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Evict Bush!

Saturday, May 03, 2003  

Proposal for Determining a Credible Democratic Presidential Candidate

[I just posted this on dKos's open thread. I'll be interested in seeing what reaction it gets.]

One proposal for selecting a Democratic candidate might be to have a populist "bar" in order to be considered a credible candidate.

One of the real problems we have today are too few people have the ability to influence the elections because so much money needs to be raised that the emphasis has been to focus on the wealthy for their backing. Well, one way to raise ten million dollars is to hit up 5000 contributors to donate $2000 or to have 500,000 contributors donate $20. As the party of the people, it seems to me that it is reasonable to ask that the candidate garner enough grass-roots interest to show that they are really connecting with the Democratic base.

(Confession, I know that I could contribute a nice sum -- my company pays me enough -- but I've only felt compelled to contribute to a handful of candidates that I really thought would put my money to good uses. I thought nothing of dropping some dollars into Paul Wellstone's campaign because I knew he spoke up for the things I cared about. But when the Democratic party comes and asks me for money, I mostly give a token contribution because I don't think they will even consider my drop in the bucket worth their while when they are so focused on the bigtime donors and I think my money is better spent contributing to individuals that support at least some of my causes. And I've also heard that the Republicans raise more money by small contributions than Democrats. What does this say about the state of the Democratic party?)

Well, what if we make it a requirement that the Democratic candidate has to show their "credibility" by raising 10 million donations of at least $20? For most of the "public financing campaign laws" like in Arizona, the requirement is to show you have broad appeal before you can get public financing. Well, I think that this would be another way to show the broad appeal from a huge cross-section of the base. And it would make sure our candidate owed us a voice as well as the bigtime contributors.

Comments?

posted by Mary at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Art and Totalitarianism
(Part of a series; Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 here)

Totalitarian societies are countries where the rulers are locked in a war against the ruled. I've discussed two varieties, falangism and fascism. It would be a mistake to say that either has arrived here yet, and I hope readers of my other posts don't think I've said as much; but certainly American society is vulnerable to falangist traits. Falangism is the sort of political violence that comes abruptly, in a coup or a civil war, or as the consequence of a huge disaster. It's centripetal; it's amenable to libertarian rhetoric, and the places where radical libertarian policies took root have usually been falangist dictatorships like Chile's and Guatemala's. One of my postings, "Techno-falangism," was not about falangism at all, but about a certain type of sensibility that can lead to falangism: namely, a radical affinity for progress, an unambivalent love of advanced technology and a desire to silence those who are in spiritual rebellion from it. It was written two months before the Iraqi invasion (and posted here much later), and I wrote it originally to illustrate the dangers that this attitude posed…to the rest of the human race. Ray Bradury's Martian Chronicles brilliantly captured this conflict in modern American society, and in fact, Bradbury himself was the perfect specimen of American by straddling this divide. No essay I'll ever write will be as revealing and as fun to read as his writings.

In a posting about totalitarianism and architecture I urged those who could to e-mail me examples (photos, links) of falangist architecture. I had posted many links to photos of fascist architecture, such as Speer's work for Hitler and Guerrini's for Mussolini. But I was frustrated by the paucity of samples of falangist architecture. (I was also struck by the lack of decent examples of Japanese militarist architecture. The seat of the Japanese legislature was completed in 1936, and does look very ponderous, but isn't really a good example because it was designed by a popular competition held in 1917! The reason, of course, is that architects in Japan were trying to assimilate modern—Western--architectural techniques and no public language of architecture had evolved at that time.) I posted some shots of a mausoleum commissioned by Franco for the dead of the Spanish Civil War, but the mausoleum is not a compelling example: it looks like it would fit in quite nicely at Forest Lawn Memorian Park in Los Angeles, and it's architectural vocabulary is not surprising considering its function.

A number of friends and correspondents later told me—ones, I mean, who had travelled in Latin America—that the architecture of falangist regimes was exceptionally boring. The ugly, grandiose monuments of Brasilia would make perfect specimens of fascist art, but they were commissioned by a modernizing liberal president in what was then a democratic republic. The size and scope of the monument is something normally confined to regimes with abslute power, but in the heart of Europe, a thoroughly democratic and free society has carried out a gigantic recontruction of Berlin—accompanied, I will hasten to add, by intense controversy and compromise. There was a lack of any shred of nationalist self-expression, and that was of course the case in the construction of the modernist capital in Islamabad, Pakistan and the Mubarak Scientific Complex in Egypt. Falangist states sit unconfortably with nationalism; they really prefer an ideology of modernity, of efficiency and progress.

From a journal entitled (ironically enough) Forward comes this review of Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics by Frederic Spotts.

What was this Nazi aesthetic; what kind of "art" came of it, and why do we concern ourselves with it now? As Spotts suggests, the Nazi aesthetic had several interpenetrating parts, including idealizations of purity, violence and the human form. In fact, the resulting "art" encompassed much more than the kitsch statuary and paintings so easy to dismiss now: It also included Nazi pageantry and regalia, films and political choreography, architecture and, without too much of a stretch, even the so-called "theaters" of war and mass murder, as well. What makes Spotts's new book so important is that, along with "Prelude to a Nightmare," an exhibit last summer at the Williams College Museum of Art, and foundational books in this area by Jonathan Petropoulos and Brigitte Hamann, it restores to the historical record the role aesthetics actually played in the Nazi Reich and its policies. It makes absolutely clear that a Nazi aesthetic was part and parcel of Nazi ideology, and not just an ornamental byproduct of it.

[…]

One of the most brilliant "documentary films" ever made, of course, was no mere documentary, but was the last century's benchmark for cinematic propaganda. In the opening moments of "Triumph of the Will," Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi-commissioned film of the 1934 Nuremberg rallies, we find an object lesson in what we might call the Nazis' "aesthetics of redemption." A plane is carrying the Führer and his entourage over a picturesque landscape of hills, valleys and churches on its way to Nuremberg. A strident voiceover narrative introduces the scene: "Twenty years after the World War [I], 16 years after the crucifixion of Germany, 19 months after the beginning of Germany's Renaissance, Hitler flew to Nuremberg to greet his columns of followers." The plane suddenly appears from the clouds and glides over the countryside, its shadow in the form of a cross. As if in a Second Coming, a Führer has arisen who will save and redeem Germany, and Riefenstahl frames his arrival in the explicit iconography of Christian redemption and messianic deliverance.

[…]

Spotts suggests that Hitler's "lack of feeling for humans, even for fanatical party members, was already evident at the Nuremberg rallies and other spectacles when his 'architecturalizing' of the participants and his deployment of them in geometrical patterns reduced them to noctambulent creatures." …For Hitler, individuals come and go, as well as their humanly scaled dwelling places, their sites of life. What his monumental aesthetic would leave behind, therefore, was not the uniqueness of individual human experience or its messy heterogeneity, but monolithic forms that imposed singular meaning on disparate deeds, experiences and lives.

