Saturday, January 01, 2005

Hotel Rwanda and 'Moral Values' 

The holidays provide an opportunity to see some good film as well as to blog a bit more.

Among the torrent of features available to moviegoers before the Academy Award nominations are announced is the searing 'Hotel Rwanda,' directed by Terry George. The feature is based on the courage of Paul Rusesabagina, a diplomat and former proprietor of the Milles Collines Hotel, which, thanks to his wiles and willingness to put his life on the line, became a solitary refuge from the brutal ethnic killing of 1994 in Rwanda.

As many of you filmgoers as can get to it need to see ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ as should anyone interested in human rights or history. While the world is transfixed with the horrible news from South Asia this week, it worth remembering that ten years ago, an avoidable, man-made disaster killed 700,000-1,500,000 Rwandans in a short, brutal paroxysm of genocidal violence, which the West did nothing to halt.

Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina and Sophie Okonedo, playing his wife Tatiana, are magnificent and the film is written and directed by Terry George with an ear for honest dialogue and a camera unsparingly out of the way of the ensemble work of the actors.

The acting and filmmaking are brilliant; the film is worthwhile on many levels, but another important reason for seeing ‘Hotel Rwanda’ is to better understand the cost of racism and the implications political decisions in the developed world have in places like Rwanda. The criminal tragedy of Rwanda is that it didn’t have to happen. So many died, in part, because European and American leaders did nothing to intervene, while ethnic killing went on and world opinion was largely unmoved to protest.

Bill Clinton has since apologized for his unwillingness to act and many Westerners are now ashamed of our countries’ inaction, but the lessons of Rwanda are there for us still today. While government in the US now measures its obligation to the world only too often solely through the lens of who stands with us against enemies, Rwanda stands as a stark example of US inaction in the face of genocide.

Through being exposed to stories like ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ about individual courage as well as complacency in such moments, we hopefully find ourselves unwilling to look away when, inevitably, we are faced with other challenges. There can be other outcomes. I’ll never forget being in San Salvador, El Salvador, where, at the same time the carnage in Rwanda was taking place, the UN was successfully monitoring the first free elections El Salvador had seen after a decade of civil war. The white UN helicopters that flew over El Salvador enforcing the accords there signaled what the world CAN do when motivated to make and keep peace.

I’m thinking about the kind of moral values we need to be discussing in our public life, as opposed to the ones we heard about during the American campaign last year. Maybe when we talk about the sanctity of life next time around, values like Paul Rusesabagina’s will come to mind.

Babe Ruth Dead 

Before getting into the full swing of 2005, I thought it might be a proper moment to remember one outstanding moment from 2004 again. Thanks for the memories, Bosox!

For one last savory taste, feel free to indulge in a farewell from fellow blogger Bambino's Curse.

EDITOR"S UPDATE (Sunday Jan. 2):
Bob Hohler writes in today's Boston Globe about the quiet nurture Tony Francona provided his team last year to pull off the miracle season of the 2004 Red Sox...worth a read if you love the Sox.

Dobson Rings in New Year with a Threat 

James Dobson, our fellow bloggers at TalkLeft and David Kirkpatrick at the NY Times report, has drawn a line in the sand.

The leader of evangelical group Focus on the Family has warned anyone thinking of independent thought on judicial nominations that he and his money are coming for them. It will be "a battle of enormous proportions from sea to shining sea," in Dobson's words.

Six Democratic senate veterans up for re-election are "in the bulleye," he says, and may suffer the fate of Tom Daschle if they block the appointments of "strict constructionists" (i.e. opponents of Roe v. Wade) to the Supreme Court. The six Dobson has in mind for a beating are:

Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Bill Nelson of Florida.

So if you're thinking of belated holiday gifts... let's see who's not intimidated by this threat.

In a related story, as if Justice Rehnquist expected some to be prematurely dancing on his grave, his year-end letter, as reported by Linda Greenhouse indicates he's fed up with the intimidation of judges and defends their independence to interpret law without political oversight.

Finally, Some Real Help from US 

Flash-Dawn comes to Marblehead. President Bush increases aid to South Asia by tenfold to $350 million. Today's Times features a story by David Sanger and Warren Hodge about the week's process of moving the Oval Office (from Crawford, TX) to a more active place in the relief effort.

