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“America Needs An Attitude Adjustment”: Here’s A Reminder About The USA’s Many Accomplishments

A wise friend once pointed out to me that the relationship between an individual and her to-do list is called “attitude.” Profound, right? If we think “I can’t do it all,” then we can be sure that we won’t. Whereas if we decide “I can do this,” we have a good chance.

Attitude applies to everything from work, to relationships, to weight loss. It also applies to things beyond ourselves, such as politics, leadership and governing.

So picture, for one moment, each of our leading presidential candidates. Are they smiling? Any of them? I didn’t think so.

Picture the American people, however you might conjure that. Do they look happy?

I’m sure you can see where I’m going here. The “I can do it” or “we can do it” attitude is embodied by one of the most beautiful human characteristics: the smile. “I can’t do it” or “we suck” is characterized by the most-unflattering frown or scowl.

Our country is past due for an attitude adjustment. We yearn for a leader to bring us that gift – to renew our optimism, our healthy attitude. We remember great leaders like Reagan and Kennedy as men who were smiling.

But if we aren’t going to get that type of leader any time soon, it might be up to us to enact a national attitude adjustment. So let us take a break from criticizing our politicians and our government. Let us focus on the good things about the U.S. of A.

We live in a country where a young, brilliant and stunningly wealthy entrepreneur – Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker – just announced he is contributing his innovative leadership and personal wealth to cutting-edge efforts to cure cancer. That kind of thing happens here. It doesn’t happen everywhere in the world.

We have contributed – and continue to contribute – the most incredible technology, medicine and art to the world. To illustrate, I’ll point out just a few in each category: the light bulb, the telephone, television, airplanes, the personal computer, transistors and the integrated circuit, social media and, thanks to Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, the swivel chair. General anesthesia, immunotherapy for cancer, 3-d printed prosthetics and organ transplants. Hemingway and Faulkner, American television (OK, bear with me, I’m talking about “Seinfeld,” “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad,” not “The Bachelor”), American movies, and American music. (How sad the world would be without the blues and jazz.)

Seriously, when you look at that very-short list, why are we – and our leaders – so busy beating ourselves up? I mean, I didn’t even mention how many medals we win at the Olympics. I didn’t even mention Oprah. Or Oreos. Or Yellowstone National Park. Or small business. Or Uber.

We all like to complain about our own political parties a lot, too, and maybe we ought to ease up a bit. After all, both the Republican and Democrat parties have produced some excellent leaders and public policies. When the parties have worked together, they’ve achieved many incredible successes, such as defeating the evils of fascism and imperialism in World War II, and then helping to rebuild post-war Europe and Japan, standing up to Soviet expansionism, and enacting civil rights laws to protect all Americans. Oh, and yes, it was America that put the first man on the moon.

A reminder to both citizens and leaders: If beating ourselves up was an effective way to make things better, we’d all be amazing. (For example, I, personally, would be very, very thin if my own hurtful self-critiques somehow magically produced weight loss.)

But that kind of attitude doesn’t work. Not for individuals, not for our country, not for our leaders. And if those leaders haven’t figured that out yet, we – the people – are just going to have to be the example. This power, like the power of our country, does still rest in our own hands.


By: Jean Card, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog; U. S. News and World Report, April 14, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | America, Politics, Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“In Face Of Refugee Crisis, Will We Repeat The Injustice Of 1942?”: Race Prejudice, War Hysteria; We Must Learn From Our History

This is how fear mongering works. The year could be 1942 … or 2015.

“I’m reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

Those are the words of David Bowers, the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia. The “sequester” he alludes to was the unjust and inhumane internment by the U.S. government of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. It wasn’t just “foreign nationals” who suffered this treatment but citizens as well, including those born in our country.

Bowers’ historically vacuous statement was apparently his contribution to the current debate over whether the U.S. should follow through on its promise to accept refugees from the Syrian civil war. What he implies is that Syrian refugees are just as likely to do the bidding of the Islamic State as Japanese-Americans were to serve the war aims of Imperial Japan.

That drew shudders from the descendants and colleagues of a distinguished American by the name of Minoru Yasui. Yasui spent virtually all of his 70 years trying to get the U.S. government not only to apologize for but also to understand the injustice of having interned him and nearly 120,000 other people of Japanese ancestry during the war.

Yasui was born in Oregon. He had a law degree and had been commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army’s Infantry Reserve. Nevertheless, he was kept in prison and internment for three years. The reason? His ancestry.

