Sunday, December 18, 2005

Bah Humbug

There is no better person to represent the GOP's holiday--I mean Christmas--spirit than Ebenezer Scrooge. From their latest budget bill:
House and Senate GOP leaders agreed yesterday to a five-year budget plan for cutting spending for Medicaid and other entitlement programs by $41.6 billion and a separate measure to open the Alaskan wilderness to oil drilling.
You gotta love it when the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, cries out that we should rename the "Holiday Tree" to the "Capitol Christmas Tree" one day, and a few days later tries to push through these budget cuts to popular programs. And I'm supposed to be the Christmas villian for occasionally saying "Happy Holidays"? I'm really at a loss for words.

Merry Christmas, oh generous Republicans. Merry Christmas indeed.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush Not Being Honest

An increasing number of people find President Bush to be misleading or untruthful. There is a good reason for that view.

Bush has been saying for a while that Congress had the same information as he did and voted for the so-called Iraq War Resolution. But, our very own senator, Diane Feinstein, asked the Congressional Research Service to find out if that was true. They concluded that that's not true:
By virtue of his constitutional role as commander-and-in-chief and head of the executive branch, the President has access to all national intelligence collected, analyzed and produced by the Intelligence Community. The President's position also affords him the authority - which, at certain times, has been aggressively asserted (1) - to restrict the flow of intelligence information to Congress and its two intelligence committees, which are charged with providing legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. (2) As a result, the President, and a small number of presidentially-designated Cabinet-level officials, including the Vice President (3) - in contrast to Members of Congress (4) - have access to a far greater overall volume of intelligence and to more sensitive intelligence information, including information regarding intelligence sources and methods. They, unlike Members of Congress, also have the authority to more extensively task the Intelligence Community, and its extensive cadre of analysts, for follow-up information. As a result, the President and his most senior advisors arguably are better positioned to assess the quality of the Community's intelligence more accurately than is Congress.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Taking On the White House

Most people know that I'm not really a big fan of John McCain's policies, but kudos to him for standing up to the White House. I think Dems should be taking some notes. Namely, standing up for what's right can be a winning strategy even without trying to bend over backwards to compromise.

On that note, I've been cheering on Sen. Feingold's fight in the Senate to limit a handful of intrusive and abusive parts of the Patriot Act. The President and Republicans are extremely vulnerable theee days:
By a 65%-19% margin, Americans age 65 and above disapprove of the performance of Congress; those under 65 are also negative but less lopsidedly, 58%-27%. Moreover, senior citizens say by 47%-37% that they want Democrats rather than Republicans to win control of Capitol Hill. Those under 65 prefer a Democratic victory by a narrower 45%-39% margin.

That disparity, like some other political differences between older and younger Americans, is relatively slight. But it has big implications for the 2006 campaign for two reasons.

One is that older voters, having given Mr. Bush slightly greater support than younger voters in his narrow 2004 re-election victory, have now become the most critical of his job performance. In the Journal/NBC poll, for instance, Americans under 65 disapprove of Mr. Bush's job performance by a margin of 16 percentage points, while those 65 and above disapprove by a margin of 20 percentage points.
It's time for Democrats to start demanding that government work for the people. As Rahm Emmanual said in reference to the House, it is the people's house, not the auction house.

Good Luck Iraq

A good friend of mine voted in the Iraq election earlier this week. Now, the rest of Iraq is voting. Here's hoping that this is the beginning of the end of all the violence.

Monday, December 12, 2005

What's the Point?

I oppose the death penalty a priori on moral grounds--something that I agree with the Pope on. It just so happens that there are obvious, pragmatic reasons to oppose the death penalty, as former Illinois Governor Ryan found when he declared his moratorium on the death penalty:
"I now favor a moratorium, because I have grave concerns about our state's shameful record of convicting innocent people and putting them on death row," Governor Ryan said. "And, I believe, many Illinois residents now feel that same deep reservation. I cannot support a system, which, in its administration, has proven to be so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state's taking of innocent life. Thirteen people have been found to have been wrongfully convicted."

