Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 334- The perfect storm

Dear Mr. President,

Call me crazy, but I suspect that most Americans would pay a few cents more for food if it decreases the likelihood that that food doesn't have e. coli, salmonella, or any number of potentially deadly food-borne contaminants. Personally, I'm willing to pay quite a bit more for food that (besides being generally non-toxic) is also produced with as little harm to living things and to the environment as possible. (I know, I know, that's just mind-blowingly leftist of me to say.) So when congress passed the Food Safety Act today (and you applauded them for it) I figured that this would cause little excitement from the right. Turns out I'm not getting any less naive with age, because Glenn Beck called this "criminal" and suggested that "the perfect storm" is upon us and it's time to "close the bunker door."

I have to say, as much as I appreciate Mr. Beck for giving Jon Stewart something funny to do most nights, I'm really underwhelmed by his sustained hysteria. Food safety? REALLY, Mr. Beck? REALLY? The problem, of course, is that no matter how little credibility I may believe Mr. Beck has, people do take him seriously. Lots of people. People I can't dismiss out of hand because some of them are surely related to me, and all of them probably have loved ones who think they are rational enough human beings. And when Mr. Beck uses words like "criminal" and implies that a relatively modest expansion of government oversight for massive national industries that people trust with their health, (and the health of their children,) is tantamount to a natural disaster, well, people who take him seriously are going to get upset.

Mr. Beck's language implies physical, immediate danger. Storms don't think or reason; they destroy. Storms wreak senseless havoc. Instead of engaging in honest discussion about the role of government in agriculture and food production, Mr. Beck wants his audience to panic, to react with fear and instinct and emotion. Because escaping a storm isn't about reasonable discourse it's about survival; it justifies all kinds of conduct that would not otherwise be acceptable.

I think one of the fundamental divides in this country is between those of us who are willing to turn something as benign as a food safety bill (or really any political disagreement) into a harbinger of the apocalypse, and those of us who are committed to more reasonable, saner discussion of the issues. I think that you fall into the latter category, which is why I respect you and, unfortunately, also probably why you "lose" many of the contrived news-cycle battles with the ever-hysterical right. I'm glad that you don't sink to that level, and I like to think that winning re-election won't require it of you.

Then again, I've already demonstrated a really unhealthy amount of naive good faith in people, so maybe you should break out the end days language and start invoking life-or-death stakes for every legislative battle you face. The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The perfect storm is upon us.

Or something.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 333- The Freeze

Dear Mr, President,

When I began my time at Borders the company had a policy to evaluate employees on a yearly basis and to give out a modest raise based on that evaluation. (While we were discouraged from discussing the amount of these raises, word has a way of getting around. The last year that they were in place, raises were about $.03-.11/hr.) While there were always grumblings about the meanness of size of these wage increases, they could not begin to rival the uproar that taking them away entirely created. Citing very real financial troubles, the company chose to cut costs by cutting any merit increases for employees. I'd been in management positions before and after this decision and I noticed a distinct increase in apathy that I couldn't find the heart to condemn. The face of our company was not the executives who still lived with 6-figure incomes and yearly bonuses, but the employees who were making near-minimum wage and seeing cost of living increase while pay stagnated and benefits were slashed. Clearly, Borders has not presented a particularly happy face to the public ever since.

When I read about your decision to freeze wages for Federal Employees I was deeply unsettled. This strategy was not particularly effective for Borders, and I don't imagine it will be the miracle that deficit-concerned Americans are looking for when applied to Federal employees. Why is it that Federal employees can be forced to pay the the price of our deficit, but taxing the rich at pre-Bush-administration levels is tantamount to class warfare?

Also, while it may be crass to consider something as tangible as peoples' livelihoods a negotiating point, but it seems like poor political strategy to order this freeze without getting some concession or promise in return, like the expiration of Bush tax-cuts or the extension of unemployment benefits.

At Borders, while the employees grew unhappy, the wage freeze did little to solve the company's financial problems. Layoffs came next, and still the company struggles. I may have little expertise in economic matters, but I witnessed firsthand the way that punishing the anonymous laborers for the mistakes of the wealthy executives destroyed a company that once led the industry in the way it treated its employees. I would hate to see the same thing happen to our country. Yes, economic times are tough and we will all suffer the consequences of this, but those who are weathering the storm with the least inconvenience- the rich- will not be the ones to restore our economic stability. Recovery will come from the poor and especially from the middle class. Further inhibiting their buying power is only going to make things worse.

I understand you have tough choices to make and this was certainly not a decision you made lightly. I will keep faith in your good intentions and in the wisdom of your decisions, and hope that you find the courage to make sure that the burden of this recession is borne equally by the wealthiest Americans.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 332- Wikileaks (with a vengeance)

Dear Mr. President,

For a casual student of foreign affairs such as myself, today is basically Christmas come early. Getting a glimpse behind the veil of secrecy that obscures much of the day-to-day unscripted intrigue of international relations can be exciting, even if it likely made the last few day (and the next few weeks) pretty rough for you. While much of the information leaked concerns only trivial possibly-embarrassing frankness, some of the information is already proving to provide a new picture of our current relations with several countries. And, while I take no pleasure at seeing you or your administration embarrassed, I do think that the right of the American people to have access to the knowledge of how we are being represented abroad is more important than the impoliteness of letting foreign leaders know what we really think of them.

Certainly this latest release of information is less damning than the previous revelations about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from Wikileaks. If nothing else, it might be viewed as an opportunity to learn about weaknesses in our government's electronic secret-keeping. We might also take a moment to appreciate the importance of not bribing or bullying other countries, (not to mention mistaking aid money for pay-offs and US diplomats for spies) unless we're cool with every one knowing about it, but even I'm not so naive as to believe your administration capable of learning that particular lesson.

As with every other letter I've written you about Wikileaks, I will conclude this by saying that no damage could be done to a government acting with honest good intentions. And maybe ours is too big, our foreign policy too complicated, for that to always be the case, but leaks like these are shameful because our government ought to be ashamed of how it represents the people of the United States. We share your embarrassment just as we share the responsibility for the foreign policy decisions you would prefer be made in secret. If we're to be represented by our government we have the right to know what it does. Should the day come that our government manages to represent us well, it will have nothing to fear from the truth.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 331- A change of heart

Dear Mr. President,

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has changed his views on the constitutionality of the death penalty. Thirty-four years after deciding with the majority to reinstate capital punishment, Stevens has cited judicial activism, rampant systematic racism and the hysteria of those making life or death decisions as evidence that the death penalty, at least in its current form, is not consistent with the constitution. While this change of heart does nothing for the 1,100-some hearts stopped in the interim years, it does demonstrate an admirable commitment to the higher purpose of the law; a commitment unshaken even by the fear of backing down from such a public position on such a difficult issue.

To see a change like this in such a high-profile individual is astounding. How often do we hear politicians or judges admit they were wrong? How often does the synthesis of new information or insight (rather than the cynical hope of political gain) actually change the entrenched views of our leaders? While, as a result of my own ideology, I am certainly more impressed than I would be if Justice Stevens' opinion had changed the other way, I think that the power of this announcement is not in the moral soundness of his judgement but in his willingness to admit that his previous position was wrong.

I hope that you carefully consider the Justice's words on the subject. I, like Justice Stevens, do not believe that capital punishment has a place in our legal system, and I hope that you take this opportunity to question your own position on the issue. Unlike Justice Stevens, whose changing heart cannot hope to change many lives, you are in a position to help those unjustly affected by this policy. Read the Justice's essay, Mr. President, and see if your own heart is not moved to make the same change.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 330-Black Friday & health insurance

Dear Mr. President,

I've worked in retail for the last four years. Most of the time I hated it, but today is the day that usually made me love it. Especially in later years, as a manager, I'd rework my hours for the week and end up spending something ridiculous like 16 or 18 hours at work, setting up before the store opened, drinking way too much coffee, and generally racing around as though lives were at stake. I'm probably just a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but after Black Friday, the store got busier, the lines got longer, and everything just got more exciting as the urgency to build displays, refill displays, organize gift wrapping services, unpack merchandise for the floor and help customers once the doors opened increased. Working retail during the holidays was stressful and did not go well with having a "normal" holiday season, but it was the most fun I've ever had at any job. Today, while I still work in retail, I no longer have the same responsibility toward customers or toward merchandising. It was a little disappointing to roll in at 2 pm for a 6-hour shift catching shoplifters, especially knowing that my sister would be working 18 hours at the clothing store she manages. It's nice not to have lines of frantic bargain hunters surging through the doors at 6 am, but it lacks a certain glamor. (However, the sheer craziness of the shoplifter we caught today pretty much made up for any lack of excitement.)