The Yasui family has worked for years to gain their patriarch justice. He was announced as a posthumous recipient the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier this month. A few days later, the hysteria over the Syrian refugees reached a fevered pitch, inspiring Bower’s remarks.

“If Yasui was here, he would condemn what is happening,” said Peggy Nagae, a Portland attorney who served as the lead attorney in reopening the case of his conviction for breaking laws restricting Japanese-Americans.

She notes that a 1981 governmental report, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, determined that the internment was not justified by military necessity but a “grave injustice,” the result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”

No acts of espionage or sabotage were ever found among those interned. Yet the Japanese-Americans were thought to be waiting, plotting something really big against their own country.

Yasui purposefully broke a curfew, trying to mount a legal test. He spent nine months in solitary confinement while awaiting an appeal for disobeying an order for enemy aliens. The fight went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the curfew constitutional as a wartime necessity.

Yasui was assigned to the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Idaho and later was sent to work in an ice plant.

After the war, he ended up in Denver, where he helped establish civil rights organizations and worked closely with African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. Yasui died in 1986.

And it wasn’t until nearly 50 years after the internment, in 1990, that the first checks of compensation for that act were issued by President George H.W. Bush. About $20,000 went to each internee.

For Nagae the parallels between Yasui’s era and the fears driving the politics today, especially after the Paris terrorist attacks, are stark. Her own father had also been interned and was befriended by Yasui.

“Fear is used to justify actions on the basis of military security and national security,” she said. “It’s an issue and conflict that doesn’t go away.”

Chani Hawkins, Yasui’s granddaughter, is working on a documentary film and other memorials to her grandfather’s life.

“We feel it is an important lesson that we must learn from as a country so similar mistakes are not repeated,” Hawkins said.

Apparently, many of us haven’t learned. More than half the nation’s governors have asserted that no Syrian refugee will be resettled in their state.

It’s a posture that won’t pass constitutional scrutiny — but also that makes little sense. The system of security checks for refugees is already rigorous, including vetting by counter-terrorism agencies. Yet a bipartisan House bill hurriedly passed last week would upend the complex security process already in place for judging refugee applications.

“Race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” Let’s remember those words — and make sure they play no part in how we respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.


By: Mary Sanchez, Opinion-Page Columnist for The Kansas City Star; The National Memo, November 20, 2015

November 21, 2015 Posted by | Fearmongering, ISIS, Japanese Internment Camps, Syrian Refugees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Return Of The Imperial Enforcer”: Dick Cheney Is Back; Here’s Why The GOP Won’t Listen To Him

If you have been plagued in recent days by not knowing the answer to the question, “What would Dick Cheney do?”, then your sleepless nights may be behind you. The former vice president is back, with a new book (written with his daughter Liz), media interviews, and a much-promoted speech coming up next week.

But are the Republicans running for president listening?

That may seem like an odd question to ask. After all, the candidates seem united in their belief that Barack Obama is a weak weakling making America weak, and that if they’re president they’ll be so strong they might just install an arm-wrestling pit on the South Lawn so those terrorists know who they’re messing with. But if you look a little closer, it’s hard to see much appetite even in the GOP for the kind of ambitious empire-building that Cheney advocates.

True to form, the excerpt of the Cheneys’ book published in the Wall Street Journal delivers all the falsehoods, bizarre leaps of logic, and panicky fear-mongering we’ve come to expect from them. Cheney tried to convince America that Saddam Hussein was responsible for September 11th. He said that “we do know, with absolute certainty, that [Saddam] is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon.” He said, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.”

And that very same man now writes: “The Obama agreement will lead to a nuclear-armed Iran, a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East and, more than likely, the first use of a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

World War II figures prominently in Cheney’s new narrative, and not just because he, like so many other Republicans, compares Barack Obama to Neville Chamberlain. For Cheney, that war isn’t just a story of what could go wrong, it’s a story of what could go right. It’s a tale of American greatness and triumph, a heroic battle in which brave American boys are sent forth to beat back evil and secure our place as the guarantor of freedom in every corner of the globe:

As citizens, we have another obligation. We have a duty to protect our ideals and our freedoms by safeguarding our history. We must ensure that our children know the truth about who we are, what we’ve done, and why it is uniquely America’s duty to be freedom’s defender.

