Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

First Torture, Then Silencing?

So, let me get this straight. The Bush admin. has admitted to a network of secret prisons in many countries–the legality of which is itself debatable. It denies that it ever tortures people or violates the Geneva Conventions, but reserves to itself the SOLE right to define torture or specify what interrogation techniques can be used on “enemy combatants.” It gives itself the SOLE role of interpreter of the Geneva Conventions and of many other laws, even though the role of the executive branch is NOT to interpret law but to enforce it. It denies detainees accused of being “enemy combatants” the Habeas Corpus rights to challenge their detention before any U.S. court. And NOW, it wants to claim that IF a suspect is tortured, said person can never say anything or complain legally (nor expect redress) because this would mean revealing “top secret” interrogation techniqes?

The courts must reject this sophistry (worthy of dictators) and the new Congress should investigate and correct all these abuses. If this administration has, as it appears, committed crimes, they must be held accountable.

Join the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

November 21, 2006 Posted by | human rights., torture | 1 Comment

Stranger Than Fiction: New Meaning for GOP

Okay, I am a longtime peace activist and I write on the philosophy of nonviolence, theology of Christian pacifism, and the history of the peace movements. But I must acknowledge that there are some weird fringes to the movement(s). This falls under the truly too weird to make up category: A plan to promote peace through global orgasms on the same day. No Kidding. The Global Orgasm for Peace (GOP) believes that worldwide sexual pleasure within the same 24 hour period will release “good feeling vibes” that may contribute to world peace, much as simultaneous pray-ins. The originators of the GOP plan are from–wait for it–San Francisco.


November 20, 2006 Posted by | humor | 9 Comments

Columbo: The Detective as Class Warrior

Although there have been recent articles on the theological implications of detective fiction, my interest here is elsewhere. Detective fiction, as many have noted, reaffirms the concept of a moral universe where evildoers do NOT “get away with it,” but some level of truth and justice prevail. Yet many fictional detectives are symbols of, or seem to reinforce, a status quo of social stratification. Many fictional detectives are wealthy, for instance. Some are wealthy amateurs and dilettantes who solve crimes to avoid boredom: Nick and Nora Charles of the “Thin Man” stories; “Hart to Hart;” Sir Peter Whimsey, etc. Others earn enormous fees for their work as detectives: Nero Wolfe; Sherlock Holmes (although both also do pro bono work when particular cases strike their fancy); Hercule Poirot; legal sleuth Perry Mason; Robert Parker’s “Spencer for Hire,” etc.

Working class private investigators do abound in some parts of detective fiction, but they are often shady characters who bend the law and are trying to get rich as much as pursue justice: e.g., Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, Spencer (who hangs around with “Hawk,” a hit-man for hire!), Rockford (who seems to have left the police department because he took too many “shortcuts” in law enforcement).
[CORRECTION: It’s been too long since I saw the old “Rockford Files.” Jim Rockford was never a cop, but an ex-con–falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, of course. Clearing his name led to his becoming a private investigator. His past was why, with a few “buddy” exceptions, he was even less liked by the police than most p.i.s. It may also explain why he usually kept his revolver in an unused coffee pot or cookie jar and seldom took it with him. After all, how could an ex-con, even one later exonerated, obtain a license to own a handgun?]

Sara Paretsky’s hard-hitting female Chicago p.i., V. I. Warshawski, has more ethics than many, but isn’t above breaking laws when it suits her, either. [BTW, I’m glad to see female sleuths break out of the “Miss Jane Marple” mode, but so far ONLY V. I. Warshawski can hold her own with the big boys. She is easily the equal of any of the “tough as nails” fictional male p.i.s, and smarter than most of them. We have, yet, however, to see the female version of a Holmes, Wolfe, or Perot.]