The monumental in Hitler's eyes was not only an end result, however, but also a means by which he could reduce the individual to insignificance, thereby making all appear as one. Specifically, he did this in his elaborately choreographed spectacles and pageants, against which the individual seemed helpless to act. Witness his dozens of gargantuan productions: the Nuremberg rallies, the colossal stadiums and political arenas designed to hold 500,000 people or even the North-South Axis he and his architect Albert Speer designed for Berlin, an impassable 50 meters wide.

The centralizing zeal of the fascist may seem far removed from the professed libertarianism of thepolitcal right we know in this country. But the grandiosity of the modern Walmart gives me pause.

Not to be snarky or silly, but there has been an astonishing trend towards consolidation. Now, not only is the individual rendered a cipher in the boundless landscape of the IKEA department store; all style, all cultural point of reference is similary reduced to a packageable product. I seriously doubt that this was the goal of the architects or the commissioners of your neighborhood Sam's Club, but Albrecht Speer also seemed a little startled in his memoirs by the fact that his own designs rendered human users into a "visual zero."

posted by James R MacLean at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Support The Troops, Fund the VA & Give 'Em a Raise
part III

Thursday I got a phone call from the local VA. A fundraising phone call, begging for $20 to help with the medical care of armed services veterans. And it made me furious. Where is the government that promised to take care of them when they first signed up for duty? Why, giving tax cuts to people who make somewhere in the neighborhood of $400,000 a year, of course.

I'll send them $20, but I also plan to call my congressperson and senators on Thursday, May 22nd to demand that they take this issue seriously in the federal budget. May 22nd is the last full working day before the Memorial Day holiday, and I'd like our veterans to get something a little more substantial out of it than a parade. They deserve more dignity than having to organize volunteer phone banks to request a pittance at a time to cover their needs.

I wrote previously about the many problems that face our veterans and service members as a group. From lingering illnesses that come to being exposed to toxic ordnance, imminent cuts in school funding for their children, to the government deciding that they don't have to honor promises regarding retirement benefites, they've gotten the short end of the legislative stick.

The media is in love with our veterans when they go out to fight our enemies, but can't be bothered to notice when a backroom deal cuts them out of needed help. Can't muster any outrage that the Red Cross feels it must pitch in to help the families of deployed troops. It's great that people will help out, but why is our national level praise greater than our financial commitment? Why must our military personnel subsist on salaries that leave their families virtually destitute and in need of charity? If this treatment represents respect and support for our troops, they hardly need any enemies.

If you object to the way our military personnel and veterans are treated, and would like to do one better than sending $20 to the local VA hospital, call your representatives on May 22nd.

Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121

For local numbers, you can look them up at Congress.org. You can always call local offices when the main DC numbers are busy.

posted by Natasha at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Notable Posts

RonK at DailyKos tells us about our valuable prize.

PLA on the claim that Social Security is a fraud, and why eliminating lead paint would be a valuable national investment.

Pandagon talks about the latest church sex scandal, child-molesting Jehovah's Witnesses.

Billmon explains that the administration is sick and tired of the UN acting like, well, some kind of international forum where all the nations of the world can air their greivances.

Steve Soto finds that China caught team Bush lying about N. Korea, which must even now be causing the administration to regret their rejection of one on one talks. Also, our intrepid blogger gets wacky political snail mail, and asks why Democrats aren't doing more to expose AWOL Bush.

Cowboy Kahlil is a blogaholic.

Al-Muhajabah brings our attention to a petition to save Amina Lawal, and a link to an earlier post talking about why the Nigerian woman's death sentence is unjust under Islamic law.

Making Light has more on why burning old libraries is a shockingly bad thing.

Alas, A Blog has up an interesting selection of feminist comics, followed by a partial repost of a letter requesting that the Bush Administration attack Appalachia.

UBlog finds that a liberal reformation is taking place in Shia Islam, courtesy of Iran. In the original article (which you should definitely go read), the female cleric referenced is described thusly:

...Yet Ghorji, the only woman appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini to help write Iran's Islamic constitution, claims that the reformation is not changing the faith's basic tenets.


So, let's get this clear. The Ayatollah Khomeini had a woman on the team that wrote Iran's constitution, but the US government can't find any women to help plan the future of Iraq!? In a country where educated, professional women abound? I have this to say to that: Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa... I'm going to go find a wall, maybe a brick wall. It will be my friend until my head starts hurting more from the wall and less from the indignation.

posted by Natasha at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK |


Friday, May 02, 2003  

Some quick hits

uggabugga takes on MSNBC and their newest shock-jock. I'd not been too aware of who Michael Savage was before he was picked up by MSNBC in March. This was right after they fired Donahue for his presenting a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war......He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives."

They certainly didn't have to worry about Savage presenting a difficult public face. This article caused me to send a note to one of my friends at Microsoft asking whether Bill Gates was aware of the hate mongering done on his money (and implicitly with his approval).

----

The administration forgot to read Frank Luntz's memo on the Environment! Point 5 clearly says 'Stay away from "risk assessment", "cost-benefit analysis", and the other environmental terminology used by industry and corporations.'
Make that industry, corporations AND the current EPA. tendentius alerts us to the following cost-benefit analysis done by our government [editor: John Graham is the Bush White House regulatory czar]:

Graham's valuations, which place economic values on human life, have already helped to shape several Bush administration actions — including a study used to form the basis of the hotly disputed Clear Skies initiative to alter air pollution rules, and a new rule on air pollution from snowmobiles. In both studies, the dollar value placed on the lives of older Americans over 70 was 37% less than the figure used for younger adults.

----

Enron wants a rebate on taxes! They say they paid taxes on the inflated profits so now they should get some back since the taxes should be collected only on what they actually made. There is just one problem in my opinion. They didn't paid any income taxes for several years! Here is my Oregon report on this issue. The guy on Wall $treet Week with Fortune said he thought it might be fair to pay back the excess taxes paid when the companies made whole the investors who lost their shirts believing those fraudulent numbers.

----

UPDATE:

Stephen Charest has written one of the best explanations I've seen of all the economic news in terms of its real effect on Americans (those that still have jobs). The American dream is slipping further and further way for so many Americans. And tax cuts won't help.

posted by Mary at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Labour Party hard hit in UK
The Labour Party of British PM Tony Blair has taken severe hits in the local council elections held yesterday. Details are available at the website of the BBC. In the UK the composition of the government is a good deal simpler; until '99, the UK was one of the most strictly unitarian states of its size, and even now it has one main legislative body (the House of Commons, the "lower house", has 659 elected members; the House of Lords has about a thousand seats, is [mostly] unelected and serves as a sort of standing judiciary committee) for the nation. Elections for the House of Commons determine which party will get to choose the PM. Elections for the city/local councils, and the regional legislatures do not determine who will be PM, of course, but are widely regarded by the British press as bellweather of support for the PM's policies. From one point of view, things look pretty bad for Labour: it lost 800 council seats (the Conservative "Tories" picked up 540 seats) and received 30% of votes cast; the opposition Tories won 34% and Labour's most important left-wing opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party, also received 30% of votes cast.

While Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader--the man would become PM in the highly unlikely event of a Tory victory in general elections--claimed this as a famous victory, the real victors were the Liberal Democrats. They began from the merger of that ancient relic, the Liberal Party with breakaway moderates of the then-officially socialist Labour Party, the Social Democratic Party. During the 1990's the Labour Party was transformed into the "New Labour Party," moved substantially away from its radical platform, and became self-consciously modelled on the American "New Democrats." This, obviously, represented a massive swing to the right which shocked and appalled vast numbers of the party. (To support this I can ony urge readers to glance at a copy of The New Statesman the next time they visit a library.

Under the leadership of Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democratic Party has scored considerable advances. The party is unambiguously in favor of closer attachment to the EU, adoption of the euro, and creation of an independent (of Washington) foreign policy. The Labour Party, while certainly more favorable to closer European union than the Tories, do have backbenchers who regard the EU as a tool of globalists. (Others in Labour, and many on the continent, naturally regard the EU as a weapon to fight globalization; this seems to be an almost universally shared view in the LDP). It would presently appear that the LDP is either very well run, or is well on its way to becoming a full-fledged third party which will challenge the Labour Party as the party of progressives.

For now it is important to bear in mind that the elections just held were also accompanied by record low turnout--49% of eligible voters participated--and the two established parties publically favored the war in Iraq. It should also be recalled that the Labour Party secured a majority of seats in the Scottish and Welsh regional legislatures (Scotland, since 2000, has its own Parliament; Wales, a Council), and also that the city councils have jurisdiction over decidely different things than the ultra-centralized government of Britain.

Britain is, in electoral terms, the scene of an unusual--perhaps unique--phenomenon of an old democracy, long having evolved into a two-party state, now sprouting small parties in bulk. It has always been the tendency in countries with democratic constitutions to shed parties until eventually they have either two, or two plus a "spoiler" (a tiny party which can force the big party to form a coalition with it). The Green Party in the US might conceivably evolve into something like this, although not for a long time. This has been an extremely consistant trend, all over the world. The UK, without having experienced a military coup or some other national calamity, has reversed this evolution and sprouted a galaxy of parties. Apparently these are confined to the new regional parliaments, like Scotland's.

TURKISH EARTHQUAKE: Get used to seeing pictures of hardship and grief in southwest Asia, if you haven't already. Turkey's devastating earthquake in a Kurdish region, while awful anytime, comes in a time when frustration and resentment toward the Westernized elite is at a fever pitch. While the Turkish Parliament rejected participation in the Iraqi invasion, resentment at the carnage has spilled over to a government already torn between resergent political Islam and the pressure from Washington.

posted by James R MacLean at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown

Scandals continue to dog the management of American corporations. Last week we were treated to a Jimmy-Swaggart style mea culpa from American Airlines CEO Donald Carty and Delta Airlines CEO/Chairman Leo Mullins for having pocketed enormous bonuses while the company was spinning out of control (C.D. McLean, VP of Continental, received $500K to quit the day before Continental sacked 1,200 employees). This egregious act of managerial malfeasance should not have been the sort of offence absolved by an apology (however grovelling) and a token resignation. But it was. The business press mainly closed ranks against criticism of Carty's frankly mendacious gambit. NBC 6 posted this helpful chart about executive compensation, which makes the case that, compared to Tamberlane, Ted Bundy wasn't all that bad.

On the 28th of April a major settlement was handed down fixing a $1.4 billion fine for securities fraud by ten of the nation's largest investment banking houses; this was negotiated between the NY attorney general and the SEC on the one hand, plus some plaintiffs (stock exchanges), and ten of the nation's largest investment banking firms. You might want to know who they are. The eight largest are

Citigroup’s Salomon Smith Barney
Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB)
Goldman Sachs
Merrill Lynch
Morgan Stanley
Bear Stearns
Piper Jaffray
Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS)

Firms will also be required to spend $432 million over five years on financing independent research. For firms of this size, and in particular with this kind of monopoly power, this is nothing. This, incidentally, arose from the scandal in which investment banking houses aggressively promoted securities they knew were garbage (and in those very words!) Under the settlement, analysts are to be banned from attending pitches for investment-banking business and investor “road-shows.” (The numbers above come from Businessweek's and The Economist' April 29th article; it is more recent.).

My own impression is that the reforms will struggle to impose a baffle wall between the investment and IPO side of banking, something torn down in 2000 with the abolition of the Glass-Steagall Act (“Bank Act,” c. 1933). The GSA restricted the businesses companies could enter; it was relatively easy to enforce, compared to the consent decrees being handed down now (“Thou shalt not have have the same temp retained by thy IPO division and again by thy pensions division; and shouldst the temp thou didst retain taketh a spouse or lieth with one of the opposite sex, that helpmeet being like unto the first also a temp, the second temp shall not go unto the first unless properly cleansed…” Deuteronomy 1528:268).

We aren't attempting to upstage the business press; no doubt there's people better qualified for the job, like Tom Tomorrow. You should be advised that under the best of circumstances the small, independent investor is highly vulnerable and likely to remain so. The problem I have is that this scandal, such as it is, is the tip of a tentacle. The power of financial services to ride the bubble and cultivate popular outrage at laws such as the above-mentioned Glass-Steagall Act is awesome to behold, and it was felt keenly both in the Clinton Administration and in the closing years of the Carter Administration. The laws being are only capable of redressing willful deception of customers. That’s certainly a worthy goal, but there’s a lot more that needs to be done here.

The bigger scandal remains the abuse of power to achieve the same ends by the financial services industry. The finanical services industry has habitually intervened in the foreign policy of the nation to ensure that others (Argentine citizens, for example) bear the risk for which they reap the rewards. We need, clearly, a return to the Glass-Steagall Act—but that’s relatively trivial; what we really need is a firewall between regulatory bodies and the financial service industry. There’s no shortage of ideas as to how this can be done, but we seem to have only just emerged from an era in which individual investors—individual voters—thought their brokerages were their friends.

ENRON UPDATE: This is probably old news to everyone, but Lea Fastow has been indicted (as well as her husband, Andy Fastow, Enron's former chief financial officer—CFO). Businessweek has this report on the legal ramications of the case against Ms. Lay, who is alleged to have received gifts as part of a general pattern of gift-giving to push Enron's monopoly rents out of sight. Now, there's little doubt in my mind that the prosecutors are anxious to really nail folks like Lay and Skilling for plundering insider-uninformed shareholders, but they're stuck with petty cases like the one against Ms. Fastow. This could be casually tossed into the “You-know,-Al-Capone-was-nailed-for-tax-evasion” Department, meaning that the machinery of the law is grossly inadequate for dealing with crimes of this nature. And it probably will be. But the ability of business managers to run their companies into the pavement, and walk away with millions, is the result we have. It doesn't have to be this way.

