civilian casualties" fall closer to the line of complicity and how many fall closer to the line of innocence.

Which brings me to a third facet of conservative thought on this war: dehumanization. Conservatives seem to have little care for the human costs of what Israel is doing in Lebanon. I have no desire to follow the ideological spiral downward that lets conservatives justify the bombing of civilian targets or, worse, leads them to make the "Middle East as a huge plate of radioactive glass" argument. That argument certainly exists and it shows an anti-social lack of empathy that is almost psychopathic in its nature. Under the "good guys vs. bad guys" framing, no amount of death and destruction is too little to vanquish the "bad guy".

All three of these lead me to my final point about the conservative response to this conflict, and it is the most telling reason why no debate between liberals and conservatives is fruitful on this issue. At the bottom line, conservatives do not consider peace a good outcome. They actually embrace war as the better option. Conservatives believe that war, and the flexing of military might, is the greatest show of strength in which a given state can engage. To them, diplomacy and statecraft are essentially the tools of those too weak (in reality, too principled) to use force indiscriminately. They see war as the ultimate shaping event in human history, equating all wars as having the possibility of vanquishing evil from the world in the way conservatives believe WWII did. Aside from being a gross misunderstanding of history, this view also fails to recognize that the problems being experienced today in much of the world are descended directly from that post-war era. War has never been a good fix for human problems, only an expedient one and even then only for the victorious.

We progressives have no "flip side of the coin" to work with towards common goals today; if, indeed, we ever did. Conservatives don't want peace and prosperity in the Middle East. They want a war that leaves our "enemies" crippled for all time, destitute and powerless. Where progressives see the potential for a global community, conservatives retreat behind nativist isolationism, cheering wars they don't see fit to fight and which will never yield the outcomes conservatives desire anyway. It's a terrible combination of fear and loathing, wrapped up in a violent belligerence against those deemed "foreign". A useless waste of philosophy and easily manipulated, as the Bush administration has shown time and time again.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Boldly Addressing The Pressing Issues Of Our Day

The Rubber Stamp Republican Congress has really been swimming around the shallow end of the legislative pool lately. In what I can only call tacit agreement with the charge that they are unable to govern, the Republicans in Congress have been busy debating a veritable treasure trove of pet wingnut projects. The Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was a spectacular flop. The Constitutional amendment banning flag burning was a very near miss (thanks, Diane Feinstein). Those two will, of course, be back sometime in the future.

Unfortunately, no matter how bumbling the Republican theocrats in the House may be, they eventually manage to pass one of their odious legislative initiatives. Their latest target: the Pledge of Allegiance. And, by God, they finally got one (from Reuters, via The Truth About Political Stuff):

In a move intended to preserve a reference to God in an oath recited by millions of Americans each day, the House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to prevent U.S. courts from hearing challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance.


"We're creating a fence. The fence goes around the federal judiciary. We're doing that because we don't trust them," said Missouri Rep. Todd Akin.

Yes, this is the most pressing issue the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives could find to debate. Or, rather, it was the only part of the wingnut cultural agenda they could actually get passed. I'm not an expert on legal matters, but I have to imagine that Akin's posturing above is not going to win him any friends within the federal judiciary. I also think it odd that Congress has the ability to set certain things beyond judicial review. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has it right by any reading of the constitution: the Pledge containing "under God" violates the First Amendment. It's explicitly co-mingling a pledge of loyalty to the country with a pledge of belief in the Christian God. It couldn't be much clearer and the Republicans obviously know this.

Christianity has long enjoyed the benefit of sneaking around the First Amendment. Our government engages in prayers led by Christian ministers, places mention of God in various parts of our national symbology and even requires government officials to swear on the Christian Bible their oath of office. Conservatives like to pretend that these represent our "Christian heritage" and are as much cultural as religious. While that may be true, that makes them no less a violation of our constitution. Furthermore, that "Christian culture" certainly applies very selectively to certain groups within the country, and doesn't apply much at all to others. I doubt the millions of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, etc., care much for having a Christian heritage pushed upon them as a condition of residency here. I know I certainly don't...

Now that challenges continue to mount questioning Christianity's special status, the Religious Right has come out locked-and-loaded with every weapon in its political arsenal. Their moral and spiritual arsenal has failed to institute the changes they desire, so the political is really all they have left. Even the very notion of using the levers of government power to institute Christian teachings is very questionable under Christian dogma. It's really a usurpation of free will, not unlike what other theocracies around the world do. Plus it's predicated on an historically inaccurate view of U.S. culture and the personal philosophies of our Founding Fathers.

Speaking of which, this has to be my favorite passage from the article:

Akin and other Republicans said the reference to God, added to the pledge in 1954, did not endorse any specific religion but referred to the philosophy of the country's founders that rights such as freedom of speech were granted by a divine being, not a government.

Bullshit. Apparently several of our Republican Representatives in Congress believe we, the people, are actually as stupid as they. No sir! There is no way the Knights of Columbus were referring to the deist sense of the divine when they petitioned the Eisenhower administration to add "under God" to the pledge. Nice try but the Pledge still doesn't pass Constitutional muster.

