tideshift

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Martin Luther King Jr.

An excerpt from his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture:

"...So man's proneness to engage in war is still a fact. But wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the destructive power of modern weapons eliminated even the possibility that war may serve as a negative good. If we assume that life is worth living and that man has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war. In a day when vehicles hurtle through outer space and guided ballistic missiles carve highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can claim victory in war. A so-called limited war will leave little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment. A world war - God forbid! - will leave only smoldering ashes as a mute testimony of a human race whose folly led inexorably to ultimate death. So if modern man continues to flirt unhesitatingly with war, he will transform his earthly habitat into an inferno such as even the mind of Dante could not imagine..."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Gardens for Plainfield

A children's story I've been mulling for awhile. I hope to make collage illustrations and submit it to a children's book publisher sometime soon. -KW

Marisa lives in Plainfield, New Jersey, with her mother, Elena, her father, Paul, and her baby brother Sam. She lives on the third floor of an apartment building with four stories and many families, and also many balconies where people put pots of flowers and herbs to bask in the sun.

Marisa and her family go to church at the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield. Once a month, the church has a food pantry, to give out bags of rice, noodles and canned goods to their neighbors who have a hard time earning enough money to buy food.

Three times every year, Marisa, her mother and father and many other grown-ups and kids at the church get together to cook hot meals for the neighbors. They peel mountains of sweet potatoes and stem box after box of kale, collard and other greens. They mix big bowls of cornbread batter and cook the bread in the shiny ovens. People bring cooked turkeys and apple pies, and pounds of coffee are put to percolate in the big coffeepot.

When everything is ready, and the scents of coffee, baking cornbread and glazed sweet potato mingle in the warm air, the people come in and eat as much as they want, for as long as they want. The big kids bring bread and butter to each table and the little kids dance and stomp around under everyone’s feet. In the kitchen, the grown-ups put dirty dishes in the dishwasher and then open the door to a cloud of steam to pull out the clean plates. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, every year.

One Christmas, while she was watching the people eat, Marisa started thinking about the pots of flowers and herbs on everybody’s balconies. She got an idea, and the idea got stuck in her head. Gardens for Plainfield!

Elena and Paul liked the idea, and helped Marisa write a plan and take it to the City Council.

The City Council liked the idea and set aside some money for seeds and tools.

The neighbors liked the idea, and walked around their houses and apartment buildings, marking out sunny spots with Popsicle sticks and string. They found 57 places to put new gardens to grow fresh fruits and vegetables.

By early March, seven weeks before the last frost, Marisa and her neighbors were ready to dig. They had a digging party, and served lemonade and cookies to everyone who helped.

Every Saturday for the six weeks before the last frost, they had seedling fiestas in the Parish Hall. They spread newspaper on the floor and brought in big bags of dirt and planted dozens of trays of lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, potatoes, peas, cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, basil, onions, radishes, lima beans, green beans, kale, collard, chard, parsley, eggplant, dill, cauliflower, celery, cantaloupes, watermelons, honeydews, spinach, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, strawberries, carrots, garlic, zucchini, chives, marjoram, and sage.

One Saturday, Marisa’s neighbor Bill came into church and whispered an idea to Marisa. Marisa whispered it to Elena, who whispered it to Paul and pretty soon everyone in the neighborhood began looking for extra sunny spots to plant fruit bushes and fruit trees: raspberries, blueberries, currants, blackberries, apples, peaches and pears.

Finally, Planting Day arrived, and the whole downtown was filled with streamers, balloons, and people with muddy knees and muddy hands holding muddy trowels. Kids pulled the seedling flats from garden to garden in their little red wagons, and some of the teenagers set up their bands and played music on the street corners.

All that first summer, everyone checked all the gardens. Never before have gardens been so well watered and weeded! People collected jars for canning, and big pots, and made a schedule for the church stove at harvest time. They dug root cellars, and found a room to store seeds, and collected books for a gardening library. They started up compost piles to get ready for nourishing the garden plots in the fall.

They planned a giant Harvest Festival for the first weekend in October. The Mayor gave a speech. The City Council chair cut a ribbon at the first garden plot to be harvested.
Day after day, baskets of tomatoes and cucumbers and melons and every other sort of fruit and vegetable came into the church in the little red wagons, and came out again in boxes filled with rows and rows of shiny glass jars filled with tomato sauce, pickles, apple butter, sliced peaches, a whole rainbow of foods.

At the end of November, Marisa and her family came to a different kind of Thanksgiving Dinner at their church – a potluck. Everyone brought something to share – from fresh bread to apple pies to green bean casseroles to spaghetti and tomato sauce.

