Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Where are they now?
Neil Bush and Boris Berezovsky

Bush, left; Berezovsky, right

This morning my partner and I were commiserating in a languid way over the decline of U.S. democracy -- asking ourselves if we'd ever get rid of the Bush dynasty? Do we face Jeb in the future? Wonder what the twins will do with themselves if they ever have to stop partying? Finally she asked, "whatever happened to Neil?"

For me, Neil is a vaguely-remembered name in a Gulf War I era chant. We proclaimed support for the unfortunate troops sent out to play in George I's excellent adventure with the message: "Send George Bush; send Dan Quayle; send Neil Bush when he gets out of jail." The current President's younger brother was a prominent beneficiary of the looting of a savings and loans company in the 1980s. According to the Wikipedia, though he avoided charges in the Silverado S&L fraud case "Bush was fined $50,000 as a consequence of his actions and he was restricted from undertaking future banking activity."

Haven't heard much of him since -- guess they have him under wraps. Still I wasn't surprised to run across this Jefferson Morley item -- apparently Neil is now a running buddy of Boris Berezovsky, post-Soviet Russia's first billionaire who used his access to the Chechen mafia and friendship with the ruler Boris Yeltsin to snap up state assets in the early 1990s. He later fell out with present Russian President Putin and had to decamp to Britain where he enjoys protection from extradition on fraud charges. A reporter for Forbes magazine who wrote that Berezovsky had rivals murdered turned up murdered himself in Moscow in 2004.

This lovely character apparently joined the less flamboyant Neil Bush on a visit to Latvia in September that caused an international incident. The Russian government still wanted Berezovsky turned over for prosecution; the Latvian government certainly wasn't going to yank the traveling chum of a brother of the U.S. President. In November, Latvia finally said they wouldn't let Berezovsky visit again freely, regardless of who he was traveling with.

Naturally, none of this made a splash in the U.S. media; mafia bosses and dynastic intrigue are just so passé.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Border militarization breaks the circle

Detail from a mural by Joel Bergner.

Douglas S. Massey makes the point in the Washington Post.

[O]ur attempts to stop the flow of Mexican workers into the United States through unilateral enforcement have not only failed miserably, they have backfired. Heightened border enforcement has not deterred would-be immigrants from entering the United States, nor has it reduced the size of the annual inflow. What it has done is channel migrants away from traditional crossing points to remote areas where the physical risks are great but the likelihood of getting caught is small. As a result, the number of deaths has risen to around 460 people a year while the probability of apprehension has fallen from a historical average of around 33 percent to around 10 percent.


Paradoxically, [border enforcement] has discouraged them from going home once they are here. Having faced the hazards of border crossing, undocumented migrants are loath to do so again, and instead they hunker down for the long term. As migrants stay away from home longer, they increasingly send for spouses and children.

Rather than remaining a circular flow of temporary male workers, migration from Mexico to the United States has produced a settled population of permanent residents and families...

Much as many employers may think otherwise, migrants are not inanimate spare parts.

As long as they cannot feed themselve and their families in their home countries, they will keep coming to where they can make a living. If this rich country really wanted to stop the influx of desparate people, we would invest in economic development for Mexico and other sending countries. But we'd rather have nannies and dishwashers -- and complain.

Monday, November 28, 2005

New York City playtime

Spawn of Trump.

In the early 1970s I lived in New York City and it was a hard place. In part, it was hard because I had very little money -- and in part, it was indeed hard, a time of civic bankruptcy, racial tension and fear of violence.

Today I visit New York as a comfortable tourist, enjoying family and taking in its cultural opportunities. The city is a playground. Have I changed or has the city? I know I don't know. It is hard to believe that a place where so much money is thrown around hasn't squeezed horribly those who can't afford a stake. The initial shock of globalization does seem to have worn off; New Yorkers mingle in all colors and languages and don't seem as much frightened of one another as they used to be. Maybe I am missing something.

In any case, I've just enjoyed a great weekend in New York taken as amusement park. We saw the Fra Angelico show at the Metropolitan Museum. Catch it if you can. This 15th century Italian monk painted some of the most vibrant colors I've ever seen. It is hard to believe that any scene in Renaissance Italy was as clean as his landscapes, but perhaps I am making incorrect assumptions about those early mercantile city states. One of his most interesting depictions of storied saints included, as was the custom, the figures of the donors kneeling rapt before the scene. But unusually, the faces of the donors were sheathed in white hoods, perhaps so that the right hand might not know what the left hand had done. Fra Angelico apparently was willing to have it either way; another painting features another donor, Torquemada, prominently.

We also saw the Passport to the Universe show at the planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. The new building, the "Rose Center, "named after the donors of course, is magnificent and, frankly, showy. The planetarium experience simulates travel from earth out through the outer planets, to the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, and onward into the seemingly infinite universe of star stuff. I felt a very earthbound creature leaning back in my comfortable leather seat -- somehow despite the stunning photos, orchestral flourishes and Tom Hanks narrating, this didn't make me as aware of my miniscule place in the universe as does looking out from a rugged mountain top. But clearly the show works for many. We tried to imagine what a creationist might make of this exhibit.

Even in New York, the best things are often simply outside in nature. It is a delight these days to be able to run in Central Park and to walk along the Hudson, meeting the perennial survivors.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The U.S. government talks about torture: a glossary

This was simply too well done not to spread: the Institute for Southern Studies writes: We usually reserve the "Institute Index" for cold, hard statistics. But recognizing the confusion felt by many after the administration rebuffed a 90-9 Senate vote to condemn torture, in this issue we share the "Facing South Torture Glossary and Translation Dictionary (TM).

Enhanced interrogation techniques: Torture

Dietary manipulation: Torture by starvation

Sleep adjustment: Torture by sleep deprivation

Stress position: Torture similar to the medieval "rack", improvised

Waterboarding: Torture by simulated drowning or suffocating

Mild, non-injurious physical contact: Torture by beating

Extraordinary rendition: Kidnap and torture

Unlawful combatants: Prisoners in the War On Terror defined by the Bush administration as not subject to the Geneva Conventions or any other form of law or criminal justice

Counter-terrorism intelligence centers: Quasi- legal foreign detention centers where unlawful combatants are extraordinarily rendered

Black sites: Illegal secret foreign detention centers where unlawful combatants are extraordinarily rendered

Fraternity pranks: Right wing pundit characterization of torture

"We do not torture": What the Bush administration says when they mean they order low-ranking soldiers to torture with the assistance of civilian "contractors"

Unpatriotic: Opposition to torture on the grounds that it is immoral, illegal, not generally believed to be effective, is not what America stands for, and puts future American POWs at higher risk of being tortured.

Comment not needed. Action required.

