Thursday, August 31, 2006

It's Good to Be a Californian, Politically

I'm back. My double-duty at is done (I was temp blogging's diabetes site for the past few months), and I can return to fulltime focus on writing on my sites, and at US Liberals at

I'm a native Californian, and a lifelong resident.

Like all Californians, I occasionally threaten to move to someplace (pick all that apply) quieter, cleaner, less crowded, with lower housing costs.

But honestly... I'm continually proud of our state's unique, forward-thinking political environment. It's hard to imagine a place where I would politically fit in more contentedly.

What brings this to mind anew are a handdful of headlines from today's Los Angeles Times:

State on Verge of Greenhouse Gas Restrictions
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders agreed Wednesday on a plan to cut by 25% the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from California electric power plants, refineries and other sources by the year 2020... It would make California the first state in the nation to fight global warming by slapping caps on carbon dioxide and other emissions.

Sweeping Changes in Elder Care Pass
Responding to wrenching reports of elder abuse and neglect, the state Legislature on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the most far-reaching changes to California's conservatorship system in nearly three decades.Lawmakers endorsed a package of reforms that would require licensing of professional conservators, who care for the state's most vulnerable adults. It would also require greater supervision of their work by probate courts.

A Vote to Quit the Electoral College
Lawmakers sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill Wednesday that would make California the first state to jump aboard a national movement to elect the president by popular vote.Under the legislation, California would grant its electoral votes to the nominee who gets the most votes nationwide — not the most votes in California. Get enough other states to do the same, backers of the bill say, and soon presidential candidates will have to campaign across the nation, not just in a few key "battleground" states such as Ohio and Michigan that can sway the Electoral College vote.

It's good to be home!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Celebrating the 4th of July: Beautiful America

Katharine Lee Bates wrote the original version of America the Beautiful in 1893. She wrote the 2nd version in 1904. Below is her final version, written in 1913.

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self the country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America ! America !
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,for man's avail
Men lavished precious life !
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

(Also read US Liberals at

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

GOP and Immigration Reform: Shame and Xenophobic Sham

An eloquent editorial from today's Los Angeles Times....

The GOP's immigration shame

How can you tell when a governing party is running out of steam? When it controls all branches of government yet abandons even the pretense of addressing an issue most members claim is a "crisis."

That's what the GOP-led House did Tuesday in announcing that discussions over reconciling its enforcement-centric immigration bill with the Senate's legalization-focused version will be pushed back to September at the earliest, and only after completing more hearings. Instead of naming negotiators and attempting in good faith to bridge the chasm between the bills, House leaders are busy naming locations for "field meetings" that can deliver maximum demagogic effect in the run-up to the November election.

These meetings are nonsense. Congress held more than a dozen hearings on immigration last year before passing HR 4437. That punitive bill filled the streets with millions of protesters angry that it did little to address the nation's need for a legal supply of labor or the estimated 11 million-plus illegal residents of this country, besides turning them into felons.

The Senate version, a flawed piece of work in its own right after too many compromises, at least offered a system (however torturous) by which millions of underground workers could finally come into the open without fear of immediate incarceration or deportation.

Most of the last-minute amendments to the Senate bill brought the legislation closer to the version passed by the House. But Republicans there prefer clinging to the dangerous fantasy that a massive, militarized wall must be approved before discussions can even begin over what to do with the millions of indispensable, but vilified, workers already here.

House GOP leaders can barely conceal their preference for divisive politics over sound policy. Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois has reportedly conveyed to President Bush that hard-line enforcement politics is polling particularly well this season. One Republican congressional aide told the Associated Press: "The discussion is how to put the Democrats in a box without attacking the president." This is what passes for Republican leadership nowadays.

Summer and fall will be gut-check time not just for Bush, who has tried in his vague though periodically eloquent way to make immigration reform his signature domestic accomplishment this year, or for pro-reform GOP senators such as John McCain of Arizona, but for the American people. When the vulnerable party in power chooses to adopt a campaign strategy that demonizes a class of people, how it fares will say much about who we are.

Twelve years ago, Republicans were swept into Congress on a platform bursting with energy and ideas, with many measures enacted within the GOP's first 100 days in power. If inaction and xenophobia are all the party has left, this could be its last 100 days.

(Also read US Liberals at

Thursday, June 01, 2006

And the Losing Word Is....Weltschmerz

Finola Mei Hwa Hackett of Canada, the second place finisher in the 2006 National Spelling Bee, lost when she stumbled last night on this word:

"Weltschmerz is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul and denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that the physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. This kind of pessimistic world view was widespread among several romantic authors such as Lord Byronn, Giacomo Leopardi, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Musset, Nikolaus Lenau and Heinrich Heine.

It is also used to denote the feeling of sadness when thinking about the evils of the world.

The modern meaning of Weltschmerz in the German language is the psychological pain caused by sadness, that can occur when realizing that someone's own weaknesses are caused by the inappropiateness and cruelness of the world and (physical and social) circumstances. "

Take heart, Finola. Lately, we all feel a bit of loss via weltschmerz.....

Friday, May 19, 2006

Decline of Religion Leads to Simon Cowell?

Here's a tiny portion of fascinating blog post with all sorts of new insights, from Stumbling and Mumbling....

"I’ve said before that religion has utilitarian value. On further consideration, I think this might be even truer than I previously thought. Here’s a theory which, if even only partially correct, represents an argument for Christianity so strong as to swamp everything else.

It’s: The decline of religion is responsible (in part) for the existence of Simon Cowell.

When we stopped going to church, we lost something valuable – the ability to sing. Going to church every week from an early age gave us regular singing practice. It also gave us a collective body of music which was transmitted from generation to generation, which allowed parents to teach children singing and musicianship. And religion was a major reason why countless families, in the UK and US, had pianos, fiddles and guitars and family sing-songs.....

The result of this that music is no longer something we do, but something we consume. Music has become commodified. What’s more, because singing is a skill we’ve lost, we are disproportionately impressed by those who have retained it. So we turn people who would once have been averagely good choir singers into pop stars – a process greatly aided by recording technology.

So, the decline of religion has given us Simon Cowell....

So, every time you moan about the plastic inauthentic second-rate pop peddled by the likes of Simon Cowell, just remember the role the decline of religion has played in its emergence. "

Read the entire post here at Stumbling and Mumbling.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

US Ranks Poorly in Infant Mortality

This story, from AP via MSNBC is heartbreaking and deeply disheartening. But we need to know and face the truth.

U.S. gets poor grades for newborns' survival :Nation ranks near bottom among modern nations, better only than Latvia

"America may be the world’s superpower, but its survival rate for newborn babies ranks near the bottom among modern nations, better only than Latvia.

Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies, according to a new report. Latvia’s rate is 6 per 1,000.

“We are the wealthiest country in the world, but there are still pockets of our population who are not getting the health care they need,” said Mary Beth Powers, a reproductive health adviser for the U.S.-based Save the Children, which compiled the rankings based on health data from countries and agencies worldwide.

The U.S. ranking is driven partly by racial and income health care disparities. Among U.S. blacks, there are 9 deaths per 1,000 live births, closer to rates in developing nations than to those in the industrialized world.