And everyone ate, as much as they wanted, for as long as they wanted.

The End.

Mother to Son, by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
--Bare.
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blueprint

Blueprint

Chapter 1

As earthworms go, this one was ordinary. A little more than two inches long. Pink with gray undertones. Wriggling.

Jack bent low over his shovel handle and gently pinched the worm between his grimy thumb and forefinger, whispered a quick “Thanks,” and lowered the little guy into the freshly churned soil in the shady corner of the garden plot.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ending Poverty

I scrubbed my kitchen floor today! People are coming over for Thanksgiving! Oy! But the novel, she sits, lonely and neglected.

I also recently wrote a newsletter article about the next lecture for the series. Here it is:

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus said: “the poor you will always have with you,” to disciples criticizing a woman who poured expensive perfume on Christ’s head just before his crucifixion. As Steve F. at the blog Ragamuffin Ramblings put it: “For me, the real danger is that we hear ‘The poor you will always have with you...’ and we allow the unspoken tagline to be ‘...so screw 'em - we can't fix 'em all, anyway.’ However, if you look at the record of Christ's work while here on earth, it shows that he spent much, much more time healing, feeding, and restoring ‘the least of these’ than he did anything else. Sure, Jesus didn't heal them all, or feed them all - but that's no reason not to make efforts to try a priority.”

In macroeconomist Jeffrey Sachs’ book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Sachs argues that this is the first time in history we have a real chance to end extreme poverty in our lifetimes. In countries blessed by fertile soil, long coastlines and other advantages, humans have overcome the technological hurdles to putting food into hungry bellies and shelter over homeless men, women and children. The last hurdle left is to make it universal: here and abroad.

There are about 6.5 billion people in the world. About one-sixth, just over 1 billion people, live in extreme poverty – on less than $1 per day, hungry, without safe drinking water, sanitation, health care, education for their children, and possibly without shelter. 93% of those people live in East Asia, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Another 1.5 billion people are “poor” – they have food and shelter, but live just over the subsistence level. The extreme poor and poor together comprise 40% of our fellow earthlings.

Then there are about 2.5 billion people in “middle income” households, with incomes of a few thousand dollars per year, who eat enough, have decent shelter (possibly with indoor plumbing) and can send their children to school. The remaining 1 to 1.5 billion are people like us, who live in the high-income world of abundant food, big houses, cars, computers, toys.

Sachs’ view is that economic development is like a ladder. Once a country is on the bottom rung, hard work and accountable management will, over time, continue to move the people up the ladder to better standards of living. But people in extreme poverty are standing on tiptoe way under the ladder and can’t even graze the bottom rung with the tips of their outstretched fingers.

Sachs also believes that donor intervention by the IMF, World Bank, rich-country governments, and non-governmental organizations will not be effective if it’s applied, as it has been, one-size-fits-all: “Open your markets, tighten your belts, pay your debts.” He practices “clinical economics,” diagnosing the problems that keep a country in poverty: demographic trends, land-locked geography, endemic malaria, frequent droughts, unpaved roads, high debt-servicing costs and dozens of other relevant factors. Just as in medicine, diagnosis permits targeted treatment: debt relief, and large, effective investments to bring agriculture, basic health, safe drinking water, sanitation, education, power, transportation, communication and other vital systems up to the threshold where people can begin to take care of themselves sustainably.

True, rich countries have exploited, and continue to exploit, the people and resources of developing nations. True, rich countries have been extremely stingy in providing foreign aid: during the “heyday” of the Marshall Plan, U.S. aid to other countries was 2% of GNP. By 2004, U.S. Official Development Assistance was $15 billion: 0.14% of GNP.

Corruption, guilt, despair, fears about global warming, over-consumption and overpopulation also sap public will, but those are practical concerns with practical, field-tested solutions. For example, village control of aid money promotes open, honest administration of donor funds, and improved maternal and child health and education lower fertility rates, as women are empowered to choose to have fewer children, so they can better care for each one, creating cycles of improvement from one generation to the next while reducing population.

Those facts – the overwhelming power and resources at rich countries’ disposal, and poor people’s proven ability to use generous, targeted help to create conditions of self-sufficiency – underpin the argument that the power and money could be effectively used to lift the poorest of the poor up to the bottom rung. As Bono puts it at the One Campaign: “It’s not about charity. It’s about justice.”

(Other recommended reading: Joseph Stiglitz’ Globalization and Its Discontents.)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Voices of Generation X

Friday, November 17, 2006

False choices, truth and fiction...

