Saturday, July 29, 2006

Tragedy in Seattle

I write tonight with a great deal of sadness in my heart. Though I am hundreds of miles away I still heard about a shooting today in downtown Seattle. Evidently a man entered the building housing the Jewish Federation and shot six people, killing one. According to the Seattle PI, he stated that was was a Muslim American, angry at Israel. As I have argued time and again here, violence is not a solution, it is a cycle - a cycle very adept at perpetuating itself. This instance is no different. The use of violence against others, especially unarmed and peaceful others, is deplorable, whether it be in Lebanon, Palestine, Israel or Seattle. The sadness I feel exists on many levels.

First and foremost, my heart goes out to the victims and their families. This senseless crime is shock to everyone and for it there is no justification.

Second, and this may sound strange, but I feel sorry for the perpetrator, as I do for most all perpetrators. What he did was wrong and by no means justified, but in that most deplorable act he chose to throw his life away and all the possible good that could have been done. He took the life of another, an action he can never take back.

Third, I worry for our brothers and sisters from the Middle East as well as those of the Muslim faith who are already being scapegoated and blamed for the actions of a lone individual. Just as Scott Petersen does not represent all Americans or Christians, so too does this individual not represent all Muslim Americans. (The Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement condemning the shooting earlier today.)

Finally, I am saddened for the prospects of the Peace in Lebanon movement in Seattle. The Arab American Community Coalition cancelled tomorrow's planned silent march for peace, and I believe they did so wisely. Tensions are high and the event was cancelled so to eliminate any possible violence against anyone on any side of the issue.

And that's the point, I suppose. This one act of violence has destroyed so much work towards peace. It fuels the fires started by the ignorant and the hateful. But more than anything, it creates fear, fear which can then cause individuals to behave towards other in ways they would otherwise find unacceptable. This tragic event must not be used to divide our Seattle community or marginalize members within it. We must all stand together against the violence, both at home or abroad, abandoning the traditional vicious cycle of fear and violence. That one individual carried out such an act of violence should strengthen our resolve for peace, not weaken it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A call to keep loving

Yesterday the Washington State Supreme Court ruled to uphold the state's 1998 "Defense of Marriage Act" which (as you might have guessed from the propagandic title) prohibits same-sex partners from obtaining civil marriages. I had been expected this ruling since the day before, when the Court put out a press release saying the decision would come out sometime tomorrow. I saw the sad headline as soon as I reloaded the Seattle P-I webpage on my computer. It definitely put a damper on the morning.

I thought I would feel more sad or more pissed off - but I don't. Part of it is probably related to the fact that while the Court's ruling was the P-I's top headline, the BBC's top headline was, "Israel troops 'ignored' UN plea" - referring to yesterday's destruction of a United Nations outpost and killing of four UN peacekeepers by Israeli forces. The BBC reports that the peacekeepers sent ten messages over six hours to Israeli forces before the incident occurred, calling for cessation of combat in the immediate area. Instead, 17 bombardments landed within only a kilometer of the outpost and 12 artillery rounds landed within a ridiculous 150 meters - to top it off, four of those rounds actually HIT the peacekeepers' outpost! Only after all that did an Israeli precision-guided missile obliterate the peacekeepers.

So it's a little hard to get too upset about my marriage plans. Still, the issue is obviously of great significance to me - anything remaining of what might have turned into fury or anger was washed away when I actually sat down to read the well-written 62-page opinion by Justice Barbara Madsen (mother of an old ASUW friend, as it turns out).

Justice Madsen's opinion is pretty reasonable - far more than I've come to expect from the government of late. In a nutshell, she summarizes the cases (Andersen from King County Superior Court and Castle from Thurston County) and proceeds to subject them to a series of constitutional analyses. I'll proceed to breeze through her conclusions here, but if you don't care, you can skip ahead past the text I've colored red.

1. WA Privileges and Immunities Clause
First, the justices determine that the cases are not eligible to be reviewed under the "Privileges and Immunities Clause" of the Washington State Constitution (“No law shall be passed granting to any citizen, class of citizens, or corporation other than municipal, privileges or immunities which upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens, or corporations.”) The justices find that this clause is meant to protect against unfair favoritism towards a select minority. Thus, they conclude that the clause would not be a proper lens through which to view the cases.

Seeing as how the Privileges and Immunities Clause doesn't apply here, Madsen decides to see whether DOMA violates the federal constitution's Equal Protection Clause. She writes:
"The level of scrutiny to be applied under an equal protection analysis depends on whether a suspect or semisuspect classification has been drawn or a fundamental right is implicated; if neither is involved, rational basis review is appropriate." (p. 17)
She proceeds in that order to analyze the case.

2. U.S. Equal Protection Clause - "suspect class" analysis
According to Madsen, a great deal of jurisprudence holds that for a group to be deemed a "suspect class", attorneys must demonstrate that the group (a) has suffered a history of discrimination, (b) be characterized or defined by an "obvious, immutable trait" that is usually unrelated to one's ability to "perform or contribute to society", and (c) is "a minority or politically powerless class." While she finds"no dispute" that lesbians and gays have been historically discriminated against, she cites other legal opinion which holds that homosexuality is not an "immutable trait." I find this quite disturbing - and it confirms an ongoing discomfort I have had with grounding human rights strictly in biology or otherwise "immutable" characteristics.

