Above the Fray

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Rant for America

This is a very articulate essay on what is wrong and what needs to happen:

Reclaiming the American Consensus

Emerging from moral bankruptcy requires that we properly reframe the issues:

We must not surrender flag and faith to those who would use both to support a war which honors neither.

To those who would attempt to silence Americans with the call that “We must support our troops,” we must meet squarely on the issues: The troops are our sons, our daughters, our husbands, our wives. They volunteered to defend our nation, not to pursue a hidden agenda of those who do not honor our nations values. We must never abuse their courage, their patriotism, and their sacrifice.

To those who insist we must spread liberty: Our founders established our nation as a beacon of liberty. We must never confuse the defense of liberty with the pursuit of an agenda of domination that is offensive to our democratic values and counterproductive to our security, inflaming the passions and determination of those less powerful.

To those who exploit a climate of fear to assert that we must now abridge fundamental liberties for the sake of security, we must remind of the insights of wiser Americans,

"Any people that would give up liberty for a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin

"Liberty is always dangerous, but it is the safest thing we have." Harry Emerson Fosdick

"If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy" .... "We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties." James Madison

To those who claim that we who oppose the war in Iraq are "anti-American", we must confront with the truth that we who oppose the occupation come from all points on the political spectrum - Democrats, Republicans, and independents - left, right and center - and include the majority of Americans. To those who persist in challenging our patriotism, we must remind of the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "To announce that there should be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, it is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people."

The issues that unite the growing American "antiwar majority" today are principles that since our founding have defined what it means to be an American. So ingrained have these core American values become in our national psyche that even those who seek entirely opposing goals routinely give them rhetorical lip service:

War only with prior constitutional consent obtained for justifiable, non-aggressive, honesty-stated purposes.

No ambition of empire, or desire to dominate, and rejection of the role of world policeman.

Belief that only a society that both respects and actually practices individual freedom, rather than seeking the illusion of security through authoritarian measures, will succeed in preserving and spreading genuine liberty.

The conviction that no man, including the president, is above the law.

An uncompromising belief in the humane treatment of even our most despicable enemies...

Similarly, previous generations of Americans - left, right, and center - have been unified in the belief that not only is such conduct essential for the safety of our own captured servicemen and women, but that any nation which does not adhere to its own basic values (regardless of any self-proclaimed virtue) would cease to possess the moral prerequisites for genuine success.

...Our present need for "the decent respect for the opinions of mankind" is no less compelling than it was for our founders. But the primary need for realigning our actions with our values is not improved public relations. The most compelling need is, for the benefit of our own society, to reaffirm moral constraints upon our actions, individual and collective, without which the character of our nation will be diminished...

...The unifying values implanted by America's founders - values of liberty, non-aggression, and antipathy to authoritarian government – have historically prevailed only despite significant opposition from Americans with less honorable priorities. Indeed, the very eloquence with which Jefferson, Madison, and other founders defended civil liberties and warned repeatedly of the dangers of unrestrained executive power and the pernicious consequences of war and empire is primarily because their views were not universal....

Today the rhetoric of this consensus American vision of liberty and non-aggression remains unscathed. But the substance of the beliefs of our founders (which constitutes the basic “common ground” of our political compact) is under assault. Certainly no one overtly challenges our commitment to “liberty” and “democracy”. Yet we witness proponents of “freedom” at home and abroad advocating perpetual military occupation, rationalizing permanent detention of American citizens without charges or trial, and those who claim to respect the “rule of law” remaining silent while administration lawyers concoct methods for the president to evade American legal prohibitions of torture and promote the legal theory that the president has the “inherent authority” to “set aside” American law.

How have conscientious and patriotic Americans come to support policies so antithetical to our values?

How can so many remain unmoved when all evidence shows our stated justification for our first ever pre-emptive war is unsubstantiated?

How can a self-proclaimed Christian, writing in his weekly column in National Review, the “flagship of the modern conservative movement”, bemoan that our nation is not willing “...to fight this war the way it needs fighting, with grim ferocity and cold unconcern for legalistic niceties? To lay waste great territories and their peoples, innocent and guilty alike, to level cities, to burn forests and divert rivers, to smite our enemies hip and thigh, to carry out summary execution of captured leaders...”?

How can anyone have their “faith renewed” by British police putting “Five in the Noggin” of a suspected bomber?

