Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Not that many in the United States would notice, but February 28 (2-28) is a national holiday in Taiwan. On this day in 1947 an incident occurred in Taipei, which led to the massive slaughter of thousands of Taiwanese at the hands of Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist troops.

In 1947 people here were weary and healing from the wounds of World War II. What attention could be mustered on the international scene was focused on the Iron Curtain falling in Europe and the civil war between the Chinese Communists and Chinese Nationalists on the Mainland. Although there were chilling reports by nationally known journalists, Tillman and Peggy Durdin in the New York Times and in The Nation, there was hardly a blip on the radar screen of public awareness outside Taiwan.

Except for the 1950s, 60s and 70s, when Taiwan under Chiang Kai-shek was the darling of America as “Free China,” there haven’t been many other blips on the screen. Since Taiwan became a democracy in the 1990s, the silence has been deafening.

Taiwan is the poster child for rampant double standards toward human rights violations and territorial expansion in Europe and Asia. While the West supported the independence of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithunia, and recently the US made Kosovo independent despite the strong protests of Russia, nothing comparable has done for Taiwan. As Jim Mann observed in The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression (2007), while Soviet dissidents were cool, Chinese [and Taiwanese] democracy activists seem to lack appeal for westerners.

Maybe on this February 28, we might pause for a few minutes from our focus on the presidential primaries and consider one of the most important and least recognized issues that the next administration will face. Our beginning point is the words of
Vorkosigan in one of his excellent diaries on DailyKos:
"it is wrong to understand Taiwan as part of China that has become unhinged somehow. Taiwan was never part of China."
Second-guessing geo-political decisions made over sixty years ago is tricky business, but there is no denying that decisions made in ending World War II did not result in liberation for everyone. In fact, those decisions resulted in the enslavement of millions of others. In his address in Latvia on his visit in 2005 President Bush criticized the 1945 treaty signed at Yalta by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that defined postwar zones of control, saying that the decisions followed in the “unjust tradition” of an earlier deal between Stalin and the Nazis. Yalta opened the door to the Soviet occupation of eastern and central Europe, as the President said, “Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable.”

President Bush might have been speaking of Taiwan, an island slightly larger than Maryland and Delaware combined, just slightly smaller than Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia and about about 95 miles off the China coast. Although smaller geographically than the Baltic States, Taiwan’s economy is 17th largest in the world.

The people of Taiwan were also adversely affected by the Yalta agreement. After being a colony of Japan for fifty years, having been ceded by China to Japan at the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Taiwan was returned to control by Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist Government of China (ROC) at the end of World War II. The matter had been settled at the Cairo Conference in 1943 when President Roosevelt was trying to keep Chiang in the war against the Japanese. Part of the price was Chiang’s being able to occupy Taiwan. The Cairo Declaration called for all territories taken from China by the Japanese to be returned. In the formal San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 the Japanese gave up all right and title to the island but no beneficiary was named. To this day, the status of Taiwan, as far as international law is concerned, remains undetermined, with our policy being that the two sides of the Strait must agree mutually and peacefully on Taiwan's status, and the people of Taiwan must consent to any such arrangement.

No government on Mainland China made any serious attempt to control and develop Taiwan until the late 19th century. The island was officially declared a province in 1887, a scant eight years before it was ceded to Japan as a result of the Sino-Japanese War. Historically, the most significant characteristic of Taiwan’s relationship with China has been its tenuous contact with the mainland. Although not a government document, Edgar Snow in his book, Red Star Over China, recorded the following statement by Mao Tse-tung in a 1936 interview:

“It is the immediate task of China to regain all our lost territories, not merely to defend our sovereignty below the Great Wall. This means that Manchuria must be regained. We do not, however, include Korea, formerly a Chinese colony, but when we have reestablished the independence of the lost territories of China, and if the Koreans wish to break away from the chains of Japanese imperialism, we will extend them our enthusiastic help in their struggle for independence. The same things applies for Formosa [Taiwan].”[1]
Alas, when Japan was defeated, like the Baltic States, the Yalta Conference set Taiwan’s future. And it wasn’t pretty. When I was in Taiwan, over and over, I heard the old saying, “The Japanese were like dogs and sometimes they bit, but the Chinese came and were like pigs; they just wallowed.” The corrupt and brutal Nationalist Government that lost the war on the mainland with the Chinese Communists were no less corrupt and brutal in their occupation of Taiwan. Few Taiwanese didn’t have a relative or know personally someone who was murdered in the aftermath of the incident on February 28.

During the cold War and the hostility between Communist and non-Communist governments, Taiwan was considered “Free China” because it wasn’t communist. Of course, if you listened to the Taiwanese people, they were quick to tell you that Taiwan was neither “free” nor “China,” and that they had as little inclination to be ruled by Chinese communists as they did the military dictator, Chiang Kai-shek. When I was there, there were still many political prisoners whose only offense had been to disagree with government propaganda. Thousands of other Taiwanese had simply disappeared over the years, never to be heard from again.

While the people of China endured “Red Terror” under the Chinese Communists, the people of Taiwan endured a period of “White Terror”. The period of “White Terror” extended from 1947 to 1987 when martial law was finally repealed. In 1999 the Nationalist Party came under increasing domestic and international pressure to explain what had happened in this period. An investigative report by their own Historical Research Commission estimated that 5,000 people were executed during this time and that 10,000 were imprisoned. Independent sources have estimated that the figure is more likely 90,000 and an undetermined number executed -- that in a country then of only 15 million people.

Against overwhelming odds, Taiwan has become a democracy. A recent article in
The Economist subtitled, “In Praise of Taiwan’s Democracy,” marveled at the improbability of it:
In 1987, Chiang Ching-kuo, who was then Taiwan’s president, lifted martial law. The KMT appeared impregnable. Its structure still followed the Leninist principles Soviet advisors had inculcated on the Chinese mainland in the 1920s, though it had become perhaps the world’s richest political party. A mass organisation of some 2.5m members, or nearly 15% of the population, it benefited from a rigged electoral system that ensured a permanent parliamentary majority, and, under martial law, a ban on opposition parties…

Yet of all the people-power revolutions that sprouted and were sometimes savagely uprooted in Asia in the late 1980s and early 1990s—the Philippines in 1986, South Korea in 1987, Burma in 1988, China in 1989 and Thailand in 1992—Taiwan’s, in 1990, was the most low-key and arguably the most successful. The KMT yielded—not without a fight, but without a shot being fired in anger.
While Taiwan may now be the most democratic nation in Asia, freedom and democracy are precious but fragile commodities, which can be lost far easier than attained. The main threat to Taiwan is from across the China Straits in the government of the People’s Republic of China. Like the freedom of the Baltic States, the rest of the free nations of the world have an important stake in the continuing freedom of the people of Taiwan. America’s resolve in this matter may be sorely tested.

Russian President Vladimir Putin considers the dissolution of the Soviet Empire a great catastrophe, but even he has acknowledged, “In effect, these Baltic countries were treated as pawns in world politics. And that is a tragedy for these nations. This must be stated plainly.” Having fought for their freedom from the KMT's authoritarian rule, the people of Taiwan should not be subjected, for geopolitical reasons like the Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians were to the Soviets, to the not so tender embrace of the PRC's Chinese Communist Party.

