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

Actions YOU Can Take Against Torture

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) lists several actions which U.S. citizens who are people of faith can take against torture:

  • NRCAT’s own Liliana Segura wrote an article summarizing the worst of the just released Bush torture memos.  NRCAT wants you to copy that article and distribute it at your church, synagogue, mosque, etc. this weekend.
  • Send a letter to the editor of your local paper (while we still have newspapers in this economy!).  They give a model here.
  • Print copies here of NRCAT’s petition for a bi-partisan “Commission of Inquiry” into these matters which will thoroughly expose the matter and send criminal recommendations to the Attorney General.

Faithful America asks that you write letters to local papers urging your local newspapers to write editorials demanding both a Commission of Inquiry and an independent special prosecutor against the authors of the torture memos.

Democrats.com urges you to write Congress and demand NO AMNESTY for torturers and those who authorized the torture.

I have some other suggestions: 

  • Contact the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and demand that CIA Director Leon Panetta FIRE all agents involved in the torture. (As many as he knows. He wasn’t CIA Director under Bush!) They need to be AT LEAST purged and their names sent to the Dept. of Justice for possible legal action and they need to be (forgive the term) “blacklisted” against hire by any other intelligence agency.  Even if Panetta fails to get all the culprits, this action will send a warning to CIA operatives that they cannot take such torture measures, even if authorized by a particular administration to do so.
  • Also urge Director Panetta to turn over the names of the medical personnel involved in interrogations to the American Medical Association. The AMA may want to police its own (who have gone down the Nazi doctor route!) and strip those involved of their licenses to practice medicine.  At the very least, each person named should be reviewed separately by the AMA.
  • Contact the leadership of the American Bar Association (the main professional organization for attorneys at law in the U.S.) and urge them to take steps to strip the authors of the torture memos of their law licenses so that they no longer have the right to practice law in the U.S.–and whatever other sanctions the ABA deems appropriate.  Also, urge the ABA to send a letter to Pres. Obama and Attorney General Holder urging the appointment of a special prosecutor in these cases.
  • Contact Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and urge that the House Judiciary Committe begin impeachment procedures against Judge Jay Bybee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Yes, one of the torture memo authors, Bybee, was later appointed by Bush to a federal bench just one step below the Supreme Court of the United States!  It’s a lifetime appointment, but judges can be impeached (though they seldom are).  No one who authored one of these horrendous memos should be adjudicating law in the American courts!  One Yale Law professor has already called for his impeachment.  We should try to get prominent Republican judges and lawyers to be part of this movement, because this is not partisan. (I would go after any Democrat who did any of these things, too!) Pres. Bill Clinton lost his law license for perjury in the Lewinsky scandal.  This is far worse.  If I can track down contact information for her, I will ask that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner (a longtime Republican and a protege of the late Barry Goldwater, she was Reagan’s first Supreme Court appointee and the first woman on the Supreme Court of the U.S.), who administered Bybee’s oath, join the call for his impeachment.

With these kinds of actions, we can create the groundswell of public opinion to go after AT LEAST those who authorized the torture.  And we take steps to prevent this from recurring under some other administration.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | torture | 2 Comments

Are Republicans All Sore Losers?

The question isn’t rhetorical and isn’t meant to be simply partisan, but a disturbing pattern is emerging.  Observe:

2000: U.S. Presidential election.  VP Al Gore has won the popular vote, but things are too close to call in FL and the electoral college will  be decided there in this close election. An early network calls it for Gore, but has to back off because it is clear that Bush is gaining.  Later Fox News calls FL for Bush, but the Associated Press never calls the election for anyone. It became clear that a recount was in order, but Bush sent lawyers to challenge everything and bused in fake “protesters” at the recount to intimidate canvassers, etc. Eventually, he sued in the U.S. Supreme Court to have the count stopped and him declared the winner.

2001: GOP controlled Congress passes the “Helping America Vote” act which creates touch-screen computer voting machines with NO PAPER TRAIL for recounts; machines which computer experts show can be easily hacked to give a different result than the actual voting.  Only after many mistrials with these machines in 2002 and 2004, do most states insist on paper trails.

2004:  Another close Presidential race that will all come down to one state, this time OH.  There were many shenanigans including removing voting machines in poorer neighborhoods, running out of ballots, closing polls early, always in Democratic districts.  Rather than go through a repeat of 2000, however, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) simply concedes defeat, although it is not clear who really won OH.

2004 b: In the Washington state Gov.’s race, there is a virtual tie between Christine Gregoire (D) and Dennis Rossi (R).  After both a machine and hand recount, Gregoire is declared narrowly to be the winner. Rossi sues in local court and then appeals to the WA state Supreme Court to try to get this reversed.  Gregoire is only seated as Governor after several months. (Rossi immediately planned a comeback in ’08, but Gregoire won more decisively then–although still narrowly, it was outside the need for a recount.)

2008: When it becomes clear that Sen. Barack Obama(D-IL) is likely to beat Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) decisively for the presidency, Republicans claim that the community organization ACORN is “stealing the election” by means of a voter registration fraud. (ACORN registered over 1 million voters, but Obama won by 9.2 million votes.) They attempt to interfere in the elections of several swing states.

2008b: Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), who won his seat in 2002 by beating a dead man (barely), the late liberal champion Paul Wellstone (D-MN), is in a statistical tie with challenger Al Franken (D-MN)–which will automatically trigger a recount according to MN law. Coleman calls on Franken to concede and declares himself the winner.  After 2 recounts, Franken is ahead by 225 votes. Coleman sues and the result is Franken is declared the winner by 312 votes. Coleman plans to appeal.