How can so many who profess “moral values” remain missing in action as the president claims the right to legitimize torture? How can they remain in denial even as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), an Air Force colonel with congressional access to suppressed Abu Ghraib evidence, reports, “The American public needs to understand we're talking about rape and murder here. we're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience.”? How can 20 million radio listeners a week applaud as a mocking Rush Limbaugh maligns Sen. Graham as a “Republican in Name Only” and shamelessly promotes “Abu Ghraib Day” parties?

Most sobering is that these perverse sentiments do not result solely, or even primarily, from the shameless exploitation of fear. Rather, they arise as the unintended consequence of a world view that derives it strength from a direct appeal to and diversion of American's most honorable instincts.Support for virtuous goals may mutate over time into support for malignant policy....

..Reestablishing an American consensus for honest, reality based policy, one which pursues non-expansionist national defense while protecting civil liberties, requires the integrity to refrain from short-sightedly exploiting the twin passions of fear and hope...

...The cult of empire is propped up by a ubiquitous and effective spin machine. Megastar media surrogates saturate the airways with their 24/7 presence. They advance a creed of conquest that confuses strength to defend the nation with the pursuit of world domination. Their message thrives on the demonization of both foreign power and domestic dissent. While they peddle a creed that holds in contempt both the actual exercise of liberty and the practice of authentic faith, these false prophets cloak their message with a veneer of professed moral and patriotic values. And they have infected our culture with their audacious claim that their values reflect the values of America...

...The moral blind spots displayed by those who profess respect for the "rule of law" and "moral values" regarding a presidential "inherent right" to "set aside law" and legitimize torture are symptoms of the "moral bankruptcy" of which Eisenhower warned...

These blind spots reflect a void in the soul of America. Filling this vacuum requires rejecting false idols, repairing a flawed paradigm, and restoring a consensus based upon authentic American values. No simple formula will address all issues. ...But the "common ground" to be found in the still revolutionary vision of America's founders - a vision embracing individual liberty, opposing wars of conquest, protecting the rights of dissent, limiting presidential powers, and maintaining the moral high ground with unambiguous rejection of any legitimate role for torture - maintains it power by virtue of its moral authority...

Those supporting current policies will continue to use all the resources of their propaganda machine to attempt to perpetuate their distorted view of the role of power, of empire, and of America's role in the world. And they will continue to appropriate the rhetoric of “freedom” to promote policies which repudiate the substance of the American vision of liberty.

We must reframe the terms of debate to reclaim America's authentic vision.

We cannot permit a war begun for the purpose of disarming a tyrant to be used to justify the permanent unwanted occupation of a foreign land.

We must never enable the rhetoric of patriotism and faith to support a policy of domination pursued through deception.

Nor the rhetoric of fear to blind us to the dismantling of the legal framework for our freedoms.

We can no longer tolerate business-as-usual politicians in either party who will not act to reassert historic constitutional restraints on executive power, end a misguided war, and repel the perilous assault on civil liberties.

Effective action requires that we first overcome our own denial.

We cannot absolve ourselves from responsibility by pointing to our cowardly media.

John Locke, intellectual mentor to America's founders, stated in his Essay on Human Understanding in 1689 “It is vain to find fault with the arts of deceiving, wherein men find pleasure to be deceived...

Overcoming this human frailty remains a formidable challenge.

Is this some loonie liberal ranting?.. I think not. Go read the rest of the article.. read the whole site!
Confessions of a Repentant Republican

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Merry Christmas

[Snark Alert]

Merry Christmas
Boy, do I feel Target's pain. They exile specific reference to Christmas in their ads and store decorations in order not to offend people who 'don't celebrate it' (except perhaps as a secular exercise in demonstrating love through stuff), and then they get slammed for offending Christians, at least the Christians whose principal exercise of faith would appear to be lying in wait to make people feel guilty for something. In all of this, the guiding principle seems to be to 'not offend', but the principle has evolved quite far from its origins in Golden Rule manners to mean something like 'don't say or do anything that the most sensitive person with the largest chip on his shoulder could interpret, on his most truculent day, into something offensive'. "...
...The attempt by the Christian right to put a lien on anything red and green is as outrageous as the political right's appropriation of the flag, and I hope they wake up and start being extra-Christian around the holidays, instead of extra-self-righteous and extra-nail-everyone-they-can-catch for offending them or not displaying enough pietism. (Of course my idea of being extra-Christian is heavy on turning the other cheek, hating the sin and loving the sinner, hoping for a lot of redemption, seeing God's goodness in everyone wherever possible, helping the meek to inherit what they're too shy to ask for, and like that.)...
...I am not a Christian, so if someone wishes me a Merry Christmas in this environment, I have alternative ways to take it. One is to enjoy the experience of being wished well by another, impute good will to the source, and enjoy the second Christmas incrementally more.

