Wednesday, March 21

Letter sent 3.21.12

Dear Mr. President,
I hope you’re well. As always, if you can’t reply, that’s fine: I prefer nothing over a form letter. To whomever may be reading this because it’s their job, I thank you for your time, especially on this one.

Sir, I’m about to turn 40. As is the tradition in our culture, birthdays are often times of reflection and ideas and I’d like to, instead of talking to you about what seems to be going wrong, what America could do.

While reading The American Soul by Jacob Needleman, I’ve come across a very interesting idea; America is a country about big ideas. Big ideas rooted in a core that says that all human beings are created equally and we should treat them as such.

I’m sure I don’t have to articulate our failings as a country along those lines to you. But I do want to suggest that this is something we are missing in our country; the big idea. So I figured I’d talk about a few big ideas I’ve had, and at the end ask us: Why not?

Big idea: Americans deserve better government.
We really do. You know it, I know it: everyone knows it. But how do we get there? I have three ideas here: first make government more transparent.

Mr. President, you have been one of the worst offenders in this category, foiling FOIA requests and going after whistleblowers with more fervor than your predecessor. But one way to get people involved is for them to understand how things work and to be able to speak out fearlessly when they feel something is wrong. But how will our citizens know something is awry unless they are given information from those who comprehend how it works and are able to point to those accountable?

So I call upon you to make good on your promises of a more transparent government. We deserve it.

Second: Make November 4th a national holiday. If voting really is important, give us the day off to do it. (Plus, it gives the citizens a little bonus. Who couldn’t use some extra time off or, time and a half for working on such an important day?)

Third: institute mandatory sunset dates.
This is a huge step. If policies like the PATRIOT Act have mandated sunset dates, then they have to be revisited or let to go away. If certain farm subsidies, say for corn, were sunset in order to subsidize farmers making under $250,000 a year, for example, that might improve the agricultural backbone of this country. Plus; of the corn growers of America aren’t successful by now, they won’t ever be.

If the management of organizations; the Fed, the CIA, the FDA, the SEC had to resign after say 15 years-long enough to master it and make recommendations to the next group but without the security of a lifetime appointment-then perhaps the new blood would help refresh agencies with men and women who have ideas that can help change things. But not change things so much that we eliminate critical services nor find ourselves perpetually at the mercy of those who would distain government’s role in important matters.

Big idea: Americans need a common experience.
It is, by now, blatantly apparent to anyone paying attention to our discourse that Americans just don’t work together like they used to. The idea of America and being an American just isn’t quite enough: we need to have a common experience, an action that causes us all to, as was said in the movie Heartbreak Ridge “Eat a little of the same dirt.”

So I suggest making a mandatory civil service, for every unmarried American, to serve between the ages of 18 and 20. This service can be avoided by enlisting in the military, if one so chooses. The point is; by bringing young people from different walks of life together and giving them tasks where they have to rely on one another, there is an opportunity for Americans to actually see and experience different points of view.

We have a technology that allows us to share our experiences but we lack a common experience to share! This is one reason that cooperative politics have declined so much since the 1980’s, I believe: the statesmen who were once often bound together due to the draft, have moved on from public life, leaving those who have never had to step outside their own circle of experience.

As an added bonus, this would give young people an opportunity to see the country, to network, and to mature a little bit before entering college or trade school or whatever path of higher learning they might choose.

Big idea: Americans deserve equal access.
There is a rapidly decaying system of infrastructure in America, Mr. President. Roads and bridges in decline, a water and sewer system just waiting to implode and, just as importantly, a realm of information that is only available through technology, access to which hasn’t been updated in decades. But just as important as access to transportation and clean water, so is our access to the realm of the internet.

I am not suggesting that the government merely give away internet access to people or companies. Just as the government does not give away cars for people to use the roads with, nor sinks for people to run water through.

Let us rebuild; making the country more efficient, using new technologies to replace the roads, pipelines and wires that service us, to make this country a better place that allows for people to have the opportunities they need to make a life in this country.