My biggest complaint in all this, aside from being reminded, yet again, that I'm an atheist in an extremely religious nation, is that it wastes time that could be spent on more substantive issues. I know it's been asked a thousand times by a thousand other progressives but, really, aren't there at least a few more important things the Congress could be doing other than protecting the cultural privilege of Christians? Last time I checked we had two wars we were fighting, a third we should be helping stop, millions without proper healthcare or medical insurance, a huge budget deficit and national debt, a growing economic crisis in the middle class, underfunded public education...the list goes on and on. But instead, the Republicans have to pretend they all flunked Civics 101 and throw a little red meat to their base. They should have to refund their salaries for however much time they spent on this worthless legislation.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Protecting Blastocyst Americans


Five and one-half years into his presidency and George W. Bush finally found a reason to open his desk, blow the dust away and firmly grasp his never-been-used veto pen. With a quick flourish, quietly, almost in secret, President Bush placed his signature on his first-ever rejection of legislation from his Rubber Stamp Republican Congress. Was the legislation one of those evil liberal kobolds like socialized medical care, equal rights for homosexuals or campaign finance reform? Nay. It was to block a relaxation of Bush's ban on expanding embryonic stem cell research and the federal funding needed for such.

Now, I could go into the science of this issue; I've read quite a bit about at this point. I could discuss at length, for example, the difference between embryonic and adult stem cells and why the latter isn't always an acceptable substitute for the former. Or, I could talk about the moral implications, of the hope that expanded stem cell research may hold the key to unlocking cures for some of our deadliest illnesses. I could even give a nod to the anecdotes; the stories of notable stem cell research supporters like Nancy Reagan and the late Dana Reeve, who both watched their husbands suffer and die from diseases that embryonic stem cell research may one day conquer. I could discuss any or all of these things.

But I won't.


Because those are rational reasons to discuss embryonic stem cell research and Bush's decision clearly has nothing to do with rationality.

Instead, here is what I think is really the salient point that fully illustrates just what Bush considers important about embryonic stem cells (via Ezra Klein):

In case you feel I'm not giving enough credence to the moral argument against such research, allow me to quote Darksyde's excellent primer on the science, logistics, and future of stem cells:
Embryonic Stem Cell lines come from material stored at fertility clinics which is already slated for destruction. Preventing these blastocysts from being used for research won't 'save' them. It simply means they'll be disposed of in a medical waste facility instead of being used to find cures for disease. The only reason to restrict federal approval of new lines is to appeal to a minority of extremist social conservatives and it comes at the cost of possibly delaying or denying treatment--and in some cases life itself--to millions of people.

Understand that graf, as no single point is more important in the moral argument: these blastocysts would be destroyed anyway. Not a single life is spared, or saved, in the barring of stem cell research. But in delaying possible cures and treatments, an untold number will be lost.

It sounds crazy, I know, but here's the Decider-in-Chief in his own words, via MSNBC:

"This bill would support the taking of innocent human life of the hope of finding medical benefits for others. It crosses a moral boundary that our society needs to respect, so I vetoed it,".

I'm left to draw one of two conclusions. The first is that perhaps Bush really is just this ignorant. Maybe he really doesn't have even a passing familiarity with the medical science and doesn't actually realize from where researchers get embryonic stem cells. Perhaps this is just another example of how Bush is nothing more than an empty suit, a conservative name-brand pushed through by the Republicans back in 2000 so that they wouldn't have to worry about an actual leader muddying up their plans to forward the conservative movement.

I like that conclusion. It fits my biases, for one. I've long believed Bush was an ignorant lout and never intended by his Republican handlers to lead in any meaningful capacity. I believe he was always intended to be the head cheerleader for the conservative movement and head fundraiser for the Republican party. He was expected to make lots of empty-headed speeches and symbolic gestures but not really deal with anything important. He clearly has little grasp of the nuances of government and, especially in recent speeches, seems rather bored with being President. I wish this impression of the President explained his opposition to stem cell research. I don't believe it does, however.

What I do believe the truth is, and this is my other conclusion for his actions, is that Bush saw an opportunity to pad his legacy and shore up his religious fundamentalist base and took it. I still believe George W. Bush is hopelessly dense and uninformed, willfully so, but I recognize that he does possess a certain level of political cunning. Stem cell research, like any area of scientific research, is complex and requires diligent study to understand its complexities. In other words, it's not the sort of topic that graces the cover of People on a regular basis and, thus, is not terribly well understood by most Americans. It's just the kind of issue Bush and his handlers love to exploit on behalf of their theo-conservative base (see also "late-term abortions").

Bush knows the average Cult of Lifer has no workable knowledge about stem cell research, just as the average Creationist has little or no understanding of evolution. But the fact that an unborn human embryo, the form of life the Cult worships most devoutly, is involved allows Bush to give the appearance of a principled stand on behalf of "innocent human life". "Innocent", of course, is the key word. The Cult of Life believes "innocent" human lives, limited to those who've never been born, are sacred and thus deserve the full protection of the law. The Cult's thoughts on the sacredness of human life that has committed a crime, is the U.S.'s military enemy, believes in a religion other than evangelical Protestant Christianity (especially Islam), provides abortions and, now, that suffers from diseases that might one day see cures discovered via embryonic stem cell research, can really be summed up in two words: Fuck 'em!

Bush saw a golden opportunity to throw some red meat to his base, rejecting a bill that had actual bi-partisan support and was supported by a majority of Americans. The votes aren't there to overturn the veto, thanks to Cult of Life cardinals like Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, so stem cell research will have to wait still longer. Obviously Bush is no longer concerned about his electability, but he does seem concerned about his legacy. This will help bolster his reputation as a godly President, at least in the eyes of those for whom rolling back the Age of Enlightenment is considered godly.

So I guess this means congratulations are in order. Bravo, Cult of Life members! Your President has heard your pious pleas for a strong stance against science and reason. That whole Intelligent Design thing didn't work out so well, but you persevered. Sure, millions of people suffering from Parkinson's or Alzheimer's will wait that much longer for a cure (if they live that long), but at least a bunch of embryos that were destined for medical waste facilities will still get there. Your hard work, and your President's political machinations, have helped give that old demon, science, a good poke and have helped take away a little bit of hope from some non-sacred, non-innocent human life. After all, what nut could possibly believe that helping heal the sick has anything to do with Christianity?