Governor Ryan noted that while he still believes the death penalty is a proper societal response for crimes that shock sensibility, he believes Illinois residents are troubled by the persistent problems in the administration of capital punishment in Illinois. Since the death penalty was reinstated in Illinois in 1977, 12 Death Row inmates have been executed while 13 have been exonerated.

..."Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate," Governor Ryan said. "I am a strong proponent of tough criminal penalties, of supporting laws and programs to help police and prosecutors keep dangerous criminals off the streets. We must ensure the public safety of our citizens but, in doing so, we must ensure that the ends of justice are served."
I would say that you can be tough on crime but still oppose the death penalty. But even if you don't take the moral stand that the killing of another person for revenge--or deterrent--is fundamentally wrong, you can, as Gov. Ryan has, realize that we have serious problems with how we have implemented the death penalty.

But all that is a different matter. I was struck by an article in Sojourners about Stanley "Tookie" Wiliiams. As David Batstone points out, Williams has done a lot to help end the gang violence he helped start:
Williams has become a major figure in the gang peace movement. He has co-authored 10 books from Death Row. The message is clear: Violence is never a solution. He urges young gang kids to get out before it destroys them and the lives of their family members. That's a powerful message from one of the founders of the Crips.

Williams first made a public plea to hundreds of gang members who gathered at a Los Angeles hotel in 1993 for a summit called Hands Across Watts. He did not hide his early role in the Crips, but on a prerecorded videotape filmed for the summit told the young gang members that he lamented his history. Recounting this first public event to the San Francisco Chronicle, Williams said, "I told them I never thought I could change my life, that I thought I would be a Crip forever. But I developed common sense, wisdom and knowledge. I changed."

Williams has gone on to build on this witness. In his 1998 prison autobiography Life in Prison, he directed young people to seek an alternative life beyond violence. Prison, he stressed, was no place to spend a life. Two years later he launched the Internet Project for Street Peace. His memoir, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, and the movie, Redemption, came out in 2004.
Has our country become such that forgiveness and redemption does not matter. I don't know that I would agree to let Williams out of prison, but he has done a lot to right some of the wrongs he has done. I remember hearing a powerful story as a child going to church about Christ coming to the rescue of woman about to be stoned to death. According to the story, he saved her from being punished to death. There is an even more striking story about redemption in the story of the crucifixion (I'll spare the nonreligious the details).

Perhaps this is part of the reason that the Vatican opposes the death penalty. After all, redemption is the very foundation of most modern Christian theology. Yet, as Batstone points out,
In the eyes of the criminal justice system, a redeemed criminal is simply another criminal. I recall my first visit to a federal prison back in seminary when starting a prison chaplain residency. The warden of the prison came to the orientation I shared with other interns. His message was clear to us: "I want you to remember that the prison system today is not about reforming criminals. We are here to punish them."

Redemption, in other words, has no place in our justice system. We do not offer a path for conversion. Once marked for condemnation, an offender's destiny is fixed.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Race Relations Are Rosy

It's probably best to teach racism to young people so that they are well trained by the time they get to college:
A Colorado football player has been suspended and his girlfriend, a cross-country runner, has quit the sports program after being accused of sending a racist e-mail to an Hispanic member of the cross-country team.

The e-mail included a reference to dragging the man behind a car, recalling an incident in 1998 in Texas when a black man was dragged to his death. The two athletes were cited for harassment and ethnic intimidation.

...A police report said O’Neal and Zeigle, who are both white, sent the typo-filled message to Greg Castro. It called Castro a “river rat” and “border hopper.” The message suggested O’Neal would drag Castro behind his car.
Furthermore, we should not allow any "non-American" culture to permeate our schools:
But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish -- and that's what got him suspended from school.

"It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.' "

But that conversation turned out to be a big problem for the staff at the Endeavor Alternative School, a small public high school in an ethnically mixed blue-collar neighborhood. A teacher who overheard the two boys sent Zach to the office, where Principal Jennifer Watts ordered him to call his father and leave the school.

