Sunday, September 25

Lies We Still Believe

"War is good for the economy." For too many years we've accepted that this is true. And yet, clearly, in this moment, we have proof that war is killing not only people, but also the economy because of all the debt that has been amassed to support our military excursions.

In an odd sort of way we had a chance to elect a president in 1972 who promised hope and change and would have likely delivered on that promise. George McGovern stated in his nomination acceptance speech that he would have ended the war in Vietnam on the night of his inauguration. Sadly the American people and political operatives were more afraid of those people who were included in his campaign than with their better angels or wisdom.

Fast forward to 2011 and we have a president who continues wars without a real end because he is playing a dwindling deck of cards and it requires him to hold on to the families of military families while ignoring the families of the nearly 60 million people who are unemployed. But not just him, but those robber-barons who build wealth for themselves and select others while pick-pocketing from their own workforce.

As a result of the lie we still believe, it is believed that we don't have the wiggle room to make mistakes with what resources we do have and so the conventional wisdom is to reduce the national debt while families suffer, poverty increases, and the elderly and those approaching retirement worry about what will happen to their nest eggs.

There is a second lie we shouldn't believe, "What is good for business is good for America." Business is not a person with a mortgage, a health condition, or even with children who serve in harm's way. And yet we afford it the rights of personage.

America is a great country because of its people and not in spite of them. But we need a national leader who will stand with us and not with CEOs, bankers, and financiers. We need our president to say what needs to be said, there is a war, but it is between those who have ruined the financial markets and the rest of us.

War is not good for the economy, but paraphrasing what Walter Kelly the creator of Pogo once said, "We have seen the enemy and he is being treated better than the rest of us." We need to clamp down on grossly paid corporate employees and people whose sole earnings come from reinvesting long-held family assets. If the rest of us are seeing our incomes remain flat or declining, they should join us be being taxed for their greed or forced to put people to work by enforced investment. We have tried voluntary incentives, but that only creates a culture of going to where the grass is greener somewhere else.

Wall Street has failed us, it is time for Main Street principles to be applied. On Main Street, we all do well if we are all working and using what each other is able to make or do. Main Street fails when we forget about our duty to each other. This is something that the wealthy, the middle class, and the poor can agree.

We can no longer live in ignorance of truth. Wars don't make economies better. Business is not more important than what is in the best interest of the rest of us. I believe that effective government is being an enforcement tool to fix what private enterprise has no interest in doing; that is making sure that democracy works. Maybe this is a lie too?

Sunday, September 11

Lessons from 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I walked to work. It was a cool, crisp Iowa morning. As I often did, I took a path through Hickory Hill Park, a local nature conservancy area, and I ended up lost causing me to be late. When I arrived at work, there were already people asking each other, "Did you hear?" or "Can you believe it?" The first plane had already struck Tower 1 of the World Trade Center and, as I sat in my cubicle looking for updates on CNN and any other news site that had a different perspective of the developing story, I was dumbstruck.

There was no way of knowing who had done it or what was really happening, but I felt a fear I had never known. As I looked around and talked to others, I realized how connected we were all in that feeling of shock and abject ignorance. We hoped it had been a bizarre accident, but when the second plane hit Tower 2, there was no doubt and a deeper fear arose--this was planned and all of us might be in danger. When the third plane struck the Pentagon, the surreal nature of what was happening began to sink in. Could our country really be under attack? Why?

In the following days, long after the fourth plane crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania, after the first-responders and others walked like ghosts from the ash of midtown Manhattan and later rescue workers began digging through the wreckage searching for survivors, people were talking. "Did you know anyone who was there?" Neighbors were reaching out, complete strangers talked to each other--what would happen next?--an eminent war that would be supported because of the callous nature of the acts.

We were a united people in that brief moment, united in our grief, our anger, and our belief that we had been wronged. President Bush, who I and many others thought was the wrong choice of a leader when he was elected by the narrowest of margins, became vastly presidential in announcing that we would not let it stand. The very night of the attacks he said, "Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts," "Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve," and "The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts...we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." And we believed that was the right thing to do: To find those who had done this and exact justice.

Fast forward to March of 2003, long after we had forged ahead on breaking up Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, we were told that we needed to go into Iraq because they too were a danger to us. Then we began secretive forays into Iran, Pakistan, Syria and other places that the US government was sure were harboring those who were against us.

Meanwhile, back home, the USA Patriot Act was passed and many people were being summarily rounded up, Muslims or people who looked like they might be, were under attack just because they resembled the people who had attacked us. Our privacy was being invaded to allow law enforcement officials to have access to information that might incriminate us. People were being held without charges. Guantanamo opened and renditions occurred.

Today, ten years after the fact, trillions of dollars have been spent, thousands of lives have been sacrificed, Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are dead, and we are still at war; and would appear, a war without real resolution. Our way of life has changed, but mostly because how we have reacted after the fact.

9/11 has taught me many things. Freedom is not free because it is easily taken away--and often freely given away. The safety that we wanted so badly after 9/11 opened the door for horrible policies to gain legitimacy--waterboarding, FISA--the surveillance act, the non-compliance to the Geneva Convention protocols, among them.

Like most, I grieve the lives of those innocent lives that were lost on that fall day and all those lives since then swallowed up in war, but mostly I grieve the loss of our way--we had a brief defining moment that brought us together as a people and look where we are now?--distrustful of each other as much as we are of our government. Instead of doing what in our national interest, we are witnessing a rolling up of the sidewalk by corporations who could make jobs, by consumers who are afraid of the consequences of buying homes or donating to charities or paying our fair share of taxes to make sure everyone can get through this.

9/11 also showed me that we are better than this. We are a nation of people who will do herculean things when the cause is just. The pictures of those who were first on the scene and the way they gamely tried to save others, in some cases giving up their own lives, will be forever etched in my mind, It's really hard to know if 9/11 will be remembered as the Pearl Harbor of our time, as President Bush was noted as recording in his journal the night it happened or if it will be remembered as the time when America forever lost its way. The next generation has to decide if we will be a united nation or if we will fracture.

9/11 also showed me that if events like those that led to "Arab Spring" can happen, that freedom and peace are also attainable. If we truly wish to live in a world that resembles our remembrances of pre-9/11, we need to acknowledge that our security was predicated on others being persecuted. 9/11 showed us that our being free is only as good as all people being free.