Another View on Afghanistan Policy

Ed. note: Occasionally I post letters from other writers whose views are compatible with mine. Here is one.

Mr. President,

If it were not for the war in Vietnam, Lyndon Baines Johnson would be remembered as a great president (remember Medicare, the War on Poverty, the Great Society, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and space exploration).

One day people may likewise say, “If it were not for the war in Afghanistan, Barack Obama would be remembered…”

We are at a crossroads. If you would do community organizing among Pashtun people, you might hear that malnutrition is a greater concern than terrorism, as Pakistani-British author Tariq Ali has pointed out. Ali calls your administration’s expansion of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan “inexplicable.” He warns that the widely hated military presence is destabilizing our allies there and in Pakistan.

Please have the courage to help our country step down from a doomed policy. We will survive and prosper only through respect, moral leadership and cooperation, not endless attempts to project power without empowering the people. Stop the cold-blooded “drone” attacks; stop all attacks and disengage from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

It is no doubt true that disengagement and policy reorientation would expose your administration to even more vocal hostility from “conservatives” on the Right. That kind of hostility will happen in any case. You need to take firm stands that will activate people to defend you and defend democracy. A reorientation to realistic policies will create a surge of good will and trust, here and abroad. Please help us build a sustainable future, and disengage from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

Garrett D.
Chicago, IL


Meetings Are Not All Excessive

March 16, 2009

Dear Senator Durbin, Senator Burris, and Congresswoman Schakowsky,

I have been as appalled as anyone at the reports of excesses of various corporations receiving bailout funds. But I also work in the events industry. I’m a small-time event planner and I do occasional corporate work. I have friends and colleagues, also small-time operators, whose bread and butter is corporate meetings and events.

I can see the wisdom of prohibiting holiday and entertainment events for corporations using bailout funds, or at least putting a financial cap on these items. Conferences and meetings, however, often serve a legitimate business purpose, and huge numbers of people rely on them for employment. Many of those jobs are low-wage service jobs: coat check, delivery driver, bellhop, waiter, desk clerk. And some of them are better-paid and/or union jobs: janitor, electrician, projectionist, chef, pilot.

The legislation that Senator Kerry proposes prohibiting the use of bailout funds for meetings effectively tags an entire industry as unnecessary, at least in the public perception. It’s an industry that has been hit hard this year, anyway, and lots of people are losing jobs. (A friend of mine who worked for her sister and brother-in-law at a corporate events firm got laid off–by her sister! That’s how bad it is.) I hope that if this bill shows up in committee or on the floor of the legislature it will be revised so that it can help the events industry while curbing the excesses that repulse so many of us.

Lisa Gordon

Policy in Afghanistan

Ed. note: The White House website now permits letters of up to 5,000 characters, a much more practical length.

February 25, 2009

Dear Mr. President:

I agreed with many things in your speech last night, but disagree vehemently with the part of your foreign policy that deals with Afghanistan. Occupation in Afghanistan will make us no safer than does occupation in Iraq. In substance, there is very little different between the two wars. In both cases, we invaded a country that had done us no direct harm, subdued the inhabitants, and set up a government favorable to our own interests. Despite all our efforts, the government in Afghanistan has not succeeded. In my opinion, it cannot succeed because it is not an indigenous, democratically elected government.

The standard line that the 9/11 attackers came from and were trained in Afghanistan is only partly true. If we actually know their identities, most of them were Saudi and have disagreements with the American government because of our policies in that country. Afghanistan was merely a convenient location for them to plot from. And it would never have been in the control of the Taliban had the US government not backed the Muslim fundamentalists with arms, money, and training against the Soviets in the 1980s. We have meddled enough in that country to no good effect. We must find a way to remove our troops and let the Afghanis determine their own destiny for a change.

We need a new Marshall Plan for the 21st century. We are wasting our money on war and need it more for priorities at home as you outlined in yesterday’s speech. Foreign aid is much cheaper than war and much more effective. Diplomacy, law enforcement, and foreign aid for education, health care, and economic development will better reduce the threat of terrorism than any amount of invasion and destruction.

Lisa G.
Chicago, IL

More Thoughts on Economic Recovery

February 10, 2009

Dear Congresswoman Schakowsky:

Now that the big spending package seems to be moving toward a bill to be reconciled between the House and Senate versions, I would like to weigh in on it again.

The cable TV talking heads and everyone connected to investment firms, from all I have heard, are uniformly opposed to the bill in its current form. Many of them lament that it will do nothing for the stock market. Today, even, the stock market fell after the bill passed the Senate. To me, this is the best recommendation for the bill in its current form.

Past so-called stimulus packages have been heavy with tax cuts but have included no spending. The stock market has loved those, probably because those bills benefitted the people and businesses of Wall Street directly. This bill seems to contain benefits for those of us who are not Wall Street businesses or high-rolling investors. For that, I support it.