Another is to take offense, and here the options are rich and varied:

"How dare you address me in this matter without being fully informed of my confession! You are thoughtless and careless to bet the odds on (i) the Christian preponderance in the US population (about 3 in 4) and/or (ii) my name, rather than making inquiry of me or my friends before you say something nice to me. You should be ashamed."

"Ah, 'Merry Christmas', you say. I bet you mean that in the imperative mood, ordering me under cover of a greeting to convert to your religion. You're a child of the cossacks and the inquisition, and so are the stores with their holly and ribbons, just carrying on centuries of oppression and abuse. You should be ashamed."

"Merry Christmas? You said that out loud, here in a government institution [I teach in a state university]? Do you realize you're creating an establishment of religion? You should be ashamed."

Once I get in this track, my friend can't win. "'Happy Holidays'? You sound like a Wal-Mart sign. I only celebrate one of them, and I'm offended that you blur your greeting over the one[s] I don't."

I could easily produce a similar paragraph on alternative ways to take a merchant's, or a friend's, attempt to be nice while not giving offense by saying "Have a nice holiday."

The point is that we have as strong a duty to take things as though people mean well, even if we could nail them for making a mistake, as we do to be gracious and thoughtful on the sending side. Anyway, I cannot for the life of me understand how a reasonable person of any faith can take offense at someone's well-meaning attempt to spread cheer, or turn it into a trap. (I don't even mind being proselytized, within reason; it's a compliment that someone wants to save my soul and often leads to an interesting theological argument.)

Jews are about one American in fifty, Moslems another one (depending on how you count). The idea that the popular culture of December in the US should ignore or hide its religious sources, or that it should not be overwhelmingly Christian-flavored, seems to me to get it completely wrong. Nobody's rights are violated by demographic facts....Michael O'Hare

My proposed greeting for this time of year: "Happy Holidays, and to Hell with Bill O'Reilly.".. Mark Kleiman

The Reality-Based Community

Friday, December 16, 2005

Gary Hart

"Micah 6:8: 'What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.'"

...I keep coming back to those values of Jesus – tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, a sense of social justice and equality. Otherwise, a mass democracy of 300 million people simply will not work...

...I’m not "uncomfortable" with the way Jesus is being tossed around – I’m angry about it. I’d go well beyond discomfort.

I think the religious right is making Jesus into some kind of Old Testament wrathful prophet who is judgmental, divisive, and opposed to any notion of liberalism, whereas the teachings of Jesus tell quite a different story. He was tolerant. He was forgiving. He preached love, not hate. In many ways, the literal reading of the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, particularly not filtered through the later apostles in the New Testament, but the literal teachings of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels, are almost totally at odds with the teachings of the present-day religious right...

... the reason you can’t mix religion and politics is, religion is about absolutes, right and wrong, good and evil. Politics is about compromise. If you cannot compromise on issues that are not central to a person’s faith – and that’s about 99% of the issues our country faces – then the country doesn’t work. The government doesn’t work. That’s why we’ve had government grinding to a halt in recent years. People are frustrated by it...

..The separation [of church and state] was not just to protect the state from the church, but to protect the church from the state. The people who are trying to insert themselves into positions of authority in government, through the Republican Party, ought to be awfully careful, because the same state that takes them in is a state that can turn around and, if it chooses to, by using the same authority, begin seriously to condition their behavior. People with a bit in their teeth, and the arrogance of power, don’t think that way, but they ought to...

BuzzFlash Interview: Gary Hart:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Freedom Dust

It can only be days before Fox News starts referring to white phosphorus as 'freedom dust.

One of the many minor irritations about the War on Terror is that its architects are having so much more success vanquishing language than they are getting the psychopathic malcontents to put down their weapons...

Marina Hyde: 'The war on the literal'

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ethics Snark

Snark or irony.. or just an observation:

President Bush earlier this month ordered refresher lectures on general ethics rules, including those governing the protection -- and leaking -- of classified information. Not that there was any problem, but it's always good to keep up on these things.

As for the rest of the executive branch, we thought we'd check in with the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, the person who 'provides overall direction to the executive branch ethics program and is responsible for ensuring that OGE fulfills' its obligations.We checked the Web site:

"Vacant, Director." "Vacant, Special Assistant to the Director."

In fact, the job of director has been vacant since December 2003.


Cunningham's Hard Cell: The Void in Government Ethics