That being said, in this economy, it was kind of nice to see all of the hilarious coverage of long lines, crazy crowds, and more than a few frantic shoppers who look like they train to find deals all year long. Yes, it still makes me a little sad, and yes, it still makes me wonder if our society has deep issues with priorities and materialism, but I like my job, I like that my friends have jobs, and I hope that many more jobs can be created this Holiday season.

I noticed today that you had to get stitches as a result of a basketball accident. My first reaction was something along the lines of "OH NO, POOR PRESIDENT OBAMA! I SHOULD ASK IF HE"S OK!" (which probably speaks to the near-complete delusion that we're somehow friends which I have developed as a result of all of this letter-writing.) And then I got to thinking about my hand. Yesterday, while cleaning up my thanksgiving dishes, I cut open my hand on a knife hidden in the soapy water. My near-hysterical reaction notwithstanding it really isn't that bad, I'm fine and I didn't bleed to death (or even come all that close) but it still hasn't closed up. Today I showed it to a friend who is also a doctor, and she noted that I should have gone in for stitches. To be perfectly fair, I'm terrified of doctors, hospitals, and generally anything related to blood, bleeding, or medical attention. I probably wouldn't have gone in even if I did have insurance. The fact that I'm uninsured, however, was a significant factor in my decision just to take care of it myself. I'm really glad that you are OK and that you have access to the best healthcare we can offer in this country. But, just for a moment, I couldn't help but step outside myself and realize that if it hadn't been me but my roommates or my sisters or my friends who needed stitches and chose not to get them because they couldn't afford it, I'd be pretty upset knowing that money stood between them and basic care. We've both demonstrated rather clearly that these kind of accidents can happen to any one at any time and that having the option of medical attention makes a big difference (or at least, I'd imagine our respective scars will look fairly different in a few months.)

Anyway, I am glad that you are OK and that your black friday was spent doing something leisurely (at least before elbows were thrown.)

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 329- Thankful

Kelsey --

When Michelle and I sit down with our family to give thanks today, I want you to know that we'll be especially grateful for folks like you.

Everything we have been able to accomplish in the last two years was possible because you have been willing to work for it and organize for it.

And every time we face a setback, or when progress doesn't happen as quickly as we would like, we know that you'll be right there with us, ready to fight another day.

So I want to thank you -- for everything.

I also hope you'll join me in taking a moment to remember that the freedoms and security we enjoy as Americans are protected by the brave men and women of the United States Armed Forces. These patriots are willing to lay down their lives in our defense, and each of us owes them and their families a debt of gratitude.

Have a wonderful day, and God bless.


Dear Mr. President,

Happy Thanksgiving. The e-mail you sent out to all of your supporters this morning made me think about the people in my life that I'm grateful for. Today seems like as good a day as any to thank them all.

I'm thankful for my family, who I don't see often enough. They are all wonderful and supportive and are doing/have done amazing things with their lives. They were my first and most important teachers and I love them.

I'm thankful for my friends, who are a part of my family. For my new coworkers, who, in making me love them, have made me love my new job. They are wonderful and unimaginably talented and so very welcoming. My friends around the world, especially those working with Peace Corps or the API and other volunteer projects, I appreciate them for spending thanksgiving away from home in the service of a better world. For all of my lovely, diverse, amazing friends in Seattle and around the country, who make my life so much better just by being in it (and who read these letters more than you do, Mr. President,) I am grateful. I am especially grateful for my roommates, my three adopted sisters who take great care of me and who prove that families come in many forms.

I'm thankful for all of my teachers and professors, the uncompromising courage of those academics who have inspired, encouraged and pushed me to be a better and more intellectually curious individual. From the elementary school classrooms of RuthAnn Wilson to the university lectures of Isam Ali, Keith Feldman, William Smaldone, and many, many others along the way I have become the person I am, have been shaped most significantly because of their guidance.

I'm thankful for those activists who are putting their lives and their safety and their freedom on the line to stand up for what is right. Marcy Newman, Diane Gee, George Rishmawi, every one at the US Boat to Gaza and so many others around the world who are fighting injustice at immense personal risk and cost. Too many of us are content to sit at home and hide behind our computer screens and blog angrily about injustice, while few among us have the courage to do whatever it takes to stop it.

I am thankful for those in the GLBTQ community, friends and strangers, who continue to struggle for basic rights to marry and to serve our country openly. I believe that one day our country will do the right thing by these men and women, but until then, I am grateful that they have not lost hope (or just moved to Canada.) Our country is better for our GLBTQ citizens and ought to do better by them.

I am thankful to live in such a great city, in a beautiful part of the country, full of artistic, adventurous, political people (who can't drive in the snow.)

I am thankful to live in a country where the kind of criticism I make of it every day don't land me in prison (or, at least, haven't yet.) Where I may speak out about the things we do wrong in hopes of making it a better, more just, place for every one. I am thankful to live in a country that can change, even if it it changes too slowly. I'm thankful to really every one who works for our country, for the military, the government, law enforcement and fire fighters and every one who tries to make this country a safer place.

I'm thankful for the Native Americans, who are too often forgotten on this day. Our country came about at their expense, at the cost of so many of their lives, and still they work to preserve the cultures, languages and traditions that many have tried so hard to wipe out. I'm grateful that they have not lost all hope in the face of overwhelming odds, and I am sorry that so many have forgotten.

I am thankful to you, Mr. President, and so glad that you beat John McCain. I'm thankful for the health care bill, for student loan reform, and other legislation you've passed, thankful for the political battles you've won and for those you lost (if not for those you gave up on without a fight.) I'm thankful that you haven't stopped trying, that you haven't lost faith, and that you continue to try to be a better President. I'm thankful that we elected you and I'm thankful that you serve our country even in these challenging times.

Thank you. (And thanks, all.)

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 328- On Turkeys

Dear Mr. President,

Today you pardoned Apple and Cider, two turkeys who will be spared the Thanksgiving slaughter. Unlike most of the turkeys Americans will eat on Thanksgiving, these two were raised on a ranch with plenty of space to run around, and they'll spend the rest of their days in a petting zoo. But their less-fortunate, factory farmed, destined for dinner brethren aside, there is another glaring irony here. In your time as President you have pardoned 4 turkeys and exactly 0 humans. My vegetarian sensibilities about the relative value of human and animal life aside, I think this is a pretty embarrassing statistic.

While I appreciate the spirit and the levity of the traditional turkey pardoning, I would hope that, in the other 364 days a year you get to issue pardons, that you consider some of the many, many worthy human candidates. They may not be heading off to dinner, but many languishing behind bars in the American prison system are subject to unfair sentencing minimums, deplorable, dangerous conditions and are prevented from turning their lives around into something positive. I think that today ought to remind you of them.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 327-Love actually

Dear Mr. President,

Classes were cancelled for me today, and all over the city, businesses, schools and bus routes were shut down in response to (generously) 2 inches of snow. I'll admit I love this about my city, our complete inability to function at the slitest freeze. It's a sad reality, but we don't often get weather like this, meaning that it is just more dangerous to be out. Drivers don't know what they're doing, the city doesn't have a particularly organized response, and the recognition of this danger by local officials and private employers is sort of refreshing. Instead of demanding that we brave the dangerous streets for class or work, they're just willing to put aside these interests for the sake of keeping more people safely at home. It's cute. And comforting.

My roommates and I are bundled up and trying to keep from turning the heat on as long as possible. (Being on the 5th floor helps this, but not much.) We've got both environmental and financial reasons for doing this, but, with temperatures heading to the teens overnight, I'm sure we'll have to give in before too long. We're watching Love Actually, a romantic comedy we've each seen dozens of times since it was released in theaters. (I'm still convinced this movie is the reason my mother suggested we spend Christmas 2006 in London, a trip I continue to be grateful for.) There isn't anything particularly special or profound about this movie; love conquering all is certainly not a new theme, and the cinematic wisdom of getting as many famous people as possible in one movie is questionable. But, no matter how many times we see it, no matter how many lines we quote at one another or how many songs Becca sings along with, we still love this movie. It brought us together, in a way, several years ago before we moved in together, when we gathered in their tiny studio to watch this movie and promise ourselves that particular Christmas would be good for all of us and our respective romantic interests. It was cold, the city teetering on the brink of what would later be called Snowpocalypse, a city-crippling storm that few Seattle natives had ever seen the equal of. But I remember that night and the intense, hopeful warmth that we shared as friends certain our lives could only get better if we believed hard enough.