UPDATE: this morning the New York Times provides another prize locution: evidence against the unfortunate and undoubtedly unpleasant Jose Padilla was "obtained through harsh questioning." That means torture. The official glossary is apparently also used by the "newspaper of record."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The pilgrim journey of mainline Protestantism

Strength for the Journey: a Pilgrimage of Faith in Community
by Diana Butler Bass

To Alan Wolfe's Transformation of American Religion, a dismissive picture of U.S. believers as self-seeking moral and intellectual light-weights, Diana Butler Bass offers a corrective view. Deeply serious and fully theologically engaged, she tells the story of her own growth along a spiritual path that led her from an evangelical "born again" Christianity to complex participation in what she contends is a revivified mainline Protestantism. Mainline Protestantism encompasses the traditional denominations such as Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc., that are currently eclipsed by non-denominational, usually politically and socially conservative, megachurches.

Along the way Bass unflinchingly records her struggles with Biblical literalism, women's ordination, gay inclusion -- all the "issues" which have roiled the formerly establishment churches. For her, these issues are the epiphenomenon of these churches adapting to losing their cultural hegemony in U.S. society and making the transition to leadership from the baby boomer generation. The book is a social history of the mainline told through biography.

Such a book could easily take the form of scoring off the people Bass left behind on paths she didn't choose. It is greatly to her credit that she doesn’t go there, even when she describes a congregation that spit out clerical leadership she trusted but which most members were unwilling to follow. She tries to understand what moves believers in their struggles and to observe with sensitivity and respect.

And she emerges in 2000 from a twenty-year process of self and institutional discovery very hopeful about the future of her kind of Christianity, something she describes as taking place in "intentional congregations":

[I]ntentional congregations welcome lay participation, are not clerical or hierarchical, are creative with music and worship, and deemphasize doctrinal uniformity. However, intentional congregations do not draw members primarily because of programs and are not primarily seeker oriented.

People come because the church lays out a theologically meaningful (but not dogmatic) vision in worship and Christian formation, giving them the ability to see their work, relationships and the world with spiritual insight.

Intentional congregations draw newcomers because of something transcendent, a connection with God embodied in the spiritual practices of a distinct tradition in the context of a particular community.

They are pilgrim congregations -- communities that practice faith in the world yet live at some tension with the surrounding culture….

Intentional congregations know who they are, can live into that identity, interpret it in culturally relevant theological language, engage in practices that engender commitment in their members and possess a sense of missionary obligation….

A new vitality is making its way across the old mainline landscape, and, for those with ears to hear, it is a time of Pentecost.

This encouraging book is worthwhile reading for anyone sickened by the identification of "Christian" with the intolerances of the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Papers, we got papers…

(This was too much fun to not to propagate. My additions in italics.)

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country. (And who don't care for photojournalism.)

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts. They also consume TV news.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose grandparents used to run the country and did a far superior job of it, thank you very much.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country ... or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. Unfortunately, there are less and less of these people.

11. The Washington Times is read by people who want their news from Rev. Moon -- and who are embarrassed to admit it.

12. The National Enquirer is read guiltily by most people trapped in line at the grocery store.

13. None of these are read by the guy who is running the country into the ground.

Pass it on. Hat tip to Bump in the Beltway.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

New York City Thanksgiving findings

Thanks to Steven Jenkins.

Forlorn competitor to the Macys "Buy more now!" Parade

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

How inside the Beltway can you get?

Thanks to Church Sign Generator

Richard Cohen in Tuesday's WaPo goes to considerable lengths to assure us that he and a Post researcher have verified that Democratic Congresscritters have not called President Bush "a liar" on account of the tall tales that were used to take the country to war.

[T]he "L" word has been prudently withheld by elected Democrats.

So what? And more to point, if they haven't shouted to the housetops that Bush lied, why not?

The voters elected Bush, not the supporting cast of characters who Cohen happily suggests were using a credulous president. They lied; if he didn't stop them, he's politically and morally culpable for their lies. That's how this system works, outside the beltway.

Cohen also labels Bush "an amiable dunce." Again, who cares if a liar is "amiable" or irritable? He's still a liar. Furthermore, there have been a plethora of revelations ( for example) that Bush is not "amiable" when confronted with bad news, apparently inclined to yell at aides and storm from the room. The whole country got to see how peevish he is when confronted with opposition during the first debate with Senator Kerry.

Cohen goes on:

The restraint of responsible war critics has been remarkable.

There's the crux of this silly article: Proper insiders know there are some things you just can't say. Sure -- getting to the truth required the "irresponsible" critics: a patient peace movement chipping away with little vigils and bigger teach-ins, a bereaved mother, an honest prosecutor, and finally the mass of citizens who have dropped the the President's approval ratings into freefall. Now an insider pundit can edge close to stating the obvious. Mr. Cohen, get over yourself.

Community hospital biting the dust

(My church asked me to write what follows for its newsletter. Unfortunately, this tale of the downfall of a community hospital founded to do good works, but unable to meet the demands of the market, is all too common.)

St. Luke's Hospital may soon cease to provide inpatient care for charity patients if current disturbing trends continue. The San Francisco Mission District facility was founded by a rector of St. John the Evangelist parish in 1871. Until 2001 it operated under various nonprofit legal umbrellas in close connection to the Episcopal Diocese of California.

Huge deficits then forced the Diocese to turn St. Luke's over to Sutter Health, a profitable, nominally nonprofit, hospital chain. At the time of the transition, both Episcopal Bishop Bill Swing and the state Attorney General Bill Lockyer insisted that Sutter agree to provide large amounts of free and reduced fee service to sick persons who could not pay.

As the expiration date for these agreements approaches, Sutter has begun to cut its losses, closing the inpatient psych ward in August and discussing further cutbacks of subacute and nursing services. Sutter is merging St. Luke's into its California Paific Medical Center (CPMC); the boards of the two institutions have approved, greatly diluting the influence of St. Luke's historic culture of charity care in the body that now governs it. Hospital staff fear that under CPMC only a shell of the present St. Luke's will remain, perhaps an emergency room and some lucrative outpatient clinics. Persons without good insurance are likely to be shunted to the already overloaded, county-run San Francisco General.

Doctors, hospital workers, Mission community groups, and local politicians have all been trying to ensure that St. Luke's continues to serve its neighborhood. See one such rally here. Our rector, Fr. John Kirkley, and members of the Saint John the Evangelist vestry have testified against the threatened closures at city hearings.

St. Luke's troubles are a by-product of our society's subjecting medicine to market mechanisms that force all enterprises to turn a profit, even if they are providing socially vital benefits to the community. The hospital can't become profitable or even break even: it is too small, lacks high tech equipment, needs earthquake retrofitting, and willingly treats Medical patients for whom the State does not even pay costs. Care for the sick is simply something that can't be treated as a commodity unless we, as a society, are willing to say that the poor just don't get to use doctors and hospitals.

Although nominally nonprofit, Sutter Health has a very poor record of community service. Sutter spent only 0.6% of its 2002 revenues on charity care -- 40% less than the California statewide average for private hospital companies. In 2003, Sutter reported total patient service revenues of $4.506 billion, and profits of $465 million.