At the urging of my Dad, and upon discovering that Barbara Kingsolver has created the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, "in support of a literature for social change," I'm on the verge of attempting, yet again, to translate my political views into novel form for the non-political-junkie public.

We've rearranged the apartment furniture again, which always prefigures these periodical forays into the scary world of fiction. I find it so distressing to have so many choices about what to write, since there is no documented reality to convey. But I'm starting to think that I should try to be in that mindset when I sit down with the characters, the keyboard, the monitor (lizard) and the Muse. Maybe it will keep me on the straight and narrow, still telling what I think of as truth, but in a different way, far FAR outside my comfort zone.

This blog, henceforth, will be the repository for the limping, mangled literary stuff, so I don't feel so lonely in the process. Ideally, any feedback will be completely neutral, consisting only of: "Read it."

Dragons off the edge of the map, here I come...

The basic idea is that there's this gardener, landscaper type man. The time period is now, running up to about 20 or 30 years from now. The plot is the guy realizing a whole bunch of political, socioeconomic, environmental things, and trying to build a coherent life in response.

There's going to be a love interest - maybe a lobbyist woman who grows a conscience and tries to help move things along from inside the belly of the beast. Sex scenes, maybe in mountain hot springs. And even though all kinds of terrible legislative, ecological, geopolitical and other roadblocks spring up all the way along, the good guys win. At the end of the story, we'll have a blueprint of perseverence not saving the day in a heroic way, just transforming a messy mess into a coherent, sustainable chaos, bit by bit...by bit.

Stay tuned for chapter one, draft one. And please send good thoughts to me through the cosmos, so I don't keep deciding it's more important to scrub the kitchen floor than stare into space and write.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives

This open letter from Michael Moore made me think of my sister in Colorado, who was (when last we were on speaking terms, years ago) a committed conservative Republican and unquestioning supporter of George W. Bush and his political agenda.

If I ever move past my anger at her and those like her, I will, perhaps, feel I have finally begun to live up to my ideals just a little bit. In the meantime, all I can do is say that I agree with the spirit, and almost all the letters, of Moore's pledge. We who support the Democrats, however reluctantly, in full knowledge of our shared human shortcomings and with complete faith in our human potential, must absolutely "be the change we wish to see in the world," and not inflict upon Republicans what they have been inflicting upon us for all these years. -KW

A Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives
November 14th, 2006

To My Conservative Brothers and Sisters,

I know you are dismayed and disheartened at the results of last week's election. You're worried that the country is heading toward a very bad place you don't want it to go. Your 12-year Republican Revolution has ended with so much yet to do, so many promises left unfulfilled. You are in a funk, and I understand.

Well, cheer up, my friends! Do not despair. I have good news for you. I, and the millions of others who are now in charge with our Democratic Congress, have a pledge we would like to make to you, a list of promises that we offer you because we value you as our fellow Americans.

You deserve to know what we plan to do with our newfound power -- and, to be specific, what we will do to you and for you.

Thus, here is our Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives:

Dear Conservatives and Republicans,

I, and my fellow signatories, hereby make these promises to you:

1. We will always respect you for your conservative beliefs. We will never, ever, call you "unpatriotic" simply because you disagree with us. In fact, we encourage you to dissent and disagree with us.

2. We will let you marry whomever you want, even when some of us consider your behavior to be "different" or "immoral." Who you marry is none of our business. Love and be in love -- it's a wonderful gift.

3. We will not spend your grandchildren's money on our personal whims or to enrich our friends. It's your checkbook, too, and we will balance it for you.

4. When we soon bring our sons and daughters home from Iraq, we will bring your sons and daughters home, too. They deserve to live. We promise never to send your kids off to war based on either a mistake or a lie.

5. When we make America the last Western democracy to have universal health coverage, and all Americans are able to get help when they fall ill, we promise that you, too, will be able to see a doctor, regardless of your ability to pay. And when stem cell research delivers treatments and cures for diseases that affect you and your loved ones, we'll make sure those advances are available to you and your family, too.

6. Even though you have opposed environmental regulation, when we clean up our air and water, we, the Democratic majority, will let you, too, breathe the cleaner air and drink the purer water.

7. Should a mass murderer ever kill 3,000 people on our soil, we will devote every single resource to tracking him down and bringing him to justice. Immediately. We will protect you.

8. We will never stick our nose in your bedroom or your womb. What you do there as consenting adults is your business. We will continue to count your age from the moment you were born, not the moment you were conceived.

