Friday, November 30, 2007

On Universal Health Care, Obama Gives Aid and Comfort to the Enemies of Reform

As a former employee of one of the world’s largest insurance companies, I recall sitting in on workplace sessions in which management gave us talking points opposing the latest government-sponsored health insurance program to present to our state legislators. And of course, we were warned of the perils of socialized medicine. As I recall, we were even shown a film negatively portraying medical care under the Canadian system.

Later on, I began receiving notices of regular incremental increases in the cost to employees of our group health insurance at that same company. It’s my understanding that costs for both employees and retirees who opted to continue their group health insurance there have continued to rise.

That’s just one reason why health care coverage has become a major issue among Democratic candidates in the 2008 presidential campaign. In today’s NY Times, Paul Krugman describes how the left wing’s preferred candidate, Barrack Obama, has been resorting to right-wing rhetoric, akin to that of the corporate world, to promote his health care plan over those offered by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards:

“From the beginning,” Krugman says, “advocates of universal health care were troubled by the incompleteness of Barack Obama’s plan, which unlike those of his Democratic rivals wouldn’t cover everyone. But they were willing to cut Mr. Obama slack on the issue, assuming that in the end he would do the right thing.”

Krugman continues:

“Now, however, Mr. Obama is claiming that his plan’s weakness is actually a strength. What’s more, he’s doing the same thing in the health care debate he did when claiming that Social Security faces a “crisis” — attacking his rivals by echoing right-wing talking points.”

Krugman summarizes:

“What seems to have happened is that Mr. Obama’s caution, his reluctance to stake out a clearly partisan position, led him to propose a relatively weak, incomplete health care plan. Although he declared, in his speech announcing the plan, that “my plan begins by covering every American,” it didn’t — and he shied away from doing what was necessary to make his claim true.

“Now, in the effort to defend his plan’s weakness, he’s attacking his Democratic opponents from the right — and in so doing giving aid and comfort to the enemies of reform.”

That’s all we need this time around when true progressives in America have the opportunity to take back the White House and our country from the agenda of the radical right wing.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Immigration: Debunking the Racist, the Ignorant, and the False

The headline in today’s Washington Post reads: In Debate, Romney and Giuliani Clash on Immigration Issues. Staff writers Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz began their coverage of the Republican candidates’ CNN/YouTube debate with a blow-by blow account of Romney’s and Giuliani’s sorry attempts to out-tough one another last night on the immigration issue:

“Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani immediately set the tone for the combative event, using the first question to continue a weeks-long feud they have waged on the campaign trail. Each accused the other of ignoring laws against illegal immigration and distorting one another's record on the issue.

“Giuliani accused Romney of having a "sanctuary mansion" by employing illegal immigrants as lawn workers and of being "holier than thou" on the issue. Romney accused Giuliani of ignoring the laws and of welcoming illegal immigrants to New York. "That's the wrong attitude," Romney charged in a lengthy, heated exchange.”

Their “heated exchange” ignited a few sparks in the numerous comments from readers that followed. For example, one reader first linked to before beginning his rant:

“This link is to a column that presents the same bleeding heart position that we always hear. "Illegals are people too" is the point of the article and for America to welcome them in droves signifies some kind of moral progress on our part. Well, that's bullsh!t. Plenty of people in this world are born in indesireable countries into undesireable cultures with few opportunities. Why don't we just have them all come over? Forget about the actual Americans that pay taxes and whose ancestors built this country. After all, "immigrants built this country too;" another favorite platitude of the bleeding hearts. We are not displaying our morals by welcoming millions illegals from the Third World and letting them engulf our resources, infrastructure, and culture. We are displaying our unbelievable stupidity because if we don't stop it soon, America will cease to exist as we know it. It will just be a Balkanized mess overrun by Third-World uneducated dregs. But I suppose that racist of me to say, right?”

The above statements are not only racist, but also ignorant and completely false. Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights has published a well-documented fact sheet on immigration and the economy that debunks such popular myths about our nation’s immigrant population (for the complete fact sheet and its sources, go here):

Our Immigration System Is Incompatible With Our Economy

“Research shows that the economy readily absorbs these new additions {undocumented persons}, yet they remain without immigration status.”

Immigrants Pay Taxes and Contribute to Social Security

“Immigrants stimulate the U.S. economy by paying sales, property, and income taxes…undocumented workers who do not have a Social Security Number are able to file income taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)…A study in 2005 found that undocumented immigrants pay $6-7 billion in Social Security taxes that they will never able to claim. Another recent study indicates that a reduction in legal immigration would devastate the Social Security System, into which new legal immigrants will contribute over $611 billion over the next 75 years.”

Immigrants Do Not Take Jobs Away From U.S. Workers

“Immigrants make unique contributions to the U.S. economy by creating new jobs through entrepreneurship, filling jobs for which there are no qualified U.S. workers, and taking positions that would otherwise be shipped overseas or replaced with computers. …A letter written in June 2006 signed by over 500 top economists reads ‘The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.”’

Immigration’s Effects on Wages Are Minimal

“On average, immigration raises U.S.-born workers’ wages slightly.”

Undocumented Immigrants Are Not Eligible For Public Benefits

“Immigrants are largely excluded from receiving public assistance…The only service for which temporary and undocumented immigrants are eligible is emergency medical care…Providing such assistance regardless of immigration status upholds the American value of protecting life and preventing unnecessary pain and suffering.”

Providing Education to All Children Benefits Society

“ A Supreme Court decision in 1982, Plyler v. Doe, held that governments must provide the same free public education to undocumented children as they provide to other children. This decision was based on the desire to prevent a permanent underclass and to avoid punishing children for actions of their parents. …parents of undocumented children pay taxes that support the educational system and the community, just as other parents do.

Immigration Keeps the U.S. Competitive in a Global Economy

“Low-skilled immigrants complement the skills of the current labor force and are preventing negative growth rates in aging communities. High-skilled immigrants account for about half of the Ph.D. engineers, life scientists, physical scientists, and math and compute scientists in the U.S. Forty-four of the first one hundred Nobel prizes awarded to American researchers went to immigrants or their children. With immigration comes motivation and innovation – it fuels our nation!”

It’s unfortunate that both Romney and Giuliani have flip-flopped on the immigration issue for political reasons since deciding to run for the presidency. It would be good if all candidates first did a little research and became familiar with the facts before taking similar right-wing positions. The lives of many U.S. residents - undocumented or otherwise - are at stake, as well as the values that have made America great.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Significance of Likeability in the 2008 Campaign

Mark Shields’ likeability rating plummeted for this viewer with last Friday’s edition of the NewsHour. The affable given-to-stammering Shields is the liberal counterpart to the smooth-talking conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Judy Woodruff opened the Shields-Brooks weekly news analysis by asking what the latest Washington Post-ABC presidential poll in Iowa said about the contest — beginning with the Democrats.

Shields meandered his way to announcing the final poll results showing Obama in a statistical tie with Clinton before he moved into those “internals,” which, in Shields’ estimation, clearly indicate that Obama and Edwards are seen as more likeable than Clinton.

Our liberal guy pontificated as follows:

“And I think you can make the case, the Democrats lost two presidential elections to George W. Bush where their nominees, John Kerry and Al Gore, were both seen as more intelligent, knowledgeable, and in Al Gore's case, far more experienced than George W. Bush.

“But George W. Bush won, I believe, in both cases because he was seen as more steadfast in his beliefs and convictions, more honest, and more likeable. And I think Democrats, there's a certain sense among some that they've seen this movie before, where their candidate failing on the likeability, honesty, straightforward question becomes a problem.”

Brooks was quick to agree with Shields that the above should be a “significant worry” for Clinton.

Neither analyst — both displaying the smugness of male superiority — reminded viewers of the public’s current perception of George W. Bush, the latest polls showing Bush as perhaps the least trusted and most demonstrably incompetent president in our nation’s history.