Although you are not likely to find these issues addressed in the presidential primary debates, the Taiwan-China issue is one of the most critical foreign policy issues the new administration will face. And if human rights matter at all, it will require wisdom and courage that hasn’t been seen in previous administrations, Democrat or Republican.
- Milo

[1] Interview with Mao Tse-tung, recorded by Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (New York: Random House, Inc. 1938

[2] “We Deserve Fair Treatment,” Taipei Times, September 10, 1999.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


On Monday, I had lunch with eleven friends. Most of the people at the table have retired at least once and are active as volunteers in serving the community in a variety of ways. We gathered to discuss what we might do to enable seniors—ourselves and others— to stay in our homes longer. We looked at a model in Boston, Beacon Hill Village, doing just that:

Beacon Hill Village helps persons age 50 and older who live on Beacon Hill and in its adjacent neighborhoods enjoy safer, healthier and more independent lives in their own homes–well connected to a familiar and attentive community.
Writing about BHV, the
AARP Bulletin put it this way:

Now, they can do that, confident that even as they age they can deal with almost any contingency, large or small, without relying on relatives or friends. To preserve their independence, they can turn to the village, as the nonprofit association is known, which helps its 320 members find virtually any service they need—from 24-hour nursing care to help with a wayward cat, often at a discounted fee.

Their innovation is so appealing that a national expert on aging at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology asserts it could well change the way Americans—and the rest of the world—grow old. "The assisted living and the die-with-a-golf-club-in-your-hand communities had better take notice," says Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, a think tank on aging.

Any neighborhood resident age 50 or older can join the village. Its members include retirees in their 90s as well as working people in their 50s and 60s.

"The younger ones join because they like the convenience of our services or they need help caring for a parent who lives with them," Willett {a social worker in the Village} says. "They want to support Beacon Hill Village, make sure it will be there as they age."
This and other models are being developed all over the country. This is
not a panacea for those with complicated medical needs, but
the approach addresses what experts say can be a premature decision by older people to give up their homes in response to relatively minor problems: No way to get to the grocery store. Tradesmen unwilling to take on small repairs. The isolation of a snowy winter.
“Is this something we can/should replicate here in a city of 70,000 on the high desert of central Oregon?” That was our question at lunch. We went away with a plan to seriously explore the possibility.

If you already know about Beacon Hill Village or a similar effort,
If you follow the links above and read about BHV,
If you or your parents are facing these issues, or
If you are involved with senior services,
I would like to know what you think.

I plan to post stories in the weeks ahead about how our exploration proceeds. I welcome your wisdom as we work at this declaration of independents.

- Milo

PS: Read the instructions for submitting comments on the right lower panel.

Monday, February 25, 2008


What do Ralph Nader and Eugene McCarthy have in common? Their presidential candidacies contributed mightily to victories by two of the worst Presidents in the history of the country: George Bush (2000) and Richard Nixon (1968).

Eugene McCarthy’s primary victories pushed Johnson to withdraw from the race, but he was unable to win the nomination. I believe his refusal to support Humphrey in the general election was the aid that gave Nixon victory. I respected McCarthy for his fight against Johnson, but my respect turned to great disappointment and anger when he allowed himself to become the nominee of the anti-war “New Party.” It wasn’t the votes he received in the few states where he was on the ballot, but his failure to support the Democratic nominee.

Only what I call the “demonic power of ego” would lead these two men, who are/were clearly not Republicans, to think so highly of themselves that they risked the nation’s future for self-gratification. Nader’s claim that the 2000 election was stolen by Jeb Bush, the Secretary of State, and the Supreme Court is a feeble defense of the disaster he helped create.

Yes, I was depressed to hear that Nader was entering this year’s presidential race, but in my better moments I told myself that he wouldn’t be the spoiler this year. I would like to know what you think. Let me know.
- Milo

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Not without good reason is Alaska called the “Great Land,” at least that’s what I thought the first time I drove the Al-Can north toward my new home. Its sheer immensity merits such a designation and makes the human population even paltrier than its numbers (600,000+ people, or about 1 person per square mile, as opposed to that population hotbed of Wyoming with about 5 persons per square mile).

Polar bears are not nearly as numerous as humans, nor do they get to vote. Polar bears occur in two geographical populations: the Southern Beaufort Sea population shared with Canada (about 1,500 bears), and the Chukchi/Bering seas population shared with Russia (about 2000 bears). The best available information concludes that both populations are declining. Just over a year ago, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Alaska proposed to protect polar bears by putting them under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

That proposal, still awaiting decision by the federal government, has united the state’s Republican congressional delegation and Republican Governor Sarah Palin in opposition. That’s no small union. Over the last year, Senator Ted Stevens, Senator
Lisa Murkowski, and Congressman Don Young have all been fending off corruptions charges and ethics violations. Governor Palin, on the other hand, won the statehouse in 2006 after alienating the state Republican establishment as an anticorruption whistle blower. But they are all together in opposition to putting polar bears under ESA.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
The primary threat to polar bears is the decrease of sea ice coverage. Although some females use snow dens on land for birthing cubs, polar bears are almost completely dependent upon sea ice for their sustenance. Any significant changes in the abundance, distribution, or existence of sea ice will have effects on the number and behavior of these animals and their prey.
And the loss has been considerable, even in Alaskan terms. According to an
AP story released on Friday, between 1970 and 2000 the loss was greater than the combined area of Alaska, Texas, California, and Georgia.

Alaska’s political leadership state their doubts about scientific evidence, but it is hard to take those objections too seriously when the immediate issue appears to be how listing the polar bear would involve a plan to protect the shrinking Arctic sea ice, thus endangering chances for a natural gas pipeline that would tap the North Slope’s vast reserves. Nearly 90% of Alaska’s unrestricted revenue for next year is projected to come from the oil industry.

There is an African proverb that says, “Until lions write history, the hunters will always be the heroes.” In our case, we might paraphrase, “Until polar bears write history, the political leaders will always be the heroes of the oil companies.”

But the concerns about protecting polar bears go far beyond the borders of Alaska. From the
Heritage Foundation comes a plea:

The Department of the Interior (DOI), in response to litigation from environmental groups, is considering whether to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). For the first time in the history of the ESA, the threat of global warming would be the reason for listing a well-known species. Given the ESA's sweeping powers, such a move would raise energy prices by putting an end to promising new oil and natural gas production in Alaska. Even more troubling, listing the polar bear could be used as a back door to implement global warming policy nationwide by restricting energy production and use throughout the U.S. [bold mine] This would obviously harm the economy and—considering the ESA's poor track record—could also harm the polar bears as well. The President should tell the DOI not to take this highly problematic step.
There you have it: even greater than threatening a gas pipeline, listing the polar bears might trigger implementation of a global warming policy nationwide. That’s the big bugaboo! I must confess that I have heard some environmentalists express such hopes for getting the bears on the list. Isn’t it about time we have a global warming policy? If efforts to protect polar bears give us the push to do what our best scientific minds tell us we must do if we are to survive, why not? It may very well already be too late to save polar bears, but it may not yet be too late for the rest of the planet.

