Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 212- Lies, Damn lies, and statistics

Dear Mr. President,

As long as I'm on a role with the political cliches, I might as well concede that all politics is local. The decision to build an Islamic community center in New York is and should be a local one. Initially I supported the White House's decision not to comment, but once it became a rallying cry for every Tea Party mouthpiece from Sarah Palin to Newt Gingrich. It seemed as though maybe the White House ought to weigh in. But the recent denouncement of the decision by the Anti-Defamation League, (which, unbelievably, seems to think religious freedom ought to be contingent upon no one being irrationally upset by it,) compels me to change my mind.

Nate Silver has provided some excellent analysis on how the polling and media coverage have mislead the public, not only abou the nature of this project, but about it's relative proximity to ground zero, based largely on the lies of those who oppose it. Mr. Silver suggests, and I agree with his conclusions, that the polling data might not be an accurate reflection of public opinion, as it is based on questions constructed with vague or false information. I think it is clear that many of the people claiming to be opposed to the construction of the community center (besides not being New Yorkers,) have been misinformed. Republicans across the country are using this as a campaign issue to excite their base and sway those who haven't been given all of the facts. It's both politically expedient and morally imperative that you make a stand in support of the community center.

For starters, you're probably already aware that it's being linked to you, regardless of your lack of an official position. I'm guessing that an official speech declaring your support for religious freedom wouldn't alienate any one planning to vote Democrat in the fall, and might even win back some of the independents swayed by this nonsense, in clearing up the facts. But, even beyond the political gain, as our nation's leader, I feel like you have a responsibility to defend our values, and to remind us all when we've let fear and partisanship come before our basic humanity. Religious freedom is an American value, and anyone should have the right to build a church, synagogue, mosque, temple or even a satanic shrine anywhere. We don't have Islam-free zones, and most every rational, informed American recognizes this as important to the religious freedom of all Americans.

There was a moment in your Presidential campaign when a surprisingly frank and honest speech about race turned things around for you. But it was more than a turning point for your campaign; that speech healed a small part of a much larger wound on the psyche of our nation. It brought people together and reminded them that the challenges we face are only made more difficult by fear. These attempts at dividing us, once again, are coming at a time when we need unity more than ever. I believe that what this issue needs, more than anything is the wisdom and leadership that we expect from our President during times of fear and uncertainty. People need to know that all of America will always be safe for them, regardless of their faith. People need to know that they are being lied to and manipulated by those who would gain power from their fear. People need to know that Muslims in America have the full rights and protections of the US constitution, and the support of their president. No comment is no longer good enough, Mr. President; right or wrong, this has become a national issue, and it demands your leadership.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

PS

Is it not more than a little hypocritical for Republicans to reject a bill that would move aid to injured 9/11 workers while simultaneously invoking their sacrifice to oppose religious freedom for Muslims?

Update: Nate Silver (probably my one true love) just posted an addition to his earlier post.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 211- Fallujah

Dear Mr. President,

Today I read something that I didn't want to know. I tried to put it away, hide it from myself so I wouldn't have to see it, but it doesn't change the truth. The legacy of our operations in Fallujah is an alarming increase in cancer, birth defects and infant mortality, as well as a decrease in the rate of male births. All of these effects were seen after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though the study indicates that the rates of these afflictions in Fallujah has exceeded what was reported in survivors of the atomic bomb.

I don't know what kind of weapons we must have used to inflict this kind of lasting damage. I don't care. It was inexcusable. When people tell the story of the Bush presidency, this is one detail that I hope does not go overlooked. That these innocent people continue to suffer for their crime of proximity to those we called enemies is awful, and I hope that President Bush cannot sleep without seeing their faces. I hope that, when he one day holds his own grandchildren, he remembers the horrors he's inflicted on the grandchildren of so many Iraqis.

I have opposed our operations in Iraq since the beginning. I oppose them still, and in Afghanistan. But, for all the world knows, the weapons we used, the people we killed, all of it was done by a government of and by and for me and every other American. And, even though I never voted for President Bush and even though I never wanted my country to invade Iraq, I am responsible. Every single one of us who gave up and allowed the control of our country to go to men who would act so unethically and with such disregard for the lives of others. This is how the world will view us as long as the memory of this war lives on. The suffering we have inflicted on other people is a legacy that belongs to all Americans, and I am so ashamed of it, especially today. It will not be buried or hidden or ignored. This is our history, these are our crimes. The only thing we can do to make it better is work to ensure that it is a more moral and humane America that interacts with the world in the future. That we acknowledge our mistakes and apologize for them. That we never ask another American soldier to die or to kill unjustifiably.

Since starting this letter, a friend has pointed out to me several mitigating circumstances that might cast the results of this study into question. I want to acknowledge that, while my outrage comes from the facts I was presented with, it is not contingent upon this single study. I believe the evidence presented since our invasion demonstrates a clear and lingering effect of the US war on the health of the Iraqi people forced to endure it. How dramatic that effect might be does not change the stunning reality of how many lives have been lost , families displaced, and homes destroyed in the process of what was, fundamentally, an unjustified and immoral war. It shouldn't take a news cycle like this one to remind me of this appalling toll, but, since it has, I wanted to remind you in turn that the decisions you are making today will reflect on Americans for generations to come. I hope that, when you leave office, you leave behind years of an America that worked against this kind of destruction, that went to great pains to avoid such intolerable civillian suffering and body counts, and that your own nights have considerably fewer ghosts to haunt them.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day 210- 20 schools

Dear Mr. President,

Sometimes I'm surprised by my own naive certainty that you're always going to make the right call. Before tonight, if any one had asked me about the discrepancy between what we spend on defense and what we spend on all the things that would make defense spending less necessary, I would have suggested it was large. I had no idea how large. 1 soldier or 20 schools? Nicholas Kristof asks in his latest column. I am often skeptical of such scathing criticism of your policies, Mr. President, but it is difficult to deny the facts Kristof cites about the unforgivable cost of this war.

I think it's funny, in that way that things like this are not funny at all, that you can give a speech on education in which you decry the current state of American education as "morally inexcusable" and remind us all that "education is an economic issue -- if not “the” economic issue of our time", and then continue to pretend like the key to Afghanistan's stability is an even bigger Pentagon budget or more US troops. Call me crazy, but if education is important to the future of America, might it not also be a better strategy for a politically and economically stable Afghanistan? Maybe you should have replaced General McChrystal with Greg Mortenson? 20 schools seems like a much better deal than a single soldier, and not just because schools are less likely to kill civilians, but because our military operation can only offer stability while it is present, while the positive effects of an education system will outlast even the schools themselves.

I know, it's more than a bit silly to read a single op-ed and feel like I've got the best plan for how to fix Afghanistan. I guess what surprises me is that I always assumed this was sort of your plan. Fewer guns, more schools. That kind of thing. I don't think I misjudged your values and I don't think your values have changed. I think it's harder to stop an object (or military industrial complex) in motion, and that sending troops and weapons looks a lot better to swing-state voters than building schools. I just hope that you read Mr. Kristof's column, and that, the next time you give a speech about the paramount importance of our own education system, you also consider how that logic might apply to the countries we've invaded, ostensibly for the sake of their own stability.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 209- Activist judges

Dear Mr. President,

I am so grateful for activist judges. Judge Susan R. Bolton, in particular. What strikes me as particularly reasonable is that she has put a hold on any implementation of the Arizona law while she fully considers the case. I don't think that she is particularly activist in this decision, but I'm sure that's what they'll be calling her on FOX tonight, and I'm just glad she's willing to take on the criticism for the sake of justice.