CPMC is cut from the same cloth: The San Francisco Department of Public Health recently reported that Sutter's largest hospital, California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), enjoyed more than $61 million in tax breaks during 2002, yet provided only $1.5 million in charity care. CPMC provided the least amount of charity care of any San Francisco hospital, even though it was by far the most profitable, earning $136 million in profits.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Banality of Evil, U.S. style

It isn't the descriptions of the torture techniques that haunt me. It is this:

When properly used, the techniques appear to be closely monitored and are signed off on in writing on a case-by-case, technique-by-technique basis, according to highly placed current and former intelligence officers involved in the program. In this way, they say, enhanced interrogations have been authorized for about a dozen high value al Qaeda targets — Khalid Sheik Mohammed among them. According to the sources, all of these have confessed, none of them has died, and all of them remain incarcerated. ABC News report.

CIA sources apparently were troubled by allegations that their agency tortures prisoners wantonly. How unprofessional! So they shared with reporters a list of "approved techniques" (varieties of Slaps, "Long Time Standing,"the "Cold Cell," simulated drowning, etc.). They also wanted us to know that some agents refused training in "the techniques" and some doubt that "enhanced interrogation" produced reliable information. Apparently some of the main "evidence" for l Qaeda's presence in Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a tale was made up under torture.

So now we are offered a picture of a hate-free bureaucratic procedure, proudly ratified by "sign-offs" and the assurance that the subjects survived. This is the stuff of which the political philosopher Edward Herman, following on Hannah Arendt, wrote:

Normalizing the Unthinkable
Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on "normalization." This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as "the way things are done."
Of course there is plenty of evidence that this picture of the clean, mean interrogation machine is a sham. The practice of brutality toward detainees has leaked out of the CIA's antiseptic confines. The U.S. has been shown to torture from Afghanistan, to Guantanamo, to Abu Ghraib, to gulags in Eastern Europe. Most of human beings caught up in that system didn't enjoy the dubious benefits of sign-off on techniques --and a good number of them are dead. Also dead is any plausible claim of innocence from those of us who are U.S. citizens.

What are we going to do about it?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Five Catholics on the Supremes
Does anyone think that matters?

If confirmed, Alito would make for one less woman in this picture.

This was bound to be raised somewhere -- and we won't be better for pretending it isn't there. If Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. is confirmed as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, that group will have a majority of Roman Catholics. (Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Thomas are Catholics.) Should this be a matter of concern to anyone? The WaPo looked at the question here.

Even stating the question reminds me of the awful whispering anti-Catholicism that dogged John F. Kennedy's run for the Presidency in 1960. This was not something of which I heard a distant rumor: my own Scots Irish Presbyterian grandmother was certain that Kennedy would take orders from the Pope, so was beholden to a foreigner, and thus unqualified to be President. Anti-Papism was a very real force in mainline Protestant life until the 1960s and, I suspect, remains something of a force in fundamentalist Christianity still.

As a young person, I knew I wanted none of that particular bigotry. The chance to reject it (and the attitudes of some of my relatives) certainly helped draw me to spend several years in the Catholic Worker movement. In that context I learned that Catholics held a wide variety of opinions, some of which were influenced by the rich intellectual heritage of their tradition, some by their still slightly ambiguous relations with the unspoken Protestant Christianity of US society, many by living in the USA, and a few directly by church pronouncements.

So what to make of this oped that questions of the implications of Alito's Catholicism:

In the presidential campaign of 2004, some Catholic bishops ruled that Sen. John Kerry would not be permitted communion in their churches. They decreed that since Kerry was in favor of abortion rights, he was unworthy of the sacraments….

But now we have a nominee for the nation's highest court who belongs to a church that says abortion is murder. What Alito believes about abortion, not just his legal view but also his moral view, is a question deserving of broad public inquiry.

The public has a right to know how, as a member of the Supreme Court, Justice Alito would rule in a case affecting Roe v. Wade. Would the Catholic Church's position on abortion prevail? Because his church believes that abortion is murder, does he? Is he capable of separating his religious beliefs from his judicial philosophy? Moreover, should he?[my emphasis]

The Constitution says there shall be no religious test for public office. But when a nominee for the Supreme Court is poised to join four of his Catholic brethren on becoming a majority of five, at a minimum we should have a public discussion as to the wisdom of that occurrence.

George Mitrovich, the author of this column, is identified as "a San Diego civic leader who served for 10 years as a member and president of the San Diego County Ecumenical Council."

A very little Googling suggests that Mitrovich really means the question emphasized above. He is consistent in demanding honest disclosure and conformity to their beliefs from people in authority. He has written an article insisting that the clergy of his denomination, United Methodism, who profess 'orthodoxy' at ordination, should speak up for those beliefs in their ministry: "When you believe certain things and uphold certain values, you have a duty to abide by those standards. And if you find that your beliefs and values have undergone significant change, then you have an obligation to say so." He seems to wish to know whether Alito (and the Court's prospective Catholic majority) hold themselves to a similar standard.

Do we have a right to expect Senators to try to ask Alito whether his Catholicism will shape his rulings? I tend to think we do for the reasons Mitrovich implies: the question is more one of character than one of particular beliefs. If a person professes a religious allegiance and is going to hold a lifetime appointment to a post demanding integrity, we have a right to expect that he has wrestled intellectually with the demands of and possible contradictions arising from his faith -- though we cannot presume we know where that wrestling might have carried him.

As for the suggestion that "Catholics could control the court" [the inflammatory headline may be the Cincinnati Post's, not Mitrovich's] -- that reeks of anti-Catholic bigotry for me. Certainly for most of its history, majorities of the judges were Protestants and I don't think that was much questioned.

With only nine positions on the Supreme Court, it can't very well represent all the diversity of the people of this country. It needs more women. It could use more people of color. As Bush is currently shaping it, it is way over full of lawyers from Ivy League schools. It could also use more judges whose expertise was less in academic legal argument and more in practical application of the law in every day life, something Justice O'Connor brought to the court. Religious diversity, while nice, seems much less important. Though maybe the Court could use an outright atheist.

Thanks to Melanie for pointing to the Mitrovich column.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lurking immigration contradictions:
trap for Republicans, potential for Democrats

One of the hidden people who work in the United States; detail from a mural by Joel Bergner.

Leslie Sanchez is an up and comer. Her bio, as posted on her website, is such a fulsome example of marketing hype that one almost suspects parody. Here’s her first sentence: "America is a great country - but it still not every day that a young girl from Texas starts off by working her way through college selling encyclopedias door to door, only to rise up and become an adviser to the leaders of major corporations, members of Congress and the President of the United States." Sorting through the fluff, Sanchez' actual work seems mostly to have been being visibly "Hispanic" among Texas Republicans, at the fringes of the Bush White House, and in such media as Fox News.

