Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Inauguration and the Kindness of Strangers

I had the most amazing and wonderful experience in DC for the inauguration.

This journey started last February when I flew to Wisconsin at the last minute to see Barack Obama speak on the night of the Potomac Primaries last February. While waiting in line for several hours, I made conversation with an incredibly smart, warm, and politically-aware woman and her son. We stayed in touch after I returned home, and decided that if Obama won, we would go to the inauguration together. He won, and we kept our promise to each other.

Given how little anyone knew and determined to get the best possible spot, we decided to spend the night in DC in the hopes of getting into the mall early.

Rene, Gus, and I arrived at the mall's periphery around 10pm Monday night. The first entrance we tried was closed, so we walked to another entry point and found, to our great surprise, the mall at that entrance was wide open. We walked right up to the front of the unticketed viewing area, and found there the first few score of people already staking out territory. We picked a spot about 100 feet from the start of the free area, back far enough to see the first jumbotron, unfolded an emergency mylar blanket, and sat down, wondering when - and if - we'd sleep.

At first, we were full of energy and warm from our journey. But the temperature dropped into the teens rather quickly, and despite having six layers of clothing and two layers of gloves and socks, I realized I might not have prepared enough for the cold. Imagine snow camping, without a tent or bag.

Enter Savior #1. A tall, dark and handsome man named Jeff on a bicycle saw Rene, her son, and I sitting on a mylar blanket and came over to talk to us. He was planning to enter the mall in the morning, since he was staying with his son at nearby Georgetown University. He was so impressed that we were going to spend the night he offered to help us. He debated going back and bringing us an extra blanket for protection, which we quickly talked him out of. In the end, he insisted I take his pair of gloves designed, it seemed, for Arctic conditions. "What if you don't find us in the morning - how can I get these back to you?" I asked. Jeff said don't worry, he'd find us in the morning. Jeff asked if he should bring anything helpful when he came back. "Coffee!", Rene and I said simultaneously. Those gloves saved me from certain frostbite.

[A quick fast-forward: we never saw Jeff again! So if any of you know a man who gave his gloves to a woman in the mall the night of January 19, please, send him my way. They look expensive, and I really want him to get these back!]

As soon as we had settled into our spot, I wandered off to talk to others in the area. One of the reasons I wanted to come was to talk to the other people who felt the need to be there in person. What were their stories?

The first group I stopped at was a bunch of college-age kids from the Presidential Inaugural Conference, an event to which students with good grades could apply. One of the students was from the Ukraine, another from some other Eastern European country, and the rest were from America. They were seated in a circle facing each other, huddled around what they all wished was a campfire, but which was instead a pile of snacks and sodas from a nearby drugstore. They were all excited to be there, and to talk to each other about their dreams for our country.

One of them, Kyle, told me he was a Republican and had voted for McCain, but was very happy with Obama. Kyle felt he had to participate in such a historic moment, and felt it was really important for Republicans to give Obama the support he needed to do good deeds as president. That was so refreshing to hear!

I saw a bunch of people carrying obviously new cardboard boxes into the mall. I asked if I could have one, and was given one. I wanted Gus, the 10-year-old with us, to be able to sleep in it, since it was getting colder by the minute. Rene joked that if her husband knew her son was sleeping in a box on the mall in such weather he might have to sue her for child abuse. (You'd get the joke if you saw what a great mother Rene is with Gus!)

At some point after midnight, some people walked into our area carrying steaming fresh Starbucks coffee! Starbucks at this hour? I got the address and quickly headed off. As I left the mall area, I grew trepidatious, as security teams were busily fencing off all entrances to the mall. If I left, could I get back in? The closer I got to Starbucks, the greater my doubts became. I found an absolutely packed Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue, the parade route, at about 1:40 a.m. I grabbed drip coffee - no time to wait for a latte - and ran (and I do mean RAN) back to the mall entrance. I felt like I was in the opening credits of the old TV show Get Smart, in that doors and gates were closing right behind me as I ran through. I missed getting shut out of the mall by seconds! (Had I found them closed, however, I was certain I could get back in. Where there's a will, there's always a way. And Will would have been my middle name that night.)

