"Every country needs a good lefty ... we even have some in our country." -- George W. Bush
June 30, 2005
Summer reading list
In no particular order. Any thoughts/suggestions?
Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith Burt Solomon, The Washington Century: Three Families and the Shaping of the Nation's Capital
- Thomas Frank, What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
- Benjamin Barber, Fear's Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy
- Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism
- John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America
- Roy Mattahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran
- John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus and/or Jean-Marie Paupert, The Politics of the Gospel
- Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
- Danny Hoch, Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop and Some People
- Gabriel García Márquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude (re-read)
- Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine (re-read)
- Frank Herbert, Dune
- Maybe some Steinbeck or Hemingway?
June 24, 2005
On public use
A lot of very progressive people, including several of my friends, seem to be displeased with the Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Kelo v. New London, ruling that the city does have the right to take private property for an economic redevelopment plan. On the surface, the case looks to a lot of people like it's about corporate interests attempting to take away people's homes for their own selfish purposes.
The court's decision, which fits well within established legal precedent (apparently many court-watchers were surprised they took the case to begin with), was exactly right.
But before I get to the substance of the matter, there's a few facts which should be clues for any progressive as to which side to take. First, the case was brought by the libertarian Institute for Justice, the litigation arm of the "Constitution-in-exile" movement (recently profiled in a very scary New York Times Magazine cover story), which quite literally wants to overturn the twentieth century ("in exile" refers to the alleged misinterpretation of the constitution in allowing the New Deal). Second, that all four liberals (Souter, Bryan, Ginsburg, and Stevens) on the court sided with the majority, and that the tree troglodytes (Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas) dissented.
So the cast of characters should already have us raising eyebrows. But beyond that, consider the basic constitutional question at issue. The power of eminent domain, under the Fifth Amendment, allows governments to take private property (so long as the owners are fairly compensated) for "public use". Here's a gut check: when phrases like "public use" and "common good" are at stake, do we want them interpreted broadly to allow an activist role for government, or narrowly so as to serve private property interests?
We as leftists are defined largely by our desire to use government as instrument of social change, especially when it comes to economic mattters. That means, as a general rule, that we want the government to retain broad powers to pursue the public interest. Eminent domain is one of those powers -- a sometimes necessary tool for government to guide economic development, rather than sit back and watch while the market leaves urban neighorhoods blighted while building Walmarts and McMansions in the hinterlands.
And yes, sometimes that means that property taken for the purposes of economic development will be sold to developers. Why? Because most municipalities lack the political and financial capital to become landlords themselves.
Have governments sometimes used eminent domain badly, to serve the wrong interests? No doubt, just as the Bush administration has used most of the constitutional powers available to it (and some that aren't) rather badly. But that's not cause to give up on government -- it's cause to elect political leaders who will do a better job.
June 15, 2005
I've had enough
... when it comes to Iraq. And apparently Russ Feingold has too. I'm still not convinced that withdrawal won't lead to civil war, but I am increasingly convinced that staying indefinitely is delaying the inevitable at a very high price. Feingold's very smart to be first out of the gate on this one -- especially if he's looking to run in 2008.
June 04, 2005
Anyone for a reading group?
May 15, 2005
Why I haven't been blogging the last few months
May 06, 2005
Depressing quote of the day
"You can see both sides, but it's a problem for the unions when they fight so much among each other," said Scott D. Carmichael, vice president of Labor Relations Institute Inc., a consulting service that helps businesses fight union organizing drives. "From talking to peers in my circle, we figure we've got eight to 10 years of a career left. After that, we'd better retire because we won't have anything left to do."
March 27, 2005
The cry of victory
Easter is usually a cheerful occasion. This is in no doubt due partly to the eggs, bunnies, and Hallmark cards, but for Christians the true cause for celebration is Jesus' resurrection, coming after the terrifying darkness of Good Friday. On Easter, God conquers the greatest evil: the death of God's beloved child at the hands of imperial authority.
But we live in a moment of great darkness. In a world awash with social and political violence, Jesus is being crucified all around us. And for American Christians, the tables are turned; the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" is still our own government, just as Martin Luther King publicly acknowledged almost forty years ago.
That our aspiring Caesar calls himself a born-again Christian is an offense, quite literally, against all that is holy. That the overwhelming majority of those who worship weekly voted to re-elect him is a sign of a cancer upon what scripture teaches is to be the living body of Christ: the church.
But today, five months after that re-election and three years after the invasion of Iraq, with few signs of hope on the horizon, we are jarred by an unlikely reality: Christ is risen!
