Saturday, March 28, 2009

Transparency, A New President, and Just War

Transparency in Government, a phrase we now hear and see, was absent without leave for 8 years. The present administration may not be as transparent as we would like but now we can read white papers on-line or in the papers; we can check the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on-line; we can examine the US Budget on the White House website; we can check the OMB website for another view of the Budget; we can communicate with the administration through the Office of the Public Liaison; we can check the finances and donations of our congress people; and on and on. Of course it all takes time and energy but transparency has really started to make a comeback.

We can even read articles on how this President and his advisers communicate. How his decisions are informed by others.

We have a President giving us a “virtual” town hall meeting. Did you participate? We have a President who can speak on many levels on many subjects. We have a President who understands the value of all venues for communicating with his constituents and uses those venues even though some, mainstream media maybe, don't like it.

If this President can keep this communication with the public going and leave behind a legacy of transparency, he has done great things already.

The latest white paper, easily found on-line, was an Inter-agency policy paper on Afghanistan and Pakistan. How great is that?

Yet, it is easy to please us for the very fact that we had no transparency at all for many years makes us easy. Still skepticism abounds-what are they not telling us...Are there or have there been secret energy task force meetings or secret government-within-the-government meetings to feed the President what he wants to hear in order to lead him down some path or the other?

The white paper on new Afghanistan and Pakistan policy suggestions led also to these thoughts on this war or any other war.

The President had such a different tone when he made his announcement on the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even when read the tone is more serious, and more somber than most of his speeches or talks. Not to say he is not often serious but this time there is a real difference, as should be.

Going over his speech, announcement, again leads to thoughts of "just war", if there is such a thing, he even used the word "just" at one point. “...a cause that could not be more just.” ( This statement makes you wonder if he grappled with his own conscience or is he just soothing ours. If you read the announcement in its entirety, you may find much with which to agree and can even see signs for hope that we, the US, won't be there forever or just leave a mess and quickly withdraw one day when people will take no more. But when is a war ever really, honestly now, just?

When is it just to ask a mother to give up her child to protect mine? When is it just to tell a mother the child she lost as a result of an error in intelligence or an error in a guidance system was a sacrifice for the greater good? When is it just to spend all that money on destruction instead of on building whether it is in the US or abroad?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Birthday to Forget or Maybe Not

Happy Birthday? March 19th

It has been six years to the day since we woke to “SHOCK and AWE”. I remember it well, it is my birthday too. Though I am just a tad more than 6.

In that six years, more than 4200 US troops have died and who knows how many Iraqis have died. Millions of Iraqi citizens displaced. US troops killed in Afghanistan somewhere around 600-700. The trust of American Citizens in their government is low. Hope is high but mistrust is still ever present. Yet, we search for someone to keep our hopes up.

Whether it is a right-wing radio talk show host or a left-wing newsletter, we still want someone or something to trust and in which to hope.

We can't trust our our own senses: eyes, TV or newspapers; ears, radio. The media will give us what they think we want. So now we don't trust ourselves either. We research and we seek more information but who or what can we trust in our research. By reading or watching and listening to many sources we can hope to make a judgment.

A few days ago a picture ran in the NY Times newspaper showing a pipeline diverting water to a mine in one extremely dry place in Chile where the towns and villages are “drying up”, people leaving. On the same front page was the article about AIG paying those bonuses. There was greed in both picture and text. Actually greed did not seem a strong enough word anymore. (NY Times, Mar 15, 2009)

Then too we have the radio entertainer getting paid hundreds of millions to complain about how high the cost of replacing some part in his private jet while he tells his audience the government is raising his taxes and theirs. And they hope. The audience listens and hopes because they are still convinced they will be one of the very wealthy too. This audience has worked hard and they deserve to be rich. If the government will just stay out of their way, they will be in the top income percentages soon. They haven't made bad decisions they deserve to be rich.

We have young people with no health insurance unless not so rich parents, or sometimes grandparents, can pay for it: we see tent cities in the US: we see long lines of people seeking jobs, any job; we see the working-poor losing their homes or close to it. People are hungry here in the US. Actually people have been going hungry in the US for quite a while but not so many as to get any real attention. People have been living in cars and on the streets for years but they must have made poor decisions.

All the while our Congress argues about increasing Americorps, argues about changing bankruptcy laws to cover residences not just vacation homes. Congress continuously argues about who is to blame for what problem. Congress legislating after the fact and never trusting themselves or us. Deregulation was not really about trust. Absence of regulation is not the presence of Trust. There will always be greed.