When I came back to the mall and handed out the coffee, I met a guy from Ireland, who was surprised how little people knew about the presidency in this country. To demonstrate, he asked me a couple of questions. I told him he had the wrong person, but he persisted. "Who was the first unelected president?" he asked. "Gerald Ford," I replied, having written about him and that time period extensively. He was shocked I knew the answer - I guess I was the first to have gotten that one right. "What time does the presidency change hands?" "Twelve Noon," I responded, assuming surely many others got THAT one right. Hoping, anyway!

I met a skater from Canada from the "Disney on Ice" show. I met a lot of Canadians in the mall, come to think of it. I think most Americans would be shocked to see how much people of other countries know about our politics, especially compared to how little we know about countries besides this one. I wonder what percentage of the mall crowd was not from America at all. Of course, I talked to plenty of Americans, too!

Somewhere around 2am, a young guy who was obviously unprepared - he had only a sweater and leather coat and an old blanket around him like a shawl - came towards us. I talked to him and said he needed to sit by me so we could keep each other warm. He more than happily complied, wondering aloud what he had been thinking, leaving without any kind of preparation. He was going to school nearby and just wanted to be on the mall and just got up and walked over.

I soon found out our new companion was named Levi, although he was the son of a Catholic and a Muslim. He was also a Republican, and not just any Republican, but one who had actively worked on George W. Bush's 2004 campaign. Now, at 25 years old, he had come to regret not only that decision, but the hypocrisy in his own party, and, as leader of a student group, took his fellow Republicans on directly. How can you claim to be pro-life if you are against the Death Penalty or for war, he challenged them. How can you claim to be for conservative principles of smaller government and then vote Republican in this election when the last Republican president grew the size of government more than his Democratic predecessor? This year, he had worked for Barack Obama, while still adamantly identifying himself as a Republican. I was so thrilled. If the young are seeing past the dogma and rhetoric and thinking so independently on their own, then there is great hope for this country's future!

Levi ended up being Savior #2. As the night progressed, and my feet, thighs, and belly started to feel like blocks of ice, he and I huddled closer and closer together until we fell asleep crumpled around each other, sharing much-needed body warmth. I swear he kept me from getting frostbite last night, and vice versa.

Sunrise on the mall was a lovely sight. A soft pink glow suffused the skies through the branches of leafless cherry trees along the Potomac. The sky above the white dome of the capital changed from black to navy to Obama blue. The mood had changed from quiet hope to jovial excitement. Bodies were still strewn throughout, as people tried to get a last nap in before Obama spoke. Others were careful not to step on the would-be sleepers as they walked across the grass.

I have to say - I've never felt safer anywhere than I felt that night in the mall. There were no bad vibes at all, save from the police when they found out people had taken the garbage boxes that had yet to be set up and were turning them into sleeping mats and windbreaks. And even then, the police kept cool, and respectfully but strongly suggested the boxes be returned, and many of them were. No one on either side wanted to create any incident to mar the event.

Around 8am or so, the nearby jumbotron went on, creating a joyous roar from the nearby crowd. The video and sound from the Sunday concert played. Whoever had that brilliant idea, thank you. Rene and I had been in town Sunday night trying to get into that concert, with no success. It was ideal to be able to see it from the mall, surrounded by museums and monuments while facing the filling flag-draped Capitol steps.

At last, the inauguration ceremony began. Now, the crowd was quite thick indeed, but not scarily so.

The mall crowd laughed mightily every time it was asked to "please stand," as if we had a choice in the matter. Every time Obama came on the screen, people cheered. When Dick Cheney came out in a wheelchair, you could have heard a pin drop. I could practically feel people wanting to boo but then seeing the chair and wondering what had happened.

When Bush was announced, several around me did start to boo. A woman behind me, who had flown in all the way from Guam, got upset, saying he was still our president for the next few minutes, and deserved our respect. I sympathized with both points of view, and had chosen silence, myself.

My tears started just before Obama started to speak. Music is another one of my grand passions. I love a good cello, a good violin, a good oboe, and a good piano. To have all of those playing a beautiful rendition of that old Quaker tune "Simple Gifts" was extraordinary. And not just any musicians, but the best of the best. And I thought of John Williams, who always wanted to be taken seriously, but felt hampered in much of his later career because he became most famous for his score for Star Wars. Finally, Williams was treated like the artist he is, as demonstrated by that haunting and lovely rendition. As I started to cry, Levi put his arm around me and held me, understanding my flood of emotions at that moment.