Additionally, Madsen disputes the assertion that lesbians and gays are politically powerless. She writes:
"The enactment of provisions providing increased protections to gay and lesbian individuals in Washington shows that as a class gay and lesbian persons are not powerless but, instead, exercise increasing political power. Indeed, the recent passage of the amendments to chapter 49.60 RCW is particularly significant given that, as the plaintiffs point out, the legislature had previously declined on numerous occasions to add sexual orientation to the laws against discrimination." (p. 20)
I find this argument laced with huge ironies. Chapter 49.60 of the RCW is Washington's anti-discrimination law, and Madsen is referring specifically to the much-hailed sexual orientation equal rights bill that passed in January after a thirty-year legislative struggle. How ironic that this victory in a desert of defeats is now used in an argument to uphold a marriage ban! I hope Karl comments on this matter.

Madsen concludes, ultimately, that lesbians and gays do not constitute a suspect class. I find this part of her decision the most troubling and most difficult to accept because I strongly disagree with her findings on the latter two parts of the "suspect class" test.

3. U.S. Equal Protection Clause - "fundamental right" analysis
The question then turns to whether marriage is a fundamental right. Madsen admits up front that it definitely is - but she determines that the right to marry a partner of the same sex is a different matter. Her main argument here is that within the history of law, civil marriage has been linked to society's interest in fostering stable procreation. She does acknowledge that "marriage is an evolving institution" and "history and tradition are not static... Thus, recent history and tradition may also be relevant in deciding whether a fundamental right is at stake" (26-27, 31). In light of this, however, she finds that "community standards at this time do not show a societal commitment to inclusion of same-sex marriage as part of the fundamental right to marry" (32).

4. U.S. Equal Protection Clause - Rational Basis Review
Having found that DOMA affects neither a suspect class nor a fundamental right, Madsen moves on to determine whether the law is "rationally related to a legitimate state interest." She reiterates many, many times in this section that rational basis review is "highly deferential" to the Legislature. Madsen carves a careful niche for the role of the judiciary here - a role that is not supposed to decide whether a law advances a stated interest, but whether the legislature acted rationally in light of evidence that legitimate interests were being advanced.
"It is particularly inappropriate for this court to accept as true (or untrue) the arguments made and conclusions drawn by those advocating passage of DOMA, or to make its own inquiry into the validity or reliability of any studies presented to the legislature. The court’s responsibility, instead, is to assure that DOMA was enacted in accord with constitutional constraints and that the legislature properly exercised its power." (p. 43)
Madsen finds that the legislature could rationally come to the conclusion that limiting marriage to heterosexual couples would advance the legitimate interest of fostering procreation.

Having been shown not to affect a suspect class or fundamental right, and having passed the rational basis review, Madsen concludes that DOMA does not violate the Equal Protection Clause.

5. Other analyses
The conclusions reached surrounding DOMA and the Equal Protection Clause are used to uphold DOMA over objections concerning due process, privacy rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment (banning sex-based discrimination).

It's clear from reading through the court opinion that the justices find themselves rather constrained. Chief Justice Gerry Alexander writes:
"Although many pages of opinion have been written in this case, the issue with which we are here confronted is really quite narrow. The question before us is this: is the provision in Washington’s marriage statute, RCW 26.04.010, which clearly states that marriage is between a 'male and a female,' unconstitutional?"
The justices say no, it's not unconstitutional to pass such a law.

Yet, the judicial opinion is littered with various hints and gestures that suggest that while the judiciary has little room to rule otherwise, the justices themselves would like to see DOMA at least revisited, and at most, repealed.

Madsen makes a series of jabs at the dissenting justices, but her harshest words are surprisingly directed to two justices who concurred with her - Justices James Johnson and Richard Sanders. I haven't yet read their concurring opinion (which is just as long as the lead opinion), but skimming it gives me the distinct impression that Johnson is operating from impure motives. He starts off:
"This is a difficult case only if a court disregards the text and history of the state and federal constitutions and laws in order to write new laws for our State’s citizens. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and every Washington citizen has a constitutional right to enter into such a marriage..."
Madsen, in her footnote, writes:
"Justice J.M. Johnson resorts to name-calling in an effort to refute this point [that recent history and tradition may also be relevant in deciding whether a fundamental right is at stake]." (p. 27)

Madsen emphasizes that the absence of a tradition of same-sex marriage is only a symptom of our current time. She writes:
"Plaintiffs have not established that at this time the fundamental right to marry includes the right to marry a person of the same sex." (p. 32, emphasis added)
Later again:
" standards at this time do not show a societal commitment to inclusion of same-sex marriage as part of the fundamental right to marry." (p. 32, emphasis added)
Considering that much of Madsen's determination that marriage equality lies outside of the existing right to marry comes from her observation that there is no "recent tradition" of same-sex marriage, these quotations above seem to me like a call for communities to go ahead with embracing same-sex partnerships, and perhaps even to conduct non-civil marraiges, so that such a tradition might be established.