By contrast, Columbo is just a police officer who came up through the ranks: his constant search for good (but affordable) footwear a testimony to his past as a flatfoot walking a beat. Despite an incredible arrest and conviction record, he will never rise above the rank of lieutenant because he lacks the social skills for dealing with elites required of higher ranks. (This in contrast to P.D. James’ British sleuth, Adam Dalgliesh, whose father was a priest in the Church of England, who went to Oxford, publishes volumes of poetry, etc.) And he enters the world of elites only when investigating murder–a persistent, annoying presence who will not respect the elite criminal’s sense of entitlement–that they deserve, somehow, to get away with it all.

Columbo’s many trademark idiosyncrasieses are not just “comic relief,” but working-class defense mechanisms designed to make the rich elite adversaries discount him, lower their defenses, and walk into his traps. The rumpled, dirty raincoat; the aging, broken-down Peugeot, the basset-hound named “Dog,” the unkempt hair, are all part of a persona that deceives the deceivers, reinforcing their prejudices about working class folks (including the prejudice about supposed lack of intelligence) and setting them up for a fall. The cigar has only recently come back into elite society as a vice. For most of Columbo’s career, his trademark cigar and coffee were working class vices–as opposed to Holmes’ heroine addiction or Wolfe’s imported beers and his overeating of gourmet meals. Columbo is usually extremely polite, even obsequious to his suspects: He asks them for help, pleads ignorance, only asks these annoying questions for “his report” (blaming superior officers for being “sticklers for details”)gets them involved in the investigation in ways that will trip them up.

Thus, while a Hercule Poirot or a Sherlock Holmes or Nero Wolfe will try to impress others with their brilliance, Columbo seldom takes credit for discovering clues or inductive reasoning: One of his many, faceless, nameless relatives just happens to be an expert in such an area and told him thus and so and what does the suspect think of that? (In an interview, Peter Falk, who played Columbo brilliantly, expressed his opinion that Columbo was really married, but did not have as many nephews, etc. as he claimed. The Columbos, for some reason, apparently never had children, either.)

But Columbo is actually not only brilliant, but far more sophisticated than he lets on: He walked into one case made to look like an art burglary and immediately knew that the pieces “taken” were much less valuable than what was left in easy reach–long before lugging an oversize book on art around with him in the investigation. In other cases, he has shown himself fairly “up to date” with many different styles of music, from classical to pop/rock, to country gospel. (The latter was an episode with Johnny Cash as a murderous musician who had been extorted by his evangelist-wife into becoming a gospel singer whose profits all went back into gospel ministry. Again, Columbo diverted attention away from himself: His never-seen wife had all Cash’s albums and listened to them constantly.)

Even the fact that we don’t know his first name, or his wife’s, is more than comic relief. It is part of a deliberate strategy by working class (especially African-American or, in Columbo’s case, immigrant) folk to make the upper classes treat them with respect. In the “normal” case, the elites expect always to be called by their titles, but they call their servants and social “inferiors” by their first names. So, Columbo when asked gives his “first name” as “Lieutenant,” and his wife’s as “Mrs. Columbo.” The elites are forced to give titles of respect whether they will or not. (James Cone, the African-American liberation theologian, relates in his autobiographical My Soul Looks Back that, during segregation, his minister father would never introduce his mother to white people as anything other than “Mrs. Cone” so that they were forced to treat her with at least that much respect.) But Columbo does it in such a way that the elites just think him odd rather than “uppity.” After all, he wants them to humor him as long as he can get them to do so, so that he is well on his way toward proving their guilt before they realize how close he is and stop cooperating.

There are indications that Columbo is a practicing Christian–probably Catholic since he makes much of his Italian heritage, but this is never stated for certain and we don’t find Columbo with a rosary or crossing himself or other giveaways. But in one case he is summoned directly from church on a Sunday (one of the few times he arrives on a crime scene dressed better than his usual rumpled suit and dirty raincoat). In another, he refuses to use the name of Jesus in vain, not even to quote the supposed dying words of a victim. (The suspect was actually making up this “quote,” including the epithet, “Oh, Jesus!” Columbo dutifully records this, but he won’t utter the blasphemy himself.) He is familiar with the music of a popular country-gospel singer, as mentioned above. But all we get are hints because of Columbo’s intense privacy about his life off-duty. The many things related about his family’s supposed interests are all just ways to get at a case and they happen “off camera.” We never see Columbo at home.