And then, finally, Obama. OBAMA!!!! The crowds' flags were waving furiously. Chants and cheers, and tears of joy. The flubbed swearing in. The magnificent speech.

And what a speech. It was the first speech I've ever heard where someone dared to tell America, in sum, "grow up." Here are a few of my favorite parts:
... That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet. ...

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. ...

We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place ["Yeah!!" I shouted here], and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. ...

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. ...

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

... we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace. ...

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task. ...

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
I loved that Obama reached back through history not just to Lincoln, but back to the man whose words inspired the founding of our nation, Thomas Paine, when he spoke these words:
Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive,that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to"
Obama took that quote from Thomas Paine's "The American Crisis," which opens with these famous words:
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
Obama's inaugural theme was "a new birth of freedom" - a quote from Lincoln's Gettysburg address. But he wasn't just asking us to end the civil war. He was asking us to do something Thomas Jefferson begged us to do every twenty years: begin a new American Revolution. But in Obama's version, the revolution didn't start within the streets, but within ourselves. He's challenging us to reexam our own thinking, to question our beliefs and their bases. He's also asking us to figure out what we can do without so we can share it with someone else, what time we can sacrifice to help others who are worse off. Obama's powerful ending stirred the mall crowd to cheers and tears as he finished with these words:
America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
After that, I had no desire to stay and see a parade. I was fired up and ready to go. Unfortunately, DC was not ready for us to go. It took us no less than six frustrating hours of wandering from closed metro stops to fenced off streets to being sent by people in authority to dead ends before we finally made our way onto a metro train.

At one point, one authority sent us right into the path of a cop who told us, so unhelpfully, "Turn around and go back." At this point, we'd already been walking over four hours straight, not counting the five hours of standing in the morning and the few hours of sleep any of us got that night. I said to the cop, "On behalf of the crowd, I want to ask where we CAN go." He said again to get back, that they had found "a device," which sounded like he meant a bomb. I assured him I was not trying to endanger anyone, but just wanted to know which way we COULD go, since going "back" was a proven non-exit. He wouldn't or couldn't answer, and started threatening to arrest me, at which point, I politely but firmly asked for his badge number. "Do you really want to do that? Do you really want to go down that route?" he said, as if I were challenging him to a duel. I noticed a man filming the incident with his cell phone. He looked at me and nodded as if to say, yes, I'm capturing all of this. I would probably have pressed the advantage had not a second cop appeared then with an answer to my question, which was truly all I wanted. We took the new path and continued for another half hour, at which point we found an open cafe with people sitting on the floor and more floor space available. We all collapsed there and took in a little food, grateful to have found a reasonably clean spot to sit on. The restrooms stank, but not as badly as the ones in the mall!

When we finally got to an open metro station, it took us over an hour more to get from outside the station to standing in the train. But it didn't matter. We were finally on our way home. And no matter the problems, the people nearly everywhere were incredibly patient. Kind. Mature. Even Gus, our 10-year-old companion, did not complain, though his belly must have been aching for nourishment and his feet craving to be relieved. He asked many questions in the hopes of helping us find a faster way out of town, or in the hopes of at least setting his own expectations. It was heartbreaking to have to say, we don't know when we'll be able to sit down. I don't know how far the next metro is. I don't know how long it will take us to get on it. But he never cried or tried to make demands. He was a model citizen. Rene and her husband have certainly raised this remarkable child well.

I will always treasure this momentous day, and the circumstances that led me to DC to participate in this. I am so grateful to Jeff, to whom I really must return those gloves. I was so thrilled to meet Levi, with his warm hugs and clean reasoning. I am so grateful that Rene allowed me to stay rent free in her hotel room, and that Rene's mother was willing to ferry us from Richmond to Springfield, our metro entry and exit point. I was so entertained with Gus' recitation of interesting facts he had learned en route to the event.

Most of all, however, I am grateful to my fellow citizens, who rose up and helped seize our country back. Whether it remains in our grasp will be up to us. If the people I met at the biggest inaugural party in the world were any indication, our future is in fantastic hands. I pray that it remains so, for many years to come.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blessed are the peacemakers

Not since Bobby have we seen this much love for one man. Obama is the hope of not just America, but the world. Before we see witness Tuesday's outpouring, let's take a moment to reflect on this. People who weren't alive then can't understand how the Kennedys were loved, and the cost at which that love was earned.