The next day my life took a memorable turn for the worst, and snow began to fall. I can't help but associate my own downward spiral with the rapidly deteriorating weather. Even now, the very sight of snow and ice, the prospect of months of cold makes me fear another winter feeling alone and depressed. I have to choose to remember the good things- our store closing early and the staff having a snowball fight at Linda's bar. Trudging through snow to feed my mother's cats, only to have them cuddle with me by the fire in her freezing condo. Laughing with these girls before they were my roommates as we made light of the disastrous way things turned out. No matter how hopeless it seemed, it did get better. The snow melted. The city recovered. My heart mended. Getting through this winter may require that I remember this, and remember that no matter how bad things get, I still have my lovely friends.

With the country still suffering from economic depression and the prospect of the Holiday season too much for many families to handle, I hope that we all pull together and keep each other warm, keep each other sane and keep each other safe this winter. (With Republicans already set against extending unemployment benefits for those still struggling, this seems unrealistically optimistic, but whatever, Hugh Grant makes me think the world is not all selfish and terrible.) Putting others, especially those less fortunate than us, ahead of our own selfish concerns is really the kind of love that this holiday season is supposed to be about. I think that if we do that, we'll all make it through till spring in more or less one piece.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, November 22, 2010

Day 326- Snow, again, and airport security

MR. GIBBS: I’m saying that in order to address the most
up-to-date threats possible, we have instituted the very best in technology and in screening efforts in order to detect that threat.

Q And what’s wrong with the Israeli system, where they’re questioning before they even get close to the gate? Is that --

MR. GIBBS: I would point out that I think the Israelis have, I think, it’s two airports -- two international airports. I think that’s right. It’s one?

Q It’s one, I think --

MR. GIBBS: -- in Tel Aviv. We have 450. This is -- there is a scale that is -- and I’ve seen -- look, I’ve watched and read the stories of, well, can’t you just do what -- understanding the scale involved is infinitely different.

11/22/2010 Press Briefing

Dear Mr. President,

It's snowing in Seattle, reminding me that in the early days of this blog I often wrote to you about the snow on the East Coast. I guess that means the year is actually coming to an end. Whoever reads your mail is probably pretty happy about that.

This winter, the addition of new airport screening methods is causing quite a stir with holiday travelers. The invasive scans and pat-downs have been discussed with anger, mortification and no small amount of humor from those who have experienced them. When I saw the exchange between Robert Gibbs and the reporter suggesting that the US adopt Israeli airport procedures, I had to chuckle a little. He doesn't finish his sentence, but he seems to suggest that he's heard stories about Israeli airports that would make the reporter reconsider this idea. Having had my own experience with the security practices of the Tel Aviv airport, I found this whole thing (the reporter's naive suggestion and Mr. Gibbs' politically correct self-censorship) kind of hilarious.

I've long wondered how much Americans would put up with in the name of our own illusion of safety. Because an illusion is all it is. Some one will invent a bomb that can't be seen on the scanners, or a new way to blow up airplanes. And then maybe we will have to be given polygraphs before getting on board. The Israeli woman who stripped me down to my underwear and yelled at me for an hour didn't make any one on that flight any safer by doing so. I'm certain that she believed she did, and that the other security officials and the TSA scanners all believe they are doing the right thing. (Or at least aren't bothered enough by it to find other jobs.) So I'm not going to criticize them. They are the face (and hands) of the policy, but not the suits behind it.

I've seen a number of bloggers and commentators make the point that this is what the terrorists wanted. To scare us into ridiculous, invasive, un-American behavior. I have to say I agree with them. This method of random screening is just not effective. At my own job, I could search the bags of every person leaving the store to make sure they aren't stealing (or "randomly screen" one in ten bags) but I'd quickly alienate our customers and everyone- the store, the customers, and me, would suffer as a result. Instead, my coworkers and I look for behavior that is suspicious or for the faces of past offenders. We share information with other stores and they with us, and we work together to help each other prevent theft whenever possible.

I do understand that theft and mass murder are much different. Some one who gets away with stealing is easier to shrug off than some one who successfully blows up an airplane. But, for all of the security innovation since 9/11, time and time again, the factor most responsible for preventing attacks has been the awareness of other passengers and airline employees. I do not believe that the sacrifice of our freedoms (or our dignity) is necessary to keep us safe. It may make those of you in positions of authority feel better, as though you have minimized your own responsibility for any tragedies that might strike, but that doesn't sound quite as nobel when used to justify this suspect behavior.

For now, I'm going to go play in the snow and be grateful I'm not flying anywhere this holiday season. I sincerely hope you reconsider this policy, and remember that the erosion of our liberties is a far greater victory for those who seek to destroy this country than any loss of life could ever be.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 325- Murder and Masculinity

So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?

Dear Mr. President,

I hope that you have not heard of Bryan Fischer, the moronic right-wing blogger for the American Family Association, but if you have, I'm sure you also heard about his recent lament about "the feminization of the Medal of Honor." Fischer, while acknowledging the heroism of Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, cites Giunta's life-saving efforts as proof that we just don't reward killing the way we used to. While I, rather predictably, think this man is out of his mind, I was particularly surprised to see the comments on his original post. Without exception, the responses were negative, ranging from "I'll pray that you stop being such an ignorant person" to "You are actually evil and I hate you." A few even acknowledged the near-uniform blowback, pointing out that rage at Bryan Fischer is the most united the right and the left have been since 9/11. Fischer attempted to clarify his remarks (twice, actually) and seemed to genuinely believe that no one who actually understood what he was saying would be offended. But in all three posts, rewarding life-saving action (or not rewarding aggressive action,) was described as feminine.

The implication that killing is masculine and aversion to killing is feminine is really fine by me. As a woman, I have no problem with the heroic actions of (or the decision to honor) Staff Sgt. Giunta being described as feminine. However, it seems problematic to so closely link masculinity with the taking of life or the celebration of the taking of life. For one thing, most men in America would not qualify as "masculine" under this definition. Most men I know haven't killed any one and don't generally wish to see more of it. Perhaps I surround myself with especially effeminate men? I think some of my loss-prevention colleagues might object to this. I know a number of people (male and female) with really incredible numbers of killed aliens, zombies and other video-game creatures, but I don't know that most of them would meet Fischer's idea of traditional masculinity. Defining masculinity this way just makes it so much harder to feel manly in a world that increasingly frowns upon killing.

I'm not Christian, so when Fischer cites scripture as evidence that Jesus, even in crucifixion, was actually aggressively killing the forces of evil, I really don't have any basis to object. (Though I'm sure my Christian friends could probably find some problems with this argument.) My objection comes at the comparison of Christ vanquishing the forces of evil with US soldiers killing Afghan soldiers. Especially in light of a recent study demonstrating a vast majority of Afghans don't know about 9/11 or America's use of it as justification for war against the Taliban. We've been fighting for nine years against an enemy that has no idea why we invaded their country and killed so many innocent civilians. I just don't quite see the decision to take up arms against an invading army (especially when you have absolutely no idea why they are invading) as equal to the Dark Forces of Evil and Sin.

Which isn't to say I think we should do a better job of explaining to people why we're going to kill them before we kill them, but that maybe, just maybe, killing isn't the most effective way to keep ourselves safe. Maybe we're not only fighting the wrong enemy but fighting it the wrong way. I don't see there being all that much glory in the killing of some of the poorest and least-educated people on the planet by the most fearsome, best-quipped military on the planet. It certainly doesn't seem all that manly. And my family, for one, doesn't sleep any easier knowing it's being done. Would it be too feminine to suggest that maybe building schools and infrastructure and economic development might not have been a more effective way to make the world a little safer? I don't get to make these decisions, and neither do the men and women that you send to do all of the killing and dying that Fischer and his ilk see as so manly and Christlike. In that situation, doing your best to keep your fellow soldiers from getting killed certainly seems like an act of (completely gender-neutral) heroism. So I'll sleep tonight, grateful to Giunta and all of the other soldiers trying to protect their fellows in battle, because any one working for less death and destruction is pretty badass, in my humble opinion. I'll be content with the knowledge that most Christians (at least the ones commenting on the AFA website) think that Fischer is full of it. And I will wish for the promotion American concept masculinity based not on the destruction of life but the protection of it.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 324-Storytelling

Dear Mr. President,

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the way we tell stories, and especially about the things the telling teaches about the teller. Most of the people in my life are storytellers. A number of them are writers as well, and tell their best stories without speaking. Others have to be heard, their tales never sounding quite right without their pauses, inflection and gestures. Regardless if they are speaker or writers, or if their stories are fiction or fact, I have a tendency to judge people by the way they tell their own stories.