Looking Back: Jared Diamond, author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004), wrote an
article nine years earlier titled, “Easter Island’s End,” which begins,

In just a few centuries, the people of Easter Island wiped out their forest, drove their plants and animals to extinction, and saw their complex society spiral into chaos and cannibalism. Are we about to follow their lead?
He wonders how it could have happened:

As we try to imagine the decline of Easter's civilization, we ask ourselves, "Why didn't they look around, realize what they were doing, and stop before it was too late? What were they thinking when they cut down the last palm tree?"

I suspect, though, that the disaster happened not with a bang but with a whimper. After all, there are those hundreds of abandoned statues to consider. The forest the islanders depended on for rollers and rope didn't simply disappear one day-it vanished slowly, over decades. Perhaps war interrupted the moving teams; perhaps by the time the carvers had finished their work, the last rope snapped. In the meantime, any islander who tried to warn about the dangers of progressive deforestation would have been overridden by vested interests of carvers, bureaucrats, and chiefs, whose jobs depended on continued deforestation… The changes in forest cover from year to year would have been hard to detect: yes, this year we cleared those woods over there, but trees are starting to grow back again on this abandoned garden site here. Only older people, recollecting their childhoods decades earlier, could have recognized a difference. Their children could no more have comprehended their parents' tales than my eight-year-old sons today can comprehend my wife's and my tales of what Los Angeles was like 30 years ago. Gradually trees became fewer, smaller, and less important. By the time the last fruit-bearing adult palm tree was cut, palms had long since ceased to be of economic significance. That left only smaller and smaller palm saplings to clear each year, along with other bushes and treelets. No one would have noticed the felling of the last small palm.

Alas, we have our own “carvers, bureaucrats, and chiefs”, whose jobs depend on the oil industry. The changes in the sea ice have not been all that difficult to detect, but they denied those at first too, and railed at the scientists who told them.

Will anyone notice when the last polar bear is gone?

- Milo

Saturday, February 23, 2008


On Thursday afternoon, we loaded eight-week-old Christmas, Noel, and Star in a carrier—heavier because our sense of loss—and took them to the Central Oregon Humane Society. Born the day after Christmas, the three American Eskimo puppies came to us a day later. When Connie picked them up, they weighed 9 and 10 ounces.

The full story is rarely known when kittens and puppies come to foster care givers. We were told that their mom apparently didn’t want to be a mom and ravaged two of the litter. One other died of hypothermia because of no mother body warmth. Some dogs don’t make good mothers and it’s hard to figure, but it happens.

We learned that the American Eskimo is one of the Spitz families of Nordic breeds. First known as “German Spitz” in the U.S., the name was changed during World War I because of anti-German sentiments.

Connie became their mother, bottle feeding them every couple of hours, and then as they grew gradually lengthening the time between feedings and formula. I observed and went out each morning to build a fire in the shop where they were housed. I played with them, but didn’t have the rigorous feeding schedule or clean up responsibilities that Connie took care of.

When we arrived at the shelter Thursday, we were met by the staff. They knew this was not an easy transition for us, nor for the puppies. It never is. Everybody wanted to hold them. Friday, the puppies were spayed and are up for adoption today. We don’t have to worry about their being adopted. While I feel the loss, and I know that Connie feels a pain much deeper than mine, we are both glad the puppies will soon be off to permanent homes.

I felt guilty about my own tears in the presence of the staff and volunteers who love animals so much, who every day have to make hard life and death decisions, and who love and care for the diseased, old and the crippled animals just like they do healthy puppies. I couldn’t do their job, but I am deeply grateful for the way they and the participating vets do it, investing so much of their expertise and compassion on behalf of these creatures.

Jesus probably wasn’t thinking about orphan puppies or kitties when he said the words, “Inasmuch as you have done it (watered, fed, provided shelter, and visited) to the least of these you’ve done it to me,” but St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) wouldn’t have blinked at their inclusion. That’s good enough for me.

A special visit to your local Humane Society, or other shelter, to thank the staff and volunteers for what they do for “the least of these” and for the rest of us would be in order.
- Milo

Connie’s earlier posts on the puppies: “Fostering Cats, Kittens, and Now Puppies,” January 2, 2008; “Puppy Report, January 21, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008


Supreme Court Shields Medical-Device Makers

On Wednesday, by an 8-1 margin, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled to protect “the makers of medical devices that have passed the most rigorous federal review standards from lawsuits by consumers who allege that the devices caused them harm.”

The case was brought by the wife of a man who was seriously injured when a balloon catheter burst during an angioplasty in 1996. The man died three years ago. The wife alleged that the device’s design was faulty and its labeling deficient.

Okay, so the reason this case caught my eye was that four months ago I had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) installed in my chest to keep my heart from beating too fast or too slow. When I read the lead, “Supreme Court Shields Medical-Device Makers,” I didn’t automatically begin to think about how tort lawyers were getting what’s coming to them. My first thoughts were more along this line: what if my ICD malfunctions because of faulty design or construction and I become a vegetable or die because of it? What happens to my family? My device seems to be working fine, but it was more than self-interest that prompted me to pay attention to the decision.

Concern for others might have prompted me to read further because this case has
significant implications for the $75 billion-a-year health care technology industry, whose products range from heart valves and ICDs to toothbrushes: "In a recent three-month span, federal regulators responded to over 100 safety problems regarding medical devices."

After my first thought, a second rushed to fill the void and that was despair about what has happened to the Supreme Court in the past eight years. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority decision, saying that federal law preempts the imposition of liability under state laws for devices that have undergone the Food and Drug Administration's pre-market approval process, the most rigorous of the FDA's testing procedures. I wonder if Justice Scalia has any idea of how oxymoronic “the most rigorous of FDA’s testing procedures” sounds to many U.S. citizens.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter. She wrote that Congress did not intend the preemption clause “to effect a radical curtailment of state common-law suits seeking compensation for injuries caused by defectively designed or labeled medical device.”

Need I remind you that Ginsburg was first appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals by President Carter in 1980 and in 1993 nominated as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1993? In a Senate made up of 56 Democrats and 44 Republicans, the vote on Ginsburg was 97-3, the three in opposition being Republicans Don Nickles (OK), Robert C. Smith (NH), and Jesse Helms (NC). The vote had everything to do with a nominee who was genuinely qualified.

My third thought was how important it is for us not only to elect a Democrat as President but also increased Democratic majorities in the Senate and House. Ending the war depends on both; re-instituting the rule of law depends on both; restoring confidence in our judicial system and our tattered reputation abroad depends on both; dealing with global warming and other critical environmental issues depend on both; and, yes, manufacturer accountability depends on both.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. I feel better already! That’s good because we have a lot of work to do in the next eight months.
- Milo

Thursday, February 21, 2008


On Wednesday, Kos showed us how Obama will win the nomination. And he’s probably right, as he usually is. My still unanswered questions are, “Do we have the candidate who can win in November, and do we have the candidate who will make the best President?”

Those two questions have not yet been answered to my satisfaction. Good thing I’m in Oregon where we don’t have our primary until May! Let me tell you where I stand at this moment and maybe some of you will help me with my two questions. I began this primary season—it seems like eons ago—believing that most of the seven or eight Democratic candidates would make good presidents, far better than all of those lined up on the Republican side. I once thought that John McCain would be the best of all bad choices on that side, but I’ve doubts about that now. By election time, he will have so imitated and be so in debt to the right wing of the party that he will always have to try and out-Bush Bush.