And of course, neither of the NewsHour’s political gurus suggested it might be wise for the electorate this time around to consider a few weightier qualifications for the highest office in the land than this choice description of candidate Bush: “He’s a guy you could enjoy swilling a beer with from time to time.”

The deja vu was suffocating.

My inaugural post for Katalusis in late August was titled Charm versus Substance in which I reached back to the 2000 campaign to quote pollster John Zogby from a typical NewsHour transcript:

Zogby opined: “Well, I think basically if you go back to 1988, that's the classic example. Dukakis never really built up his likeability, therefore it was easy to knock him down. But America likes George W. Bush. They seem to like what they see. And at the same time, they don't like Al Gore very much.”

From the 2004 campaign, I grabbed this quote from a NewsHour transcript featuring Shields and Brooks:

Shields comments: “I’d add one more thing: George Bush’s likeability edge, which I think everybody acknowledges over John Kerry, and his congeniality and just his naturalness were bigger assets in 2000 than they are in 2004.”

In the same post, I noted that in 2004, the American electorate allowed charm to trump substance once again by electing Bush to a second term, but I added that according to the latest polls, charm had worn out its welcome in the White House.

Dan Balz of the Washington Post recently concurred in his post in The Trail last Wednesday titled What Happened to Liking the Candidate You Support? Balz noted that both Giuliani and Clinton, national frontrunners for their respective parties, scored lower than their rivals on likeability in the latest Washington Post-ABC poll. But Balz points out that in the same poll, both Giuliani and Clinton were seen as being the strongest leaders in their fields.

Balz has stumbled around a lot in covering this campaign, but he finally reaches the conclusion I’d reached earlier in interpreting Clinton’s lead: “In part, what voters may be reflecting is a reaction to what they have seen over the past eight years. Given Bush's low approval rating and the harsh assessments of the administration's competence in managing the war in Iraq and the Katrina aftermath, there's no doubt that voters are looking for more than likeability in their chief executive. "

Yeah. Qualities such as competence; responsibility to all the people, not just her or his base, gravitas, etc.

One can only hope that pundits such as Brooks and Shields will eventually catch up, as Balz evidently has, with the maturing of the American electorate.

Here’s To A National Renaissance Of The Arts And Humanities

In today’s HuffingtonPost, the item titled Imagining American Leadership by C. L. Max Nikias relates so well to a couple of my recent posts on the importance of an educated citizenry in a democracy and the necessity of the imagination to our well being that I urge you to read the Nikias piece in its entirety.

Nikias begins:

“Our presidential candidates could use a little more imagination. In fact, imagination is the very trait that our nation would do well to hoard in coming decades.

“Would-be presidents have offered various education-related formulas for continued American competitiveness. This involves such good-faith efforts as increased support for K-12 education or improved access to community colleges.

“But a more strategic vision would involve two priorities: First, we require a greater commitment to the American research enterprise than Congress has displayed of late. Second, we require a national renaissance of the arts and humanities, so that American imagination can continue to fuel American innovation.”

Nikias concludes:

“This should remind politicians, pundits and ordinary citizens that an American college diploma should represent far more than a job credential confirming that a few years were spent in a classroom; it should represent a uniquely transforming experience of lasting benefit to both student and society. It just takes a little imagination.”

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Post-Thanksgiving Flashback: Why Bother With an Education?

This post is a revised version of a column I wrote that was first published shortly after Thanksgiving on Nov. 29, 1979 in the West Concord Enterprise, a weekly community newspaper where I once served as a full-time reporter and editor.

Thanksgiving is over, and it’s back to slaving over a hot typewriter at the Enterprise office. That doesn’t imply that I spent hours single-handedly slaving over a hot stove last week.

It was great to have daughter Jean home from college for longer than a weekend. She and son Steve pitched in to help Mom and Dad out with the baking, cooking, and clean up. The holiday was perfect when the predicted sleet and snow for southeastern Minn. never happened, and friends from the Twin Cities made it down to join us for our family-prepared meal.

But that isn’t what I was going to write about this week. What was it anyway? Jean was telling me about the trauma of her first semester away from home. I’ve got it: the topic for this week’s column is why bother with an education? That may seem a ridiculous question, but in the past few years I’ve heard it asked more than a few times.

Back in the dark ages when I was in high school, a favorite gimmick for promoting higher education was The Chart placed in strategic places throughout the school building. The Chart showed comparative salary ranges over a lifetime for the graduate and the dropout. The message was clear: stay in school and eventually you’ll get rich.

During my senior year, however, a change occurred. The Russians launched Sputnik, and the space race was on. Adults suddenly decided to appeal to another motive to encourage us to get smart(er). Now instead of exploiting our greed with The Chart, they interrupted our classes to announce in solemn tones over the PA system that it was our patriotic duty to major in math and/or science so that Americans could beat the Russians to the moon.

Greed and patriotism are of course worthy motives for continuing our education. But let’s not forget the other reasons for pursuing knowledge that have been around at least since the ancient Greeks introduced thinking as a respectable way to spend time.

The Greeks are credited with having established the world’s first successful democracy. Democracy as practiced in those days was a peculiar form of government which, in order to function well, required the active participation of a majority of the citizens. To be a good citizen, you had to know what was going on at the Athenian City Hall.

The Greeks, though, always a radical bunch, weren’t satisfied with an electorate informed only in politics and government. One idea led to another –the Greeks are remembered for their hospitality to new ideas—and before long, the city-state of Athens proved to be an incubator for discoveries in nearly every field of human endeavor, including philosophy, art, math, and science.

In studying the Athenians, we can’t help but conclude that these neophyte democrats valued knowledge for its own sake and as Edith Hamilton, author of “The Greek Way,” observed: “The special characteristic of the Greeks was their power to see the world clearly and at the same time as beautiful.”

Attainment of that characteristic alone is reason enough to bother with an education - despite the trauma of that first semester away from home.

Footnote: Jean graduated college with a degree in history and political science.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

The ancient Buddhist Loving-Kindness Prayer, said to be over 2000 years old:

May each of us be filled with loving-kindness;
May each of us be safe and protected from all internal and external harm;
May each of us be as healthy and whole as possible;
May each of us experience ease and well being.

And may each of our hearts be filled with compassion and gratitude on this Thanksgiving Day.

Read my pre-Thanksgiving message presented last Sunday at Groveland Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in St. Paul, Minn.: Satisfying Our Spiritual Hunger; Turkey and Dressing Won’t Do It

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Clinton’s Message for Left and Right Extremists

Guess who said this? "I think people want a respectful debate and a respectful discussion. And if they don't, then obviously, I'm not the person to be their candidate…"

A few political issues have distracted me lately from Thanksgiving Day preparations:

John McCain, shoulders shaking with laughter, saying “Excellent question,” to a supporter who has referred to Hillary Clinton as a bitch. (Watch the incident on YouTube.)

Almost the next day, John McCain announcing his pledge to run a campaign that is respectful of his opponents: "I think people want a respectful debate and a respectful discussion. And if they don't, then obviously, I'm not the person to be their candidate…"

Newsweek’s hiring Karl Rove as a columnist, giving him a platform and a voice to interject his poison into the 2008 presidential campaign.

Spinning the latest polling results from Iowa. Clinton has led in Iowa by several points for weeks, and the Huffington Post and other major media outlets have almost unanimously ignored that reality or referred to the Iowa race as a three-way tie among Edwards, Obama, and Clinton. The latest poll showed Obama with a 4-point lead (acknowledged by pollsters as a statistical tie) and the Huffington Post’s headline screamed that Obama is pulling ahead, etc. Back to reality: the Washington Post reports the three top contenders remain in a close battle.

At an appearance in Iowa recently, Clinton had this to say to both left and right extremists: “I consider myself a servant-leader,” she said. “I’m not running to be president of the Democrats. I’m not running to be president of states that vote for Democrats. I’m running to be president of the United States. And I think I understand very well what it would take to do that.”