Page 47 of the opinion is essentially a laundry list of privileges and protections that heterosexual partners enjoy through civil marriage that homosexuals are now prohibited from. In her conclusion, Madsen writes:
"...given the clear hardship faced by same sex couples evidenced in this lawsuit, the legislature may want to reexamine the impact of the marriage laws on all citizens of this state." (p. 61)
The justices seem to be giving the rest of us a not-so-subtle push: change the law to include your lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, and until that happens, embrace them in full inclusion anyway.

Churches and other religious communities can provide crucial leadership as the queer community focuses its efforts now on the long road towards a legislative victory for marriage equality. Many Episcopal churches, the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists, and several Reform Jewish temples, already perform same-sex marriages, or at least, blessing of same-sex unions. Lesbians and gays, while awaiting full equality, should take advantage of the support afforded by these communities by having their partnerships recognized in a ceremony. And after the service, call one another husband or wife. This is how we must begin building a tradition of same-sex marriage - in defiance of the state.

God endorses love despite the state and despite the human church. So let us call one another "love" before the state gives its permission - and when it eventually does, we can celebrate the time we shared together.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Brief Synopsis

[NOTE: x-posted from kazzman - this won't happen often]

Which of the following is a valid military target?

  • A civilian airport
  • Lebanese highways (used for humanitarian relief and evacuation)
  • United Nations military post
  • Civilian power plant
  • Palestinian Foreign Ministry building
  • Palestinian Interior Ministry building
  • Palestinian Finance Ministry building
  • Lebanese military installations (not engaged in hostilities)
  • Apartment buildings containing civilians
  • Refugee Convy

    If you failed to select any (or even just not all) of the boxes, you have scored higher than the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). All of the aforementioned targets have been struck by Israeli Defense Forces in the past two weeks. Let's take the U.N. outpost as a starting point. As you know, the U.N. is certainly not engaged in hostilities against Israel. Indeed, this particular U.N. outpost was struck TWENTY ONE TIMES by artillery fire and precision guided missiles! This despite REPEATED MESSAGES over a four hour period from the United Nations to the IDF to avoid hitting the outpost. I think we can forgive Kofi Annan's initial statement that it appeared "deliberate" (a statement he has since retracted). That strike killed 4 U.N. peackeepers. This simply serves to underscore a greater message that while the IDF may not target civilians (as does Hezbollah) they absolutely do not do enough to avoid civilian deaths (400+ and counting).

    What is happening is postively abhorrent. What Hezbollah is doing, targeting civilian population centers, is beyond reprehensible. Certainly, Israel has a right to defend itself. But that right absolutely does NOT include the right to kill over 400 Lebanese civilians and 12 U.N. peacekeepers; nor does the right to defend itself justify the displacement of 750,000 civilians from their homes; and that right does not, include the right to target civilian infrastructure. Though Israel may protect the human rights of its citizens, it is showing an utterly appalling disregard for the human rights of civilians in Lebanon and Palestine.

    Am I angry? Damn right I'm angry and you should be too. None of this would be taking place without the explicit support, morally and militarily, of the United States. This simply cannot continue. Most nations around the world get it; many citizens of Israel get it; yet somehow, we here in the United States and those in the government of the U.S. and Israel do not.
  • Tuesday, July 25, 2006

    Two Articles

    Rather than write on the War on Lebanon any further today, I thought I'd put forth two other voices. The first article is from Bob Herbert - a link to the complete text will have to wait until it is available (I'll update this post when/if that happens) but a synopsis is available from Editor & Publisher.
    The second article is by Gideon Levy with with the Haaretz newspaper in Israel. Below is a brief excerpt:
    "In Gaza, a soldier is abducted from the army of a state that frequently abducts civilians from their homes and locks them up for years with or without a trial - but only we're allowed to do that. And only we're allowed to bomb civilian population centers....

    Israel once again is not distinguishing between a justified war against Hezbollah and an unjust and unwise war against the Lebanese nation."

    One of my overriding concerns has been the entirely unacceptable attacks upon non-combatants. To the list, add four UN soldier that died in an Israeli bombing of a UNITED NATIONS MILITARY BASE. How does this happen? How does a state bomb a marked UN military base? Israel promises an inquiry....

    Monday, July 24, 2006

    Support H.CON.RES.450 (Don't worry, I'll translate)

    The United States today pledged $30 million to aid in the recovery of Lebanon. So yes, for those keeping score at home, we are now paying both for the bombs that destroy the infrastructure and also to rebuild the infrastructure. Not that we shouldn't pay to rebuild - that is the least of our moral duties - but while we can pay to rebuild the roads, ports, and apartment buildings we cannot pay to bring back the civilian lives already lost. Indeed, we continue to do little to prevent further loss of innocent life.

    Speaking of preventing further loss of innocent life, the House of Representatives lately passed a resolution giving no mention to doing that (you can read the text here but I've honestly read far better resolutions from the ASUW Student Senate). It passed 410 - 8. (Anyone else reminded of the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act?) Fortunately, there is now an alternative (H. Con. Res. 450) which calls for a cease fire, multiparty negotiations, and an international peacekeeping force. You can e-mail your representative directly from the JVP website by clicking here.