SOMETHING WAS DONE UPDATE: You can tell I spent the night with (among other people) Tom Tomorrow's website. Here is a great posting about the use of the passive voice in headlines. He calls it the "passive tense" at first and then corrected himself. It is something I've noticed about headlines too.

posted by James R MacLean at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK |
 

Morning Web Roundup:

Asia Times: Washington furious as the EU decides they want their own global positioning system, with a little help from China. Why America shouldn't be afraid of democracy in Iraq. After quickly regaining it's crown as the world's #1 producer of opium, Afghanistan looks like it will also once again compete for the title of best spot for a terrorist camp.

Guardian: In UK local elections, Labour loses seats to the left and the right in Scotland and Britain, gaining in Wales, as voter apathy approaches US levels. Hussein is gone, but the European rift lingers.

IranMania: Top Iranian cleric urges an Iraqi uprising.

Christian Science Monitor: Queen Noor of Jordan talks about Middle East peace.

Globe and Mail: India and Pakistan restoring ties.

BBC: UN report on women's rights shows Europe leading, though Africa has more female MPs. The foreign oil workers taken hostage in Nigeria may be released today. Ivory Coast peacekeeping stalled. New steps planned to stop traffic in blood diamonds. Chinese submarine accident kills 70. Piracy on the rise. Brisk trading on brothel shares.

BuzzFlash: Bush isn't a Nazi, but so what?

TalkLeft: Revocation of attorney-client privilege, US sees rise in extreme poverty, marijuana fears greatly exaggerated.

Peacenik Mark Morford feeling no remorse.

posted by Natasha at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK |
 

Economic indicators

Thanks to Outlandish Josh who reminds me that it might still be the economy, stupid!

The conventional wisdom was that the reason the economy was in a funk was because of the uncertainty of the war. Then this week we got a spate of news about how how things were really looking up now and it was going to be Morning in America! Unfortunately they forgot to convince the real economy that.

Oops, #1: corporate scandals continue to bloom. The settlement between a host of American regulators and ten Wall Street banks, signed this week, shows worse and more widespread wrongdoing than had been expected.

Oops, #2: Unemployment continues to be a problem. But as Seeing the Forest tells us, it is much worse than the numbers show since so many people who don't have jobs have fallen off the lists of unemployeed because they are no longer looking for work.

Slate also takes the loss of jobs on and has the following comment: [Bush] stands to preside over the first presidency since Hoover's in which the American economy lost jobs. What a great campaign slogan.

Oops, #3: Greenspan is cautiously optimistic about future growth, but says we can't afford more tax cuts.

Oops, #4: Tax cuts are a hard sell to the American public.

Oops, #5: Polls show that Americans now feel safe enough to worry more about the economy than terrorism.

It's nice to see how the Bushies have to show how wonderfully the war went and so must minimize the danger of terrorism -- yet this allows Americans to fret about their economic circumstances instead. It's rather like being caught between a rock and a hard place....

posted by Mary at 6:35 AM | PERMALINK |


Thursday, May 01, 2003  

Further Thoughts on Democratic & Republican Philosophies

Digby expands on why the Democratic coalition should be more stable than the Republican coalition. I definitely agree that Democrats are more than just a disparate set of interests groups and that the underlying philosophy ties us together quite well.

He believes that the Republican policies will eventually rend the party apart as the self-righteous religious conservatives begin to put into place policies that deny the right to privacy especially in the bedroom. This might be true, but looking at other intolerant regimes (Saudi Arabia, for one), there is probably a great deal of flexibility and hypocrisy in how these policies will effect people. Those with money and power seem to have no problem in finding abortions, having affairs, and any of the myriad of other sinful behaviors even in the most restrictive states.

William Greider also weighs in on the Republican vision. He enumerates the desire for self-reliance and independence that is so nicely laid out under George Lakoff's Strict Father Model. Greider writes:

The right's unifying idea--get the government out of our lives--has broad popular appeal, at least on a sentimental level, because it represents an authentic core value in the American experience ("Don't tread on me" was a slogan in the Revolution).

The vision of a greatly emasculated Government is that we all have only ourselves to rely on (except for the massive war-machine and the peep-police that will keep tabs on us). This drives their desire to get rid of regulations because it interfers with the free market as well as to make health care, retirement, schooling all the personal responsibility of the individual (father).

Pity the Iraqis. The radical right is terribly enamored with this vision and believe this is what a "liberal democracy" looks like. The Iraqis will be their test cases in creating this brave new world. (And God help them, because they will learn that people trying to solve problems by organizating is a socialistic philosophy and will not be tolerated.)

posted by Mary at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK |
 

How to talk with each other when you don't agree

One of the real challenges for liberals these days is having a way to get our point across when the atmosphere has been so poisoned by the divisive and vitriolic language so common these days. One thing that makes this situation more disconcerting is how people like Rush Limbaugh continue to preach hatred of anyone who dares to question their views:

"Tim Robbins, who thinks he can say any thing at any time . . . I have a question: How is it that Tim Robbins is still walking free? How in the world is this guy still able to go to the National Press Club and say whatever he wants to say?"

We don't want to be the focus of his hatred and intimidation machine. Yet we want to find ways to speak in ways that counteracts the poison.

Yesterday at dKos elizabeth brought up the following point:

A friend reminded me, the degree to which our outer actions reflect our inner worlds. As we went to war against Iraq, so there is a cultural war here at home for the soul of America. We fight and quarrel with each other as if there are no more common bonds or threads holding us together. It is as though we have forgotten our common language, or a language that everyone understands. I point the finger to myself as well. How do we preach to the converted if we no longer understand each other's language. How do we reach each other?

It is important to note that she was not asking how do we reach the freepers or Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich. Instead what she was asking was how do we talk to our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers in these times when they do not agree with our point of view.

I think this is a critical issue. The vast majority of Americans are not ever going to be as concerned as we are in what's happening in politics and they will never follow the news as closely as we do. They get their news from the TV news, the radio, the newspapers and general discussion with others with whom they are talking.

Yet, although they are not totally convinced that Rush's or Bush's world-view is the right one, many are attracted to the rightwing arguments (so carefully "focus group tested") and think these arguments are more credible than the "liberal" arguments which they have been told are "failures" and not worth considering any more. (E.g., Public schools are failures, so you must support vouchers if you are a reasonable and caring person. And: even though we haven't found WMD, the war was still justified since Iraq is free of Saddam. And: Gore was a bad campaigner and deserved to lose.)

I am convinced that our ability to combat the Republican juggernaut is by finding ways to beat them at their own game by doing a better job of selling our vision. One of the ways we can do that is by applying modern communication techniques not to manipulate people's emotions, but rather to help them deconstruct the subversive media message the radical right is spewing.