9. We will not take away your hunting guns. If you need an automatic weapon or a handgun to kill a bird or a deer, then you really aren't much of a hunter and you should, perhaps, pick up another sport. We will make our streets and schools as free as we can from these weapons and we will protect your children just as we would protect ours.

10. When we raise the minimum wage, we will pay you -- and your employees -- that new wage, too. When women are finally paid what men make, we will pay conservative women that wage, too.

11. We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don't put those beliefs into practice. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs ("Blessed are the poor," "Blessed are the peacemakers," "Love your enemies," "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn't just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism -- starting with the fanaticism here at home, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world.

12. We will not tolerate politicians who are corrupt and who are bought and paid for by the rich. We will go after any elected leader who puts him or herself ahead of the people. And we promise you we will go after the corrupt politicians on our side FIRST. If we fail to do this, we need you to call us on it. Simply because we are in power does not give us the right to turn our heads the other way when our party goes astray. Please perform this important duty as the loyal opposition.

I promise all of the above to you because this is your country, too. You are every bit as American as we are. We are all in this together. We sink or swim as one. Thank you for your years of service to this country and for giving us the opportunity to see if we can make things a bit better for our 300 million fellow Americans -- and for the rest of the world.

Signed,

Michael Moore

(and me too.)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Gnostic Generation

This link goes to an essay by John R. Mabry in Contexts and Cultures. I happened upon it while doing research for my Intro to GenX class.

An excerpt from the conclusion:

By understanding Xers’ well-founded distrust of authority, spiritual directors and other leaders can be truly supportive of their spiritual journeys, accepting that such journeys may lead into very different places than their own. After all, it is a very different world into which Generation X was born. The rewards of such ministry will benefit all generations, not simply Generation X. For if dialogue between the generations can be initiated and maintained, Xers can gain from the hard-won experience of their elders, while elder generations will benefit from the very real and important spiritual gifts unique to Generation X: a prophetic voice that tolerates no guile and provides an important corrective to the idealism of the Boomers.

The spirituality of Generation X entertains a distinctly realized eschatology, grounding spirit and vision in the here and now. Instead of painting vast visions of the millennial kingdom, Xers will be found in soup kitchens feeding the homeless in their own neighborhoods; rather than forging expensive governmental programs which may or may not benefit those they are intended to assist, Xers are more likely than any other generation to volunteer their efforts locally to help those less fortunate.

Far from being a morally corrupt generation, Xers have a deep sense of community and spirituality, one that tolerates no subversion, and is at the same time eager to make a difference where the difference can be seen. Spiritual directors can be powerful allies in helping this troubled generation reach their full potential by companioning them with understanding, mentoring them with equanimity, and supporting their efforts to find meaningful community on their own terms.

The Gnostic writer who wrote Thunder: Perfect Mind so many centuries ago may as well have been speaking for Generation X when he or she wrote:

Give heed to me.
I am the one who is disgraced
and the great one.
Give heed to my poverty and my wealth.
Do not be arrogant to me
when I am cast out upon the earth,
And you will find me in those that are to come.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Impeachment Rumblings Go On

The author of this San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, Elizabeth Holtzman, represented New York in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 to 1981. She is the co-author, with Cynthia L. Cooper, of "The Impeachment of George W. Bush: A Practical Guide for Concerned Citizens."

Centrism

Word on the mainstream media street is that the new Democratic Congress will be "centrist" and "moderate," and that the more conservative among the Democrats are claiming the victory belongs to them. Others beg to differ, here and here.

My own view is that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid may have their work cut out for them, trying to enforce discipline among the Democrats to really hold Bush and the Republicans accountable while moving forward with developing and then implementing a genuinely Democratic vision for America. But Pelosi and Reid should strike the needed bargains from a Democratic center, not from the center of the political spectrum as a whole. It's the Republicans' job to hold up the right, and the Democrats' job to balance that currently overbearing weight.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Landslide!

by Michael Moore

Friends,

You did it! We did it! The impossible has happened: A majority of Americans have soundly and forcefully removed Bush's party from control of the House of Representatives. And, sometime today perhaps, we may learn that the same miracle has happened in the Senate. Whatever the outcome, the American people have made two things crystal clear: End this war, and stop Mr. Bush from doing any more damage to this country we love. That is what this election was about. Nothing else. Just that. And it's a message that has sent shock waves throughout Washington -- and a note of hope around this troubled world.

Now the real work begins. Unless we stay on top of these Democrats to do the right thing, they will do what they've always done: Screw it up. Big Time. They helped Bush start this war, and now they should make amends.