    Also, if you have a chance contact Rep. Jim McDermott and thank him for his courage in voting against the previous resolution (H.RES.923), which failed to address the civilian lives lost functions as a sort of 'blank check' of support for any further actions on the territory of other states. You can read Rep. McDermott's comments, which I just borrowed from, here. It was an act of courage on his part and a message of peace deserving of our thanks.

    Sunday, July 23, 2006

    Five loaves and two fish (or: why I love Karl Smith)

    The leaders of thirteen Christian denominations have called upon President Bush to begin throwing his weight around to stop rogue Israel's obliteration of Lebanon.
    "In the face of such a humanitarian crisis, calls for the fighting parties to be restrained in their actions fall short of what is needed. Your presidential leadership and the full weight of the United States, acting in concert with the international community, must be applied now to achieve an immediate cease-fire and to launch an intensive diplomatic initiative for the cessation of hostilities. This is a necessary first step toward the diplomatic resolution of this crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the way toward a comprehensive Middle East peace."
    You can check out the entire letter yourself. Really, it's a pretty impressive list of people who have signed it, representing a pretty significant chunk of American Christians.

    The obvious question - is this going to do or mean anything?

    Today, Lutherans, Presbyerians, Methodists, Catholics, Episcopalians, and many other Christians heard the same reading in church: the famous story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with only five loaves of bread and two fish. I sat in St. Mark's Cathedral today as the Rev. Janet Campbell beautifully retold the familiar childhood tale into a powerful ethic for societal engagement. After she stepped away from the pulpit, I sat in the pew on the verge of tears.

    I can't really do justice to one of the best sermons I've ever heard. Pastor Campbell focused on how the disciples found that they had just five loaves and two fish between them, and despite their skepticism, they offered those up as the best they could do. She suggested that we must always give the best we can without regard to whether it's "worth it" or whether we think it'll make a difference. Our only responsibility and our most important responsibility is to always do what we can do for peace with justice.

    Karl exemplifies this civic quality - acting on virtue, not merely efficacy. Going to protests, counter-rallies, and vigils... incessantly writing and updating blogs... it's hard work, and often discouraging work on top of that. The few rallies and actions I've been to, I've felt the scorn of "realistic" people passing by with their shopping bags in disdain for our quixotic naïveté. That can be difficult to withstand. It's enough to destroy a democracy.
    "How is your protest going to change anything? Go home!"
    "Who are you trying to reach with those signs?"
    "Why are you wasting your time?"
    Active citizens have probably heard similarly before. These questions, when asked of and borne by isolated individuals, are destructive. But when people come together to make themselves heard because they understand that this is how change begins - these same questions don't stand a chance.

    Karl and people like him see how many loaves and fish they have in their own posession - and they give them up to the crowd knowing that regardless of whether it "matters", it is still their responsibility as citizens. Heartfelt and reasoned opinions about the state of our world are the few loaves and fish each one of us carries. It's easy to be convinced that we'll never feed the entire crowd with them. We can offer them up anyway, however, and suddenly, we one day find that our acts of sacrifice have inspired others... change comes.

    So following Karl's lead, I've decided that I'm going to write letters to my elected representatives. Perhaps I wouldn't really have done it before today. The voice of "realism" might have set in, telling not to be a silly kid, asking me when I'll finally realize that I don't matter in this system.

    But Jesus gives a different question:
    “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” (Mark 6:38)

    And when I look, I realize that I do have something small of my own to offer. Karl already did.
    So will you. An opinion, a perspective, a learning, a voice - loaves and fish for a hungry crowd. Let's feed this world.
    "And all ate and were filled." - Mark 6:42
    Thank you my friend.

    JVP Counter-Demonstration

    Today I stood in solidarity with Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) in a counterdemonstration outside the Save Israel rally. Though I am not Jewish, I was invited and figured with my credentials as a, well, blogger(?) I had something to offer. In truth, once I was invited I could not decline, for silence in the face of suffering is complicity.

    The counterdemonstration itself was well organized and coordinated with the organizers of the Save Israel rally. For the most part, those taking part in the counterdemonstration avoided comingling or confronting anyone, for that was not the point. By and large, those passing were polite and several even engaged in meaningful discussiong, but there were also the few perfunctory crazy people. In total, I would estimate there were about 20 people there with JVP, 8 with the socialist party/Radical Women (whose message was VERY different) and around 700 people attending the main rally. First, I want to share several photos with you, then share what I took away from the experience.

    This first photo is of members of the JVP and the signs they held. The messages included "Cease Fire Now", "Arab Lives Are = to Jewish Lives", "All Civilians Deserve Peace", "Stop the Cycle of Hate", and so on.

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    This next photo gives you a sense of the size of the crowd (Rep. Dave Reichert is speaking)

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    And here's a photo of Rep. Reichert leaving immediately after he spoke (long before the rally ended)

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    Here are two children who created signs just for us. On the back of the "Go back to Syria" sign it read "Stop speaking Arabic." I find both such slogans incomprehensible in context.

