Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hey, Look at All Sides First

I learned a long time ago that to write about sex, politics, or religion was risky business, so I usually try to stay out of those matters. But this week's announced intention to turn over six U.S. Ports to Dubai, Intl., a mideastern company, provoked such a furor that I felt compelled to join the fray.

American ports run by enemies? No! A thousand times, no! Hell no! barked one congresswoman. That's the reaction that swept the country this week by republicans and democrats alike. And for those who are convinced that the President, for whatever reason, is determined to make the wrong decisions every time, there is no sense in arguing. It is shocking only that in this decision he is acting in an issue involving national security, which has heretofore been his greatest strength. From both parties have arisen the cries of disbelief and outrage. In that, ironically, Mr. Bush has fulfilled his promise to be a uniter, not a divider. We have seldom seen such unity, but ironically it is against the White House position.

Yesterday I heard not one voice willing to consider that the move to turn over six U.S. Ports to a mideastern company might actually not be against our interests. But as so often happens, the first voices on a flashpoint issue are not always the most informed or reasonable. Today I was amazed to hear two of my colleagues who are often at odds with this administration's positions, actually arguing in favor of this move, and arguing that on this issue at least, the President is right.

This afternoon on CNN I saw the chairman of the company involved explain his position, and by dinnertime I heard that Senator John McCain felt the deal had merit and that Senator John Warner favored suspending judgement till the facts were known. The explanations should be heard and the facts considered carefully in Congress and public discourse before we rush to tar and feather our leaders, who in fact may have more solid information on which to base their judgements than we do.

I don't know whether this deal would be good or bad for our country. But I'm willing to listen to reasonable positions on both sides before I join any lynch mob, call any leader unAmerican, or assume that any of our government officials on either side of the aisle have any other than our best national interests in mind and a deep love of our country. Which brings me to my main point:

During eight years of President Clinton's administration I was convinced that I couldn't trust him, couldn't believe he had my best interests at heart, though my wife felt that he did and supported him avidly throughout. I came to feel that his positions were poll driven and that he had few solid convictions at all. Yet at the end of his administration I realized that whatever his shortcomings, he had a brilliant understanding of many things, particularly in foreign affairs and economic matters, and I was forced to admit that his policies which I had considered unprincipled and weak were in fact prudent and cautious. I used to rail against the altered tax policies he instituted which I complained picked my pocket deeply. Yet at the end of his administration I had to admire the fact that he had succeeded in eliminating incredible amounts of waste and balanced the federal budget, largely erased the national debt, and even built an impressive surplus. In other words, I had to admit my opinions of his motives and his decisions had mostly been dead wrong. But I had nonetheless not been able to trust him. He couldn't do anything right, in my opinion then. However, I never, never questioned his patriotism or his love for our nation.

Now the situation is reversed. I supported and voted for President Bush, admired what I felt were his values and motives, basically agreed with his policies on war, lower taxes, and supply side economics, the spread of democracy and respect for human life and freedoms, and what I regarded as a genuine, honest, deep sense of convictions. Yet my wife will have none of it. She is convinced that he is incredibly stubborn, stupid, arrogant, favors only the rightwing extremists and the rich, lies on all issues, will not admit when he is wrong or bend to anyone's vision but his own. She thoroughly dislikes everything he does and stands for. In her mind, the President can do no right. She suffers under the Bush administration the same despair I suffered under Clinton's.

So when the proposed ports deal broke in the media this week, the administration's support for it and insistence it go forward was tantamount to treason in our house. Turn our U.S. ports over to the enemy? Never! was the kneejerk response of nearly all Americans. Never mind the facts. Never mind that the international company involved is headed by an American whose father was a senator. Never mind that the middle eastern country involved has been one of our proven staunchest partners in fighting terrorism. Never mind that Americans, not any enemy, would continue to run our deeply layered actual cargo inspections and homeland security issues, that six levels of inspections would continue to be employed by the Coast Guard, Homeland Security Agency, Law enforcement agencies and other American protectors of our cities and shipping.