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Question Of Accountability

I found this question from John Aravosis fascinating:

People like to talk, especially, I've found, in Europe and the Middle East, about how they hate the US government but like the American people. They say you can't hold a people responsible for what its government does. That's always struck me as odd, since we live in a democracy where the people are the government, and in the case of Bush, 50% or more of the American people, up until recently, supported the man's folly.

When the people support the government, as in this case the Shia in Lebanon likely don't want the government clamping down on Hezbollah and its missile attacks on Israel, at what point are the people responsible for the actions of their own government, and at what point should they be held responsible for those actions?

Meaning, if Hezbollah missiles are killing Israelis, and Hezbollah's actions are supported by Lebanon's Shia population, doesn't Israel have the right to retaliate against the Shia in Lebanon? At the very least against their utilities and their roads? Putting aside the wisdom geo-politically of such action, morally isn't it any country's right to strike back?

Or, if you think that the Shia in Lebanon don't share responsibility, then do you also believe that Americans who supported Bush, and who voted for him twice, and who supported the war in Iraq don't share any of the blame for the mayhem Bush has unleashed over the past six years?

Let's boil this down to one question that's a little more universal: Should the citizens of a democracy be held responsible for the actions of the government they elected and what does that accountability mean?

As a quick first answer, I give a qualified "Yes". The citizens of a democracy bear the responsibility for the actions of their government. I believe that's true in any democracy where the elections are at least some semblance of fair. Certainly a case can be made in many putative democracies that the people have a limited role in choosing the government, and the U.S. is no exception to this. If you doubt, just ask yourself how many members of the Green, Libertarian, Justice, Socialist or Communist parties, or Independents, are currently serving in any of the three branches of the Federal Government? If you get beyond Rep. Bernie Sanders (I - VT) and Sen. Jim Jeffords (I - VT), let me know. Or ask yourself how many openly gay or openly non-religious folks are currently serving in the same capacity. I've got Rep. Barney Frank (D - MA) for the first and a whopping none for the second. The point is that while the political views of the people in the U.S. run the full gamut from far left to far right, our political leadership does not reflect that diversity. The same is true for nearly all democracies, though parliamentary democracies like Canada or Israel tend to have a much wider spectrum than our two party system.

Given that the elected representatives in a government are rarely, at least in the U.S., a good reflection of the populace, I believe that accountability for the government has practical, if not moral, limits. These two different aspects of accountability, practical and moral, reflect the mismatch between representation in government in a democracy and the actual views of the individual citizens.

On a moral level, I think the people of a democracy bear full responsibility for the acts committed on our behalf. This is one of my largest complaints about the Iraq war. All the senseless violence and destruction is being done in my name, even if I opposed the war and the administration conducting it. As an American, I have a moral responsibility to the rest of the world for what my country does. I believe, to a certain degree, that Lebanon has a similar responsibility. Those Shia who support Hezbollah bear a moral responsibility for the violent acts committed by Hezbollah. The issue gets a little more complex when you talk of Lebanon, however, because Hezbollah is more than a terrorist militia. It's also a political party and a social welfare provider. I think the fact that many Shia in Lebanon who depend on Hezbollah for welfare, as well as the Palestinians who depend on Hamas for the same reason, have their responsibility for the actions of these groups somewhat mitigated.

Which brings me to the practical aspect of accountability. While it's true that the supporters of Hezbollah or Hamas bear the moral responsibility for the violent acts of those groups, their practical accountability is mitigated by need. Some turning of a blind eye is expected when practical resistance equates to biting the hand that feeds. If I'm a Shiite man in Lebanon, who looks to Hezbollah to help me provide for my family, am I an enemy of Israel? No, I'm an ally of my family and my own well-being. Furthermore, for a nation like Israel or the U.S. to hold me accountable for "supporting terrorism" when in reality I'm only doing what's necessary for mine and my family's survival, is grossly unjust. That kind of call to accountability over-simplifies the roles that organizations like Hezbollah play in the Middle East, as well as assuming that the Shia in southern Lebanon have any viable alternative, which is certainly not clear. That kind of accountability by way of collective punishment is, at its heart, what stirs liberal outrage over the Israeli incursion into Lebanon: not that Israel should not oppose Hezbollah, with force when necessary, but that punishing those who support, willingly or out of necessity, Hezbollah should face retribution for that support.

So, to John's question of whether the Shia bear responsibility for Hezbollah's actions, I say "Yes" in a moral sense. I think that culpability should manifest itself in words and deeds that try and change the nature of Hezbollah or reduce its influence in Shia life. I say "No", however, to the practical side of that responsibility. The Shia in Lebanon do not deserve to be pounded by Israeli airstrikes because of the actions of Hezbollah, anymore than the conservatives who supported Bush and his invasion of Iraq deserve to be killed by Iraqis. I believe we in America have a responsibility to end our military occupation of Iraq and provide, as much as we can, the Iraqis with the resources to rebuild their lives. But I don't think we deserve to have the same violence visited upon us that we have visited upon the Iraqis. That sort of equivalence in accountability leads to the kind of tit-for-tat war in which the Israelis and Palestinians remain endlessly engaged.

Finally, in answer to John's question about conservative and hawkish voters bearing the blame for Iraq, I give a hearty "Yes", especially after 2004. In fact, I believe they bear much more blame for supporting the neo-conservatives than the Shia do for supporting Hezbollah. The reason is that no very few conservative voters rely on the Republican party for their well-being, nor is the GOP known for torturing or killing those who refuse to endorse its politics. Those who voted for Bush in support of Iraq did so with the full knowledge that they had other alternatives besides supporting violence and they chose war anyway. The Shia in southern Lebanon had no such guarantee of a safe alternative.