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    So I mentioned that I'd learned something and I did. It came from listening to those who stopped, both to talk and to yell and make obscene gestures. Some comments were sarcastic and absurd (e.g. "Yes, end the Arab occupation of Jewish lands"), but others were thoughtful and reflective of deeply held convictions. What I heard today was a lot of fear. This should not have surprised me (for what did the Bush Administration use to sell the invasion and occupation of Iraq?), but it did. One gentleman said that Judaism was under a greater threat now than during the Holocaust. Another man truly believed that all Muslims are taught to hate and kill Jews. Many others expressed fear of attacks not only on Israel, but all of Judaism. In fear's name, we humans can justify and excuse many things.

    One man came up attempting to point out the difference between Hezbollah and the actions of the Israeli military. I agree there is a difference (and there are other similarities), but the man's logic was interesting to me. He said "Are the Israelis bombing people's homes?" "Yes" was the reply. "All right, but do those homes contain babies?" he asked, suggesting the homes that were bombed contained only militants. The reply again was "Yes." "Well, nobody's perfect" he said. Only under the spell of fear can we justify the unustifiable. Violence depends upon fear, and right now everyone, on every side, is very, very afraid.

    Saturday, July 22, 2006

    From America, With Love

    Earlier today my dear colleauge posted a photo of Israeli children writing on missiles. There are many lessons to take from that photos - individuals who become so inured to violence that they forget its costs, the perpetuation of violence by celebrating it with children, etc - but there is one that I do not want to be lost. Every American taxpayer is doing far worse - we are PAYING for those missiles. The New York Times reported today that the Bush Administration is expediting shipments of additional missiles to Israel - the same missiles at the hands of which 373 Lebanese have already been killed.

    But I would like to share hope as well. Tonight I attended a vigil at Greenlake. It was a vigil for peace, for those lost, and for those trapped. It was put together in a mere two days, but you'd never have known it - I estimate attendance at around 200, there were a variety of speakers (a religious leader from the Northgate mosque, a pastor from the UCC, and Judith Kolokoff of Jewish Voice for Peace, amongst others). The vigil was attended by people of all backgrounds and faiths, of all ages. It was particularly heartening to see children holding signs for peace after photos of children signing missiles and other photos of children on the receiving end of those missiles [caution on the link - extremely graphic, but that is the true face of war]. I will post pictures from the vigil as soon as they are available to me.

    The movement for peace will continue, and it will grow. I hope you will join us. I will provide updates about events as I hear about them, but be prepared for a march either this week or this weekend. We are financing this war and the casualties that come with - it is up to us to end the deaths.

    Jesus wept

    Israeli children sign shells to be fired into Lebanon
    [found at Religious Liberal]

    Chapter Three of the Prophet Micah: (this is startlingly relevant for today)
    And I said: Listen, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel! Should you not know justice?— you who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones; who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron. Then they will cry to the Lord, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have acted wickedly. Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who lead my people astray, who cry “Peace” when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths. Therefore it shall be night to you, without vision, and darkness to you, without revelation. The sun shall go down upon the prophets, and the day shall be black over them; the seers shall be disgraced, and the diviners put to shame; they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.

    But as for me, I am filled with power, with the spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin. Hear this, you rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong! Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.” Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height.

    from the Book of Common Prayer, page 816:
    O God, the Parent of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies:
    Lead them and us from prejudice to truth;
    Deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge;
    and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Friday, July 21, 2006

    Due to a recent attack by a SpamBot, comments will require word verification from this point forward. A minor, yet necessary, inconvenience. Anonymous comments are still welcome.

    Thursday, July 20, 2006

    Take Action

    In addition to attending the protest this Friday at Westlake Center, you can take action by contacting your elected officials. My letter is below - focus on the humanitarian disaster for the people of Lebanon and the Palestinian territories which is currently being supported by the United States.

    My letter to Senators Murray and Cantwell:
    Senator Murray,

    I am gravely concerned today about the ongoing support of the United States for the military actions of the Israeli government. While Israel has a right to defend itself from attacks, that right does not extend to the destruction of civilian infrastructure in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon, such as the power plant in Gaza, the Palentinian Prime Minister's Office, the civilian airport in Lebanon, major arterials that allow for transport of humanitarian assistance, or other non-military targets. These targets have been struck with military equipment provided by or purchased with funds from the United States and I am gravely concerned about our complicity in the attacks upon civilian infrastructure.

    Any solution to this crisis must start with peace, empower an independent Lebanese government, and address the continued Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

    I ask you to stand up and ask the important questions that need to be asked about our continued support for al thel actions of the state of Israel and the resulting complicity of the United States.


    Karl D. Smith

    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Article by Buchanan

    Pat Buchanan today published an article today based on what he said the other day on CNN. At the time, I saw he was on there and was drawn to the television to hear what lunacy he would speak, but - shockingly - he made points that are chillingly accurate. I certainly don't agree with every point he makes, but the overall perspective I share. Below is a brief excerpt:

    "Israel has a right to defend herself, a right to counterattack against Hezbollah and Hamas, a right to clean out bases from which Katyusha or Qassam rockets are being fired....

    But what Israel is doing is imposing deliberate suffering on civilians, collective punishment on innocent people, to force them to do something they are powerless to do: disarm the gunmen among them. Such a policy violates international law and comports neither with our values nor our interests...."


    For those tired of feeling powerless, please join me and others for a rally later this week.

