Donald Andrew Henson II

Posts Tagged ‘Civic Duty’

Please Don’t Forget Rena

In Current events, Wars and Rumors of Wars on February 8, 2014 at 11:15 pm


I wrote months ago about how the tragedy in Syria is wreaking havoc on that nation’s children, and I fear not much has changed since then. At that time, there was a news story about a 4-year-old girl named Rena had been shot by a sniper while playing near the window in her family’s apartment. She died a few hours later, gurgling blood as she called our her for her mother. Now there are thousands more like her being starved out in besieged cities. Parents brave snipers’ bullets as they search the ruined streets and alleys for something – anything – that might feed their children. But it is estimated that perhaps half of the 100,000 dead in the conflict are children. At first I posted the CNN video into the body of this post, but I decided it may just be too hard for some to watch. Yes, even harder than the photo I decided to post above. So I’ll link to it instead – you can read the news story without seeing the video if you think it might be too upsetting.

Anyone who knows me would tell you that I’m not a bleeding heart. I am ashamed to say that I, like most everyone else, am pretty quick to change the channel when those Feed the Children commercials start appearing late at night. I wish I could say I didn’t. It’s so easy to get caught up in one’s own problems – even if they are infinitesimally smaller than those so many in the world face. But I don’t know how anyone can read of children being shot in the face or intentionally starved, and think that war in the Middle East – or anywhere – would somehow do some good. I was in Israel during the intifada in the 90s, and my heart grew sick at the site of crying mothers and fathers clutching their dead children – newsreels not seen in America. Twenty years later, it is obvious that wanton killing has not led to a solution. Nor has it in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt, or a host of other countries around the world.

It seems we should have done something in Syria. The cynic in me says we didn’t because there’s no oil there. The realist knows that the American public is weary of war-mongering in the Middle East – for now at least – and the support for another mission there did not exist. I am against the use of drones – at least the way we’re using them right now, as the President’s personal play things – but if we’re going to use them to ‘take out bad guys’ it seems preventing people from starving young children would rank high on that list. I don’t know – I don’t have the answers.

The parties involved in the conflict are supposed to be meeting with each other in Geneva as I write this. I hope that first on the agenda would be a ceasefire and end to the sieges that are causing such misery. I am not an expert on the political situation there, and as always, it seems that what seems like a good solution at the time in that region often comes around to haunt us. But I hope that the kids there will be given food and warm clothing before more of them die.

The videos are hard to watch – you might just want to ignore them. But do me a favor, please. Before you jump on the next war bandwagon that rolls around in the US, come back and watch them. Look right into war’s grim face before you join in a glib chorus of ‘Bomb Bomb Iran‘.

And if you believe in prayer, please pray for these children.

Editor’s note:  reading this 3 years later, right after President Trump’s missile attack on an airfield there. So little has changed.

8 Ways to Fix America

In American Economy, American Society on August 19, 2012 at 2:50 am

I just ran across an article from a year ago entitled Eight Ways to Fix Our Politics, which was posted in Newsweek and the Daily Beast. There are some excellent ideas that would get rid of the gridlock we currently have, namely –

  1. Stop letting the political parties determine how congressional districts are divided.
  2. Change the way elections are funded.
  3. Eliminate party primaries in favor of open primaries.
  4. Let the popular vote determine the outcome of elections.
  5. Change the way congressional committees are put together.
  6. Eliminate secret holds on appointees.
  7. Change or eliminate the filibuster.
  8. Eliminate the debt ceiling.

Most of these have something to do with weakening the present two-party political system, something that I am very much in favor of. Did you know that political parties are not even mentioned in our constitution? Why do they play such a big role today in our politics? It seems that the GOP and Demos are locked into an endless cycle of fighting and one-upmanship, where the goal is for the party to win – the country itself be damned. The others have to do with money arguments – and that got me thinking about some of the larger problems in politics and in the country in general.

Our capitalist economic system – when working well – is the best system the world has ever seen.  However, it does have its flaws, which have been on display the last 2-3 years. Democracy is the best political system in the world. When these two systems are working as they should, operating in a check-and-balance sort of competition, America is hard to beat. The problem is that over the last decade or more, the two systems have been involved in a destructive, incestuous make-out session, a Wall Street / Washington love-fest, in which the interests of anyone who doesn’t have power or money haven’t mattered very much.

Because of this neglect, there are a lot of things that are broken in this country, not just our politics. This got me thinking about how to fix some of the other ills we are facing as a country as well. I agree with the fixes in the Newsweek article, but I think we can do even better.

Get the money out of our political system – all of it. CNN’s Jack Cafferty reports that Congress’s wealth has increased by more than 25% during the height of our current recession. Peter Schweizer’s recent book Throw Them All Out  details how almost everyone in the legislative branch is using insider trading, cronyism, and land deals to enrich themselves at our expense. We can’t really have a democracy – and we can’t really accomplish any of the other things we need to accomplish – as long as our government servants are not looking our for our interests. Federal elections should all be federally funded – all donations or use of personal wealth should be illegal. PACs should be transparently funded. We all need to realize that a dollar and a vote are not the same thing – everyone, no matter how rich they are – has only one voice in our political forums; no one should be allowed to have thousands.

