Today I Called the White House Comment Line

I opened up my email today to find a message from the Save Darfur Coalition signed by Sen. Bill Frist. It was a long email, so I'll just give you the most important part:

"Please join me in calling the White House comment line today to urge President Bush to launch "Plan B," his tough, three-tiered plan to push Sudan to end the genocide, before more lives are lost in Darfur.

It will only take two minutes of your time and could make a world of difference for millions of people in need. Just follow the steps below:

1. Dial 1-800-671-7887 (toll-free)
2. Once you've been transferred to the comment line leave your comment using the talking points below: I'm calling to urge President Bush to implement "Plan B" to help bring an end to the genocide in Darfur. Specifically, I am asking him to: Enforce tough sanctions against Sudan; Work with the UN to authorize and enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur to protect civilians from Sudanese bombers; and Press the UN for faster deployment of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians in Darfur.
3. Click
here to report your call back to the Save Darfur Coalition (this step is crucial - please don't skip it.)"

Now there are many out there who are skeptical about the relevancy of small actions on behalf of Darfur. There are many more who are cynical about anything like this. Personally, I didn't feel I could do anything about Darfur until I met Rev. Lauren Stanley at a Northern VA. church last January.

Rev Stanley had just returned from the Sudan, where she had been serving as a missionary for almost half a year. Actually, returned is not be the right word, as she was forcibly withdrawn by the church in the interest of her own safety. Her sermon spoke of hope , community, and God. Afterwards I approached her an told her how much I respected what she had done and was doing. She thanked me, and with a hard stare told me one thing: SaveDarfur.org.

I stayed for a luncheon at the church following the service. There, out of her robes and eating as one of us, the reverend continued describing her past six months. The stories she told of the Sudan were as riveting as they were unsettling. She spoke of a government abusing its people, of militias committing atrocities, of violence, of people being dragged from buses and shot without cause or sympathy. She spoke of people she'd known and lost, and of what more the United States could do. There was a deeply personal emotion in her voice. I did not eat anything.

Currently, President Bush has taken one of the most active positions on Darfur and the Sudan of any major leader in the western world. Rev. Stanley stated that he was already revered by many in the Sudan for his support of the AU (despite not following through with funding). This shows that he has a willingness to act, but requires incentive to do so. What the Save Darfur Coalition is striving for is creation of that incentive through public opinion on a mass scale.

Even if you feel like you can't help. Even if you feel like it won't matter. Just take a look at the website. This coalition is trying to achieve something truly commendable, and you can help them.


Amendment Against Troop Withdrawal Fails

As shown on C-Span and reported by The Hill, Senate Democrats (along with Chuck Hagel) defeated an amendment to legislature within the Iraq budget plan that would call for troop withdrawal by March of next year. The amendment would've struck such language from the legislature and instead called for President Bush to deliver periodic updates to Congress on the status of the war.

As quoted in the Hill's article, amendment supporter Sen. John McCain called the timetable provision “one of the most shameful things I’ve ever seen.” But he and other Republicans (along with Independent Joe Lieberman) failed to amend it by a margin of merely two votes (50-48).

If this is good news to you, don't start celebrating yet. The White House has already pledged to veto the bill, sending it back to the senate and what could be months of filibustering. That said, it's nice to see a contemporary Congress doing something gutsy for a change.

Hillary Clinton goes to South Park

Tomorrow night's episode.

This is going to be awesome.


One of a million political belief tests.

I never liked these online political barometers -- I always wish there were more options. But this one is slightly less superficial than the rest. If you're really, really bored, try it.

I got "Strong Liberal (11)" on "non-fiscal issues" and "Moderate Liberal (28)" on "fiscal issues."

Mr. and Mrs. Edwards

CNN: Edwards's wife's cancer returns, campaign goes on

So how long before Ann Coulter claims this is a campaign trick?

Israel distortions

Today's Beacon features an opinion piece by staff writer Andrew Bruss entitled "The Israel Double Standard."* It makes the case that media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian situation is filled with distortions on both sides -- distortions that ultimately hurt the peace process. Bruss concludes that Israel is treated far more unfairly by the mainstream media:

"However, the double standards held by many of these journalists, which scrutinizes Israeli aggression while ignoring that of the Palestinians, has presented the conflict in a light that deprives people of an accurate assessment.

This delays the peace process and hurts the people who need the most help: those caught in the middle."

Although a thoughtful piece, I feel it is worth noting its shortcomings. What Mr. Bruss argues is certainly is not the case in the American mainstream media. One need only look at the response to Jimmy Carter's latest book or "The Israel Lobby" to see that criticism of Israel will inevitably be met with a swift and overwhelming response. In the case of "Lobby," perhaps the most discussed academic paper in a decade, the reaction of the mainstream media is one of utter indifference. All of the reaction to that came from other academics and commentators.

Mr. Bruss is quite right to note distortions in our perceptions of Israel and Palestine. The distortion he misses, however, is the consensus that our steadfast and unwavering support for Israel helps America or the peace process.

*Transparency note: As the opinion editor of the Beacon I was responsible for editing this piece. I am also friendly with its author.

The Emerson Conservative

Beacon contributor and sometimes-commenter on this blog Phil Primeau has started The Emerson Conservative*, which to my knowledge is Emerson's first right-wing opinion publication. At the very least, it's the only one available at the moment.

Despite its similarity in appearance to its anarchist counterpart, Emerson's Urban Pirate, it is refreshingly sophisticated and serious in content. Some of its targets, including The Pirate and performance artist Karen Finley, are fish in a barrel, but it also contains a strong retort to a piece I wrote a few months ago supporting gay marriage and an interesting profile of rogue war documentarian Pat Dollard.