Some (and I think I often must, unfortunately, include myself in this category) tell stories to impress. We talk about our achievements and often exaggerate (or selectively edit) details in order to cast ourselves in the best light. While I like to think I know when to stop short of bragging or outright lying, I'm sure this inclination is not as effective as I imagine it to be. When I meet a person who is the hero in all of their own stories, I tend to get wary about them. Honesty can be subjective, of course, but the compulsive need to be liked is always a dangerous indication.

Others speak with more concern for their audience than for themselves. A few of my friends have this astounding, uncanny ability to entertain or move or capture a listener with their (written, spoken, fictional or nonfictional) tales. They know exactly which words to choose, which details to paint, to craft their stories to elicit laughter or emotion or connection with whoever they speak to. I could listen to these friends for hours as they cast themselves as heroes, fools or removed observers, placing the telling of the story above the way it reflects upon themselves. The details of any given story are never as important as the way it is told. These are people I tend to admire, to seek to surround myself with and learn from.

One of my favorite storytellers outside of my circle of people I actually know is a writer for The Stranger, Paul Constant. Recently he wrote a piece comparing Tucker Max's memoir Assholes finish first with former President Bush's Decision Points. In it, he points out the self-aggrandizing way each man ignores the consequences of his actions and imagines his own heroics while, (with no small amount of sadness) also noting that Max, unlike President Bush, at least manages to muster the smallest amount of self-critical reflection by the end. Reading Constant's review and considering the way I judge people by the way they tell their own stories, I considered your own writing, and especially the way you tell your story to the American people. I have to say, Mr. President, that even when I do not agree with you, I always appreciate the way you explain things. Your honesty and self-reflection make me trust you, and I think that you have that rare ability to tell truth with more concern for how the audience will feel about it than how it will make them think of you. This sets you apart from your predecessor and also reminds me why you were able to reach out to so many people across the political spectrum.

I hope that when you get around to writing your own memoir of your time in the White House that you are able to do so with more self-reflection and awareness than President Bush. The story of your Presidency will not be about what you accomplished or what you decided, the battles you won or the times you were right. I believe that the telling, and not the tale, will be the most important and most revealing, even should events take a turn for the highly unlikely and leave you just as desperate to rewrite history as your predecessor.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 323- In-flight entertainment, death panels and superheroes

Dear Mr. President,

While listening to my favorite song off of the new Kanye West album on continuous loop, I've been surfing internet news stories to find an appropriate topic for today's letter. While a number of stories caught my attention, nothing about them seemed significant enough to become subjects of a letter to the White House. What do you care about Superheroes patrolling the streets of Seattle? Or a couple getting married in the minutes their flight entered Canadian airspace? Or the way budget cuts in Arizona are resulting in low-income patients getting kicked off of lists for organ donations?

These stories so have something in common, and that, I think, is important to you. Or at least it should be. The theme today is about what happens when Government fails. My city government has failed to keep people safe. It's own budget cuts have prevented the manpower and training necessary for proper law enforcement. And so citizens with military and martial arts backgrounds are donning capes and masks, climbing in their KIA and fighting crime for free.

Your administration has failed the gay men aboard that flight, who cannot have their union legally recognized in their own country. You've failed to make this a front and center civil rights issue, to shame the opponents of same-sex marriage for imposing their hateful system of so-called values on the rest of the country. And so two citizens who want to commit to one another for life took to the skies, entered Canadian airspace, and wed.

And when governments fail, sometimes, as demonstrated by (but by no means confined to) the state of Arizona, citizens have no other option but early death. It is a tragic and unacceptable fact that in this country people die all the time from treatable conditions because they are too poor to afford treatment. It is a failure at all levels of government, and, while I should find solace and inspiration in the stories of those taking (criminal and social) justice into their own hands, I can't help but think about the cities cutting police officers (or unable to hire badly needed new ones) who don't have their own roving band of caped crusaders, or the gay couples who can't fly to a place where their marriage will be recognized. And while poverty will always exist, (and will, unfortunately, carry with it a much shorter life expectancy,) while people will always get sick and many will die when they might have been saved, that the wealth that might offset this disparity is concentrated in the richest 1% of our population is a difficult fact to ignore.

The government, as you are so fond of recalling President Lincoln reminding us, should only do for the people what they can not do better for themselves. I think the government is generally better at law enforcement. I think the government could bestow the basic rights same-sex couples deserve. And I think the government can ease the suffering of the poor and uninsured. But so many of us are still waiting for you to step up and show us how it's done.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day 322- HIV/AIDS

Hey all,

Today's letter is inspired by my friend and fellow blogger Joe, who wrote this inspiring (and upsetting) piece for The Body, a site dedicated to HIV/AIDS research, awareness and education.

Also,World AIDS Day is coming up on December 1st, so look for events in your area, or consider donating to a HIV-related cause.

Dear Mr. President,

I'd never met anyone that I knew to be HIV+ before I moved to Boise. My gender studies class required a service component, and I was assigned a volunteer project working with an HIV/AIDS awareness group to organize a World AIDS Day rally. (Specifically, we were asked to coordinate support from the local religious community, an effort that went about as well as you'd imagine in most of the ultra-conservative Idahoan churches.) My classmate and I made phone calls, gave presentations to religious groups, and, on December 1st, stood outside in a park with a local youth group, passing out candles and hot chocolate to a small crowd. We stood together, men and women, young and old, many races, gay, straight, HIV+, HIV-, Christian, Muslim, and Atheist. We listened to the stories of those who had been affected by HIV and we listened to those who confessed their shame at their own ignorance about it. We wore red ribbons. We remembered the dead. We prayed and we cried and we observed in silence.

When I moved to DC, HIV/AIDS was so prevalent and awareness campaigns so widespread that discussion caused considerably less controversy. Perhaps this was because DC is more progressive, or simply because it is more difficult to dismiss a disease as the sole property of an ostracized community when it affects your neighbors, your friends, your family and a staggering number of those you pass on the street every day. That my own life was not directly affected allowed me the luxury of forgetting that attitudes across the country are not so enlightened. That many still think of AIDS as either foreign or self-inflicted. That many still refuse to educate themselves about the stark reality. Years later, when my boyfriend's mother (herself a former nurse) warned her son away from me, claiming my tattooed skin put him at risk for AIDS, I was reminded that this lack of basic understanding was just as widespread in Seattle as it had been in Boise.

Ultimately I am lucky that I've only had one person treat me the way that people with HIV/AIDS are treated all the time. For all of my attempts to laugh off her ignorant remarks, I felt frustrated and angry that she would cite the mere risk of this disease as a reason for her son to stay away from me. But I didn't have to live with that feeling for more than a few days; I didn't have to live with that feeling while also balancing a fear for my own life and the frustration of my own failing health. I can't begin to imagine what that would feel like. Like most Americans, I don't think about it that often.

Today I was reminded by a particularly eloquent essay that many are not so lucky. Especially among GLBTQ youth and communities of color, even the search for a cure can come hand in hand with the worst racist, classist and homophobic practices of our history. HIV/AIDS awareness, education and research is important to all of us, even if its direct effect on our lives isn't obvious.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 321- A letter I will surely regret writing

Dear Mr. President,

This morning my American Indian Law class had a guest lecturer from our University's law school. He gave an interesting talk on local water rights disputes, and I asked several questions, trying to place the local issues in context with the international water disputes I study in another class. After the bell rang and students lined up to shuffle out, I thanked him for the lecture. My professor began speaking to him and, before I was totally out of earshot, began telling him about me. As much as my ego enjoys overhearing complimentary descriptions of my academic abilities, I hurried out, knowing exactly what would have to come next. This professor, who has encouraged me to consider law school and who has praised my engagement in her class, does have a significant reason to be disappointed in me. I'm often absent from class for no legitimate reason. Her class is not unique in this respect- I have skipped many of my classes this quarter (and over the course of my long college career.) While I have often formed a close bond with professors, or at least a significant rapport, all of the most encouraging and supportive instructors have had the same complaint about my attendance.

For years, for probably my entire life, I have struggled with anxiety and depression. I won't blame my poor attendance entirely on illness, mental or otherwise, because there have been plenty of times when I just sleep too late to make it to class. More often, however, the idea of getting out of bed, or leaving my apartment, or even going through the doors of the classroom has just been too much for me. I will stare at my ceiling, or the door, and I will give myself permission not to go. I will try to rationalize this behavior, claim that I'm not prepared, or that I don't need to go because I've done the reading, but the truth is I often just can't get past the physical anxiety or despair.