    Rally to End the Attacks on Lebanon
    Friday, July 21 - 5:00pm - 6:00pm
    Westlake Center (4th and Pine)

    Because PEACE is in everyone's long-term interests

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006

    Pulling in Perspective

    Peace is in everyone's long-term interest.

    President Bush and many in the American media continue to characterize Israel's attacks upon Lebanon as an act of defense in response to an unprovoked attack. In my first post on the current events I showed how the strike by Hezbollah hardly occurred in isolation. I want to push that a bit notion a bit further - this time looking forward.

    The continued occupation of the Palestinian territories (which is deliberate, brutal, and illegal) by the Israeli military breeds resentment, and justifiably so. That resentment is hardly limited to the territories themselves. Some take that resentment too far and commit the violence they deplore, but this is a common result of occupation (particularly after the deaths of over 3,000 people between the years 2000 and 2004 alone). For each person killed by the Israeli military, greater resentment grows for the surviving family and friends. This is true no matter how "accidental" the incident is said to be. The principle works in reverse, of course, explaining the natural calls for military actions against groups such as Hezbollah. And herein lies the problem.

    Even if Israel moves into Lebanon and successfully disarms Hezbollah (and history is not on the side of this sort of action being successful), in doing so they have already caused hundreds of civilian deaths, breeding yet more resentment for Israel. In the long-term, these heavy-handed actions, particularly the targeting of civilian infrastructure make Israel far less safe. Of course, any long-term plan for the security of Israel MUST include an end to the occupation and the creation of a truly autonomous Palestinian state. (On this matter, there is an excellent free documentary available - set aside an hour and half and prepare to learn).

    Peace in the short-term is vital, but not at the expense of peace in the long-term. Yesterday, Tony Blair and Kofi Annan put forth a plan for a U.N. force, empowered to end the violence against both Lebanon and Israel, to be dispatch to the area to stabilize the situation. This option is far preferable to perpetuating the violence (though our president doesn't seem to agree).

    As I mentioned at the outset of this post, Peace is in everyone's long-term interest.

    Sunday, July 16, 2006

    Update on the Attack on Lebanon

    The situation has worsened, but I'm certain no one is surprised by that. It is the natural result of the repeated escalation of violence by all involved. Hezbollah's attacks on the civilian population in Israel have worsened and Israel continues further into the trap of escalating violence. Certainly, Hezbollah's attacks must be stopped. In its public statements, however, even Israel seems to agree that the best method to accomplish this would be for the Lebanese military to reassert control of southern Lebanon, over the Hezbollah militants. (I must laugh, however, as Israel demands Lebanon comply with U.N. resolutions. Perhaps Israel should first take its own advice? also here or here or here... this could go on a very long time...) This all brings us to today's actions.

    First, Hezbollah struck the city of Haifa, killing 8 Israelis (this in addition to numerous other strikes on Israeli cities further north). Israel, for its part, continued its bombing of cities in Lebanon. This included as attack on a Lebanese civil defense building. This "tactic" baffles me, for if Israel were serious about allowing Lebanon to regain control of its southern regions from Hezbollah, it would surely refrain from destroying the state's infrastructure. This is a common tactic of Israel's - in response to attacks by militants in the occupied territories of Palestine, Israel attack the Palestinian infrastructure that would be necessary to prevent such attacks (police departments, government buldings, etc).

    It is quite disturbing that as Hezbollah launches rockets at civilian targets in Israel they have killed 23 Israelis. And yet Israel, which purports to lead the way in minimizing civilian casualties, has killed over 130 people (including 6 Canadians in Lebanon). The attacks by Hezbollah
    on Israeli cities serve only to strengthen the resolve of Israel and the attacks by Israel on the insfrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza only strengthen the resolve of Hezbollah and other groups.

    I would reiterate that my concern here is not necessarily Israel's pursuit of Hezbollah - the group made itself a legitimate target through its strike on an Israeli military post and its continuing attacks on Israeli civilians furth demonstrate its illegitimacy (how can they denounce Israel when they are engaged in simliar actions?). My concern is with how Israel is carrying out its actions -
    the destruction of civilian infrastructure, the elimination of Lebanese government facilities, and the resultant deaths of civilians.

    It is heartening to be reminded that even in Israel there are those who understand:

    In Tel Aviv, about 2,000 people, both Jewish and Arab, marched to demand an end to the Israeli offensive in Lebanon.

    Peace, it seems, is in everyone's best interests.

    Background Reading (Primers on Palestine)

  • A brief post-WWI history of Palestine from the U.N.
  • A website containing figures on the historical population of Palestine from the U.N.
  • A more thorough primer from The Middle EastResearch and Information Report.
  • A doctrine, a dilemma, a decision

    As I sit in an air-conditioned hotel room here in San Diego watching rogue Israel's wildly immature "response" to Hezbollah and Palestinian militants, I'm reminded of the affluent American's privilege of being able to quite literally live outside of history. We are supposedly a nation at war (Karl debunks this effectively in an earlier post), and even if we are "only" an occupying power, the fact remains that back at home, life rolls forward ever fatter, ever more carefree, and ever more innocently. It sickens me that our nation isn't also suffering to the same extent of suffering we cause in order to bolster our decadence - and then it shames me that I can't find the moral fiber to give up my decadence for long enough to change anything. Fucking shameful.