So this means we need to find ways to talk to people and find ways to reengage in conversations about these topics. There are some wonderful resources that can help. An organization called Public Conversations Project has been working on finding ways to help people talk with each other: PCP promotes constructive conversations and relationships among people who have differing values, world views, and perspectives about divisive public issues. They provide both training and tools for talking to people. For example:

Dialogue Guides: Use "Constructive Conversations about Challenging Times" to conduct conversations about divisive issues with neighbors, colleagues, fellow worshippers, family etc. Both a Guide to Community Dialogue and a Guide to Family Dialogue are available.

This group has had some remarkable success talking about the divisive topic of abortion.

If people can find common cause, regain the sense that the other is not the enemy even if they don't think like you do, then we can find shared goals and solutions to problems that both agree are valuable. If we are to have a chance to save our democracy, then we need to find ways to frame our messages, and how to use dialogue to reach Americans and engage them on the struggle to keep our democracy.

posted by Mary at 7:09 AM | PERMALINK |


Wednesday, April 30, 2003  

American Political Thought
Cliff Notes version

Green: "Why does that group of Young Republicans keep smiling at me? I've told them I wouldn't be seduced into their old-fashioned two-party political game, and now they wave, too. They even offered to help hand out my fliers. It's creeping me out, man."

Liberal: "Since the 2000 election, I've maintained my foolish faith in the political process by (insert one or more: taking prescription antidepressants / drinking heavily / busy protest schedule / obsessing over hobbies / working self half to death), and narrowing my focus to whether or not I can avoid becoming a street person in the new New Economy."

Centrist: "Those good people on the TV news would never lie to the American people. Even if they are kind of liberal."

Libertarian: "Actually, I don't believe in the influence of the Christian Coalition, PNAC, or Total Information Awareness. Those liberals are always coming up with wild conspiracy theories. Next thing you know, they'll tell us that the Bush family and their friends stand to profit from their logically correct foreign policy stance. Ha, what a riot."

Paleocon: "Even though China, Russia, and most of the former communist bloc nations are now rapidly integrating free market principles, I still believe that the Godless Commies are the biggest threat facing our nation. It's my responsibility as a member of America's persecuted, Christian minority to take a stand against liberal commie front groups like the DNC."

Neocon: "What is best in life?... To convert your enemies, see them driven beneath a mountain of debt, and hear the lamentation of their women."

posted by Natasha at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Focusing on things that will make a difference

How do we break through the fog and make a difference that will derail the juggernaut? This has been a question that I've been obsessing about for quite a while now, to the detriment of my work, my yard, my house, my family, my sleep, and my sanity at times. But it seems like it is critical that we come up with some real answers here. One problem that we have is there are so many things to be outraged about, so many fires to put out, and so many new "ideas" from the radical right that we seem to be spending all of our energies on things that eventually lead to nothing but having won the battle (setting the record straight) but lost the war. We've got wonderful columns that set the record straight about how Bush lied to take us into war. Other pieces that cover the current problems (which we predicted) happening in Iraq today. And more that cover the current slate of Democratic candidates. But I don't see anything getting better because we have the facts on our side and sometimes they are acknowledged by the press (and the public).

What brings up this for me was reading Michael Tomasky's column in TAP today:

Pop quiz: If the Democrats are going to stand a chance of beating George W. Bush in 2004, they are going to have to put tremendous effort and creativity into winning over which of the following groups of voters: a) gay men and lesbians or b) people (gay, straight, whatever) who currently think that the post-September 11 United States is just somehow more secure in Republican hands?

Yes, the question is a set-up. Republicans enjoy a bulbous advantage -- 30 points, even 40 in some surveys -- over Democrats on questions of foreign and domestic security. Sure, there are ways in which this isn't fair: the Department of Homeland Security was the Democrats' idea, the GOP's propagandists turn honorable dissent into treachery, all that. But however it got to be a fact, a fact it is. And it's not just a fact. It is the central fact of the presidential election at this early stage. The Democratic nominee will not stand a chance until he (I'm throwing out Carol Moseley Braun here; indulge me) puts some conviction and muscle behind a set of proposals that can convince Americans that the party is serious about fighting terrorism and protecting the national perimeter, and that the GOP doesn't own the issue.

It seems to me that we really do have to find ways of being more focused, targetting the really big problems, and figuring out what are the critical ones to stop day by day. This is not to say forget the other problems and things we care about, but don't let these outrages defocus us on the big issues. The radical right is more than happy for us to be shooting at a 1000 targets while they steadily march toward their vision of a conversative world with all liberal ideas dead and buried.

Here is my short list of things where I think we should put lots of energy:

o) Lisa English and Avedon Carol have teamed up to create We Want the Airwaves. If we think it is hard to get our message out now, just wait until the FCC regulations are lifted. This should be a very hot issue for all of us.

o) Support and build our liberal think tank, the Commonweal Institute, so we can give our side the tools they need to combat the radical right on all their points. Make sure you let other organizations and causes you support know that they should find out how to use the resources Commonweal is providing and have them give feedback to the people at the Institute on what is working and what is not.

o) Support and contact your senators to make sure that we don't lose the independent court system entirely.

o) Ask the Democratic candidates to talk about National Security. And expect them to stand against the unilateral, pugalistic policies of the Bush administration. If they don't have a credible story, tell them this is not their time because our candidate absolutely must be credible on this issue.

o) Find ways to take your message outside the blog world. The people we need to reach are outside this virtual world and we need to make sure they know there is another road than the one Bush is setting them on.

Please provide comments, feedback and suggestions on what you think, what have I forgotten, and other items we should act on. Let's make sure our passion actually does make a difference.

posted by Mary at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK |


Tuesday, April 29, 2003  

More Questions for Gary Hart

Over at Avedon Carol's home away from home (Avedon's other weblog) are a number of great items. But, you have to go looking for them because Blogger is still throwing links into the bit bucket.

Scan down to I just left this comment at Gary Hart's weblog. "...From the moment Bush entered the White House, he has embarked on a program of weakening American security on every front, including protecting us from terrorism. He needs to be called on it...." She then notes that:

The Republicans used to make continual cracks about how Clinton's response to terrorism was just to drop a bomb in the desert or fire up some camel's ass. Well, dropping a lot more bombs on a desert and sending thousands of troops to climb up some camel's ass isn't such a big improvement when you get right down to it - nor is destroying our Constitution. Democratic campaigners who can't be bothered to say so are making a big mistake.