“Every time I see these kinds of statistics, I’m always amazed to see where the United States is because we are a country that prides itself on having such advanced medical care and developing new technology ... and new approaches to treating illness. But at the same time not everybody has access to those new technologies,” said Dr. Mark Schuster, a Rand Co. researcher and pediatrician with the University of California, Los Angeles.

Less healthy than Britain The Save the Children report, released Monday, comes just a week after publication of another report humbling to the American health care system. That study showed that white, middle-aged Americans are far less healthy than their peers in England, despite U.S. health care spending that is double that in England.....

I strongly encourage you to
Read the rest HERE.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Elvis Presley in Search of Jesus

"...The book he took to the bathroom just before he died was either The Force of Jesus by Frank Adams or The Scientific Search for the Face of Jesus, depending on various accounts...

Elvis never made a public profession of faith in Christ, was never baptized, and never joined a church.

Pastor Hamill, former pastor of First Assembly of God in Memphis, says that Presley visited him in the late 1950s, when he was at the height of his rock & roll powers, and testified: "Pastor, I'm the most miserable young man you've ever seen. I've got all the money I'll ever need to spend. I've got millions of fans. I've got friends. But I'm doing what you taught me not to do, and I'm not doing the things you taught me to do" (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven, p. 20)."

--- from
The Religious Affiliation of Rock and Roll Pioneer Elvis Presley, which is part of Famous Members of the Assemblies of God

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Once Again I Wonder...Why Did she Marry Him?

Once again I wonder....why did she marry him?

From AP, via

Laura Bush has a knack for making it known when she doesn't agree with her husband. But on the subject of belting out "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, it's not clear whether the first lady is in President Bush's camp or not.

A Spanish-language version of the national anthem, called "Nuestro Himno," which means "Our Anthem," debuted last week. It features artists such as Wyclef Jean, Carlos Ponce and Olga Tanon and has stirred controversy because it rewrites some of the English version.

President Bush fed the debate with a terse "No, I don't" when asked last week whether the anthem holds the same value when sung in Spanish.

"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English," he said. "And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

Asked her opinion on Wednesday in an interview with CNN's John King, Mrs. Bush said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with singing it in Spanish."

She noted that "we are a nation of many, many languages" and that the country has already heard many versions of the anthem "like at the Super Bowl."

"What people want is it to be sung in a way that respects the United States and our culture," she said.

But when it was pointed out that this position differed from her husband's, Mrs. Bush had a different answer. "Well, I think it should be sung in English, of course," she said.

She compared it to hymnals including translations into other languages. "I love it when I look at the bottom of `Amazing Grace' and there are the words in the Methodist hymnal in Swahili," Mrs. Bush said.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Lunch Period Poli Sci by David Brooks

OK...I recently said less politics, more faith here at Heart, Soul & Humor.

But today's David Brooks op-ed in the New York Times is too clever to pass up.....
Lunch Period Poli Sci by David Brooks

College is still probably a good idea, but everything you need to know about America you can learn in high school. For example, if you want to understand American class structure you'd be misled if you read Marx, but you'd understand it perfectly if you look around a high school cafeteria.

The jocks sit here; the nerds sit there; the techies, drama types, skaters, kickers and gangstas sit there, there and there. What you see is not class in the 19th-century sense, but a wide array of lifestyle cliques, some richer, some poorer, but each regarding the others as vaguely pathetic and convinced of its moral superiority.

Similarly, when it comes to politics, high school explains most everything you need to know. In 1976, Tom Wolfe wrote an essay for Commentary in which he noted that our political affiliations are shaped subrationally. He went on to observe that especially when we are young and forming our identities, we make sense of our lives by running little morality plays in our heads in which the main characters are Myself, the hero, and My Adolescent Opposite, the enemy.

"Forever after," Wolfe writes, "the most momentous national and international events are stuffed into the same turf. The most colossal antagonists and movements become merely stand-ins for My Adolescent Self and My Adolescent Opposite.

If My Opposite, my natural enemy in adolescence, was the sort of person who seemed overly aggressive, brutish and in love with power, I identify him with the 'conservative' position. If My Opposite, my natural enemy in adolescence, seemed overly sensitive, soft, cerebral and incapable of action, I identify him with the 'liberal' position."

And so it goes. In every high school there are students who are culturally and intellectually superior but socially aggrieved. These high school culturati have wit and sophisticated musical tastes but find that all prestige goes to jocks, cheerleaders and preps who possess the emotional depth of a cocker spaniel. The nerds continue to believe that the self-reflective life is the only life worth living (despite all evidence to the contrary) while the cool, good-looking, vapid people look down upon them with easy disdain on those rare occasions they are compelled to acknowledge their existence.

These sarcastic cultural types may grow up to be rich movie producers, but they will remember their adolescent opposites and become liberals. They may grow up to be rich lawyers but will decorate their homes with interesting fabrics from the oppressed Peruvian peasantry to differentiate themselves from their jock opposites.

In adulthood, the former high school nerds will savor the sort of scandals that befall their formerly athletic and currently corporate adolescent enemies — the Duke lacrosse scandal, the Enron scandal, the various problems that have plagued the frat boy Bush. In the lifelong struggle for moral superiority, problems that bedevil your adolescent opposites send pleasure-inducing dopamine surging through your brain.

Similarly, in every high school there are jocks, cheerleaders and regular kids who vaguely sense that their natural enemies are the brooding poets who go off to become English majors. These prom kings and queens may leave their adolescent godhood and go off to work as underpaid sales reps despite their coldly gracious spouses and effortlessly slender kids, but they will still remember their adolescent opposites and become conservatives. They will experience surges of orgiastic triumphalism when Sean Hannity eviscerates the scuffed-shoed intellectuals who have as much personal courage as a French chipmunk in retreat.

Because these personal traits are so pervasive and constant, Republican administrations tend to be staffed by people who are well-balanced but dull, while Democratic administrations tend to be staffed by people who are interesting but neurotic. Because these rivalries are so permanent, nobody has ever voted for a presidential candidate they wouldn't have had lunch with in high school.

The only real shift between school and adult politics is that the jocks realize they need conservative intellectuals, who are geeks who have decided their fellow intellectuals should never be allowed to run anything and have learned to speak slowly so the jocks will understand them.

Meanwhile, the geeks have learned they need to find popular kids like F.D.R. to head their tickets because the American people will never send a former geek to the White House. (Bill Clinton was unique in that he was a member of every clique at once.)

The central message, though, is that we never escape our high school selves. Vote for Pedro.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

U2 Rocker Bono on the Old and New Testaments

"There's nothing hippie about my picture of Christ. The Gospels paint a picture of a very demanding, sometimes divisive love, but love it is.

I accept the Old Testament as more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects, seas dividing, mass murder, adultery. The children of God are running amok, wayward. Maybe that's why they're so relatable. But the way we would see it, those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend. When you're a child, you need clear directions and some strict rules.

But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal.