In his eight years in office, George W. Bush, guided by Cheney and Rove, never grasped the reality that he was Constitutionally obligated to serve as president of all the people, not just his base on the evangelical right. Clinton aims a little higher.

But I’ve got work to do here at home: the turkey is thawing and the stuffing is almost ready; I’ll chop the rutabaga and bake the pumpkin pie tomorrow. Although its mention in the Washington Post this morning gave me a chuckle, I won’t be making a green bean casserole: “They must taste like they have since 1955, when Campbell's invented the homey two-can side dish, your beans and your cream of mushroom soup, a soft, soothing mush of a thing given a kick and a crunch with your can of {French's French Fried Onions} FFOs.”

Monday, November 19, 2007

Celebrating Kinship and Community

“But your kind discovered long ago that the way for one generation to hand itself off to the next is the way each year does it - starting with the word thanksgiving.” James Carroll

Comments from my readers are important to me. My thanks to Deborah for the thoughtful comment she left yesterday in response to my post on satisfying our spiritual hunger in which I referred to Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. Debra wrote:

“Hi Virginia,
Based on your recent posts and your sensitive writing, I think you may enjoy a blog dedicated to Thomas Moore's work called Barque: Thomas Moore at . It links to a free forum that could benefit from your insights and expression. Please continue to share your soulful observations.
Happy Thanksgiving,

I’ve checked out the blog Deborah suggested and followed up its link to Moore’s personal web site, appropriately named

In tune with the onset of the holidays, my favorite op-ed columnist, the Boston Globe’s James Carroll, also touched on spirituality in today’s column. Carroll concludes:

All of this could revolve around less fraught themes than light and dark, beginning and end, the crack in the stone of time. But your kind discovered long ago that the way for one generation to hand itself off to the next is the way each year does it - starting with the word thanksgiving.

And that reminds me, I’m free now to turn my attention to preparing for Thanksgiving; and I’m more keenly aware than ever this time around that much of the pleasure of the holiday season is in each of those preparations repeated year after year, no matter how mundane they seem: cleaning, arranging the flowers, last-minute grocery shopping, baking, chopping the rutabaga, and making the stuffing.

As a friend mentioned after church yesterday, with all of the changes going on around us from one day to the next, a little repetition and continuity in our lives helps.



Sunday, November 18, 2007

Satisfying Our Spiritual Hunger; Turkey and Dressing Won’t Do It

Look closely at the photo: the little bluebird on the table is critical to this article.

Fess up. When was the last time anyone told you that using your imagination now and then was important to your sense of well being?

In the early 70s, our family moved from Rochester, Minn., about 35 miles eastward to the small village of West Concord. My son Steve was in the second grade. His adjustment to the change was complicated due to the differences in teaching styles between his old and new schools. He was used to a very traditional, structured classroom in Rochester. But his teacher in West Concord was a nonconformist. An uppity grandmother, she ran a noisy open classroom that was driving my young son a little crazy.

And besides he was homesick and missed his friends in Rochester.

I was in my early 30s at the time, miles away from my own family back in Ohio, and I had never attended a parenting class. I doubt that I’d read Dr. Spock either. But one day, seeing that Steve was still sad when he came home from school, I had an inspiration.

First I read a story to him about a bluebird – as in “the bluebird of happiness.” Then I cut a picture of a bluebird from a magazine. I told Steve to put it in his pocket and take it to school with him each day. “When you feel sad,” I promised, “Just touch the bluebird, and you’ll feel better.”

Well, it worked and before long, Steve had adjusted to his creative second grade teacher’s methods, and he’d made new friends. I made a new friend, too; it turns out his teacher was a local leader in my political party; she and I were both liberals in conservative Dodge County.

But the bluebird story didn’t end in West Concord. Years later, I was living alone in my apartment in New Brighton, Minn. and to be honest, I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself that gray Saturday afternoon. A knock on the door interrupted my pity party. The postman handed me a package postmarked Atlanta, where Steve, a technical director, was in the middle of a Broadway theater tour.

I tore open the box to find of all things a little glass bluebird.

The following day, I was invited to a celebration of Women’s History Month. We’d been asked to bring with us a picture or an object symbolizing what we would most like to take with us into the 21st century.

Remembering the story I’d read to Steve to ease his loneliness in second grade, I took the glass bluebird with me. When it was my turn to speak, I told the gathering of about 100 women that what I’d most like to take with me into the 21st century was the faith of a little child.
(Lest anyone misunderstand, I’m not talking about religious fundamentalism here.)

So here I am well into the 21st century. My faith has wavered a few times, but I’ve cultivated a few habits over the years that help me stay in touch with my spirituality.

I rise early every morning to enjoy coffee at my kitchen table while recording dreams in a loose-leaf journal, and it’s not unusual for me to reflect for an hour or so on mysterious messages still clinging from the night.

Another practice evolved about twenty years ago when I came across an American Indian legend about the power of fresh flowers to chase evil spirits from our households. The idea appealed to me and ever since, I’ve paid a few dollars for a bouquet at the supermarket along with my weekly supply of groceries.

In the last couple of years I’ve also begun practicing mindfulness meditation for half an hour each day, and it’s become clear to me that it’s as important to nourish the soul through this type of discipline, as it is to nourish the body.

Meditation restores me to a different mode of moving through time – a mode in which I feel peaceful and at ease, one task flowing smoothly into the next. And instead of an impatient enslavement to my to-do list, I find myself taking pleasure in simple household chores such as freshening my flowers, unloading the dishwasher, dusting the bookshelves, or preparing my evening meal.

Meditation also helps with my work as a writer. Rather than approaching a writing project with determination and will, I’m learning to relax and settle back into the unconscious, freeing up my imagination.

Nevertheless, I’m human, and once in awhile, I get caught up in one or another of my more worldly pursuits: politics, blogging, bugging Groveland {my church fellowship} about schedules and other left-brained stuff like Roberts Rules of Order and in general, succumbing to the tyranny of my daily to-do list.

Next thing I know I’m completely focused on one deadline or another, while forgetting to take time out for meditation and sloughing off other practices that keep me on my chosen path toward health and wholeness. Predictably, I sometimes lose touch with my spiritual needs.

As luck would have it, the necessity to prepare this talk on the topic of satisfying our spiritual hunger caught me in the midst of one of those “I’m on a treadmill” periods of my life. There was no help for it but to go back in time and re-read a book in which I’d previously found renewal: Thomas Moore’s The Care of the Soul, which interweaves the author’s various interests, including theology, mythology, and depth psychology. Best of all, it honors the importance of the imagination in our lives and its power to heal.

Think little second grade boy heading off to a strange school with a picture of a bluebird in the pocket of his jeans.

Fess up. When was the last time anyone told you that using your imagination now and then was important to your sense of well being?

Moore writes: “Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. I understand therapy as nothing more than bringing imagination to areas that are devoid of it, which then must express themselves by becoming symptomatic.”

Moore continues: “Fulfilling work, rewarding relationships, personal power, and relief from symptoms are all gifts of the soul. They are particularly elusive in our time because we don’t believe in the soul and therefore give it no place in our hierarchy of values…It is commonplace for writers to point out that we live in a time of deep division, in which mind is separated from body, and spirituality is at odds with materialism. But how do we get out of this split?” Moore asks.

Rituals at home and in community help. I’ve mentioned my dream journal, keeping fresh flowers in my apartment, and recent efforts to meditate regularly. Preparing for Thanksgiving has reminded me of long-practiced family rituals. Our dinner menu is handed down from the previous generation. Along with turkey and homemade bread stuffing, it includes required items such as watermelon rind pickles, black olives, rutabaga, and cranberry sauce (the jellied kind that comes in a can).

I may have picked up the last jar of watermelon rind pickles from the supermarket shelf the other day.

My son Steve and his wife Nancy will join me for our Thanksgiving Day feast, and we’ll likely play our traditional game of Scrabble before digging into the pumpkin pie piled high with Cool Whip.