Friday, January 16, 2009

From Kennedy to Obama, and what we can do to help

Ever since I finished reading Jim Douglass' book JFK and the Unspeakable, I've been longing to spend time telling you why this is the single best book on the assassination ever. But I fear I may never have the time it would take to do the book justice. You'll just have to read it for yourself.

Meanwhile - here's a short article that just came out, and an interview with Douglass, that will hopefully inspire you to go read this book, if you haven't already. There are hundreds of books on the assassination. My shelf of the 'best books' is very small. But this one is the single best one, encompassing the best evidence of who Kennedy was, why he was killed, and by whom.

In this article, the author explains why we need to be understand what happened to Kennedy so we can help protect Obama so he does not suffer the same fate. He will undoubtedly suffer the same tests. I hope you'll read this and watch the interview. But ultimately, you are not fully armed for the battles to come until you have read Douglass' book. Please make the effort. It will be well worth your time.

Monday, January 05, 2009

What the inauguration means to me

I had a dream, a few nights ago. No, not Martin Luther King's kind! I dreamt I was in some small hotel, which nonetheless was the place where Michelle and Barack Obama were staying prior to the inauguration in ... San Francisco. Dreams do that, you understand!

San Francisco had these futuristic hotels - all exactly the same, evenly spaced like hotels from Monopoly along the north side of the Bay (which is not where San Francisco lies, relative to the Bay). And each had a roof just like that of the Denver airport - tented with white canvas peaks.

I put on glasses that allowed me to see forward in color, but which changed my peripheral vision to black and white, "so as not to distract me." It was a very odd dream, you understand.

But the only part that made sense was Michelle coming to sit at my table in some area of this small and not exactly upscale hotel. She came over and encouraged me to write my own story of what the inauguration means to me, and why I am going. Because I AM going. Got the flight, got the room, got the rain/snow/warm weather gear, and I've got the good energy. But Michelle encouraged me strongly to write, and in my dream, I did.

Shortly thereafter, Barack Obama came by, and Michelle said I should show him what I wrote. He wanted me to tell him instead - prefering the in-person exchange. And of course, as we so often do in these dreams, I drew a complete blank, and was horrified. Here was my chance, in person, to tell Barack Obama of my hopes for him as President, and I couldn't get it out.

I usually don't remember my dreams when I wake, but this one, which I dreamt somewhere between the midnight champagne and the sunrise hike to the top of Mt. Hollywood (yes, there really is such a thing) on New Year's day, demanded to stay in memory. And such persistence required a response.

So okay. Why am I so excited, fearful, joyous, and worried all at the same time? The short answer reads like this: history, history, history, and history.

I assume, however, that you and the Barack of my dream would prefer something a little more explicit. So here goes.

I am excited. This is the first time in my life my first choice even made it out of the primaries. That's pretty huge, right there.

I was terrified that our nominee would be Hillary Clinton, and that the right wing had a number of aces up their sleeve. They were, I felt, just salivating for a chance to go after her. I thought she was perhaps the only candidate we could field that had the power to unite the fragmented, disheartened Republican party in opposition.

And I was never really enthralled by the Clintons. I worked hard for former California Governor Jerry Brown's campaign in 1992, rather than support what I saw as the too-close-to-the-right-wing Clintons. I was hardly surprised, then, to see right wingers supporting Hillary. I felt they had a dual motive. First, they thought she would be easier to beat. And second, if she won, she'd still be more friendly to them than Obama.

And that's where my fear kicks in. What if I'm wrong? What if this man, who has such a good voting record, a real record of positive, progressive (if moderate) reform in the Illinois state legislature, becomes a sell-out once in office? It's possible. It happens to most.

Let's be honest. Most people can be bought. Those that can't be bought can often be compromised, and then threatened. In my experience, most people are only just so honest, and then they try to bend the rules for personal advantage.

I don't think Obama is without sin. I don't think he's a perfect man, at all. I'm sure we'll all learn something, or several things about him, that will eventually give us pause. But I also think he's very acutely aware of what indiscretions cost Bill Clinton, and has enough discipline and determination to avoid any events that might derail his agenda.