This decision gives me a deep gratitude for our legal system, especially in contrast with news from al-Araqib, where an entire Bedouin village was razed, despite a pending court case to determine the land rights of the villagers. I think it is a terrible reminder of what irreversible damage can be done in the wait for justice delayed. I wonder, how all of those made homeless by this destruction would have felt if an activist judge had stepped in to prevent the demolition, even if it was only until their case could have a fair hearing. Sure, the Israeli right would have decried it as judicial overreach, but families would not be sleeping in tents, cut off from access to water, shelter and basic services.

It is a small comfort to know that, at least for now, the civil liberties of Arizonans have been protected by the intervention of one individual. That, before any one's rights have been violated, she said, let's give this another look. It seems reasonable, wise, and just. I hope that the the law is eventually overturned, as I do not believe it will be effective or fair. For now, as my heart goes out to those made homeless by the haste of the forces that would see them run out of their land entirely, I am reminded how rare and remarkable our own system can sometimes prove itself to be. I hope that you condemn the destruction of al-Araqib, and the injustice suffered by the people who called it home. The people of Palestine, and the Arabs of Israeli citizenship deserve equal treatment by Israeli courts, and, as Israel's ally, it seems only right that we work to ensure this kind of gross oppression does not continue in a country you call our friend.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 208- Home is other people

Dear Mr. President,

I was riding the bus back to Seattle from my hometown today, the air conditioning turned up so high that I had goosebumps, and I realized I'd been holding my breath. Arlington is a complicated place, or, I suppose, Arlington and I have a complicated relationship. I went to high school there, and the family that I knew there, the people who became my brothers and sisters, we all wanted to get out. We went away for college. We moved, and traveled and generally scattered. Arlington may not be my home, but this group of friends always will be. They still make me feel young, even as the remind me how responsible we've become. They inspire me with the choices they make, the lives they choose, the things they accomplish. They are not the type to overlook a person's flaws, and yet, they forgive me for being me. They are my feeling of home, wherever they might be.

The face of the town has changed a lot since I lived there. I still see the faded logos of local businesses that have been around since I was a kid, but now they're ducking behind towering Best Buys and Costcos and the roads are new and wide and dark. I feel so foreign in this town, these days. I can imagine what my life would be like still living there, needing a car, having wilderness and wildlife nearby, running in to old faces from high school at the grocery store. I just don't know when my life changed so drastically to make me so out of place here.

By the time I forced myself to take one deep, trembling inhalation I was well on my way back to the city. And the rest of the trip, I-5 rolled by, anonymous, while I relived days at my first job, school dances, fights with my parents, poker games played late into the night around a kitchen table. I thought of the boys who are still my brothers, how they are men now, how they will one day be husbands and fathers and professors and writers and engineers. How I will one day be, whatever it is I'm going to be. Are we becoming what we are because we left or because of where we came from? I had begun to doubt that I would ever feel as strongly about a place as I used to feel about Arlington, when my bus finally stopped in Seattle. I remembered why I love it, why the strangers that live here feel like home to me, almost in the same way my childhood friends do. I believe they will, for the most part, forgive me, too.

For now I am going to make dinner for every one and enjoy the feeling of having so many people I love so close. It won't be like that forever. A big part of home is over in Africa, and I'm going to have to go find her, before long. I wonder, does the White House feel like home? Or is it more like living in a museum? Is Chicago still home, or Hawaii? I suppose the list of places must inevitably grow longer with the transience of certain lives, but I wonder if these are places you could imagine returning to, or if, like me, you'll never know you belonged there until you wake up one morning and don't any longer.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 207- Food deserts, urban farming and earth day

It's earth day monday again! I know, I missed the last two mondays. Not because I forgot about earth day, but because I didn't realize it was monday until thursday or friday. My produce box delivery had to be shut off for last month cause I was poor, so I didn't have that weekly reminder. (Those of you who know me in person will not be at all surprised by this, since I almost never know what day it is.)

Also, please indulge my shameless promotion of a friend's blog, and some local organizations that rock, none of this promotion was solicited. For that matter, any of the links I post, or organizations I encourage readers to donate to, ever sponsor my blog or ask me to link to them. They have no idea that I exist. I just think they're awesome.

Dear Mr. President,

As a part of the Let's Move! campaign, the First Lady has done a commendable job of raising awareness for a number of issues, especially the problems of "food deserts." The distance many have to travel to access fresh, nutritious food has a hugely negative health and environmental impact. Here in Seattle, there are a number of organizations doing really inspiring work to combat this impact.

Every Monday I get a delivery of organic produce from a local company called New Roots Organics. I don't own a car, so getting so many fresh fruits and vegetables delivered is especially convenient. There are a number of local farms that are out of reach for those of us confined to the city, and this service helps farmer and consumer alike. I think the convenience of this service would also appeal to working families, many of whom don't have time or transportation to shop for fresh, local and organic produce. I think that government programs like food stamps should include free or subsidized access to this kind of service, which would help local farmers and help the poorest families have better access to more nutritious food. Companies like New Roots, that provide delivery to food deserts could be more widespread and more affordable if some form of tax incentive were offered.

Urban farming is another important solution. In Seattle we have several urban farm organizations like Alleycat Acres working to increase Seattle's access to fresh produce and appreciation for green spaces in the city. Our city council has lately been discussing changes to the city codes which affect urban agriculture. I have friends who volunteer for alleycat acres, and the work they do is truly inspiring. A federal Race-To-The-Top-style initiative to encourage cities to develop codes and zoning laws that increase and incentivize urban farms and access to them would be a step toward healthier and greener cities. Like Race To The Top, such an initiative could take local innovation and help adapt these solutions to other cities with similar problems.

Regardless of where we live, or what our economic situation is, every one ought to have access to healthy foods; it doesn't take a scientific study to tell us that this will make for a healthier planet and healthier individuals, but, if it did, there are several. I applaud the First Lady's efforts with Let's Move! and I hope that the awareness she's raising will continue to change the way our country thinks about what we eat and where it comes from.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 206- The Audacity

Dear Mr. President,

This morning I woke up to news of a US organization working to send their own aid ship in defiance of the Gaza blockade. This ship will be called The Audacity of Hope, and, because it has also been endorsed by Rashid Khalidi, it is being linked to you by some right-wing media sources. I can see why it might be annoying to suffer the criticisms of political convictions you don't actually have, so I would imagine that you viewed this news as one more headache. I heard it, and, for a moment, all I wanted to do was throw out my plans for the next year and join the crew.

I've spent the day talking myself out of it. As much as I want to go, to stand with those brave people willing to defy the unjust and cruel policies of the Israeli government toward Gaza, I have obligations. Completing my education this year is something I need to do, not only for myself but for all of the people in my life who believe that I can. Going out into the world to fight oppression and injustice is something that will have to wait another year. Still, I believe with all of my heart that this is the right thing to do, and so I am donating what I can to their efforts. The magnitude of Israeli crimes toward the Palestinian people and the people of Gaza, especially, demand resistance.

I do regret any political problems this mission will cause for your administration, if only because I think it is a shame you haven't adopted official policies that would warrant this criticism from the right. In your book, you talk about the courage it takes to keep having faith in our country, in change, in a better future. Your whole moral and philosophical worldview seems to demand equal rights, freedom, and the end of oppression. So I don't think you should be offended by the name of the ship. Hope has been an audacious thing for Gaza, and for those who would see it freed. That the Americans organizing this act in the spirit of your writing is not nearly as surprising or difficult to accept as your own willingness to set that spirit aside when convenience or politics demand.