Extending beyond family traditions here at Groveland, we practice community rituals on Sunday mornings. Around the speaker’s presentation and the follow-up discussion, we light the chalice, share our joys and concerns, sing hymns, meditate, and enjoy coffee and treats together before going our separate ways.

Again I quote from Care of the Soul, “Spirituality doesn’t arrive fully formed without effort. Religions around the world demonstrate that spiritual life requires constant attention and a subtle, often beautiful technology by which spiritual principles and understandings are kept alive. For good reason we go to church, temple, or mosque regularly and at appointed times: it’s easy for consciousness to become lodged in the material world and to forget the spiritual. Sacred technology is largely aimed at helping us remain conscious of spiritual ideas and values.”

Revisiting a book is in many ways like revisiting the old home place, a favorite park, or other familiar site after a long absence. Turning the pages of The Care of the Soul in the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the person I was at my first reading some ten or fifteen years ago compared to who I am now. And what delights me most is the discovery that wherever we are in our lives we are free to nurture our souls and experience healing and growth.

In the final paragraphs of The Care of the Soul, Moore writes: “Care of the soul is not a project of self-improvement nor a way of being released from the troubles and pains of human existence. It is not at all concerned with living properly or with emotional health. These are the concerns of temporal, heroic, Promethean life. Care of the soul touches another dimension, in no way separate from life, but not identical either with the problem solving that occupies so much of our consciousness. We care for the soul solely by honoring its expressions, by giving it time and opportunity to reveal itself, and by living life in a way that fosters the depth, interiority, and quality in which it flourishes. Soul is its own purpose and end.

“To the soul, memory is more important than planning, art more compelling than reason, and love more fulfilling than understanding. We know we are well on the way toward soul when we feel attachment to the world and the people around us and when we live as much from the heart as from the head.”

May it be so.
Note: This post is the presentation I gave this Sunday morning at Groveland Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hillary Clinton Wins Las Vegas Debate

I watched the Las Vegas debate last night (See YouTube), and I’m in complete agreement with CNN’s post-debate analysis: Clinton was the clear winner.

In comparison to all of the other candidates on that stage, Obama and Edwards appeared callow and unpresidential in their clumsy attempts to elevate themselves by slinging mud at frontrunner Clinton. In fact, the audience booed each of the two second-place guys for their inappropriate personal attacks on Clinton.

Marc Cooper at the Huffington Post acknowledged that ironically it was Obama who stumbled on the immigration question: “When asked for a simple yes or no answer on whether he supported the granting of driver licenses to the undocumented, Obama offered an indirect and rambling explanation and only said "yes" after being prodded by the moderator.”

Cooper summarizes Clinton’s effectiveness in responding to attacks from Obama and Edwards:

“During the first fiery ten minutes of the debate, Obama showed a heated passion and determination to challenge the front-runner. But as Clinton steadily shot back at him, Obama seemed to cool and never regained the dramatic edge he might have initially achieved.

“The same can be said for candidate Edwards. He came out bashing Clinton as supporting a political system he called "rigged" and "corrupt" but after her accusation of mud-slinging, the former North Carolinian seemed to recede into the background of the debate.”

After last night’s debate I decided that if push came to shove, I’d vote for any of the other four candidates before I’d vote for Obama or Edwards; I suggest they go home and grow up before running for office again.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Distorting Lincoln’s Record for Political Gain

Shortly after Pervez Musharraf used Abe Lincoln to justify imposing emergency law on Pakistan, I cited in a post dated Nov. 6, a piece by Daily Kos’s Devilstower that traced a similar distortion of President Lincoln’s acts by Bush ’43 and other conservative leaders going back to Richard Nixon.

Just today I received an astute comment to my Nov. 6th post from Geoff Elliott who maintains an informative, well-written blog on Abraham Lincoln.

In his comment, Geoff said: "It never ceases to amaze me how our political "leaders" continue to distort Abraham Lincoln's record. Bush claims that the events of 9/11 made it necessary to violate our civil rights, permit warrantless searches and so on. He and his supporters even claim that the dangers posed by terrorists make this situation as dangerous as was the Civil War.

"Hardly. During the Civil War, a rival government had been established less than 200 miles from Washington. Rebel armies were marching towards Washington.

"Lincoln was trying to preserve the Union. Bush is trying to preserve himself. Big difference."

A warm thank you to Geoff and please note I’ve added his Lincoln blog to my list of links.

Dubya’s Compassionate Conservatism

Speaking of Orwellian phrases, “compassionate conservatism” was touted early on to assist Dubya’s climb to power. Say it again: compassionate conservatism. What does it mean? Who benefits from it? Think I’ll skip Wikipedia this time.

A Boston Globe editorial today spells it out very clearly; in the Bush Administration, compassionate conservatism has meant among other things vetoeing the extension of the state Children's Health Insurance Program (S-Chip) and just this week, vetoeing the spending bill for the departments of labor, education, and health and human services.

The editorial cites a report by the Globe’s Alice Dembner on proposed Medicaid cuts; the Bush administration wants to reduce spending on rehabilitation for people with disabilities, services for schoolchildren with special needs, and hospital outpatient services for all Medicaid recipients.

The editorial also notes that Congress has put a moratorium on a Bush proposal to cut funds for medical education and concludes that “Lawmakers need to do whatever they can to save the other healthcare programs during the remainder of the Bush administration. Only 14 months to go.”

That is to say those among us who are hurting the most can’t survive much more of Dubya’s compassionate conservatism.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Torture Erodes National Security and Democracy

I’ve been waiting for this. In the Nov. 14th edition of the Christian Science Monitor, Alison Brysk, professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, and co-editor of "National Insecurity and Human Rights," provides a comprehensive argument against the Bush Administration’s underhanded use of torture in its intelligence-gathering activities in the war on terror.

Titled Torture Doesn't Work, Brysk’s article begins:

"A morally bankrupt foreign policy. A degeneration of democratic checks and balances. Those are just a few of the disturbing facets of the state of the US government revealed by the debates over the confirmation of Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his views on whether waterboarding constitutes torture.

"But the deepest irony of the Bush administration's ambivalent stance on such medieval tactics – practiced in the name of defending national security – is that torture is not only wrong, it's also a stupid strategy that undermines the defense of democratic societies against terror."

I'll not attempt to paraphrase the remainder of Brysk’s argument here; instead, I’ll just list the subheadings and urge you to to read the entire article:

"Torture is an ineffective counterinsurgency strategy.

Torture escalates conflict.

Torture blocks international cooperation against terror among valuable democratic allies.

Torture drives out legitimate policing.

Torture undermines the rule of law and corrupts democratic institutions."

I believe Brysk's article will be helpful in standing up to the Neocons. Nontheless I continue to feel ashamed that Americans have been dragged into this horrible discussion in the first place - before Dubya, torture was simply not an option for our country.

Echoes of Orwell in 2008 Campaign

I’m done scanning the online media this morning, both the mainstream and the blogosphere. Completing this daily ritual required deciphering several recurring words and phrases in the 2008 campaign coverage. Below are two that I find most offensive:

Triangulation: currently used as a pejorative in attacking an opponent. According to Wikipedia it means “being above and between the left and the right sides of the political spectrum.”

In other words, this made-up word describes the process of seeking common (sometimes higher) ground with the opposition party in order to actually solve a problem – the only way Congress ever accomplishes anything.

Playing the victim: a pseudo-psychological term used in family systems therapy, which was developed in the treatment of alcoholics and other addicts and their families.

The phrase has often been used in politics by the extreme Right to dismiss complaints of victims of discrimination, physical abuse, and hate crimes. Lately, the extreme Left has latched onto it to join the Right in bashing Hillary Clinton.

The above tedious exercise prompted me to re-read George Orwell’s 1946 essay, Politics and the English Language in which Orwell wrote, “It {language} becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts…to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”

Orwell listed a few rules that today’s bloggers, reporters, and pundits should revisit at least once a week, especially during a political campaign:

i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech, which you are used to seeing in print.
(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.
(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Rule (vi) reminds me that just this morning I came across some pretty barbaric statements offered as political commentary by respected blogs and MSM Web sites.