Gart Hart is the only accessible "candidate" that has a forum which allows those of us far from the primary hotbeds a way to speak our minds. And he does try to answer. I had blogged about the comment I left him on his blog. And he posted his answer to me:

To Mary I would say that I understand the nature of a national campaign better than most, having helped others run for President and having done so myself. It is perhaps the most daunting physical and emotional undertakings one can imagine, especially if you do not have a large paid staff and lots of money. But it is also the only real platform to challenge Americans to make the country and the world better. The Democratic party has not offered a great idea for more than a quarter century and we risk permanent minority status because of it. The foreign policy I've proposed, Principled Engagement, calls on our nation to live up to its highest ideals at home and in dealing with the peoples of the world. I believe the vast majority of Americans will respond to great challenges and that's why I need your help in offering them.

Unfortunately, although he answered some of my question, I think he is still missing the main question Avedon posed and which was the same I had asked before. Namely why don't we see the Democrats standing up to the Republicans when it is so clear their policies on National Security are anything but for promoting real security? I'm still convinced that the more Democrats pussy-foot around what National Security means, the more wussy we look.

----

Postscript for yesterday's National Security post. If you didn't check out the Frank Luntz memorandum (PDF), it starts with:

The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America

The core of the Democrat argument depends on the belief that "Washington regulations" represent the best way to preserve the environment. We don't agree.

1) First, assure your audience that you are committed to "preserving and protecting" the environment, but that "it can be done more wisely and effectively."

----

If you want to understand how the Republicans will use the "wurlitzer" to sell their vision for the Environment, you really should read the whole thing.

posted by Mary at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Political Theatre

Mary's post on talking points for Democratic candidates addressing national security issues reflects a philosophy we here at the Watch have been seeking to propagate: understand the message of your opposition, and respond to it...a philosophy which requires a little attention to the subtext. As a noviatiate at "The Watch" I have therefore been patiently reading the series of articles in the editorial pages of the WSJ which seek to understand the true motivations and anxieties of libruls. Now, the acolytes of the current president have adopted a helpful pedagogical technique of posing questions and answering them, which, for avid enthusiasts of Plato's Protagoras--or of theatre generally--is a breath of fresh air. What could be more entertaining and edifying than have our shapers of thoughts express themselves as intellectual pugilists, who write both sides of the script?

And this is what the Wall Street Journal has been doing for us. I am going to furnish you with the cliff notes edition of the WSJ's latest series of plays, because I understand all too many of you have been caught up the tempestuous upheavals of our illustrious epoch. So with all due attribution, enjoy!


WSJ1: So, we are reeling in the reflected glory of our magnificent victory in Iraq. The Iraqis look extremely happy. They're kissing our troops and crying.

WSJ2: Yes, amazing. Iraqi men kissing American soldiers on the cheek. How about that?

WSJ1: I've always wanted to see that. Hell, makes me wish I were there in Baghdad right this minute, with Iraqi men kissing me on the cheek.

WSJ2: Damn skippy! This is better than Paris in '44. Remember that? All those Parisian women kissing our boys on the cheek...

WSJ1: Yeah, much better than Paris '44. This is one this those gay-tolerating, moral temporizing Libruls would never understand... But the libruls are awfully unhappy. It's like they're sad.

WSJ2: Hmmm, yes, I noticed that too. Now why do you think that is?

WSJ1: Now, I want to be tolerant and try to analyse this in a profound way.

WSJ2: Oh, yes, that is our purpose as the nation's leading journal of business analysis.

WSJ1: So I don't want to resort to easy slams of those commie-hugging Frenchwomen-preferring libruls. Even though most busy people simply skip all the analysis and jump to this conclusion.

WSJ2: Excellent. That is why we get paid 125K per year, after all. Our readers just don't have the time.

WSJ1: So tell us why the Libruls are so gloomy. After all, no one can deny this invasion has been a success.

WSJ2: No, not at all. But you see, the Libruls hate moral firmness. They're non-moral and moral clarity exposes them.

WSJ1: Exposes them as what?

WSJ2: It exposes them as people who have no place in Western society.

WSJ1: Really?

WSJ2: Really. See, if I were in a hurry and didn't have time to analyse this in a disciplined way I'd say they hated America. That's a mistake.

WSJ1: Really, your generosity is too much. Really? I'm surprised to hear this.

WSJ2: Whereas in fact, they hate the West. Decency. Enlightenment. Rationalism. Progress. They hate it.

WSJ1: Oh, I see. What a fog I was living in before! You see, I thought they just hated America--

WSJ2: Perfectly natural. Most right-thinking Americans, in their rugged, manly haste, jump to that conclusion. But that is an error.

WSJ1: So why do they hate the West?

WSJ2: Because the West is good. Libruls hate the good.

WSJ1: Why is that?

WSJ2: Because the good reminds them they are despicable. They hate that. Wouldn't you, if you were despicable?

WSJ1: I certainly would. But why are they so despicable? Everything hangs on that, you know.

WSJ2: Yes, indeed. They are despicable because they are vile.

WSJ1: And why are they vile? This is getting complicated!

WSJ2: They are vile because they are vicious.

WSJ1: And why are they vicious?

WSJ2: They are vicious because they are mentally deficient.

WSJ1:OOOOOOOH! That explains it. Libruls have no place in Western society because they hate the good, they hate the good because they are despicable, they are despicable because they are vile, they are vile because they are vicious,... and they are vicious because they are mentally deficient.

WSJ2: But not all Libruls.

WSJ1: REALLY? I'm stunned to hear this!

WSJ2: No, no, some are actually honest. They're mistaken, but humans are...sometimes fallible. Librul humans, I mean. But honest ones, like Vaclav Havel or Elie Weisel, are prepared to acknowledge that George W. Bush is always right, even when they have no idea why he is right.

WSJ1: WSJ2, you are the very soul of generousity and goodness and Christian charity....

WSJ2: Awww, you're crying!

posted by James R MacLean at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK |


Monday, April 28, 2003  

National Security: For a Secure, Stronger, and Safer America

The core of the Republican argument depends on the belief that "Military Strength" represents the best way to keep America safe. We don't agree.

1) First, assure your audience that you are committed to "protecting" America, but that "it can be done more wisely and effectively". (Absolutely do not raise international relations arguments first.) Tell them a personal story from your life. Since many Americans believe Democrats do not care about National Security, you will never convince people to accept your ideas until you confront this suspicion and put it to rest.

2) Provide specific examples of how using military action to force other countries to be more pro-American has failed to protect the country. Do not attack the principles behind the existing policies. Focus instead on the way it is carried out, and use rhetorical questions.

3) Your plan must be put in terms of the future, not the past or present. We are carrying forward a legacy, yes, but we are trying to make things even better for the future. National Security is an area in which people expect confident leadership, and when they do not see confident leadership, they get frustrated.

4) The three words Americans are looking for in a National Security policy, they are "secure", "stronger", and "safer". Two phrases that summarize what Americans are expecting from our investment in National Security are "effectiveness" and "shared responsibility".

5) Stay away from "collateral damage", "human costs" and other traditional National Security terminology used by the NGOs and the State Department. Your constituents don't know what those terms mean, and they will then assume that you are pro-UN.