This morning, Sanchez riled Republican waters with an oped in the WaPo
asserting that Republican Jerry Kilgore hurt his unsuccessful candidacy for governor of Virginia by railing against "illegal" immigration. None of what she says would be surprising from a liberal do-gooder, but such an advocate probably couldn't have pointed out what underlies attacks on "illegals" so bluntly:

Substantial numbers of immigrants (not to mention their children and grandchildren, too) hear attacks on "illegal" immigration as attacks on them -- so that a discussion of, say, day laborers can quickly turn into an anti-Hispanic free-for-all.

Hispanics know from experience that most people can't tell the difference between legal and illegal immigrants or, in many cases, between immigrants and U.S.-born, Spanish-speaking Hispanics -- so they just assume the worst absent proof to the contrary. …

Republicans embrace anti-immigrant fervor at their peril. The party is perilously close to adopting as its immigration policy the hanging of a "closed" sign on the border.

Yes indeed -- the hue and cry against the undocumented gets its energy from xenophobia and racism -- and politicians who adopt it will pay a price.

Republican critics have been quick to point out that Sanchez's evidence that Kilgore's anti-immigrant rhetoric hurt him is very thin. I agree with them on this, even though, like Sanchez, I've been interested in the probability that losing the Muslim vote hurt him. But what really gets a reaction is her rejection of the label "illegal." She has committed heresy. There are many aspects of the rule of law that right wingers will flout with delight; think how they go apoplectic over environmental regulation that restricts free exploitation of property or about laws requiring accommodation for the disabled. That kind of law they'll encourage breaking. But woe to a hungry person who crosses a border looking for a way to feed his family. He or she is labeled a non-person, "an illegal." What better excuse to vent the underlying racist bile that even so deracinated an "Hispanic" as Sanchez can feel lurking beneath surface concerns for legal hoop jumping?

As a matter of prudent politics, Sanchez' warning to the Republicans to stay away from demonizing immigrants is almost certainly correct. That has been the lesson here in California. Pete Wilson got himself re-elected governor in 1994 riding a tide of vicious anti-immigrant xenophobia and has became the icon for marginalization of Republican politicians statewide ever since. Being a Republican became electoral poison: the only major GOP statewide officeholder to win after Wilson has been an outsider, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sold himself as non-partisan. Not only did California Latinos become naturalized and get registered in record numbers to vote against Republican xenophobia, but also the rest of Californians clearly don't want to go back to the rancor that anti-immigrant politicking lets loose.

Republicans can't really get away with making distinctions between good "legal" immigrants and bad "illegal" ones -- the latter are nearly always someone's sister or uncle, part of the family even if not recognized as such by the state. And one important set of Republicans will never get on the "close the border" bandwagon: employers of low wage labor, usually GOP stalwarts, depend on an ample supply of readily exploitable undocumented workers. Though they won't usually speak out publicly, their political contributions flow away from anti-immigrant Republicans.

Democrats have just as much of a political interest in not demonizing the undocumented as Republicans -- and not much more reliable instincts about this. There is lots of anti-foreign sentiment in their party too. But they have much to gain if they can unite behind a sensible immigration policy that
  • recognizes reality (immigrants are here and will keep on coming for jobs, so there must be some kind of legalization and a path to citizenship);
  • is humane (encourages family reunification);
  • and protects the rights of immigrants as workers. (Anything short of full labor rights will drag down the standard for everyone who works for wages; post-9/11 profiling and discrimination points up the need for civil rights protections.)
Because new immigrants sense the underlying racism of the Republicans, most will flock to Democrats if given half a chance. And down that path lies a long-term Democratic majority, despite whatever strains incorporating newcomers may bring up on the way.

Hidden war grinds on;
Congress responds with food fight

Outside Baghdad's al Hamra hotel, after Thursday's suicide bombing. Photo by Bill Putnam who lives there.

So yesterday, the Republicans in Congress treated that institution as a sandbox, suitable for a kindergarten brawl over the right of opponents to question Prez. Nincompoop's war. Democrats demonstrated, more than in a long time, enough fight to show the Reps up for the mean, whining incompetents that they are.

All very cute. But meanwhile, Iraqis and our unfortunate cannon fodder keep dying.

Riverbend speculates from Baghdad about why world media act so surprised about the recently uncovered "torture houses."

The Americans know they exist- why the sudden shock and outrage? This is hardly news for Americans in the Green Zone. The timing is quite interesting- it shouldn't matter that this raid came immediately after the whole white phosphorous story came out, but the Pentagon and American military have proven to be the ultimate masters of diversion.

Only last year in an area called Ghazaliya, one such house was discovered. It was on a smaller scale though. My cousin lives in Ghazaliya and he said that when the Americans got inside, they found several corpses and a man hanging from the ceiling on a makeshift noose. The neighbors had tried to get the Americans to check the house for months- no one bothered. They finally raided it because they got information from someone in the area that it was an insurgents hiding place.

I read once that in New York, if a woman is being raped, she should scream 'fire' instead of 'rape' because no one would come to save her if she was screaming 'rape'. That's the way it is with Iraqi torture houses- the only way they'll check it is if you tell them it's a terrorist cell.

All this is very reminiscent of the 1980s when the US conducted "secret wars" in Central America -- wars that were certainly not "secret" to the unfortunate Nicaraguan and Salvadoran peasants who found themselves on the wrong end of them -- wars hidden only from inattentive US residents.

The forces fighting the US in Iraq are doing their best to remind the US that there is a war on; last week they got the journalists' attention by attacking the al-Hamra Hotel where many live. Chris Albritton of Back to Iraq and Time magazine is on R&R in Beirut, but he links to his friends' articles about what it is like to be the target of a suicide bomber. Catherine Philip describes "the moment when a suicide bomb is suddenly aimed at you" in the Sunday London Times.

I pulled on the first clothes I could find, picked up a bag with all my personal documents in it, and ran for the door. … I ran down the remaining nine flights of stairs to the ground floor. Shattered glass and smears of blood covered the reception floor.

Dazed staff wandered around searching for one another. Outside, the courtyard was strewn with the charred gobbets of flesh, the unmistakeable sign of a suicide bombing that I had seen on Baghdad’s streets so many times before.

At the end of the road, a woman in a black abaya was screaming, searching for her missing husband. Two men rushed out of a neighbouring apartment block whose side had been ripped off. They were carrying a child still dressed in her pink pyjamas, bloodied and weeping. It was the little girl who used to wave at me from her balcony. …

It was the sheer scale of the insurgents’ ambition that saved our lives. The crater and pile of debris created by the first explosion was so huge that the second lorry could not get through. It detonated where it was, killing at least eight of those living in the surrounding flats. Miraculously, not a single journalist was killed. …

I looked at the bomber’s foot still lying on the ground. No, I thought to myself. If I believed in Hell, I’d hope that you were there now.

Well, the bombers certainly got the reporters' attention. It is hard to imagine that journalists will continue to try to report from these conditions. Who is served by a hidden war? The guys with the guns, on every side? Not really even them. Meanwhile, meaningless killing goes on for everyone else.