I know, my provocation likely falls on deaf ears. You will not support this ship, if anything, you are likely to denounce it and seek to distance yourself from Khalidi. I know this. But I have the audacity to believe, still, that I could be wrong. That your courage and your convictions might not be strangers on this issue forever. I have faith that you could change your mind, and see that, no matter how hopeless, the fight against this kind of injustice is always worth whatever criticism it will face. The people of Gaza deserve the same justice, opportunity and hope that you promised to America. Can you fault the Americans who would invest time and money, put on hold their lives, risk physical safety and freedom to make it happen? Does it make you, even in secret, even just a little bit proud?

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

If you'd like to donate to the Audacity of Hope, please visit US to Gaza.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 205- Face the (Netroots) Nation



“What I’m asking you is to keep making your voices heard, to keep holding me accountable. To keep up the fight.”


Dear Mr. President,

I don't think I count as an official member of the Netroots Nation, and I wasn't in Vegas for the convention, but, since I'm a blogger and I write you every day, I'm going to go ahead and tell myself that I'm part of your intended audience, anyway. I liked your video address, the promises you've renewed to repeal DADT and to close Guantanamo Bay. I hope that, this year, these are promise you can keep. I think the only aspect of this video that strikes me as disingenuous is the get-out-the-midterm-vote request, especially given the way so many centrist Democratic incumbents were given the support of the White House over their more progressive challengers during the primaries. Does it strike you as just a bit distasteful to ignore all of the progressive voices demanding better representation in congress and then ask those same progressives to show up on election day cheering for the lesser of two evils?

This being said, I think the New York Times' analysis of the speech as a "Pep Rally for an Uneasy Democratic Team" perhaps reads a bit too much into the fact that you used clips from Rachel Maddow's show to tout the administration's accomplishments. I think you know that the Netroots movement still has a tremendous number of loyal Obama supporters, even, (and maybe especially) those most vocal about our disappointment with the amount of compromise we've been asked to accept. However, as you so eloquently remind us in your speech, change comes from the bottom up. We've organized, raised money, marched, written and voted. We're asking for change. We're creating change. I think your administration could do a better job empowering and engaging the blogging community. The White House blog is great, but it could be developed into a more relevant forum for honest dialogue with the public. A press room without the press, or the spin, where questions are answered and discussion fostered. A blog that not only allows actual comments, but involves members of the communication department in responding to the discussions.

As inspiring as your address was, I hope the convention you were addressing, and the larger progressive blogging community, has not failed to inspire you, as well. The dogged pursuit of a wiser and more just government, a freer society, and a healthier planet is largely responsible for your election, and the Netroots Nation is only beginning to realize its potential. Now is the time to find the courage to keep your promises to us, Mr. President, not only because it is politically expedient, but because you know it is the right thing for this country and for future generations of Americans.

I guess what I mean is, please don't forget that we're asking you to keep up the fight, as well.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Hey all- speaking of the Midterms, here are some must-see midterm political ads. In case they've escaped your notice:










And, if you're in the giving mood, ActBlue

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 204-HR 1553

Dear Mr. President,

What we absolutely need right now, more than anything, is a war between Israel and Iran. This is why I was so pleased to see House Republicans doing their legislative best to egg on the most hawkish elements on either side. Do the ramifications of their votes, the lives and blood and suffering that they are calling for ever occur to them? Or does it stay hidden, disguised in legislative language and washed out in clean black letters on clean white paper?

Like school boys crowding around two arguing fellows to scream "FIGHT!", these petty, small-minded individuals are playing politics with the kind of war that people of Iran (and, for that matter, much of Israel) live in constant fear of. It's disgusting and it is beneath even the House of Representatives, who, in their childishness, cannot claim that about very much, these days. While I am gratified to see that leveler heads are prevailing, at least at the DOD, I am still too afraid of the power of neoconservatives lusting after more Islamic blood. John Bolton, and every Republican signing on to this bill, ought to be made to spend one night as a civillian in a war zone before they ever call of that kind of violence with this kind of casual disregard for the consequences.

While I am optimistic in thinking that this bill will not make it to a general vote, I sincerely hope that, should it gain more traction, the White House will put its political influence to use and discourages any Democrats from supporting this awful piece of legislation. This is not what I elected my public servants to do. Mr. President, I understand that you cannot possibly dignify every republican spasm of absurdity that comes out of the House of Representatives with a response, but I hope that you will do what you can to see that this bill is not allowed to reflect the views of the government, or the people, of this country.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey


Send your letter demanding that House Republican Leader John Boehner denounce the Iran War Resolution

Click here for a list of co-sponsors to see if your representative is on the list.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 203- When "yes" means "assuming you're not Arab, of course"

If any one out there reading this is wondering why I am not commenting on the Shirley Sherrod story, it isn't because I'm such a loyal Hope Koolaid drinker. I have three reasons:

1. I have nothing to add that every other blogger and their mother haven't already said
2. I do think the administration screwed up, I don't think there's anything they can do but apologize and try to reinstate her, and they have done that already.
3. I'm so sick of reading transcripts of press conferences full of Sherrod questions and NOTHING else. I'm sorry she was unfairly fired, but SERIOUSLY guys, people go through a lot worse without getting a single member of the press corps to ask Robert Gibbs about it.

Dear Mr. President,

One in six American women will be the victim of rape in her lifetime. With that kind of statistical frequency, it is a safe bet that we all have women in our lives affected by this. I certainly do, and I say this only to emphasize that I do not take the issue lightly, nor to I mean to belittle or minimize the damaging affects of this crime. I don't know that there are statistics available for the number of people, male or female, who are lied to for sex, but I'm guessing, based on personal experience, that it's much, much higher. People lie. People lie all the time, about important things and stupid things, and people lie even more when they think they can get what they want. I don't think that lying to some one in order to have sex with them, in general, is a criminal act. Israeli courts, who have convicted an Arab man of rape for allegedly claiming to be Jewish, disagree.

The idea that consent can be contingent on a partner's racial identity or religion is absurd. While withholding or misleading a partner about some information, such as knowledge of HIV or other infection, can and should be grounds for criminal complaint, there are obvious differences between the harm done by a person's religion and their HIV status. This verdict is based primarily upon an accepted racism, an antipathy that is now given the force of legal precedent. Absent any hard evidence to substantiate the woman's claim that he lied about his identity, the most damning evidence this man could have faced is the inescapable reality of his own race and the judge's belief that a jewish woman would need to be deceived in order to consent. This kind of institutionalized racism ought to be condemned by Israel's allies.

Beyond the racist implications of this decision, the language of the decision declares the court responsible for the protection of women from "smooth-tongued criminals," surprisingly paternalistic language from a female judge. I wonder, had this been the case of a Jewish man being deceived by an Arab woman, would she have been charged with rape, as well? As a woman, I find this idea that women lack the judgement to protect themselves from men who lie insulting.

We all have to take responsibility for the way we treat one another and for the decisions we make. Deception in pursuit of casual sex, while morally questionable, is hardly on par with the trauma of actual rape, and this disturbing decision should not pass without the strong condemnation of all who would see racism and sexism divided from the laws of any nation.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 202- One new national foundation- only $5!

Dear Mr. President,

I got an email from OFA today, or, if I'm to take it seriously, from you. It's actually more personalized than most of the form letters I've gotten in the mail. This was my favorite part:

You and I did not build this movement to win one election. We did not come together to pass one single piece of legislation. We are fighting for nothing less than a new foundation for our country -- and that work is not complete. As we face the challenges ahead, I am relying on you to stand with me.

Please donate $5 or more today:


I know there isn't really a way to send a mass e-mail asking for money and not come across as, well, kind of tacky. I get these OFA emails every few days and, I have to admit, that attempt to make me feel important and part of the club, it comes across as completely phony. I don't like being patronized. I don't need to have my sense of importance inflated. I don't think these methods actually get you more money.