As it is now, missing class is pretty much as bad as it gets. There have been times in my life, especially as a very young person, when my depression got so out of hand that I was not functioning at all. I've tried therapy and medication, finding little success with either. One constant, however, has been my inability to discuss these problems frankly, even with professionals. I'm usually the type of person who can narrate the struggles in my life like they happened to some one else. I'm pretty comfortable telling a perfect stranger about my last awkward crush, (partially because it makes for such a good story) but I won't talk to my closest friends about the way depression can paralyze me, make me withdraw and unable to do something so simple as get out of bed.

Part of my reluctance to talk about it is certainly related to cultural stigmas about mental illness. Once close friend who used to struggle with similar problems now works for the defense department and was refused a post outside of the US on the basis of her mental health issues, despite years of very successful treatment. Celebrities who come clean about eating disorders or suicide attempts are called brave, while a politician must carefully hide any hint of similar problems in their past for fear of being viewed as unstable or unqualified. I say I'll regret writing this letter because, even more than my radical leftist politics, revealing this aspect of my life to the unending memory of the internet is damning to any future in which I might wish to be taken seriously.

This isn't to say I feel I should be held to a different standard. Getting out of bed this morning may have been more of a personal victory for me than it would be for most people, but that's not all I'm responsible for, now that I'm awake. I have goals, and I have expectations for myself that have nothing to do with being depressed or not. I don't think that depression is an excuse for me to be satisfied with an ordinary life. Similarly, I think it is completely unfair that any one else would change what they think of me or my abilities because of it. As humans we all have our own struggles, our own challenges to overcome and our own disadvantages. If one of my challenges is to keep depression from affecting my academic performance, it certainly isn't my life's greatest, only the one I have been taught I must be the most ashamed of.

Respectfully yours,



Our guest lecturer this morning mentioned that your administration, while more ambitious and better at communication than the previous administration, has failed to live up to your promises for improving Native American rights and addressing the social, economic and environmental concerns of many tribes. The Bush administration, he said, wouldn't give tribal leaders a meeting, flatly refusing most requests. Your administration shows up to the meeting, hears the concerns, and then says no. While this may represent a small kind of victory, it sounds to me like you're giving yourself too much credit for making it out of bed. Being better doesn't mean much when the bar has been set so low for so long.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 320- Friends

Dear Mr. President,

Sometimes I find it strange the way friend have taken the place of family as the care takers in my life. I love the way they take care of me, and put up with me, and I appreciate them for it. I feel like many people my age have seen that transition from surrounding yourself with people you're related to, into surrounding ourselves with a family we get to chose. It is a strange kind of family, but, for the most part, we do OK.

My friends, besides being brilliant in their own right, tend also to have similar political values. I have a few libertarian or outright conservative friends, but I tend to avoid making new ones. I have no problem relating to people of other ages, races, or sexual orientations, but my political beliefs tend to exclude me from friendship with those who outright disagree with my political values.

I'm not a professional politician, and I'd say this polarization of beliefs would probably be much worse if I were. Avoiding those I disagree with doesn't help me, and it certainly doesn't help those whose minds I would attempt to change. When the photo-ops are over and the cameras and microphones have subsided, do you find yourself, honestly relating well to republicans? Do you have republican friends? Or do ideological divides determine your friendships, as well?

Respectfully yours,


Monday, November 15, 2010

Day 319-Another Dinner Party

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight I had an unusual group of friends over who mixed surprisingly well. As I watched them from my (admittedly, slightly tipsy) view on the living room floor, I felt the happiness that usually sets in when I've spent an entire day panicking about something that has finally come to pass. There was enough food. People seemed to like the food. My room was still messy but not completely shameful. My gracious roommates, who has been warned that I'd be having a couple of people over, were not upset when almost ten showed up. One particularly appreciated guest even helped with the dishes. For all of my rushing around and worrying all day, things went better than I'd ever have guessed.

My friends are lovely people, each of them uniquely intelligent, and sensitive, and fascinating. Some I've known forever, others I'm only just discovering, and still I can't hear enough of their stories. Being able to work and associate with people who constantly interest and challenge me is one area in my life that I'm constantly grateful for. I suppose there is something to be said for the argument that all people have stories, talents, intelligence; it is possible that I could invite any random assortment of humanity and find something to learn from and something in common with any of them. But I like to imagine my friends are particularly special in their own ways.

I often worry that I do not learn enough, and especially that I do not learn fast enough. I could spend months or years getting to know the people I had dinner with tonight, and that's just a handful of the people I want to understand. Similarly, I could spend a lifetime studying the Middle East and it is just one region of a whole world I want to learn about. The thrill of appreciating just how overwhelming a task life can be is one I never cease to enjoy. (Though it does make me seriously wonder if Eric might be right about how much time I waste re-reading books.) I wonder if this is analogous to the feeling of leading the country. You hear from 10,000 individuals every day, and you'll never have time to know or contact or help all of them. You've got more than a dozen issues you could devote your presidency to and never fully solve. It's exciting and frustrating and awe-inspiring on a scale I'll likely never experience.

I think this is why I write you. You'll never know me, really, but if you somehow manage to read one of my letters, you'll know enough. And I'm sure that each of us 10,000 is interesting in our own way, but you've got enough people to worry about understanding, and way worse problems than a dinner party. I hope that you have moments like these, where, instead of being overwhelmed by it, you just stand back and appreciate the beauty of it all.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 318-It's not murder, it's a metaphor

Dear Mr. President,

While reading an article about the way our brain reacts similarly to the literal and metaphorical feelings of pain and disgust, I cam across this passage about Palestine and Israel:

in a world of sheer rationality where the brain didn’t confuse reality with symbols, bringing peace to Israel and Palestine would revolve around things like water rights, placement of borders, and the extent of militarization allowed to Palestinian police. Instead, argues Axelrod, “mutual symbolic concessions” of no material benefit will ultimately make all the difference.

This got me thinking about the military aid offered to Israel in exchange for a 90-day extension of the settlement freeze. The terms of the freeze are largely symbolic; settlement construction could continue in East Jerusalem, the ostensible future capitol of a Palestinian state, and no extension of the freeze would be requested after 90 days. The objections to this plan from the Israeli right are largely symbolic, as well. It makes me wonder how much we'd be willing to pay for symbolism. 3 billion a year in aid? Unlimited cover at the UN? What about any potential future peace in the region?

The deal you've offered is trading just that. You've sent a message to the Palestinians that they have 90 days to make peace and after that they are on their own. No US support for Palestinian statehood unless it is on Israel's terms. No US diplomatic pressure to keep the settlements from expanding again in 90 days. The unconditional agreement of those new bombers, which the US will provide to Israel regardless of a peace deal being signed or not. It's an offer so good, it should have it's own infomercial. The unfairness of the whole situation, and the utter absurdity of the Israeli right balking at such an offer is mind-boggling.

Instead of settling for symbolism, why didn't you decide to leverage our special relationship for an agreement that would have practical results? It seems as though you'd settle for the illusion of progress so long as it makes every one (except, of course, the Palestinians) feel better and look good, rather than a less popular, more difficult long-term plan that will actually hold Israel responsible for curtailing settlement activity? Instead of trading away a guarantee to do everything in our (not inconsiderable) power to prevent recognition of Palestinian statehood by international organizations, why wouldn't we threaten to do everything in our power to support it, if Israel doesn't follow international law? I just don't understand.

I would never argue that this conflict is simple or that achieving peace won't be a complicated process. But when lives and homes and the basic human rights are at stake, we can't afford to sacrifice the protection of these things for the sake of symbolism. Water rights, housing demolitions, settlements and security are practical points of disagreement that must be addressed seriously and with respect to the needs of people on all sides. Instead you have practically increased Israel's capacity for violence and symbolically granted the political cover to wield it with impunity. Symbolically, and practically, this was a total failure.

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Day 317- Eating Animals

Dear Mr. President,

Today, after finishing a friend's NaNoWriMo project, I started reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. As a life-long vegetarian, I'm not 100% sure why I'm reading this book. I won't claim more than a passing understanding of the horrors of factory farming, so I do recognize that I have plenty to learn from this book, I'm just not sure why I need this information. For one thing, i don't need to be persuaded that eating factory-farmed animals is bad. I don't eat animals and I go out of my way to avoid animal products that come from factory farms. Perhaps the information will help me persuade others to do the same, but I've never been comfortable with the kind of honest proselytizing that is really required to turn omnivores away from eating animals. (I did name the hamburger patties while working at Jack-in-the-box, but that was mostly in jest.)