The combination is what makes the Cross. "

--- U2 rocker Bono in an interview in March 2004

Walt Disney on Prayer

" Deeds rather than words express my concept of the part religion should play in everyday life. I have watched constantly that in our movie work the highest moral and spiritual standards are upheld, whether it deals with fable or with stories of living action.

This religious concern for the form and content of our films goes back 40 years to the rugged financial period in Kansas City when I was struggling to establish a film company and produce animated fairy tales. Many times during those difficult years, even as we turned out Alice in Cartoonland and later in Hollywood the first Mickey Mouse, we were under pressure to sell out or debase the subject matter or go "commercial" in one way or another. But we stuck it out -- my brother Roy and other loyal associates -- until the success of Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies finally put us in the black.

....whatever success I have had in bringing clean, informative entertainment to people of all ages, I attribute in great part to my Congregational upbringing and my lifelong habit of prayer. To me, today, at age sixty-one, all prayer, by the humble or highly placed, has one thing in common: supplication for strength and inspiration to carry on the best human impulses which should bind us together for a better world. Without such inspiration, we would rapidly deteriorate and finally perish. "

---- Walt Disney in a 1963 anthology, Faith Is a Star

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A New Direction for Heart, Soul & Humor: More Faith, Less Politics

My apologies for the extended absence. I've been pondering a new direction to take this blog....and God laid the answer on my heart today: more faith matters, less politics. And you can now make comments, too! So here starts a new chapter.....

“My God is a God who wants me to have things. He wants me to bling. He wants me to be the hottest thing on the block. I don’t know what kind of God the rest of y’all are serving, but the God I serve says, ‘Mary, you need to be the hottest thing this year, and I’m gonna make sure you’re doing that’.”

--- Mega-popular singer Mary J. Blige, posted on
April 18, 2006 to the MSNBC site

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What Do Republicans Believe?

New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks often gets it quite wrong.....but today, he got it exactly right.

A Vision, Bruised and Dented by David Brooks

The big question in Democratic circles is, Who can win? The big question in Republican circles is, What do we believe? The setbacks in Iraq, the failure to limit the size of government and plummeting poll numbers have changed the way Republicans talk and govern.

If you wanted to put these changes in a nutshell, you'd say the Republicans have gone from soaring Bushian universalism to nervous, dumbed-down Huntingtonism.

Just over a year ago, Republicans were thrilling to the lofty sentiments of President Bush's second inaugural: that freedom is God's gift to humanity, that people everywhere hunger for liberty. To explain his efforts to democratize the Middle East, Bush hit all the high notes of the American creed, while not dwelling much on the intricacies and stubbornness of foreign cultures.

Today, many Republicans have lost patience with Bush's high-minded creedal statements. Like the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, they have come to believe that culture matters most. Lofty notions about universal liberty splinter on the shoals of Arab customs.

Heartfelt convictions about reducing the size of government disintegrate inside the culture of Washington. Many Republicans have lost faith in efforts to transform patterns of behavior, and come to believe that we shouldn't exaggerate how much we can change.

In the realm of foreign affairs, we have seen the rise of what Richard Lowry of National Review calls the " 'To Hell With Them' Hawks." These, Lowry writes, "are conservatives who are comfortable using force abroad, but have little patience for a deep entanglement with the Muslim world, which they consider unredeemable, or at least not worth the strenuous effort of trying to redeem." They look at car bombs and cartoon riots and wonder whether Islam is really a religion of peace. They look at the mayhem in the Middle East and just want to withdraw. After all, in his book "The Clash of Civilizations," Huntington didn't want to change the Muslim world — he just called for less contact with it.

In the field of immigration, Republican sentiment seems to be shifting away from the idea that the United States is a universal nation, where immigrants come from across the world to work, rise and join in the pursuit of happiness. Now Republican rhetoric emphasizes how alien immigrant culture is; how slowly the Mexicans assimilate, if at all; how much disorder and strain their presence creates.

There is a chance that in the next few weeks, the G.O.P. will walk off a cliff on the subject of immigration. In the desperate effort to win back their base, Republican senators may follow Bill Frist and embrace a draconian enforcement-only immigration bill (which will lose them Florida and the Southwest for a generation).

Finally, there is the issue of domestic poverty. Hurricane Katrina rekindled a brief resurgence of compassionate conservatism, at least for President Bush. But Republicans in Congress were having none of it. They appropriated the money they had to, but they had no confidence that the federal government could do anything effective to transform the culture of poverty: the out-of-wedlock births, the family breakdowns and so on.

In short, Republicans seem to have gone from believing that culture is nothing, to believing that culture is everything — from idealism to fatalism in the blink of an eye.

Recently, I've spilled a lot of ink stressing the importance of culture as we think about poverty, development and foreign affairs. But it's dismaying to see so many Republicans veer overboard into a vulgarized version of Huntingtonist cultural determinism.

European conservatives from Edmund Burke to Michael Oakeshott usefully remind us of the power of culture and tradition. But American conservatives — from Hamilton to Reagan — have never taken that path precisely because they believe in the power of the American creed, precisely because they have an Enlightenment faith in the power of reason to change minds.
Whether in Iraq or the barrio, history is not a prison. Culture shapes people, but cultures are changeable.

Fortunately, there is a great Republican leader who understood the balance between culture and creed: Abraham Lincoln. In this spring of Republican discontent, his approach and governing method will make a good subject for a future column.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Fighting for Fairness in an Immigrant Nation

An extraordinary op-ed in today's New York Times by Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los angeles, the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the US with 5 million Catholics in 283 parishes.

You can also read about Cardinal Mahony's remarkable fight against HR 4437 at Catholic Cardinal Mahony Rebukes Bush on Immigration, Pledges to Defy Proposed New Law.


Called by God to Help by Roger Mahony

I've received a lot of criticism for stating last month that I would instruct the priests of my archdiocese to disobey a proposed law that would subject them, as well as other church and humanitarian workers, to criminal penalties. The proposed Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives in December and is expected to be taken up by the Senate next week, would among other things subject to five years in prison anyone who "assists" an undocumented immigrant "to remain in the United States."

Some supporters of the bill have even accused the church of encouraging illegal immigration and meddling in politics. But I stand by my statement. Part of the mission of the Roman Catholic Church is to help people in need. It is our Gospel mandate, in which Christ instructs us to clothe the naked, feed the poor and welcome the stranger. Indeed, the Catholic Church, through Catholic Charities agencies around the country, is one of the largest nonprofit providers of social services in the nation, serving both citizens and immigrants.

Providing humanitarian assistance to those in need should not be made a crime, as the House bill decrees. As written, the proposed law is so broad that it would criminalize even minor acts of mercy like offering a meal or administering first aid.

Current law does not require social service agencies to obtain evidence of legal status before rendering aid, nor should it. Denying aid to a fellow human being violates a law with a higher authority than Congress — the law of God.

That does not mean that the Catholic Church encourages or supports illegal immigration. Every day in our parishes, social service programs, hospitals and schools, we witness the baleful consequences of illegal immigration. Families are separated, workers are exploited and migrants are left by smugglers to die in the desert. Illegal immigration serves neither the migrant nor the common good.