But although there are hints that Columbo is definitely a Christian, his faith is very low key. He tries to make no judgments about the outrageously corrupt lifestyles of his elitist suspects (“I’m just a policeman,” he says more than once.). He blushes at a “Playboy” style mansion headquarters of a skin magazine and in the offices of a group of sex therapists, but is matter of fact about the nature of illicit affairs when he comes across them. He doesn’t preach at his suspects and let’s them think his morals “quaint,” (but he doesn’t change to fit their views, either), but his work exposes the flaws in their spoiled, rich, elitist lives and brings them down when their hubris leads to murder.

My point? Not a large one. I am not claiming that Columbo is a socialist, nor that his attitudes are “right.” He is a fictional character. I like that character so much, I suspect, because I also come from the working class–and, since (temporary?) setback from an academic career, I have returned to that class and have a union job as my parents and grandparents. There is, however, I suggest, a social commentary in the Columbo character and TV movies, viz., that the elite upper classes are morally suspect, morally weaker than this working class detective. It is a point of view that I, raised working class but having moved in circles of professional elites, especially academic elites, largely share. I love mysteries and detective fiction–a wide range of it. But I identify with Columbo. I know his working class world and share it. I stand in awe of the brilliance of a Holmes, a Poirot, a Nero Wolfe. But of Columbo, I feel almost a possessiveness–a sense of “he’s one of us” taking the elites down a peg. Posted by Picasa

November 18, 2006 Posted by | detective fiction | 10 Comments

Patience, please

I have a hairline fracture and a sprained wrist. Right hand and arm. So, I won’t be blogging for at least the next 10 days. Feel free to comment, but I cannot reply. I am breaking doctor’s orders to put this in place.

November 15, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

"The Best War Ever": A Case for Impeachment

Ten Reasons to Impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney

I ask Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney for the following reasons:
1. Violating the United Nations Charter by launching an illegal “War of Aggression” against Iraq without cause, using fraud to sell the war to Congress and the public, misusing government funds to begin bombing without Congressional authorization, and subjecting our military personnel to unnecessary harm, debilitating injuries, and deaths.
2. Violating U.S. and international law by authorizing the torture of thousands of captives, resulting in dozens of deaths, and keeping prisoners hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
3. Violating the Constitution by arbitrarily detaining Americans, legal residents, and non-Americans, without due process, without charge, and without access to counsel.
4. Violating the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances, and using illegal weapons, including white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new type of napalm.
5. Violating U.S. law and the Constitution through widespread wiretapping of the phone calls and emails of Americans without a warrant.
6. Violating the Constitution by using “signing statements” to defy hundreds of laws passed by Congress.
7. Violating U.S. and state law by obstructing honest elections in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006.
8. Violating U.S. law by using paid propaganda and disinformation, selectively and misleadingly leaking classified information, and exposing the identity of a covert CIA operative working on sensitive WMD proliferation for political retribution.
9. Subverting the Constitution and abusing Presidential power by asserting a “Unitary Executive Theory” giving unlimited powers to the President, by obstructing efforts by Congress and the Courts to review and restrict Presidential actions, and by promoting and signing legislation negating the Bill of Rights and the Writ of Habeas Corpus.
10. Gross negligence in failing to assist New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina, in ignoring urgent warnings of an Al Qaeda attack prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and in increasing air pollution causing global warming.

See the email petition campaign for impeachment here. Another case for investigation and impeachment is made here and yet another here.

Last Tuesday, we stepped back from the six-year march in this nation toward a fascist and imperialist state. But we only stepped back. We have yet to really recover. We have only taken the first step. There is far more work to do and it cannot be done if, in a false form of “bipartisanship,” we sweep the high crimes and misdemeanors under the rug or “off the table.”