Congressman Murtha was right: he "concluded the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is impeding … progress…. it's time to bring the troops home. …It's the right thing to do. … There's times you just got to -- you got to change your mind about this thing, you got to change your direction. "

Journalists have started a collection for the families of Iraqis who had the misfortune to live next to the Al Hamra, according to Albritton.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Designer donates sneakers for border run

Argentine artist Judi Werthein displays a pair of Brinco shoes before handing them out to takers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo by Denis Poroy, AP

Too weird almost for words. According to this morning's SF Chronicle via AP the artist is trying to help:

The high-top sneakers cost $215 at a San Diego boutique, but the designer is giving them away to migrants before they cross to this side of the U.S.-Mexico border….

A compass and flashlight dangle from one shoelace. The pocket in the tongue is for money or pain relievers. A rough map of the border region is printed on a removable insole.

They are red, white and green, the colors of the Mexican flag. On the back ankle, a drawing of Mexico's patron saint of migrants.

On this side of the border, the shoes sit in art collections or the closets of well-heeled sneaker connoisseurs. On the other side, in Tijuana, it's a utilitarian affair: Immigrants to be are happy to have the sturdy, lightweight shoes for the hike — or dash — into the United States.

Sounds crazy, but Werthein did the research to make these actually useful to people coming across the border looking for work. A native Spanish-speaker, she "joined the Mexican government's Grupo Beta migrant-aid society on long border hikes" and interviewed migrants. She also found patrons who have funded the project to the tune of $40,000.

What to make of this? My immediate reaction was censorious and utilitarian. Doesn't such an art project make light of the sufferings of people driven by the need to eat who cross our fortified deserts? Couldn't the money in this project have been spent on advocating for immigration reforms that made dangerous, extra-legal border treks unnecessary? (Full disclosure: I am currently consulting with immigrant groups and reform advocates.)

But a little reflection backs me off the judgmental impulse. Just maybe this project can help loosen up some people's view of a situation on which attitudes seem frozen, polarized. Immigration policy is broken; most of the debates around it simply penalize the hungry and provide permanent employment for bureaucrats and various kinds of police. None of it focuses on the continuing human drama and cost. Maybe Judi Werthein has a clue how to do that.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Religious boobs or "American Taliban"?
Or other choices?

Alan Wolfe's The Transformation of American Religion: How we actually live our faith perhaps might more accurately be titled "the closing of the American religious mind." Wolfe, a social scientist, wants readers to know upfront that "I do not write about religion out of religious conviction. …I am not, and never have been, a person of faith." Nonetheless he seems awfully distressed by the picture he draws of a religious landscape in which churches aim, apparently above all, to cater to the needs of self-centered individualists. "American faith has met American culture -- and American culture has won."

Wolfe is a sometimes sharp, and often sharp-tongued, observer.
  • "…all of America's religions face the same imperative: Personalize or die."
  • "…the Bible, considered as a body of ideas, is something of an afterthought, there to ratify ideas already so well formed that one need never puzzle over them."
  • "Pentecostal forms of religious expression have become popular because -- like increasing numbers of school teachers, leaders of therapeutic communities, mental-health professionals, and even occasional academics who live in secular worlds -- they seek authenticity through experience rather than ideas."
  • "In many contemporary American religious precincts, Antigone would have been asked if she wanted help in letting go her obsession with her brother."
All these rather similar plaints, none particularly novel, amply supported from the social science observations, add up to a picture of faiths more trivial than terrifying, more redolent of the New Age homilies of Deepak Chopra than the puritan rigor of a Jonathan Edwards.

The title of Wolfe's last chapter "Is Democracy Safe from Religion?" points up where all this rather disdainful description of the religious landscape leads him. Wolfe wants above all to assure readers that the religious boobs he has been depicting needn't be feared. He assures us that:

…believers who prefer a God of love to a God of truth are not going to kill for their beliefs -- or give their support to those who do. … As much as we may be tempted to denounce as flighty Americans who change their faith as often as their cars, we ought to recognize that religious switching acts as a kind of insurance against bigotry. …Sometimes the more seemingly frivolous of the ways Americans practice their faith turn out to be blessings in disguise.

As someone who, as an uppity woman and a lesbian, constantly fears being a target of the religious right, do I find Wolfe reassuring?

Not particularly. Popular commodity culture is pretty easy to ridicule; and ridicule is an easy form of dismissal. Ill-informed, incurious people who seek out faith practices that do not challenge them to experience a larger human family may not be malevolent. But they can be oblivious to active evil done out of their sight. And we live in a society increasingly segregated by wealth and education that enables many not to have any idea how others live, as recent events in flooded New Orleans showed us.

Moreover, there are "religious" leaders, currently exemplified by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who seek to use the unexamined enthusiasms of ordinary seekers to build power for their fascist agendas. The followers may have benign intent -- however democracy will not be safe from these right wing authoritarians without continued struggle that includes the many religious people who actively oppose any intolerant agenda.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Animal house U.S. Army-style in Iraq

They don't look hungry right now…

This seems too unbelievable to be true, but the AP is reporting that two Iraqi businessmen say they were tortured by US soldiers by being thrown into a cage with lions. A lot of other things that once seemed unbelievable have proved true; perhaps this too is fact:

Dressed in suits, the two men talked solemnly about the hot July day in 2003 when they were arrested by American troops with guns and armored vehicles. Their voices rose, and their words tumbled out more quickly, as they described being covered with plastic hoods and repeatedly struck by soldiers using the butts of their weapons.

“I was very scared,” said Khalid. “I felt I was going to suffocate. Every time I screamed and pleaded with them, they would hit me.”

They both described standing in front of a lions’ cage, and said they could hear other prisoners screaming as the metal cage door creaked opened and slammed closed.

“They threatened that if I did not confess they would put me in the cage,” said Khalid, adding that the soldiers kept asking him where Saddam was. “I laughed; I thought they were kidding me. They asked where are the weapons of mass destruction. I was very surprised, and I thought it was weird.”

When he laughed, he said, he was beaten more. He said they pushed him into the cage three times, pulling him out as the lions moved toward him.

The pair have sued Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other military officials seeking damages for their mistreatment. They are represented by the ACLU and are currently telling their story on a U.S. tour.

I know there is an old book that tells as story about a lion's den near Babylon; what have those troops been reading?

Parsing endorsement of torture

That's what the Senate has been doing for the last few days, while deciding to whether to deny Bush-designated "enemy combatants" access to legal review of why they are being held. There was a dreadful Graham amendment to do away with habeas corpus passed by the Republican majority, some more-Republican-than-Democrat Senators from very red states, and the atrocious Joe Lieberman, then a Bingaman amendment that was better, then a compromise or three. Also some kind of statement asking the President to explain his Iraq policy.