I donated anyway. I think that OFA is doing good work, and that, even if my donation counts only as $10 against the Tea Party and the Republicans who serve them, it's worth it. I don't think imagine it will buy me influence, or even a marginal improvement in the policies or practices of your administration. But I believe it's a start. I think the 2008 election was a victory for many of the poor, disenfranchised and forgotten; a demonstration of the power that those of us non-millionaires still have over our national destiny. My $10 might not buy this country a new foundation, it might not get me a signed photo or a handshake or even a less annoying OFA email, but it's probably better spent promoting liberal(ish) candidates than buying me a week's worth of Americanos.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey


Readers: If my cynicism isn't too catching, you, too, can buy a new foundation for our country by donating to Organizing For America.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 201- Charity

Dear Mr. President,

Ghassan Elashi. I'd like you to know his name. He is the father of six children, and he is serving a 65-year prison sentence, allowed no visits with his children and only 2 phone calls a month. His crime is not murder or rape or theft, but charity; what you would call material support. He is one of the "Holy Land Five," convicted of sending money to Palestinian charities run by Hamas. The prosecution, which relied upon the testimony of an Israeli intelligence officer to make their case, does not believe that one dollar of the money Ghassan sent to Palestine went toward violence or acts of terror, but, as the hospitals and schools and food it bought were linked to Hamas, the good will it may have garnered is, apparently, just as dangerous.

I want to live in the real world. I try to be pragmatic, I try to understand the complexity and nuance of cases like this. I find fault with much of Hamas's charter, with their goals and with their methods. But what options have we given them? Hamas has done charity and community service work, they have honored cease-fires, they have participated in legitimate elections and won. Leaders of Hamas have indicated that their stance on Israel is softening. What do they have to do to gain international legitimacy without sacrificing domestic credibility? These projects funded by the Holy Land Foundation were helping some of the poorest people on earth just to survive and have access to basic services. It doesn't make Hamas' violent past all better, but it doesn't make every member of the party terrorists. How can we ignore the complexity of this situation? How can we look at this work, that by any other group, in any other place, you would praise as God's own, and call it a crime?

Ghassan Elashi. Please remember that while you call on Americans to give our time and our money to the betterment of those less fortunate, that this man will sit in prison for 65 years because he tried to help.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 200- Mad girl's love song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)


-Sylvia Plath

Dear Mr. President,

I want to write about policy tonight, but I just finished a book that I can't stop thinking about. I'm still walking the streets of Damascus, wandering in the desert with angels and saints and old friends from long ago. I'm also feeling like I've overstepped the boundaries of polite acquaintance, because, unlike some anonymous reader, I can put faces to some of the characters and I have heard their voices and I have heard their telling of the same story. You're an author, you probably experienced that strange freedom of telling your life's secrets to strangers. I don't know about you, but I think it isn't the same, telling it to people you know, or at least have spoken to in person. Maybe I just like to hide behind my keyboard. But still, I'm overcome by the beauty of my friend's writing, of her story, of the hope it gives me. I think it is, at least in part, because I see myself in the story, not me exactly, of course, but a part of me, the part of me that has always been afraid that I'll never feel like a normal person.

The author means a great deal to me, not only because of the kindness she showed me when we met, but because of the strange moment in my life at which I encountered her. I wasn't heartbroken, not all the way, but I was in the middle of a descent into the kind of love and grief over love that are never really distinct from one another, or from madness. I've been in this state several times before. I know all the signs. I know the feeling, that's something like finding what you've looked for all your life, only to realize it isn't at all what you wanted.

Anyway, I was just starting this vicious cycle all over again about the time I took a trip to Palestine. It was hard. It was eye-opening. I hoped it would be life-changing. While walking the path of Abraham, a prophet who I hadn't given much consideration, even during my brief forays into organized religions, I saw amazing things. Sites of power and history and faith. I met people who believed more deeply in these things than I could possibly understand. One morning, waiting for the group to get organized and explore Nablus, my cell phone rang. Up until that instant, I wasn't even sure I could get calls. It was the man I thought I was in love with. He was drunk. He needed to ask me for a phone number of another friend. I went to this place because, for my entire adult life, I'd felt drawn to it, while circumstances or bad choices seemed to prevent me from ever getting there. And, once I finally got there, my cell phone couldn't help reminding me of all of the things just waiting for me to come back. Things I knew I couldn't face as the same person I'd been when I left.

And I met the amazing woman who wrote this book, and she seemed to be, in many ways, what I wanted to be one day. Happy. Sane. Wise. An outsider who had accepted and been accepted in a new place, without losing her ties to home. The type of person I didn't think people like me were allowed to become. But most of all, she seemed to understand the conflicted nature of being an American in a place where America had done or helped to do really awful things. Of having yourself represented by a passport that got you special treatment, and the nightly news images of bombed-out buildings and dying children on TV. Of never, ever, being able to hide from your origins or to express the pride and affection you still have for your country, for all of the things it means to you that never get translated well. Of wanting to Do Good, (whatever that means,) and finding that you could never make it all right. That no one can. And I got to experience all of that all over again reading her book. It's good to be reminded that I'm not the only one who has ever felt so lost. That sometimes the fight just to figure out your own life, to keep your own sanity and to mend your own heart is more important, and harder, than we let ourselves say out loud.

When I was in Palestine, they gave me a new name. The people I met made me reconsider a number of things I'd been sure of. But my life did not change, right away. I went home and fell into the same patterns and was trapped by the oppressive sameness of my life, compounded by these dashed hopes for instant renewal and transformation. But, eventually, I got better, in no small part because I had begun to understand what I was looking for. Because I learned that change is hard. Change takes time and work and doesn't often look like the original plan. Change requires moving in utter darkness, pressing forward on uncertain ground with only faith to tell us that the path exists at all. Change does not happen all at once.

Ok, I guess this was a little bit about policy, after all.


Respectfully yours,

Kelsey


PS

The book I've been writing about is one I've mentioned here before; it's called The Bread of Angels and the brilliant author is Stephanie SaldaƱa.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 199- Palin for President

Dear Mr. President,

I'm officially signing on as a supporter of Sarah Palin's presidential bid. This may come as a shock to many who know me, but I've given it a lot of thought, and I've realized that she's all about compassion. Compassion for New Yorkers, who, apparently, since 9/11 can no longer bear the sight or sound of anything relating to Islam. And, Mrs. Palin knows that the best forum for expressing compassion is twitter. As pointed out in a comment on the New York Times article, no one would have objected to the building of a church 2 blocks away from the Oklahoma City bomb site. But Sarah knows better. Sarah understands the difference between domestic and foreign terror is that, while it would just be ridiculous to start being afraid of all the white male anti-government Christians in this country, there are a small enough number of Muslims to make fearing them as convenient as a drive-thru. And Sarah knows that in this country, we even like our phobias value-sized and made-to-order.

The mosque, which she asks peace-seeking Muslims to reject "in the interest of healing," is simply too difficult for New Yorkers to look at. I can relate. One time I was shoved by an Asian woman in the street, and now I can't eat Thai food without having terrible flashbacks. I'm just glad that courageous people like Sarah Palin are willing to spend 140 characters defending the traumatized psyche of xenophobes.

But there are other benefits to a Palin presidential run. Remember the good old days, before you were President, when the left was united against Bush, and had the added benefit of being able to blame our lack of accomplishments on our complete lack of power? It was a lot easier to call myself a Democrat or a liberal in those days. I didn't worry about getting torn apart from the left and the right. The left agreed with me. The right had all the power and didn't feel they had to apologize for it, so they didn't bother to disagree with me. That kind of harmony, that peace and stability that drove the economy into the ground, started two wars and really boosted the sale of backpack-sized Canadian flags, you know, I get all misty just thinking about it. I think that Sarah Palin could really bring that back. And, let's face it, most Democrats would rather rage helplessly against the status quo than be strapped with the impossible task of changing it. I think I could build a decent sized coalition around this.

