Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Pretty Good Day For Civil Rights

Amidst our daily dose of atrocities from Iraq and the double-barrel domestic gut shot of an increase in violent crime and a significant economic downturn, comes a ray of hope from some unexpected sources: Alabama and New Hampshire.

In very different ways, both states took a stand for civil rights and the equality of all citizens. One by looking backward, the other by looking forward.

Down south, Alabama's Republican Governor, Bob Riley signed a resolution that expressed "profound regret" for Alabama's role in slavery. The resolution apologized for slavery's wrongs as well as for the lingering effects that it continues to have on our culture. Said the Governor, "Slavery was evil and is a part of American history. I believe all Alabamians are proud of the tremendous progress we have made and continue to make." Alabama joins Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina as the only former Confederate states to make such an apology.

Meanwhile, up north, New Hampshire's Democratic Governor, John Lynch, signed into law a bill that legalises same sex civil unions. Said Lynch, "We in New Hampshire have had a long and proud tradition taking the lead and opposing discrimination. Today that tradition continues." The new law grants homosexual couples the same rights as married couples and will also honours same sex unions from other states that recognize them.

It would be easy to criticise Alabama for taking too long and New Hampshire for not going far enough. But the truth is, both are in the lead for trying to right the respective wrongs.

It's easy to take potshots at the south over the issue of slavery and some of it is deserved. But those who know their history know that there were many northerners who sympathised with slave owners, just as there were southern abolitionists. Alabama is to be commended for this historic step. Hopefully it will pave the way for apologies from other southern states, as well as from northern states many of which have legalised slavery in their history and citizens who helped facilitated the slave trade.

Of equal import is the need for the U.S. federal government to apologize for Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, a section that essentially sanctioned slavery. It was here that the formula for determining congressional representation and tax burden was decided by, "adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

Yes, non-whites were considered 3/5 of a white person. An apology is both justified and necessary.

The issue of gay marriage and legal rights for homosexuals is the American civil rights issue of the 21st century. To date Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California and Washington recognise same sex civil unions. Oregon will join that list next year. Hawaii extends some spousal rights to same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual pairs, but only Massachusetts recognises gay marriage. Of the ten states that have recognised some form of same sex union, thus far, only New Hampshire has done so without any legal action pending.

The Civil War ended one hundred and forty seven years ago and the wounds of slavery are still evident. Let's hope that in another hundred and forty seven years they will have finally healed over. Let us also hope that in one hundred and forty years the idea of gay civil rights is so ingrained in our national psyche that those looking back will wonder why we ever needed to debate it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

For Whom Freedom Rings

Yesterday was Memorial Day in the United States of America. What once for many was a day of parades and picnics and three day weekends, is increasingly a grim reminder of a generation killed and maimed by the brutality of war. Rather than seeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the number of deaths are on the increase, 115 this month at last count. It is the highest number of casualties since April of 2004.

So much for progress . . .

Meanwhile, the perpetually optimistic and perhaps delusional, Mr. Bush continues to bang the drums of war declaring, "On Memorial Day, we rededicate ourselves to freedom's cause."

But where he pursues freedom is pretty selective.

• Roughly 1/6 of the earth's population lives in China, which at last check had a decidedly communist government. In addition to a litany of human rights abuses, the Chinese government has engaged in unfair trade practices that send a large amount of U.S. capital overseas in return for a glut of cheap products. Products, I might add, that once were made in the U.S.

• Tibet, an autonomous nation since the 600's AD, was invaded by China in 1950. The Tibetan people still seek their freedom.

• The people of Burma live under the auspices of a military junta, who in 1990 failed to honour the results of a democratically held election.

• Saudi Arabia is listed in the CIA World Factbook as a country of concern for trafficking in persons (i.e. slavery). Additionally, there is strict repression of the press, no right to public assembly or to form a political party and the rights of women are severely restricted.

• Pakistan, our ally in the "war on terror" has a President, Pervez Musharraf, who earned his office by deposing the democratically elected Nawaz Sharif.

• Meanwhile, elsewhere in the middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian issue has made little progress since Mr. Bush took office. Once a strong partner for peace in this region, the U.S. in recent years has been remarkably silent.

It's easy to talk the talk and to wave the flag. It's another to live up to the words.

Mr. Bush speaks a lot about freedom and the role of the U.S. in perpetuating it around the world. But the record seems to indicate that his interest in it extends only so far as his personal interests. So as you mark the passing of another Memorial Day and remember those who have literally sacrificed life and limb, you might want to ask yourself this question: "For whom and what did they make this sacrifice?"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"I Hope You Had The Time Of Your Life"

People sometimes write this quote on sympathy cards thinking that it is the title of a 1997 song by Green Day. What most don't realize, however, is that the actual name of the song is "Good Riddance."

The Reverend Jerry Falwell passed away today. How you feel about it probably depends on what you think of the man and his impact on American culture.

While I would not be so cavalier as to dismiss anyone's death with a good riddance, I do believe that it is appropriate to look at what he stood for. Sadly, for a man who claimed to follow the teachings of Jesus, his life was frankly a pale emulation. Here are but a few examples:

• On September 15, 2001, he had this to say about the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen."

• In an October 2002 interview on 60 minutes and he said about Islam:

"I think Muhammad was a terrorist."