What the church supports is an overhaul of the immigration system so that legal status and legal channels for migration replace illegal status and illegal immigration. Creating legal structures for migration protects not only those who migrate but also our nation, by giving the government the ability to better identify who is in the country as well as to control who enters it.

Only comprehensive reform of the immigration system, embodied in the principles of another proposal in Congress, the Secure America and Orderly Immigration bill, will help solve our current immigration crisis.

Enforcement-only proposals like the Border Protection act take the country in the opposite direction. Increasing penalties, building more detention centers and erecting walls along our border with Mexico, as the act provides, will not solve the problem.

The legislation will not deter migrants who are desperate to survive and support their families from seeking jobs in the United States. It will only drive them further into the shadows, encourage the creation of more elaborate smuggling networks and cause hardship and suffering.

I hope that the Senate will not take the same enforcement-only road as the House.
The unspoken truth of the immigration debate is that at the same time our nation benefits economically from the presence of undocumented workers, we turn a blind eye when they are exploited by employers. They work in industries that are vital to our economy yet they have little legal protection and no opportunity to contribute fully to our nation.

While we gladly accept their taxes and sweat, we do not acknowledge or uphold their basic labor rights. At the same time, we scapegoat them for our social ills and label them as security threats and criminals to justify the passage of anti-immigrant bills.

This situation affects the dignity of millions of our fellow human beings and makes immigration, ultimately, a moral and ethical issue. That is why the church is compelled to take a stand against harmful legislation and to work toward positive change.

It is my hope that our elected officials will understand this and enact immigration reform that respects our common humanity and reflects the values — fairness, compassion and opportunity — upon which our nation, a nation of immigrants, was built.

(US Liberals at

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Myth of Republican Rebellion Against bush

The myth of Republican rebellion again President Bush is perfectly described by the New York Times in today's lead editorial.....

About That Rebellion ...

We keep hearing that the Republicans in Congress are in revolt against the president.

Some rebellion.

Yes, the Republicans defied President Bush on the United Arab Emirates ports deal. But it wasn't over a major principle, like the collapse of Congressional supervision of the executive branch or the incredibly lax security in the nation's ports, or even the security issues posed by this particular deal.

The Republicans dumped the ports deal into the harbor because of xenophobia and electoral tactics. Republican pollsters have been saying the president could be a liability in the fall elections, so lawmakers posed as rebels for voters who, they think, want rebels. They know those voters are unhappy about globalization, and specifically hostile toward Arabs.

The idea that a happy few are charging the White House ramparts is ridiculous. Republican lawmakers don't just turn a blind eye when they learn that the president is making profoundly bad choices, like cutting constitutional corners, abrogating treaties and even breaking the law.

They actually legalize the president's misdeeds.

Take domestic spying, held up as another area of Republican revolt. The program violates the law. Congress knows it. The public knows it. Even President Bush knows it. (He just says the law doesn't apply to him.) In response, the Capitol Hill rebels are boldly refusing to investigate the program — or any other warrantless spying that is going on. They are trying to rewrite the law to legalize warrantless spying. And meanwhile, they've created new subcommittees to help the president go on defying the law.

Over the last couple of years, Republican lawmakers have been given proof that American soldiers and intelligence agents abused, tortured and even killed prisoners, or sent them to other countries to be tortured. Without hesitation, the Republicans did nothing — no serious investigation, no accountability.

Congressional and White House negotiators then watered down the new anti-torture law, which Mr. Bush said did not really apply to him anyway. And they passed another law actually encouraging the abuse of prisoners by allowing the use of coerced evidence at hearings on the prisoners' status.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush created a network of prisons outside the American legal system so he could hold people indefinitely without any hearings. When the Supreme Court said twice that he was reaching beyond his powers, the Republicans in Congress were determined not to let this assault on the rule of law continue. So they rose as one, and legalized the president's actions.

In case there was any confusion about its resolve, Congress told the courts that they could no longer rule on these matters. Mr. Bush got the message, loud and clear. He sent his lawyers right out to inform the judges, including the Supreme Court, that they had to drop all the cases that were already before them.

And all this does not even include the act of open rebellion by which the Senate is helping the White House cover up the hyping of intelligence on Iraq.

With rebels like these, who needs loyalists?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Mad Hatter Thinking: The President Courts Nuclear Catastrophe

Bob Herbert's New York Times op-ed today.....

Nuclear Madness By Bob Herbert

The key to understanding the Bush administration and its policies is contained in the widely cited New York Times Magazine article, "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," by Ron Suskind.

That's the article in which Mr. Suskind described how a senior Bush adviser contemptuously dismissed the community that most of us live in, "the reality-based community."

The times have changed and reality isn't what it used to be. As the adviser explained, "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

This mad-hatter thinking was on display again last week. President Bush, who used specious claims about a nuclear threat to launch his disastrous war in Iraq, agreed to a deal — in blatant violation of international accords and several decades of bipartisan U.S. policy — that would enable India to double or triple its annual production of nuclear weapons.

The president turned his back on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (dismissed, like reality-based thinking, as passé) and moved the world a step closer to an accelerated nuclear arms race in Asia and elsewhere. In the president's empire-based, otherworldly way of thinking, this was a good thing.

For decades, U.S. law and the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty have precluded the sale of nuclear fuel and reactor components to India, which has acquired an atomic arsenal and has refused to sign the treaty. President Bush turned that policy upside down last week, agreeing to share nuclear energy technology with India, even as it continues to develop nuclear weapons in a program that is shielded from international inspectors.

The attempt to stop the spread of nuclear weapons beyond the five original members of the so-called nuclear club — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — has not been perfect by any means. But it hasn't been bad. Back in the 1960's there was a fear that before long there might be dozens of additional states with nuclear weapons. But so far the spread has been held to four — Israel, India, Pakistan and most likely North Korea.

A cornerstone of the nonproliferation strategy has been the refusal to share nuclear energy technology with nations unwilling to abide by the provisions of the nonproliferation treaty. Last week George W. Bush decided he would change all that by carving out an exception for India.

Presidents from both parties — from Richard Nixon through Bill Clinton — had refused to make this deal, which India has wanted for more than three decades.

"It's a terrible deal, a disaster," said Joseph Cirincione, the director for nonproliferation at the Carnegie Endowment. "The Indians are free to make as much nuclear material as they want. Meanwhile, we're going to sell them fuel for their civilian reactors. That frees up their resources for the military side, and that stinks."

With President Bush undermining the nonproliferation treaty, critics are worried that it's only a matter of time before other bilateral deals are made — say, China with Pakistan, which has already asked Mr. Bush for a deal similar to India's and been turned down.

"We can't break the rules for India and then expect other countries to play by them," said Representative Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who is one of the leading opponents of the deal, which will require Congressional approval.

In the early 1960's, President John F. Kennedy, a member in good standing of the reality-based community, tried to convey the menace posed to mankind by nuclear weapons. "Today," he said, "every inhabitant of this planet must contemplate the day when this planet may no longer be habitable. Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us."

Today, in 2006, as Congressman Markey reminds us, terrorists as well as rogue governments are racing to get their hands on nukes.

