Friday, September 29, 2006

We few, we happy few

Susan G, at Daily Kos, rallies the troops:

So when we've fully cycled through the necessary step of dueling "Calm the F***Down!" and "I Will NOT Calm the F*** Down!" diaries, when we've flushed the fresh shock of yesterday's legislation out of our systems, when the betrayal and grief and outrage give way to the urge for fierce and united action ... it will be time to find a candidate who stands for what we believe in and GIVE. Give money, give time, give expertise. Hit the streets, hard. Wailing, if you must, but goddamn it, hit them. Go to another district. Hell, go to another state if you have to and put in the time. And if this set of netroots candidates wins and it turns out they don't come through for us, kick them the hell out in the next election. We'll do it over and over and over again until we get it right, if that's what it takes.

That's what democracy looks like: messy and unpredictable and sometimes slow and often heartbreaking and LOUD ... but man, it's a beautiful construct and we are lucky to have it. It is OURS. This country is OURS. We will not lie down and we will not go quietly.

Get over to the Act Blue netroots candidates page and read some bios. Volunteer time. Give some bucks. Grieve with dedication, grieve with focus, grieve with fierce resolve. It's time to kick some ass for democracy.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

"The president goes to Capitol Hill to lobby for torture"

An Editorial from the Washington Post

Friday, September 15, 2006; A18

PRESIDENT BUSH rarely visits Congress. So it was a measure of his painfully skewed priorities that Mr. Bush made the unaccustomed trip yesterday to seek legislative permission for the CIA to make people disappear into secret prisons and have information extracted from them by means he dare not describe publicly.

Of course, Mr. Bush didn't come out and say he's lobbying for torture. Instead he refers to "an alternative set of procedures" for interrogation. But the administration no longer conceals what it wants. It wants authorization for the CIA to hide detainees in overseas prisons where even the International Committee of the Red Cross won't have access. It wants permission to interrogate those detainees with abusive practices that in the past have included induced hypothermia and "waterboarding," or simulated drowning. And it wants the right to try such detainees, and perhaps sentence them to death, on the basis of evidence that the defendants cannot see and that may have been extracted during those abusive interrogation sessions.

There's no question that the United States is facing a dangerous foe that uses the foulest of methods. But a wide array of generals and others who should know argue that it is neither prudent nor useful for the United States to compromise its own values in response. "I continue to read and hear that we are facing a 'different enemy' in the war on terror," retired Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) this week. "No matter how true that may be, inhumanity and cruelty are not new to warfare nor to enemies we have faced in the past. . . . Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so."

Another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and one more intimately familiar with the war on terrorism, also weighed in this week: "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," former general and secretary of state Colin L. Powell wrote to McCain. "To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts."

Mr. Powell was referring to an article of the Geneva Conventions that prohibits cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. Mr. Bush, with support from most Republican congressional leaders, wants to redefine American obligations under the treaty. Three Republican senators -- John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee; Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina; and Mr. McCain -- are bravely promoting an alternative measure that would allow terrorists to be questioned and tried without breaking faith with traditional U.S. values. The Armed Services Committee approved their bill yesterday and sent it to the Senate floor.

The doubts of which Mr. Powell spoke are impeding the U.S. war effort. A president who lobbies for torture feeds those doubts even if, as we hope, Congress denies him his request.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Is it just me?

or isn't this how we got to Iraq? This is something, perhaps, to pay some careful attention to, if we find ourselves presented with "evidence" of an imminent threat from Iran. The first step toward being a full particpant in deliberative democracy is acquiring enough knowledge to judge for yourself the claims made by those with political (and economic) power. From the Washington Post

U.N. Inspectors Dispute Iran Report By House Panel
Paper on Nuclear Aims Called Dishonest

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006; A17

U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program angrily complained to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman yesterday about a recent House committee report on Iran's capabilities, calling parts of the document "outrageous and dishonest" and offering evidence to refute its central claims.

Officials of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency said in a letter that the report contained some "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements." The letter, signed by a senior director at the agency, was addressed to Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, which issued the report. A copy was hand-delivered to Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna.

The IAEA openly clashed with the Bush administration on pre-war assessments of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Relations all but collapsed when the agency revealed that the White House had based some allegations about an Iraqi nuclear program on forged documents.