Just think, Mr. President, you could probably take a vacation without every one and their co-anchor flipping out about it. Sounds pretty good, eh?

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 198- Octavia Nasr

Dear Mr. President,

I wasn't going to write to you about the unfair dismissal of Octavia Nasr from CNN. Your responsibilities may be varied and numerous but, clearly, making HR decisions at CNN is not one of them. Thomas Friedman's column today linked this decision to the Bush-era mentality that requires loyalty over skill or qualification. He asserts that, in a time when we are hindered by our lack of understanding in the the Middle East and Afghanistan, we need people like Octavia Nasr to help us better understand these societies and people. I don't think Mr. Friedman goes far enough; I would extend this indictment beyond the staffing of the Iraqi green zone, to most of our foreign policy decisions, especially toward the Middle East. We prop up or install parties and regimes based on their loyalty to us and not their abilities. The Lebanese cleric Fadlallah, whose death Nasr was fired for publicly mourning, is a perfect example of this. A man who spoke for women's rights in the home and in society; a man who wanted to see the worst beliefs of the organization he founded moderated; this man might have had opinions America disagreed with, and he might have overlooked or even encouraged violence, something that many of us and I personally could not condone. However, by reducing him to a Terrorist, by simplifying and distilling the complexities of this man to a single noun that makes it inexcusable to mourn his passing, we failed to see what we might have learned from him. But this isn't why I changed my mind about writing to you.

What signal are we sending young people? Trim your sails, be politically correct, don’t say anything that will get you flamed by one constituency or another. And if you ever want a job in government, national journalism or as president of Harvard, play it safe and don’t take any intellectual chances that might offend someone. In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints.

This passage changed my mind. I have often joked at my own inability to enter professional politics due to the radical opinions I have expressed as a young person. George Bush could walk away from an undistinguished life story, business failures, drug and alcohol problems, and who knows how many crazy frat stories, because he never said anything too offensive. Elena Kagan has a senate confirmation hearing that is as easy as it is boring, because she has kept her opinions moderate and acceptable, or entirely silent. It reminded me of something my department advisor recently told me, about how a class I'd taken at a previous school was "too political" to count toward my degree.

I think this is why progress seems like such a constant uphill fight. I think we need outspoken, courageous public servants, academics and journalists, even if what they say is challenging and controversial and disagreeable. I think we need to listen, to engage, and learn from those we might otherwise write off as too radical or too extreme. I'd rather disagree honestly than avoid difficult conversations entirely. And, while you probably can't get Octavia Nasr her job back, you can encourage us all to keep the courage of our convictions by demonstrating that you have the courage of yours. As for me, I may change my mind as I get older, but I'm never going to walk away from the mistakes I've made in the past. Even if it means I could never sit in the Oval Office or work for CNN. And, just for the record, I think that Nasr's sentiments were incredibly human and full of compassion. I think a journalist keeping her humanity and appreciation for the complexities of human nature is a minor mirale, but certainly not grounds for dismissal.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 197- 3 kinds of ironic

Dear Mr. President,

Today you issued a proclamation. I wanted to use today'd letter to comment on this, but I thought I'd let your words speak for themselves. (I think you'll see where I'm going with this.)

For Immediate Release July 16, 2010
Presidential Proclamation--Captive Nations Week

CAPTIVE NATIONS WEEK, 2010

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

In 1959, President Eisenhower issued the first Captive Nations Proclamation
in solidarity with those living without personal or political autonomy behind the Iron Curtain. Since that time, once-captive nations have broken free to establish civil liberties, open markets, and allow their people access to information. However, even as more nations have embraced self governance and basic human rights, there remain regimes that use violence, threats, and isolation to suppress the aspirations of their people.

The Cold War is over, but its
history holds lessons for us today. In the face of cynicism and stifled opportunity, the world saw daring individuals who held fast to the idea that the world can change and walls could come down. Their courageous struggles and ultimate success and the enduring conviction of all who keep the light of freedom alive remind us that human destiny will be what we make of it.

The journey towards worldwide freedom and democracy sought in 1959
remains unfinished. Today, we still observe the profound differences between governments that reflect the will of their people, and those that sustain power by force; between nations striving for equal justice and rule of law, and those that deny their citizens freedom of religion, expression, and peaceful assembly; and between states that are open and accountable, and those that restrict the flow of ideas and information. The United States has a special responsibility to bear witness to those whose voices are silenced, and to stand alongside those who yearn to exercise their universal human rights.

In partnership with
like-minded governments, we must reinforce multilateral institutions and international partnerships that safeguard human rights and democratic values. We must empower embattled civil societies and help their people connect with one another and the global community through new technologies. And, with faith in the future, we must always stand with the courageous advocates, organizations, and ordinary citizens around the world who fearlessly fight for limitless opportunity and unfettered freedom.

The Congress, by Joint Resolution, approved July 17, 1959 (73 Stat. 212), has authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation designating the third week of July of each year as "Captive Nations Week."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim July 18 through July 24, 2010, as Captive Nations Week.
I call upon the people of the United States to reaffirm our deep commitment to all those working for human rights and dignity around the globe.

Mr. President, those were some powerful words. I would very much like to live in a country that could live up to these promises.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 196- Winning, losing and telling the tale

Dear Mr. President,

I'm not sure what winning is supposed to look like, any more. On day of several ostensible political victories, I've read pieces by Politico and The New York Times that read more like obituaries for your administration. I think that both pieces are poorly written and tend to rely on oversimplification to make their points. Each seem to simultaneously criticize you for overreaching and for doing too little. Little, if any, concession is made toward the overwhelming financial and political obstacles your administration faced due to the previous administration. Is it hopelessly naive of me to think that opinion polling in July isn't necessarily a perfect indicator of what November will hold?

One aspect of the criticisms offered that I do agree with is the folly of your administration's alienation of the media. I think the press can be hostile, self-serving and incredibly cynical. But you can't win the favor of the public without the media. If there has been one consistant victory for the right over the last few years, it has been control of the narrative. We may be winning our fair share of political battles, but we are not the ones writing the history of it. I think that repairing the administration's relationship with the media, and re-engaging directly with the press, could be important steps toward reversing the trend of analysis that casts victories as either meaningless compromises of values or as imposition of the administration's will on a reluctant public, (or, inexplicably, both.)

The left has plenty to be upset about in the compromises that your administration has agreed to, and the issues you've sacrificed without a proper fight. But the progress made in a time of economic distress has been commendable. I don't believe that enough of that story is getting through, or that the right-wing narrative of your secret plan to dominate the globe through back-door socialist revolution is being effectively combated. And while the tone of news coverage certainly matters less to me than the substance of what your administration is doing, I think that re-engaging the press corps (and increasing engagement with the kinds of new media that got you elected in the first place, like bloggers,) would go a long way toward improving the way voters feel about your accomplishments. I'm not an expert or anything, but I don't think that limiting press conferences and basically ignoring new media opportunities to reach an audience that doesn't get its information on CNN or FOX is a communication strategy that will allow you to reach many of those Americans who aren't personally attending your town hall meetings on economic recovery. I still have a great deal of hope for your presidency, and I'm proud of what has been achieved today, but if I were learning about it only from the news coverage, I might wonder why we're all wearing black and talking in the past tense.

Respectfully yours,


Kelsey

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 195- Who down with ICC?