Email Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi at sf.nancy@mail.house.gov or phone her @ 202-225-4965 and urge her to put investigation and impeachment back “on the table.”

November 15, 2006 Posted by | politics, U.S. politics | 6 Comments

Global Warming Threat Grows

A new multi-volume UN report offers new and stronger evidence of the threat of catastrophic climate change due to human-caused global warming, including detailed evidence of how humans are effecting this change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a UN-affiliated organization of over 2,000 of the world’s top climatologists and other scientists and they regularly assess the evidence and impact of climate change and what it will take to stop or minimize its damage.

The U.S. and China (the world’s top consumers of oil), along with Saudi Arabia (the biggest oil producer) are the worlds largest producers of greenhouse gasses. The U.S. and China are the world’s largest polluters, period. And these 3 nations are doing the worst in efforts to curb the carbon-emissions that are the number one cause of global warming. The French Prime Minister has called for a European Union “carbon tax” on rogue countries like the U.S. and China that refuse to join global efforts to reduce carbon emissions, such as the Kyoto Protocol. (As an aside, conservative bloggers have been confused as to why many sections of the business community have not been “more upset at the Democratic win,” as one put things. But although Bush’s one-party rule has been helpful for some industries, oil-related and war related, it has also so led to global anger at the U.S. that many U.S. based companies are now banned from many countries or given additional costs and restrictions to do business there. Many business leaders expect that Democratic leadership may actually increase their opportunities.)

In addition to the melting of the polar ice caps, rising sea levels, polluting of fresh water supplies with brackish water, increase in droughts and storm strengths, global warming is set to cause massive bird extinctions with disastrous dominoe effects on entire eco-systems and the humans that depend on them.

These ecological threats are so large they make the threat of global terrorism seem like a tempest in a teapot. The time to act is now. Fortunately, although other factors drove Tuesday’s elections in the U.S., the changed political landscape, both in Congress and in state legislatures and governors (Democratic governors now outnumber Republican governors for the first time in nearly 2 decades), open new opportunities for concerted action to reduce global warming and decrease dependence on Middle East oil simultaneously. Find ways you can work on these matters today: political action and personal action such as driving less, biking or walking more or putting solar panels on your home, or business action such as investing in wind farms or other alternative fuels, etc. The problem belongs to all of us and all of us must work for its solution.

November 14, 2006 Posted by | ecology | Comments Off on Global Warming Threat Grows

JPT Practice # 8: Strengthen the United Nations and Other International Efforts for Cooperation and Human Rights

At the beginning of the modern peace movement in the late 19th C., people realized that the international system was almost a pure anarchy. To sow seeds of peace between nations, they began building institutions of international law and cooperation. None of these efforts have ever been perfect. Far from it.

The UN is far from perfect. It needs internal reform. But its efforts to promote global health, end poverty, spread human rights norms, and make peace have, despite all this, often proven successful in its 50 year existence. Those efforts, and similar developments such as the International Criminal Court, need to be strengthened. “Lone wolf” foreign policies which undermine the UN and the international system are perceived by others as imperial and sow the seeds for future wars.

November 14, 2006 Posted by | just peacemaking | 3 Comments

Handicapping Presidential Hopefuls for ’08

I can’t really resist this post. Tuesday’s elections have everyone thinking already about ’08. (Sigh. There are no “non-election” years in U.S. politics anymore.) But events of the past few months, plus the elections themselves have eliminated many of the superstars or obvious choices from both parties, but especially from the GOP.

