Monthly Archives: January 2011

Julian Assange – Hero or Iconoclast?

Julian Assange at New Media Days 09 in Copenhagen.Image via Wikipedia

Julian Assange was just on 60 Minutes. He is a strange one. One minute he seems admirable, the next just arrogant and smug. He says he is a Libertarian who believes completely in the right to freedom of speech. He says he doesn’t like to let big government or big institutions get away with lies. He thinks all people should know all the facts so they can make truly informed decisions. He sounds like he believes in the total transparency of all governments and institutions, no secrets, no national security, no corporate secrets. It sounds like something that everyone wants, except big government and big institutions.

But his actions will have consequences most likely and he is not concerned about the outcome. He has a “let the chips fall where they may” attitude. He feels his targets deserve whatever happens. Do we want to praise his actions? Maybe part of us does. But if he is effective in riling everyone up will we be happy with the chaos left in his wake? He claims he is a journalist, not a revolutionary. He has no stake in the outcome. It is just his job to make sure we know everything. He is the Sgt. Friday of the world of journalism, “just the facts ma’am, just the facts.”

Do we want this man to start something he has no personal stake in? Do we want our world destabilized by surprise without any time to figure out what the data means and what we want to do about it? Is he just throwing meat to hungry dogs and watching the resulting frenzy? Is the way he gets his information ethical? Perhaps no one should have put all their eggs in one internet. Apparently any security people thought they had through encryption is a total myth. We might have to go back to a paper-based office for awhile.

I find I don’t like the idea of my government being embarrassed by someone who is not an American. I will admit that I sang along with the Beatles song “Revolution” when I was much younger and I still do if I hear it, but the revolution I thought about was a non-violent revolution. I wanted change and we all did and we got it. Is Julian Assange trying to incite a revolution? Is it possible that this situation could unwind in much more violent ways than the events in the 60’s? Perhaps his disclosures will actually have little or no effect.

It always seemed like we wanted to know all the secrets and lies but it is hard to admire this man for making this happen because he says he doesn’t care what results from his disclosures. I am having a visceral and negative reaction to this man. How about you?

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My Connection with Egypt

View from Cairo TowerImage via Wikipedia

My friend who lives in Germany right now, at one time lived in Egypt for four years. I have an entire photograph album of pictures she sent me. She lived in Cairo. She volunteered while she was there with orphan children and taught some English as a Second Language. She could not drive in Cairo as women do not drive there. This kind of loss of freedom is difficult for American women. She often mentioned how much poverty there was in Cairo and how little modern convenience. The pictures she sent us backed up her views. Buildings were still built by teams of workers with stone and mortar, using buckets, wheelbarrows, ropes and wooden scaffolding. She also mentioned how skilled, artistic, and cultured the Egyptian people were, and she sent us many wonderful gifts that backed up this view. She taught herself some Arabic and tried to use it when she went shopping. The shop keepers and craftsmen liked it very much when she tried to speak Arabic.

I love freedom and I surely wish it for all people of the world, even with the recognition that my own freedom is not absolute. It is a degree of freedom and equality which is required by the human spirit that the people of the world strive for. I hope the world has reached a point where the Egyptians do not have to fight a war to win the freedoms they require. Even if the current government quells the upheaval I want to believe that Egypt can reform itself and enter the 21st century as a nation that protects the human rights of its citizens.

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Book – The Kitchen House

Stories of slavery are often so full of cruelty and sorrow that they are really almost too sad to read. But we should read them anyway because the way to avoid repeating history’s worst mistakes is to remember how terrible they were.

Kathleen Grissom creates a character, a young Irish orphan, taken in as an indentured servant, at a southern plantation. This young girl named Lavinia, mourning her family, unable to remember her past, is placed in the kitchen house at the plantation where she joins the more than kind African slaves who become her family. Lavinia tells part of the story. Grissom also creates the character Belle who tells the other half of the story. The two women alternate chapters. Belle is the daughter of the plantation owner and one of his slaves who died at the birth of the child.

This story offers us a view of an experience that is becoming too distant from our memories. The book resorts to a few clichés but what is so original is having a character who has access to both groups and who is torn between them. Some of this dichotomy still exists in our culture.