They should know about the boys of Pointe du Hoc and Doolittle’s Raiders, the battles of Midway and Iwo Jima. They should learn about the courage of the young Americans who fought the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge and the Japanese on Okinawa. They should learn why America was right to end the war by dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and about the fundamental decency of a nation that established the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. They need to know about the horror of the Holocaust, and what it means to promise “never again.”…

They should learn about great men like George C. Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. We must teach them what it took to prevail over evil in the 20th century and what it will take in the 21st. We must make sure they understand that it is the brave men and women of the U.S. armed forces who defend our freedom and secure it for millions of others as well.

It’s been said before that to today’s conservatives, it’s always 1938 and every diplomatic agreement with a foreign power is Munich. Which is true enough, but you don’t hear the Republican presidential candidates using World War II to evoke this vision of the glorious future to come once we start building a new Pax Americana. They may be hawks who want to increase military spending, but they also have all come to agree that the Iraq War, our biggest military adventure in recent decades, was a mistake (Cheney, for the record, believes no such thing). They always want to “keep all options on the table,” but they’re not presenting a future of limitless war as something we should actually aspire to.

That’s the difference between a standard-issue Republican and a true neoconservative. In the field of 17 GOP candidates, the closest thing to a neocon is Lindsey Graham, and even his thirst for war seems more a product of the white-knuckle terror in which he apparently spends every waking hour, and not Cheney’s yearning for the majesty of empire.

You’d think there would be few things the GOP could want less than to have Cheney be its most visible voice on foreign affairs, if even for just a while. After all, the greatest defender of the Iraq debacle and America’s foremost torture advocate had an approval rating upon leaving office that in one poll measured a remarkable 13 percent. At this point the average voter probably couldn’t tell you a thing about the candidates’ foreign policy visions, and that’s in large part because those visions are so vague, once you get beyond the part about Barack Obama weakening America. Dick Cheney, on the other hand, has vision to spare. But it’s probably not the one his party wants to spend too much time promoting.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, August 31, 2015

September 1, 2015 Posted by | Dick Cheney, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“With Gratitude”: The New Greatest Generation Is Right Here Among Us

For nearly a decade I have had the privilege of teaching veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, though they have taught me more.

Most of them were Army captains and majors who had done three or four tours of duty. And here’s the most remarkable thing: Not one of these men and women complained about what we asked of them.

They have, however, occasionally objected to the shameful fact that after the first few years of hostilities, these became largely invisible conflicts. In the final stages of the Iraq war and for a long time now in Afghanistan, there has been something close to media silence even as our fellow Americans continue to fight and die.

The ongoing war barely impinges on our daily discussions, and we don’t bother to argue much about our Afghanistan policy. Mostly, we hope that President Obama can keep his promise to bring our troops home.

My Thanksgiving thoughts have often turned toward my military students at Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute and to the thousands like them who have done very hard duty with little notice.

But this year, the gratitude that they inspire has been heightened, perhaps paradoxically, by the news about David Petraeus, his affair and the mess left behind. I won’t add to the mountain of Petraeus commentary, so much of which has been driven by preexisting attitudes toward Petraeus himself, the wars he led or the matter of how we should deal publicly with sexuality.

What has troubled me is how writing on all sides has aggravated the understandable but disturbing tendency to lay so much stress on the role of famous generals that we forget both the centrality of midlevel military leadership and the daily sacrifices and bravery of those in the enlisted ranks who carry out orders from on high.

There is, of course, nothing at all new about celebrity generals, and many of them truly deserved the accolades that came their way. One thinks, for example, of Ulysses S. Grant, who is enjoying a comeback among historians, and Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose subsequent presidency should give Republicans trying to rebuild their party some useful guidance.

But our military has been at its best when it combined two deeply American impulses, one more honored on the right, the other on the left.

We are an entrepreneurial country, and members of our officer corps do extraordinary work when they are given the freedom to think for themselves and to innovate.

We are also a democratic nation, and although the military is necessarily rank-conscious, the U.S. armed forces have traditionally nurtured an egalitarian ethos that cultivated loyalty all the way down. This is one reason reports of rather privileged living by generals are grating, even if none of us begrudges a bit of comfort for those — including people at the top — who give their lives to service.

The entrepreneurial and democratic spirits are important in battle, but they are even more important to the many noncombat tasks that we are now asking our military to undertake. Petraeus’s approach to Iraq depended upon officers who had exceptional political gifts and an ability to improvise as they worked with local leaders. As an Army major serving in Iraq wrote in a memo that was shared with me back in 2007, “We discovered that we were not fighting a military campaign but a political campaign — not too different from what a small-town mayor might do to win reelection back in the U.S.” The surge was as much about this kind of inventiveness as it was about military planning.