2009: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was nominated by Pres. Obama to become Secretary of State.  Gov. Patterson (D-NY) appointed Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY-20) to fulfill her term until a special election is held in 2010. So, a special election must be held to replace Rep. Gillibrand.  Even though the NY 20th is a very Republican-leaning district and State Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-NY), the GOP nominee, is the NY Sen. Minority Leader who starts out the race with a 21 point advantage, we once again have a virtual tie.  Everything will be decided by absentee ballots.  With Murphy (D) ahead by 178 votes and the only remaining votes left coming from areas that lean more Democratic, Tedisco yesterday ran to court and asked to have the ballot counting stopped and himself declared the winner–even though he is 178 votes behind! UPDATE: NY state has no recount law.  After the absentee ballots were in, the machine and paper ballots were counted thoroughly.  Final result: Patrick Murphy(D)  is ahead of Jim Tedisco (R) by 273 points.  All that’s left are the 1,300 challenged ballots (most challenged by Tedisco) and most in counties that favored Murphy.  So, it is mathematically impossible  for Tedisco to win. He lost in a close race despite the fact that NY 20 has 70,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats and Tedisco began with better name recognition and a 21 pt. lead and RNC Chair Michael Steele put his rep. on the line saying that a Tedisco win would be proof that Republicans are making a comeback and Obama and the Dems are on the way out.  But still, here’s Tedisco insisting that the court declare him the winner while  he’s 273 points behind!

See the pattern? If you beat Republicans decisively like Obama did, you must have stolen the election.  If it is close, Republicans rush to the courts (seeking conservative, Republican judges) to have the will of the people overturned or to have ballot counting stopped so that the will of the people is not known.  (Karl Rove was the master of this use of the courts. Long before he helped G.W. Bush get “elected” in 2000, he prevented a Democrat in a close election in court for 11 months [!] before a conservative judge ruled for a Republican that was nearly 500 votes behind!) That’s not to mention the standard Republican tactic of voter suppression, gerrymandered districts, purging voter rolls (Oh, your name is only similar to a convicted felon? So sorry. Maybe you can vote next time!), robocalls giving false information about where to turn out, etc.

So, if the Republican wins, that’s democracy. If the Democrat wins, there must have been a mistake or a crime, so we must use whatever means necessary to overturn the results because Republicans are the natural rulers and must not be thwarted by the inconvenience of more people voting for their opponents?

Please, tell me these are flukes and not a pattern of absolute Republican subversion of American democracy!  In the words of Rachel Maddow, “I need a talking down.”

April 17, 2009 Posted by | democracy, elections, U.S. politics | 5 Comments

Convictions and Moral Discernment 2

Continuing our series begun here  and here on moral discernment.  The second pair of “critical variables” in the “basic convictions” dimension are Justification and Sanctification, two terms from the Apostle Paul concerning different facets of salvation.  (Again, non-Christian moral systems have rough analogues to these variables.) If we think of salvation as primarily Justification (e.g., Martin Luther or Reinhold Niebuhr) we focus on forgiveness for our sins.  Grace is then understood primary as “unmerited mercy” for our sinful acts.  A theology that plays up justification to the exclusion or marginalization of other dimensions, is not likely to have high moral hopes for people.  Specifically, it would not expect a higher morality for Christians than others.

Other theologies focus more on sanctification or Christian discipleship (i.e., moral improvement), whether understood as a slow process or one that may happen instantaneously.  Some Christian theologies (e.g, some readings of John Wesley or the Quaker George Fox) stress sanctification in a way that suggests that Christians may achieve some form of moral perfection (although for Wesley, this was simply a “perfection in love.”) If this is our focus, then we see grace not primarily as “unmerited mercy,” but as “empowerment to faithfulness.”   

Think back to our last section on the variables God and human nature and it is easy to see some of the many combinations that would lead to differing moral outlooks.  I have an aunt who is a member of the Church of the Nazarene, a Wesleyan Holiness group.  Her version of this theology (which I do not claim is normative for Nazarenes) combined a judgmental view of God, a perfectable view of human nature, and a stress on sanctification/perfection to lead to a constant spiritual temperature taking. You will recall others with other combinations.

The next pair of critical variables are differing convictions about love and justice.  Most theologians have stressed Christian love (agape) as the highest Christian moral norm.  Many define such love as “sacrificial,” but others as “equal regard for all” (see Gene Outka),  “mutual love” (many feminist theologians) or “delivering love” (Glen Stassen). 

However defined, it is crucial that love be related to justice.  Justice is understood also in various ways and applied to various dimensions of life:  economics (distributive justice), racial relations, gender relations, civil rights, war and peace, etc. 

Reinhold Niebuhr saw Christian love as sacrificial but almost impossible to live out, even for Christians.  Therefore, it functioned only as a criterion that judged how far from Christ’s teachings our best moral efforts lie.  So, he focused on justice understood as a rough balance of power and of competing interests.  He stressed the difference between love and justice. 

By contrast, someone like Dorothy Day sees love and justice as intimately related and both as commanded to be lived out in this world. 

Next chapter will finalize the dimension of basic convictions by focusing on the mission of the church in the world.

April 17, 2009 Posted by | convictions, ethics, moral discernment, theology | 2 Comments