• In January of 1999, he characterized his views on the Anti-Christ:

"Is he alive and here today? Probably. Because when he appears during the Tribulation period he will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course he'll be Jewish. Of course he'll pretend to be Christ. And if in fact the Lord is coming soon, and he'll be an adult at the presentation of himself, he must be alive somewhere today."

• On July 5, 1983 he said:

"Herpes, AIDS, venereal diseases ... are a definite form of the judgment of God upon a society."

And in 1987 followed it up with:

"AIDS could be God's judgment against a nation that choses to live immorally."

There is very little on which Dr. Falwell and I agreed.

He represented a religion tradition founded on the philosophy of peace, social justice and love, yet so often preached ideals that were in direct contrast. But there is one thing that he was right about . . .

Upon leaving the Moral Majority he commented:

"I shudder to think where the country would be right now if the religious right had not evolved."

Had the religious right not mobilized as a political force we might well have a cure for AIDS, peace in Iraq, energy independence and civil rights for all people. It was Falwellian Republicans such as Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Trent Lott and George W. Bush who most benefited from the rise of the religious right. They were also the Republicans who most stridently stood in opposition to these issues.

In the end analysis, I hope that Jerry Falwell had the time of his life, because it's going to take the rest of mine for us to undo the mess that he helped sow.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Big Bad Wolfowitz And The Greedy Little Pigs

Maybe it's time for the Republicans to retire the elephant as their mascot and adopt a more fitting symbol: The Pig.

The Associated Press is reporting that a special investigative panel has determined that World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz, broke bank rules by arranging a pay package and promotion for his girlfriend. Wolfowitz was selected to run the bank by President Bush and approved by the board in June 2005.

This is not the first the high profile job that Mr. Wolfowitz has held. Prior to his position at the World Bank, he was second in command at the Pentagon, and a key architect of the war in Iraq. He is the person who once told a Congressional panel that, "The oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years."

Or Not So Much . . .

The Wolfowitz situation further reinforces the notion that associates of the President are often corrupt, incompetent, or both.

Let's take a moment and review the honour roll:

  • Paul Wolfowitz allegedly broke World Bank ethics rules by arranging a favourable pay package and promotion for his girlfriend.

  • Vice President Richard Cheney was found by the Congressional Research Service to have retained ties to Halliburton where he was once, CEO, after assuming the Office of the Vice President. Halliburton since has been awarded many favourable contracts in Iraq and have admitted to overbilling the government.

  • Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted on two counts of alleged money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

  • Former Representative Duke Cunningham resigned from the House after pleading guilty to accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes and underreporting his income for 2004.

  • Former Chief of Staff to the Vice President, Lewis Libby was convicted for obstruction of justice, perjury, and for lying under oath in the Valerie Plame affair.

  • Former FEMA Director Michael Brown sat with his proverbial thumb up his proverbial, um, well never mind, while New Orleans drowned.

    Once again, instead of taking a stand for ethics, Mr. Bush chooses to stick up for corruption. White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, "The president continues to strongly support Paul Wolfowitz and believes he should continue to lead the World Bank."

    In other words: 'You're doing a heck of a job there, Wolfie.'

    If you're disgusted by another round of Republican ethics violation, there's something that you can do about it. Speak out.

  • E-mail your Senator or Representative and ask them to call for Mr. Wolfowitz's resignation.

  • E-mail President Bush and demand that he do the same.
  • Tuesday, May 01, 2007

    From Mission Accomplished To Mission Impossible

    "My fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. (Applause.) And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country."

    President George W. Bush
    May 1, 2003

    It was aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln with a sign behind him that read, "Mission Accomplished," that Mr. Bush uttered these famous words four years ago. True, Baghdad had been taken, the Iraqi army was in shambles, and Saddam Hussein was in hiding. True, also as he said, that the transition from "dictatorship to democracy" would "take time." He cited the success in Afghanistan where, "we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists, and the camps where they trained." Nineteen months after the 9/11 attacks, it seemed he had reason to be optimistic.

    A lot can change in four years.

    There are damn few in the United States or the world who look at the situation in Iraq and see success.

  • Since Mission Accomplished, 3,213 American soldiers have lost their lives, with April 2007 having the highest casualty rate in four years.

  • Violence between Sunnis and Shiites occurs on an almost daily basis.

  • The opening of the Iraqi oil pipeline that was expected to lower energy prices, failed to do so. Instead gas and oil prices in the United States are at an all time high, as oil company profits soar!

  • The State Department reports that terrorist attacks on non-combatants have doubled in the last year. Iraq and Afghanistan account for nearly a third of these (29%)!

  • In February, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace, reported that US military readiness from a year ago has worsened. Last year it was rated at moderate. This means that US ability to respond to an additional threat, say, Iran or North Korea is severely compromised.

  • The pace of rebuilding in Iraq is so bad that Inspector General Stuart Bowen Jr. issued a report detailing the many ways that the Bush administration failed to understand what would be required for post-Saddam Iraq to succeed and failed at every juncture to adjust course when given the opportunity to do so.

    In short . . .

    Iraq from the beginning has been a myopic adventure with far reaching and disastrous consequences. Enough is enough.

    It's time to hold the President and his administration fully accountable.