In the end, the question of accountability for a democracy is more complicated certainly than either Israel's or Hezbollah's justifications for war indicate. Accountability is certain in terms of a moral responsibility; a responsibility to make amends, to right the wrongs committed by a democratically-elected government and a commitment to change that government in a positive way. Each side owes peace and cooperation to the other, just as America owes that to the Iraqis. But accountability ends long before collective punishment and justifications for violence begin. The people of neither Lebanon nor Israel deserve to suffer bombings and missile strikes in response to the actions of their government or subjugating terrorist organization, anymore than the average war-loving American conservative deserves to be blown up by Iraqi insurgents for supporting the U.S. invasion. Otherwise, accountability becomes nothing more than endless retribution.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Cure For War? A Conscription Prescription

Rolling Stone has an article up on its site discussing the possibility of the draft being reinstituted in the United States (Link's giving me problems; will update later. S.Sam). The draft was formally ended after the Vietnam war, largely due to the political consequences of conscription. I believe that is one of several reasons I believe it won't be reinstituted anytime soon.

The first reason I believe a military draft is politically unlikely is its lack of popularity with the American people. According to Angus-Reid Consultants, fully 85% of folks polled are against the draft being reinstated. This essentially makes calls for a draft impossible to pass through Congress, as they would rightly be seen as political suicide. Whether this says anything about the nature or necessity of conscription, instead of the spinelessness of the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress, is certainly up for debate. Given the Republican Party's heart-on-sleeve support of all things symbolically military, it seems more likely the politics, and not the mechanism, of the draft is its biggest political stumbling block.

The other reason a draft is politically unfeasible is it would finally get the American people involved in Bush's Iraqi folly. While a majority of Americans do not support the war in Iraq, the anti-war effort has failed to make many waves. This is due to the relatively limited involvement of the average American. Our all-volunteer military insures that only a select few, who overwhelmingly tend to be poor and minority, plus their families, are really paying the price for the neo-conservative cause. We other Americans haven't even been asked to support the war with our tax dollars, especially those few who are in the wealthiest 1%. Bush and his Republican Congress have been all too willing to borrow the costs of this war, pushing the financial burden onto succeeding generations, rather than face any political consequences for their actions today. It's a cowards war; supported by cowards and enabled in a cowardly fashion.

So does a draft make sense from an operational perspective? Maybe. On the one hand, it is almost certainly the case that our all-volunteer military is better equipped, better trained and likely better capable of waging our wars. While the National Guard or Reservists may have a case to make for being the surprised recipients of a war assignment, those in the active military have no such lack of expectation. The United States has been running military missions around the globe almost non-stop since WWII. Further, the casualty count is likely much lower in Iraq because the all-volunteer force has a higher degree of professionalism.

On the other hand, a distinct lack of boots on the ground has been one of the chief reasons the Iraq nation-building mission has gone so completely off the rails. Multiple tours of duty in a hostile area are taking a tremendous toll on our troops, and some of that could be mitigated by a steady stream of fresh soldiers. While it seems ever more unlikely that there is a military solution to the Iraqi civil war, it is certainly the case that a fresh fighting force could do much to at least bolster the morale of our military there. Bush has been clear that he is intent on passing off responsibility for Iraq onto the next President, which gives our military at least several more years of occupation to handle.

As much as I hate to see other people's children (or myself) thrown into the chaos of Iraq, I have to say that I tentatively support a military draft being enacted. The main reason is because I think it may be the only way we'll ever get a substantive debate on our foreign policy. Most of the Republicans and too many of the Democrats are unwilling to make the tough political decisions required to bring an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq. And with the American people too disengaged to get motivated behind an anti-war effort, there simply isn't enough political pressure in Washington to change that "protect the incumbency at all costs" mentality.

A draft could change all of that. No longer would Iraq or Afghanistan (Syria? Iran?) be wars that only the poor and powerless are consigned to fight. No longer would the wealthy, the politically connected, be exempt from partaking in Bush's glorious crusade. A draft could galvanize opposition to the neo-conservative agenda and force the difficult decisions to be made. It could rewrite the political calculus that makes a stance against the war dangerous for continued government employment.

At the end of the day, there is also a fundamental question of fairness. The cost of the draft would be high to America, but then it already has been to those wearing our uniform. It's only right that all Americans help bear the burden of this war. And if, as I do, we find the burden of war too heavy to bear, then we can work so that we all may set that burden down together.

Monday, July 17, 2006

On The Road To Nowhere

I have so many disparate thoughts on the conflict raging in Lebanon right now that I'm having a hard time mustering a coherent theme out of them. Purely from an American-centric point of view, this whole situation paints a vivid portrait of how ineffectual Bush administration foreign policy is, as well as drumming up some tough questions on how to proceed. As for Israel, what in the world does Israel hope to gain by pounding on Lebanon in this way? The most certain way to energize the populace in favor of Hezbollah is an invasion that harms Lebanese civilians. While it's clear that the Bush administration won't learn a damn thing from Iraq, couldn't the Israeli government? At best, all Bush and Rice can muster is luke-warm support of Israel's actions coupled with a call for "restraint".