Former Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) is out of it, whether or not he knows it. Once a darling of the Religious Right and the powerful Senate Majority leader, Frist began to lose ground when he proceeded to misdiagnose Terri Schiavo as NOT brain-dead on national TV. (Autopsy showed the front 2/3 of her brain was liquid!) He is now under investigation for ties to Abramoff and may be in jail before ’08 arrives. The new Sen. Majority Leader-elect, Harry Reid (D-NV), has also been linked to Abramoff and other scandals and, even if he survives, has now seen his presidential hopes evaporate. Ditto Tom Delay (R-TX), and the delusional Tom Hunter (R-CA), the latter of whom is under investigation for both the Abramoff AND Duke Cunningham scandals. Both Santorum (R-PA) and Allen (R-VA) had once been touted as “presidential timber,” but both lost their senate seats on Tues. That may not end their political careers, but it will take longer than 2 years for them to regroup.

So, who’s left?

GOP hopefuls: Rudy Guiliani (R-NY), the strict law-and-order mayor of NYC whose crackdown arguably lowered crime rates and whose rallying of the city and nation after 9/11 inspired many. He is even now trying to raise funds for a try at the big seat. But I place his chances of getting out of the primaries at 100 to 1. To win in the GOP primaries, Guiliani would have to get significant votes from Christian conservatives, but Guiliani is well-known to have had several mistresses and he is also strongly pro-choice on abortion and in favor of gay marriage. Those positions could help him in a general election, but he’ll never make it that far.

Newt Gingrinch (R-GA), former Speaker of the House and mastermind of the ’94 Republican victory. Gingrich has been through 3 marriages–leaving one wife right after she was diagnosed with cancer, and marrying his latest mistress after stepping down as Speaker so the House could impeach Bill Clinton for HIS adulteries!!! Also, Gingrich was an extremely polarizing figure. He is still highly regarded by business conservatives and some social conservatives with short memories about his affairs. So, he might be able to survive a primary since the field has been cleaned out. But, I place his odds of winning the general election at 25 to 1. Independents and conservative Democrats just do not like him well enough.

Mitt Romney (R-MA), former governor of Massachussetts. He is liked by business conservatives, social conservatives, and independents. He is not tainted by the Iraq war and has been almost as critical of the way it was waged as Democrats. If he survives the primary to be nominated, he would stand about a 5 to 1 chance of winning, at this point in time–and better odds once he got more name recognition. But Romney is a Mormon and most of the Religious Right consider the Mormans to be a cult (as do I, actually). Would the Right, especially in the South, be willing to vote for a Mormon? I doubt it. I place his odds of getting the nomination at 10 to 1.

John McCain (R-AZ), Senator from Arizona. Because the field has been so cleared of others, McCain is the most likely frontrunner. He has repaired bridges with the Religious Right and he is free of scandal–and is still a strong proponent of ethical reform in politics, particularly working to eliminate the power of money to corrupt. He is also a fiscal conservative. I think his chances of getting the nomination right now are dead even. But his chances of getting the presidency are less than previously because of his strong defense of the invasion of Iraq– a policy the public has rejected. McCain wants to send in more troops–something that might have worked in ’03 or ’04, but those troops are just not available now. McCain still says that the invasion was morally right, despite the lies about WMDs, no links to 9/11, etc. He might be able to repair that deficiency if he could find a path to success in Iraq before the end of ’07, but if we still have a significant number of troops in Iraq in January of ’08, then anyone who has not been pulling for withdrawal is doomed at the polls. Also, McCain’s attempts to repair relationships with people like Jerry Falwell have alienated him from the independents and conservative Democratic swing voters that he will need to win the White House. Unless “facts on the ground” change dramatically, McCain’s odds of winning the general election in ’08 are about 20 to 1.