Because, unlike Clinton, Obama is, and is aware that he is, a historic figure. As the first president of both European and African descent (he's part Irish, remember!), he knows his every move will be scrutinized by history for generations to come. Entire rows of books will be devoted to his life, his works, his administration.

And whatever else you think about Obama, I believe one of his best attributes is that he aspires to greatness. Most people just aspire to be president. They don't aspire to be one of the great presidents. But Obama does, I believe. And that gives me hope. He may try, and fail. But I'd rather have one that aims high, rather than one who throws up his hands and says, oh well. Heck of a job, Brownie.

I am joyful that we have a man who takes being a father seriously. He's a fantastic role model to generations of men alive today, and those not yet born who will hear of him later. I love the way he stays involved in their lives, cares so much about them, really wants what's best. I know that his desire to protect their future will cause mine to be more fully protected. He's concerned about global warming and planetary health. He has to be, if he wants to someday meet his grandchildren.

I am also joyful that my country proved three things: that hope triumphs over fear, that racial barriers are dissolving, and that our system proved resistant enough to theft to allow the people, as opposed to election hackers, to choose our next President.

President Barack Obama. I can't wait to be there as he becomes President. As a Real History lover, it's amazing to be able to swim in the very history I enjoy writing about, to be there when this incredible moment occurs, the miracle of the peaceful transfer of power in a Democracy.

But I'm worried, too. Our vote is still in peril. Let's not get complacent. I think there were a number of reasons why this particular election wasn't stolen. But the power to do so remains, so long as unverifiable, unauditable machines are allowed to be used. I am heartened that Congressman Rush Holt and his staff are readying yet another bill which will do much to protect our vote. We can't rest on our laurels. We need to make sure what happened in 2000, and 2004, can never happen again. Not in this country, and not in any other country, if we do this right. We can set a strong example.

So what does this inauguration mean to me?

It means that Dr. King was right. The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice, and this man was judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

It means that John F. Kennedy's call was heeded, that this year, people asked themselves what they could do for their country, and answered by driving all over the country, calling neighbors and strangers, working to bring in votes for Obama.

It means that Abraham Lincoln was right, and that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, has not perished from this earth. It means we were right to hope, that the "new birth of freedom" Lincoln spoke to us about in his famous Gettysburg address is here at last.

This inauguration also means that we can learn from history. It's significant to me that Obama has chosen as the theme for the inauguration a Lincoln phrase. Lincoln once said, "If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it." In other words, the study of history affords us useful information, not hobbiest entertainment, and no more so than in field of governance. Obama gets this.

I hope those who attend the inauguration, or who watch it on TV, will be so moved by the historicity of the moment that they develop a lifelong interest in the lessons of the past. We have so much to invent. Let's not waste time reinventing the mechanisms of financial recovery when we have so much history to learn from already.

I've been reading up on the Depression, its causes, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's moves to stimulate the economy. I know Obama is reading this information as well. I hope he notices that it wasn't until Roosevelt bit the bullet, so to speak, and significantly raised the highest tax brackets on the wealthy, that the economy really began to recover. Roosevelt nearly single-handedly created the middle class in this country. Prior to that, and more recently, our country really only had the very wealthy and those just getting by. But under Roosevelt, and with the aid of a strong union movement, the middle class grew, and flourished, much to the dismay of the monied class, as Roosevelt essentially had to stimulate inflation to allow housing prices to recover.

Inflation is a scary word. It has caused the downfall of countries, and allowed the rise of Hitler in Germany. But inflation, if carefully controlled, can also be a tool for economic recovery. Inflation is, in a way, a progressive tax, as it takes more from those who have the most wealth, and is gentlest with those who have the most debt, as the value of those debts is ultimately reduced, through inflation.

If Obama tries to follow FDR's path, he'll undoubtedly be called all the same epithets, including "Socialist" and "Communist." And it won't be any more true of Obama than it was of FDR, as both are inveterate capitalists. The monied class will likely try to overthrow him, as they tried to do with Roosevelt in the strangest coup that almost was.

It will be up to all of us to fight back with information, to hold the media's feet to the first, as did I.F. Stone and George Seldes during those times. Those of us who have spent our lives trying to help others know our biggest effort is still ahead of us.

