Everyone’s heart doesn’t beat the same

The political issue this summer has clearly been President Obama’s healthcare plan. I’ve written about it, along with many other dissenters, and really, that should be the end of it. Politicians will do what they’re going to do, everyone will talk about it for a while but then something else will happen and the issue will be forgotten by the American consciousness like most issues are.

What’s happening instead is quite different. As conservatives rush to get information out there, President Obama has already rushed out another web site that sets us all straight, and along with the liberal media, the Obama administration has begun reporting, lambasting and skewering all dissenters of the health care plan. Town halls are being held where some protesters are getting angry and perhaps over the top, but as this writer points out, maybe they have a right to be.

The issue is no longer health care – it’s free speech. My sister gets Brownie points from me this summer for not only making me brownies, but also introducing me to Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip. While the 2006 TV show is entertaining and lighthearted, it’s season-long story arc explores some very dark themes including the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. The show is set in 2006, but there are many flashbacks to the post-9/11 days and weeks showing the main character (Matt Albie) remaining patriotic, but irreverent, as he tried to do his job as a comedy writer. It was after watching this that I wonder how many of us were on the other side of Matt Albie, criticizing all dissenters and claiming they were un-American. I like to think I keep a pretty open mind, but in the immediate days and weeks after those days I’m sure that while maybe I didn’t express that sentiment, I felt it.

The crisis with health care is similar. We’re in one of the largest recessions ever seen in modern times, and as people lose their jobs and companies cut back, people are losing their health care coverage or seeing it reduced before their very uninsured eyes, and they probably face similar emotions as the citizens of New York, Washington and really the entire U.S. faced in 2001. On the other side, people who still have jobs don’t want to give up more of their paychecks to taxes when it could go towards college, food or gasoline. It’s an emotional, personal issue for anyone who’s responsible for their own healthcare.

I’m going to bring up another issue that is periodically discussed which emotional for many people: flag burning. Let me get one thing out in the open: I am personally against flag burning. That is, if you were burning a flag (or attempting to do so) in front of me and I could do something about it, I’d either beat you up or go all Rick Monday up in here). However, it’s not up to the government to decide we can’t burn the flag. This isn’t a belief I’ve arrived at lightly, and I used to support a flag burning amendment. But since then I’ve realized it’s more important to allow some disrespectful dissenters than sacrifice freedoms that might be needed someday. There are certainly more respectful ways to protest, but it’s up to us as a society to keep it civil, not the government.

So in essence, maybe Republicans who don’t want universal health care are wrong. Maybe Democrats who do want it are wrong. But killing the debate is also wrong. It was wrong after September 11th (although, if I had to be honest, I’d say that there was much more universal support for the actions taken after September 11th), and it’s wrong now. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with the issue – it’s less important than your freedom to defend it. That is, if you blindly support Obama on every issue, (or Bush, for that matter), remember Senator Amidala’s quote in Revenge of the Sith: “So this is how democracy dies…to thunderous applause.” Killing debate is tantamount to killing democracy.

P.S. There’s another great movie to watch that shows what could start by just surrendering the slightest bit of freedom: V for Vendetta.

…and a pocketful of dreams

Hello, blogosphere! I’m writing today from the spacious, silent first floor of Kelvin Smith Library on the campus of the beautiful Case Western Reserve University. As far as walks to class go, today was probably about as good as it’s gonna’ get: 70 degrees, sunny and a slight breeze.

I’ve already noticed quite a few improvements around campus:

  • The lobby of Nord (and entire first floor) had the floor redone and is now wood. I can’t tell you how good of an idea this was – I think someone puked into the carpet last year and you could smell it all year long.
  • There’s an area in front of Yost by the fountain that used to have a couple of picnic tables on top of a cobblestone base. Well, those picnic tables are gone, and that area, with the exception of a small walkway around the fountain, is now grass. Nobody, and I mean nobody, used those tables. (I mean, seriously, hanging out in front of the math building is far less cool than hanging out in the library.) The area looks much more aesthetically pleasing now.
  • The oft-maligned Euclid Corridor project is finally starting to show some finish. The crosswalks are complete in both directions at Euclid and Adelbert, and while there are still some cones in front of Severance, it’s clear that the end is in sight. Also, they kept the crossing guard! It was interesting to watch all the students say hi to him again and catch up as they crossed Euclid this morning.

