Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An Open Letter to the President, My Senators & Representives

Dear President Obama, Senators Grassley and Harkin, and Representatives Loebsak and Braley:

Now that the election has been decided and each of you will be serving our nation during the course of the next two years, I want to share my thoughts on issues that I hope you address. I know these are difficult issues, and not ones that politicians seem to want to avoid. Nevertheless, I think these are the issues that are in desperate need of appropriate action:

1. Economic Growth & Not Austerity as Our National Goal. We need to assure the long-term fiscal health of our nation, but we need to make sure that we do not torpedo badly needed economic growth and the restoration of good jobs in our nation. Going over the fiscal cliff would be among the stupidest decisions that our nation could make at this time. The main legitimate concern with the deficit comes from rising healthcare costs, and to the extent that controlling health care costs demand further attention, that issues should be addressed. We also need tax laws that benefit more than just the wealthiest Americans. Wealthier Americans need to accept a tax increase as a part of long-term fiscal stability. We always need to consider the efficiency of government and the appropriateness of programs, but slashing government programs at this time the kind of austerity that we’ve seen failing Britain and Europe and that would likely prove disastrous here.

2. Campaign Finance Reform. We need to reform our campaign finance system. Each party and each candidate and each PAC spends immense amounts of money on campaigns that usually sully the public discourse and that do not benefit voters. Much more importantly, each of all of us know that money talks, and that your honorable intentions notwithstanding, those who pay the piper call the tune. In the immediate aftermath of Watergate and the corruption of the political process that we experienced during that era, we had campaign-finance reform that did a reasonable job of leveling the playing field. That reform has now been hacked away and no longer provides us with meaningful protection. No billionaire, liberal or conservative, should be in a position to buy an election. An immediate change in our campaign finance system is imperative if we maintain the integrity of our political institutions. I don’t have an easy answer on how to do this, but this is an issue where Republicans and Democrats should find common ground if each side acts in the interest of American political institutions and not with an eye towards short-term advantage for their respective party.

3. Reasonable Firearms Regulation. The availability and abuse of firearms in the U.S. is disgraceful. As a resident of Iowa City over more than 30 years, our prosperous and generally law-abiding community as seen too much gun violence, and we are normally a sedate and happy group of people. As I’m now abroad, I am shocked and ashamed to read of continued gun violence in the U.S.: innocent victims are mowed down by individuals who’ve have quick and easy access to firearms. I won’t ask you to repeal the Second Amendment (although I would support repeal and replace it with something much more understandable and reasonable—I’m not talking about banning or confiscating firearms.)  However, I understand that repealing the Second Amendment is implausible. Instead, I do urge you to take every reasonable step to regulate firearms, as we do automobiles, pharmaceuticals, and any other number of items that could prove lethal. There are reasonable ways to do this, and both parties should be able to find some common ground as they did in the past to make some reasonable regulations that protect Americans from the random violence.

4. Action on Global Climate Change. Global climate change is no longer an issue that we can pretend doesn’t exist. The presidential campaign attempted to ignore it, but then came Sandy. I applaud President Obama for his acknowledgment of the issue in his victory speech. We must get past the head-in-the-sand approach that we’ve been taking and begin to think about how we can best address this common threat to humanity. It’s time for the U.S. to become a global leader again; not a laggard.

5. Avoid Wars. We must avoid military adventures as much as possible, acting only when no other option exists and when we are compelled to act by a very clear definition of our national interest (and not any other nation’s). This does not deny the importance of our allies; rather, if we act foolishly and continue to diminish our national resources on wasted wars we do no one any favors except those who would benefit by a diminishment of our capabilities.
Gentlemen, thank you for your continued service. I wish you the strength and courage that addressing these issues require. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen N. Greenleaf

Permanent address: 345 Magowan Ave., Iowa City, IA 52246

Temporary address: 4 Bhawani Singh Lane, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India 300005


Two Charlie Chaplain Films

Iowa Guru and I recently bought a box set of Charlie Chaplin films. We've watched two of them, and one learns that Chaplin was not simply a sad-sack, slapstick performer from the silent era, but an incredibly graceful and talented actor.

Modern Times is considered by many to be Chaplin's's greatest film. Made in 1936, it is in large measure a silent film, including large portions that use separate shots to display dialog, altougth later in the film some voice is used (as well as music). This film includes the famous scenes where Chaplin travels through a large series of gears. He winds through them like a reel of film through projector. This scene and other scenes that display work on an assembly line use his amazing slapstick sensibility. Yet, in another portion of the film, Chaplin dances, and he does so with the grace and litheness that is quite amazing.

Chaplin wrote and directed Modern Times, and in it you can appreciate his sense of concern about modern life and  especially the life of those less fortunate. The film centers on the destitution of those thrown out of work by the Depression and the often ugly demands placed on those who could work. The film also shows  "the little man" ensnared by the police and the legal system. Chaplin was eventually forced to leave Hollywood and the U.S. because of his alleged association with "Communists", but I think the fair assessment of hims would be of a person  who was concerned for the type of characters that he made famous. (If you haven't seen The Great Dictator, then you don't not have a complete appreciation of Chaplin's sense of injustice and support of democracy the belies any other charges that might be brought against him.)

The other film we viewed was A King in New York, the last feature film the Chaplin made. It was filmed in Great Britain and released in Great Britain in 1957, but was not released in  the US until 1967. In this film, Chaplin plays a king exiled to New York City. It again combines Chaplain's fascination with physical humor along with  cutting social satire. Chaplin ridicules the red hunting and red baiting that was plaguing the US in the 1950s. As a victim of such witch hunting, Chaplin had a full appreciation of what it entailed. Chaplin doesn't beat his audience over the head with anger or sarcasm, but instead he uses a gentle humorous ridicule and truly sympathetic characters who do their best when caught up in appalling circumstances. This latter Chaplin, which IG and I have seen in some other later films, is quite an appealing figure. For someone who began in the silent era, Chaplin always displays the utmost and consummate skills would truly fine actor.