The Columbia Critic

A place to debate anything we want to. We'll talk Columbia campus issues. We'll talk up the homosexual problem. We'll talk China. And we'll talk without resorting to partisan rhetoric. We may be left. We may be right. But we aren't going to be quoting any party line. We're leading the discussion. But feel free to chime in. Hannity and Colmes this is not.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Republican Outrage!

In the aftermath of Mark Foley's being exposed at a pedophile and a page predator, we have not heard much about how to protect congressional pages. We have not heard much about how this went silent for more than four years (the truth is coming out as Republicans are stepping up during election time) and we have not heard much about the actual issue at all. What we have heard is that somewhere, somehow, it's all the Democrats' fault.

Newt Gingrich has bellowed that Democrats are hypocrites for their condemnation of Foley, Hastert, and the Republicans. More Conservative commentators that I can count on both hands have said it is disgraceful that the Democrats chose to reveal this during election time. When exactly was a good time for this? After the election, so that the election wasn't distracted and pages could exchange nasty emails with congressmen? Months before the election so that Democrats could be accused of trying to divert the conversation about their lack of persuasive plan for America? Many months before the election so that Bill O'Reilly could tear someone apart on TV and cite a general lack of concrete and substantive evidence?

The most likely scenario is that the Democrats found out about Foley recently, much more recent than the Republicans (and by that I mean the Republicans had a couple year head start to do damage control) and they waited a little bit to do maximum damage to the GOP during November elections. What is ridiculous about this condemnation is that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, slings the mud and digs up the dirt during election time. Why is it that when the Republicans do it, it is strategy, and when the Democrats do it it is moral depravity? Could the "swiftboat veterans" have attacked John Kerry earlier so as to not disrupt a PRESIDENTIAL election? Couldn't the GOP have waited until after the 2000 election to have called President Clinton out on his affair with Lewinsky, so as to not use moral bankruptcy and family values and Clinton as a weapon against Gore? Could Democrats have waited until... two decades from now to break out the big guns against Jack Abramoff? Democratic and Republican strategists exist to use every bit of news, scandal, and their opponents missteps or fabricated missteps to boost the chances of winning for their candidate.

That is how Washington works. I think the "OMG it's outrageous that you would expose this time bomb now" mentality is coming out of the woodwork because nobody expected the Democrats to grow a backbone, adopt Republican strategies and come out swinging.

Ideally campaigns should be about issues and not dirty laundry. That is something I will explore in my next post, right after I bake my pizza.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Death never 'in vain'

Policy decisions can’t tarnish a soldier’s ultimate sacrifice. This act of faith for American ideals is what matters and should be revered, whatever the war and no matter the outcome.

By Kathy Roth-Douquet

Died in vain?
President Bush wants to stay the course in Iraq so that those who have died there will not have died "in vain." Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan urges us to pull out immediately to prevent more Americans from dying in vain.
Bush and Sheehan have both got it wrong.
Too many partisans in the battle for Iraq policy have used soldiers' deaths as a football in a bid to score points. It's cruel (imagine being a family member and being told the death of your loved one was in vain), but even more, it's just wrong. Those who argue that a soldier's death has meaning only if the politics are "right" misunderstand military service in America.
"We think of Kristian (Menchaca) as a hero," says Sylvia Grice of her cousin, 23, one of the soldiers kidnapped, tortured and killed by insurgents last June in Iraq. "He didn't have to do this. He believed in what he was doing." The terrible death's meaning, in other words, came from the soldier's commitment. It is his commitment that gives his life meaning, and even his country's possible errors staying in too long, leaving too early can't take that meaning from him.
The phrase "died in vain" comes to us from our great moralist president, Abraham Lincoln. In Gettysburg's graveyard, Lincoln urged the gathered to fight on for the survival of the United States so that those interred in that ground would not have died in vain. He did not argue that a soldier who loses his battle or his war has died in vain. Instead, he noted that America itself its ideas and ideals is what gives the soldier's life meaning.
Behind the sacrifices
So where does the meaning of military sacrifice come from?
Military service in America flows from our Constitution as a covenant among free people. The parties to this sacred contract are, on one hand, a group of citizens who assent to bear arms for their country for a time, and on the other, the rest of us, the civilians whose task it is to decide whether to send our compatriots into peril. Those bearing arms promise to bring their loyalty, skill and honor to the task; the civilians, for their part, promise to weigh the fate of those soldiers with seriousness and care, and provide the support necessary to those who go.
The meaning in the lives of those who bear arms resides in their loyalty to the democracy that sends them, and the skill and honor they bring to their task. If the civilians who send them falter in their decision-making, it dishonors those who steer and not those who serve.
So let's apply this to the war in Iraq. What if the war is a mistake, or we pull out too early? Are the deaths then for naught?
From the standpoint of a soldier or Marine, or in my case, a Marine's wife, the answer to these questions must be no. Why? Because despite any partisan's passion for the rightness of a position, none of us will know how right or wrong we really are until long after the last shot is fired. So we make decisions the way one does in a self-governing society of 300 million cantankerous souls: imperfectly, inelegantly, with unnecessary suffering.
Whether we are led by Democratic presidents or Republican ones great men such as Franklin D. Roosevelt or middling men such as Warren G. Harding there will be mistakes, judged differently at different times in history and perhaps never resolved utterly in consensus. Even in the "good war," there were bad engagements, bad decisions, unnecessary, sad, tragic deaths.
Service, then, is even more ennobling because it represents an act of faith in an unwieldy system a representative democracy of human beings. The weakness of our system lends poignancy to the decision to serve: Those who go into harm's way recognize that our society is in many ways deeply flawed, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it's the best one available yet.
Bad policy can't tar a soldier
Philosopher Nancy Sherman says the military resolves this tension by adopting a version of the ancient Stoic philosophy, which holds that one may be judged only by the rightness or wrongness of one's own acts, not by the acts of others. A soldier who does his portion morally and well cannot be tarred by the brush of a leader's bad policy. This does not mean that some individuals' willingness to serve translates into a blank check for irresponsible policy if anything it requires us to constantly scrutinize our policy and commit to do better.
In complicated times like these, it's important to remember that self-government is perishable it can be killed not only by enemies outside the gate, but also by indifference and alienation within. The decision to serve is a decision to be part of our country and, ideally, to make the part one touches the best possible. This is what has value, so that even in the tragic cases of friendly fire, or accidental deaths or deaths in battles later lost, those who die did not die in vain. They died in service to an ideal Lincoln's ideal that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the face of this earth.
There is nothing vain about that.
Kathy Roth-Douquet is the co-author, with Frank Schaeffer, of AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service and How It Hurts Our Country. She lives on a military base in North Carolina.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Columbia Riots