I think it's incredibly disheartening how little real influence the United States has in the world anymore. The Bush administration's "cowboy diplomacy" has resulted in marginalizing the U.S. into a bit player's role. I think NPR's Juan Williams put it succinctly in a conversation with Bill Kristol on Fox "News" (with commentary from The Rude Pundit):

Williams also said, "Well, the hard and unforgiving line has been, we donÂ’t talk to anybody. We donÂ’t talk to Hamas. We donÂ’t talk to Hezbollah. WeÂ’re not going to talk to Iran. Where has it gotten us, Bill?" These are sentiments also expressed by Joe Biden on Meet the Press, that it's not weakness for the most powerful nation to talk, to offer support to, say, the newly elected government of Lebanon back in 2005, when it might have mattered.

The same could be said of Bush's failure to be engaged much in the peace process between Israel and Palestine. Or the Bush administration's failure to recognize that the reality of Iraq was not going to conform to their neo-conservative pipe dream of heroic intervention. The U.S. helped set the table for war and now there's no leaving until every course is served...

Another aspect of this blossoming conflict that I touched on last Thursday is the conservative enthusiasm for the war. It seems all too apparent that, for many conservatives, the only good Arab is a dead Arab and if Israel's willing to do that dirty work, so be it. Israel will have the full moral support of American conservatives, especially if the bombs keep dropping. Israel's willingness to answer violence with violence is the epitome of conservative militaristic foreign policy: an eye for an eye. It's a policy that leaves all sides blinded.

I've tried to remain neutral as far as where the blame lies for this conflict, but clearly the way the war is being waged favors Lebanon, and by extension Hezbollah, in the court of public opinion. Israel answering an assault on its troops with a full-scale bombing campaign and naval blockade, leaving, at last count, over 100 Lebanese civilians dead, really calls into question the larger motives behind the invasion. At best, these deaths make Israel's military policy look sloppy and indiscriminate; at worst, it confirms exactly the kind of Israeli thuggery that the kind of ideologues who populate Hezbollah and Hamas preach to their followers everyday. The civilized world already know that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization bent on destabilizing the Middle East and eliminating Israel. Whether they can do either is certainly up for debate but there is little doubt that Hezbollah's being able to goad such a severe response from Israel helps the Hezbollah cause. As Evan Derkacz from AlterNet puts it:

Israel continues to hit the airport and numerous targets that have NOTHING to do with Hezbollah (like Tripoli which is Sunni), and word is they've got ground troops crossing the Lebanese border. The situation is getting worse by the minute.

As I've written before, the best way to unite the Lebanese people -- pro- and anti-Hezbollah -- is for Israel to act like a lumbering and cruel-hearted invader. To wit: "President Lahoud has officially claimed that he supports the 'Resistance' and will not give up Sayyid Nasrallah." It's a political no-brainer.

As for those conservatives eagerly pining for a broader war with Syria and Iran, perhaps these folks need some serious moral reflection. They've taken their worship of war's iconography, such as the ever-present comparisons of every modern U.S. conflict to WWII, and completely divorced themselves from war's horrid reality. More armchair quarterbacking from the conservative warhawks. Once they have the taste for war on their tongues, no amount of blood washes it away.

What is needed in the Middle East is diplomacy, humanitarian effort and a concerted will by "the West" to see these conflicts laid to rest permanently. Unfortunately, there is little hope of any such intervention with Bush and Blair calling the shots in the region. Once upon a time the U.S. could have been the cooler head that prevailed. Instead, thanks to our mendacious and ideologically-blinded leadership, we're nothing more than a wall-flower, left to practically beg our ally to use restraint while being unable to help broker the peace Israel needs. So many lost lives and opportunities...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Something's On The March In The Middle East

But it's certainly not "freedom".

News continues to break today of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, following the killing of 8 Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others by Hezbollah militants. Thus far today, according to Fox "News" (it's all I get to watch at lunch) Israel has bombed numerous bridges cutting off routes into the interior of Lebanon, as well as enacting a naval blockade in the Mediterranean. Reports are also coming in that the Beirut airport has twice today been the target of Israeli air strikes. All in all, not a good day in Lebanon.

Normally I make a concerted effort not to discuss Israeli politics very often. First and foremost, this is because I'm not terribly knowledgeable about Israeli history and politics. I have a fairly loose understanding of the dynamic of what goes on in that region but I try very hard not to take sides. That's the other main reason I don't write much about the area: the polarization of the issue. Trying to get any two people, one who believes the Palestinians are terrorists attacking a peaceful nation and one who believes Israel is an aggressive occupier, to calmly discuss the situation can be next to impossible. Personally, I believe there is plenty of blame to assign between both parties in the conflict, but I'm not going to attempt to assign it now.

What I am concerned about is what Israel's actions mean for the wider Middle East. With the Taliban resurgent in Afghanistan, the civil war in Iraq continuing to grow bloodier by the day, further belligerence by Iranian President Ahmadinejad, the recent Israeli incursions into Gaza and now the invasion of Lebanon, the hope for peace in the Middle East has almost been snuffed out. Perhaps it's gone altogether, though I prefer to believe that there is always hope for peace even in the darkest of hours. In any case, the fighting across the region is heating up and, in violation of my normal policy, I have to say that I believe Israel has made a mistake here.

Certainly any country has the right to secure its own borders. But attacking Lebanon in retaliation for actions by Hezbollah is sure to spread greater enmity among the Lebanese people. Israel has long made the same demand of Lebanon concerning Hezbollah as it has of the Palestinian Authority over Hamas or Islamic Jihad: Get control of these groups or else! As near as I can tell, however, that's a demand that either of those nations is simply unable to meet, and I have to suspect that the Israeli government realizes this and chooses to ignore it publicly. Perhaps in Israel, as it is with the Bush Administration's neo-conservative foreign policy, those wishing for war are drowning out all other voices of moderation.