Onto this morning’s links. Incidentally, I’m listening to the mellow stylings of Blind Pilot.

  • I seem to remember something happening in Denver this week…and I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the Rockies, Broncos or Nuggets…anyone know?

    I’m being sarcastic of course, because you could not turn on a TV this weekend without hearing about the Democratic National Convention. I’m going to say something that may shock everyone: I put odds at 1 in 3 that Hillary Clinton walks out of the convention as the nominee. With Barack Obama’s free-fall of late and his, shall we say, “uninspiring” choice as vice president, Clinton might be able to convince those in power to cast delegates to her. It’s a longshot, but we’ll see.

  • Has anyone seen these posters around?

    To me, they bear a striking resemblance to the posters in a certain movie:

    And all you Bush-haters can come back with that Patriot Act mumbo-jumbo, but whether or not Obama wishes to tell you, you can guarantee that our freedoms will only shrink. The difference is that while Bush and McCain would freely share what is being done to protect our freedom, I do not believe Obama would do the same.
  • On that note, I should say that I’m no longer an Obama supporter. I am officially undecided. Thus, this is the time for both candidates to win me over by sending candy to my apartment.
  • Quote of the day:
    I was in a hotel the other day, and on the back of the door in the hotel they have the fire map. I’m flattered that they think I have it together enough to stand in a burning hotel room memorizing directions. “Yeah, I’ll go left by the stairs, right by the candy machine…” I’d probably get lost, have to go back to the room, check the map again…and they always tell you, no matter what, whatever you do in a hotel fire – do not panic. Hey, I got four minutes to live, I’ve never panicked in my whole life – it’s my option. Even if they find you, you have a perfect excuse…”Gee, I heard they saved you swingin’ from the shower curtain naked with an ice bucket on your head. What happened there?” “Well, I panicked.” “That’s understandable.”

    Jerry Seinfeld

That’s all for now. I’ll try to get back to some Indians stuff soon – hopefully now I’ll have some more time to post and more stuff to post about. Until then, later days!

Five years gone

It’s a rainy Wednesday morning and here I am, at Case Western Reserve University, with a little more than a year to go before I graduate. 5 years ago, where was I? I was just thinking about it this past week. I was a sophomore in high school, pit band was just finishing up, the marching band was considering going to Florida, and a pivotal stage of my life was about to begin. And then, five years ago tonight, the United States began a “shock and awe” campaign (remember that phrase?) against Iraq and the war was on.

At the time, I remember Bush had pretty high approval ratings. And how could he not? We were a little more than a year and a half removed from the most devastating terrorist attack in our history, and George Bush had united the country. In 2003, things were only starting to get back to normal in terms of the normal political divisions, and so when Colin Powell presented the case against Iraq to the UN on Febrary 5, 2003, most of the people who saw it thought Iraq was a dangerous country. The UN said we shouldn’t go, Barack Obama said we shouldn’t go, but pretty much everyone else, given the evidence we had available at the time, said invading Iraq was in the United States’ best interest. Remember how at the time there was actually considerable support for us to pull out of the UN? Of course, the French didn’t really want us to go either, and countless jokes were born (“Freedom” fries, anyone?).

When we invaded Iraq, President Bush warned us that it may be a costly, lengthy and frustrating conflict. However, most Americans, given the alternative of facing mobile biological weapons labs, would rather fight.

And here we are, five years later (“Five years gone” is a play on the Heroes episode of the same name), still in Iraq, but more divided than ever. In those five years, we’ve lost over 4000 soldiers, trillions of dollars, and the unity that we had in 2003. Books like Curveball (which I’ve read) and Against All Enemies have been published chronicling the intelligence community’s and the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction have been found, either because they were never there or the haphazard initial search effort allowed the Iraqis to move them.

I believe that given the evidence as presented in 2003, the President was faced with almost a non-decision to invade. Barack Obama has claimed repeatedly that invading was the wrong decision, but it’s considerably easier to say that now than it was back then. Honestly, I think both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama would have invaded in 2003 – its easy to make a speech as a freshman legislator denouncing the war, but to actually say to the American people, “sure, the CIA says they have weapons, but what the heck, we’ll gamble” is a tough proposition.