After no such weapons were found in Iraq, the IAEA came under additional criticism for taking a cautious approach on Iran, which the White House says is trying to build nuclear weapons in secret. At one point, the administration orchestrated a campaign to remove the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei. It failed, and he won the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

Yesterday's letter, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post, was the first time the IAEA has publicly disputed U.S. allegations about its Iran investigation. The agency noted five major errors in the committee's 29-page report, which said Iran's nuclear capabilities are more advanced than either the IAEA or U.S. intelligence has shown.

Monday, September 11, 2006

From CQ

No, not GQ, CQ. Congressional Quarterly's Midday Update (not be confused with their Morning Brief: yes, CrankyDoc's e-mail box is fun-filled, day-in, day-out):

MONDAY, SEPT. 11, 2006 – 2:11 P.M.
Edited by Martha Angle
Chicago’s Mayor Vetoes ‘Living Wage’ Ordinance
As a federal minimum wage increase languishes in Congress, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley today vetoed a “living wage” ordinance that would require retail giants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. to pay escalating hourly wages and benefits.
The city council approved the ordinance in July by a 35-14 vote — enough, Reuters noted, to override Daley’s veto. But some council members may be having second thoughts. Wal-Mart is preparing to open its first store in Chicago. Target Corp. has a half-dozen stores in Chicago and is building more, but has put its plans on hold pending the outcome of this ordinance.
In his veto message, Democrat Daley said he feared the living wage measure would not help workers. “Rather, I believe it would drive jobs and businesses from our city, penalizing neighborhoods that need additional economic activity the most.”
The ordinance required retailers with more than $1 billion in sales to pay a starting salary of at least $9.25 an hour and benefits of $1.50, escalating to $10 in wages and $3 in benefits by 2010.
The federal minimum wage has remained $5.15 an hour since 1997.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Not so secret Memo

Check out this story in City Limits, and click on the link to the "Confidential" (oops) Memo from the Mayor's Commission for Economic Opportunity. The last item, "Data, Measurement, and Management," while it sounds the most dry and dull, is perhaps the most radical item. Arguably, the first step toward any meaningful, practicable program of poverty reduction must begin by abandoning the dreadfully inaccurate methods by which we measure poverty itself. For the wonkish among us, it's a means by which a new frame for problem definition can open up for consideration a broad range of better solutions. Whether anything is likely to come of this is, of course, an entirely different question.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

For Monday

Anniversaries are arbitrary moments for reflection. Why is today different than yesterday, why yesterday different than tomorrow? We add even greater significance to anniversaries divisble by 5. Arbitrary, perhaps even irrrational, or silly. And yet, and so, at least in the culture we swim in, a Fifth Anniversary is granted power. I don't feel like fighting all of American culture, at least not today.

The sense of smell, we know, is the one most powerfully linked to memory. As I write this, I can smell what the air downtown smelled like That Day. Tinny, acrid, otherworldy. That same air, lurking in the lungs of the men and women who ran into those buildings while others ran out, and in those who volunteered to separate the steel from the flesh, now kills them, slowly. It was safe, we were told, by those who knew better.

There are many ways to look back. Here's one -- words I wrote that afternoon, not prophetic, precisely, for I was merely reading what I thought to be inevitable, given the state of the political world then:

4 PM. The lighted traffic sign above the Queensborough bridge reads simply, I am told, Manhattan Closed. In fact, the whole United States is closed. By whom we do not know, though the names of the usual suspects are already being whispered.

There is an incomprehensibility about it. So much rubble and burnt flesh. How many people right now are engaged in a frantic struggle to find alive their husbands, mothers, lovers, sisters, neighbors. Mine are found, are safe. But the loss for others will reverberate like a bell, will sound a sadness that is now slowly creeping into empty spaces where once were men and women whom we loved, or whom we did not know. Into that hollow soft space will soon enough creep rage. And that terrifies me. Put the culprits before me, and I would happily, with hands only, ope them up and pull from them their hearts, such as they are. But what acts will we, not as people, but as a nation, perpetuate with these most barbaric blows as reason? What craters will we make in which cities, what slaughter of other men and women and others sons and fathers? And what slow narrowing of already narrowed liberties here at home will we justify, saying but now we have no choice, now we must, for now it is a new world.