Perhaps all we can do is try and hope. If you are a religious person, maybe you pray. If you are a spiritual person maybe you pray. Though our religious institutions are in doubt. We heard things from political leaders about praying and God talking to them. A President of the US said God told him to go into Afghanistan and Iraq. We heard from some religious leaders about the coming of the end or not. Some religious leaders told us it is OK to kill in the name of God. Of course this was not the first time religious leaders told people or rulers it was OK but that was history and this is the 21st Century surely not the same. Surely we have come further or have we?

Read these documents and for partial answers. The first two are different explanations of “Just War”. The third is a file of American War and Military Operations Casualties prepared for Congress and last update shown was 2008.

The past 6 years have been interesting but let's find other interests, please. It is spring maybe we can try gardening or birdwatching. There are so many beautiful things still in this world let us look around. That is all it takes and maybe we can help others see the beauty too.

We can take pictures. We can paint pictures. We can write poetry. We can make movies. We can write music. We can write stories. We can talk. We can teach. But we don't need to use “Shock and Awe” to get a point across.

So just a Birthday to you Iraq War, “Iraqi Freedom” ? (and me too) I hope I don't ever awaken to another birthday like that one 6 years ago. And I wish everyone a better year.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Are We Addicted to Arguing?

Normally, well who is to say what that means, my television is on C span for many hours a week. If not listening to Congress, I spend quite a chunk of time on-line reading about the latest political maneuvering and the “analysis” on the latest bill or the latest resolution. Or researching some “facts” mentioned somewhere. (I know,I know “get a life”).

When I listen to Congress, either house, there are many times I talk loudly to them. Sometimes I just do whatever else I am doing and say, “yeah, yadda yadda”. Lately while reading blog postings for various media outlets, I realize I am again thinking yeah, yadda yadda. The writings may differ in style from the speeches in Congress but what is written is similar. The comments actually get meaner. The extreme comments many times end up making no sense. Eventually the comments are the same “stuff” that I read many times before. “Clinton did it; Bush did it; liberals are socialists; conservatives are hardworking; the media did it; the CEO s did it; the poor did it. I have my views on all these statements but that isn't what I am questioning here.

What I wonder is do the right, left, center, and so-called independents all take lessons on what to say about what. (Actually some really do.) Is someone sitting somewhere just monitoring blogs and columns with the intent of causing a discussion to break down into angry temper tantrums? No matter which blogs I read there is such a similarity in reader comments and the patterns of comments. It usually starts with relative calm posts or comments then it begins to deteriorate.

Some comments try to use techniques that include quotations and statistics, some use the same old blame-on rants that I'm pretty sure they get from emails they receive from some political group or the other, while some try to respond in kind from their point of view. Eventually the rants win and the blog seems to just bog down in a boiling thick primordial soup. I admit it is tempting to just scream back in print at some particularly stupid rant. Just read about the first lady showing her shoulders or the President taking his coat off in the oval office.

For a short, very short, span of time after the last presidential election it was more quiet. The ranting started again since the congressional speeches, where supposedly the right “found its voice again”, got antagonistic. All the media jumped.

Both parties talk about unity turning states from one color or the other to a blended color, but they are actually encouraging behaviors that keep the electorate divided. Especially at this time when one party feels they have to “rebuild” and it is apparent they don't know how far to go for 2010 votes. Yet if you listen to their speeches you realize they are just appealing to the same groups they have before. Check out the news from CPAC. I know the other party is doing something similar after reading their appeals for money.

What happened to discourse? When did it happen? Has it always been this way and I wasn't aware of it?

I only know that it is so bad that when we do hear someone appeal to our better natures we don't trust them. Or do we just like a good fight? I got tired of watching one PBS show because it is, as I call it, the “yelling show”. The show follows the same old format 2 Conservatives, 2 Liberals, and a “moderator”. But most of the time the people on the panel are the extreme conservatives and extreme liberals. The moderator has actually changed the position from which he guides the conversation since the election. Now he rants from a different political bent.

Maybe loud rants are what we do want. Perhaps we are so afraid of the truth we don't want to hear it. Perhaps it is more fun to only hear the outrageous. When I enjoy a black and white comedy or mystery movie from the late 30's I watch them on many levels. Sometimes I just don't want to face present day reality at least for a while. Maybe that is what is going on with our political rants. We enjoy the argument more than facing reality. Reality is sometimes full of fearful monsters we cannot control by ranting at them.

I fear we are addicted to the arguments and the battles more than any real attempts at answers to our problems. Political radio, TV, and editorial rants are becoming more entertainment than help.

What a let-down when we don't have a crisis whether it is WAR, economic messes, or a religious battle of some kind. If things get too quiet we may have to face the reality of our own daily lives. Maybe we don't know what to do with it anymore. We can only shop so much whether at a charity thrift store, a large discount store, or at an exclusive shop.

Or maybe we truly are more engaged in what our government is doing than we have been in many years. That can be great but let us hope we can handle it in a civilized manner.