    This is what I mean by living out of history - nothing in America changes anymore. What's given seems to be given - the winners have won, the losers have lost, and that's all there is to it. The nation exists in some collective "end-of-the-movie" bubble. What has happened to our ability to imagine an existence of peace with justice for all people?

    It is doubly frustrating that I can't see it because, as a self-professed "Christian", I am supposed to be proclaiming a new order of peace with justice to the entire world: a.k.a. "the Gospel."

    The so-called Bush Doctrine is an example of Christian blindness to real peace with justice. I've pieced together its crucial elements from the National Security Strategy of the United States of America:

    "We make no distinction between terrorists and those who knowingly harbor or
    provide aid to them. ...we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to
    exercise our right of selfdefense by acting preemptively against such
    terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our
    country. ...[We will deny] further sponsorship, support, and
    sanctuary to terrorists by convincing or compelling states to accept their
    sovereign responsibilities." [source]

    It is a reckless denial of human dignity and diversity to pave over long-developed differences and divisions that exist within a society and, instead, simply consider it a monolithic "enemy." And even more reckless that such a base simplification of circumstances is accompanied above by the threat of "preemptive" military force and "compulsion" of states to do America's bidding! Disgusting.

    It's no surprise, then, to see Israel simply following the lead of Mother Hawk. The destruction of vast swaths of civilian infrastructure in "retaliation" for extremist attacks? According to the Bush Doctrine, it seems to amount to nothing more than "convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities." Not only does the Doctrine legitimate Israel's action, it almost actively encourages it. Rogue Israel's campaign against free and innocent people is a pall against humanity itself - the argument that "they" attacked first doesn't cut it for me, and nor should it satisfy any Christian person. After all, the central figure of our religion told us, "If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also." (Jesus has more to say on this topic, by the way.)

    I don't think Jesus is calling us to stand by while violence is happening - he merely warns of the folly of responding to violence with even more violence. Our reactions to wrath and destruction must be tempered with respect, tolerance, dignity, patience, and peace.

    Perhaps some feel that "now" is not that time to talk of dignity and tolerance when people are dying. I'd say it's actually the perfect time - a conversation long overdue - and additionally, I'm sick of hearing people pretend as if the idea of "now" was real to them. Let all middle-to-upper class Americans, rich and drunk off of the spoils of Empire, admit to each other and to the rest of humanity that there is no "now" for America. If there were, we would be feeling it. But where do we really FEEL the occupation of Iraq? Do we feel the genocide in the Sudan? Do we feel hunger of North Koreans? Do we feel the plight of a half-century of systematic explusion of Palestinians by the Israeli government? We only engage in "now" whenever it suits us - when we are assured of our unquestioned ascendancy. When facing uncertainty, we much prefer to wallow in our pioneer innocence, watching history whiz by us like fish behind the glass. Do we really resemble a nation that feels responsible to the rest of the world?

    No, no, no, no, no - I think history compels us to recognize just how complicated our times are, and to respond not in ignorant, simplifying fear, but in complex love and discerning hope. Can we imagine a discussion of violence where we don't always revert to creating enemies and out-groups? Can we imagine a peace where even those who do us harm do so knowing that they are welcome back to the table?

    I am commanded by my God to not only imagine it, but to make it happen. Lately, it's been really fucking frustrating. But what else is there to hold on to? I want to be an American in history. I want to rejoin my people. Come with, because I don't think I have the courage to do it alone.

    "Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee." - John Donne

    Saturday, July 15, 2006

    Proportionality (or how Israel is flaunting international law)

    What is it about the principle of proportionality which the government of Israel refuses to comprehend? Before I go any further, allow me to provide you with a list of recent actions that have led us to where we find ourselves today. Keep in mind, of course, there is FAR MORE influencing the current situation, but these are the most recent actions:

  • Militants strike a point of the Egyptian border, capturing an Israeli soldier
  • In response, Israel enters Gaza, destroying a power plant relied upon by 700,000 civilians. Those civilians will be without power for at least 6-7 months. Additionally, Israel shells open areas in civilian neghborhoods in Gaza.
  • Hezbollah attacks an Israeli check point on the border of Lebanon, killing one Israeli soldier and capturing two.
  • Israel strikes cities in Lebanon, including a civilian airport in Beirut, public transportation systems, bridges, and even a refugee convoy.
  • Hezbollah indiscriminately strikes various Israeli cities, killing civilians in those cities.

    Is this not the same principle at play throughout history? The very one decried in Dr. Strangelove? Violence begets violence. Israel has done nothing but escalate violence. Where a total of 3 soldiers had been captured in two strikes, at least 8 Israeli soldiers are now dead. At least 4 Israeli civilians are dead. At least 80 Lebanese civilians are dead. Hundreds more have been wounded. (All this is detailed here). And all this says nothing about the hundreds of thousands in the occupied territory of Palestine who have been deprived of power and the attendant emergency services. Israel has repeatedly struck the civilian infrastructure in the territories they occupy, attacking, in recent days alone, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry and the Treasury Department.