Maybe in a future post, I’ll use Orwell’s tips on language to analyze some of the Bush Administration’s more blatant verbal distortions, e.g., the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind, and “interrogation enhancement.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Miscellaneous Leftovers From the Past

I’m in the middle of re-reading Thomas Moore’s "Care of the Soul" in preparation for an upcoming presentation. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to Verlyn Klinkenborg’s piece a few minutes ago when I was scanning the NY Times. Klinkenborg typically addresses the soul more directly in his writings than he does the mind.

Finding a Draft Card subtly and poetically acknowledges Veterans Day (see YouTube) as Klinkenborg talks about opening a small box of “miscellaneous leftovers” from his past. They include a baseball, a couple of harmonicas, a year’s worth of weekly rail passes between Princeton and New York, and his draft card.

The draft card evokes thoughts about our current military engagements. Klinkenborg writes: “The mere survival of that card among what you might call my effects feels ironic. It poses questions about the war we’re in now, how we choose who will fight, what degree of exposure to the war young men and women feel these days. To me, of course, the draft card wasn’t a kind of neutral bureaucratic testimony, like my first driver’s license, which I knowingly kept. The draft card was a political document. In my own mind, it registered my protest even as it was registering my enrollment in the system I was protesting. It made me by extension — a very distant extension — a part of the war I was protesting too.”

Whether positively or negatively, our mementoes help us keep track of our life stories; they mark milestones in those narratives we tell ourselves, sometimes, but not always, evoked by a date on the calendar.

I don’t have a draft card among a box of miscellaneous keepsakes. But I do have an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force packed away somewhere among my belongings. That honorable discharge became my ticket to a college education later on in life that helped prepare me for a career in journalism.

Pulling out a desk drawer here in my home office, I easily spot a tattered 1980 press card issued by the Minnesota Newspaper Association and signed by Robert M. Shaw, Secretary. Not to be outdone by the military, the MNA reminds us of the role of the press in protecting our nation. Its logo states: “Free Press; Free People.”

Beyond the adversarial to a “politics of solutions”

Note: This post is a column I wrote for my community newspaper in March 2006 in anticipation of the midterm elections. I had recently read Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics, and I was inspired to try to elevate the level of political discourse – at least locally. I’ve been reminded of Wallis’ good counsel lately by the personal attacks on Hillary Clinton during and since the Philadelphia debate. Her opponents have attempted to justify their assault on Clinton because she’s the frontrunner. Is this the American way - if you pull ahead in a contest, your opponents have permission to rip you to shreds?

Human beings ideally progress from the age of innocence through experience and finally to wisdom. We don’t usually proceed neatly from one stage to the next. Typically we revisit the earlier stages from time to time. And hopefully, as we mature, we most often choose the way of wisdom.

Politics is one area where we easily regress to earlier stages, especially in the heat of a campaign.

I’ve been thinking about these things since Minnesotans launched the midterm elections on a cold wet evening earlier this month. After our precinct caucus adjourned, a neighbor and I were looking ahead.

We talked for a few minutes about the challenge of expressing our political opinions without attacking those who disagree with us.

I failed to mention that I grew up in a household where a political discussion could become an all out brawl. Or that I still enjoy an occasional no-holds-barred debate with one or two of my relatives.

Matter of fact, my early childhood training sometimes spills over into the public arena. In those instances, no problems are solved, and my opponents and I become even further alienated. Those reasons alone are good enough to stay within the bounds of civil discourse.

But I’ve also been inspired by Jim Wallis’ book, God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. Wallis is a genius at finding common ground in the most polarized hot-button situations. “Our political leaders must learn the wisdom that the way to reach common ground is to move to higher ground,” he contends. “And we citizens should start by showing the way.”

Wallis encourages Americans to move beyond the adversarial politics of liberal and conservative to a “politics of solutions.”

His analysis of Washington’s approach to problems also applies to state and local government: “Right now Washington responds to a problem or crisis in two ways. First politicians try to make us afraid of the problem, and second, they look for someone to blame for it. Then they watch to see whose political spin succeeded, either in the next poll or the next election. But they seldom get around to actually solving the problem.”

Wallis says the media would rather “pitch a fight between polarized views instead of convening a public discussion to find serious answers.”

Whatever the forum, these guidelines for civil discourse encourage such discussions.

{Maybe we should give each presidential candidate and the moderators a copy of these simple guidelines ahead of each debate}

· Recognize a person’s right to advocate ideas different from your own.
· Discuss policies, politics, issues and ideas, not people.
· Disagree without being disagreeable.
· Use civil and helpful, not hurtful language.
· Respectfully respond to different points of view.
· When unsure of what another means, ask for clarification.

· Realize people may not understand what you have to say. Be patient and explain yourself again if others misinterpret your meaning.

· Recognize that sometimes people can and must agree to disagree.

· If you are not sure what you are about to say is civil, find another way to say it or let it go.

· Reliance on labels for groups of people {illegal immigrants?} is often the first step toward the negative. Whenever possible, avoid them. They rarely add to the quality of any discussion.

Regardless of the issues, the tools of civil discourse can help us reach common ground. Not only will we be more likely to find real solutions to our problems, but as Jim Wallis suggests, we’ll be out in front, showing our leaders the way.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sacrificial Violence in Today’s Wars

Boston Globe columnist James Carroll writes from a depth of understanding and insight unusual among practitioners of his craft. That could be due to his MA from St. Paul’s Seminary and vocational experience that includes serving as a priest and chaplain before leaving the priesthood to become a writer.

We are told in Carroll’s biography that he lectures widely on Jewish-Christian reconciliation, on Catholic reform, and on the question of war and peace. He is a regular participant in on-going Jewish-Christian-Muslim encounters at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

Carroll’s columns are not superficial, throw-away commentary on the issues of the day. Instead he probes the earliest history of the human soul to shed light on such present day phenomena as the sacrificial violence evident in all wars.

In today’s column, The Primitive Impulses of War, Carroll writes:

This form of violence, that is, amounts to a control on violence. "Redemption" is the social calm that follows on the elimination of violent urges when they are "appeased" through ritualized killing. A social need is satisfied.

Sacrificial violence (whether directed at an Aztec virgin, or the goat of Leviticus or Jesus) serves the cause of peace. This process becomes "religious" when the social need is attributed to a deity, to whom the victim is "offered."

Despite the secular assumption that such impulses belong to a primitive past, they are universally at work whenever humans go to war. This comes clear with a closer look at the event commemorated in Europe and America this week - World War I.

Yesterday, was Veterans Day in America, Nov. 11, 2007. Our ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as threatening situations in Iran and Pakistan, summon us to more than the typical moment’s reflection given on a holiday weekend.

Carroll reminds us that primitive impulses continue to influence our nation’s foreign policy:

Sacrifice for its own sake takes on mystical significance that, in a secular age, can no longer be described or defended. But it can be discerned, for example, in the anguished hope that troops will not have died in vain if others follow them. Once these subliminal currents are openly acknowledged, they can finally be left behind. In America lately, God is banished as an open sponsor of the war, but if God does not will this slaughter of innocents, who does?

Good question. Perhaps someone in the Bush Administration will step forward with the answer.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Coup is a Coup is a Coup

I’ve got to get the pot roast on for Sunday dinner and leave for church in a few minutes, but before I head out, I wanted to point you to Frank Rich’s column in today’s NY Times.

Rich explains that Musharraf’s recent coup in Pakistan should come as no surprise to Americans as we’ve been undergoing a coup ever since George W. Bush became president and in fact, Musharraf is simply following Dubya's example:

"More Machiavellian still, Mr. Bush has constantly told the world he’s championing democracy even as he strangles it. Mr. Bush repeated the word “freedom” 27 times in roughly 20 minutes at his 2005 inauguration, and even presided over a “Celebration of Freedom” concert on the Ellipse hosted by Ryan Seacrest. It was an Orwellian exercise in branding, nothing more. The sole point was to give cover to our habitual practice of cozying up to despots (especially those who control the oil spigots) and to our own government’s embrace of warrantless wiretapping and torture, among other policies that invert our values.