Or, with more measured, more recent, more reasoned reflection, we have architecture critic Paul Goldberger, from the New Yorker

Amid all the squabbles and revisions, it’s unsurprising that so many people who once cared passionately about Ground Zero have simply lost track of the developments there and have stopped caring. This summer, the success of the first movies about 9/11, and acclaim for a clutch of important novels dealing with the subject, showed that the public is still hungry to make sense of the tragedy and what it means for America. But they are no longer looking to architects, contractors, and developers for answers. By the end of the day on September 11, 2001, it was clear that the terrorists’ act had enormous symbolic power in the eyes of the world, and, in the months that followed, a consensus arose that whatever happened at Ground Zero should make a powerful symbolic statement of our own—of the values that America, and New York, stand for. Five years after the terrorist attacks, the saddest thing about all the many absurdities surrounding the rebuilding—the personal wrangles and group rivalries that have obscured any sense of commonality, the pious statements masking an utter lack of conviction, the maxed-out budgets and cut corners—is that they may say a lot more about us than we’d like to think.

Lastly, while we're here, for those of you with access to iTunes, let me suggest a 99-cent investment, Lucy Kaplansky's song "Land of the Living," on the album entitled These Times We're Living In: A Red House Anthology. Lyrics below, but it's the whole song that's so powerful, so haunting, and, for me anyway, so evocative of what it felt like to be in New York on That Day, and the days after.

Land of the Living
(Lyrics by Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Litvin,
Music by Lucy Kaplansky)

Late afternoon back in New York town
Waking up as the wheels touch down
Pick up my guitar and walk away
Wish I was going home to stay

Line of taxis, I wait my turn
Tar and asphalt, exhaust and fumes
Beside the road on a patch of ground
Taxi drivers are kneeling down

Beneath the concrete sky I watch them pray
While the people of the world hurry on their way
I think they're praying for us all today
And the stories that fell from the sky that day

This is the land of the living
This is the land that's mine
She still watches over Manhattan
She's still holding onto that torch for life

Back home fire's still burning, I can see it in the air
Pictures of faces posted everywhere
They say hazel eyes, chestnut hair
Mother of two missing down there;

I pass the firemen on duty tonight
Carpets of flowers in candlelight
And thank you in a child's scrawl
Taped to the Third Street firehouse wall

There's shadows of the lost on the faces I see
Brothers and strangers on this island of grief
There's death in the air but there's life on this street
There's life on this street

This is the land of the living
This is the land that's mine
She still watches over Manhattan
She's still holding onto that torch for life

Then I got in a taxi, said Hudson Street please;
He started the meter and he looked at me
I glanced at his name on the back of his seat
And I looked out the window at the ghost filled streets

I noticed cuts on his hand and his face
And I said You're bleeding, are you okay?;
He said I'm not so good, got beat up today
And I'm not one of them no matter what they say

I'm just worried about my family
My wife's in the house and she's scared to leave;
And I didn't know what to say
I didn't know what to say
But I said a prayer for him anyway

This is the land of the living
This is the land that's mine
She still watches over Manhattan
She's still holding onto that torch for life

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Origins of Labor Day

From Ezra Klein:

Ah, Labor Day. That fine September morning when we celebrate the genius of Jonathan Labor, who first invented the barbecue on a hot, late Summer morning when he accidentally dropped some raw meat on the superheated grill of his Toyota Corolla. God bless you, Jonathan Labor. And God bless America.

You know, I wonder how many folks I could actually get to believe that story. It's not like Labor Day means anything else. It certainly isn't, as legendary AFL leader Samuel Gompers had hoped, "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."

Instead, it's a day off of work, that includes a barbecue, that closes out the Summer, that's divorced from all meaning. Labor Day actually commemorates an annual parade the Knights of Labor held in New York. Concerned by the movement to mark the Haymarket Riots in a holiday, Grover Cleveland (who brutally broke the Pullman strike), hijacked the parade date so the day would honor a less radical, less dangerous conception of labor. But we can still hew somewhat near Gompers' original vision, and take a moment between bites of burger to think a bit about labor. Here are a few recommended ways:

• Read Nathan Newman on the genius of unions.

• Read Katrina Vanden Huevel on the lessons of Labor Day.

• Buy Thomas Geoghegan's "Which Side Are You On," the greatest book ever written about anything.

• If you already own Geoghegan, check out "The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit," a biography of Walter Reuther.

• Go throw a few bucks to Wake Up Wal-Mart.

And above all remember: You've the unions to thank for this beautiful day off, just like you've them to thank for weekends, eight-hour workdays, and the fact that you weren't a cashier at age seven. And if you don't have today off, well, maybe you should think about starting a union...

Food, as they say, for thought. . . . .