Better people than I have attempted explicate all this: for some good commentary, see especially As the Senate elaborates legal epicycles, I'm reminded of protracted battles in Congress during the 1980s over overt US aid to the Nicaraguan anti-Sandinista terrorist movement, the contras, that Ronald Reagan's administration broke many laws to support. Those of us hoping to impose limits on this dirty war dutifully petitioned, made our calls to legislators, and tried to keep up with the ins and outs Congressional maneuvering. We won some and lost some; in a sense what came to be called "Iran-Contra," the scheme of trading arms for hostages with Iran while hitting up the Sultan of Brunei to pay for the Nicaraguan thugs was something our opposition imposed on the executive.

Then and now, what matters is that we keep our eyes on the real issues. No normal person can keep track of the legislative minutia, nor should we try to. The legal, moral and even merely prudent objectives for sane residents of the US are pretty clear: reinstate the rule of law; stop torture; don't make wars based on lies; and, at the most sophisticated level, learn to play well with others.

Monday, November 14, 2005


If I didn't ever hunt for new blogs to read, I'd be missing the riches the blogosphere offers. Here are some recent finds:

The Moor Next Door writes here on the difference between the experience of Arab Americans and American Muslims and that of European Arabs and Muslims. Nouri bin Ziri had a number of interesting posts on the riots in the French "suburbs," a subject on which it has been hard to find good information.

Black Looks: Musings and Rants of an African Fem covers the enormous topic of women in Africa. The current lead post deconstructs the claim that the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia represents something utterly new for the continent.

Operation Eden is Clayton James Cubitt's chronicle of what Hurricane Katrina did to his family, with extraordinary photos. This one is a work of art -- and outrage.

Ginger Mayerson at Hackenblog always has good commentary on our world from Los Angeles, but I particularly enjoyed this post on feminism as we live it now.

For sheer beauty (and to brush up on your high school French), take a look at Sur Le Pont Des Arts.

There's a universe of great stuff out there; we owe it ourselves to look around.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Post-election roundup: Muslims in the electorate

Tarrant County Republicans reached out to Muslims at a festival celebrating the end of Ramadan last week. Photo: BRAD LOPER/DMN

From Texas: The Dallas Morning News reported that Republicans sought to attract Muslim voters by appealing to their conservatism on gender issues, promoting the ban on gay marriage. They met a mixed reception:

Mir Barethz of Arlington said "Gay marriage is against my religion….God made men for women and women for men."…

Nawal Suleiman, a substitute English teacher from Arlington, said that she voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 but that then he "turned 180 degrees against Muslims and Arabs."…

"If one Israeli dies, it's a tragedy," she said. "If 100 Muslims are killed, it's not a big deal."

In Virginia: The Washington Post detected that Muslims were among the voters who gave Democrat Timothy Kaine surprising margins of victory in exurban counties that previously had voted Republican.

Studies show that a larger proportion of new residents moving to the outer suburbs in the past few years are immigrants, creating a diversifying population whose voting patterns may have aided Kaine.

"There has to be a reason for this, and for me the reason is the influx of the new people, and the biggest chunk of that influx are foreign-born citizens," said Mukit Hossain, president of the Virginian Muslim Political Action Committee.

Hossain said his group, which endorsed Kaine, compiled a comprehensive database of Muslim voters in Virginia, finding that about 15,000 of 49,000 statewide live in Prince William and Loudoun. Many legal immigrants in the area were turned off by Kilgore's pledges to use state police to fight illegal immigration and his opposition to a proposed taxpayer-funded day labor site in Herndon, and voted accordingly, he said.

The group also endorsed Democratic delegate candidate David E. Poisson, who unseated Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), one of the most conservative House members. Hossain said an analysis of survey data showed that more than 60 percent of Muslims in Poisson's district voted and that they supported the Democrat by more than 30 to 1.

"If the politicians have any sense, I'd hope they'd pay attention," said Hossain.

In New Jersey: Local election officials used a convenient, accessible mosque as a polling place and were taken aback when voters complained.

Tina Palagonia, wife of Whitehall Township Commissioner Jerry Palagonia, who was working the polls for her husband Tuesday, said about 70 of the 234 people she encountered complained about the use of the Muslim hall.

Palagonia said one woman told her she found it ''offensive to come to an Islamic Center to vote.'' Another woman told Palagonia that she has a daughter in Iraq. ''We know what's going on there; she tells us what's going on there,'' Palagonia said the woman told her. ''And we have to come here and vote?''

Jerry Palagonia, who won a second term Tuesday, responded, ''That's wrong, that's totally wrong,'' describing the mosque as pretty, very clean and nice.

He also praised the members of the mosque for their courtesies during the long Election Day. ''I don't want to hurt the feelings of the people at the church. I just don't understand it.''

Meanwhile, elsewhere in New Jersey, a Muslim candidate for office overcame a blatant racist attack.

The anonymous flier mailed to households days before a new mayor was to be chosen was direct and devastating in its claims: A Muslim council member, one of three candidates for the post, was "a betrayer living among us" with ties to the 9/11 terrorists.

The mailing said Mohamed Khairullah "should not be living in our clean town" and "will try to poison our thoughts about our great country."

But the letter failed to derail his candidacy; the Borough Council chose Khairullah in a 4-0 vote Wednesday night, making him one of only two Muslim mayors in New Jersey.

All these incidents replicate a common trajectory by which immigrant communities become part of the US multicultural mix. Latinos in California experience the same dissonance between the values they bring from their home cultures and US attitudes toward abortion, gender roles and gay marriage. If all else were equal, they might be attracted by Republican stances on these issues. But they identify Republicans with racism and xenophobia. When push comes to shove, most register as Democrats, not because the Democrats are so attractive, but because there really is no home for them in the other party.

Muslims seem to be following the same pattern, faced with Republican promotion of panicked cries of "Islamofascism" and embrace of militant rightwing Christianity. Until and unless Muslims in this country achieve economic and political security, which Republican post-9/11 posturing denies them, the majority will be Democrats. Meanwhile, at the local level, they can hope to move into the system, winning more space and respect.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ward's Wonderful World: NOT!

A car burns during a riot in the Paris suburb of Le Blanc-Mesnil November 3, 2005. REUTERS/Franck Prevel

Next time Ward Connerly comes calling with one of his "color blind" scams, claiming that issues of racial discrimination will go away if we stop counting what happens to people of color, somebody remind him of France. Connerly is the regent (appointed member of the governing board) of the University of California who succeeded in outlawing affirmative action by the state in 1996.

Students of color, not surprisingly, either gave up on college or went to schools where they felt more welcome, according to a US Civil Rights Commission Report. So in 2003, Connerly came back for more, seeking to prohibit the state from counting people of color. No data, no problem. Through hard work and fortuitous circumstances that initiative went down to defeat.

France has been trying Connerly's experiment, choosing to see no evil:

France's Constitution guarantees equality to all, but that has long been interpreted to mean that ethnic or religious differences are not the purview of the state. The result is that no one looks at such differences to track growing inequalities and so discrimination is easy to hide.