Dear Mr. President,

I'm a huge fangirl when it comes to international law. I LOVE it. If I lived in the Netherlands, I would have lined up for days to get to see the Charles Taylor trial. I think the International Criminal Court is better than Star Wars. So I'm happy to see that your administration has embarked on a markedly different approach to the ICC than your predecessor. I was happier still to hear your encouragement for Sudanese officials to cooperate with the ICC. I think that some crimes are better handled by the ICC, and, had I been in charge of, I don't know, the world, Saddam Hussein would also have been tried there. I think it is time that the United States demonstrated our commitment to international law; I think it is time we ratified our membership.

I don't just say this because I'd get the ICC logo tattooed on me. Our participation in the ICC demonstrates to the world our own willingness to stop acting as though we are above the law. It also lends legitimacy to the court, and to our calls for the prosecution of the Charles Taylors and Slobodan Milosevics of the world. We evolved past the vigilante justice of the Old West by creating a domestic legal system that could see justice done (mostly) without violence. I believe we will live in a more peaceful world once nations can seek justice in a courtroom and not on a battlefield. Yes, it's idealistic, and, yes, it may require that we hold our own conduct to a global standard that some Americans might not agree with. But I think it's well worth the effort and the sacrifice. There probably aren't many electoral votes to be gained in pushing for it, but it is the right thing to do.

I feel about international law the way I feel about government; it may not be perfect, but it is best improved through participation, not rejection. I'm truly proud of the steps toward full participation our country has made under your leadership, and I hope that your presidency sees us realizing the full potential of the role we might play in the ICC.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 194- Bad Art Museum of Bad Art

Dear Mr. President,

The French government is another step closer to a full public ban on the burqa. I suppose this makes me grateful to live where I do. Not because I wear a veil, but because I could. Because, more than wear what we want, we can say what we want. We can open bars with "Obama rooms" celebrating bad art. Art can be subversive, offensive, contrary to the values or beliefs or faiths of so many people, and it is no threat to our society. It can hang on the wall, or be inked on some one's skin, or stitched into their clothing and it doesn't make them less American.



Tonight I was in a bar, drowning my AL sorrows, with an "Obama Room". I didn't find out what it meant, or why it was named after you, but the sign said it was a room of bad art. I think it meant that the room is safe for bad art, for art that not every one likes or understands. Art that no one wants to pay for, that no one would remember, otherwise. Art that doesn't have to justify its own existence.

I couldn't help but think of the women in France being targeted by this law. There aren't enough of them to defend themselves democratically. They are outsiders, isolated, kept apart from the rest of French society- not by their own beliefs or culture, but by a government that, by overwhelming majority, has declared their manner of dress to be out of step with what it means to be French.

I'm still pretty upset about the American League breaking a 14-year streak of domination at today's all-star game, so forgive me a baseball metaphor. Baseball has always been described as quintessentially American, but I could, with little fear of harassment, walk outside with a shirt saying "I hate baseball" or "Babe Ruth is stupid" and not worry that it made me any less American. I might be in an extreme minority, too few to ever have my opinion represented in the legislature or to count on it being defended by voters, but the constitution protects me, all the same. It is this bedrock principle that represents true "Americanism", this document which defends us all from the whims of the majority. I hope that, when the law in France must face up to their own constitution, that it is struck down. that the noble principles enshrined in that document are stronger than a passing fear of those who do not dress the right way.

What do you think of this law, Mr. President? Will you speak out against it, demonstrating that the friendship between the US and France is once characterized first by its frankness and honesty? I hope that you will, I hope that the Council of the State acts to protect the rights of these French women. Because, be we immigrants or baseball haters or bad artists or just believers in a faith different from that of the majority, we deserve our own corner of safety, the respect of our governments and of our fellow citizens. Speak to President Sarkozy, Mr. President, and tell him this law is not worthy of a modern democracy.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 193-One State

Dear Mr. President,

The "threat" of the one-state solution has long been tossed about in discussion of the fate of Palestine and Israel. I find myself ambivalent on the subject. In some respects I think it is a good idea; it would end the apartheid system of segregated "Arab" and "Jewish-only" neighborhoods and streets (at least in the law, though, obviously, de facto segregation would likely continue.) It would incentivize working together, learning from one another, and mutual respect, as both Palestinians and Israelis became responsible for the fate of their country. I think it might also mitigate the inequitable resource usage, especially regarding water. It would help both sides, economically and educationally. It would offer legitimacy of each in the eyes of their current enemy's allies.

On the other hand, I worry about the backlash. Ethnic and religious violence on a larger scale. I don't imagine the leaders of the Likud party (or even Labor) being too eager to share their nuclear launch codes (and other military secrets) with the leaders of Fatah, or the PFLP, or Hamas. The military would certainly have a had time adjusting, and the mandatory service for all citizens might need to be reconsidered. It would be ugly, difficult, maybe even bloody, for at least another generation. I, for one, am not confident enough in the outcome to be comfortable calling for a solution that would lead to more lives lost. But doing nothing is also a choice, and the status quo of slow partition is also ratcheting up the body count.

In an International Relations course at Boise State University, one the best professors I ever had gave us an assignment. He divided us into three teams- A, B, and the UN. We were given a map, with different symbols for resources and different concentrations of ethnic groups A and B. He said, every one divide up the map, let's see what we end up with. Needless to say, a heated and unresolved argument ensued. Had we been dividing anything besides land, I would have said, let team A divide it up, and let team B pick their half first. But land is not a heard of cows. Land has history, people's homes, holy sites, cemeteries. I never thought to suggest that we forget the partition all together, and neither did any of my classmates. Looking back, I wonder if, at least in simulation, it would have been a wise idea.

I know that your administration is publicly opposed to the one-state solution. But I'd like to know what your ideal endgame looks like. What outcome can you imagine as best? I think, no matter where you draw the borders, Israel and Palestine will have to work together, rely on one another, trust one another, to a degree that does not yet seem possible. South Africa today did not seem possible during the years of apartheid, either. And it has been a long and bloody road to a present that is yet far from ideal, but I don't think that a South Africa White and a South Africa Black would have been a better solution. What are your thoughts on the one-state solution, Mr. President? I don't believe it isn't something you've given thoughtful consideration. Have you, entirely, rejected the possibility? If so, what was your reasoning for doing so? How do you envision the region, ideally, in 10 years? In 50? What does a solution look like, to your mind?

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 192- World cup! (final)

Dear Mr. President,

Today I was more than usually grateful for my new job. For one thing, I'm appreciating every day how interesting and talented my new coworkers are. But today we got to watch the world cup final, which was on the TV screens in several areas. I know it probably isn't fair to get paid to watch the world cup, but I think we managed to stay productive. I was cheering for the Netherlands, for the incredibly insubstantial reason that I've been there, once, and it still holds a place in my heart as my first trip outside of North America. Clearly, it wasn't such a great day for fans of the Dutch soccer team, but it was fun, all the same.