    Please do not misunderstand me, I am in no way excusing the actions of the militants or claiming Israel should not pursue the militants and retrieve their captured soldiers. But the Israeli government has gone FAR beyond any form of 'measured response.' It has repeatedly and intentionally targeted civilians infrastructure - a clear violation on international law. (Though Israel has refused to sign many of the treaties, the targeting of civilians infrastructure is part of customary international law, which applies to everyone, regardless of treaty provisions). I will also say that as a nation professing to observe human rights, I hold Israel to a high standard.

    Finally, I absolutely deplore the statements of the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations on CNN last night (and Lou Dobbs, who let him get away with it). First, he said that all Muslims *MAY* not be terrorists, but that all terrorists were Muslim. The picture he painted was one in which Islam is the enemy, which it is not. Those who escalate violence are the true enemies to peace, and at the moment that includes Hezbollah, other militant groups, and the State of Israel. This problem is our problem (for peace is in the interest of all of us) and this violence is our violence (for many of the bombs and jets that are killing civilians were paid for funding from the United States).

    [Regrettably I am on the go, but this post cannot wait. If there is a fact in want of a citation, please ask in the comment section. The facts are based on that which I have read and seen, but my internet connection is currently too slow to access the resources necessarily to full cite facts. Also, if you wish to take action and the demand the U.S work for peace instead of offering almost bling support for Israel's military actions, call your senators. Here are the numbers for Washington State's senators:

  • Sen. Murray - (202) 224-2621
  • Sen. Cantwell - (202) 224-3441

    This is an issue we cannot afford to ignore - people are suffering and dying as you read this.]

    I do hope Alex will post, elaborating on the idea of this situation as a ntural extension of the "Bush Doctrine". I'm also certain this post will not be my last on the matter.
  • Wednesday, July 12, 2006

    Conservatives Try to Buy State Supreme Court

    Excellent article in the Seattle PI this morning regarding a race for the State Supreme Court. It details the race between current Chief Justice Gerry Alexander and a puppet of conservative interest groups - John Groen.

    To briefly summarize the article, the State Legislature passed a law that took effect June 7th which limited campaign contributions for judicial candidates to $2,800. Gerry Alexander, acknowledging the reasoning behind the law and its benefit, agreed to follow those rules even prior to them being put into effect. His opponent accepted nine donations between $10,000 and $25,000 right up until the law took effect.

    Legal? Sure. But think of it like environmental regulations - shouldn't companies comply with beneficial regulations even before the government gains the power to enforce them? Would it be right for a company to dump every last ounce of chemicals into a river the day before it became illegal to do so? Of course not. Massive amounts of money donated from interest groups to judicial candidates have a similar polluting effect. The Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) has provided the primary backing of Groen's campaign - if he wants to be reelected he needs their support, and to get their support, he knows how he'll have to rule. The Association knows it too and they're trying to buy a vote on the State Supreme Court. In fact, they're trying to buy several votes, as the article demonstrates.

    So who is this BIAW? They're hardly new to the political scene. In fact, they're essentially a front group for hard-line conservatives. Last year they considered an anti-union initiative in Washington (don't assume the issue is dead...); they poured money into electing Rossi and then into overturning the gubernatorial election results; they even sued over the inclusion of Orcas of the Endangered Species list. Here's a profile from detailing their direct donations.

    I have zero doubt that this will be a scary election for the State Supreme Court. The conservatives have their ill-gotten money and are enlisting large numbers of volunteers. Get involved! Learn more about Chief Justice Alexander and Justice Susan Owens, spread the word to support their campaigns and, by extension, the integrity of the state's legal system. If you can donate, do!

    Wednesday, July 05, 2006

    What war?

    Republicans seem to have but one justification these days: "We are at war." This is used to justify all sorts of proposals, such as villifying the media generally for doing its job, not voting for Democrats (of course), and even executing individuals accused of treason. There's a problem here though - we're not actually at war.

    I'd already been planning a blog entry on this very subject when I received the latest article from the Rockridge Institute, an organization headed by George Lakoff. The article made the vision far more concise than I had been able to formulate prior to reading it. But I get ahead of myself.

    By now, I hope it is clear that the "War on Terror" is simply a buzzword for an ongoing struggle against terrorism. Terrorism is a threat we have always faced, from both domestic and international groups and individuals. We need to be ever vigilant, but it is not exactly a new phenomenon. To say that we are at "war" with terrorism, thereby justifying the traditional deprivation of liberty attendant with a time of war is to forever surrender those liberties, for terrorism will always be a threat. Terrorism CAN, however, be combatted quite effectively even without treating it as a war.

    The other war so frequently referenced, and the one dealt with by the Rockridge Institute's latest article, is the "War in Iraq." That war, however, is long over. It ended with the defeat of the Iraqi military, several years ago. What we are currently engaged in is the occupation of Iraq. Occupations are often bloody and resistance organizations often engage occupying forces. This, too, is nothing new (nor was it by any means unpredictable). Particularly in the case of Iraq, which has little to nothing to do with the terrorism continually threatening the U.S., there is simply no justification for depriving the American people of any liberties they would otherwise enjoy.

    Seeing through the smoke and mirrors of our current 'war' one finds only hollow excuses by an administration seeking to justify its own actions. Those justifications, if unchallenged, threaten to permanently rob of us our liberty.