A few thoughts and questions that came to mind
after listening to the State of the Union address this evening…

I was not able to listen to the President’s
State of the Union address live, but was able to watch and listen to it in its
entirety online thanks to the BBC. Here are a few thoughts and
questions in no particular order that come to
mind.

Social security trust funds
that are owned exclusively by individuals and cannot be skimmed or taken
wholesale by the government sound pretty good. I am sure this is an attempt to
win over younger wage earners, like myself, to other elements of the President’s
proposal for social security reform, which will likely include lower benefits.
However, how is he (and more accurately the Congress) going to save social
security (keeping it solvent) while simultaneously allowing wage earners like
myself to put part of our monthly withholding into our own savings accounts? It
seems like this is going to have to require higher levels of gross withholding
(read: new taxes). That doesn’t sound great, but clearly we do need to take
action. How I wish our legislators in years past had not started the apparently
irreversible trend and behavior of emptying and “social security trust fund,”
which now is only a pipe dream.

How
can the President with a straight face say that Americans (he should say more
accurately US citizens) do not have the right to impose our values and way of
life on people in other countries? He may not have used those exact words but
that is what I heard him say (the gist of the message). Of course we think we
have that right. He thinks he has that right, and he has acted in a way that
belies this belief. The logic he seems to be using here is that, if people are
forced (literally with the threat of force) to accept democracy, then they
choose their government, and we have not chosen it for them or imposed our own
value system. I think this logic is a bit weak, to say the least. Say what you
mean, mean what you say. Shorten the distance between what you do and what you
say. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Our President does believe we have
the right, and indeed the moral obligation, to impose our democratic value
system on the people of other nations. This is what we are doing in Iraq. Saying
otherwise is disingenuous at
best.

Oil and basing rights in Iraq
were not mentioned in the speech. These, in my perception, remain our primary
reasons for waging war in Iraq. I am not saying these reasons are not
defensible, indeed they probably are– my point is that they were not mentioned.
Lots about Iraqi’s voting and the bravery of our soldiers, not much about
realpolitik reasons for our war and billions of dollars of defense budget
expenditures over there.

Let me add I
do think it is great Iraqis had an opportunity to vote in their recent election.
I think it is unfortunate, however, that we as the people of the United States
seem to be overlooking the need to do a realistic cost / benefit analysis of the
billions of dollars we are spending now in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and
thoughtfully consider alternative ways of spending some, much, or all of those
dollars on domestic concerns here at home. The Cold War is over, but the
military-industrial complex is better financed than ever before. Dwight was
right. And our elected officials don’t seem to notice or
care.

The President mentioned that
many of the Al Queda leaders are not in action anymore. He failed to mention
that one primary reason is that we are indefinitely incarcerating many who
someone suspects are terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as in Iraq. I
am taking an educational law class this term, and we have read some worthwhile
foundational material about constitutional rights. I was interested to learn our
Supreme Court has held repeatedly, and strongly, that there is not a US
constitutional right to education. State Supreme Courts have held, in some
cases, that education is a fundamental state right, but not in all
states.

Where do rights come from?
They don’t come from the benevolence, wisdom, or generosity of the state or its
courts. They come from our Creator. And they are inalienable. The distinction
between state and federal rights, in our system of federalism and separation of
powers, certainly does have very important implications. Given our current No
Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, which turns on its head 200+ years of
legal tradition maintaining that education is the exclusive jurisdiction of the
states, you might be surprised by this. It all comes down to money. At some
point, offering a school district or an entire state the option of “you don’t
have to take our money, then you could choose to not comply with our
requirements” is really not a choice at all. Could our local school district
turn down all federal funds and say “no thank you” to NCLB? Could the state of
Texas? Hardly. This is not blackmail, it is really more anti-blackmail. But it
is contrary to US constitutional law as well as tradition, and flat out wrong.
Yet it is accepted and doesn’t seem to be questioned by the general public or
our legislative leaders.

My point on
constitutional rights here is not just limited to education, however, let’s talk
about something basic like habeus corpus. I find it totally repugnant and
unacceptable that because the US military and “other” security services
(doubtless contracted agencies employed to perform various types of classified
activities) can and do move prisoners to Guantanamo and then ignore the basic
human right that all people (regardless of nationality or geographic location)
should and must enjoy to a legal process that protects them against arbitrary
state action. Of course the President didn’t address this in his
speech.

Should we bring terrorists to
justice? Of course. But should our government be allowed to disregard people’s
basic human rights in the process? Absolutely not. I think the continuing
embarrassment and violation of basic human rights taking place in Guantanamo and
likely elsewhere by US security forces supports a hypothesis about the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan that I have been mulling over for some
time.

How can a government and
society that ostensibly supports an open democratic culture defeat a terrorist
element within its midst that is committed to violence as a means for political
change? I think the answer is, only through a dirty war. Look at Western
Hemispheric examples, where “democratic governments” have been successful in
fighting and virtually eliminating terrorist opposition. Argentina and Peru come
to my mind right away. How did they do this? Through an extended dirty war:
repression, and repeated arbitrary state action against individuals in violation
of basic human rights and basic conceptions of a legitimate legal
process.

We seem to be doing the same
thing in our current wars. Is this necessary to win? Perhaps. Is it justified?
Of course this is something our President did not directly address
tonight.

I am sure I could ramble on,
but that is probably enough for tonight. Am I happy with the leadership of our
current President? No. Did I vote for him? No. Do I respect him and the office
he holds? Yes, of course. I just wish we had had a better alternative in the
last election… as I have written previously, I voted for John Kerry not so
much because I wanted him in office, but because I wanted George Bush out of
office.

My prayers do go out to our
soldiers serving all over the globe tonight. And they also go out to those held
in prisons in Guantanamo, in Iraq, and elsewhere by our security forces. I pray
they will cling to their faith and hope in our Creator, who is so much bigger
than any governmental leader and far more significant than any words anyone can
utter in a speech, even a State of the Union address. Not understanding the
reasons for their suffering, but having faith in the One who can give strength
to even strong men who stumble and fall– I pray for their endurance and
faith.

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