Democratic Hopefuls:

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) wants another shot. Get serious, John. Sure, you (finally) apologized for voting for the war and have criticized now not just the conduct of the war (as in ’04), but the war itself. But Democrats remain angry at how your lackluster campaign in ’04 cost us our best chance of ending the war early, with losses still relatively low on all sides. And your botched joke nearly “lost elections you weren’t even in” as Dave Lettermann put it. No, I put Kerry’s chances at the general election at 50 to 1 and his chance of getting the Democratic nomination higher than that.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), Kerry’s erstwhile running mate, may have a better chance. His economic populism matches the public’s mood and if the housing slump and the rising national debt pull us into a recession in ’07, as many economists believe, Edwards’ message will be even more welcome. He beat Kerry in apologizing for voting for the war, has repeatedly been to the Gulf Coast to help Katrina victims, and to prod the government to keep its promises to the Gulf. A trivial matter is that he finally had that growth on his lip removed, but in an age of 24 hr. TV and YouTube, that growth could be a real distraction. I make Edwards’ odds at 10 to 1 in getting the nomination and the presidency.

Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) has very little name recognition, now, but America has a habit of choosing governors as presidents. (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II, for instance.) Vilsack would have no Iraq baggage and a huge advantage in the Iowa caucuses. But few people, including me, know yet where he stands on any important issues. These things change rapidly, but right now I place his odds at 20 to 1 in getting the nomination and higher in getting the presidency.

The same could almost be said for Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM). He is Latino and, as the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, the Latino vote is crucial. His name, however, isn’t Latino, and this could help him with other segments of the population. He also has no Iraq baggage and could be a leading voice in the debate over immigration policy. And Democrats are getting stronger in the Southwest. But Richardson has no more name recognition than Vilsack and, except for immigration, his policy positions are also not well known. I give him the same odds, currently.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has all but been anointed as the front-runner by the media since she was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and even more so since she won reelection with 73% (and spent more campaign money than anyone else!). Had 9/11 not happened, I would give her good odds. She raises money easily and knows how to campaign. But Sen. Clinton has inherited her husband’s baggage in dealing with al-Qaeda. The public still remembers her botched work at comprehensive health care reform, too. She voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq, has never apologized or called that vote a mistake, and has only criticized the conduct of the war (although she did slow-roast Rumsfeld in public hearings!). That view on the war has made her unpopular among Democratic liberals and she needs the liberal base behind her in the primaries. If she doesn’t change her tune on Iraq soon, she might as well give up any presidential dreams, because peace groups, especially the women of Code Pink, will continue to dog her steps every bit of the way with “Hillary supports the War” signs. Even if she can survive primary challenges, her negatives run at 42%. She is hated by the Religious Right with extreme passion. Falwell wasn’t kidding when he said her presence would energize the Right against her. She could win the White House and help Democrats lose Congressional seats at the same time!! No, I place her odds of getting the nomination at 10 to 1 and of getting the presidency after that at 5 to 1.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). Despite lack of experience (he has yet to complete a single term as senator), Obama has become the rising star of the Democratic Party, this generation’s Bobby Kennedy. He did not vote for the war. He helped many candidates win this time. He is a progressive that can still talk to conservatives. He connects with so many parts of the American story, immigrant father, mixed race parents, etc. He speaks authentically of his own adult conversion to Christian faith while outlining a moral vision for the country that people of many faiths or no particular faith can join in. He reminds people of the purposes of government in working for the common good–doing together what we cannot do separately. He certainly has the best chance yet of becoming the first African-American president. I have heard Obama speak in person and he truly energizes and lifts spirits. But his lack of experience worries me. I’d rather him try a run after a solid list of legislative accomplishments. I give him 5 to 1 odds at the nomination and the same for the presidency. Nevertheless, as of this writing, Obama is the only real hope for a fairly progressive candidate.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)’s removal of himself from contention leaves a vacuum. He voted against the war and was one of the first to call for troop withdrawal–the first in the Senate. He is an old fashioned liberal Democrat, yet capable of co-sponsoring legislation with John McCain. I wish he had not dropped out. Who will fill his spot? Many want Former VP Al Gore (D-TN) to run, but he has so far said no. I wouldn’t want the lackluster Gore of ’00, even though he won the popular vote (at least!), then. But since that time, Gore has come out strong for peace, for the environment (much stronger than when he was VP), for economic justice. He now speaks with passion and seems far more at home in his own skin. If he decides to run, I think his chances are dead even, especially if he doesn’t do something stupid like pick someone like Liebermann again as a running mate.

