Sunday, May 30, 2010

Obama's Katrina?

Let us count the ways in which I disagree:
1. Anything Karl Rove says should be immediately debunked. Period. Give me another source for your analogy.
2. This is a man-made, corporate made, disaster and is in no way a natural disaster such as hurricane Katrina.
3. If Obama had as head of the coast guard or head of minerals management, a person whose only experience was as the former owner of a casino... then maybe there would be an analogy to draw. IF the head of minerals management had failed to curb corrupt policies in the bureau, this is not the same as just not answering your Blackberry when the call regarding a disaster came in.
4. If Bush were president right now, the price of gas would have gone up "due to the disaster" to $5 a gallon. Like when he was in office and not before any significant Republican race.
5. Um, during Katrina people were dying of dehydration, violence from poor shelter organization and hunger. Not to mention water-bourne illnesses.
6. One of the only similarities I can conclude is that both disasters were preventable and both were predicted. However the reasons they were not prevented are entirely different. The flooding that destroyed mostly a highly impoverished area occurred because improvements to levees and flood controls were ignored for decades. Improvements that had been requested were continuously ignored by successive federal administrations. They were expensive fixes and these were poor people. The safety issues on the oil rig seem to have been identified and minerals management did nothing about them. Powerful lobbies and bribes were behind this. Even though BP is the third largest oil company in the world, they got away with this. This is about corporate greed. While we will fire the head of an agency, we won't let a corrupt corporation fail.
7. The only other analogy I can draw has nothing to do with who's president. Both are examples of our willingness to ignore the obvious. If you build below sea-level and you live by the sea, expect to be flooded at some point no matter what your efforts are. It's like building near a volcano. If you drill off-shore, there will be oil spills that impact nearby land. We are human, our best efforts at preventing these problems (without corruption) will fail at some point. Now we just have to decide if we are prepared to deal with the results. Let's focus on that instead of whining about "was my president unfairly blamed.

The conclusion I think we can all agree on is that it does nothing towards solving what created either of the disaster conditions in either situation to simply point the finger at one individual. The problem lies in an unwillingness on our part to break apart these situations and truly hold those individuals responsible accountable. We are also unwilling to change the very circumstances which exacerbated both situations. We are unwilling to either not build on flood plains or to improve the safety conditions around them, especially if we are not the ones living in the flood plains and those who are are poor. We are unwilling to deal with corrupt local politicians. We are unwilling to restrict the lobbying abilities of major multinational corporations and to examine a future without oil. We are unwilling to pay the price for oil that it truly costs when environmental damages from drilling are factored in. It is much easier to point the finger at one individual. This is how democracies die if you ask me. The laziness of the average voter to actively participate. If the president of the U.S. were able to unilaterally solve both of these issues, they would be overstepping their role and doing away with our system of checks and balances. It is going to take far more than one vote for one person to create change and to keep democracy alive.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Civil Discourse

Over the last week I've been thinking about an incident that happened on my flight back from Missouri. At one point another passenger near me asked the flight attendant for the front page section of the newspaper. After being told the attendant only had the sports section, the passenger said, "Well, I just wanted to see if Obama appointed a justice." The flight attendant blurted out, "Yes, Kagan, and she has absolutely no judicial experience at all. None. I can't believe it."

I have to admit, I didn't know anything about the Kagan nomination. I've been a little preoccupied with some other things going on and haven't paid much attention to politics. I thought I should pay attention to this conversation as the flight attendant seemed better informed. I thought he might have done reading about Kagan and I wanted to learn what his opinions were or the opinions of the other passengers. I was actually thinking, "Geez, I didn't even realize we were already needing to appoint another person to the Supreme Court. I'm really out of the loop. I need to get back to reading the news."

At that point, the attendant began an unexpected tirade on the current administration. He started out addressing the passenger with the paper request, but went on to scan the rows near him as he spoke. Although I'm certain I don't have the exact words memorized, this is very close: "I can't believe this president. I want the next four years to go by as quickly as possible [I'm sure he meant next 3, but he said 4]. I can't stand this man. I mean, he isn't even a citizen. He's the antichrist."

So several things disturb me about this entire event:
1. This attendant was the one up front, guarding over the cockpit and, as such, in a position of power. I don't care what his political views are, such comments are inappropriate. I had absolutely zero respect for George W. Bush the person, but I have always tried to maintain respect for the office. If he had made similar comments regarding Bush while he was in office, I would have felt this was inappropriate.
2. Again, I think had Bush been in office and someone made these comments about him, people would have said, "This attendant is a threat and is unpatriotic."
3. As much as people disliked Bill Clinton, I am completely unable to recall one moment when anyone questioned his citizenship nor called him the antichrist and meant it. People do this to Obama. I am unable to come up with any other explanation for the severity of these accusations other than racism. Racism. These comments are racist. These comments are proof positive that we have not overcome racism - as if anyone should think we have in just a few short decades.
4. I was excited to learn something about a crucial appointment and instead was subjected to hate speech. What happened to civil discourse about such important issues?

Here's what I think has happened to civil discourse:
1. Politically correct speech became a tool to stifle any dissenting comments and led people to fear being labeled or misunderstood. Politically correct speech was intended to simply push us to be more aware of others. The intent was to try to think about how what we said might affect our listeners. This is a good idea. We should be aware of how we are saying what we are saying. Unfortunately, it made us so afraid of insulting someone and being labeled a bigot or ignorant that we quit talking altogether - well many of us.
2. Backlash. The backlash against PC speech has led to a "I can say what I want, when I want" attitude in folks. The media adopted this and the crazy hard right has made a science, literally, out of it. Karl Rove is undoubtedly the king of this movement and has deftly proliferated the school of "if you say it, they will believe it." The news now is less about fact finding and more about sensationalizing a story for the profit.
3. For some reason, we seem to believe (we = US Citizens) that to listen, to acknowledge a person who does not agree with us, and to believe that we may have something more to learn about our own beliefs is equivalent to moral weakness regardless of whether you are on the right or the left.
4. Getting a little philosophical here, we are clinging tight to a belief that binary oppositions are real. We want to believe that things are either right or wrong, black or white, Republican or Democrat, good or bad, just or unjust, yours or mine, us vs. them, with us or against us. The result is, if I'm right, you're wrong. Period. PC speech or radical speech. No middle ground. If you get what you want, I don't get what I want.