The danger in the Lebanon invasion is two-fold. One, it creates the possibility of another tit-for-tat exchange of military aggression between Lebanon and Israel, in the same vein as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two, it certainly raises tensions all across the Middle East, a region that has been no stranger to war lately. The U.S. is already bogged down in Iraq and, particularly with renewed aggression from Israel against Hezbollah, runs a serious risk of being caught in a wider conflict, especially if Iran gets involved. And I for one will not sleep any easier at the thought of yet another foreign policy crisis for Bush to mangle.

As I said before, I certainly respect Israel's right to defend itself, with military force if necessary. I just can't help but wonder if there wasn't a better way than an assault on its neighbor to the north...

UPDATE: I've done some poking around the "conservative" end of the blog pool (I'll resist the urge to say "you know, the shallow end"...or not) and the belief that Israel is completely justified in its actions appears to be unanimous. There also seems to be an almost palpable hope that this leads to a wider conflict, with Iran being Preferred Target #1 (though they'd settle for Syria). These folks never, ever tire of war, especially when they don't have to fight it...

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Same Sun Shines On Us All

In recent years, the virulent and unceasing attacks by the Religious Right on our civil liberties has helped create a culture of severe distrust between atheists like myself and the religious. Fundamentalist Christians have been preaching for years about the evils of atheism, Freethinkers and secular humanists; so much so that it's often difficult for the godless to build much of a trusting relationship with any Christian anymore. We've become so accustomed to the never-ending rabid dog assaults from the Dobsons, Robertsons, Falwells and Perkins of the country that we often fail to empathize when a member of the Christian majority finds itself on the receiving end of a First Amendment violation.

Such as in this case (from JewsOnFirst.org, via Focus on the Family's CitizenLink.org):

A top high school graduate in Colorado who shared her faith in her valedictory was escorted from the ceremony by school staff and told she couldn't take her diploma home until she explained her actions to the principal and the parents of other graduates.

Erica Corder was among 14 Colorado Springs students who addressed their graduating class last month.


Here is the entire speech that caused all the trouble:

"Throughout these lessons our teachers, parents, and let's not forget our peers have supported and encouraged us along the way. Thank you all for the past four amazing years. Because of your love and devotion to our success, we have all learned how to endure change and remain strong individuals. We are all capable of standing firm and expressing our own beliefs, which is why I need to tell you about someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on a cross over 2,000 years ago, yet was resurrected and is living today in Heaven. His name is Jesus Christ. If you don't already know Him personally, I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice He made for you, so that you now have the opportunity to live in eternity with Him. And we also encourage you, now that we are all ready to encounter the biggest change in our lives thus far, the transition from childhood to adulthood, to leave (our school) with confidence and integrity. Congratulations class of 2006."

As much as it causes me deep metaphysical pain to be in the position of agreeing with Focus on the Family, Agape Press and so on, I'm afraid that's exactly what's being required of me. I absolutely believe the school is in the wrong on this issue and I imagine they will face some legal or civil repercussions for it.

I've done quite a bit of reading on the legal framework around expressions of religion in public schools. ReligiousTolerance.org is a great resource for explaining the issue in detail and giving the relevant case law. The consensus seems to be, in my inexpert opinion, that the question of students evangelizing to other students in speaker-to-audience situations is rather gray. The question would need to be answered as to whether the students in the audience had their rights violated by the speaker, in light of the fact that Corder is not a school official. The students in the audience also had the option and ability to leave the room if they found her words offensive; none chose to do so. As I see the facts of the event, I cannot see what principle the school has to stand upon. Corder has the Constitutionally-protected right to speak about her beliefs anywhere she likes and to anyone who cares to listen. That she was giving a commencement speech at a public school graduation does not seem to me to be cause to abrogate that right. I think the school erred.

That's not to say that I don't sympathize with the school district. Much debate has occurred in our country over the past 30 years as to just what is acceptable speech in a public school setting when religion is concerned. Schools often have to be very careful to not cross the line between allowing religious freedom and promoting religious dogma. It can be a very thin line. However, that line is much clearer where students, and not school officials, are concerned. Essentially, a public school student can pray, evangelize, pass out literature, give speeches, display symbols and generally promote their faith in any way they choose, so long as they don't cross the line into harassment. In this sense, I think what Corder did was protected free speech. However, I am sympathetic to the school's side, and I would hope that perhaps Corder and her family might be willing to accept an apology in lieu of a civil settlement. It would really be the Christian thing to do, though I won't hold my breath...

I do have to say that, as a secular humanist, I find Corder's speech somewhat crass as a graduation commencement. Had she talked about her faith in God and love of Christ as something personal to her, then I think it could have been a very moving speech. That she chose instead to evangelize how her beliefs ought to be the beliefs of everyone listening was crudely disrespectful of the other students. Perhaps their were Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Freethinkers in the graduating class that don't share Corder's particular faith, or any faith, and felt marginalized by her preaching. Perhaps not. Either way, though, I still believe Corder's right to give her speech in the way she gave it is protected by the First Amendment, even if I find the speech itself very lacking in taste.

I have to express a great deal of disappointment with the school officials, even as I sympathize with the difficulty of their responsibilities. There's a reason this story is plastered all over Focus on the Family, Agape Press and Fox "News"; these stories are the bread-and-butter of the neurotic Christian victimhood cult. Fox alone spent 15 minutes on an interview with Corder, complete with a sympathetic, cheering audience to gasp in the horror of their worst fears confirmed: "My God, the liberals really are trying to take our religion away!" These kinds of misteps allow unscrupulous religious and political leaders (pretty much the entire Religious Right and Republican Party, actually) to amp up their favorite motivational weapon: fear. This Colorado Springs high school made itself a convenient bogeyman, to the detriment of both Corder and secularists nationwide.