But I’m not here to write about Republicans today. As the Democratic race unfolded before Iowa and New Hampshire, I did not consider Obama a serious contender in this election, but rather for the race eight years from now. The primaries, however, have brought him to the fore in a tight race with Hillary Clinton. What a choice, I thought, having the privilege of choosing between two equally qualified candidates, one a woman and one an African American! They have different gifts but still, in my mind, both are equally qualified.

But are they equally qualified a) to win against McCain, and b) to lead the nation back from the disaster wrought internationally and to constitutional government by the Bush administration?

I read two articles today by columnists who are not my mentors, but to whose words I’ve learned to take seriously.

The first was an
article by Robert J. Samuelson:
As a journalist, I harbor serious doubt about each of the most likely nominees. But with Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain, I feel that I'm dealing with known quantities. They've been in the public arena for years; their views, values and temperaments have received enormous scrutiny. By contrast, newcomer Obama is largely a stage presence defined mostly by his powerful rhetoric. The trouble, at least for me, is the huge and deceptive gap between his captivating oratory and his actual views.


Political candidates routinely indulge in exaggeration, pandering, inconsistency and self-serving obscuration. Clinton and McCain do. The reason for holding Obama to a higher standard is that it's his standard and also his campaign's central theme. He has run on the vague promise of "change," but on issue after issue -- immigration, the economy, global warming -- he has offered boilerplate policies that evade the underlying causes of the stalemates. These issues remain contentious because they involve real conflicts or differences of opinion.

The contrast between his broad rhetoric and his narrow agenda is stark, and yet the media -- preoccupied with the political "horse race" -- have treated his invocation of "change" as a serious idea rather than a shallow campaign slogan. He seems to have hypnotized much of the media and the public with his eloquence and the symbolism of his life story. The result is a mass delusion that Obama is forthrightly engaging the nation's major problems when, so far, he isn't.

The second was a
column by David Brooks that was characterized more by sarcasm than erudition, in which he talks about an “Obama Comedown Syndrome.”

Obama says he is practicing a new kind of politics, but why has his PAC sloshed $698,000 to the campaigns of the superdelegates, according to the Center fro Responsive Politics? Is giving Robert Byrd’s campaign $10,000 the kind of change we can believe in?

After the sarcasm and charges that will be daily fair for conservatives in the general election, he comes out at a strange place:

The victims of O.C.S. struggle against Obama-myopia, or the inability to see beyond Election Day. But here’s the fascinating thing: They still like him. They know that most of his hope-mongering is vaporous. They know that he knows it’s vaporous.

But the fact that they can share this dream still means something. After the magic fades and reality sets in, they still know something about his soul, and he knows something about theirs. They figure that any new president is going to face gigantic obstacles. At least this candidate seems likely to want to head in the right direction. Obama’s hype comes from exaggerating his powers and his virtues, not faking them.

For a people so disappointed in an administration—Bush’s approval rating dropped to 17%—having someone ignite dreams does mean something.

In many ways and for many people, Obama reminds people of JFK. I was one of the young people that Kennedy excited and got into the political process, like Obama seems to be doing now. But more was required than JFK was able to deliver, more probably even if he not been assassinated. In the most detailed and documented chronicle of the Civil Rights Movement, a three-volume history of
America in the King Years, Taylor Branch tells again and again of the Kennedy administration’s reluctance in the issue of segregation, except with words, and finally to offer up the Civil Rights Act. JFK was, after all, looking to be re-elected to a second term. Branch also tells of the great disappointment of King and other civil rights leaders in Kennedy, because his rhetoric was not matched by deeds.

Maybe it was the country’s shame at Kennedy’s assassination, but even more it was the legislative savvy and clout of one Lyndon Johnson that got the act passed. Remember the brouhaha about Hillary’s comment giving credit to LBJ for passage of the Civil Rights Act, seeming to disregard King’s role? Understand this, King put the pressure on the country and converted the Vice-President to the necessity of the legislation before the Kennedys. Without LBJ, the legislation didn’t stand a chance. For whatever he did later in Vietnam under the advice of inherited Kennedy advisors, in 1964 he got the Civil Rights Act passed.

Which candidate, Clinton or Obama, has the savvy and vision to end the war in Iraq, undo the damage the Bush administration has done to the rule of law, begin the repair of our international reputation, and at the same time, confront the real threat of terrorism? If, as Kos suggests, the nomination is now a done deal, let us hope that Obama has the soul and strength to face these gigantic obstacles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


In Sunday’s diary, “Painful Reflections on Presidents Day,” I was thinking about the war policies of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I was saddened by an article by Lincoln scholar, Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s article, “Bush’s Lincolnian Assault on Civil Liberties (Or, Al Gore Is Right).”

Tuesday afternoon, two other Lincoln scholars
were online discussing their two new books (Allen C. Guelzo, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America; and William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman). I’m not familiar with the work of Guelzo, but Miller is the author of a study important to me, Arguing About Slavery: John Quincy Adams and the Great Battle in the United States Congress (1998).

The two scholars responded to email queries about Lincoln. Someone sent in a question about Lincoln’s actions during the war and William Lee Miller responded:

All presidents--particularly war presidents, presidents inclined to the imperial presidency--invoke Lincoln as a justification, but they omit these three defenses of Lincoln's strong actions (suspend habeas, blockade, increase army without congress, arrest Maryland legislators, etc etc)

1) the situation he faced was UNIQUE. In his view, the United States was threatened with destruction, ruin, overthrow, perishing (all words that he used) which is not the case for any other president, including the current one.

2) there was specific constitutional provision for emergency measures in the case that he faced--an insurrection--which no other president has faced.

3) He did not contend that his actions were immune from Congressional correction; on the contrary, he specifically said he was acting beyond the present provisions in the expectation that congress would retroactively approve, which they did. He did not say anything like Nixon: if the president does it is legal.

And he did not negate congressional action by "signing statements."

And then there was a question about why Lincoln is held in such high esteem when, as DiLorenzo says in The Real Lincoln, every other Western nation solved its problem of abolishing slavery without violence by “compensated manumission.” Allen Guelzo responded:
What DiLorenzo misses is that the other abolitions were either very limited (as in the liberation of the serfs by Alexander II) or far away from the metropolitan center of those nations (the French and British abolitions were of slavery in the West Indies). What Lincoln had to face was a culturally and politically cohesive bloc of states comprising half the country, refusing to discuss even the limitation of slavery; while he had only the most feeble means of enforcement. The British and the French could do their emancipating at a distance; Lincoln had armed resistance almost literally at his doorstep. And unlike the tsar, he had no enormous army and navy to defend his decree. Bear in mind, also, that the resort to war was not Lincoln's decision, but that of the slave South. Lincoln would have been happy to have solved the slavery problem by compensation -- in fact, drew up a gradual, compensated emancipation plan as early as November, 1861 -- but no slaveholders were willing to go along with it. Mr. DiLorenzo is comparing apples and oranges, and then complaining why they don't make a salad.
Because Guelzo and Miller paint favorable pictures of Lincoln, they have some self-interest in playing down the truth of DiLorenzo’s “Real Lincoln.” I’m not a Lincoln scholar, but I think it is useful to look closely at their statements, especially Miller’s pointed remarks about how “presidents inclined to the imperial presidency--invoke Lincoln as a justification, but goes on to explain how they—and the current President—omit three critical factors.