Watts, whom students describe as a disciplinarian, said she can't discuss the case. But in a written "discipline referral" explaining her decision to suspend Zach for 1 1/2 days, she noted: "This is not the first time we have [asked] Zach and others to not speak Spanish at school."
I'm not saying all, or even most Americans are racist and xenophobic. Not at all. But racism is still surprisingly prevalent in this country and is something that should be addressed. Back in August I wanted to discuss race problems in the U.S. but then Katrina happened and our failure to address the racial inequalities was shown dramatically on all the networks.

Speaking of Katrina, it's off the radar screen these days. The House recently had a hearing on this that is worth taking a look at. When LBJ signed historic civil rights legislation he said that Democrats were giving away the southern vote for a generation. But that generation is aging and a new generation--a more culturally and ethnically diverse generation--is coming of age. We can't stop the increase in diversity, but our generation can embrace it and make it work like no other generation has been able to.

There are many causes our generation can, and should, address. I think poverty is one. But I also think race relations is another. The potential of this generation is exciting. I hope we live up to that potential.

Friday, December 09, 2005

McCain hearts Santorum

Atrios points to McCain's strong support for Rick Santorum. You can see McCain cheerleading for Santorum on his website.

The moderate fascination with McCain was based on the fact that he was not part of the right-wing of the Republican Party. His wholesale endorsement and campaigning for George W. Bush and now Rick Santorum shows just where McCain's priorities lie. He may care about torture, but he still supports the dangerous and out of touch agenda that Santorum and Bush have been pushing for.

Make no mistake, McCain is a right-wing Republican. I don't think he's as dangerous as Bush et al, but he is no moderate. Now that he needs to be right-wing to win a GOP primary (remember, Santorum is a darling of the GOP "base"), we'll get to see the real John McCain. (Of course, this doesn't mean I don't like him. I just don't like his political agenda.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Color in Congress

I don't know how likely it is that Corzine will select NJ state senator Nia Gill to replace him in the Senate. Nor do I have an opinion of her. But I think diversity in the Senate would be a good thing. After Katrina, polls showed that African-Americans were much more likely to think that the government was slow to respond because of the high concentrations of African-Americans than caucasian Americans. I'll keep my view on the veracity of that claim to myself but it clearly shows that there are different outlooks in this country. It's about time the Senate gets representation for the minority outlook.

Sadly, the devestation of Katrina seems to have receeded from our national discussion. Perhaps with a more diverse Senate, this would not be the case.

Hard To Believe

It's hard to believe I've been in lab since 8 a.m. and it's now 12:30 a.m. So it goes.

It's also hard to believe that Schwarzenegger's recent appointment of a Democrat as chief of staff is anything more than a temporary election year ploy. Really, I'd like to believe that he genuinely cares about bipartisanship. Of course, this is the same guy who promised to get the legislature to work, but never really gave them a chance.

Schwarzenegger had a great deal of bipartisan support when he first came to office and many Democrats were eager to work with him. But when there was criticism or red flags going up by Dems, he resorted to name calling and tried to make the legislature irrelevant if he didn't agree with what they--and most Californians--wanted.

Schwarzenegger's 2005 was, sadly, a textbook case of how you should not govern. He could have easily had a redistricting plan if he bothered to work with Democrats on it--Prop. 77 was a joke and anyone who voted for it should be embarassed. I'm sure he could have worked to make modest changes to the teacher tenure process if he went through the legislature. Prop. 75 was a corrupt, Norquistian ploy that was just wrong. (Be on the lookout for a similar proposal in June.) Prop. 76 was embarassingly rejected because Californians really care about their neighbors. No matter what Schwarzenegger thinks, the evidence is pretty darn clear that Californians are willing to stomach a modest tax increase to save important programs (especially for impoverished children). Further, we emphatically rejected the idea the possibility to give tax breaks to upper-income earners and corporations.

I always knew Schwarzenegger would turn out this way. After all, it was clear that he is a Grover Norquist Republican. His priorities were explicit and we saw his priorities in 2005. The question is, did his walloping by a bunch of "girly men" really change his priorities? If Californians should learn anything from Grover Norquist, it is that he'll do whatever he has to to achieve his ends. I hope Schwarzenegger realized that we don't care for the Norquist agenda. Otherwise, this is just a campaign ploy. I won't believe otherwise until he publicly rejects the Norquist agenda for California. And I want him to do so LOUDLY!