In my opinion, the tax cuts are not necessary. The last two attempts to stimulate the economy came in the form of tax cuts. If tax cuts had worked, we would not need to do anything further toward the recovery of the economy. As a small business owner, I can tell you that a one-time tax cut will not do as much for me as a few more customers would. And I doubt that other people will spend their tax-cut money on my services, judging from the past.

As for the cost of this bill, I recommend that our elected representatives who support the bill also make a point of reminding Americans that we can finance a portion of it by purchasing savings bonds or treasury bonds. We do not have to rely on Chinese bankers for funding. It would be better for the country as a whole if the interest paid on the debt stayed in the country. Just as World War II was financed by the sale of war bonds, recovery from this current crisis can be funded by Americans.

Lisa G.

In Opposition to Tax Cuts

Ed. note: The body of this message contains 402 characters. The White House website would have allowed 10 more characters. Needless to say, this note was sent without the niceties of a salutation or signature.

January 31, 2009

Dear Mr. President:

Economic stimulus by tax cut has been tried in recent years, yet our economy still needs a stimulus. Clearly, tax cuts do not work. We can’t consume our way out of this economic mess. We must create new wealth to make our economy productive again. That means investment in infrastructure & jobs. We must resist the conservative mantra that taxes are bad. Tax money will be needed to create the new economy. Our economy will never be sound while our national debt is such a huge drain on it.

Lisa G.
Chicago, IL

Arts Funding is Job Creation

January 23, 2009

Dear Representative Schakowsky and Senator Durbin:

As you consider the contents of economic recovery bills in the near future, I hope you will keep in mind one constituency that sometimes gets lost in the rhetoric: artists. I urge you to include substantial support for the arts in any broad economic package.

Arts funding is support for real jobs. When we talk about jobs in the arts, we are not only speaking of the dancers and actors and painters who come to mind immediately. Jobs in the arts also include stagehands, box office personnel, ushers, development people, curators, managers, publicity people, conservators, designers, gallery owners, and many others who are never visible to the patrons of the arts. These are generally not high paying jobs in the non-profit sector, but they are good enough jobs for people to raise families on and buy homes with. Some are even solid union jobs with good benefits.

You may have seen the study done recently by the Illinois Arts Alliance to determine the economic impact of the arts on our state. They discovered that non-profit arts organizations in the state of Illinois alone contributed close to $2 billion to our economy in 2002. That amount had doubled since 1996. In more difficult economic times, the contributions of the arts to the economy are, no doubt, curtailed–along with all other economic activity. Since not-for-profit arts organizations rely on donations and government funding to fulfill their missions, this would be an ideal time to increase government funding so that these institutions can retain staff, create jobs, and continue to contribute to the general welfare, both by their economic activity and by bringing art to communities all over the country.

Lisa G.
Chicago, IL

Our Divided Country

Ed. note: This is the letter I was trying to send (see post below). I will send it to the president when I can send it without dividing it into four separate messages.

January 20, 2009

Dear President Obama:

Congratulations on your inauguration today. Now the real work begins.

For all the talk of unity I heard today from the inaugural ceremonies, I can’t help noticing how divided this country really is. It’s not the racial or the class divide that strikes me the most. It isn’t even really the distance between Republicans and Democrats that I think is the most important. What I see is the division between those with inside power and those with outside power. And I see you poised precariously between the two.

Your electoral power comes from the grassroots organizing, the thousands upon thousands of volunteers, the participatory process that energized people all over the nation. This is the outside force at work. And the people who elected you to office have very progressive values. We want real, substantive change out of your administration. We want a government for the people. We want government of the people. We want government truly by the people. We want democracy in all its radical glory.

On the other side of the equation are the experienced politicians and governors you have appointed to cabinet posts. In this group also are the Republicans and conservatives you have stretched your hand out to for inclusion in your administration. These people with inside power are, by far, a more conservative force than the people clamoring at the window. Even the most liberal among them is more conservative than those of us who vote for them. And yet, you would get nowhere without them, because you need the power they have in order to accomplish anything. At the same time, you need the democratic forces on the outside if you want to be re-elected in four years.

You stand in a precarious position, indeed. Perhaps you hope to pull along the conservative forces who work for you by the twin strengths of your agenda and your conviction. Perhaps, instead, you will be sucked into their view of the world when you are not in contact with the electorate every day. In any case, your presidency is likely to expose this buried tension in our nation. This could be good for the nation if it leads to the healing of festering wounds. It could be bad for anyone caught in the middle of the struggle.

I wish you the best in your balancing act and look forward to some of that real change I’ve been hearing about lately.

Lisa G.
Chicago, IL