As Safran Foer describes the sheer amount of land animals and fish killed each year to cheaply feed Americans, however, I can't help but feel like maybe I'm not doing enough. I can't reduce the number of animals I consume, so maybe I do have an obligation to try and persuade others to eat less, as well. Then I remember the intense anger many have had to government anti-obesity measure and even the Let's Move! campaign. People do not like being told or persuaded or guilted into changing their eating habits. My friend Eric gets angry when I even read the ingredient list on the processed product he calls food. Is my discomfort (or another person's indignation) at challenging the food choices others make greater than the suffering these animals face or the havoc such practices wreak on the environment?

I think that the reason the whole system seems so overwhelming is that people aren't willing to take responsibility for their part in supporting it. Very few people I know are ever directly exposed to the atrocious treatment of factory farm animals or the sea life destroyed in the process of fishing. And the glimpses we do get tend to be pushed aside. Safran Foer makes an excellent point while discussing our irrational aversion to eating dogs, despite the huge number of dogs put to death every year, because of our emotional connection with dogs. Why is this compassion extended to dogs and cats but not cows and chickens?

So much of our economic and social lives are tied up in the consumption of animals that I can't possibly ask you to suggest that the country eat less meat. It would be political suicide. But in your own life, in your own home, I think that's a decision you could make without any negative consequences. So I'm asking you, Mr. President, to decide as an individual, as a citizen, to cut back on your own support for the abuse, slaughter and environmental destruction caused by meat production. If you can't do this, I hope that you at least take the time to really think about your participation in this system, what it means to you and what it means to the animals, humans and to the environment.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, November 12, 2010

Day 316-Really bad advice

Dear Mr. President,

Today I saw an op-ed in the Washington Post by two men who claim to be Democrats who don't think you should run for re-election in 2012. (I say "claim to be" because there is some question about their actual party affiliation.) I should probably remind every one that I'm not a professional political operative. I don't exactly have the resumé to argue with these hacks. But I think this is just about the worst advice I've heard any one offer you in a while.

I don't think that removing yourself now from the 2012 campaign would, as these pundits suggest, force the republicans in congress to make concessions. I think that backing down now would be the ultimate sign of defeat. Republicans would sieze the opportunity to legislate like they controlled all three branches of government. And I don't say this as a political expert (which I am not) but as a girl who has only gone on first dates for basically an entire year (which I am.) I go on first dates, and sometimes guys just aren't into me, and sometimes I'm just not into them, and sometimes circumstances just aren't right for the two of us. But this doesn't mean I give up entirely on the prospect of dating or ever finding some one to love me. Some of your decisions haven't been popular, some of what the country thinks it wants (social services funded by magic instead of taxes!) isn't what you're able or willing to give and some of your problems are just circumstance.

Running in 2012 demonstrates that you're not looking to escape because it's hard. It is what separates you from Sarah Palin (besides, of course, your grasp of the English language, basic knowledge of geography, economics and history.) To give up would be to tell voters, for sure, that Democrats aren't cut out for leading the country during challenging times. I have no idea who these strategists are or why they are so deluded as to think that appeasing the unreasonable demands of republican leaders is the best way to secure bipartisan cooperation, but I sincerely hope they are not people who get taken seriously in any official capacity.

Mr. President, I have disagreed with many of your decisions as President. I have my issues with your policy compromises and many of your centrist ideas. But I would rather see you in office in 2012 than any Republican. I want to see you listen ultimately to your own values and instincts and not to opinion polls and political pundits, to govern ambitiously and unapologetically, and with the courage of your convictions. ( I would also like you to be able to govern for a while longer without having to worry about reelection, but that ship sailed.)

You've got my vote in 2012, sir. Of the two of us, you're probably the more likely to make the most of a second date.

Respectfully yours,


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Day 315-Veteran's Day

Dear Mr. President,

Today we honor those who have fought and died for our country. I'm grateful for more than just the excuse to sleep in and miss class. I'm grateful for those who served in the armed forces, for the sacrifices they have made and the service they have done our country. I say all of this as an unapologetic critic of the wars we currently wage, the conduct of some of our troops therein, and of the military's anti-gay policies. I do not believe that my gratitude and my criticism are mutually exclusive.

On the contrary, I believe that the best way to support our troops is to never ask that they put themselves in harms way unless it is absolutely necessary. Unless our survival or our very humanity compels it. That we never put them at risk of torture by torturing our own enemy prisoners. That we never order them to kill in the name of an unjust war. I believe that we support our troops when we insist on allowing openly gay soldiers to serve. When we fully fund rehabilitation programs, health and especially mental health programs, education and employment opportunities for veterans. This is how we walk the walk of those yellow ribbons we wear.

I hope that today you reflect on the wars you inherited and the way they have been waged. On the kill lists, the interrogation methods, the civilian deaths that put our own troops at risk and destroy so many lives (and so many minds) on both sides. On the mistakes made, the mistakes perpetuated and the lies told to cover them up. I hope that you reflect on these things and conclude, as so many of us have, that our troops deserve better.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 314-Diplomacy or Professional wrestling?

Dear Mr. President,

Weird things are happening. A few days ago I saw a headline that read "Obama leads world chorus against Israel plan for Jerusalem." I was surprised by the implications of this headline, but I sort of brushed it off as typical media sensationalism. Then I saw the Huffington Post article describing the way you "slammed" the settlement activity. I read over your remarks. Nothing about them evoked the image of a pro-wrestling move, or, for that matter, a chorus of condemnation. Calling the settlements not helpful isn't exactly strong condemnation, or at least not the kind that would warrant this sort of media language.

It is incredibly surreal to see the right wing and the Israeli Prime Minister criticizing you for being too tough on Israeli settlement activity when, from my perspective, you haven't said or done nearly enough. It's one of those stories told so consistently that it begins to make me doubt my own perception. I think it's also indicative of how unacceptable criticism of Israeli policies, (even international law-breaking, immoral, hypocritical policies,) has become in our national discourse.

I think what you said about the settlements in East Jerusalem was right on the mark. Especially while Palestinian homes are being bulldozed in the same part of the city, there should be no new settlement activity. Palestinian leaders have already demonstrated a patient commitment to this peace process, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they do not have equal partners in the Israeli leaders. While Palestinians crack down and temper the extremists in their midst, Israelis are electing and empowering their own.

I know that you place a high importance on the state of US-Israeli relations. I just don't believe that true allies get this up in arms over such small criticism. The Israeli government is never going to make the tough calls necessary to a successful peace without strong urging from the US. I sincerely hope that your remarks indicate a toughening of our line against settlement activity, and a move away from the unconditional support that perpetuates and excuses the kind of oppression preventing peace in a region that needs it so badly.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Day 313- Life is weird.

Dear Mr. President,

Lately I've had a number of conversations with friends about the kind of people we want in our lives, and the kind of people we want to be ourselves. It comforts me to know that other people also struggle with their own conceptions of themselves and their desire to see the good even in the deeply flawed. Over the last three days I've spent time with my mother and with friends long-standing and brand-new. I've been reminded of the things I've always loved about them, or come to realize their magnificent qualities, in the smallest ways. Waiting semi-patiently in a tiny lobby for a table at a restaurant I've wanted to try forever with my mother. Group high-fiving with friends as we enjoyed an especially successful kitchen adventure. Sharing meals, or cupcakes or a few pitchers of beer. I've been remembering these encounters in a series of moments that don't mean anything but just make me feel happy. Happier than I've been in a while. Happier than maybe I believed I could be while so many other things are so uncertain.

This sense of connection with the people in my life calms my usual anxiety about what I'm doing with my life and if I'm doing it fast enough. Goals are important, (and I have them,) but pausing to enjoy the company of the many, many amazing people around me is also important. Maybe even more so. My inclination to feel like I'm alone or, at least, unforgivably messed up and strange, is beaten back by the affection of these incredible friends and family who seem to like me well enough anyway.

With this sense of elation comes an intense desire to see the best in others. Even President Bush just seems to have some severe Mommy issues. Those idiots who post angry comments on the White House facebook page (please, for the sake of your own sanity, never read those,) are just lonely and desperate and frightened. All of my peers who decided not to vote (even the ones in Washington State who only have to mail an envelope) were.... Ok, that did it, I'm back to my cynical mistrust for all of humanity. (Thanks, young voters.) Some things are actually just inexcusable.

