Oct 302011
 

 

Backyard Fountain Moss

A while back, the White House announced and activated an interesting addition to their website called “We the People“. The URL takes you to a page that states

Welcome to We the People on WhiteHouse.gov. This tool provides you with a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country. If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

There have been a number of petitions proposed on the website and I signed several of them. The ones I signed included Abolish the TSA, and use its monstrous budget to fund more sophisticated, less intrusive counter-terrorism intelligence., End the destructive, wasteful and counterproductive “War on Drugs”, Restore democracy by ending corporate personhood., Edit the Pledge of Allegiance to remove the phrase ‘Under God.’, Legalize Marijuana, and several others.

The White house has said that they will respond to petitions gathering enough support (that is, signatures).

Well, I have just received my first two official responses from the White House. The first was concerning “Edit the Pledge of Allegiance to remove the phrase ‘Under God.’.” The response, reproduced in its entirety was:

 Religion in the Public Square
By Joshua DuBois, Executive Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Thank you for signing the petition “Edit the Pledge of Allegiance to remove the phrase ‘Under God.’” We appreciate your participation in the We the People platform on WhiteHouse.gov.

The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our nation. Our nation’s Bill of Rights guarantees not only that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens’ rights to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all.

Throughout our history, people of all faiths – as well as secular Americans – have played an important role in public life. And a robust dialogue about the role of religion in public life is an important part of our public discourse.

While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.

When he was a Senator from Illinois, President Obama gave a keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference where he spoke about the important role religion plays in politics and in public life.

A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters.
That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God” in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust” on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans. As the President said in his inaugural address, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” We’re proud of that heritage, and the strength it brings to our great country.

So there it is. The White House policy expert on religion in the public sphere is the Executive Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This is the guy responsible for overseeing Obama’s expanded version of Bush’s faith-based initiatives. It’s clear that the White House is not going to lead any kind of change in this area regardless of the fact that a large number of people want to see such a change.

The second response I got was concerning the legalization of marijuana. This was one of the most voted for petitions on the web site. The response came from Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, as follows:

What We Have to Say About Legalizing Marijuana

By Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy

When the President took office, he directed all of his policymakers to develop policies based on science and research, not ideology or politics. So our concern about marijuana is based on what the science tells us about the drug’s effects.

According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health- the world’s largest source of drug abuse research – marijuana use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment. We know from an array of treatment admission information and Federal data that marijuana use is a significant source for voluntary drug treatment admissions and visits to emergency rooms. Studies also reveal that marijuana potency has almost tripled over the past 20 years, raising serious concerns about what this means for public health – especially among young people who use the drug because research shows their brains continue to develop well into their 20’s. Simply put, it is not a benign drug.

Like many, we are interested in the potential marijuana may have in providing relief to individuals diagnosed with certain serious illnesses. That is why we ardently support ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine. To date, however, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked marijuana to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition.

As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem. We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.

That is why the President’s National Drug Control Strategy is balanced and comprehensive, emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of drugs entering our communities. Preventing drug use is the most cost-effective way to reduce drug use and its consequences in America. And, as we’ve seen in our work through community coalitions across the country, this approach works in making communities healthier and safer. We’re also focused on expanding access to drug treatment for addicts. Treatment works. In fact, millions of Americans are in successful recovery for drug and alcoholism today. And through our work with innovative drug courts across the Nation, we are improving our criminal justice system to divert non-violent offenders into treatment.

Our commitment to a balanced approach to drug control is real. This last fiscal year alone, the Federal Government spent over $10 billion on drug education and treatment programs compared to just over $9 billion on drug related law enforcement in the U.S.

Thank you for making your voice heard. I encourage you to take a moment to read about the President’s approach to drug control to learn more.

This sounded so much like “politicianspeak” that I did a simple exercise. I copied the text and substituted the word “alcohol” for the words “marijuana” and “drug” and ended up with the following:

When the President took office, he directed all of his policymakers to develop policies based on science and research, not ideology or politics. So our concern about alcohol is based on what the science tells us about alcohol’s effects.