Columbia Spectator: Minutemen Protesters Rush Stage

Protestors took the stage minutes after Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, came to the microphone in Roone Arledge Auditorium Wednesday night, sparking a chaotic brawl involving more than 20 students, other attendees, and guests.

Two students in the International Socialist Organization unfurled a yellow banner reading, "No one is illegal!" which prompted other protestors to rush the stage. Gilchrist supporters then clamored on stage while the speakers were ushered out of the auditorium.


I believe that plenty has been said with regards to the inappropriate nature of the protest and ensuing riot that occured during the Minutemen event held by the College Republicans. I certainly agree with the majority opinion that it was incredibly juvenile and entirely against the spirit of free speech and academic inquiry that Columbia espouses. In the words of John Stuart Mill in On Liberty:
"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."

I will also freely admit that there are plenty of members of the minutemen organization who are wholly xenophobic, though I believe to call them racist in many instances goes beyond the pale.

However, I don't entirely disagree with their existence or what they are trying to do, and I will tell you why.

First, let me explain that I am a firm supporter of immigration and that I realize completely the inherent value in a working immigrant population. I have taken my fair share of economics courses. As is the case with most people in this country, my family came here as immigrants. I also have many acquaintences and friends who are themselves immigrants of this country, and I recognize the hard work and that they have put in and the heartache they have experienced ust to get to this country, nevermind to establish a life, family, and career here.

But I've also worked long enough in the business to recognize the absolute necessity of border security and a controlled immigration program. I know what is out there. The world is a dangerous place and many people simply do not realize (even after 9/11 surprisingly) how quickly and easily it is for a country, even this country - especially this country, to be harmed. Nor do many realize how easy it can be for our delicate social and economic programs to become entirely overrun and underfunded due to major population changes.

I agree that our immigration system is rediculously complicated and loaded with red tape. It unquestionably must be simplified. I, for instance, have relatives from Ireland who have been working in this country for over a decade and still haven't been granted citizenship. The inner workings, rules, and regulations of the INS are counterintuitive at best. At worst, I fear the organization is being run by a family of manatees, all of whom have likely experienced head injuries from the tail end of a speedboat. It should not be this difficult to obtain citizenship, particularly for those who already have jobs here!

But I also agree with the Minutemen: neither the Bush administration nor Congress has done anything to improve security along our borders. I do not fear 99% of illegal immigrants. In fact I believe that a great majority of them only serve to improve our economy and enrich our culture. But I do know that allowing people to come into this country with out any sort of control or surveillance over who enters this country and from where will only serve to endanger our population and severely inhibit our own social services. Just as one example: think about the exorbitant cost of healthcare when you have tens of thousands of visits to emergency rooms every day by people who are too afraid or too poor to go anywhere else for their cold or flu symptoms because they are not living in this country legally.

Yes, part of the solution should be to make it easier for people to attain legal status (either as resident or citizen) here in the United States. This must be done. But it does nothing at all to fix the other half of the problem! The fact that our borders are still not secure! Again, I am not worried about the 99% of people who cross that border in order to find jobs and support their family and find a better life. As a nation of immigrants, we should embrace them and do everything in our power to find ways for them to do so. I am worried, however, about that fraction of a percent who wish to do harm to this country or its citizens - whether as criminals, or as terrorists, or simply as social freeloaders. And I am worried about our ability to support that other 99% - through social programs, healthcare, education, &c - with out having any means to either track or control the influx of people.

And so, as I see it, the vigilante Minutemen organization has stepped in where both the state and federal governments have consistently failed. They are an ad hoc organization that is poorly run and has little oversight. They should not exist. Then again, if the government was doing its job, they wouldn't need to.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

GOP is the Guilt of Persona

In 2004 there was a minor hubbub concerning the Florida Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Senator Bob Graham. Mark Foley was THE candidate for the Senate however he dropped his bid early on, the 2004 elections were over, and Mel Martinez was the victor.

The hubub was not so much over Foley's political views (which by the way are more moderate than your modern day Santorum morality slinging neo-conservative), but over his sexuality. Florida newspapers badgered him with questions, he blamed the democrats for directing this against him, but in the end he responded that the sexuality inquiries were "revolting and unforgivable". I would not go so far as to say they are revolting, but the essence of what he was trying to say was well intentioned; his sexuality should have no effect on his ability to be a public servant. If anything his sexuality may have given a more intimate, well informed view of the needs of his constituents as he had been a long time advocate of LGBT issues.

In the era of Karl Rove, your moral compass no longer matters. One of Foley's main competitors in the 2004 Senate race was Mel Martinez who would eventually be groomed by Rove and win the seat. If you followed Martinez history you would see him as the type of rags to riches story that the GOP loves to peddle off as a success of trickle down economics. Sent to America from Cuba by his parents, he rose to become the Mayor of Orlando and a prominent trial lawyer especially active against tort reform.

If you want to win, you have to sell your soul, your message becomes a message pre-concocted in a formula that is nearly guaranteed to win as long as you follow the play book. It is a strategy sans morality and all about getting the prize. Martinez was chosen for his background and his story, after which everything was abandoned and Mel became a mouth-piece for a no-fail strategy. Martinez called his competition out, his campaigned rallied against Bill McCollum, labeling him "the new darling of the homosexual extremists." for supporting a bill against hate crimes.

When you wake up in the morning and you have said these things or sanctioned them, how do you look yourself in the mirror and live with yourself? In the end the St. Petersburg times newspaper withdrew their support for him, Bill McCollum looked like he was going to strangle someone during their debate, and Jeb Bush had to shake his head in disgust and tell Martinez to stop. Martinez blamed the anti-homosexual flyers on his staff, and one chief staffer blamed it on a junior staffer. As you would expect, nobody knows who was fired and nobody was willing to be held accountable. What is surprising... but also not very surprising at the same time, is that two prominent members of Martinez's staff at the time were gay. As with everything, the gay bashing was a one man operation that everyone can claim to be unaware of, no one took a stand, not even those that it affected the most and in the closest proximity.

Perhaps times change and so do people. As we return to Mark Foley, the once pro-gay rights congressman, we notice that Foley voted for (and passed) legislation allowing faith-based groups to throw anti-discrimination laws out the window. Foley was lucky at the time that Katherine Harris (who proudly states our constitution is directly based on the 10 Commandments) and Rick Santorum (who equated that homosexual acts between consenting adults is on par with bestiality, bigamy, adultery, and incest) are not in control of the US Government as they would most likely label it as a faith-based group and outlaw homosexuals from it.

That brings us to the Mark Foley of October 2006. The Mark Foley who is about to be under investigation for pedophilia, wrote lewd emails to congressional pages and had cyber sex with them at times before congressional votes; the Mark Foley who is the shame of his party and of his peers. I honestly feel bad for former congressman Foley. Here was a man that liked young boys, while ironically being a champion for the drive against child pornography and child exploitation. His whole world has fallen apart. While in typical fashion the apology given was not for his misdeeds but other things. His lawyer lets us know that he has checked himself into rehabilitation, was abused by a clergyman, and is a gay man.

While Foley was right when he said that his sexual orientation should not affect his ability to serve our nation, he is very much in the wrong in moving the conversation from what is wrong with him to what is wrong with the world around him. He is doing a disservice to the gay population at large by outing himself alongside a string of apologies. We are left with the impression, not that he was a pedophile, but that regardless of politics, gays are a danger to our impressionable children. This was not the message that should have been sent to the world, he's done everyone a disservice.