"Even if Mr. Bush had the guts to condemn General Musharraf, there is no longer any moral high ground left for him to stand on. Quite the contrary. Rather than set a democratic example, our president has instead served as a model of unconstitutional behavior, eagerly emulated by his Pakistani acolyte."

Yikes! The guy we elected president on a values platform no longer has any moral high ground left to stand on. Let’s think about that as we consider the candidates for 2008, especially those like Rudy Giuliani going through their contortionist’s fits to appeal to Pat Robertson, et al.

Gotta go. Your comments are always appreciated.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Conservatives’ Veneration of Masochism

It’d been awhile since I last gave Margaret Thatcher a thought, although I may have caught a glimpse of her on TV at Reagan’s funeral (See her on YouTube from this site). Recently, her name has been popping up in the US presidential campaign in comparison to Hillary Clinton. In one of Giulani’s bizarre, convoluted attempts to ally himself with a conservative stalwart, he loudly asserted that “Clinton was no Iron Lady.”

Amplifying Giuliani’s sentiments, an article by Peggy Noonan appeared yesterday in the WSJ Opinion Journal titled: Things Are Tough All Over, But Mrs. Clinton is no Iron Lady.

According to Noonan’s detailed, rhapsodic description of Thatcher, we can hope that Clinton will never earn that designation. Here’s a sample of what Noonan considers meritorious about England’s one and only female PM:

In fact, she wasn't so much a woman as a lady. I remember a gentleman who worked with her speaking of her allure, how she'd relax after a late-night meeting and you'd walk by and catch just the faintest whiff of perfume, smoke and scotch. She worked hard and was tough. One always imagined her lightly smacking some incompetent on the head with her purse, for she carried a purse, as a lady would. She is still tough. A Reagan aide told me that after she was incapacitated by a stroke she flew to Reagan's funeral in Washington, went through the ceremony, flew with Mrs. Reagan to California for the burial, and never once on the plane removed her heels. That is tough.

Wow! Now that’s impressive: a woman in her old age so adapted to enduring the torture of high heels for the sake of appearance, that she won’t take them off and treat herself to a few minutes’ relief during a plane trip.

Makes you wonder if conservatives, along with sexists in general, consider masochism an admirable trait for women in leadership positions. That would explain their rabid defense of eight men (with the exception of Richardson) personally attacking Clinton in the October 30th debate and wondering why anyone would question their right to do so.

Aren't women supposed to suffer in silence?

Noonan did jog my memories of Thatcher’s tenure as PM and my impression of her at the time. I recall feeling sad and disappointed that one of the few world leaders of my gender would try so hard to outdo the most mindless, intemperate macho males in the universe: "Here I am ready for war at a moment's notice."

Recall that Newsweek’s headlines in the spring of 1982 declared, “The Empire Strikes Back” when Thatcher sent a naval task force to recapture the Falkland Islands that Argentina had claimed since the 1830s.

Thatcher, one of the longest serving PMs in England’s history, was eventually ousted by an internal party ballot over concerns including her tax policies, high interest rates, divisions within the Conservative Party, and European integration.

Wikipedia states:

Her {Thatcher’s} distaste for consensus politics and willingness to override colleagues' opinions, including that of Cabinet, emboldened the backlash against her when it did occur. Others cited her strong uncompromising personality. The dislike for Thatcher that had previously come primarily from her political opponents was now being expressed by some members of her own party.

The obvious differences between Thatcher and Clinton are even more reason to elect Clinton as president. Clinton’s judgment, ability to get things done, competence, leadership skills, wisdom, knowledge, and experience have all been well demonstrated over the years.

Thatcher may have had little in common with Hillary Clinton, but in reviewing the biography of England’s first woman PM, I was suddenly struck by how many traits she shared with our current president, also noted throughout his tenure for his disdain for consensus politics, his willingness to override colleagues’ opinions, and his uncompromising personality that many have described as his stubborn streak.

And about that Newseek headline, "The Empire Strikes Back," Dubya and cohorts have also emulated Thatcher’s leadership by attempting to build the empirical presidency — the US Constitution be damned.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Far-Reaching Effects of the Quagmire in Iraq

Brent Budowsky’s hard-hitting op-ed in Tuesday’s edition of the Hill begins:

Democrats in 2008 have an issue more powerful than Kennedy’s campaign against Nixon and the missile gap in 1960, and Reagan’s campaign against Carter championing military strength in 1980.President Bush is so obsessed with Iraq that he damages the war in Afghanistan, contributes to destabilizing Pakistan, fails to kill Osama bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda, and does grave harm to our military and troops.

There’s no let up from Budowsky:

The quagmire in Iraq and grave damage to our mission in Afghanistan continues. The escape of Osama bin Laden and resurgence of al Qaeda continues. The ability of Iran to exploit the Bush blunders in Iraq continues. The damage to our military, the ugly divisions in our nation, and the global loathing of our president are escalating.

There’s more:

Of course, the real war to kill bin Laden and destroy al Qaeda is failing because the obsession with Iraq has stolen manpower, money and unity that is necessary to win this war, and this is the one television ad Democrats should run throughout America.

Budowsky’s piece seems intended to light a fire under the Democrats, but in fact, it should ignite the entire country in preparation for the coming presidential election. This is one op-ed that deserves to be read in its entirety.

What Bush’s Successor Must Face

Founding Father George
Famously could not tell lies
George Bush: not so much
...haiku by Arianna Huffington
As I’ve followed the presidential campaign over the past several months, I’ve consciously measured each candidate by envisioning how she or he would be able to clean up the mess George W. Bush will inevitably leave behind. But I’ve not as yet sat down and listed separately the nightmarish components of Bush’s likely legacy.

Not to worry. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson has accomplished that task in his column today. Here’s Robinson’s take on the situation Bush’s successor will inherit:

Throughout much of the world, the United States is seen as an arrogant bully whose rhetoric about freedom and the rule of law is disgracefully empty. The lawyers and students who are being tear-gassed in the streets of Pakistan's cities will long remember that, when push came to shove, Bush chose to stick with a cooperative dictator, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, rather than live up to his words about the universal value of democracy.

The next president will be left with more than 100,000 U.S. troops bogged down in Iraq, with an unfinished war in Afghanistan -- and, between those two crises, a strengthened and emboldened Iran that hopes to dominate the world's most dangerous region. Nice work.

Bush's successor will, incredibly, assume control of a United States government that interrogates suspected terrorists with "enhanced" techniques known throughout the world by a much simpler term: torture. The new commander in chief will almost surely take custody of hundreds of people detained without formal charges and on questionable evidence, and held for years in secret CIA prisons or at Guantanamo. The next president will take over a government that claims the right to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens without meaningful judicial oversight.

Whoever takes office in January 2009 will be left with a more polarized economy -- an America where the rich have been made richer during the past six years with generous tax cuts, while more than 40 million people struggle without
health insurance. The new president will be left with a government that not only failed miserably in its response to the most extensive natural disaster the nation has ever faced but that also reneged on Bush's pledge to rebuild a better New
-- and to make it possible for all those who lived in the city to return.

The next occupant of the White House will find the nation's coffers depleted by Bush's wars -- the price tag doubtless will have reached $1 trillion by Inauguration Day -- and by
whatever it eventually costs to keep the housing market afloat.

Robinson concludes: “He or she will inherit, in short, a dismal mess. It will take most of the new president's first term to begin to set things right.”

Every item on Robinson’s list makes me shudder, but it’s the “enhanced” interrogation, our compassionate conservative’s euphemism for torture, that strikes me as the very dregs of Bush’s legacy. How low has America sunk under this evil man’s leadership?