As a final note, I have to take issue with Liberty Counsel's Matt Staver, for making two truly boneheaded arguments in Corder's favor:


In fact, he [Staver] said, she [Corder] was completely within her constitutional rights to say whatever she wanted.

And two:

"She has a greater right to be able to speak because she's a valedictorian than even being elected by fellow students," he said. "Because she's there by virtue of her academic standing."

This guy's both general counsel and president of Liberty Counsel, and, in a just world, his ignorance would scare off any potential clients for about the next ten years. First of all, Corder certainly was not "within her constitutional rights to say whatever she wanted". I wonder if Mr. Staver would be making that claim if Corder had unleashed a Neo-Nazi diatribe against Jews or a Biblical call to stone all homosexuals. Somehow I don't think quite as many of her Christian peers would openly jump to her defense, Westboro Baptist Church notwithstanding.

Second, since when does the Bill of Rights grant greater freedom to those with good grades? I'm pretty sure Corder's right to speak as valedictorian is exactly equal to the hardest-struggling D-student's right to do the same. It's an interesting view into the conservative mind, is this comment by Staver. His notion seems to be that merit, however determined, grants greater rights in our country than democracy. Not too far of a stretch from voting rights being for white landowners only, or from a President appointed by the Supreme Court being considered legitimate.


Just a quick note, as I've gotten some questions on this:

My policy on other blogs is to put a link in my blogroll to any other blog which I either read regularly and/or that includes me in its blogroll. I do not necessarily endorse or support every position that every other blogger in my blogroll holds. Looking over there in the left margin, you'll find a blog by a Christian fundamentalist who happens to be a good friend of mine. He and I rarely agree on anything political or spiritual, yet he remains one of my oldest and closest friends. Life's cool that way. I also have a blog there that is anti-choice, which is a position to which I and Gifted-1 are fiercely opposed. Still a great blog by an intelligent atheist writer, even if I don't always agree with his/her politics.

Now, if I write something here with which you disagree, feel free to pound on me mercilessly. I can take it, and you won't hear me crying in the night through your computer anyway, you heartless bastards!!!

Love and Peace,

Samurai Sam and Gifted-1

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Rightwing Nuttery...Head Exploding...

Here is everything anyone needs to know about the conservative view of Iraq, neatly summarized by a noted wingnut troll chieftan.

John Hinderaker on Iraq (via Tbogg):

We chose this war; we chose this battlefield; we chose to send men like Menchaca and Tucker to Iraq because we believed it was important to our security. Their brutal murders have exposed, once again, the face of pure evil that we are fighting in this war. They must be avenged, and the American public must know that they have been avenged, not forgotten.

Maybe you folks playing at home can explain this to me: Did Assrocket just claim that we, America, the country that, after pre-emptively invading Iraq under false pretenses, violates the Iraqis' homes, supports a puppet government that exacerbates sectarian conflicts, rapes their daughters, kills thousands of their friends, family and neighbors, tortures them at Abu Ghraib and lays the groundwork for their continued exploitation by U.S. corporate interests, needs to REVENGE ITSELF upon the Iraqi people? All because conservatives believed committing this litany of atrocities was in America's best interest?

Certainly what happened to Menchaca and Tucker is tragic, and the perpetrators should be dealt with severely. But you know what would have helped Menchaca, Tucker, their family and friends, even more than escalating violence and rightwing revenge fantasies?


Damn those evil brutes for tricking us into destroying their country and killing them! Their insidious trap only proves they're "pure evil"...

Attention-To-Deficit Disorder

In addition to being a little lax in my overall blogging lately, I notice I've also been remiss in spying out the happenings in my own little corner of the fly-over states. I blame it on WPR's recent spate of cultural discussion topics (and a fascination with all things DNR) in lieu of contentious political issues. Must be the talk radio equivalent of summer beach reading.

In any case, I thought it would be instructive to check in on the never-ending conservative war against all things progressive and I find Republican Congressman and enthusiastic Bush cheerleader Paul Ryan all a-twitter over the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) economic news (via WisPolitics):

"Lowering taxes has fueled sustained economic growth and job growth that ultimately bring more tax dollars into the Treasury, which helps us reduce the deficit. At the same time, we need to restrain spending, and we're working hard to do this through budget reforms such as my legislative line-item veto and overall efforts to control spending," said Ryan. "Today's announcement of lower deficit projections shows that tax relief paired with spending controls can put our fiscal house in order and eliminate the deficit."

Bear in mind here that the OMB is a branch of the White House and is not in the business of offering objective research. It's goal is to support the President's policies and present revisions in such a way as to make the President's economic policies appear sound and successful.

Here is the blurb, from a recent update to the 2007 Federal Budget, to which Ryan is referring:

Due to the strong performance of the Nation’s economy, revenues for the current fiscal year are now forecast to grow at a double-digit rate—11 percent. Largely as a result of these increased revenues, the projected budget deficit for 2006 has fallen from $423 billion, or 3.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to $296 billion, or 2.3 percent of GDP. This projected deficit is equal to the 40-year average of 2.3 percent of GDP and is lower than the deficits in 17 of the past 25 years. The improved deficit outlook continues over the next five years, indicating that the President is on track to meet his goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2008[...]

There is really nothing in here that has anything whatsoever to do with President Bush's "leadership", or lack thereof, on economic issues. Any one able to add and subtract could figure out that if revenues rise, the deficit will fall, just as cutting taxes without cutting spending made the deficit rise in the first place. Of course Ryan, as a member of the Bush cult, simply must spin this into a hymn to Bush's glory, though he must be getting lonely in that ever-shrinking choir.