But let's take a day to rejoice and revel in a rare victory for our side -- the side that doesn't believe in unprovoked invasions of other countries. This is your day, my friends. You have worked hard for it. I can't tell you how proud I am to count all of you as part of the greater American mainstream we now occupy. Thank you for all the time you gave this week to get out the vote.

Some of you have been at this since the large demonstrations of February 2003 when we tried to stop the war before it started. Only 10-20% of the country agreed with us at that time. Remember how lonely that was? Some people were even booed! Now, 60% of the country agrees with our position. They are us and we are them. What a nice, strange, hopeful feeling.

A woman, for the first time in our history, will be Speaker of the House. The attempt to ban all abortion in the conservative state of South Dakota was defeated. Laws to raise the minimum wage were passed. Democrats were elected to fill Tom DeLay's and Mark Foley's seats. Detroit's John Conyers, Jr. is going to be the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Democratic governor of Michigan beat the CEO from Amway. The little township next to where I live in Michigan voted Democratic for the first time since... ever. And on and on and on. The good news will continue throughout today. Let's enjoy it. Savor it. And use it to get Congress to finally listen to the majority.

If you want to do one thing today, send an email or a letter to both of your senators and your member of Congress and tell them, in no uncertain terms, what this election means: End the war -- and don't let George W. Bush get away with any more of his bright ideas.

Congratulations, again! Now let's go find a spine for the Dems to do the job we've sent them there to do.

Yours in victory (for once!),

Michael

P.S. Thanks for all those photos you sent me of you with your brooms at your polling places. They're still coming in and we're posting them throughout the day. And for those of you who asked how "Sicko" is coming along, the answer is: better than we ever expected! We're hard at work in the edit room and it will be in theaters in June. Thanks again, everyone, for your support.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Prayer for Election Day

by Rabbi Michael Lerner

Thank You, the Power of Healing and Transformation in the Universe, that Your energy has moved through human beings in the past and inspired them to create democratic institutions that would give me and others this wonderful opportunity to participate in shaping our world.

I know that the outcome of this election will have consequences for all six billion people on the planet, and that if democratic norms were to be fully established, that they too would be able to participate in shaping the decisions about how the world's resources should best be used. So I hereby take it upon myself to vote in a way that is sensitive to the needs of all the people of the planet, not just of those who are blessed to live in the richest and most powerful society. I recognize and affirm the unity of all being and the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all people with each other and with the wellbeing of the planet itself.

As I approach this holy act, I recommit myself to the message revealed to the prophets and sages of old: that our highest task on earth is to bring more love and kindness, generosity and sanctity into the world, and that to do so we must vigorously pursue a world of justice and peace and avoid violence and hurting others directly or indirectly. May my votes actually contribute to these results.

Please give strength to those for whom I vote. If they are elected, let them actually contribute to achieving a world of greater peace, justice and love. If they are not elected, let my vote be one of the factors that contributes to empowering them to play a positive role in continuing the struggle for peace, justice and love, so that they represent my intentions and so that they do not personally fall back into despair or into personal opportunism and forget that they have the task of vigorously articulating the aspirations of those who were seeking through voting for them to bring more caring and more generosity into the world.

Give me the wisdom to understand those who do not vote in the way that I do. I already know that most people on this planet share with me the desire for a world of peace, justice, loving-kindness and caring, so it is hard for me to understand why they don't support the candidates who seem to represent those values. Please give me the wisdom to understand the complex psychological, social and political factors that could take fundamentally decent human beings and lead them into paths that may, I believe, lead to a world exactly the opposite of what they really want.

And let that understanding empower me to be more compassionate in the way that I think and talk about those with whom I disagree, and more intelligent in finding ways to reach them, speak to their goodness, and bring them through my love and compassion for them to be able to see a better path to achieve the goals that they share with me.

From this point forward, I commit myself to seeing the good in all others, and to finding the decency and generosity in those who disagree with me, and to keep that in front of my consciousness even as I continue to disagree with the paths that they have chosen--and let that understanding give me even greater energy to fight for the causes of social justice and peace.

Meanwhile, let me also have compassion for the leaders of movements and candidates for office whom I do support--let me not judge them for their personal failings, for the ways that they are not in their PRIVATE LIVES the fullest possible embodiments of the ideals that they articulate. Yet let me simultaneously have the energy and commitment to hold them accountable in their PUBLIC ACTS to fighting even harder for social justice and peace and ecological sanity.