"We've had a consensus for a generation," he said, "that the world will cooperate to restrict the spread of these nuclear materials. If this consensus breaks down, then we increase exponentially the likelihood that the catastrophic event that Kennedy warned about will, in fact, occur."

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Republicans Again Try to Rescind State & Local Rights

And once again, the new Republicanism reaches out to rescind states' rights and to meddle where it's neither wanted nor needed.....Is there any end to the extent in which conservatives desire to meddle in every aspect of our lives, and to destroy state and local authority?

And is there any end to which Republican leadership will not sacrifice human safety for corporate profits? It appears not.
A New York Times editorial today.....

The Abusive New Federalism

After a murky legislative process distinguished by a lack of any public hearing, the House is ready to rush to approve a special-interest measure for the food industry today. The bill would pre-empt all state food safety regulations that are more protective than federal standards. A bipartisan majority behind this clearly dangerous bill is echoing the industry's line that the goal is simply to end consumers' confusion about varying state regulations that govern warning labels and protective inspections.

If consumers believe that, then we have some bottled water to sell them that no longer warns of arsenic levels, and a salmon fillet that drops the distinction between fish originating in the wild and fish from a farm. Such information and a much larger array of warnings could be expunged under the bill.

Professional associations of state health, farm and consumer officials — denied a hearing before Congress and taxpayers — warn consumers that countless protections on the state and local levels would be gutted in favor of a lowest-common-denominator dictated by food and retail interests.

The broad proposal threatens existing food safety programs affecting things like restaurant sanitation and sales of milk and numerous other vital products. The bill would invent a burdensome process by which states would have to petition federal officials to restore the safety regulations they now have.

The driving force behind the bill seems to be the challenge to industry forces posed by California, which is leading the way in demanding consumer warnings about mercury levels in fish, lead in calcium supplements and other hazards. Other states have followed suit.

Proponents of the bill in the food industry and Congress claim that their goal is being misunderstood. If so, they should pull the bill back and prove their case at open hearings that treat the public interest as something more than a nonentity.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Maureen Dowd: Another Stupid National Security Decision

New York Time's columnist and Pulitzer-Prize winner Maureen Dowd's insightful column today about the Bush Administration's nonsensical deal to cede control of major US ports to United Arab Emirates....

G.O.P. to W.: You're Nuts! by Maureen Dowd

It's enough to make you nostalgic for those gnarly union stevedores in "On the Waterfront," the ones who hung up rats on hooks and took away Marlon Brando's chance to be a contend-ah.
Maybe it's corporate racial profiling, but I don't want foreign companies, particularly ones with links to 9/11, running American ports.

What kind of empire are we if we have to outsource our coastline to a group of sheiks who don't recognize Israel, in a country where money was laundered for the 9/11 attacks? And that let A. Q. Kahn, the Pakistani nuclear scientist, smuggle nuclear components through its port to Libya, North Korea and Iran?

It's mind-boggling that President Bush ever agreed to let an alliance of seven emirs be in charge of six of our ports. Although, as usual, Incurious George didn't even know about it until after the fact. (Neither did Rummy, even though he heads one of the agencies that green-lighted the deal.)
Same old pattern: a stupid and counterproductive national security decision is made in secret, blowing off checks and balances, and the president's out of the loop.

Was W. too busy not calling Dick Cheney to find out why he shot a guy to not be involved in a critical decision about U.S. security? What is he waiting for — a presidential daily brief warning, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack U.S. Ports?"

Our ports are already nearly naked in terms of security. Only about 5 percent of the containers coming into the country are checked. And when the White House assures us that the Homeland Security Department will oversee security at the ports, is that supposed to make us sleep better? Not after the chuckleheaded Chertoff-and-Brownie show on Capitol Hill.

"Our borders are wide open," said Jan Gadiel of 9/11 Families for a Secure America. "We don't know who's in our country right now, not a clue. And now they're giving away our ports." The "trust us" routine of W. and Dick Cheney is threadbare.

The more W. warned that he would veto legislation stopping this deal, the more lawmakers held press conferences to oppose it — even conservatives who had loyally supported W. on Iraq, the Patriot Act, torture and warrantless snooping.

Mr. Bush is hoist on his own petard. For four years, the White House has accused anyone in Congress or the press who defended civil liberties or questioned anything about the Iraq war of being soft on terrorism. Now, as Congress and the press turn that accusation back on the White House, Mr. Bush acts mystified by the orgy of xenophobia.

Lawmakers, many up for re-election, have learned well from Karl Rove. Playing the terror card works.

A bristly Bush said yesterday that scotching the deal would send "a terrible signal" to a worthy ally. He equated the "Great British" with the U.A.E. Well, maybe Britain in the 12th century.
Besides, the American people can be forgiven if they're confused about what it means in the Arab world to be a U.S. ally.

Is it a nation that helps us sometimes but also addicts us to oil and then jacks up the price, refuses to recognize Israel, denies women basic rights, tolerates radical anti-American clerics, looks the other way when its citizens burn down embassies and consulates over cartoons, and often turns a blind eye when it comes to hunting down terrorists in its midst?

In our past wars, America had specific countries to demonize. But now in the "global war on terror" — GWOT, as they call it — the enemy is a faceless commodity that the administration uses whenever it wants to win a political battle. When something like this happens, it's no wonder the public does its own face transplant.

One of the real problems here is that this administration has run up such huge trade and tax-cut-and-spend budget deficits that we're in hock to the Arabs and the Chinese to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. If they just converted their bonds into cash, they would own our ports and not have to merely rent them.

Just because the wealthy foreigners who own our debt can blackmail us with their economic leverage, does that mean we should expose our security assets to them as well?

As part of the lunatic White House defense, Dan Bartlett argued that "people are trying to drive wedges and make this to be a political issue." But as the New Republic editor Peter Beinart pointed out in a recent column, W. has made the war on terror "one vast wedge issue" to divide the country.

Now, however, the president has pulled us together. We all pretty much agree: mitts off our ports.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The "Trust Me" President Who Can't Be Trusted

The New York Times lead editorial today. All I can add is ..... Amen!
The Trust Gap

We can't think of a president who has gone to the American people more often than George W. Bush has to ask them to forget about things like democracy, judicial process and the balance of powers — and just trust him. We also can't think of a president who has deserved that trust less.

This has been a central flaw of Mr. Bush's presidency for a long time. But last week produced a flood of evidence that vividly drove home the point.

DOMESTIC SPYING After 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on the conversations and e-mail of Americans and others in the United States without obtaining a warrant or allowing Congress or the courts to review the operation. Lawmakers from both parties have raised considerable doubt about the legality of this program, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made it clear last Monday at a Senate hearing that Mr. Bush hasn't the slightest intention of changing it.

According to Mr. Gonzales, the administration can be relied upon to police itself and hold the line between national security and civil liberties on its own. Set aside the rather huge problem that our democracy doesn't work that way. It's not clear that this administration knows where the line is, much less that it is capable of defending it.

Mr. Gonzales's own dedication to the truth is in considerable doubt. In sworn testimony at his confirmation hearing last year, he dismissed as "hypothetical" a question about whether he believed the president had the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance. In fact, Mr. Gonzales knew Mr. Bush was doing just that, and had signed off on it as White House counsel.