Congressional Elections are Fixed in America

(Photo credit: davemakkar)

Require that everyone vote. Australia, Belgium, Singapore, and at least two dozen other countries around the world make voting mandatory. It’s ridiculous that a country with as much international power as ours often elects its leaders without even a majority in this country participating. Both political parties are constantly trying to disqualify certain voters, or qualify certain others to their political advantage. If everyone voted, these kinds of shenanigans would come to an end, and the politicians would have to promote ideas that appeal to everyone, not just partisan wingnuts.

Do everything possible to weaken the two-party system. The Newsweek article sort of beats around the bush on this point – it’s time someone came out and said it. George Washington was very unhappy that the nation began to develop two very strong parties right from the beginning. We either need more viable political parties – or none at all. Our country is locked into a perpetual Yankees-vs-Red Sox rivalry that is destroying us. The future of our country is too important to leave it up to political gamesmanship. We’ve got to end the polarization that the parties are encouraging and figure out how to work together again to solve some of our biggest problems.

Fix our ailing infrastructure. Living in Beijing for 3 years before coming back to the US, I got used to roads with no potholes, modern bridges and superhighways, state-of-the-art trains and airports, clean, bright, modern buses that run on natural gas – and a host of other conveniences that make life in an American city downright medieval by comparison. Our business can’t compete in the coming century when our grandparents were the last ones who bothered to pay to build a new runway or port. I think it’s Thomas Friedman who said that if a person who knew nothing of history were asked to look at the infrastructures of Germany, Japan, and the US, and, based only on those observations, ascertain which country won WWII – he’d come up with the wrong answer every time.

Stop empire building / financing expansion of big oil. Many Americans may be unaware of how India became part of the British Empire. There was a joint stock company called the British East India Company that began investing in spices, tea, and other commodities in India and in other places in the Far East. The success of this company made its investors – including many members of Parliament – fabulously wealthy, and provided cheap raw materials to England’s factories. Every time there was a skirmish of some kind between the Company and the locals, the British Army would arrive to pacify the area, and turn it into a ‘protectorate’. The British government ended up colonizing all of India this way – not because there was a public discussion and decisions were made that empire would be best for the country – but because big business decided that’s the way it should be.

Our situation is the same – big oil and other industries make investments abroad that bring enormous wealth to a select few investors – and to countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and Venezuela, countries that do not share our democratic vision – and then tax dollars are spent to protect our ‘national interest’ in these areas. Why do we stick our military noses into Iraq and Afghanistan, yet ignore similarly belligerent regimes elsewhere? Oil, money, the interests of big business. It’s time we do a bit of nation building here in our own country, if you ask me.

I’ve got a few more ideas that are much more controversial, including making everyone go to public school. But it’s 3am and I have to work tomorrow, so I’ll save those for my next post later this week.

God Is Not Speaking To You

In Religion and Government, Religion and Society on June 9, 2012 at 1:17 am
English: Book of Job in Illuminated Manuscript...

God Speaking to Job – Byzantine

If you’ve stuck with me through the last couple of posts, thank you. Talking about prophecy and how God speaks in general is some pretty obtuse stuff, and it’s bound to draw some discontent from different corners.

I’ve said all that I’ve said in the last couple of posts to say this – God is not speaking to you. Whether you want to call it prophecy, God revealing his Word to you, God speaking to your heart through ‘impressions’ – what have you – there’s simply no independently verifiable method to prove what you say is true. If you say that you can verify that God has spoken to you because you can compare it to the scriptures, I have to ask how you know the scriptures are valid, or at least that your interpretation of them is the correct one. If you can only answer that you know this because God has revealed it to you in some way – then your logic is completely circular.

I know you want to think God talks to us, because we talk to him all the time. But we have to face the fact that most if not all of the ‘impressions’ that drop into our minds are simply our own thoughts. We imperil our democracy if we refuse to do so.

Deciding that your opinions are ‘God-breathed’ in some way, and that mine are just the machinations of a fallen nature undermines the idea of democracy. Our laws are to be based on what’s best for the common good, what the majority of the populace decides – not on what one group’s God wants. Saying that God is the author of your convictions is just a way of elevating your opinions – and discrediting mine.

It also makes it impossible to compromise to get anything done. Anyone who grew up in a large family knows that no one can have what they want all of the time. Everyone has to compromise from time to time for the good of the family as a whole. Democracy works the same way. If Christians get what they want all of the time, America would be a very unhappy place for people of other faiths or no faith at all.

If you feel, for example, that God told you that tax cuts for wealthy people are good for the economy, then if would be impossible for you to compromise with someone who felt differently, or to vote for someone who proposed such an idea. No amount of data or academic proof would be able to dissuade you of your opinion. Any everyone knows that when God tells you something, you dare not compromise. Who would ask you to compromise what God told you? Well, only Satan of course. So the other party must be driven by the spirit of the Antichrist.

You can see why we’re not getting much done in America these days. I lived in China and other Asian countries for just over a decade. They’re eating our lunch when it comes to building roads, airports, and other infrastructure, and they’re investing in education at ten times our rate per capita. The reasons why China is pulling ahead of us are complex, to be sure. But one reason why is that everyone believes that the only solution to their problems is themselves. Also, no one ever accuses the other political parties of being motivated by demons.

If it comforts you to think that God speaks to you about the intimate details of your life – who am I to deny you that comfort? But if I think that the problems we are facing in this country can be solved if we just all figure out how to work together – who are you to deny me and my descendants a happy and prosperous future?

Talk to God if you like – but don’t pretend that every idea that falls into your head comes from him.

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