As a pretender historian, I think that interpretations of Lincoln by all three of these scholars are not simply academic wrangling; I think they throw light on the way this administration has conducted itself and point to issues a new administration will have to address. We can benefit from this discussion as we deal with the present and look toward the future.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Think all people of faith are anti-science? Think again. “Evolution Weekend” was observed two weekends ago in communities of faith all over the country.

Hundreds of US churches and many thousands of religious believers defied the stereotype that American Christianity is a cipher for anti-science creationism last week, as they marked Evolution Weekend with sermons and seminars on the consonance of spiritual and scientific exploration.
Beginning in the fall of 2004, Michael Zimmerman worked with clergy throughout Wisconsin to prepare a statement in support of teaching evolution. They had been called to action by a series of anti-evolution policies passed by the school board in Grantsburg, WI. In a few weeks, nearly 200 clergy signed the statement, which they sent to the school board on December 16, 2004. Groups of educators and scientists sent letters to the Grantsburg School Board and to the Superintendent of Schools protesting these policies. In response to all of this attention, as well as the efforts of others, the Grantsburg School Board retracted their policies.

The outpouring of support from clergy around the country encouraged Michael to make this a nationwide project, now known as the “Clergy Letters Project.” As of February 10, 2008, over 11,000 clergy have signed the petition. “Evolution Weekend” was an outgrowth of the letters project, a teach-in when pastors, theological educators, scientists and lay people join together to mark the birth of Charles Darwin on February 12.

In a report released Saturday by Ekklesia: A New Way of Thinking, clergy and scientists together

are working to combat the influence of creationism and its cousin 'intelligent design', which base their rejection of all or part of evolutionary science on discredited biblical interpretation and a god-of-the-gaps idea that the divine is to be sought in the 'holes' or limits of the natural sciences.

By contrast, mainstream scholars argue that the creativity of God is to be understood in and through the natural, not in conflict with it, though they give different pictures and accounts of the relation between God and the world.

An international panel of scholars gathered under the umbrella of the Cambridge-based International Society for Science and Religion (ISSR) have recently agreed on a statement explaining why 'intelligent design' is both poor theology and faulty science.
Looking Back: There is a common impression today among many Christians and non-Christians alike that until the last two centuries Christians interpreted Genesis 1-3 literally. The ideas that God created the world in six 24-hour days, that there was no death in the world until the fall of Adam, that God introduced all kinds of unpleasantries as punishment for sin, and that all living things were created in their current state have been assumed by many not to have been challenged until the 19th century. That is a false assumption. While Augustine (354-430 A.D.) didn't know about evolution, he saw creation as a continuing and unfolding process, in which the commands of the Creator were fulfilled progressively, not instantaneously. More importantly, he was adamant that the “literal” meaning of Genesis must not stand in contradiction to the kind of knowledge that today we call “scientific”. In his two-volume work, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, written fifteen hundred years before the 19th century and Darwin, Augustine wrote:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for a [non-believer] to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”
If Christians believe that all truth, from wherever derived, is from God and that truth will set us free, what is there to fear from science? That was the message heard across the country in hundreds of congregations over these past two weekends. For those of us who believe in God, it is a hopeful sign.

PS: Watch for confirmation of a presidential debate on science set for April 18 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Mike Huckabee have been invited. No RSVPs back yet. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Check out the comments on this article on Daily Kos.

- Milo


McJoan did me a great service by reminding us that FISA was first enacted thirty years ago under President Jimmy Carter:

Thirty years ago Congress enacted, and President Carter signed, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the outgrowth of the investigations of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, mercifully much better known as the Church Committee. One of the many ironies of this 30th anniversary of FISA is that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence became a permanent fixture in the wake of these investigations, and it is, of course, the SSCI led by Democrat Jay Rockefeller that is doing its damnedest to help the Bush administration destroy that 30-year old law.
She changed the focus of my Presidents Day reflections from Washington and Lincoln to Carter. In my social circles, Republicans are not the only ones who mention his name with scorn; Democrats are not kind either. He is often dismissed as incompetent in the ways of Washington. That may be true. Some claim to be “outsiders” ready to ride in on a white horse and save the country. Jimmy Carter really was an outsider.

I’m not in a position to evaluate the whole of his presidency, but if integrity matters in the person we have in the White House, he had it. He pledged a more open government to a people who were looking for a change in leadership after the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the resignation of a vice president (Spiro Agnew) and a president (Richard Nixon). After his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980, he left with his personal integrity and that of the office he held intact.

There were many things that caused his defeat after only one term in office, the most commonly mentioned was his failure to rescue the U.S. hostages in Iran. I believe that there were two main reasons why he was defeated and they were based on decisions he made knowing that either or both of them would cost him another term as President.

First, President Carter countered decades of "ugly Americanism" by negotiating treaties with Panama for the return of the Canal and then by steering those treaties through the Senate ratification process.

Second, President Carter resisted the cacophony of calls for the invasion of Iran. He made an attempt to rescue the hostages which failed because of a unique set of weather circumstances, not his ineptness. The rage in the United States was for revenge against Iran. His decision was not to do anything that would result in the death of the hostages.

The electorate (that’s us folks) didn’t forgive him for either of those decisions. In 1989, long after he had left office, I took a group of graduate students to have lunch with him in Atlanta. I was able to ask him why he made those two decisions knowing full well that they would cost him the presidency. Without hesitation, he and Rosalynn spoke the same words at the same time: “Because it was the right thing to do.” It wasn’t a sound bite; it was all of the justification either of them needed. I thanked them.

And then came McJoan’s reminder on Sunday about the first FISA legislation being signed into law by President Carter. She included his signing statement:

I am pleased to sign into law today the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. . . . The bill requires, for the first time, a prior judicial warrant for all electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence or counterintelligence purposes in the United States in which communications of U.S. persons might be intercepted. It clarifies the Executive's authority to gather foreign intelligence by electronic surveillance in the United States. It will remove any doubt about the legality of those surveillances which are conducted to protect our country against espionage and international terrorism.
The willingness to transcend one’s own self-interest for a greater good is the mark of a genuine leader. Whatever his failings, we had that in Jimmy Carter. Happy Presidents Day!

PS: This morning, I received these reflections from an old friend:

There was only one at our house. All of the others were impostors.

Eleanor was the champion of the poor and the black and she was our example.

FDR also but not quite so much, but he was the only president ever mentioned in a positive tone.

Except for the also-rans who were defeated by Ike and Tricky Dick.

Presidents are a lot like preachers: some are good, some are bad, most are forgettable.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


“Presidents Day” (“Presidents’ Day” also acceptable) is a federal holiday officially designated as “Washington’s Birthday” and celebrated on the third Monday of February. As the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen, the holiday was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday, February 22, but in 1971 the federal holiday was shifted to the third Monday by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. In the late 1980s the theme has expanded the focus of the holiday to honor another President in February, Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and other Presidents of the United States.