THE PRISON CAMPS It has been nearly two years since the Abu Ghraib scandal illuminated the violence, illegal detentions and other abuses at United States military prison camps. There have been Congressional hearings, court rulings imposing normal judicial procedures on the camps, and a law requiring prisoners to be treated humanely. Yet nothing has changed. Mr. Bush also made it clear that he intends to follow the new law on the treatment of prisoners when his internal moral compass tells him it is the right thing to do.

On Thursday, Tim Golden of The Times reported that United States military authorities had taken to tying up and force-feeding the prisoners who had gone on hunger strikes by the dozens at Guantánamo Bay to protest being held without any semblance of justice. The article said administration officials were concerned that if a prisoner died, it could renew international criticism of Gitmo. They should be concerned. This is not some minor embarrassment. It is a lingering outrage that has undermined American credibility around the world.

According to numerous news reports, the majority of the Gitmo detainees are neither members of Al Qaeda nor fighters captured on the battlefield in Afghanistan. The National Journal reported last week that many were handed over to the American forces for bounties by Pakistani and Afghan warlords. Others were just swept up. The military has charged only 10 prisoners with terrorism. Hearings for the rest were not held for three years and then were mostly sham proceedings.

And yet the administration continues to claim that it can be trusted to run these prisons fairly, to decide in secret and on the president's whim who is to be jailed without charges, and to insist that Gitmo is filled with dangerous terrorists.

THE WAR IN IRAQ One of Mr. Bush's biggest "trust me" moments was when he told Americans that the United States had to invade Iraq because it possessed dangerous weapons and posed an immediate threat to America. The White House has blocked a Congressional investigation into whether it exaggerated the intelligence on Iraq, and continues to insist that the decision to invade was based on the consensus of American intelligence agencies.

But the next edition of the journal Foreign Affairs includes an article by the man in charge of intelligence on Iraq until last year, Paul Pillar, who said the administration cherry-picked intelligence to support a decision to invade that had already been made. He said Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney made it clear what results they wanted and heeded only the analysts who produced them. Incredibly, Mr. Pillar said, the president never asked for an assessment on the consequences of invading Iraq until a year after the invasion. He said the intelligence community did that analysis on its own and forecast a deeply divided society ripe for civil war.

When the administration did finally ask for an intelligence assessment, Mr. Pillar led the effort, which concluded in August 2004 that Iraq was on the brink of disaster. Officials then leaked his authorship to the columnist Robert Novak and to The Washington Times. The idea was that Mr. Pillar was not to be trusted because he dissented from the party line. Somehow, this sounds like a story we have heard before.

Like many other administrations before it, this one sometimes dissembles clumsily to avoid embarrassment. (We now know, for example, that the White House did not tell the truth about when it learned the levees in New Orleans had failed.)

Spin-as-usual is one thing. Striking at the civil liberties, due process and balance of powers that are the heart of American democracy is another.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fool's Bet Revealed by Tim Russert: John Boehner as Crusader Against Corruption

I couldn't believe my ears, and neither could Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert, but here it is.....a portion of the transcript from today's Meet the Press on NBC.

In it, Russert is interviewing the new leader of the House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner, newly elected by House Republicans, in large part to clean-up Congressional corruption. Or at least to pretend to.


"MR. RUSSERT: Let’s turn to the whole issue of lobbyists, corruption, travel, congressional travel. Speaker Hastert, your boss, had a proposal on the table, which you dismissed as childish.

REP. BOEHNER: That’s not true, Tim. That’s not true. What I said were there were a lot of childish proposals out there. We’ve gotten proposals from the Democrat leadership, the House leadership, every group known to man, and that’s what I was referring to.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, here’s exactly what the article said: “‘House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s proposal to end all privately funded trips would be counterproductive,’ Boehner said. ‘Members could be required to seek pre-approval from the House Ethics Committee of any trip,’ he said. But he added ‘Members need to understand what’s happening in the world. They need to understand what’s happening with industry. That won’t happen if they’re locked up in a cubbyhole here in the Capitol.’” And you went on to say, “We shouldn’t be treated like children.”

REP. BOEHNER: That comment was made several weeks ago, all right? Denny Hastert and I are very close friends, we’ve worked together closely over the last 15 years, and we’re going to continue to work closely together. He’s the boss. And he and David Dreier have worked on a package of ethics and lobby reforms.

We’re—Mr. Dreier is now working with Democrats, trying to come together with a package. And we need to allow the members to engage in this process, to come up with a package that’s real. Not something that looks good and sounds good, but something that will, in fact, bring greater transparency to the relationship between members of Congress and those who lobby us.

MR. RUSSERT: But the speaker did want to eliminate privately funded travel for congressmen, and you...

REP. BOEHNER: I’ve got, I’ve got my doubts about that, but that doesn’t mean that he and I don’t feel strongly that we’ve got to have a lobby reform bill passed the Congress here in the next several months.

MR. RUSSERT: When you say you have your doubts, many point to your own behavior. From 535 members of Congress, John Boehner ranked number 10 according to PoliticalMoneyLine, which did analysis of this. Over the last five years they say John Boehner received trips which would equal $157,000, privately funded.

And they point out where you went, which is—and here’s, here’s a list,. Congressmen Boehner: White Sulpher Springs, West Virginia, where the Green Briar Resort is, eight times; Boca Raton, Florida, six times; Scottsdale, Arizona, four times; Monterey/Pebble Beach, California twice; Edinburgh, Scotland, home of St. Andrew’s Golf Course, twice. Foreign travel: Rome, Venice, Brussels, Paris, Barcelona. To the American people looking at that, they’re saying those aren’t exactly the global hot spots in terms of conflict. But they are places that you’d want to go and relax or play golf.

REP. BOEHNER: People want—people invite me to give speeches. And, and as you know Tim, you know, I’ve got 11 brothers and sisters, my dad owned a bar. What you see is what you get. And I’ve got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town, with my colleagues, with the press, and with my constituents. And, and as a result, you know, people invite me to go give speeches, and I go give them. And you also learn a lot about these industries. It’s easy to point out where I’ve gone around the world, but when you start to look at the people that I’ve worked with—you know, going to, to Scotland with the Transatlantic Policy Network.

Now, understanding the relationship between members of the European Union and members of Congress, and trying to build closer ties, this is something that’s very beneficial for members of Congress. And I believe that—that—that privately funded travel ought to be pre-cleared. There ought to be a good public purpose in members going on a trip, and if there isn’t, then they shouldn’t go.

MR. RUSSERT: Many voters will say, Congressman, rather than going to a plush resort, why don’t you just meet these guys in your office?

REP. BOEHNER: These industry meetings occur in nice places. And—and that’s where the—that’s where the events are, that’s where the speeches are. And if you get invited, you got to decide whether you can go or not go, or whether it’s worthwhile.