I know that my vote is only one little part of the whole, and nevertheless I will not belittle what I am doing today in going to vote. But neither will I use this vote as a way of excusing myself from having to do more. I commit myself to putting more of my time and more of my energy and more of my money into activities explicitly aimed at tikkun olam, the healing and transformation of our planet. Please let me be witness to a dramatic surge of the world's energies toward love, justice, peace, nonviolence, spiritual awakening, and ecological sanity--quickly and in my lifetime, and let it be so. Amen. Shalom. Salaam. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Olberman Sums it Up

Bush Owes Troops Apology, Not Kerry
by Keith Olbermann

On the 22nd of May, 1856, as the deteriorating American political system veered toward the edge of the cliff, U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina shuffled into the Senate of this nation, his leg stiff from an old dueling injury, supported by a cane. And he looked for the familiar figure of the prominent senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner.

Brooks found Sumner at his desk, mailing out copies of a speech he had delivered three days earlier — a speech against slavery.

The congressman matter-of-factly raised his walking stick in midair and smashed its metal point across the senator’s head.

Congressman Brooks hit his victim repeatedly. Sen. Sumner somehow got to his feet and tried to flee. Brooks chased him and delivered untold blows to Sumner’s head. Even though Sumner lay unconscious and bleeding on the Senate floor, Brooks finally stopped beating him only because his cane finally broke.

Others will cite John Brown’s attack on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry as the exact point after which the Civil War became inevitable.

In point of fact, it might have been the moment, not when Brooks broke his cane over the prostrate body of Sen. Sumner — but when voters in Brooks’ district started sending him new canes.

Tonight, we almost wonder to whom President Bush will send the next new cane.

There is tonight no political division in this country that he and his party will not exploit, nor have not exploited; no anxiety that he and his party will not inflame.

There is no line this president has not crossed — nor will not cross — to keep one political party in power.

He has spread any and every fear among us in a desperate effort to avoid that which he most fears — some check, some balance against what has become not an imperial, but a unilateral presidency.

And now it is evident that it no longer matters to him whether that effort to avoid the judgment of the people is subtle and nuanced or laughably transparent.

Sen. John Kerry called him out Monday.

He did it two years too late.

He had been too cordial — just as Vice President Gore had been too cordial in 2000, just as millions of us have been too cordial ever since.

Sen. Kerry, as you well know, spoke at a college in Southern California. With bitter humor he told the students that he had been in Texas the day before, that President Bush used to live in that state, but that now he lives in the state of denial.

He said the trip had reminded him about the value of education — that “if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you can get stuck in Iraq.”

The senator, in essence, called Mr. Bush stupid.

The context was unmistakable: Texas; the state of denial; stuck in Iraq. No interpretation required.

And Mr. Bush and his minions responded by appearing to be too stupid to realize that they had been called stupid.

They demanded Kerry apologize to the troops in Iraq.

And so he now has.

That phrase — “appearing to be too stupid” — is used deliberately, Mr. Bush.

Because there are only three possibilities here.

One, sir, is that you are far more stupid than the worst of your critics have suggested; that you could not follow the construction of a simple sentence; that you could not recognize your own life story when it was deftly summarized; that you could not perceive it was the sad ledger of your presidency that was being recounted.

This, of course, compliments you, Mr. Bush, because even those who do not “make the most of it,” who do not “study hard,” who do not “do their homework,” and who do not “make an effort to be smart” might still just be stupid, but honest.

No, the first option, sir, is, at best, improbable. You are not honest.

The second option is that you and those who work for you deliberately twisted what Sen. Kerry said to fit your political template; that you decided to take advantage of it, to once again pretend that the attacks, solely about your own incompetence, were in fact attacks on the troops or even on the nation itself.

The third possibility is, obviously, the nightmare scenario: that the first two options are in some way conflated.

That it is both politically convenient for you and personally satisfying to you, to confuse yourself with the country for which, sir, you work.

A brief reminder, Mr. Bush: You are not the United States of America.

You are merely a politician whose entire legacy will have been a willingness to make anything political; to have, in this case, refused to acknowledge that the insult wasn’t about the troops, and that the insult was not even truly about you either, that the insult, in fact, is you.

So now John Kerry has apologized to the troops; apologized for the Republicans’ deliberate distortions.

Thus, the president will now begin the apologies he owes our troops, right?

This president must apologize to the troops for having suggested, six weeks ago, that the chaos in Iraq, the death and the carnage, the slaughtered Iraqi civilians and the dead American service personnel, will, to history, “look like just a comma.”

This president must apologize to the troops because the intelligence he claims led us into Iraq proved to be undeniably and irredeemably wrong.

This president must apologize to the troops for having laughed about the failure of that intelligence at a banquet while our troops were in harm’s way.