In casting our vote for the next president we’d best ask ourselves which candidate has the integrity, wisdom, courage, experience, knowledge, leadership skills, and strength to restore America and lead us forward. As I've said before, never mind the “likeability” factor. That’s what gave us Bush in the first place.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Follow-up on Turkey

Thanks to Sara from Groveland who left a comment in response to David Brunet’s recent post: Turkey: An Endangered Bridge Between East and West.

Sara mentioned Rick Steves’ travel blog, which lists on its homepage three posts on Turkey in reverse order: Thorny Turkish Issue #3: If You Mix Turkey into Europe, Will It Curdle? Thorny Turkish Issue #2: Turks and Kurds; Thorny Turkish Issue #1: Armenia

In reply, Brunet, a former Fulbright scholar in Turkey, said he has always liked Steves’ travel notes. And he appreciated that in the above essays Steves identifies Turkey as a constitutionally secular government.

Commenting further, Brunet says “Steves talks about the Kurds being scattered throughout Turkey and notes that most of them are not PKK and don't favor a separatist state.” Brunet recalls, “When we lived in Izmir one of my favorite shopkeepers was Kurdish. I would stop and talk with him almost daily, and when I left Izmir to come home to the US, I went to his shop to say goodbye. I considered him a friend, and it had nothing to do with whether or not he was Kurdish.”

I checked out Steves' essays on Turkey, and I agree with Sara from Groveland and Brunet that they provide background information helpful in understanding the issues the Turks are now facing.

A Torturous Discussion

In my last post yesterday, I commented on recent rituals of the religious right loudly proclaiming their preferred presidential candidates: Sen. Brownback endorsed John McCain, and Pat Robertson proudly announced his support of Rudy Giuliani (watch Robertson and Giuliani on YouTube from this site).

After reflecting in my post on the apparent fragmentation of evangelical Christians, the GOP’s key block of voters, I raised a question popular among this group, “What would Jesus do?” and left it there.

My thoughts later drifted back to childhood Sunday school lessons when we were taught that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world; he wasn’t interested in political power. But as I recall, Jesus had a lot to say about loving our neighbor, including the foreigner in our midst, famously illustrated in the story about the good Samaritan. In that light it’s a little jarring to read the Fox News summary of Roberts’ reasons for supporting Giuliani:

Robertson on Wednesday said Giuliani is the best candidate to handle the War on Terror. He said Giuliani understands the need for a conservative judiciary, and that he is a "true fiscal conservative" who is tough on crime.
"The overriding issue before the American people, is the defense of our population against the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists," Robertson told the National Press Club audience. "Our world faces deadly peril...and we need a leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead."

Robertson said Giuliani is "a proven leader who is not afraid of what lies ahead and who will cast a hopeful vision for all Americans ... It is my hope and prayer that he will lead the Republican Party to victory in November of 2008."
In today’s Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks reminds us that Giuliani’s “hopeful vision for all Americans” includes his boast to use torture whenever it suits America’s needs:

Giuliani's main selling point with GOP stalwarts is his toughness on terrorism, symbolized by his "gloves-off" approach to interrogations. In the campaign's first GOP presidential debate, Giuliani told a cheering crowd that if the U.S. captured a suspect believed to be planning a terrorist attack, "I would tell the people who had to do the interrogation to use every method they can think of." Pressed on whether that would include waterboarding, Giuliani repeated, "Every method they could think of, and I would support them in doing that." More recently, Giuliani claimed that whether or not waterboarding is torture "depends on who does it."

I make no claims to being a traditionally defined Christian, but as a peace-loving, theistic Unitarian-Universalist, I respect the social justice teachings of Jesus, and I’m appalled that a segment of our society, led by the likes of Pat Robertson, continues to distort his teachings and exploit gullible followers to promote cruelty and inhumane treatment of other human beings in our own country and throughout the world.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Giuliani and McCain Each Grab a Splinter of the Religious Right

Two headlines today report seemingly contradictory developments in the Bush era’s love affair between the GOP and the religious right.

First we learn in Laurie Goodstein’s article in the NY Times that Senator Charles E. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating six prominent evangelistic ministries to determine whether they have illegally used donations to finance opulent lifestyles.

Grassley is questioning these preachers about their compensation, housing allowances, checking and savings accounts, cars, airplanes and overseas trips.

Goodstein quoted Sen. Grassley from a telephone interview: “Jesus comes into the city on a simple mule, and you got people today expanding his gospel in corporate jets. Somebody ought to raise questions about is it right or wrong.”

While Grassley is reminding six high-living preachers of the humble lifestyle of Jesus, Republican presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani, despite a few liberal social views, and John McCain are celebrating endorsements today by a couple of other prominent leaders of the evangelical Christian movement.

CNN reports that Pat Robertson, the television evangelist and Christian Coalition founder — not seen recently astraddle a mule — endorsed Republican White House hopeful Rudy Giuliani for president when the two men appeared together at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday.

In more breaking news from CNN, former White House hopeful Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who is the leading voice for Christian conservatives in the Senate, will endorse Sen. John McCain for president, McCain's campaign announced Wednesday.

The headlines cited above in the NY Times and CNN appear to support rumors of the splintering of the religious right. If so, Giuliani and McCain have each latched onto a remaining well-funded splinter, hoping it will contribute to the success of their respective campaigns.

Dare I ask, "What would Jesus do?"

Turkey: An Endangered Bridge Between East and West

Note to Readers: The following post was written by David Brunet, a good friend and a former Fulbright Scholar in Turkey.

I lived in Turkey in 1992-93 as a Fulbright scholar, teaching at Ege University in Izmir. I’m pretty good at learning languages, so I made it a goal to learn as much Turkish as possible before and during my stay there. I was glad I tried to learn the language and although I never got to be as fluent as I had hoped, I was able to have simple conversations with grocery store clerks, shopkeepers, policemen, and others, and they were so pleased that an American wanted to have a conversation in their language.

I found the Turks to be warm and friendly, and even though they mirrored the U.S. in having a strong military, they were intensely interested in sustaining peace and strengthening cultures across the world. They valued diversity, the arts, and dialogue with other cultures.

My experience in Turkey was very positive. Despite our religious differences, I found that we shared basic values, and that in fact we worshipped the same God.

Overlooking the similarities between Islam and Christianity, President Bush labels the terrorists Islamic extremists. He forgets our Christian culture has also spawned terror: the gangs in our cities qualify as terrorists, and our use of force abroad to solve every dispute is viewed in other countries as terrorism.

James Carroll’s essay on Turkey in yesterday’s Boston Globe is right on target. The Turks have always seen us as their best allies. Long a part of European culture, they have also seen themselves as a bridge between the West and the Middle East. But as Carroll said, Bush is now creating chaos in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood.

Are the Turks our enemies? No! In my experience, Turkey responds with enthusiasm and gratitude when the U.S. and Europe show that we value their culture and their people. But Bush’s wars demonstrate to the world that we don’t value other people’s cultures. His response to a terrorist strike in the U.S. has destroyed the culture of Afghanistan and Iraq, and now he threatens to do the same in Iran.

Keep in mind that Iran has an ancient role as the cultural center of the Middle East. If we destroy that culture, we’ll alienate even more of the world’s population.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Lincoln’s Impersonators: Musharraf, Bush, Nixon, et al

In light of Pervez Musharraf’s reference to Abe Lincoln to justify imposing emergency law on Pakistan Saturday, Daily Kos’s Devilstower traces a similar distortion of Lincoln’s acts as president by Bush ’43 and other conservative leaders going back to Richard Nixon.

History books will tell you that Abraham Lincoln was a champion wrestler in his youth. But for the last forty years, it's been Lincoln who has taken the fall. Again and again, Republicans have seized the first man to become president under their banner and dragged him to the ground, determined that he should be thoroughly coated in their own muddy morals.