That reality has sustained generations of Christians through times of great torment and trial -- most far worse than our own -- and led many to bravely follow the gospel, even at the cost of their own lives. Among these was King, who was fond of saying that "the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice." But today, my mind turns to another -- Archbishop Óscar Romero, and the words he preached the day before he died:
Easter is itself now the cry of victory. No one can quench the life that Christ has resurrected. Neither death nor all the banners of death and hatred raised against him and against his church can prevail. He is the victorious one! Just as he will thrive in an unending Easter, so we must accompany him in a Lent and a Holy Week of cross, sacrifice, and martyrdom. As he said, blessed are they who are not scandalized by his cross. Lent, thus, is a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult combination of cross and victory. Our people are well prepared to do so these days: all that surrounds us proclaims the cross. But those who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador lies our Easter, our resurrection. That is the Christian people's hope.
March 25, 2005
Using medical tragedies for political purposes
If I am rendered comatose and determined to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for a period longer than one month and if no imminent cure is forthcoming, I do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means including but not limited to nourishment, hydration, etc.
If, due to the absurd political state of affairs in this country, my persistent vegetative state and impending unplugging can be parlayed into some sort of political leverage, I wholly endorse using my predicament in whatever way possible for the purposes of passing legislation favorable to my general political and ethical outlook. Here is a list of top-tier causes I support and will continue to support, both while in my PVS and after my eventual death:
(Follow the link for the full list.)
To which I can only add: me too. Oh, and also the abolition of the death penalty -- a pro-life cause if I ever heard one.
February 26, 2005
Non Satis Scire, or Something (a Div III rant)
I just submitted this to our campus free speech publication. It probably isn't of much interest to those unconnected to Hampshire.
Ralph Nader had a scolding applause line in the 2000 campaign, aimed at any young people in the audience: "if you don't turn on to politics, politics will turn on you." I arrived at Hampshire in the Fall of 2001, just before 9/11, anxious to take up his call. A funny thing has happened in the intervening period. Politics turned on us in any number of major ways (from cutting Pell Grants to the war in Iraq) -- and we're either yawning or gazing at our navels. If anything, Hampshire is a less politically active campus today than it was when I started here.
In fact, most of you have already turned the page to read the latest installment of barely-coherent drivel about reality television. Some of you are still focused on my simplistic and problematic use of categories such as "politics" and "us", a practice which is bound up in systems of hierarchy and social privilege. (That was sarcastic, folks.)
It could be because I'm a reclusive Div III just returned from field study, but I'm not even witnessing any extended serious conversations about our role in shaping the political future of a nation which is now almost completely controlled by the radical right.
It's possible this is the only progressive institution in America where those conversations aren't happening. Environmentalists are abuzz over a speech by the former president of the Sierra Club proclaiming the death of their movement. Feminists are arguing passionately about a recent essay calling for a radically different rhetorical approach to the political debate over abortion. Gay rights groups are struggling to settle on a new political and legal strategy in the wake of the anti-gay marriage backlash. Labor unions are considering huge structural changes in an attempt to become relevant again. Even the Democratic Party, in a political tailspin, just chose Howard Dean, who was something of a national joke this time a year ago, to chair its national committee.
All of this is happening out in the open, and not just among political elites: pragmatic, profound conversations about how to build a new American left are happening everywhere, from cyberspace to coffee shops. Virtually everyone I know at Hampshire has at least some interest in the political groups mentioned above. And the conservative movement, having seized control of the federal government and bullied the press into submission, is now turning its fire to academia, which means we have a vested self-interest in fighting back. But we're still not engaging in the realities of national politics, preferring to fight the same provincial battles and continue the same irrelevant conversations using an academic vocabulary that hasn't changed in decades.
Hampshire aims to "graduate men and women with the skills and perspectives needed for understanding and participating responsibly in a complex world." We're very good at the perspectives and the understanding. It's a shame we can't seem to get serious about the skills and the participation.
FCC: Wardrobe malfunction more dangerous than nuclear malfunction
A review of fines levied by other federal agencies suggests that the government may be taking swear words a bit too seriously. If the bill passes the Senate, Bono saying "fucking brilliant" on the air would carry the exact same penalty as illegally testing pesticides on human subjects. And for the price of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl, you could cause the wrongful death of an elderly patient in a nursing home and still have enough money left to create dangerous mishaps at two nuclear reactors.
Speaks for itself, I think.