December 2004

You can donate to Doctors Without Borders and to the Red Cross to help victims of the earthquake/tsunami. Does anyone know how to judge what are the better organizations to which to give? And please, no nihilistic, “none are perfect so we don’t have to do anything” diatribes.

Life is too short for The New Yorker

The 9/11 Commission Report is constrained from telling the whole truth because the commission held non-partisanship as its most important guiding principle. (See the Harper’s Magazine piece). As a result, the commission recommendations focus only on the non-partisan problem of bureaucratic organization. Reorganizing the bureaucracy became the commission’s rallying call. So the Senate passed a bill creating a new head of Counterterrorism, as the commission recommended. The problem is we already have an agency that is supposed to oversee counterterrorism efforts, and that is the Department of Homeland Security. Fidelity to the truth is fundamental. The slightest deviation at the starting point can lead to a vast financial boondoggle in the end, and we will be none-the-safer.

On Monday, ex-Governor George Ryan (R) spoke here about his decision to impose a moratorium on Illinois’ death penalty, and eventually to commute the sentences of everyone on that death row. The story he tells is one of a simple, moral person guided by the principle that he has to be able to live with himself. Concerned when asked to sign the death warrant for a man following the exoneration of another man on Illinois death row, Ryan started to look into the criminal system, and he did not like what he saw. Though he signed that death warrant, Ryan eventually came to believe that the imposition of the death penalty was not only inaccurate, but immoral. The refrain in his speech was “I couldn’t understand why,” we rely on jailhouse snitches, why black defendant had all white juries, why minorities were disproportionately on death row. It reminded me of “The Fog of War”, another portrayal of a man who had done wrong grappling with the moral responsibility of an immense amount of power.

I listened to a lot of the BBC coverage of the anniversary of the Bhopal/Union Carbide disaster last week. Yet, there was little or nothing in the U.S. news. My local paper, the S.F. Chronicle, did have a big story which was so horrifying I couldn’t read it while I was eating. They had a photo of skinny young men fishing cookies out of a pool of filthy, pesticide-contaminated water.

I think we can see in the Bhopal incident one the easiest ways the United States can start to win the war of ideas with those who would turn the poverty-stricken and desperate against us. Fifteen to 18 thousand people died in the incident, when a pesticide manufacturing plant spilled poison gas into the air, but the alarm failed to go off. Since then, the company, now owned by Dow Chemical, refuses to clean up the site. The plant remains basically as it was in 1984, but decayed. Broken bags of poison are just lying around, seeping into the ground water and killing the local people, residents of an unbelievably destitute slum.

Meanwhile, the Indian government has indicted the Chairman of Union Carbide for “culpable homicide”. The United States has stonewalled since 1989, refusing to extradite him or even look for him.

The U.S. could demonstrate both good citizenship and moral values by helping take care of this problem, rather than just sweep it under the rug. Dow should be encouraged to give money to clean up the site. The Indian government should be encouraged to use the settlement money it got from Union Carbide to clean up the site. The U.S. should extradite this man (“bring him to justice”) if appropriate. And U.S. citizens should pay more attention to the problems of globalization. International companies can be a good thing, but only if there are safeguards that protect workers and the environment, too.

If we take responsibility for our actions around the world, more people will see the U.S. as another state power, and not as a bully hyper-power. We should not change our policies to please outsiders, but we should enact our policies in accordance with our values.

So Alberto Gonzalez, the guy who wrote the memos saying that we didn’t have to follow U.S. or International laws against torture, is too liberal for the Supreme Court? So Bush found a place for him by appointing him to replace Ashcroft? And he’s sure to be confirmed because he’s considered “more moderate”? And people are protesting the nomination because he’s not adequately anti-abortion? Did I wake up someplace different on November 3, or did I just wake up?
What bothers me most about the W. people is not the substance of their moral values or their stance on Iraq. I can accept a principled stance with which I disagree. What bothers me is their willingness to ignore both values and facts to arrive at the desired outcome. For example, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals pays “lip service” to justice when affirming Texas death penalty cases. Story.