This president must apologize to the troops because the streets of Iraq were not strewn with flowers and its residents did not greet them as liberators.

This president must apologize to the troops because his administration ran out of “plan” after barely two months.

This president must apologize to the troops for getting 2,815 of them killed.

This president must apologize to the troops for getting this country into a war without a clue.

And Mr. Bush owes us an apology for this destructive and omnivorous presidency.

We will not receive them, of course.

This president never apologizes.

Not to the troops.

Not to the people.

Nor will those henchmen who have echoed him.

In calling him a “stuffed suit,” Sen. Kerry was wrong about the press secretary.

Mr. Snow’s words and conduct, falsely earnest and earnestly false, suggest he is not “stuffed,” he is inflated.

And in leaving him out of the equation, Sen. Kerry gave an unwarranted pass to his old friend Sen. John McCain, who should be ashamed of himself tonight.

He rolled over and pretended Kerry had said what he obviously had not.

Only, the symbolic stick he broke over Kerry’s head came in a context even more disturbing.
Mr. McCain demanded the apology while electioneering for a Republican congressional candidate in Illinois.

He was speaking of how often he had been to Walter Reed Hospital to see the wounded Iraq veterans, of how “many of them have lost limbs.”

He said all this while demanding that the voters of Illinois reject a candidate who is not only a wounded Iraq veteran, but who lost two limbs there, Tammy Duckworth.

Support some of the wounded veterans. But bad-mouth the Democratic one.

And exploit all the veterans and all the still-serving personnel in a cheap and tawdry political trick to try to bury the truth: that John Kerry said the president had been stupid.

And to continue this slander as late as this morning — as biased or gullible or lazy newscasters nodded in sleep-walking assent.

Sen. McCain became a front man in a collective lie to break sticks over the heads of Democrats — one of them his friend, another his fellow veteran, legless, for whom he should weep and applaud or at minimum about whom he should stay quiet.

That was beneath the senator from Arizona.

And it was all because of an imaginary insult to the troops that his party cynically manufactured out of a desperation and a futility as deep as that of Congressman Brooks, when he went hunting for Sen. Sumner.

This is our beloved country now as you have redefined it, Mr. Bush.

Get a tortured Vietnam veteran to attack a decorated Vietnam veteran in defense of military personnel whom that decorated veteran did not insult.

Or, get your henchmen to take advantage of the evil lingering dregs of the fear of miscegenation in Tennessee, in your party’s advertisements against Harold Ford.

Or, get the satellites who orbit around you, like Rush Limbaugh, to exploit the illness — and the bipartisanship — of Michael J. Fox. Yes, get someone to make fun of the cripple.

Oh, and sir, don’t forget to drag your own wife into it.

“It’s always easy,” she said of Mr. Fox’s commercials — and she used this phrase twice — “to manipulate people’s feelings.”

Where on earth might the first lady have gotten that idea, Mr. President?

From your endless manipulation of people’s feelings about terrorism?

“However they put it,” you said Monday of the Democrats, on the subject of Iraq, “their approach comes down to this: The terrorists win, and America loses.”

No manipulation of feelings there.

No manipulation of the charlatans of your administration into the only truth-tellers.

No shocked outrage at the Kerry insult that wasn’t; no subtle smile as the first lady silently sticks the knife in Michael J. Fox’s back; no attempt on the campaign trail to bury the reality that you have already assured that the terrorists are winning.

Winning in Iraq, sir.

Winning in America, sir.

There we have chaos — joint U.S.-Iraqi checkpoints at Sadr City, the base of the radical Shiite militias, and the Americans have been ordered out by the prime minister of Iraq … and our secretary of defense doesn’t even know about it!

And here we have deliberate, systematic, institutionalized lying and smearing and terrorizing — a code of deceit that somehow permits a president to say, “If you listen carefully for a Democrat plan for success, they don’t have one.”

Permits him to say this while his plan in Iraq has amounted to a twisted version of the advice once offered to Lyndon Johnson about his Iraq, called Vietnam.

Instead of “declare victory and get out” we now have “declare victory and stay indefinitely.”

And also here — we have institutionalized the terrorizing of the opposition.

True domestic terror:

Critics of your administration in the media receive letters filled with fake anthrax.

Braying newspapers applaud or laugh or reveal details the FBI wished kept quiet, and thus impede or ruin the investigation.

A series of reactionary columnists encourages treason charges against a newspaper that published “national security information” that was openly available on the Internet.

One radio critic receives a letter threatening the revelation of as much personal information about her as can be obtained and expressing the hope that someone will then shoot her with an AK-47 machine gun.