"People have it in their head that surveying by race or religion is bad, it's dirty, it's something reserved for Americans and that we shouldn't do it here," said Yazid Sabeg, the only prominent Frenchman of Arab descent at the head of a publicly listed French company. "But without statistics to look at, how can we measure the problem?" NY Times.

It clearly got French society in a lot of trouble.

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson finds a lesson:

The riots in the suburbs of Paris and other French cities ought to wipe the smirk from the lips of even multiculturalism's smuggest critics. Those who lobby against bilingual education or get upset when their children learn about Cinco de Mayo should look at France and realize that multiculturalism is a lot like democracy -- it's the worst system except for all the others….

In France, it's against the law to keep statistics based on race or ethnicity. But the fact that no one knows the precise number of Muslims living in France today doesn't mean those Muslims don't exist: There are about 5 million of them by most estimates….

Just because no one knows how many first- or second-generation Moroccans or Senegalese live on the grim periphery of the City of Light doesn't mean they aren't there. Just because you don't know precisely how many of them are unemployed doesn't mean there's no job discrimination….

People of different races, backgrounds, cultures, histories and languages can indeed live together productively and with common purpose. I know that because we do it here in the United States. It's a messy process, because it means we have to argue a lot, and many of us resent all the constant conflict and negotiation that's involved in getting along with one another….

So let's end all this "English-first" nonsense and embrace Spanish as our second language, since that's what it is. Let's learn more about those 5,000 years of Chinese history. Let's have the dates of Ramadan and Eid noted on our calendars. Let's remind ourselves of a big, important lesson that we've already learned, and that we can teach the world: Multiculturalism works.

Take that, Ward.

Veterans Day: War is not the answer

Memorial sculpture depicting Peter Kollwitz' parents praying for their son killed in WWI

One day, a new ideal will arise, and there will be an end to all wars. I die convinced of this. It will need much hard work, but it will be achieved… The important thing, until that happens, is to hold one’s banner high and to struggle… Without struggle there is no life. -- Sculptor Kathe Kollwitz (For much more, read this.)

Yesterday I joined a tiny contemporary piece of the "hard work." For four years, faithful Quakers, joined by Buddhists and Episcopalians, have witnessed against war ever Thursday at noon outside the San Francisco Federal Building. Yesterday Fr. Robert Cromey broke Eucharistic bread with those who wished to participate.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Millions of South Asian earthquake victims need our help: "let's blog the hell out of it."*

Graphic: Church World Service

Eighty thousand have already died; 3 million people are homeless. The Himalayan disaster is approaching the scale of horror reached by last year's tsunami (300,000 dead).

Oxfam warns:

The thousands of people living in remote villages are in serious danger - especially once the snows come - but the plight of those who are living in camps has not received the same attention. Unless conditions are improved in these camps, diseases like cholera could spread like wildfire. If disease does break out in the camps, the number of deaths could far exceed those in danger in their villages.

Meanwhile in the US, via Juan Cole*:

A [congressional] staffer writes:
So far, the US has only given $50 million and pledged another $150 million. USAID has only $10 million left in their budget, after that US assistance will run out of funding. Today, the President instructed five Fortune 500 CEOs to travel to Pakistan. They will be doing fact finding and help with private donations. Unfortunately, with all the hurricanes (Katrina, Rita, Wilma, etc) there is "disaster fatigue" in the US Congress.

Those of us who can need to contribute now. Two good agencies with strong ties in the region are: I've given repeatedly. Please leave a comment if you have -- tell readers what agency you chose.

On "Bowling Alone" -- hanging separately or together?

Quite simply, Robert D. Putnam's Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of American community has had more of an impact on my thinking about this country and the social and political movements in which I work than anything I've encountered in years. Published in 2000, Putnam wrote before the dubious election of 2000, before 9/11, before the present rightwing ascendancy. The fact that nothing in my reading of events since contradicts his main thesis greatly increases its authority for me.

This is an astonishingly ambitious book. Putnam seeks to aggregate huge quantities of disparate data -- then explain -- and then understand -- the implications of a huge decline in what he names "social capital," the communal networks of trust that that underlie a well functioning society.

Since the mid 1960s, in every arena, he documents that people in the US have withdrawn massively from the institutions and social structures that create social cohesion. We not only are less likely to vote, we are less likely to belong to a church, attend a club meeting -- or perhaps even more tellingly to spend our recreational time playing cards with neighbors or visiting friends. As the pre-World War II generation passed from the scene, Boomers (born 1946-1960) participated less and less in the collective activities that build social trust. And the generational cohorts that have followed are even less participatory.

This is hard for those of us who do live very actively in community, of whom I am emphatically one, to believe. I'm a Boomer who grew up inspired by notions of "participatory democracy" and has never stopped trying to build it. And so I am tempted to suggest simple explanations for the social trends Putnam describes. Maybe he has missed (or misread) the changed nature of social capital when most women work outside the home? Maybe he assumes cohesive neighborhoods have to look like older cities, while suburbs generate new forms like megachurches and soccer leagues? Maybe the new self-assertion of gay people has generated new customs and venues that replace some of the time once spent on family dinners? Maybe informal book groups have replaced club meetings for many? Maybe we watch a lot of TV alone, but we communicate with others actively on the internet and through blogs? Putnam looks at all these apparent countervailing trends and many more, and concludes convincingly that none has slowed the erosion of our social capital.

And that erosion matters, because social capital is what makes possible trust between people who do not know each other, as well as trust in community institutions. Trustful societies work.

A society characterized by generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society, for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. If we don't have to balance every exchange instantly, we can get a lot more accomplished. Trustworthiness lubricates social life.

By that standard, this society is a mass aggregation of frustrating frictions.

Having laid out the problem exhaustively, what does Putnam propose we should do about it, this reflexively activist reader asks? Not surprisingly, this section is much weaker than that desribing our condition. These are huge social forces after all. He looks for lessons from the Progressive Era in US history at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. He describes a conscious effort in that time and place, by many sectors, immigrants and industrialists, men and women, religious and secular folks, to launch organizations and activities that held together amidst the uncertainties of rapid technological and economic change. And though he acknowledges many limitations from a modern perspective in the efforts made in that era, he hopes for a similar attempt today.

The prescription is, unhappily, not very convincing to me. The one question Putnam doesn’t ask or answer in this exhaustively argued volume is: who benefits from our increasing atomized isolation from one another? It seems pretty clear to me that today's winners -- the rich, the elites, the greedy -- have been doing very well in a society of unorganized and increasingly paranoid folks who do not even imagine they can collectively improve their environment. So I don't see many forces with actual clout that are going to lead US society in a different direction.

Changes along the lines needed require genuine re-evaluation of how we've allowed our lives to be structured, changes only likely to happen in the wake of massive economic dislocation (peak oil?), a losing war (got one of those, but so far a distant one), or other national trauma. We are all living now in the backwash of our right wing rulers' successful effort to deflect any such evaluation after 9/11. How much more trauma will it take?