The darkest time in my lifetime was not 9/11. It was June 5, 1968. As Jack Newfield, a reporter and friend of Robert Kennedy once wrote,
Now I realized what makes our generation unique, what defines us apart from those who came before the hopeful winter of 1961, and those who came after the murderous spring of 1968. We are the first generation that learned from experience that things were not getting better, that we shall not overcome. We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were alone.
For the first time in my entire life, I feel things will get better, and we are not alone. Obama can't do it by himself, but if we all put our shoulders into it, I'm confident we can roll that stone back up the hill it to its rightful place at the top, pointing the way to a better future.

That's what the inauguration means to me. It means a chance to pick up after 40 years of lost history; to regain our moral standing in the world; to prove once again that government can serve the many, not just the few; and that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is not only still viable but in fact the best possible system on the planet.

There, Michelle. Will you pass that along to your husband, lest I blow it again? Many thanks.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Israel and Palestine - a tale of two tragedies

Imagine you live in, say, San Diego. Imagine that, because of our criminal incursion into Iraq, the rest of the world decided to punish us and help Israel by forcing Americans out of San Diego and allowing Israelis to move there. San Diego is one of the bastions of right wing sentiment, and I can only imagine that such a move would breed a much more virulent antisemitism where only a relatively minor amount existed previously.

Imagine now that the Israelis, settled in San Diego, decided to expand their territory. After all, they were surrounded by people who hated them, who wanted America back, intact. Who were throwing rocks at them, and, eventually, bombs.

Would the liberals of America sit back and let Israel expand their territory in the name of protection? I sure wouldn't. It was an awful thing to force one people to move aside for another, regardless of the horrific circumstances that mandated it. The world failed the Jews for most of WWII. America turned a blind eye to the concentration camps until Pearl Harbor forced our entry into the war. We have Israeli blood on our hands.

But we would never tolerate the American Indians forcibly expanding their reservations because they fear losing their culture. We would never tolerate a settlement of Israels taking over San Diego, and then expanding it! Yet we blindly support Israel now, because no one wants to be accused of being antisemitic. Or, really, no politician wants to reject the Jewish teat flowing with the mother's milk of politics - money.

We're always told Hamas's actions are acts of aggression, and Israel's acts of acts of self defense. But Palestine is not infringing on Israeli territory! It's the other way around!

I deplore both sides for using violence to achieve their means. But when the world refuses to make Israel sit down and negotiate with its enemies, we are all to blame.

Israel was created through abominable circumstances. And we're kidding ourselves if we think the primary reason Israel was created at all was to help the Jews. It was to give the Americans and British empire builders a foothold in the oil-rich Middle East. That's the real reason we support Israel. We need to be able to land at and launch actions from their shores. We're using them too.

I've been trying to understand why people, over the centuries, hated the Jews. And that's a subject for another post. There is, at least, an explanation, but not a justification. I certainly don't hate any Jews! And the only generalization I'm going to make is that the few Jews I got to know well all seemed to have a highly developed sense of humor, were talented artistically, and were very compassionate towards others. Are all Jews like that? That's a silly question - because no population is homogenous on any level! I'm just saying the Jews I've met have been an extraordinarily talented and wonderful bunch. And when I've broached this topic with some of them, they've agreed that Israel has gotten out of bounds.

I honestly think the Middle East will always be at war until the Jews themselves force Israel to back off and play nice with its neighbors. While Arab state leaders like to spew anti-Israeli sentiment, the Arabs I've met here in America have no problem with Israel existing, so long as it respects its internationally agreed-to borders.

And for those who say that's impossible, that the population of Israel is growing and has to go somewhere, think of what that means for the rest of the planet, and borders everywhere. We've really got a challenge for us - how to live with each other on a planet holding more people than it can easily support. We're certainly not going to survive, this little human race, until we realize we are all equally deserving of the resources here and learn to play fairly with others.

I'm running out of time, and meant to make this an intro to this great article, far more articulate than myself on this matter, by Wallace Shawn in The Nation. Please read it, and circulate it. Israel needs an honest friend, the kind that tells you when you've overstepped. America needs to be that friend now, before the Israelis put their citizens in further danger.