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A bit more complicated

Yesterday a couple of things happened that I’d like to highlight in the ongoing discussion on what to do about Bush/Cheney crimes – specifically their use of torture.

Some of you will know of Elizabeth de la Vega – perhaps the country’s most pre-eminent lawyer in chronicling Bush crimes. Yesterday she made a statement about why she is not supporting the call for a special prosecutor – at least not right now.

I would like nothing more than to join with so many friends and associates whom I respect in calling for immediate appointment of a special prosecutor.

Unfortunately, however, I can’t do it. Not yet. We must have a prosecution eventually, but we are not legally required to publicly initiate it now and we should not, as justifiable as it is. I’m not concerned about political fallout. What’s good or bad for either party has no legitimate place in this calculus. My sole consideration is litigation strategy: I want us to succeed. And our best hope of doing that is to unflinchingly assess – just as any lawyer would do when contemplating choices of action in a case – what we would have tomorrow if we got what we think we want today. We should obviously think twice about pursuing an intermediate goal, however satisfying it may appear, if it would be counterproductive in the long term. There are times when it’s smarter to wait before taking a prosecutive step and this is one of them.    


Another narrative

Its been pretty clear to me for awhile now that I seem to be looking at the world through a different lens than many who blog here these days. I’ve been taking some time to think and reflect about that these last couple of weeks and have been helped in that process tremendously by a couple of diaries NCrissieB wrote at dkos titled Religion as Politics, Politics as Religion and Religion, Politics and Big Narratives. In these, she describes our tendency to create Big Narratives that provide “global, unifying lenses through which to view the events in our lives.” But here’s the problem:

…we meet difficulty when Big Narratives collide.  When two people or groups are constructing experience through different narratives, it seems as if they inhabit different worlds.  Each can easily think the other out of touch with reality, when the problem is that each is out of touch with the others’ narrative.  They’ve gone through life writing different stories, along different patterns, in part from events unique to their own experiences.  Even where the stories are “based on” common events, they are different stories, each with its own heroes, villains, victims, motivations, strategies, and resolutions. And while each offers a sense of completeness, none is truly complete.

One of the ways to explain both my experience as well as much of the discord we’ve seen at dkos and other blogs is that we’re having a clash of Big Narratives – none of which is complete. Of course there are other reasons why communication is difficult. But I think this is a big one.

So the question becomes, do we replicate so much of what happens with political discourse in this country and splinter off into groups of people who share a common Big Narrative? Or is it possible to discuss these differences in the hopes of either expanding our own narrative or at least limiting the derision of those who see things differently?

I thought I’d share some of the things my Big Narrative has led me to think about over this past week – things that look very different from what I’ve seen written about here – in hopes that you’ll see it as my incomplete narrative in progress.


My gig is to write on Sundays. That means that this is the second year I’ve done so on Easter. As I said last time, I’m not a religious person. But the holiday still means a lot to me in the sense that it’s about spring, renewal, rebirth, and the return of the light.

I’ve lived a lot of places – almost all areas of this country and a couple of stints overseas. But I’ve never lived anywhere that spring is as important as it is here in Minnesota. I would imagine that the reasons for that are obvious, even to those who don’t live in the “tundra.” While we haven’t seen the green around here yet – the anticipation is palpable. During the years I lived in Florida and Southern California, I remember that the passage of the seasons was hardly noticeable. And, while I appreciated the general warmth that prevailed, there was something in me that missed this moment of anticipation followed by the burst of reality.

What can we learn from Peru?

Most of you have probably seen the story this week that the former President of Peru Alberto Fujimori was convicted of human rights crimes and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has been sentenced to 25 years in jail for ordering killings and kidnappings by security forces.

At the end of a 15-month trial, judges found him guilty of two death-squad killings of 25 people during the conflict with guerrillas in the 1990s…

The trial, which took place at a special-forces police base on the outskirts of the capital, Lima, was the first time a democratically elected Latin American leader had been tried and found guilty in his own country for human rights abuses.


Found Innocent, but Too Late

Kos put this story on the front page over at the orange last night, so perhaps many of you have already seen it. But anything that makes me cry this early in the morning, well…I’ve gotta write about it.

From the Star Telegram:

AUSTIN – Twenty-two years ago, Ruby Session listened in disbelief as a Lubbock jury convicted her son, Timothy Cole, of rape. She promised herself that one day she would make sure this injustice was corrected.

“I always had faith and I just believed that it would one day happen,” Session said.

That day finally came Tuesday when, after years of efforts by Cole’s family and a relentless group of supporters, state District Judge Charles Baird issued the first posthumous DNA exoneration in Texas history.

“The evidence is crystal clear that Timothy Cole died in prison an innocent man and I find to 100 percent moral, legal and actual certainty that he did not commit the crime that he was convicted of,” Baird said.

Cole was convicted of aggravated sexual assault in 1986, after Michele Mallin identified him as the man who attacked her near Texas Tech University. Cole had always maintained his innocence.

In 1995, Jerry Wayne Johnson, who was serving two consecutive life sentences in prison for sexual assaults in Lubbock, admitted raping Mallin. Authorities ignored his confession until the Innocence Project of Texas took up the case in 2007. DNA tests in 2008 confirmed that Johnson was Mallin’s attacker.