If anyone thinks the criticism and pressure the President took on this week bore no part in his expanding heart, I have some real estate in Florida I'd like to sell...

Friday, December 31, 2004

Tsunami Survivor's Story 

This survivor's story is pretty articulate and clearly describes the false sense of security people had when the first wave hit and the sea began to draw back away...from Thailand

New Year's and the Tragedy 

New Year's celebrations are being reigned in throughout the Pacific and Europe to mourn the over 124,000 dead in South Asia. I can only hope our country will make some adjustments as well. This would be an appropriate moment for President Bush to show some leadership in leavening the New Year with fellowship and unity with the world and the survivors.

Democratic Values (2.5) 

As an afterthought, one area I think Ed Kilgore's Part III has indirectly focused on is important to agree on. The point is that Democrats need to more closely identify with average Americans, not with the cultural glitterati of Hollywood-- or to accept being painted into the corner of supporting a base of urban coastal power and not reaching out to the heartland of the country. Donna Brazile is right that Democrats should be running hard in EVERY community in EVERY state, not giving any turf away. We ARE essentially a populist party, founded on the little person. That is exactly the legacy the Republicans are attempting to take away, by feigning victimhood, while selling policy off to the most powerful interests. Clinton understood this and would be re-elected in a walk if he were on the ballot... and not because of his narrowly defined religious 'moral values,' I think we can agree.

Democratic Values (2) 

Ed Kilgore at The New Donkey has posted a piece on values that’s sure to get some thoughtful reaction over the New Year’s weekend. His assertion is that the Democratic nominees in the past two Presidential elections have been obtuse on values, while Bill Clinton had it down just right. Kilgore believes Democrats need to express more concern about the sex and violence of Hollywood products and give more credence to faith-based initiatives wanting government support, not to mention drawing more support from people opposed to abortion.

I think this kind of defensive thinking is exactly how we end up on the losing end. Nobody really believes that Democrats win an argument over these issues unless voters understand what it is we DO stand for at our core. Otherwise, it’s just a Democratic shading a little to one side or the other on Republican issues. Bill Clinton got people’s ear not because he was morally conservative, but because there was a clear contrast between his willingness to stand with regular people who were being hurt by an economic downturn and George H. W. Bush’s inability to understand what a supermarket checkout counter was (and because James Carville was relentless in keeping the focus there on the economy).

I think it’s time to be honest with the American people and respect folks enough to say, “We may lose few votes here and there by not out-pandering the Republicans regarding your religious beliefs, but we’ll never flinch in protecting your right to believe and exercise whatever religion it is you practice.”

Yes, understanding that Democrats aren’t FOR violence at the movies or FOR abortions on a whim, or AGAINST religion is something we hope people come to understand (because anyone who says otherwise is itching for a fight), but these aren’t our core ‘moral issues,’ nor should they be given the stature Kilgore’s essay proposes. Our moral issues are about promoting democracy and goodwill, protecting people and communities from greed, and promoting broad communities working for the common good.

To me, the more important aspect of ‘moral values’ work that the Democratic Party has been lacking is in drawing a clear line between a Republican Party willing to allow communities to be divided by untrammeled greed and an opposition determined to fight for all people in those communities. I’d like to see a Democratic nominee in 2008 standing by communities when a multinational corporation wants to pull the plug on a town, it’s churches, it’s community organizations, and it’s families by sending the plant’s work offshore. I’d like to see a Democrat stand up for people in a low income housing project when a city wants to raze it to eliminate ‘blight,’ without having first found better homes for everyone housed in it.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a Democratic nominee who stands with Nebraska and Oklahoma communities (or Northeastern urban communities) where their education district isn’t offering a decent education to their kids. I would especially like to see a Democratic candidate who talks about the value and virtue of saving for retirement during our working years, while at the same time saying that over her/his dead body will the Republicans take away the sure Social Security safety net that separates retirees from poverty at the end of their working life.