6) If you must use the international relations argument, stress that you are seeking to see "other countries to pitch in" when balancing National Security and international needs. Be prepared to specify and quantify the waste, fraud and abuse because of the needless, excessive or redundant weapons programs in comparison to the cost to fund international health agencies, peacekeepers, etc.

7) Describe the limited role for the military-industrial complex. We must thoroughly review the weapons programs already in place, decide which ones we still need, identify those which no longer make sense, and make sure we don't add any unnecessary, wasteful programs. The Pentagon should disclose the expected cost of current and all new military programs. The public has the right to know.

8) Emphasize common sense. In making National Security policy decisions, we should use best estimates and realistic assumptions, not the worst-case scenarios advanced by neocon extremists.

[Editor's note: a hearty thank you to Frank Luntz, conservative communication expert and Republican pollster, for helping frame these talking points (PDF) for our Democratic leaders.]

Update: Liberal Oasis lets us know that Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) makes the case that Bush's National Security policies aren't that good:

"...we have allowed our alliances, which are going to be absolutely critical to winning the war on terrorism, to disintegrate.

I don't think that's a very impressive national security record."

And Tristero talks about how the right wing uses language to shut out debate and to stifle dissent.

posted by Mary at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK |
 

And lo, it was the season of the mid-term... Mary and James will be holding down the fort most of the week as I try desparately to avoid any information that I might want to blog about. Give them a nice round of applause for their great posts :)

posted by Natasha at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK |
 

South American Elections

Something is definitely afoot in South America: this weekend, with first-round presidential elections in two countries (Argentina and Paraguay), political progressives have almost completely swept the continent. (Please observe Paraguay's elections went the other way--the winner was from a vestigal liberal party, now Paraguay's conservatives). Hugo Chavez requires no introduction, or shouldn't; to your left (smile) is a hyperlink to our archived articles on Venezuela. In Brazil, labor candidate Lula da Silva, for decades a voice in the wilderness, was elected over threats by the international financial community of capital flight (November 2002). Brazil's economy continues to do well. In January 2003, as the Fedecameras "strike" fizzled in Venezuela, Lucio Gutiérrez was elected president in Ecuador.

Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutiérrez has a lot in common with Hugo Chavéz: both are American Indian, both in countries where Indians represent a major share of the population and both in polities which have traditionally excluded Indians or other non-Europeans. Both Gutiérrez and Chavéz are military men who participated in coups against orders like this, and later returned to win power through the ballot box. But why does the current administration behave so differently towards Pres. Gutiérrez? Here's where Natasha explains some clues.

In Argentina, former President Carlos Menem (1989-1999) will face Nestor Kirchner, a rival from the ruling Peronist Party, in a second round of voting on May 18. Argentina is probably the most unhealthy South American economy at at the moment; its finances are an unmitigated disaster, it has $141 billion in public debt default and deep devaluation. The unemployment rate is at 17 percent and more than half of Argentines live in poverty. While Menem is no prize--he adopted neoliberal economic policies discredited under the "Process" Junta (1976-1983) and introduced a disgraceful tradition of collusion with the junta's leaders--the elimination of the technocratic candidates sends a very clear message.

Menem is, like most politicians, adept at being different things to different people; his Peronist party is famous for extreme populism (and corruption, under Pres. Juan Perón). Should Nestor Kirchner win, he will (along with Richard Lagos of Chile) fill the continent's cohort of social democrats. Should Menem win, he will have the best chance in decades to heal the deep rifts in the populist Peronist party. And he could actually stand for something he claims to believe in. About time.

UPDATE: Rounding out the leaders in South America: in Colombia, Pres. Alfonse Uribe swung his war-torn nation to the right, vowing to find a military solution to the longest-running civil war in the history of the Americas. Although his armed forces have clashed militarily with some right-wing paramilitares, his ideology seems very sympathetic to that of the falangist paramilitaries themselves.

In Bolivia, the other far-right government on the continent is led by Hugo Banzer's protégé, Jorge Quiroga. Banzer was the leader of junta created in Bolivia in 1973 as part of "Operation Condor." He was later elected president (1999) but retired due to illness in 2001.

On the Pacific there are Richard Lagos in Chile (elected 2000), a European-style social democrat and Alejando Tolédo, an economist, populist, American Indian, and dissident against Alberto Fujimori's authoritarian government (elected 2001). Finally, there is Jorge Batlle (pron. baht-yuh; elected 1999), also a social democrat who has expressed opposition to the war on drugs. All of the current leaders in the region are fairly new, with Hugo Chavez and Jorge Batlle being the longest-serving presidents in the continent.

ADDENDUM: Randy Paul, a blogger with considerable expertise in and personal ties to South America, wrote in two points which I already knew were true. He points out that the Colorado Party ("vestigal liberal party") was behind the coup of Alfredo Stroessner, a regime I mentioned in my previous posting about falangism. I was trying to be very short and so I failed to spell this out. Stroessner took power in 1954 and ruled until another Colorado-backed coup in 1989. Paraguay's economy is an even bigger mess than Argentina's, and we can't exactly blame the opposition to the Colorado for this. But the Colorado Party was the "Liberal" Party of the 19th century. The association is misleading, because Stroessner is the architype of the Latin American totalitarian dictator.

Randy is also correct about the Peronists--they aren't very helpful. But I wanted to take a break from complaining about parties I don't approve of. His comments are still in the "comments" section below. He seems pretty confident that Menem will lose. He points to an article in The American Prospect which describes the effect of the Peronist Party on Argentina. I've never heard much nice said about them, so no shockers here.

posted by James R MacLean at 1:16 AM | PERMALINK |


Sunday, April 27, 2003  

Blog readings and withdrawal pains

No Kos all weekend! No Billmon nor Steve Soto as well. And what happens when we can't read TalkLeft or check in on local politics at Political State report? And on top of that Digby runs off and leaves us hanging. Geeze, I'd been joking about being addicted, but it's definitely felt like a long weekend of withdrawal to me.

Fortunately, there is still more than enough good blogging around that is NOT hosted on Kos' server.

Tristero has a very good post up about how 9/11 allowed the paranoid right the opportunity to say, "we told you so, the world is really dangerous. Now do you believe us?" But as Tristero says, their prescription is all wrong. He also has the same questions as I did when reading Thomas Friedman's Sunday column. Friedman must also believe that the ends justify the means. Tristero questions whether it is right to call Newt Gingrich an idiot. I think he might be on to something.

Ruminate This points to a very interesting article by the American Sentimentalist that discusses the use of polemic in the blog world. I know that I'd love to see the blog world get some real legs in changing the real world.

Stephen Charest also has some suggestions about how to go about making a real difference by supporting the Commonweal Institute -- a suggestion I whole-heartedly support as well. And he advises us to check the Commonweal website regularly to keep up with what they are talking about and to consider sending them a check if you can.