Update: IF (and this is a big “if,”) Democrats in Congress were either making progress ending the war in Iraq and passing popular legislation OR forcing Bush vetoes and showing clear differences, the renewed, populist Gore could not only win, but could bring in several more Democratic seats in the House and Senate in a “coattail effect.” But IF the GOP is successful either in making the Democrats look weak on defense or as “obstructionists” in Congress, then Gore would have a very uphill battle and, even if he won, could find either one or both chambers of Congress back in GOP hands. But he could face such a challenge better than Hillary, I think, and with more experience than Obama.

Update II: I just heard about Sen. Joe Biden (D-NJ) and his plans for a presidential run. I am less than impressed. Biden is a DLC Clintonista and the DLC is why the Democratic Party has become “Republican-Lite” and spent so many years in the wilderness.

Look for dark horse candidates. Currently, neither liberal Democrats or social conservative Republicans have a clear standard bearer. The field of hopefuls is likely to grow before thinning again.

November 12, 2006 Posted by | U.S. politics | 5 Comments

Reflections on the GOP Blame Game

Since 2004, I have found it almost too painful to watch any TV news. I have continued to read newspapers, listen to National Public Radio and the BBC, and read online sites of foreign newspapers for a non-U.S. perspective (e.g., The Guardian and The Independent in the UK; The Toronto Star; The Jerusalem Times; Le Monde from Paris; Der Spiegel in Germany). But since Tuesday’s elections, I can watch CNN, the networks, and even Fox News without wanting to shout at the screen. In fact, part of me that is not fully sanctified and is less charitable than I should be, has gotten a good laugh at Republicans (and their media lap dogs like Cal Thomas, Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly, etc.) try to figure out what went wrong.

Each part of the Republican coalition has blamed other parts and said, “If the party had just listened to our group more, this loss wouldn’t have happened.” Moderate Republicans like Olympia Snowe and Arnold Schwarzenegger have pointed to the huge losses in the Northeast and the West and said that it is the ultra-conservative parts of the GOP that led to this loss. They wonder where the international pragmatists of the GOP past went?

Conservatives, who refer to moderate Republicans as “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only) are having none of this. They note that it is the moderate GOP folks who lost most and so they want to shore up the conservative base. They also seem reassured by the fact that several Democrats who won are centrist or conservative themselves. The problem is that conservatives are not united themselves and each part blames the other.

Business conservatives who lean libertarian in philosophy say that the Republican Party was founded on smaller government, lower taxes, and few government regulations. They blame the social conservatives (mostly conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists) for alienating people from the GOP. They look at the huge growth of government under Bush (although more point to the Medicare prescription drug program than to the behemoths of the bloated military and the bureaucratic nightmare of Homeland Security) and the mean-spiritedness of many of the conservative culture warriors as destroying the GOP.

The social conservatives think the business conservatives are nuts. America, they say, is a Christian nation (false; it’s a nation of many Christians) and Americans care most about banning abortion, stopping “the gay agenda,” forcing “Intelligent Design” on school science curricula, getting teacher-led prayers in public schools, etc. Some other social conservatives, not necessarily evangelical, hate all laws concerning gun control. (There are also overlaps: social conservatives that are ALSO libertarian in economic matters.) They believe that the many statewide bans on gay marriage mean that the GOP should have stuck with them.

Both the business conservatives and social conservatives are angry with the Neo-cons, who ignore traditional conservative fears of big government and government intrusion into private lives, to promote warrantless wiretapping and other civil liberties restrictions, believe in an American empire (Richard Perle openly used this term), preemptive wars, and a “unitary executive” which has no checks and balances by Congress or the courts. Frankly, everyone should be mad at the Neo-cons, since voter exit polls clearly showed a rejection of this agenda. Traditional conservatives are realists about the limits of military power to accomplish sweeping idealistic goals (i.e., spreading democracy) and prefer containment and defense. The messianism of the Neo-cons finally backfired and the other parts of the GOP should sink them if the party ever hopes to see power again. The U.S. public has spoken loud and clear: They are tired of a war fought for lies and tired of the way that the nation is now hated by more people than ever in our history.