Never mind that the main pushers of the holiday are advertisers and retail stores for sales, the day might deserve a blip on our radars as we are engaged in presidential primaries to select a new President. Maybe it is an appropriate time—in between hitting the sales—to remember past Presidents in the midst of our critical reassessment of the role of the Presidency now.

Since the House and Senate have sent a bill to the President requiring that all the government intelligence services follow the Army Field Manual’s restrictions on torture, a bill he says he will veto, I was thinking about Washington and Lincoln on torture as the subject of my reflections this Presidents Day weekend.

George Washington: The first commander-in-chief, the only one to bear that title without simultaneously being president, George Washington’s position was unambiguous. In his
charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775, he ordered:

“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.”
After the
Battle of Trenton, New Jersey on December 26, 1776, when Washington learned that the Continentals were preparing to run some of the British Empire’s German mercenaries through what they called the “gauntlet.” Washington issued this order:

“Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands."
These firm principles were set down by Washington before America had a Constitution, a Bill of Rights or a Congress—before the institution of the Presidency. What it had was its first surviving institution, which was the Army. And its first commander-in-chief was the great militia veteran of the French and Indian War, a man whose experience in warfare towered over others, George Washington. Maybe our current President so easily disregards Washington’s policies because Washington was a general, the same way Bush has disregarded his generals’ plea—including General David Petraeus—to reject torture.

Abraham Lincoln: This is not easy for me. I grew up in the Texas Panhandle where, at the time, President Lincoln was not highly regarded. It was hard for me as a kid because I knew that my great grandfather was the only member of his family in Kentucky to fight for the Union. His mother, father, and siblings firmly identified with the Confederacy. So great was my great grandfather’s belief that slavery was wrong that after the war he never again had contact with his family. He came to Texas to start a new life and he didn’t have sympathy for the old South views there either. Even though I tried to fit in with my peers, I knew and was proud of my great grandfather. I was a closet admirer of Lincoln from my earliest days. That’s why reading Thomas J.
DiLorenzo’s article, “Bush’s Lincolnian Assault on Civil Liberties (Or, Al Gore is Right!)” reflecting on Lincoln’s war policies makes me uncomfortable.

Gore’s criticisms of the Bush administration are striking in that they reveal that when it comes to waging war and dealing with civil liberties issues, the party has not changed at all since it first became The Republican Party of Lincoln. For example, he posed the rhetorical question of what George Washington would think of the fact that "our current president claims the unilateral right to arrest and imprison American citizens indefinitely without giving them the right to see a lawyer or inform their families of their whereabouts, and without the necessity of even charging them with any crime"?

These were exactly the policies of the Lincoln administration. Habeas corpus was unilaterally (and illegally) suspended by Lincoln and the military, with the help of a secret police bureaucracy operated by William Seward, imprisoned tens of thousands of Northern political opponents. They were thrown into gulags such as Fort Lafayette in New York harbor where they were never charged, had no idea how long they would be held, and their families often had no idea of their whereabouts. (See James Randall,
Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln; and Dean Sprague, Freedom Under Lincoln). The Virginia patriot George Washington would have undoubtedly drawn his sword and fought another revolution over such an outrage.

What would Washington think, asked Gore, of our president’s contention that he can "label any citizen an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ and that will be sufficient to justify taking away that citizen’s liberty – even for the rest of his life, if the president chooses. And there is no appeal"? Again, the hyper-paranoid Lincoln administration, which saw enemies everywhere, labeled virtually anyone who disagreed with its policies as spies and traitors who were therefore subject to military arrest and indefinite imprisonment without due process.
DiLorenzo continues with Gore’s litany of what Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison would think of our current President and his policies. Then, he concludes:

All of this is why the Claremontistas and other neocons are such Lincoln idolaters. They call him a "model statesman" because they favor an executive dictatorship, as opposed to the kind of president the founding fathers had in mind They favor a dictatorial president who will pursue their nationalistic political objectives for them. "National Greatness conservatives" need a dictator to run roughshod over the Constitution – and the public – if they are to achieve their goal of greater glory for The Fatherland. So far, they have been extremely successful in molding the Bush administration in just this way, as Vice President Gore correctly pointed out in his Georgetown speech.
Gore's speech and DiLorenzo's article were both written in 2004 before the revelations on torture authorized by the Bush administration.

Maybe it took someone I respect, like Gore, to make me question the view of Lincoln I grew up cherishing. What I’ve read so far hasn’t changed my view of Bush but it certainly sobers my view of Lincoln. What was it William Faulkner said? “The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.”

I haven’t read DiLorenzo’s book, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, but I will. Maybe I’ll go over to the bookstore on Presidents Day and pick up a copy. Maybe I can learn something more about the present.

Honest reflection is never easy. I welcome your Presidents Day thoughts.

- Milo

Friday, February 15, 2008


If you haven’t been talking to your friends about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) already, you may have an opportunity over the next few days while Congress is in recess. You may hear something like, "How could they go on recess and leave a measure so critical to the security of our country left hanging?" If your friends don’t raise the issue, perhaps you should. As citizens of what we consider a free country, we need to be talking about this issue among ourselves and with our elected representatives in Washington.

On Valentine’s Day a majority of the members of the House stood up to oppose President Bush’s demand that they pass the Senate’s version of the FISA bill. The Senate’s version provided retroactive immunity for the telecoms who participated in the illegal wiretapping of the administration after 9/11. The House version hadn’t. The President said that failure to pass the bill before it expires at midnight Saturday will result in intelligence gaps that will be exploited by terrorists. He also said he would veto any bill that came to his desk without immunity for the telecoms.

The beginning point of the conversation might be asking whether anything is put at risk by the House's not acting the legislation before it expires Saturday night. The heart of the discussion should focus on "liability protection" and whether that has anything to do with creating a gap in our intelligence collection capability. Consider these three questions in your conversations:

1. Why is the Bush administration so insistent on giving retroactive immunity to the telecoms? Because to them, the "real issue" is not intelligence collection gaps but liability protection for the private sector. Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence, admitted as much in an interview Thursday morning on National Public Radio:

NPR: Mr. McConnell, the Bush administration says that if the Protect America Act isn't made permanent, it will tie your hands, intelligence hands, especially when it comes to new threats. But isn't it true that any surveillance underway does not expire, even if this law isn't renewed by tomorrow?

MCCONNELL: Well, Renee it's a very complex issue. It's true that some of the authorities would carry over to the period they were established for one year. That would put us into the August, September time-frame. However, that's not the real issue. The issue is liability protection for the private sector.

According to standing law, a telcom would already be immune from prosecution/lawsuit if they did not break the law, or were given essentially a warranted request from the gov't to assist. If that's true, what is the immunity in this case and why would Bush veto a bill that didn't have it?" Immunity in this bill would retroactively protect all assistance by telcoms since 9/11 (or whenever exactly, i forget) no matter really how that assistance was obtained. Basically saying if they helped they are immune from civil lawsuit. This blanket protection would prevent any details about their assistance from ever coming to light whereas the current immunity would require court review to determine if a law was broken.