MR. RUSSERT: You said this, according to The Washington Post: “‘Yes, I’m cozy with lobbyists,’ Boehner told lowmakers—lawmakers concerned about his K Street lobbyist connections, ‘but I have never done anything unethical.’” Is that the standard?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, everything I’ve ever done in my entire political career has been to the benefit of my constituents and the American people. They’re the ones who dictate what I do every day. I know who I am, and I know why I’m here, not because I wanted to be a Congressman, but because I wanted to do things on behalf of my constituents and the American people. And I—there’s nothing in my entire political career, no decision I’ve ever made, where they weren’t the winners.

MR. RUSSERT: So you would be against eliminating private funding of trips for Congressmen.

REP. BOEHNER: I think having pre-approval of these trips would be a more forthright way to go.

MR. RUSSERT: By whom? A board of public integrity, or your fellow Congressmen?

REP. BOEHNER: No, I think the Ethics Committee process really, in fact, is back up, it’s working. They know what the rules are, they interpret the rules. And frankly I don’t think I’ve ever gone on a trip when I didn’t ask the Ethics Committee for their advice before I went.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, why not an independent board?

REP. BOEHNER: Congress is charged, the members are charged, House and Senate, with setting up their own rules and enforcing their rules. If you bring more transparency to this relationship between those who lobby us and members, more transparency with what members are doing on trips, I think let the public decide.

MR. RUSSERT: One of the other areas that—people who are watching this would like to reform, the amount of money lobbyists spend at conventions. And they point to the vast number of parties, money spent at both political party conventions. According to your hometown paper, “One of the most famous parties at the Republican Convention simply known as the ‘Boehner party,’ thrown every night until the wee hours. It’s in John Boehner’s honor, and is organized by lobbyists.” Would you eliminate those?

REP. BOEHNER: I would—if I—it were up to me I’d, frankly, think—rethink the whole convention process. You know, back in the old...

MR. RUSSERT: Eliminate lobbyist money.

REP. BOEHNER: Well, now, I don’t even know why we have these conventions any more. You know, back in the old days, it was—it was—they were real conventions, they made real decisions. Now they’re made-for-TV events and a large number of parties. I go to bed every night at 10:00. These conventions that require me to be up much later than that are very difficult.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you eliminate lobby-sponsoring parties honoring congressmen every night at these political conventions?

REP. BOEHNER: That’d be fine with me. Then I could go to bed on time.

MR. RUSSERT: There was a big episode in your life back in 1995 when there was—Bob Herbert in The New York Times wrote a column about something you did. I want to find out what you learned from it. Here’s how Herbert wrote it. “One day last summer, 1995 Representative John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, decided to play Santa Claus.

He took it upon himself to begin handing out money from tobacco lobbyists to certain of his colleagues in the House floor. He was not deterred by the fact that the House was in session, and that he was supposed to be attending to the nation’s business. He was not constrained by any sense that passing money around the floor of the House of Representatives was a sacrilege.”

REP. BOEHNER: It was a big mistake, and I regret it. I shouldn’t have done it. It was an old practice that had gone on in the House for a long time, and I do regret it. But I also worked with Speaker Gingrich at the time to change the rules of the House to prohibit the practice. And now if you look, when we pass the new rules in the next Congress, handing out a PAC check on or near the House floor is prohibited.

MR. RUSSERT: You gave $5,000 from your PAC—leadership PAC to Tom DeLay’s defense fund.


MR. RUSSERT: You think Tom DeLay’s innocent?

REP. BOEHNER: I do think he’s innocent.

MR. RUSSERT: If he is acquitted and chooses to come back to Washington and wants to become majority leader again, would you step aside?

REP. BOEHNER: I’m sure we’ll talk about it. Tom and I have a different approach.

MR. RUSSERT: You would talk about it?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, Tom and I have—have different approaches. But I think what’s going on in Texas with Tom DeLay is unfortunate, unfair and highly partisan. And that’s why I gave him that money out of my PAC, to help him pay for his tremendous legal costs.

MR. RUSSERT: But if he’s acquitted and decided to come back to Washington and reclaim the majority leader position, you would consider...

REP. BOEHNER: Under—he stepped down as majority leader. He vacated his seat. We had an election, and I won. But I like Tom DeLay. He’s been a great leader for our party. He’s a friend of mine, and we’re going to continue to work closely together.

MR. RUSSERT: But would you step aside for him?

REP. BOEHNER: I said we would talk about it.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to talk about Jack Abramoff, because his name, lobbyist, “The Shadow,” hangs over Congress. According again to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “John Boehner’s Freedom Project PAC got $27,500 from the Chippewa tribe, Choctaw Indians and other tribes in California, Louisiana” that Jack Abramoff represented.

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, also Republican, had received some $18,000 from clients of Jack Abramoff. He gave the money back because he was concerned about the perception. Will you give the money back?

REP. BOEHNER: No. Those tribes gave money to my political action committee. It had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff. I didn’t know Jack Abramoff. I may have met him once. I had no relationship to him, and the money that I raised from those tribes had nothing to do with him. I worked with those Indian tribes and others on education issues, on labor issues, and he had nothing to do with it, so why would I—why would I give the money back?

MR. RUSSERT: But had you ever received a nickel from those tribes before they were represented by Jack Abramoff?

REP. BOEHNER: I have no idea.

MR. RUSSERT: The answer’s no.

REP. BOEHNER: I—well, no. Other people represented those tribes as well. Understand, Jack Abramoff, knowing that I...

MR. RUSSERT: But they didn’t give you—they didn’t give you money until they were represented by Abramoff.

REP. BOEHNER: No. I became chairman of the Educational Workforce Committee in 2001, where I began to work closely with them on their issues. I had nothing—Jack Abramoff didn’t like me. I didn’t do earmarks, the things that he exploited for his own political and financial gain.

MR. RUSSERT: According to his records, however, there were 17 contacts between his lobbying team and your staff and—and a meeting with you also.

REP. BOEHNER: Some of his under—underlings worked with some low-level employees in my office. I’m telling you, I never met the man. The money didn’t come through him. And, frankly, I think four out of the five tribes have written us a letter at our request saying that the money they gave had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff.

MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned Newt Gingrich, the former speaker. This is what Newt Gingrich has said. He “cautioned Republicans that they risk losing control of Congress majorities—congressional majorities if they try to put all the blame on lobbyists. ‘You can’t have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have corrupt member of Congress or a corrupt staff. This was a team effort,’ Gingrich said. ‘If Republicans intend to retain a majority, then they need to take the lead in saying to the country we need to clean this mess up. But any effort to push this under the rug, to say this is just one bad apple: That’s baloney.’”

REP. BOEHNER: That’s correct. What we need to do, and I agree with Newt’s approach here. Because it all starts with the member and the staff. And what we need to do is to make sure our members understand what the rules are, understand what’s ethical behavior. Because if we don’t begin the process ourselves, we’ll never restore the trust between the American people and their Congress.

MR. RUSSERT: So you don’t want to eliminate private funded trips. You do not want to have an independent office of public integrity. What do you want other than immediate disclosure?