Ryan's claim that Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans is resulting in increased tax revenues is pure fairy tale, completely unsupported by any evidence. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

The high cost of the dividend and capital gains tax cuts continues to add to the deficit, and the resulting increase in deficits has negative long-term economic consequences. Economists at the Congressional Research Service and the Brookings Institution, for example, have concluded that the adverse effects of the increased deficits cancels out, and may even outweigh, any positive effects from these tax cuts themselves.

Cutting taxes without cutting spending does not benefit our economy in any way, nor is there any evidence that it increases tax revenue. That's nothing more than wishful thinking by so-called "fiscal conservatives". Certainly, a smaller tax liability puts a little more cash into people's hands. However, the Bush tax cuts are so grossly skewed to the top 1% as to be practically useless to any but the wealthy and, worse, have not been accompanied by any kind of spending discipline. Furthermore, the federal government doesn't stockpile tax dollars; it spends them, which equals economic activity. They key, as every liberal knows, is in how the government targets the spending of those dollars. Dumping them in Iraq or into tax subsidies for the oil industry is not an effective use of our money. Conservatives so desperately want to see their particular economipolicieses vindicated that they're willing to ascribe any positive economic news to them, regardless of an utter lack of evidence. I suspect they'll continue to be disappointed on that front for many years to come.

I also think it's incredibly hypocritical of Ryan to give Bush credit for reducing a deficit that Bush himself created! If that's not lapdog devotion to the cause, then nothing is. Bush was given the largest budget surplus in the federal government's history and squandered it on kick-backs for his wealthy supporters (we call them "elites", he calls them his "base"). Further, Bush has resolutely refused to rein in spending of any kind, unless it involves social benefits for the poor. Bush, like most conservatives, sees nothing wrong with chipping away at the tiny amount of public welfare available to Americans, while supporting trillions in military spending on a discretionary war.

It's disgraceful that Bush and his supporters seek an approving pat on the head for standing idly by while the American taxpayer partially cleans up half of the White House's fiscal mess. The gross fiscal irresponsibility of these "borrow and spend" Republicans insures that what economic gain the U.S. does see flows only to the most affluent, while the disappearing middle class (and its children and grand-children) pick up the tab. Shame on Congressman Ryan for supporting such misplaced priorities, and for expecting his constituents to do the same.

Perhaps this wasn't as good a look at Wisconsin politics as I'd hoped. But then, the conservative monolith really only comes in a mixture of two colors: blood red and money green and the only difference, state to state, is which of the two are more vivid.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Torching The Constitution

Although it's once again old news on the political scene, at least until the Republicans dredge it back up again, I cannot help but spend some space here talking about the near-miss in the Senate over the "Flag Burning" Amendment. This little bit of zombie legislation rises from the grave every couple of election years (the last was in 2000) as an attempt to rally conservative voters to the polls. Perhaps it works in that respect; I don't pretend to understand or much care exactly what motivates conservatives to vote for the idiots they elect. I do know, however, that with it's passage saved by only one vote in the Senate, this Amendment will inevitably shuffle back out of the Republican necropolis once again, probably in 2008. Maybe some noise from the liberal side of the country could help put the stake through the Flag Burning Amendment's heart once and for all.

First, let's see what the Grand Wizard of Wingnuts, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R - Catkiller) has to say about this Amendment, another of Frist's pet projects (from the LA Times, via KTLA):

"Old Glory lost today," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), one of the amendment's prime backers. "At a time when our armed services are defending America's freedom in the war on terror, it's unfortunate that a minority of my colleagues blocked" the proposal.

It's just a bit unsettling that the Senate Majority Leader finds the process of democracy "unfortunate". I find it unfortunate that our Senate wastes its time and my tax dollars endlessly debating these pointless bits of conservative fluff.

I have two thoughts on flag burning. First, an Amendment like this is a clear limiting of the First Amendment, which should automatically take it off the table for any U.S. Senator that supports the Constitution. Unfortunately, it seems that most Republican Senators see the Constitution as a sort of work in process; it lays a nice groundwork but really isn't terribly relevant in its details today. That's more than a little frightening, given the Republican's control of Washington.

No Constitutional Amendment should ever be proposed or, worse, ratified, that limits the rights of Americans; rights which are already clearly established. Burning the flag is a symbolic protest of the policies of the U.S. government. The Supreme Court has found that flag burning is protected speech, and thus it should remain.

My second thought on the flag burning amendment is that it elevates the flag itself above the very ideas which the flag symbolizes. Curtailing our free speech as a way of protecting the nation's symbols strikes me as eerily reminiscent of the sort of nationalism which gripped Germany in the 1930's. Giving the flag a special protected status effectively makes it more important under the law than the people to whom this nation is supposed to belong. It gives a symbol of nationalism and government power (maybe even military power) a status above the principles which make our nation a free democracy. We as a nation are better off deciding for ourselves whether and how much to respect the symbols of our nation. Our democracy loses some of its meaning when the government decides that for us.

As a personal note, this is actually the first political position I hold that's been challenged openly in quite some time. I take that as an indication of just how powerful a symbol of our nation the flag has become. I also see it as a sign of how much the Republicans have exploited the natural patriotism of Americans to sow dissension among us. Hard to believe true conservatives could fall for such a cheap political ploy, but then the Cult of Bush is strong...

I also stand by my pledge, made to many in person now, that if this Amendment ever passes, I will buy a flag and burn it in the middle of Main Street Viroqua. Maybe even LaCrosse...

[Editor's note: Sorry for the extended absence. Work, life and a horrendous case of writer's block took me out of commission for a week. This post alone sat incomplete for over a week! I think I'm better now (I hope)...]

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Isn't she lovely?

~Our Beautiful Cecelia Rose at 9 months~