Now, what have we accomplished in those 5 years? For one, we’ve overtaken a violent dictatorship and replaced it with a US-friendly democracy. We’ve installed hospitals, power lines, water lines, and in general made Iraq a better place to live. We’ve captured hundreds of terrorists, killed thousands more, and we’ve done so without resorting to tactics that the terrorists use against us. US presence in Iraq has, in my opinion, forced Iran to cooperate with the United States, at least for the timebeing. No, we haven’t found any WMDs, but we have accomplished so many other things.

And even if invading was the wrong decision, which I don’t believe it was, it’s the decision we have to live with. Obama and Clinton (and McCain) both talk about what they have done – that’s not important anymore. Let’s hear about what should be done next. None of the three candidates, in my opinion, would actually pull out of Iraq. Sure, strategy may be altered or political pressure may come to the forefront, but none of the candidates wants to be the President that “gave up”. Pulling out at this point would be a colossal mistake.

I have a family member who is serving in Iraq, so its not like I have no connection to the soldiers there. I think if you survey most of our Armed Forces, they would say “let us win”. He’s over there on his third tour of duty, and thus I’d imagine he’s a little sick of it (I would be too). But I think he, as well as most others in the Armed Forces, know that victory in Iraq is critical.

I’m thankful for every day that I wake up in this country because of what our Armed Forces fight for every day. I hope one day, Iraqis will be able to wake up to that same feeling. On a closing note, even if you disagree with the war, the soldiers and citizens in Iraq deserve our support and our gratitude (which is something both Obama and Clinton have said and I agree with completely).

And I’m proud to be in America,
Where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
And gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up, next to you,
And defend her still today,
Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the U.S.A.

Curveball

Recently read the book Curveball, by Bob Drogin, for my political science class. If you have any interest in U.S. intelligence or foreign policy at all, I highly recommend this book. It tells the story of Curveball, the codename of a single Iraqi who defected to Germany in the late 90s and gave the Germans the intelligence that eventually sent the United States to war in Iraq. If you don’t want me to spoil the ending for you (haha), don’t keep reading.

Spoilers

The defector turns out to be an outstanding con man. Everything he said made logical sense, but was just completely false. That alone would not be an issue, a lot of people are good con men. Here are the major problems that the book brings up.

  1. Second-hand intelligence. The CIA never saw the guy before it was too late. The Germans passed intelligence regarding their conversations with Curveball through low-security reports to the DIA. The DIA, after watering down the intelligence even further, passed them to the CIA. The CIA was getting information that was filtered…twice.
  2. Egos. The CIA was never able to admit its mistake, even before the war started. There’s a great scene in the book where George Tenet, the director of the CIA at the time, is assisting Colin Powell in his preparations for that famous address to the UN back in 2003. In the scene, Powell asks Tenet if he will back everything, and Tenet confirms that he will, even though he knows that some of that information is bad.
  3. The bureaucracy. Once CIA personnel were on the ground in Iraq, the search for the WMDs was chaotic at best, mostly due to the lack of an organized plan. At one point, someone notices that its mid-July of 2003 and no one has kept track of where troops have already searched for WMDs. Additionally, DIA and CIA personnel were fighting so much that almost nothing got done.

Does this tell us we shouldn’t be in Iraq? It’s tough to say. In retrospect, it’s easy to look back and say that we should never have gone because the weapons were never there. On the other hand, what if they were there? President Bush, based on the information he had available, felt that these weapons were too dangerous to have even a few. My belief is that we should be there, for a couple of reasons.

  1. Strategic location. Iraq borders Iran, and Iran is bordered on the other side by Afghanistan. Having two US-friendly (or even better, US-occupied) countries surrounding Iran has probably kept them from developing nuclear weapons.
  2. Humanity. For all that everyone says, “We should be helping in Darfur,” just a few short years ago Iraq was a very similar society. It’s trendy to bash Bush and claim that he doesn’t care about the citizens of Iraq and just cares about the oil, but apart from overthrowing a totalitarian government, the operations in Iraq have included building hospitals, roads, and running water.

On that note, Bush’s final State of the Union address is on tonight. I always like the State of the Union, because I think its the one night that everyone on Capitol Hill takes a break from automatically hating Bush and shares some optimism for once. It’s an important night; I think everyone should watch it, or read it or at least read the Cliffs Notes when they get here tomorrow morning. We are heading into a pivotal year for our nation and this administration.