12 September 2011

The Day After 10 Years

As I write this, I am sitting in my kitchen, listening to the usual sounds of a house full of children: a laugh here, a whine there, a grunt from the 13-soon-to-be-14 year old.  It is the 12th of September, 2011.  10 years and one day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

After several days of watching nearly-nonstop coverage of the anniversary, it is becoming almost reflexive to change the channel when something comes on related to "the event".  To be sure, the 10th Anniversary of anything is an important date.  The 10th Anniversary of an attack that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 fellow human beings in the span of a couple of hours, and dozens, perhaps hundreds, more (mostly firefighters and other emergency personnel) from exposure to the toxic stew that surrounded the site for months is something you just don't ignore.

Yet, I find myself wanting to.

Like hundreds of my colleagues in both of my chosen professions across many agencies, I responded to the World Trade Center as a member of University Hospital EMS (UH-EMS) that day, performing what individually would be an insignificant role in the management of the sick and injured, though surely was an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  My total time at the site, either at One Police Plaza (where I was working with my boss, whose job it was to help coordinate the New Jersey EMS response into the City) or at West and Chambers Streets, where the EMS command post combining the top managers for FDNY*EMS and UH-EMS was located, was something under 18 hours.  I don't remember the exact times.

I do remember walking in the door to my apartment in Bayonne, NJ, on Wednesday morning, my trouser legs and boots covered in dust, and seeing the relief on my wife's face.  I did speak with her sometime during the night (it was very difficult to get a cellular signal at all that day), and she did know that I was safe, but that's not the same thing as knowing I was okay.  At least, not until she actually saw me.

Dave Lemagne
Thankfully, out of all the dead, I knew just one person directly, Port Authority Police Officer David P. Lemagne who, prior to reaching his goal of becoming an officer with the bi-state agency, was a Paramedic with UH-EMS and the Jersey City Medical Center EMS.

I was often the recipient of some of Dave's wisdom, some of it heart-felt, some of it wise cracking.  One of his mantras was "fail to plan...plan to fail."  Yes, it's almost cliche' but it worked for Dave.

So, now it's ten years later.  Maybe I'm just getting old, but I'm finding it harder and harder to square what I saw and did that day and experienced in the weeks and months that followed with all the outpouring of anguish and gnashing of teeth I'm hearing now.  (Although, though I can't stand the term "closure", I see less of this now that the mastermind behind the attacks, Osama Bin Laden, was afforded the opportunity to meet his Maker by US Navy SEALS).  I realize that with so many people who died, nearly everyone in the area knew somebody who didn't come home that night.  The trend I see on places like Facebook, however, leads me to believe that a far higher number of people feel the need to say something, anything, regardless of any lack of personal connection to the day.

As we get farther and farther from September 11th, 2001, there will be fewer folks who were directly or indirectly affected by the events, so that for most people their knowledge of the World Trade Center will be something like my knowledge of Pearl Harbor, which happened almost 30 years before I was born.  This is fine.  I've always been more of a person who believes that forgetting history condemns us to repeating it.

I just don't want to repeat it in twelve-hour blocks every year on every news and documentary channel on cable, except, maybe, The History Channel.

19 July 2011

Mr. Crawford Goes to Washington

I made my first phone call to a federal political figure the other day.

No, it wasn't the President of the United States (can you actually call the President, like Annette Bening did in The American President?). It wasn't the Speaker of the House Boehner, Minority Leader Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Reid or Minority Leader McConnell. Wasn't either of my two senators, or even my Representative, Jon Runyan.

It was Representative Eric "Rick" Crawford, Republican of Arkansas.