But as my friend today so wisely put it, life is weird. We try to do the best we can, to make the right choices and to find the best in people and to appreciate those we love. The strange and the complicated and the rare moments of contentment just make it all worth it. And while talking heads might try to claim your trip to Indonesia and India as an unforgivable indulgence of a desire to see Diwali celebrations, I would be so much happier if I could believe you were actually relaxing and having fun. Mommy issues or no, President Bush spent most of his time on vacation. I think you've earned a few weeks of physical distance from the frustration of domestic politics. Whenever I'm happy and content and particularly pleased with the people in my life, the one thing I want most is for every one else to feel the same way. That's something that not even the apathetic, fair-weather-activist, youth voters can ruin, either.

Life is weird. Isn't it great?

Respectfully yours,


Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 312- Quack. Quack. Quack.

Dear Mr. President,

For all the prattle about the new agenda of the Republican-controlled Houe, the year isn't quite over. While the lame-duck session may be a short one, and subject to the unfortunate political reality of a weakened Democratic party, I hope that repealing DADT is given the effort it deserves. The support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates for such a repeal (and his sage urging that the repeal take place before the new year) should indicate enough will within the military establishment to pull off such a herculean task.

I suppose my usual cynical dismissal of the political courage of Democrats will kick in any moment, but I actually feel pretty confident about the prospects of a lame-duck session. From my perspective, the Senate has been governing like lame-duck senators since 2008. It seems as though there is at least the same chance of the repeal as there was before the election.

As usual, I believe that the Senate's action on this issue will be a direct result of White House leadership. Only Presidential direction and political influence will ensure that the Democrats are successful in this attempt. Coming through on this major campaign promise would be an encouraging sign to all of your supporters that, even after a loss like the midterms, you aren't giving up on the change we were promised.

Respectfully yours,


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day 311- Another side of the story

Dear Mr. President,

While there may be a few who have forgotten why, exactly, so many of us disapproved of the policies of President Bush, I am certainly not among their number. The former President's recent publicity tour promoting his memoir has provided ample opportunity for him to remind us all why we were so glad to see the sunrise on January 20, 2009. I understand his need to tell his version of events, to make the case for his decision and attempt to persuade many of us to forget the things we knew. I have tried to give the former President the benefit of the doubt. I believe that his Presidency, for all of its many, many mistakes, occurred during some of the most difficult years in modern American history. (The role those mistakes played in said difficulties is certainly not inconsiderable.)

Still, listening to his attempts to defend his record is difficult. A man who basically avoided the press and refused to justify or explain any of his decisions while in office manipulating the incredibly short-term memory of many Americans (and especially of the media) is difficult to watch. I may be so upset that little short of a war crimes tribunal will actually satisfy my need to see President Bush answer for his crimes, but certainly the situation warrants more than the softball questions of Matt Lauer. I have to question my desire to see the former President interrogated. On a practical level, it would be entirely unproductive. No one tortured under his orders will be healed by seeing him answer questions. No one made homeless, injured or killed by the inept handling of Hurricane Katrina will be restored. No one laid off during the recession will be reinstated.

I think my desire to see President Bush explain himself comes from my suspicion that his worldview entirely justified the decision of his Presidency. Because I cannot imagine a world where what he did (and failed to do) is acceptable, I need to understand his perspective. And so, while I will not read his memoir, I will continue to follow his media appearances in an attempt to understand how, exactly, he sleeps at night.

One day, years and years from now, I hope that you will also write a memoir of your time as President. I enjoyed your first two books immensely, and I think that, even if I struggle with your justifications for the decisions I don't agree with, I will at least appreciate the quality of your writing.

(And I'm certain you won't go with quite so insipid a title, if only because it doesn't seem possible.)

Respectfully yours,


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day 310- Another poker metaphor

I got a message this week I can't respond to. For all of my internal conflict over the decision to respond or not to, I know the right thing to do. But, in another life, with a different past, I know what I would say. And so, what I cannot say elsewhere I will say here.

Dear Mr. President,

On the day after election day, I started to hear a phrase tossed around to explain the disappointment with your Presidency and the Democrats' abysmal midterm performance. "Playing the cards they were dealt", the refrain insisted, indicating that a bad economy, high unemployment, or any number of political cards were the reason Democrats lost. As a poker player this metaphor rang falsely from the moment I heard it.

Because any card player worth their weight knows you don't play the cards you're dealt; you play the man across the table.

When Democrats lost this election it didn't feel, to me, like a problem with our cards versus theirs. Our positions, our issues, our records were better. We just got outplayed. Now, hearing, already, about compromises on the Bush tax cuts feel like the same tired tactics that have failed all legislative session long. Republicans are excellent poker players. They indicate a willingness to compromise, Democrats foolishly believe them and make concessions (and often lose the support of their base in the process,) and Republicans hold the line until they get what they want or no one gets anything at all. You'll push the definition of middle class to $500k a year or $1 million a year, and Republicans will ask for more. In the end, if you're very, very lucky, you'll get tax cuts renewed only on those making less than $5 million a year, but in all likelihood, they will be completely renewed.

Out-playing the Republicans now that they control the House means ignoring the cards we've been dealt. Ask for a bill renewing the tax cuts only for those making $250k or less or threaten to let them all expire. And veto anything in the middle. Raise or fold. Do not check. Do not call. Raise or fold. Forget about the polls, the media narrative, the conventional wisdom, and whatever other cards you think you've been dealt. Look at the man across the table. The question is not "is his hand stronger?" The question is always "can I convince him that his hand is weaker?"

Maybe gambling is not the most noble profession. And you might make the argument that governing is not a game, that people's lives and livelihoods are at stake. Ask any poker player going all-in with this week's grocery money- higher stakes require you to play well, not to play cautiously. The stakes are high. Forget the cards you were dealt and your moral objections to the way the game is played. Look at the (in this case, very orange) man across the table.

Mr. President, I think that your noble belief in bipartisanship is admirable. But I think it has to be on your terms. I also suspect you're a much better politician than you're willing to let on. You're facing two years of bleeding political capitol every round you lose until election day, or going all-in right now with these tax cuts.

The lesson here is that no one can control the cards they're dealt. Poker is, superficially, a game of luck. The reason that some people win the world series and others lose their lunch money is that good players learn to leverage what they can control; their own reactions, perceptions, confrontation. Good players know the cards change but the man across the table stays the same.

Respectfully yours,


Friday, November 5, 2010

Day 309-Conflicted interests

Dear Mr. President,

I have mixed feelings about Keith Olbermann. On one hand, I recognize that he posses a unique combination of honestly liberal values and the courage to express them with pride. However he is prone to the kind of overly-sensationalized borderline hysteria that, I suppose, comes with having your own TV show and constantly trying to compete with FOX for viewers. I am uncomfortable being too critical of a reliably liberal voice in an increasingly conservative media environment, but I think, at his worst, Olbermann was nowhere near as crazy as Glenn Beck on his most rational days. That he has been suspended over personal political donations to candidates he used his show to support is ridiculous. I just cannot believe that $2400 had a more significant impact on the candidates' success, Olbermann's objectivity, or MSNBC's credibility than on Countdown's very public and very uncontroversial promotion of these candidates and their party every single night.

So, apparently, the tea-soaked trifecta of Bachmann, Beck and Limbaugh (among others) are perpetuating the demonstrably false rumor that your trip to India will cost $200 million per day (more than the war effort in Afghanistan- $190 million/day.) This would be funny if the implication wasn't so disgusting. The very idea that quibbling over the price tag of Presidential Protection is acceptable discourse appalls me, especially in the case of Michele Bachmann, as she actually holds public office. I know your trip is not going to cost $2 billion and require 34 warships. I know this. I just want to say, even if it did, I'd still be OK with it. The point is that this outrage and obvious lie was repeated in the right-wing media and then by actual elected officials. How is that not more damaging to the credibility of Beck, Limbaugh and the networks they represent than the personal donations of Keith Olbermann to candidates he publicly endorsed?

And, for all of his faults and missteps, Olbermann was quick to admit mistakes and issue corrections. (Reflection after Jon Stewart's Rally to restore Sanity caused him to suspend one of his show's most famous and inflammatory segments, for example.) Unlike the irresponsibly close relationship between pundits and politicians on the right, Olbermann's words were rarely, if ever, parroted by elected Democrats. (Sadly, many Democrats also lacked much of the courage he showed in speaking out against Islamophobia, homophobia and racism.) After such a tough election cycle I am deeply saddened by the loss of a political ally on the national stage.

I hope that your trip to India is safe and productive, no matter how much it costs. I'm sorry that this controversy may take attention away from the trip's important purpose. I hope that, even without the reliably, unapologetically liberal voice of Mr. Olbermann, you and other Democrats remember that being a liberal, even in the era of FOX News, is nothing to be ashamed of.

