June 23, 2005

What's wrong with protecting terrorists?

I recently heard on NPR a Republican woman legislator say that the Democrats concern for torturing internees is the same as being more concerned about and willing to protect terrorists than our own people.

There are all kinds of reasons to protect the rights of prisoners, like for instance, if we want to guarantee our own rights we need to protect the rights of all people. Once we start sorting people into groups whose rights should be protected or denied any one of us runs the risk of ending up in the group whose rights are dispensible.

But to be honest I don't really care too much about the internees except in a theoretical sense. What I care passionately about is what kind of people we are. I want to protect us from becoming a people who torture or can live comfortably with torture being done in our name.

June 22, 2005

So Durbin has apologized

Apologized for saying that we should hold ourselves to a high standard in the conduct of our soldiers when we are holding prisoners. Apologized for questioning our behavior.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, is an unexamined national life good for us?

I know war is a dirty business, but it's not as dirty as abusing captured people who are unable to defend themselves or fight back. Who among us watched friends, relatives and neighbors become soldiers intent on defending us expecting them to come back as torturers?

Torturers aren't especially different from the rest of us you know. That's why we must hold our military accountable for their behavior and provide the widest possible support for humane behavior under admittedly difficult circumstances. That's why we can't let Bush and his administration off the hook for searching for "legal" ways to torture prisoners and declaring the Geneva Conventions "quaint". Won't we lose something valuable in our national life and character if we allow ourselves to cast away restraint in our dealings with those we imprison?
The Hands of Torturers

They hold the hoses, flip the switches,
grip and beat and cut the bodies, then
unzip and tend to their own hose pissing,
tuck it back in, run the razor
tender down the cheekbone, chuck
a buttock, fondle breasts, part labia.
From one body to another
how easily the hands can go.

Ursula K. LeGuin
Going Out With Peacocks and Other Poems
Torturers aren't especially different from the rest of us. That's why we must guard ourselves against and protect each other from becoming torturers.

June 16, 2005

Raising the Age of Retirement

John Tierney writes in his op-ed piece The Old and the Rested
Is it possible that people this age are still physically capable of putting in a full day's work at the office?
Americans now feel entitled to spend nearly a third of their adult lives in retirement. Their jobs are less physically demanding than their parents' were, but they're retiring younger and typically start collecting Social Security by age 62. Most could keep working - fewer than 10 percent of people 65 to 75 are in poor health - but, like Bartleby the Scrivener, they prefer not to.
The problem isn't that Americans have gotten intrinsically lazier. They're just responding to a wonderfully intentioned system that in practice promotes greed and sloth. Social Security is widely thought of as a kumbaya program that unites Americans in caring for the elderly, but it actually creates ugly political battles among generations.
Greed and sloth? When I look at the retirees I know I don't see greedy, lazy people, unless they were that way all their life. By the time someone is 64 or 67 I'm thinking their personality and character are pretty well formed and won't be hurt much by a modest stipend each month. And believe me, John, most of us out here get a modest check from Social Security. And what about those who work at relatively low paying, physically demanding jobs all of their employed lives and pay a price in wear and tear on their bodies? Should they have to work their whole lives to survive when we can pretty easily provide enough money through Social Security to make their later years easier?

That brings me to your "kumbaya program". In Social Security we have a social contract in which we agree to provide for each other a basic income during retirement. This isn't unearned welfare and we aren't soft in the head to want to do this. As adults we contribute to our community/country by our labor, by taking care of our families, by volunteering, by being faithful friends and in myriad other ways. It is reasonable for us to want to look out for each other in retirement and Social Security provides us a means to join together and do that in a way that is well administered, efficient and equitable. We don't have to be social Darwinists who grasp for ours and tough noogies to you if you didn't manage to grasp as much as the other guy.

Many retired people already do spend time volunteering, working part-time, taking care of young or sick relatives amongst other things. They don't magically become parasites the moment they get their first check from Social Security. They are free, maybe for the first time in their lives, to labor for love. This has value that deserves recognition. Social Security works pretty well and with a little tweaking (not a major overhaul, not private accounts) we can keep it healthy and continue to support each other in making our golden years a little more secure.

June 05, 2005

Ultrasound required before an abortion

A few years ago I was riding through Owosso, Michigan and some anti-abortion demonstrators were on a corner with their signs, including huge pictures of what looked like chopped up babies. I was just horrified. I believe I understand the commitment and passion of those who want to put an end to abortion, I just couldn't believe that they would use such poor judgment about what they are willing to inflict on random passersby.

This brings me to the lastest action of the Michigan legislature on the abortion front. They've passed a bill to require an ultrasound test for women seeking an abortion. Their hope is that when women see the pictures of their embryo they will abandon their intention to abort. Lawmakers hasten to add that the law doesn't require that women be forced to look at the pictures.

This is just wrong on so many levels. There is the issue of bypassing a doctor's judgment about what is medically necessary for his/her patient, the state requiring unnecessary medical testing and the expense to a patient who is not likely to be able to afford it. This law turns health care providers into state-appointed officials charged with tormenting women who are seeking medical care. This law effectively places those street corner demonstrators into a medical examining room.

Do anti-abortion activisits really think they can prevent women from exersizing their right to abortion this way? Hasn't it occurred to them that it might be a better idea to do the kind of work that would help women avoid being in a situation in which abortion remains the best of all options? We know that economic security reduces the number of abortions, so why aren't they on street corners with pictures of people suffering from poverty and lack of employment? I read recently that 1 in 4 children in this country go to bed hungry at night. Schools are setting up programs for kids who rely on free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs at school that will provide them with food on weekends and school breaks. How about a law to require merchants to distribute pictures of families standing in soup kitchen lines to purchasers of luxury goods?

June 03, 2005

Parents Fight For Their Children - Against the Military

We used to hear stories of underage men lying about their age to enlist in the military to go fight, giving themselves to a great cause. Parents have always sent their sons (and now daughters) into the military filled with fear for their safety and pride in their sacrifice and idealism. Now we are reading about parents fighting to keep military recruiters out of high schools and away from their kids.

We used to be able to think there was such a thing as a "good war" and that we could be fighting to save the world from tyranny and genocide. Maybe there will be a good war again someday. In the meantime all we have is the Iraq war and parents with strong memories of the war in Viet Nam and they are not about to sacrifice their children in a bad war.