Yes, it is possible in today's world that a terrorist device might slip through and enter the United States secreted in a cargo container that was missed despite all safeguards. But would that be more likely to happen if a UAE company was in charge than a Chinese company or a British company, or even an American company? That has not been shown.

What has been shown is that we are all too willing to assume the worst of our leaders, whether they are democrats or republicans. We are quick to assume they are dishonest, uninformed if not ignorant, corrupted by special interests and sinister motives against our interests, whoever they are, in all branches and levels of government. And I think that sometimes, unfortunately, a few of them give us grounds to believe the worst of them. But I have been wrong about our leaders many times before. So when some issue arises that looks like a clear, transparently wrong act or decision, I have learned to not jump to conclusions too quickly or impute bad judgements, bad motives, incompetence, or worst of all any conscious or subconscious ill will toward this nation, its institutions or ideals.

Let's get our facts straight in this matter before we judge who the bad guys are, if any. And let's not assume that any group, company, nationality, religion, or individuals of mideast origin are automatically our enemies. Let's trust those who have by their actions earned our trust, until proven otherwise. And let's believe that our leaders in government, whether we agree with them or not, are likewise acting as much as they can for our welfare, until proven otherwise.

Turn over U.S. ports to enemies? Never! But we need to know who our enemies really are, and it does no good to assume that anyone not born in the U.S. is automatically suspect. Our economy isn't a national but a world economy now, linked throughout all nations' commerce and transportation networks. This is no time for a Fortress America mentality that would isolate us from all others. We may be hurting friends we need badly, undermining our cooperation from the mideast in combatting terrorism, and not protecting anything or anybody at all.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Keep On Keeping On

Yes, fall is a go for teaching (see the post below), but I didn't expect four class sections! The two I thought I'd get became available last, and the two I didn't expect were offered first, plus a summer class. I'll be able to not only get dental work if I need to but help with patio repairs, vacation expenses, other emergencies and new york visits as well. Most importantly, it will keep me feeling useful and active in my retirement. It's the equivalent of a fulltime load as far as classes go, but I don't have to do any advising, committee work, meetings or reports the regular faculty do. And I'll still only go in a few days per week.

People have this mistaken idea that retiring and getting away from everything that used to bug them at their jobs is the ultimate dream. Trust me, no matter how much you think you'll be able to enjoy fishing, golf, tennis, woodworking, stamp collecting or whatever other passion turns you on now in your spare time, it will get old pretty fast when you get away from your work schedule, and you'll start feeling pretty useless till you find something you can do part-time: volunteer work, a part-time job, or anything that restores contact with other people who need and appreciate what you do. No matter how much you think you'll be able to achieve on your own, chances are that if you have worked for another employer all your life, you won't have the habits of self-direction mastered sufficiently to avoid feeling pretty bored after a few weeks or months.

The irony of retirement is that to be happy, you have to go back to work. The beauty of it is that you don't have to do what bothered you before. You get to choose how you spend your days. That's the real reward.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Looks Good For Fall Classes

Today at my University I learned that I would probably be offered two English sections to teach next fall. I immediately calculated my benefits and had the entire fall semester's pay spent before I got to the water fountain.

Let's see, two classes; that's probably three root canals--no, I probably won't need more than one class worth for dental work. It's enough for one hurricane repair, with enough left over for a possible tooth, OR even a trip to New York again to see our son, PLUS maybe even a deck resurfacing. That's if I don't get into dental hell again before fall.

I don't even think anymore in terms of dollars. Not with things costing what they do these days. I think in terms of how many teeth I could fix, how many monster ficus trees removed after they blow over on the neighbors, or how many screens blown out that I could replace. Wow. Well, what can I say. I live in South Florida: Hurricane World, My Blue Heaven, named for our FEMA tarps atop so many roofs. And Dr. Gray says they'll be even worse for a decade or two yet. Sigh.

Wait a minute, I didn't even factor in the Art Appreciation section I might get to repeat also. And if I did that, we might even be able to resurface the pool, go to New York, AND fix two teeth! Wow, what a windfall! Exxon's got nothing on us part-time teachers!