Examples of the above include:

They've pressed the idea of a Lincoln who shredded the Constitution at will. Did Bush ignore habeas corpus? No matter, look at Lincoln. He suspended those rights entirely. Did Bush institute military tribunals? Why... so did Abe!
Did Bush, Cheney, Nixon, and Reagan adopt extraordinary levels of executive privilege and secrecy? Toss 'em a stovepipe hat, they're only following the model set by our greatest president. Bush wiretapped phone lines without judicial oversight. Well Lincoln did to, and he did it before phones had even been invented. You can even hear the words of this Lincoln absolution expressed in the testimony of Michael Mukasey, when he says that the president's role as commander in chief can exempt him from the bonds of petty law.

Devilstower concludes that Lincoln “-- unlike Musharraf, unlike Bush, unlike Nixon -- never mistook expansion of his own power for preservation of the union.”

Monday, November 5, 2007

Now That We've Armed Pakistan

Dan Froomkin’s White House Watch zeroes in today on the tendency of the Bush anti-terror policies to backfire. Froomkin writes:

The ultimate anti-terror backfire, of course, is the war in Iraq, which U.S. intelligence shows has helped al Qaeda much more than it's hurt it.But now, with Musharraf declaring emergency rule over the weekend, the country that Bush considers a bulwark against terror may gain infamy as a crucible for terror

Froomkin cites Karen DeYoung’s piece in today’s Washington Post:

"The Bush administration seemed to still be reeling from Musharraf's announcement Saturday and waiting for the rapidly shifting events to settle before making any move beyond expressing strong disapproval.

"U.S. aid to Pakistan over the past six years has totaled nearly $11 billion, most of it in military hardware and budget support. Immediately after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush lifted aid sanctions imposed on Pakistan and India after both countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998.
Additional sanctions set against Pakistan after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999 were also waived."

In light of all the above, this item in Froomkin’s post seems an appropriate way to conclude:

CBS News reports that "a statewide poll conducted by CBS affiliate WCAX in Burlington, Vt. posed the question to 400 likely voters. Sixty-one percent said they would be in favor of Congress beginning impeachment proceedings against
President Bush. Thirty-three percent opposed it, and 6% were not sure.

"The numbers for Vice President Cheney differed only slightly: Sixty-four percent favored impeachment, while 31% opposed it."

A Public Wiser than the Punditry

A week after the Philadelphia debate (watch debate on YouTube from this site) and the media’s hysterical attempts to justify the unrelenting assault endured by Hillary Clinton have somewhat abated.

In the meantime, I’ve cringed at such uninformed remarks by supposedly respected commentators as “Feminist means anti-male.” Since when? Just to set the record straight, the feminist movement has always been about fair and equitable treatment for women, including such mundane issues as equal pay for equal work.

Next on my list have been the pseudo-psychologists throwing around the phrase, “playing victim.” That’s long been a favorite response of conservatives to anyone who dares to complain about blatant discrimination, obvious abusive treatment, or even hate crimes. I fear that Clinton’s critics on both the extreme left and right are now finding the phrase useful.

Incidentally, a friend of mine noted yesterday that of the candidates pressing Clinton about her position on the immigration issue during the debate, not one had the courage to reveal where he stood.

All is not lost, however. Recent polls show the public is a lot wiser than the overeager pundits who predicted that Clinton’s responses during and after the debate jeopardized her frontrunner status.

Data from the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll shows that on the two nights following the debate (Wednesday and Thursday) Clinton held a 45% to 18% lead over Barack Obama. For Clinton, that’s an improvement from Monday and Tuesday nights when her lead over Obama had been 40% to 24%.

And according to staff writers John Cohen and Dan Balz, the latest Washington Post-ABC poll shows Clinton leads the race for the Democratic nomination with 49 percent, followed by Obama at 26 percent. Edwards has 12 percent.”

Cohen and Balz indicate that Clinton's national front-runner status is built on her advantages on several key attributes, all of which may yield dividends in the state-by-state contests. They explain:

Three-quarters of Democrats view Clinton favorably, which is somewhat higher than the results for Obama (67 percent) or Edwards (62 percent). More than twice as many have a "strongly" positive impression of Clinton as have that view of
Edwards. And most of those who would back Clinton in their state's primary or caucus, "strongly" support her.

A majority of Democrats see Clinton as the strongest leader of the three top candidates, and she has the edge over Obama and Edwards as being best on the issues and the closest representative of the party's core values. Notably, given
the increasingly sharp debate among the candidates over foreign policy, Clinton is seen as the best able to handle the situations in Iraq and involving Iran, by margins of better than 2 to 1.

Despite their personal attacks in Philadelphia on Clinton’s character, the poll shows she leads Obama by five points and Edwards by 16 points as the Democratic party’s most honest and trustworthy candidate.

Finally, Cohen and Balz report:

A large and growing lead on "electability" also propels Clinton's candidacy. More than six in 10 Democrats now see her as the candidate who has the best shot at winning next November -- up 19 points from June.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Scrabble, Anyone?

Most of us spend a lot of time messing around with our electronic gadgetry these days and since I started blogging, I’ve spent far too many hours at my computer. You might even say I've become a little geeky.

And that reminds me: a favorite form of recreation is getting together with my son Steve and his wife Nancy for a game of Scrabble, a board game that’s been around for decades.

Their dog Kaia is usually somewhat indifferent to the outcome.
Have a great weekend!


Our Sick Society

Speaking of the political party of shriveled hearts, Susan Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, has some strong words in today’s Washington Post for President Bush and his followers who continue to deny healthcare coverage to our nation’s children.

A blogger for On Faith, Thistlethwaite’s post is titled Only a Sick Society Plays Politics with Children's Health, and she concludes:

We have the money to pay for health care insurance for every child in America and instead we are choosing to spend it on making war and still more war. That is truly sick, morally sick, perhaps even fatally sick because when you can see the suffering of so many children without access to adequate medical care and do nothing, you are lost.

It appears the moral sickness will continue indefinitely as the Senate just set up another likely veto from President Bush by again passing health insurance legislation to cover an additional four million lower-income children. Sad to say, the vote fell three short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Bush’s veto.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Memo from Rumsfeld: “Link Iraq to Iran”

My friend David dropped by Katalusis yesterday and left a comment in response to my Oct. 23 post, “Wrapping the Earth in an Explosive Vest.”

The suicide bomber’s explosive vest was the ominous metaphor developed by James Carroll in his reflections on the recent Bush-Cheney mutterings about Iran and the possibility of World War III. Carroll concluded:

Iraqi civil war, conflict with Iran, Turkish-Kurdish violence, chaos throughout the Middle East - and now President Bush tells us that, if we don't defuse the regional body vest carefully, World War III will start. There it is. Bush himself acknowledging at last what, under his leadership, the United States has done. We have put an explosive vest on Earth itself.

David responded:

Because I have lived abroad in several countries, and because I speak several languages (French, German, Turkish), I have been able to have conversations with people around the world not in English but in their own languages. And they have told me in their own ways that they view the US as a "terrorist nation." We get our way by creating fear, by using force, and by sacrificing our young people. And they have noticed that the nations we don't bully are the ones that have nuclear weapons. Is it any surprise that Iran wants to have nuclear weapons? If Bush is willing to attack Iran with nuclear weapons, then he is the incarnation of Satan himself, and the whole world will suffer or
even come to an end through him. I love this world, and I love my country. Already he has caused havoc that may change our world forever. A hex on you, Bush.--David Brunet.

However, the fact that many people around the world view the US as a terrorist nation isn’t due to Bush-Cheney alone; those two had considerable help from Donald Rumsfeld. Check out Robin Wright’s article in today’s Washington Post that jarringly reminds us of the former secretary of defense’s legacy, effectively captured in Wright’s opening paragraph:

In a series of internal musings and memos to his staff, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld argued that Muslims avoid "physical labor" and wrote of the need to "keep elevating the threat," "link Iraq to Iran" and develop "bumper sticker statements" to rally public support for an increasingly unpopular war.

What I can’t figure out is why more people aren't as concerned as my friend David about our country’s reputation in the world and the latest saber rattling in Washington.