Dear Mr. President: An Open Letter to President Obama ~ Dave Imbriaco

Dear President Obama,

…….I am writing to you (and to any other American who wishes to share in this) because I, like many Americans, want to help our country get back on track.  Call it a cry for help or a public plea of a distressed citizen, but I digress.

…….My personal situation is hardly the worst it could be: I’m a graduate student living with my parents and partially self-funding my education with my own personal savings (I’m taking out loans for the rest).  On the other hand, I graduated in May of 2010 and have worked a total of only five months since then at a variety of jobs, always for $12 an hour or less.  Compared to other people my age, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky.  Think about that – lucky to have a supportive, loving family that has the means to keep me afloat while I struggle to get out on my own, barely holding down a poverty-wage job.  It’s heartbreaking and discouraging to know that so many others my age aren’t so fortunate, and I wonder how their futures will unfold.

…….Mr. President, I donated to your campaign, voted for you, and have defended your actions to the people that I encounter who disagree with or disapprove of them.  I, and many others like me, were swept up by your lofty rhetoric and cool demeanor.  I genuinely believed that your election would spell slow but steady improvement in our lives.  You campaigned on hope, but since your election Americans have only grown more hopeless.  Our situations are worse off now than when you took office, and as of now, I will be neither voting for you nor donating to your campaign in the next election because honestly, I and many others in my position – the very same people who put you in the oval office – feel betrayed by you.

…….I am very much aware that you did not create the enormous problems that our country currently faces.  You didn’t enact the policies over the past 30 years that triggered an economic collapse that some Cassandras knew was coming.  You aren’t responsible for the way wages have stagnated for 30 years while corporate profits have skyrocketed.  And of course I cannot blame you for the disgusting gridlock in Congress.  But your failure to make any credible attempt to rectify any of our problems has now made you complicit in them.

…….You are now two and a half years into your term and have been nothing but a disappointment.  The way you refused to fight for a public option in the health care debate.  The way you refused to expend any political capital to punish the people whose recklessness and greed caused the collapse (and how your administration, bafflingly so, is resistant to any attempt at holding those people accountable)! The way you cave to John Boehner and the Tea Party every single time a confrontation arises, be it the debt ceiling or the date of your supposed major address on jobs.  The way you allow blatant falsehoods about the economy and policy to circulate like the bubonic plague while refusing to provide your own narrative of what has happened in America.  The way you try to negotiate with those who have made clear their only goal is to bring you down.

…….You do not lead, you preside.  By the same token, you do not compromise, you capitulate.

…….In fact, your governing style (or lack thereof) is mind-boggling.  Mr. President, you refuse to stand up for your supporters while you try to reason with the unreasonable.  The opposition party has made it clear that they have absolutely no interest in working with you.  Don’t you remember when Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that his primary political objective was to deny you a second term and to not solve our country’s problems?  I understand that good politics is about compromise, but when have any of your priorities not been sacrificed on the altar of bi-partisianship with nothing in return?  You just recently gave away the ability to regulate smog and got what in return?  That’s not a negotiated compromise, that is a giveaway – a sign not of strength, but of spinelessness.  You are actively abdicating your responsibility as President to be a leader.

…….Maybe I should have paid attention to the fact that you voted “present” more times than not in the Illinois legislature – a sign that you were afraid to do anything that might present an ounce of risk.  Maybe I should have thought twice when you tossed to the curb the man who married you and your wife, who was your “spiritual mentor” after a smear campaign comparable to John Kerry’s swift-boating.

…….Now, I have noticed how you stubbornly refuse to take positions beyond vague ovations of improving health care and appeals to a supposed American Exceptionalism.  At a time when the American people needed someone who would stand up for them, who would lead them and be unafraid to take a controversial position that he truly believes in, they mistakenly voted for someone who flees at the first sign of confrontation.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who said of the Wall Street banks (your campaign contributors) “I welcome their hatred” is rolling over in his grave.  Not only have you been an ineffective President, but also a failed Democrat – a party I was forced to abandon after years of active support when I felt that they turned on me.

…….I say with complete, unshakable honestly that I take absolutely no pleasure in doing this.  But with my firsthand experience and things I know about the current state of our economy, the trend is dismal, and reasons to be optimistic are harder and harder to find.  Your inability to successfully govern the country coupled with the undeclared war against the average American people by her own elites are causing America to crumble right beneath your feet.  I don’t even know for sure who’s side you’re really on anymore, the side of the people or the enemies of the people? Please be the president that I voted for in 2008. Otherwise, get out of the way.

………………………………………………………Sincerely in Frustration,

………………………………………………………Dave Imbriaco

______________________________

Photo courtesy of projectcensored.org

(http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/22-obamas-trilateral-commission-team/)

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JVP Speaks: What is Civic Duty?

Project Civility is in full swing at Rutgers, whether you noticed it or not. The initiative’s aim is to get people to ask questions about what it means to be part of a community, about how people should treat one another, and what can be done to improve the quality of people’s treatment of others. Of course, the whole initiative is voluntary rather than mandatory, which means that, chances are, one likely won’t be prompted to participate in Project Civility in one’s day to day. At the very least, I’ve yet to be prompted, so I figured that I’d prompt myself and my fellow JVPers to participate in Project Civility with this week’s question: Should America have a notion of civic duty if it doesn’t already? Why or why not? If so, what should it entail?