I think the moderates and business conservatives have more future viability than the social conservatives. Evangelicals are splitting their votes, now. And, even if evangelicals in the U.S. vote as a solid bloc, they are only 1/3 of the population. The Karl Rove strategy of ignoring swing voters and independents has proven disastrous for the GOP. People were tired of the “mean spirited” (actual words from former Republicans voting Democrat) and narrow picture of the Republicans and tired of having their faith used by politicians, too.

Too many of the GOP pundits and bloggers are kidding themselves that “the Republicans lost, but conservatism didn’t lose” pointing to several conservative or moderate Democrats among the victors Tuesday night. But although folk like Heath Shuler of SC or Bob Casey of PA are getting all the attention, the largest ideological caucus in the House come January will be the Progressive Caucus. Two conservatives running for the Senate lost. In several places, voters clearly picked progressives, including KY’s 3rd district (my district) which elected John Yarmuth, a liberal former newspaper publisher, in place of the conservative Catholic Anne Northup who had been incumbent for 10 years. Further, although the gay marriage bans did well everywhere except (strangely) Arizona, progressive ballot measures also did well, including measures for stem-cell research, South Dakota’s repeal of its state ban on abortion, etc. Measures to increase the minimum wage and to take more protections on the environment passed everywhere they were on the ballot. The country has clearly rejected a far-right agenda, especially in foreign policy, but also on many domestic issues (except gay rights). It is a very different political scene since Tuesday and those who believe that voters really want some version of “true conservatism” are living in a fantasy. Look at Tuesday’s results and exit polls, again, folks.

The labels, “liberal” and “progessive,” can once more be worn with pride. America has tried 12 years of far-right rule (and increasing far right ideology since 1980), and have had enough. They want an America again that works for peace, human rights, civil liberties, economic justice, care for the planet. This is the kind of America the new Democratic Congress will have to produce if they want more than 2 years at the helm.

November 12, 2006 Posted by | U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Poet for Peace

As reported in the Mennonite Weekly Review, Yorifumi Yaguchi’s poems have just been edited in an English edition and published by Good Books. Yaguchi is a Japanese Mennonite pastor and poet active in Japan’s peace movement. He grew up in a Buddhist household (his grandfather was a Soto Zen Buddhist priest), but he initially held good opinions of Christians because his mother attended Christian services without ever formally converting. World War II and especially the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed all that. Yaguchi, like most Japanese, identified Christians with Americans and blamed them for the destruction of so much of Japan.

Later, he met Mennonite missionaries and realized that some Christians (and Jesus!) were nonviolent. He eventually converted and was baptized in 1958. He is now a Mennonite pastor, whose poetry reflects influences from both the traditional Japanese haiku and modern English poets like T. S. Elliot.

Yaguchi is pictured next to Wilbur J. Birky, retired professor of English at Goshen College (a Mennonite school in Indiana), who edited the recent English edition of Yaguchi’s poems. The Poetry of Yorifumi Yaguchi: A Japanese Voice in English (Good Books, 2006) is available now. Poets, artists, writers, perhaps even preachers, because they are involved in creative work, often reflect the peacemaking priorities of the Creator. Yaguchi’s work reflects the nonviolent impulses of his Zen Buddhist past as well as the thoroughly Christocentric peacemaking of his current commitments to the gospel. American Christians, who, on average, are far more accepting of war and violence that most Christians globally, may especially need to hear a voice like Yaguchi’s: A Japanese voice now available in English. Posted by Picasa

November 11, 2006 Posted by | peace | Comments Off on Poet for Peace