REP. BOEHNER: Tim, all of the violations that we’ve read about and the corruption we’ve read about, were people who violated the laws of the United States of America and/or the rules of the House. All of—all of this. And so, as we begin to look at how do we best clean this up and how do we begin the process of restoring trust, I think sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

In the Middle East, Oil & Democracy Do Not Mix

An extraordinarily perceptive New York Times op-ed today by columnist Thomas Friedman, author of mega-bestseller The World Is Flat....

Addicted to Oil by THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

So far the democracy wave the Bush team has helped to unleash in the Arab-Muslim world since 9/11 has brought to power hard-line Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq, Palestine and Iran, and paved the way for a record showing by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. If we keep this up, in a few years Muslim clerics will be in power from Morocco to the border of India. God bless America.

But is this all America's doing? Not really. It's actually the product of 50 years of petrolism — or petroleum-based politics — in the Arab-Muslim world. The Bush team's fault was believing that it could change that — that it could break the Middle East's addiction to authoritarianism without also breaking America's addiction to oil. That's the illusion here. In the Arab world, oil and authoritarianism are inextricably linked.

How so? Let's start with Iron Rule No. 1 of Arab-Muslim political life today: You cannot go from Saddam to Jefferson without going through Khomeini — without going through a phase of mosque-led politics.

Why? Because once you sweep away the dictator or king at the top of any Middle East state, you go into free fall until you hit the mosque — as the U.S. discovered in Iraq. There is nothing between the ruling palace and the mosque. The secular autocratic regimes, like those in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Iraq, never allowed anything to grow under their feet. They never allowed the emergence of any truly independent judiciary, media, progressive secular parties or civil society groups — from women's organizations to trade associations.

The mosque became an alternative power center because it was the only place the government's iron fist could not fully penetrate. As such, it became a place where people were able to associate freely, incubate local leaders and generate a shared opposition ideology.

That is why the minute any of these Arab countries hold free and fair elections, the Islamists burst ahead. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood won 20 percent of the seats; Hamas went from nowhere to a governing majority. In both societies the ruling secular parties — the N.D.P. in the case of Egypt and Fatah in the case of Palestine — were spurned as corrupt appendages of the authoritarian state, which they were.

Why are there not more independent, secular, progressive opposition parties running in these places? Because the Arab leaders won't allow them to sprout. They prefer that the only choice their people have is between the state parties and religious extremists, so as to always make the authoritarian state look indispensable. When Ayman Nour, a liberal independent in Egypt, ran against President Hosni Mubarak, he was thrown in prison as soon as the election was over. Thanks for playing "Democracy" — now go to jail.

It is not this way everywhere. In East Asia, when the military regimes in countries like Taiwan and South Korea broke up, these countries quickly moved toward civilian democracies. Why? Because they had vibrant free markets, with independent economic centers of power, and no oil.
Whoever ruled had to nurture a society that would empower its men and women to get educated and start companies to compete globally, because that was the only way they could thrive.

In the Arab-Muslim world, however, the mullah dictators in Iran and the secular dictators elsewhere have been able to sustain themselves in power much longer, without ever empowering their people, without ever allowing progressive parties to emerge, because they had oil or its equivalent — massive foreign aid.

Hence Iron Rule No. 2: Removing authoritarian leaders in the Arab-Muslim world, either by revolution, invasion or election, is necessary for the emergence of stable democracies there — but it is not sufficient. The only way the new leaders will allow for real political parties, institutions, free press, competitive free markets and proper education — a civil society — is if we also bring down the price of oil and make internal reform the only way for these societies to sustain themselves. People change when they have to, not when we tell them to.

If you just remove the dictators, and don't also bring down the price of oil, you end up with Iran — with mullah dictators replacing military dictators and using the same oil wealth to keep their people quiet and themselves in power. Only when oil is back down to $20 a barrel will the transition from Saddam to Jefferson not get stuck in "Khomeini Land."

In the Middle East, oil and democracy do not mix. It's not an accident that the Arab world's first and only true democracy — Lebanon — never had a drop of oil.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Death Penalty: Barbaric Throwback to the Middle Ages

I hold strong views on capital punishment: it's wrong. God is clear about that in the Ten Commandments.

God created is His and only His to take away. That is a pro-life position. Any Christian who claims to be pro-life, then supports cold-blooded murder of a person by the state is deluding themselves. At best, they are pro-unborn life but not pro for existing life.

Be sure to read my article, Pros & Cons of the Death Penalty and Capital Punishment. You'll likely be astonished (and hopefully mortified) at the countries with whom the US shares, and does not share, its barbaric pro-death penalty habits.
A New York Times op-ed today....

Dead to the World by FELIX G. ROHATYN

During my four years as the American ambassador to France, I discovered that no single issue was viewed with as much hostility as our support for the death penalty. Outlawed by every member of the European Union, the death penalty was, and is, viewed in Europe as a throwback to the Middle Ages. When we require European support on security issues — Iran's nuclear program; the war in Iraq; North Korea's bomb; relations with China and Russia; the Middle East peace process — our job is made more difficult by the intensity of popular opposition in Europe to our policy.

Several years ago, Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke to the senior staff of our embassy in Paris on this issue to help them explain our position to a very hostile French audience. I was agreeably surprised when he indicated his belief that sooner or later, we would have to take into account the views of Europeans in determining what constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment."

Last March, the Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, abolished capital punishment for juvenile offenders, concluding that the death penalty for minors is indeed cruel and unusual punishment. "Our determination," Justice Kennedy wrote in the majority decision, "finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty."

While, unsurprisingly, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, it is notable that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor agreed with Justice Kennedy that international trends affect the meaning of "cruel and unusual punishment." Justices Scalia and Thomas, on the other hand, took the majority to task for taking "guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislators."

This attitude, reflecting a narrow and parochial view of the issue, is also found in Judge Samuel Alito's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to the Supreme Court: "I don't think it appropriate or useful to look to foreign law in interpreting the provisions of our Constitution. I think the framers would be stunned by the idea that the Bill of Rights is to be interpreted by taking a poll of countries of the world."

To the contrary, globalization has made it not only "appropriate or useful" but vital to look at foreign laws. It is in our interest to be aware of their impact whether they concern antitrust, food safety or the death penalty. Contempt for the laws of our allies is a major factor in our increasing isolation in the world; our present posture in Iraq reflects that reality. That is why is it is deeply troubling that the next member of the Supreme Court will most likely share Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas's point of view.

The Supreme Court is our most respected institution. Whether it is conservative or liberal is important; but it is even more important that it be enlightened. It must show understanding, if not respect, for other peoples' beliefs and laws, and occasionally be willing to support reasonable changes. Our Constitution, itself, was an extension of Enlightenment ideas that were incubated on the Continent. It certainly did not spring up in a vacuum, but was affected by strains of political thinking in Europe.

"That our understanding of the Constitution does change from time to time has been settled since John Marshall breathed life into its text," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote last year, concurring with Justice Kennedy. Taking the views of 450 million Europeans into account is not a sign of weakness on our part, nor is it a commitment to change our views. It is simply recognition that the laws of our most important allies, our biggest foreign investors, foreign employers, foreign customers and trading partners are worthy of our attention. That is a sign of enlighten- ment.

Felix G. Rohatyn was the United States ambassador to France from 1997 to 2001.

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