Finally, Democrats need to keep together the coalition of communities who are often discriminated against, but are together powerful in impact. People of color, immigrants, poor people, labor, women, gay people all depend on the Democratic Party to bind together the strength that comes from standing tall on defending all Americans’ rights, not dividing us up into niches that those who would bully and hate want us to splinter into. The next time a Republican candidate takes up the issue of ‘gay marriage’ or ‘quotas,’ I’d like to see a Democrat meet him head-on and challenge him to discuss the discrimination inherent in making an issue of someone else’s right to the American dream of a family or a job or an education, because that’s what they really are asking for.

These are some values with moral impact I’d like to see worked out in public debate. Finding the right nuance to describe entirely worthy, but private religious charities, or stating the obvious positive impact of birth control advice on limiting unwanted pregnancies and hence, abortions won’t satisfy the hard right, no matter how sensitively stated. Work on the language, yes, but don’t back down or allow others to define what moral issues are. Defining our values in our own positive light will give people something to choose between that’s worth their vote.

Alexander Chee Rumination on the Tsunami 

Alexander Chee's post in his fictioneer blog on the tsunami has a quality of empathy that makes it easier to hope we DO see ourselves as citizens of one world. Cheers to the Expat for the link.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Canada Finds a Way to Give 

Canada has increased its contribution towards Southeast Asia relief to $40 million. Maybe they should head up the coalition of the truly willing.


For anyone close enough to do more than send money to Southeast Asia, or for those who are following stories about the aid effort, a new blog, The Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami is posting a wide variety of information on the tragedy and the relief efforts.

The Middletown Expat 

It's time to welcome a new generation of bloggers into the sphere. A big shout out to The Middletown Expat and the left coast wing of the family. Nice blog, nice people (but I'm a little biased, since contributor skavanagh is winging her way back from our family to theirs even as we blog).

Ways to Help in South Asia 

For people wondering where to give to assist in the relief effort n South Asia, there are a couple of organizations in the news doing good things with housing and generally.

In the New York Times today, Ernest Beck writes about how architects are helping with housing. There is a Christian housing assistance organization, Shelter for Life, that builds living structures for people in areas hit by natural or man-made disasters. They already have built 5,000 permanent homes for people in Afghanistan and hope to do the same for 1,000 families in Sri Lanka, where 200,000 homes were destroyed this week by the tsunami. That will cost $1.5 million at an average cost per home of $1,500.

According to their website, their guiding principles are:

• Working together with communities in program design and implementation

• Respecting local cultures and traditions

• Helping communities to become self-sustainable

• Participation of beneficiaries in program implementation

• Strengthening the capacity of people and communities through knowledge transfer

• Striving to provide cost-effective, disaster resistant and sustainable shelter solutions that are culturally appropriate

• Introducing appropriate and innovative solutions

• Maximum economic benefit to local populations

• Maximum use of local resources, labor and technologies

• Encourage small enterprise development

Personally, I’ve always been partial to Oxfam America and Oxfam International, which, in addition to helping in disaster situations, has always been about sustainable development and achieving long-term goals of solutions to poverty, suffering, and injustice.

Their website describes their work with poor people in the following way:

We seek to help people organize so that they might gain better access to the opportunities they need to improve their livelihoods and govern their own lives. We also work with people affected by humanitarian disasters, with preventive measures, preparedness, as well as emergency relief.
The agency calls on the international community to channel its response through the United Nations in the interests of effective coordination.

In this moment, Oxfam is calling “on the international community to channel its response through the United Nations in the interests of effective coordination.”

It seems important to point this out, since the US seems to have chosen to do otherwise, in an effort to make a political point at the most inappropriate moment, by forming it’s own “coalition.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Relief Numbers in Relief 

Pudentilla has pulled together some numbers to compare with the $35 million President Bush announced today as a start to aid the relief effort in South Asia.

Maybe someone can explain it to me, but I have a hard time understanding how the Inaugural Balls and related hoopla coming up in January could cost as much or more than the US contribution to the earthquake relief effort. I also have to wonder how it is that the federal contribution for families of 9/11 victims was $7 billion...yeah billion... and with upwards of 76,000 dead with grieving families this week, we're now at about $35 M-M-million.