State of the Union

The speeches at the State of the Union Address perfectly mirror the very different views of the Democrats and the Republicans. These views have lots of historical precedence and have barely changed over time according to things I have been reading.

The Republicans often are as you might guess, Conservative. They are not the people you want to turn to when you need to take risks. They have traditionally been the party of isolationism and the status quo. They act like they channel our forefathers and have a dedicated line that communicates to them exactly what the framers of our constitution intended. Republicans would have us put our noses to the grindstone and pay our debts, a very sound thing to do and usually the right thing to do.

However if we put our heads down against the grindstone right now by the time we lift them up the world will have moved on without us. We cannot afford to take a break from the global economy. It is a terrible time to stay out of the fray. We must take risks. We don’t have the internal economic engine to drive our own economy out of debt. Obama had it right. We have to balance debt repayment with investments in our economy, our educational system and our infrastructure or we cannot keep up. This is not a time to be conservative. It is not a time to be liberal. It is a time to be smart.

Our forefathers would be the last people who would want our Constitution to become a straightjacket.

Books – A New Spy

Search for alex berenson books in orderFinding a good spy thriller has been more difficult since the end of the Cold War. Russia made the scariest and the best enemy, not the real Russia probably, but some literary construct of Russia. But I have recently discovered the books of Alex Berenson who writes very successful spy thrillers with our more modern bogey men in the place Russia once occupied. Berenson’s hero, John Wells, who saved New York City from a terrorist attack, bounces around between the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and North Korea, hitting all the hot spots. He is not a loner either but has a committed relationship with Exley (she has a first name, but she is most often known as Exley. I have read only The Ghost War which I read out of order by accident. I assume we have Exley through the whole series but I will have to keep reading to find out.

There are five of these novels so far. In order of publication they are:

The Faithful Spy
The Ghost War
The Silent Man
The Midnight House
The Secret Soldier

Playing God

TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 8:  Tara Sullivan (L), 33...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Yes, Congresswoman Giffords is making remarkable progress and we’re all very happy about that. But we must not forget that because of one person playing God she is not sitting in Congress right now. She is not able to do the work she wanted to do. She is fighting for her life and she has been robbed of her present, and perhaps even her future which may be very different from the way she imagined it. I also have not heard anyone speak about whether she remembers what happened and how difficult it will be for her to adjust to that knowledge. It looks like God, or the cosmos, or whatever forces one believes in, still has plans for Gabrielle Giffords. I hope Giffords overcomes the odds and is able to go back to Washington to do the work she wanted to do. I am constantly inspired by people who fight adversity in their lives and who win. However, I still hope for a future where terrible events like the one in Tucson do not occur.

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Losing The American Dream?

There were things we counted on, ingredients essential to the “American Dream” that we expected our elected government representatives to protect for us. We expected them to protect our jobs, our schools, our lives, our pensions (our future), and our environment (including infrastructure). No matter what, we expected our elected leaders to be honest. I have come to believe that they pretended our economy was still healthy when it wasn’t. It was their job to keep us safe from unscrupulous business practices like those in the housing market. We are educated citizens and we have elected people who are perhaps even better educated than we are. But they have not been honest, they did not protect us from a serious economic downturn, they let job losses get totally out of hand and they let the housing market whirl out of control. We may have all been in denial, but it is difficult to understand why some of our brightest and best were not more realistic.

I realize we were all stunned by 9/11, but we were supposedly all determined to stand strong. It looks like our leaders buried their heads in the sand, so they would not lose their standard of living and so that Americans would not panic. Now that the economy has experienced the downturn which we all tried to avoid just by pretending it would not happen, our elected leaders are willing to give away the store to pay down the deficit, not their store, ours. We all realize our credit in the world is important; however, our government is not blameless in this deficit dilemma. They were complicit by omission. They let thorny economic issues slide until they exploded. They held on to their incomes while we were losing (have lost) ours.

Now they want to solve our budget woes by taking even more away from those of us who worked but did not get rich. They want to stop paying for Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They want to give away the pensions of public employees when these were part of their negotiated benefits, when public employees accepted lower salaries than those in the private sector in exchange for future security. How can you give states permission to stop paying these funds? It’s our money. Public employees served loyally and they cannot live without their pensions. Our elected representatives seem willing to cut into the financial resources of average citizens, but unwilling to tap the wealthy, who got rich at our expense.