According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health- the world’s largest source of alcohol abuse research – alcohol use is associated with addiction, respiratory disease, and cognitive impairment. We know from an array of treatment admission information and Federal data that alcohol use is a significant source for voluntary alcohol treatment admissions and visits to emergency rooms. Studies also reveal that alcohol potency has almost tripled over the past 20 years, raising serious concerns about what this means for public health – especially among young people who use the alcohol because research shows their brains continue to develop well into their 20’s. Simply put, it is not a benign alcohol.

Like many, we are interested in the potential alcohol may have in providing relief to individuals diagnosed with certain serious illnesses. That is why we ardently support ongoing research into determining what components of the alcohol plant can be used as medicine. To date, however, neither the FDA nor the Institute of Medicine have found smoked alcohol to meet the modern standard for safe or effective medicine for any condition.

As a former police chief, I recognize we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem. We also recognize that legalizing alcohol would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with alcohol use.

That is why the President’s National Alcohol Control Strategy is balanced and comprehensive, emphasizing prevention and treatment while at the same time supporting innovative law enforcement efforts that protect public safety and disrupt the supply of alcohol entering our communities. Preventing alcohol use is the most cost-effective way to reduce alcohol use and its consequences in America. And, as we’ve seen in our work through community coalitions across the country, this approach works in making communities healthier and safer. We’re also focused on expanding access to alcohol treatment for addicts. Treatment works. In fact, millions of Americans are in successful recovery for alcohol and alcoholism today. And through our work with innovative alcohol courts across the Nation, we are improving our criminal justice system to divert non-violent offenders into treatment.

Our commitment to a balanced approach to alcohol control is real. This last fiscal year alone, the Federal Government spent over $10 billion on alcohol education and treatment programs compared to just over $9 billion on alcohol related law enforcement in the U.S.

Thank you for making your voice heard. I encourage you to take a moment to read about the President’s approach to alcohol control to learn more.

The “alcohol” version of this statement (with only minor revisions-who ever heard of smoked alcohol and alcohol plants?) could have been made in support of the 18th amendment to the constitution banning the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol in the United States. As you may remember, Prohibition was a dismal failure leading to increased crime and crime syndicates as well as a general decline in societal health (sound much like what the “war on drugs” has caused?)

I especially noted in the original “legalize marijuana” response the two assertions (both totally unsupported by any kind of facts) that “…we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem…” and “We also recognize that legalizing marijuana would not provide the answer to any of the health, social, youth education, criminal justice, and community quality of life challenges associated with drug use.” He (the author, Gil Kerlikowske) “knows” this because he’s a former police chief. How many logical fallacies can you count in just that one paragraph? “Arresting our way out of the problem seems to be the preferred approach, doesn’t it?

Here’s the NORML response to the White House statement that addresses it in detail.

Anyway, rather than rehash why these two responses fail and how the pat responses don’t satisfy, let me just point out that the avowed purpose of the website is that it “…provides you with a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country.” The two responses I have received to date demonstrate very clearly that the Obama Administration is not going to take any action in response to these two petitions, but instead is just going to stay the course.

I almost prefer that they not pretend to listen to us. Then I know for sure they are not working to make any improvements. Pretending to listen only raises hopes that things will get better, only to dash those hopes when you realize that nothing is going to change.

 Posted by at 12:24 pm
Sep 232011
 

Sequoia National Park

When the Tea Partiers were getting all upset about the health care plan, one of their rallying cries was “We want our country back!” The refrain was taken up by birthers with an unstated, but rather obvious, at least to me, tinge of racism. Giving the phrase its most charitable interpretation, people who support the tea party will say that the slogan is about out of control government: too much spending, too much regulation, just too much government.

That’s not what I mean when I say I want my country back. The country I want back is one that may have never existed, or at least, one that only partially existed, but is no more.

The country I want back seems to have started disappearing about 30 years ago, around the time Ronald Reagan was President.