And then I saw the attacks in Uganda and I felt sick. I don't think it's more sinister to attack during a soccer game than at any other time, but it seems so cruel to subvert an event meant to unite people in peace this way. I don't think there's anything to say to make it any better. My sister recently returned from a business trip to Uganda, and, while I am glad she was not there for this, I know many lost their own sisters or brothers today, and my heart goes out to them. I don't know what role our nation can play in easing the suffering and the trauma from this attack, but I hope that we are making every effort to contribute what we can.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Day 191- In the footsteps of ancient giants

Dear Mr. President,

I've heard many times the sentiment Nicholas Kristof expressed today in his column "Waiting for Gandhi." The idea that the Palestinians have not found their Gandhi, their Dr. King; that one man, could save them all. I don't know if things are that simple. I don't know if a Messiah complex (or a waiting for a Messiah complex) is really what will make things all better. I admire Dr. King, and I admire Gandhi, but they were mortal men that achievement, history and personal sacrifice elevated to something higher, something, quite possibly, unattainable. I think that resting the salvation of an entire people on one man's shoulders is a dangerous proposition. For one thing, it discourages those who would walk the paths of these great men, but could never, alone, hope to fill their shoes. I think you might be able to empathize with this, given those who hailed you as the natural heir to Dr. King (or even Jesus) and then turned their backs when miracles did not appear in your first 100 days. How does a man meet such impossible expectations? And, when he cannot, how does he keep his spirit, his sanity, or his integrity when people give up hope? It isn't fair for us (or for Palestinians, or any one) to expect the work of healing our wounds and steering our nations to collective better destinies to belong to one man. We all must be that man.

Kristof naively describes the non-violence practiced by many Palestinian activists as a recent development, something "that some Palestinians are dabbling in." Perhaps Mr. Kristof has only recently witnessed it himself, but nonviolent resistance has been practiced by activists against the occupation for decades. I feel that this is an aspect of resistance that the media deliberately overlooks, but also that the Israeli government and the American government, fail to recognize, praise, and reward as an alternative to violence. The nonviolence is not less effective because it hasn't found a face for T-shirts of the next generation of hipsters yet.

I was reminded by a fellow blogger recently of some wise words from Rachel Corrie's posthumously published writings.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop.

When I first read these words I felt, personally, called out by them. I needed to drop everything and devote my life to making this stop. I didn't imagine I could do it myself, and I didn't think Rachel thought she could, either. I don't think that I am special or significant or destined to singlehandedly stop injustice. I have no delusions of these kind, but I do feel that my efforts are needed. All of us, every one of us, is called upon to help. Seeing these words again, and then reading Mr. Kristof's column, his claim that "so far there is no Palestinian version of Martin Luther King Jr," I felt them even more powerfully. No one should wait for Gandhi, or Dr. King, or the next great man. That isn't what they taught, and it isn't how they succeeded. History may have elevated them in isolation, but they did not, and could not, have walked alone. At the risk of invoking a cliche seen on stickers and posters in every dorm in the country, Gandhi called us all to be that change we wish to see in the world. This kind of wisdom, that we all have a role to play, a greater cause to serve, a place on the road to our better future, is something that more of us have to take to heart.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 190- DOMA

Dear Mr. President,

I applaud Judge Joseph Tauro's decision to reject federal legislation against gay marriage. DOMA is a shameful relic of our country's bigoted past and should be repealed. I hope that the kind of wisdom he demonstrated in his decision will not go unheralded by your administration. This is another step, albeit much too small and much too slow, in the direction of equality and justice for gay and lesbian Americans. The arguments posed by proponents of DOMA during congressional debate simply do not stand up against evidence. Gay mariage is legal in Canada, South Africa, Sweden and many other European countries. As far as I know, these countries haven't experienced a tremendous breakdown in traditional mariages. The basic family unit has not been destroyed. Plagues of locusts have not descended. The fear and hatred expressed by those who feel threatened by the gay community is simply not based on anything resembling legitimate grounds.

In preparation for this letter I decided to read some pro-DOMA arguments, from news sites I don't normally visit. (This, by they way, is still your fault. Remember that commencement speech in Michigan?) This jewel, from world net daily, is what I found:

"President Obama has been actively promoting an agenda to undermine the nation's marriage laws," said Staver, who also is dean of Liberty University School of Law. "When you weaken the family, as President Obama is doing by his policies, you weaken society. Children fare best when raised with a mom and a dad. Redefining marriage to something it was not intended to be weakens the family and is not in the best interest of children or society. President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder must defend the nation’s marriage laws. The Obama administration must defend DOMA, not sabotage the law."


I don't see how the speaker has made his case that your policies "weaken the family", or how this affects "children and society." I do find it amusing that these far-right nut jobs are attacking you for advancing the homosexual agenda when, no offense, your administration has moved pretty slowly on issues of gay rights. I suppose my point is that, if you're going to upset these people no matter what you do (and, let's face it, they weren't voting for you, anyway,) why not own the charges they make? Why not actually, vocally, publicly support repealing DOMA and granting marriage equality to homosexual couples? Civil rights issues shouldn't have to wait for a show of hands from every one; acceptance of interracial couples is still a problem for some people, but no one is arguing that we should let them steer national marriage policy for every one. If you're holding out for more public support, I think that's just poor leadership. Legalizing gay marriage is the right thing to do, and I think you know that. Why miss the opportunity to show that you're a courageous leader for the sake of voters who will blame you for it no matter how slowly the changes are made? I don't see what you gain, and I don't see how it is best for the country. I sincerely hope that you find the courage to stand up against DOMA, and to praise Judge Tauro for his wise decision.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 189- Anonymous

Dear Mr. President,

After an inexplicable night of insomnia, I found myself awake at 5am. Bird song, and the early first light were too tempting to pass up, so I donned my running shoes and went for a jog. The city was empty. Skyscrapers on the horizon were just beginning to reflect the pastel light of the rising sun, which was still competing with street lamps for dominance. Crows dotted the wires of telephone poles, the lines of the intersection on the empty road, and scuttled away from me in the park. It was the perfect morning, warm, but only beginning to hint at the oppressive heat that would rule the rest of the day. After I got tired, I walked for a ways, read the newspaper on a bus bench, and watched the city begin to wake up. I've never been a morning person, so this voluntary predawn excursion seemed to signal something deeply wrong. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was an indication that I've finally overdosed on 90's sci-fi television. Maybe I was just restless for the expansive luxury of an empty city street.

Then I saw the interview you gave with an Israeli journalist. Your answer to the question about what parts of your old, pre-white house life that you missed, struck a chord with my strange morning excursion. You miss going for walks, being anonymous, experiencing the world in private. This freedom, which I take for granted, most days, is the steep price of your office. I am often overwhelmed and frustrated by my invisibility, my smallness, my inability to affect change. I have not often stopped to consider the benefits of this anonymity; the peace of insignificance. When one is as alone in the world as I often feel myself to be, it is hard not to envy some one like you.

You also spoke of Jerusalem, of walking through the streets of the old city. Even reading your words in the simple light of my laptop screen, I could almost see the affection that compels them. Every one I speak to, young, old, Israeli, Palestinian, American, every one I know speaks of Jerusalem this way. It is why I dislike hearing it referred to as "The Holy Land." It is not about the shrines or the churches or the mosques or the synagogues. It is not about the dead men who died so that others could die for it, or who died trying to take it away from the people who died to take it away from the people before them. It is about the living. The sounds of the old city markets, the smooth stones in the street, the punishing sun brought low at sunset, spilling a softer, more forgiving light across the palm trees and the balconies and the minarets and the satellite dishes. The clothes that dry on lines, the foods that cook on street corners, the hum of so many people in one place. It is the same beauty, perhaps, of every city, but made all the more precious by the great powers that have battled for it in the background of its entire life. The life in this city, not the history or the blood spilled, but the mundane, anonymous, boring life is what makes it so beautiful. These things that cannot often be found in briefing books, or, as you've sadly reminded me, practically anywhere in the lives of those in power. I am glad to know you still remember it, and while I am grateful that you've given up that part of your own life for this service to our country, I hope that one day you are again able to walk in the old city, or in any city, and feel anonymous, even if it is only for a moment.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Day 188- Walls

Dear Mr. President,

Today I've been thinking a lot about walls. Right now it feels like it's about 1,000,000 degrees in my apartment, so, while wondering what to write to you, I got more than a little agitated. I know what I want to write. I want to write about PM Netanyahu's visit. But writing to you about foreign policy is a lot like banging my head against a wall. I write, impassioned and angry and sometimes in tears. I feel better. I print or copy the letter, address the envelope and affix postage. I wait. Weeks later, I receive a form letter from your office thanking me for writing. I hold this form letter in my hands as the headlines scroll up my screen. More people are dead. Or arrested. Or homeless. Or starving. And we welcome the Israeli Prime Minister and assure the world that our policies of absolute support will continue. And the IRS hands out tax breaks to donations that support the very settlements we claim to have stopped. And I bang my head a little more hopelessly, each day.