US Rep. Eric "Rick"
 Crawford (R-AR)
Ordinarily, I wouldn't really care what a Republican (or Democrat, for that matter) from another state, to say nothing of a state so vastly different than mine, does in the course of his service to his constituents and the nation, given that they are primarily serving the people who elected them. However, in this day and age of the 24-hour-news cycle, where the news outlets are only to happy to shove a microphone and camera in the face of any backbencher from either party that they happen to come across and ask them their opinion on the day's hot topics, what any of them say or do is likely to have an effect on how people think, completely out of proportion to their actual influence in Congress.
And so it is with the current debate on the debt ceiling, where the vast majority of the freshman members of the House of Representatives have taken to heart the tenets of the so-called Tea Party, and pledged to not raise the legal limit on the amount of money that can be borrowed by the federal government, without first extracting major concessions from the Obama Administration - these concessions being deep, deep cuts (so deep, I don't think most people realize how much they will affect the ordinary people of New Jersey, Arkansas or the other 48 states) in federal spending on the order of several trillion dollars over 10 years, and no tax increases. Lately, some of these proposals also include a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution, which stands no chance of being ratified by both houses and two thirds of State Legislatures. But like Don Quixote, some folks are content to tilt at windmills, regardless of potential consequences to the nation's economy and the health of the world economic system, of which we are an integral part.

Which brings me to Representative Crawford. The incident, if you will, that prompted me to contact Mr. Crawford (or more accurately, the pleasant young lady who answered the phone in his Washington office) was an article published in the July 14th edition of The Washington Post, entitled "GOP dissent complicates path to resolving debt-ceiling crisis".(Find the story at http://wapo.st/qftUcI) At the conclusion of the article, Mr. Crawford, after being asked if he explained, to constituents that contacted him, the predicted consequences of not raising the ceiling, said this:

“I think that’s probably an arrogant attitude to take, that I know more than they do,” Crawford said. “I’m trying to represent my district in Washington, and not Washington in my district.”

At first, this nearly caused me to fall out of my chair. Very quaint, this notion of Mister-Crawford-goes-to-Washington, but either incredibly naive or monumentally conceited. Or, quite possibly, both.

Now, I'm not taking issue with the statement that he is trying to represent his district in Washington, and not the other way around. That is, after all, the basic job description of a member of the House of Representatives. The strength of our Representative democracy lies in the diverse backgrounds of the folks that speak for the people in the houses of the national legislature. To think, however, that you should only consider the opinions of the people whom you represent on matters of national import, whether it be defense spending, the debt ceiling, or Medicare, the actions of a few can have damaging repercussions for the many. And the first part of that quote, that he believes it arrogant to think that he knows more than his constituents do, is the real problem.

Yes, Mr. Crawford, you do know more than they do. Or, at least you should, at $174,000 per year, not to mention all the perks that go with being a Member of Congress. Even if you are not a member of a committee that deals directly with financial affairs (and as a member of the Agriculture and Transportation & Infrastructure Committees, Mr. Crawford isn't), it is still incumbent upon members to know everything they can reasonably know about a subject that they might have to vote on. To do otherwise is a dereliction of duty.

The young lady who answered the phone in his Washington office, after politely listening to me tell her that he should know more than his constituents just as Mr. Runyan should know more than me, thanked me for my comments, and added that his quote was "taken out of context". That was as automatic an answer if I've ever heard one, but probably the easiest way to end what must be one of dozens of similar conversations.

I can't say that I envy Mr. Crawford, or the other 62 members of Congress that sent a letter to the President saying fugheddaboudit on raising the ceiling. For if they vote "no" and all manner of calamity come to pass (as the President, the entire leadership of the Congress, the Treasury Secretary, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, and both Standard & Poor's and Moody's have indicated), they will be ensuring themselves an unwanted place in the history books, and will quite possibly find themselves out of office, since November 2012 is far enough away for the consequences to sink in, and allow their potential opponents to come up with the most imaginative attack ads possible. If they vote "yes" they will incur the wrath of a vocal segment of the folks back home who elected them to do something else, and will quite possibly find themselves out of office, since November 2012 is far enough away for their potential opponents to come up with the most imaginative attack ads possible.

Does anyone else see a problem with this?

