Saturday, June 18, 2005


"Let Them Eat Cake"

All politics is local, right? So here's a local political story -- with national ramifications. The Maryland state legislature (the General Assembly) passed a law to keep two state offices open when the next fiscal year begins July 1. The offices enforce state wage laws, by, as the Washington Times put it, "helping workers collect pay owed to them by employers who are not complying with state law."

The governor of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich, announced he was going to shut down the offices, despite the law. Maryland's Senate President Thomas Mike Miller, called the move "outrageous. It's an insult. It's a slap in the face to every working man and woman in Maryland."

The slap resounds well past the Bay State borders. In this "let them eat cake age," Ehrlich's actions stand as sign and symbol of an approach to working people that begins with disdain and ends with policies, local and national, that undercut the economic well-being of hundreds of millions of working people in this country. The sad irony is that many of these same people voted for Ehrlich, and his clones at the national level, in the first place.

Friday, June 17, 2005


Where's the Apology?

Seems like Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, and others who grossly politicized the Terri Schiavo case owe an apology. Think we're going to get one? Not likely.

Frist, who said he was speaking "as a physician," not long before Schiavo's death said, "In the midst of his impressively detailed medical review, Frist declared flatly: "Terri's brother told me Terri laughs, smiles, and tries to speak. That doesn't sound like a woman in a persistent vegetative state." ("Where's the Apology," by E.J. Dionne.)

Frist was using a family's tragedy to make political hay. For that, we all deserve an apology. Don't hold your breath.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


The Patriot Act Begins to Crumble

The provisions in the Patriot Act that allowed government officials -- without warning, with no public mention allowed -- to snoop into the records of libraries and bookstores were among the draconian law's least popular aspects. Librarians across the country, for example, were quite unhappy that the government no longer consider the list of who checked out what to be private (the American Library Association has been very careful in how they talk about the law, but clearly don't like the feds intruding into people's reading habits). (Cities and towns across the country have been even more vocal in their opposition -- some 152 passed resolutions denouncing the act.)

Yesterday, Congress started to catch the anti-Patriot Act fever. Conservative members of the House joined with liberal Democrats to curb the FBI's ability to seize library and bookstore records ("House Votes To Curb Patriot Act: FBI's Power to Seize Library Records Would Be Halted"). President Bush has threatened to veto anything that cuts back the powers outlined in the Patriot Act.

Fifteen provisions of the Patriot Act are scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Bush plans to barnstorm (in the manner of his Social Security national tour) in favor of keeping them all. If the public gets behind it in a vocal way, early signs are that Congress may very well be in the mood to start once again paying a little respect to the Bill of Rights, which has been on the back-burner since the official launch of the "permanent war on terror." Perhaps, if a hue and cry is raised, the war on our civil liberties isn't so permanent after all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


When Faith Builds Bridges

After a year in which religion was often a wedge used to divide, rather than a bridge to bring people together (especially during the long presidential election battle), many people are hungry for a different face of faith. Can religion be a force that unites, that brings people together?

Of course, in many places, and for many people, faith does exactly that. The front page of today's Washington Post tells the story of people of faith working across the traditional barricades on important issues (poverty being the most prominent) -- check out "Religious Right, Left Meet in Middle: Clergy Aim to Show That Faith Unifies." Another small sign of hope in our overly polarized religious landscape.


The U.S. and the Uzbek Massacre

It's impossible to uphold consistent standards on human rights while maintaining and expanding a global empire. That's this week's lesson from Uzbekistan. On May 13, Uzbek government troops killed hundreds of people (the government claims that 173 people were killed; human rights groups estimate the dead at between 500 and 1,000) who were protesting oppression in the former Soviet republic.

NATO initiated a process to investigate the killings. But the United States, not wanting to upset the Uzbek government and possibly threaten U.S. military bases in the country, blocked NATO's investigation (and has thwarted other international efforts to respond to the massacre).

The Christian Science Monitor called the U.S. actions "awkward" ("Calls for investigation highlight 'awkward' US ties with authoritarian government"). Some might use a different word. How about "criminal"? Or maybe "immoral"? At the very least, set against U.S. claims to be a beacon of human rights, let's go with "hypocritical."


Hope and Cheerful Faith

How do we find hope in times like these? For Michael Norman, managing director of the anti-poverty group Call to Renewal, hope "has to do with choosing to pay attention to God’s presence and action within and around us." Check out his encouraging essay "Hope and Cheerful Faith."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Micah Challenge USA

The Micah Challenge is an evangelical-centered network that "aims to deepen Christian engagement with the poor and to influence leaders of rich and poor nations to fulfil their public promise to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015."

The U.S. branch -- Micah Challenge USA -- is now in formation. The group had a "formation meeting" last week at the Call to Renewal/Bread for the World-sponsored conference "One Table Many Voices." The network brings together a wide range of actors working on global poverty, including several that aren't the usual suspects. Another sign that something significant -- and hopeful -- is breaking loose around these issues.

Monday, June 13, 2005


Howard Dean and "Moral Values"

For some reason, when Howard Dean talks religion -- or even morality -- it falls somewhat short of having the ring of truth to it. Sunday's Washington Post ("Dean Urges Appeal to Moral Values") reports Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee who during the presidential primaries famously misplaced the book of Job into the New Testament, as saying, "The truth is, we're Democrats because of our moral values. It's a moral value to make sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. . . . It is a moral value not to go out on golf trips paid for by lobbyists."

His first point is undeniably true: Poverty -- especially, in some ways, the poverty of children -- is clearly a moral value, and it ought to be talked about in moral terms. It's on the second point that things get a bit muddier. Dean uses the "moral values" discussion to take a potshot at Tom Delay and his bought-and-paid-for golf trips. It's hard not to read that statement for the partisan attack that it is -- regardless of whether he's right about those "golf trips" being moral issues.

The Post plays Dean's "appeal to moral values" with the usual cynicism (the article's subhead: "DNC Chairman Calls for Democrats to Adopt GOP's Language to Woo Voters"). And it's probably true that Dean's main motive is indeed to "woo voters." But recognizing that poverty is a moral issue -- as is race, war, the environment, and other social questions -- is more than just a political ploy. Frankly, it's the logical consequence of applying the age-old values of scripture to the issues of our day. That's the kind of moral values that we need to hear more about in the days ahead.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Do We Need a Smoking Gun?

The "Downing Street Memo" has hit the mainstream press. A front page story in the Washington Post reports that the memo written by high-ranking British officials eight months before the U.S. invasion "notes that U.S. 'military planning for action against Iraq is proceeding apace,' but adds that 'little thought' has been given to, among other things, 'the aftermath and how to shape it.'"

The memo said that Bush and his aides believed war was inevitable, and that the "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." A key emphasis of the memo is that U.S. officials were unrealistic about the likely cost of a war against Iraq. For example, the Post notes, Paul Wolfowitz -- one of the chief architects of Bush's war policy -- testified in Feb. 2003, "I can't imagine anyone here wanting to spend another $30 billion to be [in Iraq] for another 12 years." The amount allocated by Congress for the Iraq war, as of May, has actually been more than $208 billion since then. (Other sources put the total war expenditures at closer to $300 billion -- a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we're talking real money.)

Liberal columnist Michael Kinsley, on the other hand, thinks the Downing Street Memo is much ado about nothing, and in his column ("No Smoking Gun") even defends Bush's pre-invasion disembling about Iraq: "Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the war in Iraq," and adds that the memo offers no definitive proof that Bush officials actually lied in making their case for war. However, I seem to remember a few comments about weapons of mass destruction, and all that, that strayed a rather long way from the truth...

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