Sunday, November 29, 2009


I must be honest with you – of all the public policy issues that regularly engage our nation in debate, none matter as much to me as those involving war and peace. And on that score, I’m not a happy man these days.

Consider me a bit like the pro-life crowd who sometimes come across as single-issue fanatics -- except that the lives I’m most worried about losing are actual living persons, rather than potential living persons. Debates about taxes, jobs, and minority rights are important, but somehow life and death seems even more fundamental. Even the health care debate, which ultimately affects life and death for Americans, pales in comparison to war and peace issues. After all, what is worse, what is uglier -- to stupidly fail to create a health-care infrastructure that can prevent as many American deaths as possible? Or to go overseas and intentionally slaughter people for no apparently compelling reason? To me, it is difficult to imagine anything worse for our image around the world (and even our self-image) than crazy adventures like the Iraq War. And it is difficult to imagine any greater glory for this country than if we could actually broker a just and secure peace in Israel and Palestine.

On issues concerning war and peace, this is the Thanksgiving of my discontent. We haven’t jumpstarted anything yet with Netanyahu or his Palestinian counterparts. If there is a peace process to speak of, it’s sure lost on me. A bunch of us will be gathering at the 6th and I Street Synagogue in Washington D.C. on Sunday, December 6th at 2:00 p.m. to attempt to gather some grass roots support for Middle East Peace. Maybe we can generate some momentum here in D.C. and call a little public attention to the problem. But we need the White House to be poised for action, and we need the leadership of the combatants in the Holy Land to want peace more than they want victory. Right now, I’m not seeing that happening.

I’m also not anticipating that President Obama will do what he has to do in Iraq and Afghanistan – which is to end America’s participation in those wars, and I mean now. Theoretically, there may be some legitimate role for a scaled-down U.S. military presence in that region. But the idea of hundreds of thousands of American troops remaining there in what can only be called a permanent nation-building exercise – that would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. If foreign troops are so damned necessary in the mountains of Afghanistan, let other countries supply the muscle for a while. There’s a reason why nobody is volunteering for that mission, and it’s not because we’re the only potential victim of international terrorism. It’s because there are plenty of cheaper ways to fight al Qaeda than by attempting to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. If I could read the lips from Berlin, Moscow, Paris, Beijing, and Tokyo, I’d know exactly what they’re all saying: “Good luck with that, suckers.”

All that said, there are always things to be sincerely thankful for this time of year – and I’m not just talking about the fact that if I can write this blogpost, and you can read it, it means that we’re both above ground and breathing. Thank God for that, and for the following as well, which I offer in no particular order of importance:

1. Thank God that we Americans live in a nation that has finally demonstrated its willingness to elect a black man President. I look forward to the day when our future Presidents will include a Latino, a Latina, a person of East-Asian descent, a Jew, and yes, a Muslim. Now, for the first time in history, those aspirations don’t sound so far-fetched.

2. Thank God that the man we have elected is such a thoughtful one. We may not like everything he’s been doing, but this weekend, it is appropriate to consider what we do like about him – and his thoughtfulness is what comes most immediately to mind. Contrast that to his predecessor, who viewed thoughtfulness as a mere symptom of indecisiveness.

3. Thank God that there is at least one silver lining to all the damage that the GOP is doing to our legislative process: at least they’re securing Barack Obama’s job security through 2016. My Republican friends like to point out that this nation is “center-right,” but these days, their party is more like troglodyte-right. Obama’s style is way too classy, and his substance way too moderate, to be defeated by someone reactionary enough to unify that Party. In other words, the GOP can continue to sabotage the legislative branch of our Government, but it can’t do that AND claim the Presidency – not against a campaigner as skillful as Obama.

4. Thank God China is finally beginning to make some noises about climate change. Yeah, I know – its announced target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45 percent by 2020 is grossly inadequate, yet it is a start. And the more that our nation busts its butt to fight global warming, the better shape we’ll be in to demand that China improve on its proposed target. It’s reasonable to expect the Obama Administration to emphasize climate-change reforms during the next several years as one of our highest priorities – for one thing, this is an area that could produce job growth, as well as promise environmental purification. Until now, we and the Chinese have been holding back the rest of the world. But if we come around, how could the Chinese dare to continue with business as usual?

5. Thank God that it now appears more likely than not that we’ll have significant health care reform. I know that this ballgame is far from over – the Blue Dogs in the Senate can still prevent a bill from seeing the light of day. But I suspect that the Senate will pass something, and then, through the reconciliation process, we’ll see a (partial) public option emerge. I don’t know too many people who doubt that at this point.

6. Thank God that all this talk of an economic “collapse” turned out to be hyperbole. This is not to say that nobody has suffered – I have friends who’ve been out of work for a long time, and frankly, I panicked and sold stock at a big loss to my family. But what’s pretty clear at this point is that the doomsday predictions of a year ago were way off base.

7. Thank God that Bruce Springsteen and his band are still going strong – and playing well – after more than three decades. I can think of better rock n’ roll bands (at least for my money), but none had the longevity of the E Street Band. And no, I don’t consider anything that Mick and Keith have done since the very early ‘80s to be the Rolling Stones. In fact, you can make a pretty good argument that there hasn’t been a legit Stones album made since Some Girls in 1978.

8. Thank God that Brett Favre didn’t listen to all the naysayers and decided to start his fifth decade on earth as a truly magical QB. I say that not only because I’m a Vikings fan, but because I’m a FOOTBALL fan. If you can’t appreciate what that guy is doing this year, you’re not one.

9. Last but not least, thank God that the greatest golfer of all time is healthy and ready to continue his assault on the record books when the season starts next year. Like everyone else, I assume that Tiger’s collision the other night and his refusal to speak to the media indicates that he’s been a naughty boy. But the beauty of living in a nation where citizens’ rights are respected is that he never has to explain his naughtiness – or his wife’s, if applicable – in excruciating detail. It’s possible that whatever sordid details exist will come out, but it’s also possible, and perhaps even likely, that someone as shrewd as Tiger might be able to keep the story effectively under wraps. Right now, the story reads like this: an athlete may or may not have had an extra-marital affair; the athlete’s wife may or may not have gotten pissed and hit him in the face; and the athlete may or may not have left his house in fear of his wife’s over-reaction to the news of the affair. We’ll see how much traction a (non) story like that will have. Even Nancy Grace might not want to take it on if nobody close to the situation is talking.

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