06 November 2008

Why John McCain Lost My Vote

Back in 2000, when he was running for President the first time, I thought John McCain was a fine example of what a candidate should be. Spoke his mind, and told people things they didn't really want to hear. Strangely enough, people actually listened to him, and more than a few voted for him in the New Hampshire primaries. The "Straight Talk Express" was never more so. Some of my more progressive friends weren't all that happy to hear that I would have voted for McCain over Gore. Or maybe they thought I was out of my mind.

But then came South Carolina, and through typical Republican internecine warfare, an opportunity lost.

Fast forward to 2008. Even after playing the good soldier over the past eight years, there always seemed to be that quality in him that he would rather be right than President. New Hampshire, again, helped resurrect his campaign against a somewhat anemic Republican field. At the time, everyone, including me, thought that Hillary Clinton would have been the Democratic nominee, and that this would be an election campaign between two worthy opponents.

Well, it still was between two deserving opponents, only Barack Obama was the Democratic standard-bearer. For some reason, the wheels came off in the weeks afterward.

It has been no secret amongst those who know me that I think that as one of the most important choices a candidate can make during a campaign for President of the United States, Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska was woefully inadequate, picked, it seemed, to shore up the all-important "base" of the Republican Party, who viewed McCain with a considerable amount of suspicion. I can go into greater detail in future posts, but from the perspectives of national security, governmental expertise, education, and political views, it is clear that she is not the choice of most Americans, no matter how much they may agree with her positions on "values" issues.

On September 24th, McCain announced that he was suspending his campaign to hurry back to Washington to help with the $700B so-called Wall Street Bailout plan, and initially would not consider debating Obama unless and until the bailout plan was approved. As more than one person noted, a President is expected to be able to focus on more than one crisis at a time. Suspending the campaign to sell yourself to the voters as an executive to work on an essentially legislative issue was the wrong move, and did nothing to but reinforce the notion that perhaps he is more comfortable with the job that he has, rather than the job that he wanted. And then, when he got to the negotiations, several "anonymous" (probably Democratic) sources protrayed him as the least productive member of the group.

I could see if McCain were Chairman, the ranking member, or even an ordinary member of the Banking Committee. He had no real experience in that sector, and was even reported to be admitting (earlier in the campaign, to be sure) that domestic finances were not something he was comfortable with.

Finally, aside from the ambiguous theme of "Country First", the McCain Campaign could not seem to settle on one specific message, or even how he would differ from Barack Obama in his proposals. On several important issues, there wasn't a whole lot of daylight between the two men. On those in which they did differ, Obama offered a different way than the current administration (and by extension, McCain) already proposed. Changing the method of attack on Obama - calling him a different name or casting him in a different light, it seemed, every three days or so - gave the voters nothing to latch on to. Charles Krauthammer has a particularly insightful take on what went wrong.

Obama, by contrast, consistently protrayed McCain as another four years of the Bush Administration. A not-altogether accurate charge, since McCain's legislative history is pretty much everything that Bush Administration is against, but enough that Obama was able to make that connection take root and grow.

I think that McCain would indeed make a good president, if circumstances were a little different. I also think Obama will make a good, perhaps very good, president. Yes he could be a in over his head, as Maureen Dowd pointed out in Wednesday's edition, or he could be headed for greatness.

I think for most people this would have been a bad year to vote for Republicans in general. The fact that McCain was able to keep it within 10 points on Election Day speaks both to how voters look at him and the inexperience of Barack Obama. It wasn't enough, however, to close the deal.

22 August 2008

Still Here, again.

I am not sure if anyone still checks this blog, since I haven't posted in quite some time. There are a couple of posts that have been sitting in the draft pile that I have been meaning to finish, but when you work 90-hour weeks, there isn't much time to do that, is there?

In the interim, please check out my cousin Dan's blog. He used to run the political insomniac blog here on blogger, but circumstances have changed. I can't say I agree with much of what he says, but it makes for some fascinating reading.

Anyway, keep checking out this space, and hopefully I'll have something soon.