Taking them at their word, George Bush and Mike McConnell are putting the nation at risk in order to insure that AT&T and Verizon do not have to be held accountable in a court of law for having broken the law.
McJoan, one of the most knowledgeable followers of this legislation, says
Twisted and corrupt indeed. But, remember, it's not just so that AT&T and Verison aren't held accountable. It's to prevent legal action going forward that, in the discovery process, would expose the full extent of the administration's illegal activity. This isn't just protecting AT&T and Verizon. It's protecting the Rove/Gonzales/Cheney/Bush cabal.
Friday morning’s Rocky Mountain News, not known as a bastion of liberalism, editorialized,
No immunity:
If immunity is in the final legislation - and Bush has said he'd veto any bill that doesn't include it - it would kill the 40-plus lawsuits that have been filed against telecoms in federal court. The litigation challenges the legality of the program and the actions of telecoms that cooperated with the government.

If the lawsuits don't move forward, we may never learn if some telecoms compromised the privacy of innocent Americans. A grant of immunity could also set a dangerous precedent for other businesses when federal agents or local cops who don't have a court order demand private or confidential information about their customers.

2. Didn’t the President’s illegal wiretapping program begin in response to the panic after 9/11? Not according to the editorial (and confirmed in other sources):

Court documents released in October revealed that Nacchio [Qwest’s CEO at the time] first met with national security officials in February 2001 - six months before the 9/11 attacks. "Nacchio's account," The Washington Post reported, "suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon."
3. If immunity is not granted will the private sector refuse to cooperate with the government? After all of the speeches Republicans made on Thursday, you might think this was a big deal. It is, but not in the way you may think. The claim is dishonest and the Bush administration knows it. Under the law, telecoms are required to cooperate with legal requests from the government. They don’t have any other option. Without immunity, the telecoms will be reluctant in the future to break the law again, which should be a desirable outcome. It was the Qwest legal team’s opinion that the request was not legal, so they didn’t participate. AT&T and Verizon said that Washington persuaded them that it was legal and so they participated.

What the protests from both the administration and the corporations amount to is one law-breaker telling another law-breaker, “you cover for me and I’ll cover for you.” Or, as the Rocky Mountain News concluded:

Letting this litigation proceed would not, as Bush said Wednesday, punish companies that want to "help America." Businesses that want to help America need to be mindful of the Constitution - and so should the government.
Do you really need convincing that it is important to talk with family and friends about this issue?
- Milo

Thursday, February 14, 2008


A lesbian couple in Colorado has challenged that state’s ban on same sex marriages passed in 2006:
Earlier this week, Ms. Burns and Ms. Schroeder filed a motion with the court claiming that Amendment 43, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, violated their constitutional right to equal protection. The measure was approved by 55 percent of Colorado voters 15 months ago.

“The American system does not allow for the tyranny of the majority,” said the couple’s lawyer, Mari Newman. “Marriage is a fundamental right, which should be for all Coloradans, not just some Coloradans.”

Nine states and the District of Columbia afford a variety of benefits to gay and lesbian couples, but only Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage. Twenty-six states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, whose legality is also being weighed by the highest courts of Connecticut, California and Iowa.
In Oregon, voters approved an amendment to Oregon’s constitution in 2004 banning gay marriage. In 2007 the Oregon legislature passed a domestic partnership bill, called the Oregon Family Fairness Act. The law provides several major rights to same-sex couples that were previously only given to married couples, including the ability to file jointly on insurance forms, hospital visitation rights, and rights relating to the deceased partner.

While January 1, 2008 was the date The statute was supposed to take effect on January 1, 2008, but a court challenge delayed its implementation until a federal judge lifted the ban on February 1. The law went into effect that day and couples have been signing up. The law stops short of full-fledged marriage and offers none of the rights guaranteed to married spouses under federal law.

I talked with two good friends and asked them to say what the passage of this law means to them:
My Partner, Barbara, and I have been together for over 10 years. We first met in 1980 and dated for a year. Then in 1998 something wonderful and exciting happened, we found each other again. And this time it was for good, our love and commitment for one another was stronger than ever! We retired and fulfilled our dreams and moved to Bend. We were guardedly optimist with Bend’s passing of the anti-discrimination laws and with several businesses in the private sector granting us “family” status, which gave us equal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.

So now in 2008 we are asked, “What domestic partnership in Oregon means to us?” To Barbara and me it’s the final piece to the puzzle. We are from southern California and benefit from our domestic partner status granted us in 2002. Our current and future finances are secured through our California domestic partnership and now we enjoy complete validation with Oregon’s domestic partnership. To have the security of the rights and responsibilities now afford us in the state in which we reside is awesome.

It’s also an emotional journey in life, not being counted equal among your friends, family and neighbors. Not to have your relationship honored and recognized in the eyes of your peers. Not having your lifetime commitment of love to another acknowledged or mean the same as others. This all is now changed and we have the sense of wholeness, thanks to so many that worked so hard. We are elated that Oregon has eliminated discrimination of gays and lesbians, providing us with that missing link in our relationship, a legal validation. This validation not only gives us the sense of wholeness it makes us feel part of society’s main stream living. It’s this support and acknowledgment within the social context that makes us feel complete. As strange as it may seem the legal validation of our love and relationship solidifies the commitment.

In California I was instrumental in getting Los Angeles county employees with domestic partners, parity with legally married couples. Those rights and responsibilities granted to domestic partners provided pension and medical benefits to the employee and their families. The excitement and joys Barbara and I experienced then are relived now and especially for all Oregonians. We are all truly blessed.

Our journey is ended and as you can see Domestic Partnership status in Oregon is definitely the final piece to our puzzle and what a beautiful picture it is!

Congratulations to all, Cathy
Looking Back: At one point, 40 states in this country forbade the marriage of a white person to a person of color. Marriages between whites and persons of color were decried as “immoral” and “unnatural”. A Virginia judge upheld that state’s ban on interracial marriages saying, in language with the same tone as that being used in opposition to gay marriages today:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
In 1948, the California Supreme Court led the way in challenging racial discrimination in marriage and became the fist state high court to declare unconstitutional a ban on interracial marriage. The court pointed out that races don’t marry each other, people do. Restricting who can marry whom on that characteristic alone was therefore race discrimination. It took another 19 years for the U.S. Supreme Court to make the same ruling. Until 1967, in many states, a couple of mixed race could not get a marriage license, and if they went to another state and were married, when they returned home they could be arrested.

The same logic that banned interracial marriages has been used to ban same-sex marriage. In both cases, the appeal is religious. God help us! We’ve a long way to go before we accord truly equal rights to same-sex couples, but we celebrate this victory on the way to that goal.

- Milo


Tuesday was a hard day for me. After the FISA debacle in the Senate, I wanted to scream and cry. I knew I was going to have a hard time practicing what had become a daily routine.

Some months ago I added a new discipline. For years I have kept a journal of the previous day’s activities, writing on the morning after because I don’t feel creative at the end of the day. From an article in a popular magazine I was looking at while waiting for my wife in the doctor’s office, I decided to write a paragraph in my account of each day that contained those things for which I had felt gratitude the day before.

The list is not profound. It is an earnest effort to remember the things for which I actually felt grateful—our Manx cat, who came to us as a feral kitten to foster that we couldn’t give up, now waiting outside my bedroom door every morning to be petted as I come out; the irrepressible enthusiasm of the three American Eskimo puppies orphaned at birth that my wife has fostered since they were two days old; the gesture of my wife for something unexpected, like saying that she was going to cook a special Valentine’s Day dinner for me and what did I want; a dinner of fellowship with good friends; and you name it.