And when we build for access, let us remember the importance of safety, not just in our physical world but in our online interactions. Let’s be a country that protects the privacy of our citizens online. It allows us to entertain unapproved or ‘dangerous’ thought and this is one of our greatest strengths as a nation. Protect it.

Big idea: America wants to be a beacon to the world.
Our standing internationally comes from two places, as I see it: our culture and the policies our government chooses to follow.

Our society has allowed us to develop a culture that is everywhere, that nearly every country is influenced by and takes part of: the movies, the videogames, the television, the books, sporting events and the music all flow out. Much less of the world’s culture flows in. That’s a good thing.

Now please, get the government to stop wrecking that. Two not so simple things that would probably go a long, long way.

First: we end the drug war. It’s been shown to affect poor Americans, and especially black Americans, disproportionally and is a mostly a way for law enforcement to make money, while our 4th Amendment rights are eroded.

Ending this war not only gives us money to invest in access and schools, it would probably go a long way for improving our relations with countries to the North and South of us, in addition to ending some of the most horrific violence I’ve ever heard of in Mexico. It would give the US a reason to stop fighting wars over opium and start providing humanitarian aid to those who need it.

It would end what has been forty years of failed policy. I think we would all agree, that’s more failure than anyone should have to stand.

Second: we cease giving military aid and backing to Israel.

Mr. President, the nation of Israel is not special. At the moment, I’d even go so far as to say they are acting like the spoiled little kid who acts like a bully, because they know their big brother will beat up anyone who tries to stop them. They are just as complicit in the evils of war as any other party involved in that area and until we stop supporting them unconditionally and start being more evenhanded to everyone in the region, a huge part of the world will hate us and rightly so, because we are being unfair, and being unfair is just an Unamerican value, sir.

If we value justice, we cannot be unjust.

We will have to make apologies. We will have to work harder than ever to talk to and create peaceful circumstances.

But it can be done. The question is; are we willing to do it? I hope so and it will have to start with you saying: no more will America support this failure.

Big idea: America needs to be the best country.

Mr. President, our country started off in a very unique way; we started off as an idea. All men are created equal and bestowed rights merely because they exist.

And as we’ve grown up, that idea has been something that has been allowed to do what it wasn’t, 200 years ago: encompass all the people of this nation and provide us with more ideas. It has been allowed to grow, to evolve beyond the limitations of the men who created it! That. Is. Amazing. By any view of the world that is just jaw dropping.

We have survived and thrived, I believe, because we had the best idea(s) and we allowed people to pursue those ideas, even ideas that were unpopular. Every time we have expanded upon the ability of the people to expose themselves to new ideas, our country has prospered in so many ways: from the abolition of slavery, to the rights of women, the GI Bill, allowing more men and women to go to college, the great society, to the civil rights movement, the Americans with Disabilities Act, even through today, with the use of the internet to expose more ideas and support the rights of gay and lesbians across the country, those ideas of freedom and dignity and access, have been what has brought men and women from across the world to live here. We never had the smartest race, we brought in the smartest people.

We need those ideas again. We need to support ideas again.

Mr. President, we need educated people, more than we ever have before.

And by educated, I don’t merely mean universities. I mean trade schools, community colleges, high schools. Anywhere an American goes to learn something about the world around him or her. Ideas need to become a priority for us again, because we can create our future out of them.

But we have to support the realm of ideas, the place where we dream something new! Take the money from the drug war, from the incarceration of millions, and put it into schools and teachers and programs that support the endeavors of Americans to be more to the world than just consumers.

We were founded on ideas. Let’s love them too.

A new shape to our ideas are coming, Mr. President, involving how we interact with each other. I want you to help us get at the forefront of it.

I got to try the L’Agent Orange from Cascade Brewing. Sour ale kept in Makers Mark barrels. Pretty amazing, though you’ll have to come to Portland to get it, sir.


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