In another dark hour, W.H. Auden's poem, "September First, 1939," had it right: We must love one another or die.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Morning after Arnold went down

This morning California's newspapers put photos of Governor Schwarzenegger on the front pages, even in abject defeat. They should have pictured the voters, or if they could have found the image for it, the process of a freewheeling election itself.

Because Schwarzenegger took on the public employee unions, he didn't have the usual advantage that bullying pols enjoy: there was a force with money and people power to contest him. And in a fairer than usual fight, Californians said no to a rightwing celebrity's power grab, yes to education and social services, yes to unions being able to contest corporate power and even, as a bonus, yes to young women's right to choose.

The morning's headlines were indeed sweet; self-indulgently, I'll round up some tidbits here:

Voters Reject Schwarzenegger's Bid to Remake State Government -- Los Angeles Times

"Schwarzenegger put in $7.2 million of his own money. That brings his total personal spending on political endeavors to $25 million since he ran for governor in the 2003 recall race."

This governor role has proven to be an expensive hobby.

Why His 'Sequel' Failed to Captivate -- Los Angeles Times

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday met the limits of his celebrity: Even a campaign built around his action-star persona could not persuade voters to embrace his 'year of reform' agenda."

"A Republican strategist and occasional Schwarzenegger advisor put it more bluntly Tuesday, saying privately: 'The act is getting stale.'"

Enough with the actors already. California faces real problems; let's get on with solving them.

Schwarzenegger faces 'resounding defeat'-- San Jose Mercury News

"Elizabeth Garrett, who directs the USC-Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics [said] 'It means that, Wednesday morning, he is an ordinary Republican governor working with a Democratic Legislature in California -- no stronger, no weaker.'''

That's pretty weak; the current districting of the legislature ensures that Democrats will remain in large majorities throughout this decade.

Analysis: A bruising blow from 'the people' -- Sacramento Bee

Gale Kaufman, who presided over the multimillion-dollar campaign that brought the governor to his knees, said his political recovery won't be that easy.

"'I think he comes out of this election ... deeply damaged, and really in a very different place," she said. "Just waking up again and saying, 'Today I'm back to the middle,' doesn't make it so. He's lost the ability to just keep changing and having people believe it."

He always did seem to be an actor with only one character.

CALIFORNIANS SAY NO TO SCHWARZENEGGER-- San Francisco Chronicle [Full caps are the Chron's.]

"This must be the worst defeat the governor has ever had,'' said Kevin Spillane, a GOP consultant. "It's not like having a movie that underperforms. … Now, we have to see how he deals with defeat.''

I'll hazard a prediction here: Arnold will pull out of the governor's race if it looks like a fight for him. I hope the unions and the Democrats in Sacramento don't let up now. Californians deserve better and yesterday they proved they know it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Right wingers out for blood:
An analysis of a wingnut attack on progressive nonprofit work

Current attacks on free speech via threats to the non-profit status of dissenting institutions are not limited to harassing war opponents who deliver fiery sermons.

Writing in The Nonprofit Quarterly, Rick Cohen unpacks the complicated story of how rightwing House Republicans managed to attach language to a housing trust fund bill that will bar nonprofit housing developers from encouraging nonpartisan voter registration activities or working with other agencies that do civic engagement and advocacy -- even if the housing nonprofits use only privately raised, non-federal funds for their advocacy activities. The newly prohibited advocacy work is all completely legal nonprofit activity under the Internal Revenue code. But free market wingnuts are working to change that.

Cohen enumerates lessons that nonprofits have to take to heart if they are to survive the Republican reign of greed:
  • Right wingers will use nonprofits' need to force them to accept unacceptable restrictions. "Even conservatives who not only had no interest in [the housing] fund but actually opposed it… were willing to vote for it if it impaled nonprofit advocacy rights as part of the bargain."
  • Republicans are willing stick these poison pill requirements on any legislation, however important to real people; in this case, they've hooked it on Katrina relief. "There is virtually no federal program that is so important to the right wing (except perhaps the Administration's faith-based initiative) that they won't sacrifice and skewer it if it can score a point to advance their odd ideological agenda."
  • Nonprofits can't cede a few rights at the margin in the hope that the assault on their activities will be limited. In the housing bill "options arose for technical solutions, like exempting nonprofits that are required to engage in voter registration through state “motor voter” and other laws, or exempting groups that do voter registration among the disabled, one of the least registered population groups in the nation. All that does is peel off groups that might believe--mistakenly--that their concerns or stake have been addressed or solved….To fight these attacks, advocates have to see the issues and implications in their fullest breadth, not their narrowest possible technical grounds."
  • These attacks on nonprofits are about scaring them into pulling back from their missions, not just some technical regulations. "With the enactment of the law, nonprofits interested in building or rehabilitating affordable housing would not only look at the law and avoid the kinds of activities outlined as prohibitions against trust fund participation, they would likely go further. Given the possible latitudes of interpretation, nonprofits wary of running afoul of the program auditors would probably avoid activities and projects that might trigger problems."
  • Advocacy restrictions ultimately aim to put nonprofit housing developers out of business, leaving housing to for-profit builders. Private developers influence politicians with campaign contributions; nonprofits can only show their clout by mobilizing constituencies. "By putting advocacy and voter registration restrictions on nonprofits, it is all too clear that the Republicans have unleveled the playing field in favor of for-profit developers. None of these restrictions would have applied to for-profits and their national and regional interest groups or their Political Action Committees."
  • The right will not be placated by throwing in some bones for "faith-based" groups. That tactic just shows Democratic ignorance of how well most "fatih-based" nonprofits already work at providing services."Trust fund eligibility was not a real problem for faith-based providers….If they haven't mobilized to win their point to date on the faith-based funding formulas of the Administration, it is difficult to think that changing the eligibility standards for participating in the Fannie/Freddie affordable trust fund would stimulate the political juices of the faith-based players….And in the end, raising the specter of faith-based concerns about the RSC amendments swayed no votes among the Republicans."
  • The Democrats caved by hoping, vainly, that the bad provisions would all go away in a conference committee. That is, they capitulated to letting the Republicans pull a stealth attack on a valuable program."The arcane world of a House/Senate conference committee to work out differences between companion bills is a not much more transparent process than an amendment sneaked into the Rules Committee to avoid full floor debate. These issues have to be put out in front of the public, not simply discussed on the Web pages and listservs of the nonprofit cognoscenti."
Cohen emphasizes that these sorts of attacks on services the government aids outside the market are going to keep on coming. He advises nonprofits to get tough in standing up for their mission:

Sometimes, the nonprofit sector has to “just say no”--and say it with courage and power, even with the possible consequence of rejecting long-sought government funding programs.

I've excerpted liberally from Cohen's article but would urge anyone interested in the future of progressive work under nonprofit rules and regulations to study it thoroughly. In fact, the entire NonProfit Quarterly is worth checking out as it regularly covers these issues in a non-technical, morally serious manner.