What I discovered is that the discipline was a buffer against all of the crap and negative stuff that goes on in the world every day. Simplistic? Maybe, but it is a daily reminder that I am in debt to so many others and that I stand on the shoulders of many, named and unnamed, who have gone before me.

It has not been difficult to find things which happened the day before for which I was grateful.

Not until yesterday when I read
McJoan’s report (posted at 10:49a PST), about how eighteen Democrats “who were willing to sell out your Constitutional rights to protect the telcos.” Then, she listed them. To say that I was angry at the vote would be a gross understatement. I was enraged! It occurred to me that for the first time since the week after Thanksgiving, I was going to have a hard time with my gratitude list.

Then, at 2:49p McJoan posted her report, “Final Vote.” She wrote:

Despite the bitter disappointment many of us feel tonight, take a bit of heart in this--we could have lost everything in December, if Chris Dodd hadn't mobilized a massive grassroots effort against it. And in view of that, here are the 31 Senate heroes who have stood with Dodd on telco amnesty, and who will continue to. Thank you, Senators.

And then she named all thirty-one. My anger at the eighteen who crossed over wasn’t asuaged, nor was my sadness for our country mitigated, but McJoan reminded me of the importance of gratitude for those who stood fast.

That wasn’t the only thing for which I was grateful on Tuesday. On Sunday, I had
written about how the debate in the Senate on FISA was a place where our two Democratic presidential candidates should be demonstrating leadership. I am grateful that on primary day in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Obama chose to be present and voted on the amendments. He was not present for the final vote on cloture, but by then the issue had been decided. Unfortunately, Clinton was on her way to Texas and absent for all of the votes.

McJoan updated her report with the final vote, 68-29, or as she called it, “dereliction of duty by 69 senators.”

Today, my attention has been on HR 2082 and Section 327 (the anti-torture provision). How could any member of Congress not vote to forbid torture? 45 of them did, including one of the original voices against torture, John McCain. But 51 voted for the Conference Report that included Section 327. I am grateful for those 51 senators, even though a bunch of them were among those who failed to stand up on FISA. I’m also grateful that President Bush will have to decide if he wants to veto this bill, instead of having his mineons in the Senate do his dirty work—although, goodness knows, enough of them tried. I’m grateful that Senator Smith was one of the five Republicans who crossed over to vote against torture along with our other Senator, Wyden.

This evening I learned that 222 House members rejected a Republican attempt to substitute the Senate’s FISA bill for their own. The proposal for a 21-day extension failed, but a press release from Speaker Pelosi’s office saying that she was willing for the current bill to expire on Friday. We’ll see what happens, but I am grateful for all of the Senators and Representatives who stood up yesterday and today.

My thanks to McJoan for reminding me to be grateful!
- Milo

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) has issued an alert that the Senate will vote on H.R. 2082 Wednesday. Some Republican Senators have threatened to obstruct passage of H.R. 2082 as long as it contains Section 327 (the anti-torture provision).This is what they said:

The Senate will decide whether we stop the CIA's use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- or as we would call them, torture. Section 327 of the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report (H.R. 2082), would prohibit the CIA from using abusive interrogation techniques (such as waterboarding) by requiring the CIA to comply with the Army Field Manual while conducting interrogations. The Army Field Manual prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
The memo urged us to call our Senators urging them to support Section 327. I did that. This vote should be a no-brainer and a no-consciencer, but after today’s debacle on FISA when eighteen Democrats traded our constitutional rights to protect the telecomms, I’m not sure. (More on the FISA disaster later!)

The presidential candidates have taken starkly different positions on the practice of waterboarding. Some have condemned it as torture; others have refused to condemn if in an extreme case millions of American lives might be saved. Are there situations in which waterboarding and other practices may be justified?

On Friday, William Schweiker, Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and director of the Martin Marty Center, wrote:

The argument for possible justification turns on several assumptions: that we could infallibly know that someone had vital information that would in fact save millions; that torture would extract this information without distortion; and, finally, that if the information was secured truthfully and infallibly, it could be put to use in good time.

None of these assumptions is warranted. Expert opinion and empirical evidence concur that torture is an ineffective means to gain reliable information. The scenario of the lone knower of the facts whose torture would save millions of lives is the stuff of bad spy movies and bad exam questions in ethics courses.

If you don’t like his conclusion, take the word of thirty-one retired generals, who on December 12, 2007, wrote a letter to the chairs of the House and Senate committees on intelligence expressing their strong unanimous support for Section 327 requiring intelligence agents of the U.S. government to adhere to the standards of prisoner treatment and interrogation contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Human Collector Operations (the Army Field Manual).

Ah, you say, they are retired. What more can you expect? In their letter they quote from an open letter to the troops last May from none other than General David Petraeus, who is not retired and who is Commanding General in Iraq, President Bush’s chosen leader for the new strategy in Iraq:

What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight. . . . is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect…. Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone “talk;” however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.
Cited above, Professor Schweiker said true things that could have been said by many others, but in his article titled, “Baptism by water torture,” he reminds us of how religious practices have often been tied to violence and torture, often hidden in public discourse:

Less often observed is that the practice of waterboarding has roots in the Spanish Inquisition and parallels the persecution of Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation and the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation. Why did practices similar to waterboarding develop as a way to torture heretics—whether the heretics were Anabaptists or, in the Inquisition, Protestants of any stripe as well as Jews and witches and others?

Roman Catholics and Protestants alike persecuted the Anabaptists or "re-baptizers" since these people denied compulsory infant baptism in favor of adult [believer's] baptism. The use of torture and physical abuse was meant to stem the movement and also to bring salvation to heretics. It had been held—at least since St Augustine—that punishment, even lethal in form, could be an act of mercy meant to keep a sinner from continuing in sin, either by repentance of heresy or by death.

King Ferdinand declared that drowning—called the third baptism—was a suitable response to Anabaptists. Water as a form of torture was an inversion of the waters of baptism under the (grotesque) belief that it could deliver the heretic from his or her sins.

In the Inquisition, the practice was not drowning as such, but the threat of drowning, and the symbolic threat of baptism. The tortura del agua or toca entailed forcing the victim to ingest water poured into a cloth stuffed into the mouth in order to give the impression of drowning.

So what does this history have to do with the present? Schweiker wonders in a way that might give us all chills:

Is it the purpose of the United State nowadays to seek the conversion, repentance, and purity of supposed terrorists and thus to take on the trappings of a religious rite? The question is so buried behind public discourse that its full import is hardly recognized.

In the light of these religious meanings and background to waterboarding, US citizens can decide to reject any claim by the government to have the right to use this or other forms of torture, especially given connections to the most woeful expressions of Christianity; conversely, they can fall prey to fear and questionable reasoning and thus continue to support an unjust and vile practice that demeans the nation's highest political and moral ideals even as it desecrates one of the most important practices and symbols of Christian faith.

I judge that it is time for repentance, the affirmation of new life, and the humane expression of religious convictions.

There is good reason for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture to call for an end to this torture with religious roots.

Call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121. Don’t wait! You may miss the vote.

- Milo