One of the things that I find so disturbing about the Bushies is their total disregard of evidence when it does not support their goals. tendentious has an oped from the NY Times where a scientist lecturing about ethics finds himself feeling like it is his duty to speak out about the problem.

So I found myself in Chicago in early April proposing a possibly unpopular thesis: scientists have a special ethical responsibility at this particular time to question our government's actions. It appears that this administration is marginalizing the recommendations of major scientific organizations on the one hand, while defending artificial "research" to support political goals, or, worse still, manufacturing it.

freelixer has a post which links the letter Mike Hawash wrote from his solitary cell. It starts:

On the outside, I took things for granted. I know you do, it's just easy to do...

On the outside, I took people for granted. I know you do too, it's just natural to do...

On the outside, I've taken time for granted, so today is gone, there's always tomorrow...

On the inside, it's a different story, believe me, I know...

On the outside, life's little things were my right to have; I'm entitled to them. Fresh air is a step away; sunshine is a walk to the patio; a voice to talk to is just a phone call away.

A shower, a paper, a pencil, a TV, a computer, a walk, a talk, a hug, a kiss, are all up to me; when I want, where I want.

On the inside, it's a new life, trust me, I know.

Things are less, options are less, people are less, IQ is less, words are less, my entire world is less, except for time.

Time is definitely more; the day got longer since I went inside.

There's more and every bit of it shows what a decent and thoughtful guy Mike is. How a "democratic" government could condone this is beyond me.

Update: Tristero and TalkLeft have provided good updates to the story of Mike Hawash. Tristero says that the presumption of innocence should prevail. I agree. And I can't help but remember the persecution of Wen Ho Lee. The right of habeas corpus is a 480 year old tradition. So tell me again, why is it "conservative" to stomp all over it?

posted by Mary at 10:47 PM | PERMALINK |
 

More Spiritual Warfare

Natasha had a beautiful article not too long ago about what Spiritual Warfare really meant -- namely that it is an internal struggle to live up to the best to which humans can aspire. It means holding your tongue when you are angry or hurt because you don't want to contribute to an often negative and hurtful world. It means finding ways to contribute goodness in a world that can be so lacking in goodness and compassion. It means aspiring to being the type of person that walks with the God that the new testament described, one that loves and cares about every sparrow and every person but asks that we show the same for others. Or as Natasha put it so remarkably well:

A person can't teach peace and justice while shouting, name-calling, being a busybody, or otherwise setting themselves up for what rational people know is a good opportunity for a pratfall. Because it's just at those moments when we become blind to our own behavior, weaknesses, stupidities. And everyone of us (very guilty party here) has plenty of those.

But though we know these things in our personal lives, and can verify that the world works like this through trial and error, (and error, and error, and error...) we forget. We know when we talk to our families and friends that when we're belligerent, the only thing we get is more hostility. We can be right until the cows come home, but we'll be sorry anyway. We know that when we approach the people around us with respect, generosity, and fairness, that even when we're wrong, they'll forgive us. Work with us.

And there's nothing harder than being angry, frustrated, exasperated, and five kinds of raving mad, than restraining ourselves to calm down before doing something stupid. That's a hell of a fight. A struggle that isn't for the faint of heart. There's nothing easier than lashing out like a wounded animal, because that's everyone's first impulse. Even the people who make it look easy.

It's this struggle that our country is failing. We're failing because we've acted out of anger, and are letting it consume our public dialogue. We're failing because instead of doing the difficult work of putting our own house in order, we're doing the lazy make-work of telling everyone else why they've got it all wrong. Of course they have got it all wrong, we all have. That isn't the point.

The point is which struggle we take on. Do we take the easy road, the external struggle, where there's always something "out there" that we have to get to before taking care of (so-called) trivial internal problems? Or do we take the hard road, the internal struggle, where we work to make our own homes, businesses, and country an example that encourages people around us?

The internal struggle for being someone who contributes to a better world is not just a Christian ideal. As one of the commentors to Natasha's piece said, for women, the word jihad also refers to the internal struggle in the Islamic religion.

This internal struggle for goodness is one that extends beyond the monotheistic religions as witnessed by the beautiful and incredibly hopeful oped piece written this week for the NY Times by the Dalai Lama.

These are times when destructive emotions like anger, fear and hatred are giving rise to devastating problems throughout the world. While the daily news offers grim reminders of the destructive power of such emotions, the question we must ask is this: What can we do, person by person, to overcome them?

Of course such disturbing emotions have always been part of the human condition. Some -- those who tend to believe nothing will "cure" our impulses to hate or oppress one another -- might say that this is simply the price of being human. But this view can create apathy in the face of destructive emotions, leading us to conclude that destructiveness is beyond our control.

I believe that there are practical ways for us as individuals to curb our dangerous impulses -- impulses that collectively can lead to war and mass violence. As evidence I have not only my spiritual practice and the understanding of human existence based on Buddhist teachings, but now also the work of scientists.

[...]

The implications of all this are clear: the world today needs citizens and leaders who can work toward ensuring stability and engage in dialogue with the "enemy" -- no matter what kind of aggression or assault they may have endured.

It's worth noting that these methods are not just useful, but inexpensive. You don't need a drug or an injection. You don't have to become a Buddhist, or adopt any particular religious faith. Everybody has the potential to lead a peaceful, meaningful life. We must explore as far as we can how that can be brought about.

I try to put these methods into effect in my own life. When I hear bad news, especially the tragic stories I often hear from my fellow Tibetans, naturally my own response is sadness. However, by placing it in context, I find I can cope reasonably well. And feelings of helpless anger, which simply poison the mind and embitter the heart, seldom arise, even following the worst news.

But reflection shows that in our lives much of our suffering is caused not by external causes but by such internal events as the arising of disturbing emotions. The best antidote to this disruption is enhancing our ability to handle these emotions.

If humanity is to survive, happiness and inner balance are crucial. Otherwise the lives of our children and their children are more likely to be unhappy, desperate and short. Material development certainly contributes to happiness -- to some extent -- and a comfortable way of life. But this is not sufficient. To achieve a deeper level of happiness we cannot neglect our inner development.

The calamity of 9/11 demonstrated that modern technology and human intelligence guided by hatred can lead to immense destruction. Such terrible acts are a violent symptom of an afflicted mental state. To respond wisely and effectively, we need to be guided by more healthy states of mind, not just to avoid feeding the flames of hatred, but to respond skillfully. We would do well to remember that the war against hatred and terror can be waged on this, the internal front, too.

I have come to the conclusion that the "truths" that arise again and again in the world are the ones that are most likely to be "true" no matter the source. In the area of ethics and what it means to be a good human being, I am struck how similar the struggle Natasha describes and the one that the Dalai Lama also illuminates. They both talk about how hard it is to aspire to these goals, yet they both show what an amazing world we could create if we all aspired to reach these standards.

posted by Mary at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK |