Monday, May 29, 2006

Remember the Survivors

It is important to remember that soldiers operate in an environment beyond our comprehension. Our current mission in Iraq is ill defined and the enemy unseen. Daily existence under such circumstances can’t help but grind away at one’s humanity. Furthermore, immoral leadership from the top condoning torture (Bush’s so-called “regrets” notwithstanding) has filtered down to the ranks.

The recent allegations of cold-blooded murder perpetrated upon Iraqi civilians by American soldiers are the direct result of the Bush Administration’s moral bankruptcy. Atrocities happen in all wars on all sides but this may be the tip of the iceberg and only what has been exposed to date. Yet while their actions should not be excused, the real blame for their crimes truly resides with the political leadership that launched an illegitimate war. Both Iraqi civilians and American soldiers are victims of George Bush’s foolish imperialism.


When otherwise morally upstanding people are compelled to behave immorally their souls is damaged. The stress of combat is horrific enough. Supplementing that trauma with the lingering despair of guilt is irreparable.

The mental anguish resulting from combat is well chronicled. After the Civil War, it was known as “soldier's heart.” In World War One it was labeled” shellshock.” Veterans of World War Two and Korea were described as suffering from “battle fatigue.” After Vietnam it became Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The American Psychiatric Association officially acknowledged PTSD in 1980. Symptoms include emotional numbing, quick tempers and re-experiencing traumatic situations through flashbacks. Such Symptoms may not surface for years but emerge with a disruptive vengeance.

People with acute PTSD typically recover in three to six months, but chronic PTSD can remain for decades. Combat situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are already generating psychological casualties at an alarming rate.

A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research conducted in 2003 and
published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 2004, found that 15% to 17% of returning Iraq veterans showed symptoms of PTSD, anxiety or depression. Another 11% of Afghanistan vets showed the same symptoms. Since that study was published the situation on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan has worsened and one may surmise the PTSD rate will increase over time.

One tragic victim of PTSD was Jeffrey Lacey. His highly publicized suicide was hauntingly described by the January 2006 edition of the Physchiatric Times:

“When he returned home to Belchertown, Mass., he began drinking heavily and suffering from insomnia, night sweats, hallucinations and panic attacks. He received treatment at a Veterans Affairs facility, where he was described by one physician as having PTSD, depression with psychotic features, suicidal ideation and acute alcohol intoxication. One day, Lucey's father came home to find his son had hung himself in the cellar. On Lucey's bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners he said he had been forced to shoot.”

Sadly, the improved performance of our military’s medical personnel in saving lives from physical injuries has served to increase the percentage of veterans victimized by PTSD. It is imperative to recognize that any soldier returning from war is forever changed and may need support to reintegrate with civilian life again.

That requires funding to provide the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) infrastructure and trained personnel equipped at treating this disorder. In September 2004, the Government Accounting Office reported that,

“The VA does not have a count of the total number of veterans currently receiving PTSD services at its medical facilities and Vet Centers — community-based VA facilities that offer trauma and readjustment counseling. Without this information, VA cannot estimate the number of new veterans its medical facilities and Vet Centers could treat for PTSD.”
As the aforementioned January 2006 article in the Psychiatric Times reported, in August 2005 the VA, acting on its Inspector General (IG)'s report, said it would audit files of 72,000 veterans who were receiving full disability benefits for PTSD. Veterans groups protested that the review of PTSD cases was simply a pre-text to cut benefits for older veterans and raise the bar for future ones. Thankfully, the VA dropped its audit plans in November 2005 stating that most of the problems did not result from fraud.

However, the VA's auditing controversy illustrates that Republican fiscal mismanagement is forcing older and younger veterans to compete for a shrinking pie. On March 1st, American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) President Christopher Colenda testified before the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs, and described the challenges confronting the VA:

“Of the nation’s 25.5 million veterans, nine million—approximately 35 percent—are seniors who served in World War II or the Korean War. Another eight million Vietnam era veterans are will soon join the population of older adults, a phenomenon of the Baby Boom generation that begins turning 60 this year and will have a massive effect throughout our society. In this context, it is important to note actions relating to late life mental health addressed by the White House Conference on Aging, which was convened by President Bush in December 2005. Recognizing the current health and mental health needs of older Americans and the challenges awaiting as the Baby Boom generation ages, delegates placed mental health and geriatric health professional training issues at the forefront by voting them among their top 10 resolutions. The VA must be able to provide the specialized care in geriatric mental health that this generation of aging veterans will need and deserve.

More than half a million veterans are 85 years of age or older, and the VA predicts that this oldest group will grow to 1.2 million by 2010. Historically, as many as one-third of all veterans seeking care at the VA have received mental health treatment, and research indicates that serious mental illnesses affect at least one-fifth of the veterans who use the VA health care system. In addition, those who are older often suffer from co-existing medical conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, lung disease, debilitating arthritis, or other conditions. For these patients, treatment of their medical illnesses is often complicated by psychiatric disorders. Conversely, their psychiatric care is more complex because of the co-occurrence of medical illness, which commonly requires treatment with multiple medications. Thus, for older veterans with mental health problems, psychiatric treatment must be integrated and coordinated with their general medical care needs.

Between the years 1990 and 2000, the number of veterans in the 45-54 year-old age group who received mental health services from the VA more than tripled. The Vietnam era veterans are entering late life and are a cohort bringing new challenges to the VA, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the elderly and perhaps a higher burden of substance abuse. Not only does the VA need to prepare for services for these challenges, it needs to allocate funds for research as well.

As the nation pursues the war in Iraq, thousands of younger veterans may soon turn to the VA for the special care and services only it can provide. All of these individuals will swell the ranks of those who will ultimately require geriatric care. However, the most rapid growth in demand during the last decade was among the oldest veterans. During that time, there was a four-fold increase in the number of veterans aged 75-84 who received VA mental health services.

This substantial increase in utilization is even more striking when one considers that research has revealed an ongoing problem with under diagnosis of mental disorders in older age groups. Despite the increasing need for coordinated mental health and general health care services for rapidly growing numbers of older veterans, funding for VA mental health services, training, and research remains disproportionately low and is inadequate to meet the needs of the aging veteran population.”
Early in 2005, President Bush opted to expend his "political capital" on hyping a generational crisis with Social Security that did not exist. Thanks to his misguided foreign and domestic policies a real generational crisis is manifesting itself among those Americans who have sacrificed the most for our freedom. Meanwhile, the rest of us exist in a sea of relative tranquility and Memorial Day is simply a warm weather respite. Just one of many sins committed during America’s current reign of indecency.
Special thanks to cyperspace compadre Bob Higgins who kindly displays my posts on his blog, Worldwide Sawdust. Bob's prose is both irreverent and poignant. My favorite example of Bob's work was his April 30th post entitled "Guernica."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dignity's Apostle: My Interview With Author Robert W. Fuller

Progressives are struggling to synthesize a movement that can rise above identity politics and mobilize people under a unified theme. Robert W. Fuller, Ph.D. argues in his newly published book, All Rise (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.), that simple dignity is an elusive need that cuts across demographics of race, gender, age, and class. Fuller attributes this void to a culture of “rankism” which he defines as “abuses of power associated with rank.” In his writings Fuller advocates for a grassroots effort to establish a “dignitarian society.”

Essentially, Fuller is labeling an ongoing human experience. He notes that we’ve all been victimized by the institutional structures of rankism in our lives as well as being abusers ourselves. This is true in our jobs as well as personal or family relationships.

For society at large there are broader implications because rankism breeds incompetence. Fuller cites deadly examples such as the Challenger space shuttle flight in 1986 and the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe as resulting from the direct result of a culture of rankism. Talented individuals were in each instance discouraged from criticizing the hierarchies they served. One can certainly identify rankism as a component of the culture of crony capitalism inside the Republican Party and the corporate world.

Fuller first wrote about the concept of rankism in his 2003 book, Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank (New Society Publishers). The inspiration for Fuller’s book was his own life in which he experienced being both a “somebody” and a “nobody.”

Fuller earned his Ph.D. in physics at Princeton University and taught at Columbia where he co-authored the renowned text Mathematics of Classical and Quantum Physics. During the social tumult of the 1960s, Fuller became interested in educational reform and at the age of 33 he was appointed president of Oberlin College, his Alma Mater.

In 1971 Fuller served as a consultant to Indira Gandhi and witnessed the famine resulting from India’s war with Pakistan over the fate of Bangladesh. When President Carter was elected, he initiated a campaign to persuade the president to end world hunger. Fuller’s meeting with President Carter in 1977 helped facilitate the establishment of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger.

During the 1980s Fuller often traveled to the Soviet Union working as a “citizen-scientist” to reduce cold war tensions. His work combined with other like-minded professionals led to the creation of the nonprofit global corporation venture Internews, which promotes democracy through free and independent media. He served as the Chairman of Internews for several years.

Fuller has certainly led an impressive and compelling life. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, Fuller found himself adrift and marginalized. As Fuller reflected upon his own life experience, he had an epiphany about how our society is ordered. It would be only human to ponder how he went from persuading an American President to questioning his own relevance. Fuller’s journey appears to have engendered both a personal commitment to empathy and the ambition to quantify the most subjective human perspective of all – dignity. He graciously agreed to respond to questions about his new book as well as his opinions regarding current events:
ILJ: In the opening Chapter of All Rise, you wrote “Each of us has an innate sense that we have the same inherent worth as anyone else, regardless of our particular characteristics or our status. Every religion teaches us so.” Couldn’t one argue that religion has historically been guilty of imposing rankism more than any other institution? The Koran essentially legitimizes the abuse of women for example and women priests are often frowned upon.
Fuller: Religion teaches dignity; theology sometimes promotes indignity. When Islam was first introduced it championed women’s liberation (See Huston Smith’s “Religions of the World” which points out that Mohammed’s wife had a very big hand in writing it). Some Islamic theologians have since interpreted it in ways that oppress women, but that’s politics operating under the guise of religion (as it does in every religion). In their core beliefs, religions have all been a powerful force for recognizing the universal and non-negotiable dignity of Man.
ILJ: You strongly emphasize that you’re not anti-hierarchy or utopian. But as President Kennedy once noted, “life isn’t fair.” Is a dignitarian society absent of rankism truly possible in a world in which there will always be winners and losers?
Fuller: Dignity is not dependent on winning. You can lose a contest and not feel your dignity has been affected one way or the other. In a fair competition, your performance is apt to be improved by virtue of competing with the other entrants, and for that you are grateful. Many losing athletes experience gratitude to winners—for raising their game. The problem is that winners may then abuse their rank, and that IS a problem! But so long as rank is legitimately earned and properly used, rank is an important—often indispensable—organizational tool for accomplishing group goals. Not every assertion of rank is rankist—only those that put the dignity of the high-ranking above that of those they serve. We rightfully admire and love authorities—parents, teachers, bosses, athletes, political leaders—who hold their rank and use the power that comes with it in an exemplary way. Accepting their leadership entails no loss of self-respect or opportunity on the part of subordinates. It is when people abuse their power to demean or disadvantage those they outrank that seeds of indignity are sown. Over time, indignity turns to indignation, and smarting victims may be left thirsting for vengeance. The consequences can range from relatively benign foot-dragging all the way to genocide.
ILJ: John Lennon once wrote, “women are the niggers of the world.” Yet your book notes women are typically bullied more from other women in the work place then men. Does this surprise you? Women it seems have been chronically victimized by rankism in society so why do they turn on each other?
Fuller: Rankism is caused by indignity, and indignity festers, gradually congealing into indignation. That’s why rankism causes more rankism. Rankism’s victims are likely to turn into perpetrators as soon as they can get away with it – to even the score, so to speak. This is why rooting out rankism is difficult.
ILJ: When Bush campaigned in 2000, he boasted about learning management skills as an MBA from Harvard and his ability to govern like a CEO. Is the Harvard/MBA model discredited in promoting quality, efficiency, and professional mobility based on merit?
Fuller: If a single graduate’s performance discredited a school, there would be no creditable schools left standing. For many graduates, the imprint made by their Alma Mater is very slight, almost undetectable. And even where the impact is strong and clear, beliefs change over time and what’s good business practice in one setting, may not be in another.
ILJ: Do you believe the cause of gay rights would garner more sympathy if presented in the context of combating rankism and seeking dignity instead of being associated with identity politics?
Fuller: Yes, indeed. That is exactly the right strategy at this point: for gays, for immigrants, for all put-upon groups. People are sick of identity politics. They have come to see it as synonymous with demanding special treatment. The way around this objection is for identity groups to insist that everyone’s dignity be respected equally, including their own.
ILJ: If I’m sitting on top of the social strata why is it in my best interest to replace rankism with a dignitarian society? Why should Dick Cheney’s successor at Halliburton care about other people’s dignity?
Fuller: If you are at the top, it won’t be, in the short run. For the most part, Kings resisted the formation of parliaments. But some of them lost their heads in the process. A longer-run strategy foresees the power of numbers and yields gracefully. Enlightened leaders put getting the job done well above self-aggrandizement and in the name of such success, they shun rankism.
ILJ: Karl Marx championed the concept of “class consciousness” empowering the proletariat. But class solidarity has typically surrendered to individual ambition. Even as we’re victimized in our jobs or personal relationships by rankism, don’t we also crave the very status held by others that we resent?
Fuller: We crave it because rankism is so common that we see status as the only way to shield ourselves from its humiliations. As rankism diminishes, we will be more content to serve in whatever position in the hierarchy best matches our talents and the energy we have for that role. Many people don’t want to lead on the job; they prefer to put their energy into family, an avocation, etc. and are glad to follow at work so long as they are not bullied, harassed, and “indignified.”
ILJ: What corporations have cultures that you most admire and which corporations do you believe to be the worst offenders of rankism?
Fuller: Corporations cited in the media, at various times, for having a relatively non-rankist culture include Whole Foods, Intel, Google, CostCo. But I am not in a position to testify to this. Likewise, Wal-Mart has gotten a lot of bad press lately for a rankist work environment. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, points out that leaders of great companies eschew rankism, both in their own treatment of subordinates, and all the way down the line.
ILJ: Are there any societies in the world today that you believe have models that can be referred to as a dignitarian society? For all of our problems in the United States, it appears the whole world is struggling with human dignity. France for example has alienated their Muslim population. The entire European continent contains Muslims who feel disconnected from their home societies even if they’re enjoying economic success. In the scheme of things might one argue that the United States is far ahead of other nations in cultivating a merit-based culture that facilitates dignity?

Fuller: Yes, the world is struggling with dignity. No nation has yet built a dignitarian society. Doing so is democracy’s next step. Some Scandinavian societies seem to be moving in that direction. The bottom line of a dignitarian society is that everyone’s dignity is afforded equal protection. People can still hold unequal ranks, but in those ranks, dignity is equal from top to bottom. At a minimum, this means that regardless of rank, everyone is paid a living wage, has access to good health care and education. (See “All Rise” for details.)
ILJ: A conservative might argue that rankism doesn’t exist in the United States. Our Constitution guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Newt Gingrich once noted soon after becoming Speaker that the Constitution did not mention the “Department of Happiness” or advocate for the “government happiness program.” It’s not difficult to imagine conservatives snickering that in America we rise or fall based on our own abilities. In their worldview respect is earned and not a right. Why is dignity a universal right?
Fuller: Dignity deserves to be made a universal right because that generates loyalty, productivity, creativity. What’s guaranteed is not outcomes, but membership in the tribe. A dignitarian society promises not to ostracize any group or individual. Everyone has a place. Even prisoners are treated with dignity, as they serve their terms. It is very hard for people who have grown up with libertarian values to get this distinction, but getting it is the next step for democracy.
ILJ: Has the culture of rankism impacted academia and the quality of education in this country?

Fuller: Students put more energy into defending their dignity in classrooms than they put into learning. This is a tragedy. Schools that rid themselves of rankism are going to be far more effective than schools of the past. Also, tenure is an inherently rankist institution—because it eliminates accountability to those professors are entrusted to serve. In eliminating tenure, great care must be taken to protect the dignity of those who have enjoyed it. The guarantee in a dignitarian society is to dignity, not to a particular role or rank.
ILJ: You noted in your book that a victim of rankism on their job might become the abuser of rank in their home as a parent or spouse. Do you believe that an employment culture based on dignity might also facilitate better parenting and healthier marriages?
Fuller: Precisely!
ILJ: What are some concrete steps our elected representatives can take to combat rankism and promote a culture of dignity?
Fuller: If you’re in electoral politics you can point the way to a dignitarian society, even if your colleagues aren’t yet ready to embrace your ideas. Treat your opponents with dignity. Don’t sneer, mock, or condescend. Avoid patronizing or posturing. When politicians affect moral superiority, they extend rankism’s lease. Since rankism is an attack on both liberty and dignity, denounce it along with the other isms. Explain to your constituents why you’re against it—in all its forms—and then go after them one by one. Be the leader you wanted to be when you first imagined running for office. Be willing to lose an election for your dignitarian convictions. If you do, run for office a few years later, and win! To paraphrase Victor Hugo, dignity is an idea whose time has come.
ILJ: I’d like to pick your brain about India. Early in your career you served as a consultant to Indira Gandhi. Today India is acknowledged as an information technology power possessing a high skilled and educated work force. Has this translated into a more egalitarian model of society for them that should be emulated? Or has the social stratification of their culture worsened? The gap between rich and poor certainly remains high.
Fuller: India is too big and complex to generalize about. Its legacy of caste still makes for lots of rankism. On the other hand, technology—wherein the young have so much to contribute—militates against the rankism of age. So my guess is that India is will overcome the caste-based rankism that has held it in its grip for centuries.
ILJ: How much feedback have you received internationally about the concepts of rankism and a dignitarian culture? Is it possible to facilitate an international movement of dignity that transcends boundaries?
Fuller: Rankism is universal. It knows no international borders. Societies that may appear non-rankist turn out to be rankist upon closer examination. That’s because rankism is defined as abuse of the power inherent in rank, and it is human nature to abuse power—so long as we can get away with it. After all, what are human beings but predators, and exceedingly good ones at that. Racism and the other isms are types of predation, but we are overcoming them. They are not written in our genes. As survival strategies, they have long since ceased being successful. Rankism will go the same way, and eventually follow the familiar isms into the doghouse. We learn; we evolve; we change. We will overcome rankism not only because that’s the right thing to do, but more fundamentally because dignitarian workplaces, schools, and societies are more productive and creative, more powerful and successful than are rankist workplaces, schools, and societies.

Robert W. Fuller is the proprietor of a website called Breaking Ranks which is dedicated to educating the public about rankism and promoting a dignitarian society. The primary contributor to his site is a close personal friend of mine who skillfully comments on how current events both illustrate the social dysfunction of rankism and the need for establishing a culture of dignity.


SIDEBAR: This topic received some feedback from cross postings in the community blogs. Once again "Susan G" rescued me in Daily Kos. There was also some interest from a cross posting in My Left Wing. My thanks to Wulingren from the wonderful blog Mandate of Heaven, as well as friend and sage Joe Irvin for acknowledgments on their respective sites. Wulingren is quite the world traveler and has interesting postings from Tawain where he's currently working. Joe Irvin is a retired journalist from Quincy, Illinois and his blog is a wonderful resource about timely articles and commentary worldwide.

SIDEBAR II: Also a special thanks to "Nanette" from Man Eegee's blog for citing the Robert W. Fuller interview on their "Are You Ready To Ramble?" feature today. Man Eeegee's blog is always informative and a catalyst for provocative and interesting debate.

SIDEBAR III: Robert W. Fuller has entered the blogosphere and posted a diary of his own on the five community blogs linked below.

Daily Kos


My Left Wing

Booman Tribune

European Tribune

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Law of Competitive Balance, Howard Dean, and the Democratic Party's Washington Establishment

I was an avid reader of Bill James’ annual Baseball Abstract while growing up in the 1980s. As both a nerd and baseball fanatic, his methodical statistical analysis and incisive prose influenced me almost as much as listening to the Beatles. Perhaps the most memorable essay of James’ career was in his 1983 abstract when he wrote about, “The Law of Competitive Balance.” Twenty-three years ago I copied words of wisdom from that essay into the spiral notebook I was supposed to use for algebra:

“The Law of Competitive Balance: There develop over time separate and unequal strategies adopted by winners and losers; the balance of those strategies favors the losers, and thus serves constantly to narrow the difference between the two.”

James utilized several hypothetical examples to illustrate his point. A basketball team that is well behind will make tactical adjustments. The team that is ahead has succeeded with the status quo and is less likely to change. Hence, the team that is behind will eventually make the game more competitive. A baseball team that finishes twenty games out of first place is more likely to shake up their roster and replace veterans with youth. The team that wins it all prefers to maintain continuity and is more susceptible to decline.

James’ law proves true in many aspects of life as well. The struggling salesman will change his approach until he finds success while someone else earning top commissions can become complacent and rely on the same accounts. A business that is enduring hard times will reassess its’ efficiency and marketing while another grows fat and spends money foolishly until they’re blindsided by a cash crunch.

Until Howard Dean became head of the DNC, the Law of Competitive Balance didn't apply to the Democratic Party. Instead the Democrats lived by the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Dean has the nerve to challenge the party’s orthodoxy and transition the Democrats from a Washington centric party addicted to wealthy contributors to a states oriented party funded by a citizens donor base. It’s remarkable to me how some Democrats whine over McCain/Feingold and long for the old days of soft money donations to the national party. Dean didn’t whine. He adjusted and myopic Washington Democrats remain clueless.

Dean is the first Democrat to think “globally” by acting “locally.” The key to power and a better nation is by strengthening state parties and taking the country back one precinct at a time. It’s basic blocking and tackling in the ground game that has eluded the Democrats for a generation, as the establishment prefers to mobilize the same special interests coalition and rally behind the politics of expediency. Dean’s way is to craft a message of truth about the public interest and fight for every neighborhood. Hence his states oriented strategy has a better chance of transforming the Democratic Party into a national majority.

Today both the Washington Post and New York Times reported about the rift between Dean and the respective heads of the Democrat’s House and Senate Campaign Committees, Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer. The progressive blogosphere has rallied to Dean’s defense. I thought Mole333 wrote an especially fine diary on this topic in My Left Wing.

Dean is hardly a perfect messenger for the Democratic Party. He’s impulsive and occasionally suffers from foot in mouth disease as we saw during the 2004 campaign and his recent appearance on the 700 Club.

Nonetheless, Dean’s 50 state strategy makes both short term and long term sense and even a pretty good political tactician named Bill Clinton has signed onto it. Thankfully, Dean doesn’t need the good will of the proven losers inside the Democratic Party. As the state parties continue to be enhanced the Rahm Emanuels, Charles Schumers and Joe Bidens will be marginalized in favor of Democrats on the local level.

Sadly too many Washington Democrats and consultants prefer their status as kings of the hill inside a minority party instead of making this a better country and standing for principle. The message that needs to be sent to these people is this: lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

SIDEBAR: This topic was cross posted on Daily Kos and once again my diary was "rescued" by the blogosphere's Angel of CPR, "SusanG". She performs an invaluable service because Daily Kos has a million visitors per day and many fine diaries dissappear from the board without making the recommended list. I heartily recommend others look for her open threads at Daily Kos because she provides an indispensable portal for work easily missed. Thanks to her efforts I've learned much from posted diaries I would not have otherwise read.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Shirin Ebadi: The Light At the End of the Tunnel

During the Cold War it was a dissident movement of human rights activists, writers and political agitators such as Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn and Lech Walesa who were largely responsible for bringing down the Iron Curtain.

America’s steadfast counterweight to the Soviet Union certainly buttressed their efforts with the support of the western alliance. Yet for all of the Cold War intrigue, espionage, dramatic summits with men wearing high priced business suits, regional conflicts and billions spent on defense appropriations, it was the efforts of courageous souls who transcended superpower might on behalf of human dignity.

Such people are rare gems in humanity’s tapestry. They jeopardize their own lives to champion the cause of freedom and remind all of us that liberty is a privilege to be cherished and defended. Sakharov for example could have enjoyed a comfortable life as a nuclear physicist but instead became a dangerous irritant to the Kremlin. Shi Tao of China had the option of pursuing a career in poetry or simply being a careerist with the press. He chose to expose truth on behalf of a cause bigger than himself and is currently in jail.

Shirin Ebadi’s path to dissidence in Iran is unique. In March 1969 she became the first woman in Iranian history to serve as a judge. Under the Shah’s rule her career prospered and in 1975 Ebadi became the President of Teheran’s City Court. The rise of Khomeni and the Islamic Revolution in 1979 forever changed her life as women were no longer permitted to serve as judges.

“I and other female judges were dismissed from our posts and given clerical duties. They made me a clerk in the very court I once presided over. We all protested. As a result, they promoted all former female judges, including myself, to the position of ‘experts’ in the Justice Department. I could not tolerate the situation any longer, and so put in a request for early retirement. My request was accepted. Since the Bar Association had remained closed for some time since the revolution and was being managed by the Judiciary, my application for practicing law was turned down. I was, in effect, housebound for many years. Finally, in 1992 I succeeded in obtaining a lawyer's license and set up my own practice.”
In private practice she stood up for the rights of women in Iran’s theocracy, advocated on behalf of abused children, and dissidents from all corners of society. Embadi also unapologetically promoted human rights in her prodigious writings: The Rights of Refugees (Published by Ganj-e Danesh in 1993), History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran, (Published by Roshangaran in 1993) and The Rights of Women, (Published by Ganj-e Danesh in 2002) are among her most important works.

In 2000, Ebadi received a suspended jail sentence for promoting evidence that conservative mullahs were instigating attacks on pro reform leaders. Ziba Mir Hosseini, of the School of Oriental Studies in London, and a friend of Ebadi’s noted that,

"She is a popular figure in Iran and also she's a key figure in reformist movement and like many other key figures in the movement she's been harassed by the conservative forces who control the judiciary."
Ebadi is currently in the United States to promote her new book, Iran Awakening (refer to the advertisements in the lower left sidebar from Amazon). Last night Margaret Warner on the PBS News Hour With Jim Lehrer interviewed Ebadi. As of this writing a transcript of the interview was not available online. However, click here and you can listen to the interview in its’ entirety. Below I transcribed as best I could a few of the more interesting quotes.

When Warner asked about the progress of democracy in Iran since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became President, Ebadi answered,

“Democracy in Iran is not moving forward because censorship is being applied in Iran more seriously.”
Ebadi further noted that human rights activists were imprisoned and during the interview it was revealed that she was targeted for assassination. When Warner inquired about how she could function in such a hostile environment, Ebadi’s dignified strength presented itself:

“It is in these bad situations that people like me have to work. If Iran was it’s own democracy or an advanced democracy than people like me don’t have to be active.”
Ebadi further noted that,

“Human rights activists regardless of where they are in our world will feel danger.”
Warner proceeded to ask a series of questions about American policy towards Iran and the diplomatic impasse regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Ebadi is not enamored of Bush’s policy to spend 75 million to promote democracy in Iran.

“No I don’t think that it benefits me or people like me because whoever speaks about democracy in Iran will be accused of having been paid by the United States.”
Warner followed up and asked what Ebadi thought about Bush calling for further democracy in the Muslim world:

“Can democracy be brought to a people by bombs? Democracy is a culture. It has to come from within a society. Not to be brought by America to society.”
Warner inquired how much Ebadi hoped to accomplish by herself in Iran:

“I do count on the help of the people of the world but not on the help of governments.”
Ebadi then returned to the topic of American policy:

“America’s approach on democracy is not a correct approach as I’ve told you. You cannot bring democracy through bombing people. The countries in the region that are allies of the United States do not enjoy an advanced democracy like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.”
Her observation about the current diplomatic crisis regarding nuclear energy was especially interesting:

“The government of Iran claims that it has peaceful purposes for nuclear energy. But the world does not buy that claim. The solution to this problem is bringing an advanced democracy in Iran. In a democracy people have a say in the government and they will not permit the government to abuse its power. For example France has a nuclear bomb but the world is not scared of France because France is a democracy and people supervise what their government is doing. And if the government of Iran wants the world to buy their word and accept their claim they have to move towards an advanced democracy in Iran.”
Sadly, I don’t agree with Ebadi that in a democracy the people “will not permit the government to abuse its power.” I used to feel that way but five years of Bush rule has disabused me of that notion because the American people were content to remain comatose while we invaded another country that did not threaten us abroad and curtailed personal freedoms at home. Nevertheless, an “advanced democracy” in Iran with nuclear weapons would be far easier to stomach.

Warner asked Ebadi what she thought America and the world should be doing about Iran’s nuclear program:

“Instead of putting pressure on Iran to terminate its’ nuclear program the pressure must be put to the government of Iran to bring democracy to Iran this is what I say to America and the world have forgotten about the human rights situation in Iran. Now that they feel they’re in danger they bring up the issue of human rights in Iran. And we should not accept that there is only one police for the whole world and that police can decide on everything.”
Warner inquired as to whether the majority of Iranians believe they should have a nuclear weapon:

“No. They don’t think so.”
I wonder about that response. She’s an Iranian citizen and would know better than any of us but that doesn’t sound likely to me. The people of China for example are very nationalistic. It would be understandable if most Iranians believed nuclear weapons might enhance their international prestige.

Ebadi warned that,

“An attack on Iran can have bad implications on the whole region. And can cause riots in the region.”
When asked how the Iranian people would respond to being attacked:

“The people of Iran criticize their government. Political criticism. However, not withstanding the criticisms the people of Iran will defend their country and will not let the aliens prevail.”
In the ‘70s, President Carter used his office to empower Andrei Sakharov because he recognized that the human spirit was the best weapon America had against totalitarianism. Years later Carter’s putting human rights on the international map paid dividends. Islamic fascism is unmitigated evil and we will not defeat it with gratuitous violence and pre-emptive war. Our best hope is to prevail by empowering an army of Shirin Ebadis.

A real President would empower Ebadi’s status by meeting with her publicly in a Rose Garden ceremony. A real President would also genuinely listen to what she has to say and not simply use her as a photo op for the evening news.

Our best asset is a commonality of values with heroic figures such as Shirin Ebadi. In a crazy world in which reactionary men such as Bush and Ahmadinejad became national leaders, she is the light at the end of a long dark tunnel.

SIDEBAR: It took a couple of days but cross postings for this topic in the community blogs did finally generate some interest. On European Tribune it was front paged by their resident sage, "Whataboutbob." It was also a "rescued diary" on Daily Kos by their CPR expert, "Susan G." and received some feedback in My Left Wing. My thanks to Whataboutbob and Susan G. for the exposure.