The country I want back is the one where each succeeding generation could look forward to doing better financially than their parents; having more to spend, enjoying more leisure time. I’m old enough to remember when a married couple could prosper in the middle class on a single wage-earner’s income. In most cases, that meant the husband had a paying job outside the home and the wife worked in the home, raising the kids and running the household. How many families could do that today? Do you know anyone who could afford that?

The country I want back is the one where we didn’t have a homeless problem, where the homeless were mostly “hobos’ or men who chose to live free of the constraints of society.

The country I want back is one where young kids felt safe playing outside, often far away from parents, sometimes even after dark when hide and seek was the most fun. How many parents would let their kids do that today?

The country I want back is one where people were free to go where they wanted and do what they wanted without intrusive government surveillance of their every action. Where there were no traffic cameras, no surveillance cameras.

The country I want back is one where people could arrive at the airport 15 minutes before the flight left and simply board the aircraft without having to wait in line for a security check, endure a virtual strip search by an X-ray machine or a “pat-down” search that could be properly classified as sexual molestation. One where train trips and car trips could be entirely without hassle or without anyone from the government stopping you and asking whether you are a citizen.

The country I want back is one where merchants aren’t able to track your every purchase through the use of credit card receipts and “preferred customer” cards. Where on-line data aggregators can’t keep track of every move you make, every web search you do, every site you visit and then sell that data on you to anyone that wants it without any oversight. Where cell phone companies can track every place you have been and then willingly and without pressure give that information to government authorities.

The country I want back is one where the healthcare insurance industry is not controlled by a handful of companies that effectively ration the healthcare in the country by the decisions they make concerning coverage and what they will and won’t pay for; where the doctors and patients don’t have to fight with the insurance companies to get the treatments that the doctor and patient agree are most effective.

The country I want back is one where, although they disagreed on many things, the two major parties could work together and actually accomplish things of great import for the good of the country, things like major infrastructure investments such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the  interstate highway system, Hoover dam. Where social advances such as women’s suffrage, voting rights and racial equality could be recognized, sometimes after long debate, as worthy accomplishments and worth the effort it takes to enact them.

The country I want back is the one where the educational system was recognized as one of the best in the world and prepared generations for competition in the world they were entering. I want the country where the most serious disciplinary problems facing school teachers were talking and chewing gum in class and teachers were free to concentrate on teaching.

The country I want back is one where we were generally at the head of the pack of all countries in a whole host of measures including education, infrastructure, science, manufacturing and health care instead of ranking much lower, in some cases towards the bottom, in all of these categories.

The country I want back is one which could dream of big things, like putting a man on the moon, and then have the means to actually achieve it.

As I said before, this country probably never existed as I envision it. But all of the things I want did exist at one time or another. The common saying is “9/11 changed everything”, but the effect I’m describing goes back much further than that. And the causes are many. In education, the lack of well planned and executed tests of new educational approaches and the willingness of the educational establishment to try out untested hypotheses have contributed to the decline. But so have the rise of families with two parents working outside the home, the push for “back to basics” education, the rise of illicit drugs aided by the ill-conceived “war on drugs”, struggles to measure progress based on standardized tests and a host of other things.

The decline in manufacturing has resulted from companies’ increased emphasis on short term profitability, outsourced jobs, globalization, and increased competition from emerging economies. The decline in infrastructure is a result of “benign neglect” as Nixon said in another context and the increasing polarization and politicization of government.

While we still have a robust science community, there are pressures here too. Other countries have gained on us, particularly in areas where asinine religious objections have stymied basic research for years (for example, stem cell research). The increasing influence of religion in government has resulted in a de-emphasis and distrust of science. The government has also seemed to lose a good deal of interest in funding basic research in response to the overblown deficit crisis.

We ourselves have contributed to making this not the country I want back, primarily through our desire for the latest new gadgets, expansive use of the internet and other technology in which we have given up the expectation of privacy for the convenience that such technological improvements provide us. I often wonder if it is worth it or if we realize what we have given up.

In spite of the causes, the country I want back is the one where we can say “We’re number one!’ and actually be correct. We were there once, and I don’t know if we can be again, but I believe we can’t get there if we don’t try. We have to try.

 Posted by at 4:40 pm