Cole died in prison in 1999 at age 38 from complications of asthma.


Walking towards the light

I didn’t grow up reading or writing poetry. My only memory of it as a child was memorizing and reciting Joyce Kilmer’s well-known poem Trees. But then, about 15 years ago, I was introduced to a poet by the name of David Whyte. He does speeches and trainings based on both his poetry and that of others. I watched video tapes of these, bought his books, and even spent a weekend at a retreat where he was the speaker. He opened the world of poetry to me. And since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share a couple with you today.

Here is how Whyte describes the power of poetry.

The Lightest Touch

Good poetry begins with

the lightest touch,

a breeze arriving from nowhere,

a whispered healing arrival,

a word in your ear,

a settling into things,

then like a hand in the dark

it arrests the whole body,

steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows

a great line

you can feel Lazarus

deep inside

even the laziest, most deathly afraid

part of you,

lift up his hands and walk toward the light.


Talking past each other

Last week I posted this essay at dkos in reaction to some of the communication barriers I was both seeing and experiencing there. The other day Alma suggested that I post it here. I thought about it and decided that I would. Thanks Alma!

I had a powerful learning experience during the Presidential Primaries about how we so often talk past one another. Lately I’ve been thinking alot about that lesson and seeing it in my own communication as well as in my reading on the blogs.

So I thought I’d share the experience to see if it can help some of us open up a bit to hear the views of those with whom we disagree.

In which I make a prediction

The other day I was asking some questions about the alternatives to the current bailout plan by the Obama administration. I thank you all for your input. I have continued to read a fair amount about what’s going on and I want to make a fool’s prediction on what I think the next steps will be from the administration. I know this is dangerous territory. You all will have a written record on the intertubes to rub my face in when/if I’m wrong. But just imagine if I’m right – none of you will be able to abide the gloating that will ensue. LOL

We all know that the current plan is for the government to entice the private sector to buy bundles of the toxic (or so-called “legacy”) assets held by the big failing companies. As thereisnospoon so well described in an amazingly helpful diary at dkos this week, no one knows the value of these things and that is what’s freezing the credit markets right now and crippling the economy. I think the administration’s plan is to try to get someone to take those assets that “might” be worth something and get them back out into the economy to get the ball rolling.  

Quote for discussion: George Washington

I hope Jay won’t mind me stealing his format. But I found this quote to be rather profound when I recently ran across it.

From George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a nation with its virtue ? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of nations, has been the victim.

Some questions about alternatives

I’m not an economist, nor do I play one on the blogs. All of this talk about Wall Street and our financial institutions is something that, up until a few months ago, I was blissfully ignorant about.  

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reading like mad to try and understand, not only what’s happening, but what the potential solutions would be. I probably have enough information about Obama’s plan to be dangerous (I call it Obama’s plan because the fact of the matter is that its his administration. I have no illusions that he is supporting Geithner under duress or that someone is twisting his arm to do so). The so called PPIP has been dissected pretty thoroughly both by those who support it and those who don’t.

Where I am lacking in information is about the alternatives. As I see it, there’s no really painless or “right” way out of this mess. So the fact of the matter is that it is entirely possible that Obama’s plan is the best of the possibilities. And if that case is to be disputed, then I need to learn more about the options. As Saul Alinsky said in his “Rules for Radicals”:

The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.


Can we reform our prison system?

Some really ugly statistics:

1. The US has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.

2. The US prison population has increased 500% in the last 30 years.

3. 4 times as many mentally ill people are in prisons as are in mental health hospitals.

4. On average, 2 out of every 3 released prisoners will be re-arrested and 1 in 2 will return to prison within 3 years of release.

5. Over the past 20 years, inflation-adjusted state spending on corrections rose 127% while higher education expenditures rose just 21%.

6. Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1200% since 1980.

7. 47.5% of all the drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses.

8. Nearly 60% of the people in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or of any significant selling activity.

9. Black males have a 32% chance of serving time in prison at some point in their lives.

10. African Americans make up –

– 12 % of the population

– 14% of monthly drug users

– 37% of those arrested on drug charges

– 59% of those convicted on drug charges

– 74% of drug offenders sentenced to prison

One small step

Sure there are lots of big issues we can and need to talk about and debate when it comes to the economic crisis facing both this country and the rest of the globe. And it can feel like we’re pretty powerless to get our voices heard. But there’s one relatively small thing that’s happening where perhaps we can have some influence – especially when it comes to the thousands of people who are facing bankruptcy and the potential loss of their homes.

Recently the House passed a Banking Bill that contains a “cram-down provision” (where do they come up with these names?) In case you hadn’t heard, it would allow judges in bankruptcy court to force lenders to refinance mortgages so that people can lower their monthly payments and perhaps keep their homes. With all the crazy deals that were sold (oftentimes to uninformed borrowers) during the housing boom, this seems like a common-sense thing to do, wouldn’t you say?

Well, not to Sen. Evan Bayh and perhaps a few of his gang of 15 who seem determined to stop the Obama administration from passing any legislation that would ease the burden on people who are struggling.  

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