Respectfully yours,


Hey all, check out what Rachel Maddow had to say about this.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 308- Bitch

Dear Mr. President,

While I'm certainly not going to win any prizes for equanimity, I'm not particularly short tempered. Being called "bitch" by a man, however, is perhaps the quickest way to trigger a really irrational amount of anger. So tonight, when a man trying unsuccessfully to steal from my store called me "bitch" I just about lost control of my temper. I won't claim it is at all the same level of offense, but I think this is the closest emotional experience I, as a white, straight, woman, will ever have to being called a racial or homophobic slur. There might be worse things to call a woman, but I doubt there are many words that have so frequently accompanied by physical violence. And while my female roommates and I may toss it back and forth casually, the sound of it in a man's mouth makes my skin crawl. Perhaps it's irrational, perhaps it's an unfair double standard, but I think there are some emotional reactions that simply can't be entirely logical.

Once I calmed down and dispassionately contemplated the incident, it was clear that the man was just trying to intimidate me. I like to think that, regardless of how it made me feel, I managed not to exhibit the kind of weakness he was hoping to find. While discussing the encounter with a female coworker, she recalled a similar incident with a man on the bus with her. "It just makes me mad," she said, "because he never would have acted that way if I were a man. I hate being seen as an easier target just because I'm a woman." Maybe it's because I'm three books in to a series that describes an actual war between armies of men and armies of women, but I definitely have felt what she's talking about. I want to walk down my street at any time of night (and in any length of skirt) without getting shouted at. I want to live free from those who would assume that my abilities and vulnerabilities are defined by my sex. For a moment I was caught up in that simplistic us versus them mentality that I so often dismiss as intellectually lazy. Then I thought about Michele Bachmann. And Sarah Palin. I remembered that no classification as broad or as simple as gender (or, to be fair, political party) is an apt indicator of friend or foe.

While the narrative about the role of female candidates in the most recent election cycle was repeated often enough to seriously grow annoying, i do have to appreciate the effects. I think we've come a long way from McCain's "beat the bitch" rallying cry against Hillary Clinton. Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman and Sharon Angle lost, not because they were too smart or too assertive, or not attractive enough, but because they were not effective or qualified candidates. Their opponents beat them on merit- not on sexist stereotypes. Patty Murray and the other women who won their races demonstrated that a smart, dedicated candidate with a persuasive enough message and the courage of her convictions can prevail, no matter what gender.

When I came home tonight I saw this story about a mother who had to defend her 5-year old son's decision to dress as a female character for halloween. While her impassioned defense of her son's choice and condemnation of the judgement he encountered from the mothers of the other students was inspiring, the sad reality of her contention, "If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought twice about it. No one" reminded me that being a man isn't exactly easy, either. I'm glad that I'm able to calmly and reasonably analyze this tendency I have to view all men as opposition, and hopefully overcome that immature prejudice. I would imagine that this is far from the last time that a man is going to call me bitch and I will have to walk away let it go. It will probably always make me angry. Still, I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that, even if I am kind of a bitch, at least I'm not a scrawny skateboarding punk who tries to steal hats.

And that's enough, for now.

Respectfully yours,


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Day 307- It's called a break-up because it's broken

Dear Mr. President,

So this morning my promised renewal of hope and optimism in the face of setbacks has not emerged. It could be that the demands of my school schedule this week have made "morning" a purely sunlight-relative term with little correlation to actual sleep. It could be the lingering questions as ballots are slowly processed in my home state. It could be denial, a malaise delaying the inevitable grief I can't yet allow myself to feel the full force of. I did like your speech today, and I thought you made several important points about the need to fundamentally change parts of our governing system.

I'm sure I won't be the first, last or most important person to say this, but I don't think this election means you should back down. Your agenda shouldn't change, shouldn't be compromised and should not be tempered. (Which is not say that compromise won't eventually be necessary.) Democrats should not give up on comprehensive energy, immigration, campaign finance and tax reform. For one thing, conceding too much at this point will only further weaken our positions once legislative battles really get underway. For another thing, i still think we're right; our policies are better, and our plan for America is the best one. Refusing to compromise our fundamental values is the only way to ensure that losing the house doesn't translate into losing the White House. This isn't to say that we shouldn't work with the Republican leadership, only that we should not be meek about demonstrating our goals and ideals to the American people.

A friend compared the way we feel this morning to the way we feel after a bad breakup. I think his metaphor is an apt one. After a break-up, you may re-examine your choices and your mistakes in the course of a relationship, but you don't change your identity in hopes that you won't get dumped again. Democrats need to work on our communication skills, our self-confidence, our willingness to assert ourselves. We might need to lose 5 lbs and reconsider our highlight strategy. Our wardrobe could probably use an update. But we do not change who we are, fundamentally. The things we believe, the things we value, all of the things that make us different from the opposition, those should not change. In the meantime, if you want to stay in bed and watch soap operas while eating chocolate ice cream in your pajamas for a day or so, well, you do whatever it takes to get through this. I know I will.

Respectfully yours,


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day 306- Powerless

or The end of the world as we know it.

Dear Mr. President,

Tonight the lights went out for two blocks. Our street, usually basking in the permanent glow of Seattle's urban heart, was plunged into unnatural darkness. My roommates lit candles and curled up under blankets in the central part of our apartment. For a moment we were reminded of how helpless we can be without the devices we've come to rely on.

Yes, I'm stalling, hoping to find a way to make this a more hopeful letter. I'd like to say that we learned an important lesson about unplugging, slowing down, connecting with the people we love or finding ways to be resourceful. We didn't. Desperate to follow election results and finish my last midterm, I fled to the familiar safety of light, heat and free WiFi. My roommates toughed out a half-hour of darkness and now we're all back to blogging, movie-watching and the more effective (if less-flattering) overhead lights.

We've lost the House. At home, Washington state residents have voted overwhelmingly to defeat an income tax measure that would have helped education and health programs. Rick Larsen and Patty Murray are still fighting close races that may not be called before the night's end. Rand Paul is in. Russ Feingold is out. California's proposition 19 is defeated. Across the country, small pockets of hope (Christine O'Donnell and Meg Whitman will not win their races) fail to dispel the gloom and powerlessness afflicting those of us who kept the faith despite every indication that we'd face a night like this one.

I know it isn't the end of the world; disappointment tends to leave me with more a flair for the dramatic than is perhaps healthy. But, as I struggle to return my attention to the 7th century nomads of the turkic empires, I'm going to allow myself this night to mourn our losses, to despair at the ignorance, short-sightedness and naked, pointless rage that led to these results. Tomorrow it will all be back in perspective and I will be hopeful and optimistic again. Tomorrow I will start lighting candles and hope that the factionalized democrats come back together, if only for the sake of warmth. Tomorrow I will worry about 2012.

Respectfully yours,


Monday, November 1, 2010

Day 305-Man up for Midterms

Dear Mr. President,

I think if I read one more poll I will actually lose my mind. Whatever happens tomorrow is set in motion, and sadly I'm swamped with an entirely different kind of midterms. I can't read any more analysis. I can't consider any more predictions. If another Dino Rossi pop-up ad starts talking to me while I post this entry I will scream.

We're all going to get out of bed on Wednesday and go to work or school or breakfast. We will get through tomorrow and we will live with the outcome, no matter what. Or, at least, this is what I'm telling myself. Because Nate Silver might love numbers and polls and hypotheticals but he's making me crazy tonight. And the Huffington Post might be obsessed with absurd weather/natural disaster metaphors, but it won't do any good at this point. The most I can hope for tomorrow, is what my friend Ralph reminded me of earlier: that CNN has hologram people. Because an election night without hologram people on CNN is just not enough for me any more.

Seriously though, I've got essays to write and very little sleep in my near future or recent past. If any one who reads this hasn't voted yet, do so. (Also, why are you reading a political blog if you don't vote?) If you want my suggestions on who to vote for in Washington State, if you're in any way ambivalent about the Senate race, or if you actually don't care, please vote for Patty Murray. She's excellent, and Dino Rossi eats puppies and cheats on his taxes. If you're reading from out of state, I'm sorry you don't live somewhere cool enough to have mail-in elections, but don't let the weather, the lines at the polls, the annoying political ads, errands or apathy stop you from voting. Man up, America, and get out that vote.

Mr. President, I hope that we both survive our respective midterms tomorrow without too much of the suffering every one seems to be anticipating. Wednesday will come for all of us, and I think we'll probably make it there in one piece.

Respectfully yours,