I suggest you all pick up a copy.

*Transparency note: I am friendly with the creator of this publication.


A bit of a surprise

Here's a surprise from today's oral arguments in the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case (from the AP):

"Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote several opinions in favor of student speech rights while a federal appeals court judge, seemed more concerned by the administration's broad argument in favor of schools than did his fellow conservatives.

''I find that a very, a very disturbing argument,'' Alito told Justice Department lawyer Edwin Kneedler, ''because schools have ... defined their educational mission so broadly that they can suppress all sorts of political speech and speech expressing fundamental values of the students, under the banner of getting rid of speech that's inconsistent with educational missions.''


Free speech in school

Student banner going to the Supreme Court

What a vital case this will turn out to be. In 2002, an 18-year-old high school senior created and displayed the above banner at a public, non-school related event and was suspended for it. From the linked article:

"At stake is the 1969 landmark ruling Tinker v. Des Moines, which said that students do not 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.'

Since then, the Court has narrowed that ruling, giving schools the right to censor speech to maintain order and protect students from harmful messages."

I agree that the function of a school is to provide an unobtrusive learning environment for students and that, in some situations, it is justified for speech to be limited when it could interfere with that purpose. This is no such case. The principal here totally overstepped his bounds, punishing a student because of his ideas and not because the student was in any way impeding upon a learning environment.

For the Supreme Court to rule in favor of the school would be a disturbing setback for free expression in general - not merely within the classroom. It seems that this case hinges on the opinion of one man, Justice Kennedy, whose swing vote may be the decising factor.


Global Warming: Evangelicals Clash with the Christian Right

A recent CNN piece highlights a growing divide between the Evangelical community and the Christ Right regarding climate change.

If nothing else, this debate is an exemplary display of moralistic sincerity on the part of Evangelicals like Rev. Richard Cizik, who states in the article that "to harm this world by environmental degradation is an offense against God." It also serves to break the Leftist cultural stereotype that Evangelicals interests always parallel those of the GOP. As Boston-risiding Emersonians, myself and my fellow students consider ourselves generally alienated from such communities. In fact, the liberal community as a whole often expresses its believe in such a divide. This important insight may serve as a stepping stone to bridge the gap between those of us who feel we cannot relate to Evangelicals and the devout.


Selma, Alabama

This afternoon I watched the entirety of Barack Obama's speech at the African-American Brown Chapel in Selma, Alabama on CSPAN. The speech commemorated the 42nd anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," which I honestly was not familiar with before today. I was, however, familiar with the "How long, not long" speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. which came at the end of the march.

Not surprisingly, Obama's speech was incredible: a powerful sermon about race, heritage, and responsibility. He was particularly powerful when addressing the "not black enough" claims made about him.

The speech didn't move me one inch closer or further from supporting Obama in 2008 because he didn't say anything about policy. But it was the rare speech by a politician that actually inspired. He is going to be tough to beat.

Oh, Hillary Clinton also spoke at an African-American church, apparently about 300 feet down the road from Obama. I did not watch and don't know if it was even televised. There was no need to -- I already napped today.



The Swiss accidentally invade Liechtenstein...

This can only be the first sign of WWIII.

New Orleans Sues the Army Corps of Engineers

According to a CNN story, the city of New Orleans has filed a $77 billion lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers (the group responsible for constructing the levee system which failed during Katrina). Currently, approximately $53 billion of the $110 billion Congress agreed to pay for the city's reconstruction have been spent. This lawsuit, according a quote in the article from New Orleans City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields, is an attempt "to preserve the city's claim".

Over 18 months after Katrina, it's truly depressing that an American city which fell victim to such travesty still feels compelled to have to sue to get the attention it deserves. Have we become so wrapped up in foreign affairs that we forget the victims of a disaster on our own doorstep? Katrina did and still does serve as an important manifestation of the abandonment of practicality for hypothetical logic that so embodies our current government. It's reconstruction should have been an immediate, number one priority the moment the disaster occurred. Leaders have a Constitutional and moral responsibility to protect their people, and Katrina was a crash course in ineptitude and finger pointing that we, as Americans, must not forget to learn our lesson from.


Agents of intolerance

"I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot, so..."
-- Ann Coulter at the Conservative Political Action Conference

The troubling thing to me is not the remark, because I think Ann Coulter is primarily an actor, but the applause that it generated among the conservative crowd. First there was some oohing and aahing, but sure enough, that evolved right into raucous support.

Here's the audio, sans audience reaction.

Consider that reaction. Consider the fact that Mitt Romney has to go to this conference and brag about his opposition to allowing gay couples from outside Massachusetts from going in and get married. The trend has becomes obvious. What was once a party of unobtrusive government, anti-communism, and low taxes is now openly supporting a bigoted agenda. Not merely that, it is a dealbreaker for many conservative voters. The fact that Romney runs on that position and not away from it is staggering. And the fact that a conservative crowd would go wild after someone just called John Edwards a "faggot" is disgusting.

Howard Dean is right: every Republican presidential candidate who spoke at CPAC must condemn these remarks. Not merely for the gay Americans who were no doubt appalled, but for the moderate, tolerant Republicans who no longer recognize their party.

The last time I saw Paris

The Associated Press didn't cover Paris Hilton for an entire week.

What do they want, a medal? From the article:

"No, editors just wanted to see what would happen if we didn't cover this media phenomenon, this creature of the Internet gossip age, for a full week. After that, we'd take it day by day. Would anyone care? Would anyone notice? And would that tell us something interesting?"

Journalism is not "giving the people what they want," an offensive phrase so commonly heard when news producers are defending their inane broadcasts. It's a public service.