We can show our gratitude toward these officers and their troops in at least two ways.

First, as my MSNBC colleague Rachel Maddow keeps reminding us, we need to cut through what the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calls the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “egregious failure to process the claims of our veterans” in a timely and effective way.

And we need to recognize the contribution that this new generation of veterans can make to our nation. The character of the “Greatest Generation” that fought World War II was established not by the generals or the admirals but by the officers in the lower ranks and the millions of enlisted men and women who carried into civilian life both the skills and the sense of service and community they learned in the war years.

My students taught me that we don’t need to be nostalgic about the Greatest Generation. It’s right here among us.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 21, 2012

November 22, 2012 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nobody Understands Debt

In 2011, as in 2010, America was in a technical recovery but continued to suffer from disastrously high unemployment. And through most of 2011, as in 2010, almost all the conversation in Washington was about something else: the allegedly urgent issue of reducing the budget deficit.

This misplaced focus said a lot about our political culture, in particular about how disconnected Congress is from the suffering of ordinary Americans. But it also revealed something else: when people in D.C. talk about deficits and debt, by and large they have no idea what they’re talking about — and the people who talk the most understand the least.

Perhaps most obviously, the economic “experts” on whom much of Congress relies have been repeatedly, utterly wrong about the short-run effects of budget deficits. People who get their economic analysis from the likes of the Heritage Foundation have been waiting ever since President Obama took office for budget deficits to send interest rates soaring.

Any day now!

And while they’ve been waiting, those rates have dropped to historical lows. You might think that this would make politicians question their choice of experts — that is, you might think that if you didn’t know anything about our postmodern, fact-free politics.

But Washington isn’t just confused about the short run; it’s also confused about the long run. For while debt can be a problem, the way our politicians and pundits think about debt is all wrong, and exaggerates the problem’s size.

Deficit-worriers portray a future in which we’re impoverished by the need to pay back money we’ve been borrowing. They see America as being like a family that took out too large a mortgage, and will have a hard time making the monthly payments.

This is, however, a really bad analogy in at least two ways.

First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments don’t — all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base. The debt from World War II was never repaid; it just became increasingly irrelevant as the U.S. economy grew, and with it the income subject to taxation.

Second — and this is the point almost nobody seems to get — an over-borrowed family owes money to someone else; U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves.

This was clearly true of the debt incurred to win World War II. Taxpayers were on the hook for a debt that was significantly bigger, as a percentage of G.D.P., than debt today; but that debt was also owned by taxpayers, such as all the people who bought savings bonds. So the debt didn’t make postwar America poorer. In particular, the debt didn’t prevent the postwar generation from experiencing the biggest rise in incomes and living standards in our nation’s history.

But isn’t this time different? Not as much as you think.

It’s true that foreigners now hold large claims on the United States, including a fair amount of government debt. But every dollar’s worth of foreign claims on America is matched by 89 cents’ worth of U.S. claims on foreigners. And because foreigners tend to put their U.S. investments into safe, low-yield assets, America actually earns more from its assets abroad than it pays to foreign investors. If your image is of a nation that’s already deep in hock to the Chinese, you’ve been misinformed. Nor are we heading rapidly in that direction.

Now, the fact that federal debt isn’t at all like a mortgage on America’s future doesn’t mean that the debt is harmless. Taxes must be levied to pay the interest, and you don’t have to be a right-wing ideologue to concede that taxes impose some cost on the economy, if nothing else by causing a diversion of resources away from productive activities into tax avoidance and evasion. But these costs are a lot less dramatic than the analogy with an overindebted family might suggest.

And that’s why nations with stable, responsible governments — that is, governments that are willing to impose modestly higher taxes when the situation warrants it — have historically been able to live with much higher levels of debt than today’s conventional wisdom would lead you to believe. Britain, in particular, has had debt exceeding 100 percent of G.D.P. for 81 of the last 170 years. When Keynes was writing about the need to spend your way out of a depression, Britain was deeper in debt than any advanced nation today, with the exception of Japan.

Of course, America, with its rabidly antitax conservative movement, may not have a government that is responsible in this sense. But in that case the fault lies not in our debt, but in ourselves.

So yes, debt matters. But right now, other things matter more. We need more, not less, government spending to get us out of our unemployment trap. And the wrongheaded, ill-informed obsession with debt is standing in the way.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 1, 2012

January 2, 2012 Posted by | Debt Crisis, Deficits, Economic Recovery | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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