But walls are not just for banging one's head in frustration. Walls keep us safe from the elements, they support roofs, they keep us warm and sheltered and make caves or holes in the mud more like homes. There are a number of walls in Gaza that have been knocked down over the past few years. Knocked down by bombs, knocked down by bulldozers and knocked down by nature. But still, the material to rebuild them is forbidden. But because cooking spices have been permitted through, the Israeli government is praised for their efforts. The list of banned items may be shorter, but normalcy, or the kind of economic stability that would help create a stable society, are still too threatening to be permitted past the checkpoints.

And still other walls are only to divide. To divide people from other people, to divide land and power and resources, to confine or exclude or dominate. Sometimes they make a nice canvas. I've even heard these walls make great projector screens, in a pinch.

Don't worry about that dull thumping noise, Mr. President. Even when it's 1,000,000 degrees, and I'm hopeless and frustrated and so angry I could cry, I still live on the side of the figurative Wall that allows me to live inside my walls and bash my head against them. I'm one of the lucky ones.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 187- Man hands

Dear Mr. President,

In high school, they called me man hands. It sounds cruel, but it was sort of an endearment. I do have big hands. The people who love me best still call me this, occasionally, and I love them for it. But it started earlier than that. It started when I was 4 years old and saw The Neverending Story. I promptly convinced my mother to cut off my long golden curls so that I could look like Atreyu. When my older sister told me Atreyu was a boy, I was pretty skeptical; I identified with the character enough to believe that he must be female, like me. After that, it was being the only girl on the soccer field at recess, or picked first for kickball because, as a 5th grader, my 5'+ frame and size 9 shoes made me awkward and strange, but damn good at kicking a ball. These days, I work in a physical, occasionally dangerous and adrenaline-filled job. While my supervisor is female, she acknowledged to me that I'm the first woman to apply in a long time. So, I suppose, she and I work what some would call a man's job. I don't want to be a mother and I don't want to be some one's wife, but I like romantic movies and make-up and Jane Austen novels as much as the next girl. What does this make me?

Abnormally masculine, according to Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University. That my aspirations for a life outside of motherhood, marriage and so-called feminine traditions are traits some (ironically, female) doctors would attempt to prevent in utero is kind of horrifying. Considering my upbringing, watching my parents come home from the same work, with the same weapons and tools, knowing that my mother worked just as hard as my father, had more education, made more money than him, outranked him and still had to come home and be responsible for the domestic chores while he relaxed in front of the TV, maybe my abnormality isn't genetic so much as experience? Of course, my father and stepmother tried hard to break me out of my tomboyish tendencies, forbidding certain masculine clothing, encouraging and even emphasizing the importance of cosmetic beauty. But I never outgrew it. I'm not dainty or delicate. I don't aspire to be. I can't change this, any more than I could change the size of my hands. Even my handwriting (as the unfortunate readers of your mail must surely be aware) is undeniably masculine.

If my parents had been given the choice, if they had been offered a pill to take with prenatal vitamins that ensured them a "normal" daughter, would they have taken it? How does a parent justify making decisions about a person's disposition, their preferences and temperament, the things that make up their personality, all without their consent? I think that science is pretty awesome, that genetics and the prenatal prevention of disease are important and fascinating fields. But reading about this research and the reasoning used to justify it, I can't help but wonder who gets to decide what is a problem, an abnormality that needs correction or prevention, and where the checks on that kind of power could possibly come from. What's feminine today is different than 24 years ago, and by the time children receiving this treatment reach their own adulthood, I'm sure it will be even more so. That 4 year old girl who looked back at me from the mirror as our mother cut our hair and turned us into a warrior, she could have grown up to be anything, a mother, a Supreme Court nominee, even a pediatric endocrinologist. So far, all she's become is a loss prevent agent and blogger, a chronically opinionated and ambitious young adult with giant hands. But I'd hate to think that, even before she was born, there could have been a medically sanctioned definition of what the correct choice would be.

Girls of all ages have a role model in Elena Kagan, so thank you for nominating her to the bench. I believe that her life's work is no less valuable than any children she might have born, instead. I am grateful for her and for all of the other abnormal women who have come before me. They have made the world safer for women like me, and improved it for all of us- even Dr. New. I'm not promising that I'll cut my hair to look more like her, but, if she gets a luckdragon name Falkor, it may be cause to reconsider.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Monday, July 5, 2010

Day 186- GMO life

Dear Mr. President,

Genetically Modified food certainly sounds unappetizing. On a visceral level I don't like GMO crops; I don't trust the companies that produce them and I don't believe the the effects of consuming them are fully understood. That being said, my sister is a doctor who earned her PHD studying plant genetics and hybrids. She now works for a company that, in the course of its work with impoverished nations, funds the use of these crops to fight starvation and malnourishment. We've often talked about these crops and she's a believer in the benefits that some of them provide.

Still, I'm uneasy. I can't fully explain or quantify my hesitation about GMO crops, except to say that it is directly related to the huge profits enjoyed by Monsanto and other agricultural companies. It isn't that I think organic, non-GMO food is raised or sold without any expectation of profit, it's that there is a certain obscenity to this kind of wealth, in that it makes the few who enjoy it and many more who depend upon it desperate for its preservation. I think Ayn Rand would probably slap me, (or maybe kill me and cut me into small pieces) if she were alive, for equating wealth and immorality, but she was never going to be my biggest fan, anyway. It isn't fair to assume that because a company makes money it is immoral, but when I see the things that the banking and financial companies did to make their huge profits, or the oil companies, I see a pattern of exploitation, manipulation, dishonesty and disregard for safety, social and environmental risks. It appears, to an admittedly casual and ignorant observer, that to achieve such a combination of profit, power and size, a company has to make ethically dubious decisions. At the very least, I doubt that my health, or the planet's, is a higher priority for these companies than their bottom line. Which makes me nervous, considering how blindly our system depends up on them, and the lack of transparency we allow them to operate with.

But I think every one should get to make that decision for themselves. Which is why I hope that, especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, the USDA will insist upon clear labeling of all GMO food & products containing GMO ingredients. Allowing consumers to make up their own minds about what they buy and what they eat is essential to our individual freedoms, our obligation to protect ourselves and our planet. This will also make companies like Monsanto more accountable to consumers; allowing the market's invisible hand to keep them just a little more honest. I think that's a solution even Ayn Rand could get behind.

Respectfully yours,

Kelsey

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 185

Dear Mr. President,

Happy 4th of July. Here in Seattle, it's gray and raining, which is neither surprising not particularly disappointing when you consider the beautiful green life it supplies. I hope that you're having a relaxing day in a more july-appropriate climate. Yesterday I wrote about my conflicted emotions regarding independence day, and today I'd like to keep things short, to enjoy the assembled company who, friend and stranger alike, remind me that there are plenty of things about Americans with celebrating.

So, I'm sorry for the short letter. I'm grateful, especially tonight, for all the Americans who are working to serve our county, making this lovely, relaxing celebration possible for me. Thank you, Mr. President.

Respectfully yours,


Kelsey