Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Wikileaks: All I have to say on the subject...

Is that the current set of leaked documents do not unveil any government wrongdoing that requires public exposure to be redressed. What they do, however, is make it much harder for diplomats to actually do the difficult work of preventing wars and easing international tensions. Our diplomatic corps are heroes, in my eyes. And whilst it is certainly very interesting to know that China - for instance - might be open to allowing the reuinification of North and South Korea, it is also deeply saddening to realise that the exposure of these views now makes it far less likely that any deal could be struck to make this happen. The prospect of peacefully defusing some of the threat from one of the world's most deadly nuclear aspirants strikes me as a compelling public interest and a great example of the kind of thing that diplomacy can do as long as it remains in the category of a closely held secret.

So I do not agree with Julian Assanage's simple-minded "More transparency always makes the world better," viewpoint. Some things worth doing can only be done in secret, and he has done no one in the world any favours by making that work impossible. Alas.

That does not mean I'm against transparency - or that all leaks are bad. If there is criminal or unethical activity it shoudl be exposed, and if public servants are wasteful or ineffective that should be known. But these documents seem to show nothing but US diplomats doing effective and difficult work and providing honest, candid advice. A shame that such advice will be virtually impossible to draft in future.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

I'm Thankful for the Tea Party. Seriously.

I never feel more American than I do on the few days following Thanksgiving - here I sit, stuffed full of turkey sandwiches and leftover pie, I've had two Thanksgiving dinners this weekend, one hosted by arne and I right here at home and one - the traditional deep fried turkey and champagne festival - with some friends in Hampstead Garden Suburb. I've started a little bit of online Christmas shopping, and the cats are huddling close to me for warmth.

All is, more or less, well. And despite the setbacks and disappointments for Democrats in the midterm elections, I remain genuinely hopeful and optimistic about America. So although I have a long list of things to be thankful for personally (good friends and family, an interesting job, a husband who puts up with my quirks, the aforementioned cats...) I wanted to take a moment to mention some of the things I am thankful for as a Democrat - and as an American.

1) I'm Thankful for the Perfectibility of America: Obama in his famous speech on race in Philadelphia spoke thoughtfully of the nation as something that is not yet perfect, but is on a never ending journey to becoming more perfect. Not every step on that journey is a step forward, and sometimes it must feel like we've gone backwards as much as we've gone forward, but I think that view is short sighted. Read the biography of any man or woman of my parents' generation and you can't help but be struck by how far the country has moved in their lifetime. From a place where the simple notion that a black man might be allowed to cast his ballot in a state like North Carolina to a place where a black man can win the state in a Presidential election. From a place where gay men and women could literally be arrested just for existing to a place where federal workers enjoy job benefits for their same sex partners and it is legal for them to marry in 5 states plus the District of Columbia. From a place where the majority of senior citizens lived in poverty to a place where - almost none do.

2) I'm Thankful that the Tea Party is a Non-Violent Political Movement: I believe that most of the so-called Tea Party activists who have been getting so much attention in recent months are catastrophically wrong both on the facts and on the philosophy of politics. But I don't begrudge them their right to organise politically on behalf of their ideas (however wrong they may be) and in fact I am extremely grateful to them for expressing their opposition to the President and to the Democratic Party policy almost entirely through peaceful and non-violent political organisation. This may seem like something unworthy of praise, but it was within my adult lifetime that I can remember extremist right wing fanatics urging citizens to take arms against their own government as part of the so-called "Milita Movement", apparently mobilised by Bill Clinton's ascent to the Presidency. And, of course, for generations before that there was often some version of an extreme political movement that would go beyond political anger, and stir up some of the bloody kind - activists of both the right and the left. Think not only of the Ku Klux Klan, but also of the Weather Underground. Right wing populist rabble rousing has a long and shameful history in the US, going back to the radio rantings of Father Coughlin in the 1930's.
He drew 40 million listeners in the early thirties to his Sunday afternoon program, double the 20 million that Rush Limbaugh has claimed for his audience. But he didn’t just talk; he urged action — illegal and terrifying. By1938, increasingly unhinged and openly anti-Semitic, Coughlin was using his radio pulpit and his 200,000-circulation newspaper, Social Justice, to advocate for the creation of a violent hate group, the Christian Front. The group soon boasted members numbering in the thousands throughout the cities of Northeast. It has largely been forgotten that Coughlin’s “platoons,” as he called them, were responsible for a months-long campaign of low-level mayhem in New York City: They attacked Jews with fists and sometimes knives. They boycotted Jewish-owned businesses (guided by a “Christian index” of shopkeepers) and sometimes smashed their windows in the German fashion. This ugly episode culminated when 17 Coughlinites were arrested by the FBI in January 1940 and charged with planning acts of terrorism against Jewish individuals and institutions (and those deemed their allies).
3) I'm thankful for the It Gets Better Project: Which not only is doing something useful and constructive to help young gay men and women who are do devoid of hope that they might consider suicide, but has also inspired contributions from the highest levels, from President Obama himself, from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and even from the Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron. Some might say that these contributions from leaders are purely symbolic, and it's true that no leader should be exempt from doing the right thing just because they are willing to say the right thing. But symbolism in this case is no small thing - for a young person who is on the point of taking their own life because they believe themselves utterly alone in the world to know that the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of Britain is on their side and against the bullies who are attacking them is a very big deal. Sometime symbols actually do make a difference in the world.

4) I'm thankful for the excellence of our federal law enforcement services: They have by undying gratitude today for catching the 19 year old would-be bomber who was, chillingly, determined to blow up the Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, OR. I'm trebly grateful in this case because my Mom and her husband live just outside of Portland so this feels very close to home. However, the FBI was constantly in control of the situation, and gave the man a fake phone number that he thought would detonate the bomb. In a win-win scenario, we have not only stopped this man from perpetrating a terrible crime, but we have done so in a way that ensures he can be clearly and quickly prosecuted for his crime. Praise to the calm, decisive and effective work of the FBI in this case and in the many other instances we will probably never hear about in which they are quietly keeping us safe.

5) And finally, I'm Thankful for Health Care Reform: A year ago at this time, I was hopeful about the prospects of passage, but things were still up in the air, and it got scarier. In the end, as much through sheer bloody minded stubbornness as for any other reason, we passed the first ever comprehensive reform of the US Health Care system, guaranteeing a right to coverage for every US citizen. And, in timely fashion, part of the promise is being fulfilled now - as of this week, insurers will be required to spend at least 80 cents of every health care dollar that they take in on delivering actual health care.

And if anyone out there is reading this - I'm thankful for that too! Would love to hear your own "I'm thankful fors" in comments.