Maybe if the President wasn't so preoccupied with petulantly defending himself over comments spoken in an emotional moment by a too-honest UN aid official and was instead more concerned with the welfare of the victims, we'd be seeing a downsized inaugural and some zeros getting added to the relief effort. The proportions of this catastrophe are Biblical-- the response so far is anything but.

Social Security Update 

Anyone who hasn't already bookmarked Talking Points Memo should check out Josh Marshall's latest Social Security update. Marshall has been coordinating work on a database to track where legislators stand on privatization and exposing the "Fainthearted Faction" of waffling Democratic legislators before they go and hurt themselves.

There's no greater domestic priority than stopping this attempt to quietly dismantle the federal government while hurting retirees at the same time. While the President may sincerely believe in his plan, those pushing it on him have more mercenary motives.

Relief Effort 

Finally, President Bush has spoken about relief efforts. We can hope that the coalition of developed nations along the Pacific will be quick to help.

I can't help but wonder why he's not coordinating with the UN... I guess the answer is too obvious.

Tragedy and Politics 

In as much as I am, like most people, overwhelmed by the enormity of the destruction in South Asia, it seems small and a little worthless to blog on American politics at this moment. Yet I think it's important to do what we can to make things better in our little corner of the world, even while we stop to contribute to the relief in Asia and say a prayer or make a statement of commitment to our brothers and sisters there in their grief and struggle.

Let's hope our government feels some pressure to help in truly substantial ways as well. If you don't know your legislator's contact information, it's available at: "Contacting the Congress"

It's worth noting that President Bush, according to Josh Marshall, is letting his actions speak louder than his words. He's clearing brush in Crawford, Texas and doing something, we're sure, to help. What, exactly, is hard to say, since he's not talking...

Back here in the blogosphere, Boffoblog is hard at work uncovering the machinations of House Speaker Hastert, who evidently has problems on his mind closer to home than South Asia. He's busy plotting to replace the Republican committee chair who won't let go of an ethics investigation into the activities of Tom DeLay.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Disaster Relief Organizations 

Click here for a list of Disaster relief organizations serving areas hit by the recent tsunami and earthquake in Asia.

Tsunami Warning System: No One to Talk to.. 

This just heard on NPR: Twenty-six countries that are part of the tsunami warning system in the Pacific Ocean got a bulletin out of their center in Hawaii fifteen minutes after the quake, but there was no specific understanding at that time about a tsunami. None of the affected areas outside the Pacific were warned at that time, since the quake was not thought to be as large as it really was.

The people at the tsunami warning system said that later, there was knowledge that a tsunami was being generated in the Indian Ocean. However, despite having knowledge within an hour of the deadly wave hitting the eastern coast of the Indian subcontinent, there was no appropriate agency to interact with in India or Sri Lanka. Officials in those countries are now discussing how to create their own system in the Indian Ocean.

Indian Ocean Lacked Warning System 

Sure enough, as soon as I got home and picked up the WSJ, there was an article explaining that while the Pacific Ocean is ringed by tsunami warning signs and a system of warning communications, the Indian Ocean had never seen a tsunami with any devastating power before. Experts hadn't thought it necessary to prepare for one, since all previous tsunamis in the Indian Ocean had only had one run-up (only hit in one place.)

I generally don't link to the WSJ, since their website is a subscription service, but the article, "The Science of Tsunamis," by Sharon Begley and Gautam Naik, is an interesting one if anyone wants to buy the paper.

Monday, December 27, 2004

South Asia Disaster 

The magnitude of the catastrophe in South Asia is unbelievable. The BBC's website has a place where people have written in to tell their stories and often to ask if anyone has word from someplace they have loved ones. It's stunning how tragic and how widespread the loss of life is.

I was struck by how hours after the tsunami had hit closer areas, no one had warned people further away. It makes you realize how the communications in many places were only rudimentary.

CARE International has apparently been in the lead in some affected areas and is accepting donations.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Teaching the Young to Frighten the Old 

See today's
for an advance look at the kind of scare tactics to expect in the coming Social Security debate.

Nothing like a little frightening the seniors for holiday fun... I guess we should have expected it all along.

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