And finally, a critic of an incumbent Republican senator, a critic armed with nothing but words, is attacked by the senator’s supporters and thrown to the floor in full view of television cameras as if someone really did want to re-enact the intent — and the rage — of the day Preston Brooks found Sen. Charles Sumner.

Of course, Mr. President, you did none of these things.

You instructed no one to mail the fake anthrax, nor undermine the FBI’s case, nor call for the execution of the editors of the New York Times, nor threaten to assassinate Stephanie Miller, nor beat up a man yelling at Sen. George Allen, nor have the first lady knife Michael J. Fox, nor tell John McCain to lie about John Kerry.

No, you did not.

And the genius of the thing is the same as in King Henry’s rhetorical question about Archbishop Thomas Becket: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

All you have to do, sir, is hand out enough new canes.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Get some rest. Plug On.

Just finished Jimmy Carter's book, sent to me by a friend through BookCrossing and now released to find a new home. Just started Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. And this morning, I went to a breakfast fundraiser for HomeFirst, a local organization that works to help homeless people in Union County.

Piled on top of Michael Gecan's book about organizing to create power to take on power, and the low turnout at the lectures and voter rights teach in and peace concert, it's all making me wonder what would get a critical mass of people motivated to vigorously pitch in and actually really fundamentally change all the assumptions about wealth distribution and resource use and population growth that make these problems go on decade after decade.

Why can't we choose communal priorities and pull together? Why are there so many different groups working on so many different things, so that even well-informed, deeply committed people can't figure out who to support with dollars and time, and get more and more frustrated with every additional request for money and volunteerism?

And why do so few of the groups who perform acts of charity - using money donated from wealthy individuals - make bold, articulate public statements about the structures of inequality that continue to permit the wealthy to give small portions of their wealth to the utterly destitute, and then feel good about themselves for doing so? Well, the answer to that one is fairly obvious, I guess.

What would Jesus have done if his e-mail Inbox and his paper mailbox were full, every day, of requests for money and food from small children halfway around the world, whom he would never meet? Is that the problem: that the scale of suffering and the geographical (and psychological) distances between people make it much, much harder to translate giving a damn into making a damn bit of difference?

What if we could link up every family in the world with one other family, and recognize that the materially well-off families have just as much to learn and gain from connecting with the poor families as the other way around? More importantly, what if we could persuade the materially well-off of their basic security, so they'd stop agonizing about the mortgage payments, take comfort in their full bellies and warm beds, and finally, finally, turn their gazes and their full attention outward to the rest of the world.

One thing I found fascinating about Carter's book is his point that increasing health care and nutrition for developing countries actually lowers their birth rates: women who aren't terrified that their children will die before age 5 feel more comfortable limiting their family size.

One thing I find fascinating about Sachs' book, so far, is that it is apparently a practical, informed blueprint - from a guy with a ton of experience - about how our generation could be the one to truly end poverty in our lifetimes, and that we are the first generation in the history of humankind to even have that opportunity, should we choose to enact it.

One thing I find fascinating about all the things I've been working on these past few years is that, bad as things are, they are better than they were in key ways. Three years ago, only peace activists were yapping about the mess in Iraq and civil liberties - now everyone is. Ideas about non-violent conflict resolution and the peace dividend to be gained from genuine sustainable development aid are getting wider circulation every day. Despite the BushOstriches, most of the world is truly ready to tackle global warming in a serious way, and will likely outstrip the national and international leadership in doing so.

Get some rest. Plug on.

Skip a Meal for Oxfam

Plainfield Rally November 4

From the Peoples Organization for Progress and Plainfield Area Equality

RALLY AGAINST BUSH'S ILLEGAL AND IMMORAL WAR!
Bring Our Children Home Now!
____________________________________________________________
This Man Wants Your Child!

Join Us on November 4, at 11 am for one of the most important anti-war rallies you are likely to experience in New Jersey! Hear about how this country's administration is exploiting a whole generation of OUR KIDS and turning them into pawns in a game of DEATH!

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Join People's Organization for Progress and Plainfield Area Equality for our BRING OUR CHILDREN HOME rally. Stand up and be counted! BRING ANTI-WAR SIGNS AND BANNERS! The bigger and more colorful the better!

Date: Saturday November 4, 2006
Time: 11:00 am
Place: Plainfield City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue

Amnesty International Video and Pledge

The government that governs least governs best...

My husband has a friend who is from the Czech Republic. The friend, whose family is still back home, says that even though there hasn't been a functioning national government for four months, everything is running smoothly.

Makes you wonder...