We-the-people are America and we want some security in our old age that we can rely on. We want affordable colleges and excellent schools. We want jobs and good health and safe ways to travel. We want to keep our competitive edge in the world. Do you really think that we will keep our place among world economies by abandoning the responsibilities we owe our own citizens?

Infomercial Lust

While one part of me is appalled at America’s conspicuous consumption another corner of me, that I mostly ignore, lusts after each new infomercial marvel that comes down the pike. Right now I am thinking that I definitely need that “Wonder File” (fold-up desktop), also that “I Renew” bracelet (for balance). I need that “Kleen Screen” (AC cover), those “Pajama Jeans” that smooth your butt. I need that “Chef’s Basket” for 14.98, that “Easy Feet” foot cleaner for 9.98, that “Hydrocare” thingy that keeps your galvanized pipes clear (price not given), the “Neat Desk Scanner” (also no price given), the “Instyler” for my hair for 14.95, the “Grill Daddy and Beef Thermometer” for 14.99, the Michael Jackson coffee table book Never Can Say Good-Bye for 39.95. Maybe I should get those “Bumpits” to lift my hair, those new plastic things that allow you to instantly hem your jeans, those” cami” things to hide my cleavage. I don’t have my “Sham Wow” yet or my “Magic Jack”. I am really falling behind. These things all sound so wonderful and necessary when they describe them on TV. But I’m a “B” and only “M-Z” can call today, besides my card is way across the room. So as soon as the ad is over I forget that I need this excellent invention, until the next time I hear the sound of the next infomercial and I sit hypnotized like a toddler once again.

Cutting the Deficit

I’m guessing almost all Americans believe that there is so much waste in government spending that we could get rid of the deficit by just searching out unnecessary spending and putting a stop to it. Maybe we’re naïve but most of us believe this. We also believe the Medicaid program needs reform because it invites fraud and lots of wasteful spending. To us, it appears that no one in Federal or State government really plans to balance the budget by trimming waste. Instead our elected representatives in government seem to cut always from the bottom. They take away services from the neediest among us. They cut schools, they raise tuitions, they cut Social Programs like Medicare and Social Security. We have witnessed zero attempts to balance the budget by cutting waste.

If we are fighting amongst ourselves to save our favorite areas of concern then we forget to keep insisting that our elected reps should perform careful surgery on precise areas of the budget rather than simply making sweeping percentage-style cuts. Where are those number crunchers who should be going through the budget line by line making these surgical cuts? Where are the investigators who should be finding places where fraud can creep into our programs and closing these loopholes?

If the nation were a ship the rule would be women, children and old people last; if the nation were a movie the frames that concern these groups are showing up first on the cutting room floor. I know we need profit to keep our economy humming along, but a great society cannot ignore the women, the children or the parents and grandparents. We need you to be smart right now. But we feel we are still seeing greedy self-serving decision-making.

Cutting Medicare

Cutting Medicare payments for home health care is one of those really short-sighted decisions that will actually cost taxpayers more money, and more anguish. Most seniors cannot pay for home health care from their own incomes. Often seniors exist at or below the poverty level. Sometimes the only valuable assets they have are their homes. If they cannot stay in their homes because of health needs they will have to go to nursing homes or to live with family. Sometimes there are no family members to care for seniors. Again the nursing home will be necessary. Nursing home care is very expensive – up to $9000 per month apparently. When I have visited nursing homes it seemed to me that many people are merely warehoused there, especially if they lose their mobility. I would think depression could be a real factor when forced to leave your home.

I believe the dialogue ought to be about what level of health care need would require a senior to give up home health care and look for another option. A certain callousness is apparent in these budget cutting suggestions which hurt the more helpless among us. These suggestions also seem to express a belief that the people doing the cutting will not suffer as a result of these cuts. But everything is interconnected. You may have more money in your pocketbook or our national budget, but the negative fallout will be very hard to take. Watching peoples’ anguish sort of takes away any joy that might accrue from these kinds of cuts. One message of the 21st century seems to be “don’t get old” unless you can afford it.