Alex Giannattasio: Civic duty is the moral imperative that members of society actively protect the rights of society as a whole. There are many ways to fulfill this duty, one of which, for instance, is voting. By collectively engaging in the democratic process, our society as a group agrees to work out its differences peacefully in exchange for giving everyone a voice. This in turn sets a baseline for the group’s peaceful coexistence to stand upon, thus preserving the basic rights of every individual.

But voting is not the only way to engage one’s civic duty. Voting takes such a small effort that the possible impact per person is diluted anywhere from hundreds to millions of times over. A more active way to meet one’s civic duty is to work in one’s local community to improve the quality of life of the most needy, and to just improve it in some valuable way. We as a nation are in fact living up to this now: community engagement in America is at very high levels, with 111 million Americans volunteering their time in the past 12 months and 60 million volunteering on a regular basis. The Future of American Power by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs, Vol. 89, No. 6, at 10. Community engagement bears a much bigger impact per person and improves the quality of the community in which you live. In the short term, this kind of civic participation can be much more valuable to a nation as a whole, because it translates into social improvement at an extremely efficient cost.

Michael Stuzynski: Americans have a sense of civic duty because after over 200 years people are still somewhat conscious of the concept of the Revolutionary War. The fact that people fought and died for your right to vote, among other things, is everywhere in culture, and is reiterated with every new war that our country fights. It’s less a sense of a duty and more a sense of a responsibility that is owed to the respectful remembrance of people from the past. But it’s also pretty cool that you can be responsible for firing the leader of the free world, and all of his oafish minions.

Jhoany Benitez: When I first read this question, I was immediately going to answer “Yes, definitely. It’s your right, so, why not? People in Cuba wish they could make a difference.” But then I opted to put some real thinking into my answer and ended up completely changing my mind. So my real answer is No. I think that the United States shouldn’t have a notion of civic duty. Why? Because people should not be forced to do something. Voting, to be exact. “It’s your right as a citizen!” Does this mean that I have to run out and vote—even if I don’t even know who I’m voting for? That’s why I changed my mind. Because I remembered hearing from friends who opted not to vote because they knew nothing about the people running.

Also, let’s say that you hate Republicans…but you don’t even know who’s running for either party. Does that mean that you’re going to vote for whoever’s representing the Democratic party even if you know nothing about them? This is where the notion of civic duty fails. I think it’s better to not vote than to shove down people’s throat the belief that it’s their “civic duty” to vote and have them vote blindly. So I say No to civic duty. Vote because you care, not because someone’s telling you to do so.

Dave Imbriaco: To me, civic duty is what is expected of a citizen in return for living within a system that allows them certain rights and freedoms – the RESPONSIBILITIES that come with those freedoms, if you will. There was a point in this country not too long ago when everyone who took high school social studies classes learn not only about how government works but how they must also actively participate in it. This seems to have all but died in our modern education, which is a tragedy of epic proportions. The mantra of a good social studies class went that it creates not only good students but good citizens. Also, it wouldn’t be called our “duty” if it was an easy thing to do. It sucks to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, but you, as a citizen, still have the duty to make that choice because you live in a democracy. There are countless other ways you can get involved in a democracy but this is the most basic of all. /rambling.

Billal Ahmed: I find it interesting that while young people often have no problem condemning strict notions of what it means to be a good Muslim or Christian as a danger to global security, they hesitate to criticize civic duty for the same reasons. I have no problem with the idea of improving a nation through the idea of civic duty, whether through volunteering, teaching, building, etc. However, I blame civic duty for the prevalence of worrisome nationalism which inevitably begins to infringe on the rights of others. Civic duty easily leads to civic elitism, which reinforces the notion that a particular nation is special and requires extremely lamentable acts to be carried out in order to preserve that status. One could argue that civic duty is a fundamental motivation for the vigilante bands currently patrolling the United States border with Mexico. One could also argue that civic duty lead to the vengeance-fueled invasion of Afghanistan nine years ago with Operation Anaconda, which was blinded by passion and thus badly disorganized. Civic duty is excellent under the same conditions that religious zealotry can be considered excellent- when it is used to fuel the betterment of humanity rather than the suffering of others.

Brian Connolly: We pay taxes…so, we already all do have a notion of civic duty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great outlet for people who have the time, energy, and willingness to help their fellow countrymen (and countrywomen, out). But, quite frankly, people have live’s to live. If you want to run a YMCA program for underprivileged youth–knock yourself out, you’ll probably feel great doing it. But in no way should America institute a mandatory system of community building exercises. That encroaches on the freedoms that we have. And, as an interesting reminder, historical precedents that include an overwhelmingly strong concept of national duty include Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Just a thought.

Rebecca Zandstein: Civic duty, being the responsibilities of a citizen are demanded by America to some extent. Citizen’s are required to pay taxes and obey all laws of the state in which they live or are traveling to and the federal laws. Aside from the latter give or take a few citizens are expected to follow other rules that are not necessarily obligatory or concrete: like voting and being morally just to one another. While America does provide citizens with a code that they must follow I believe that the “unspoken law” should be followed as well due to the positive effects it can have on society and the individual(s). Civic duty allows individuals to participate in activities that many would literally die for the opportunity to do. Civic duty can assist others, whether below or above you in the hierarchy, in a manner that no one else might necessarily have the capability of. Regardless of the latter, America can only enforce a limited amount of written code/rules on its citizens despite that it might be tempted to enact the “unwritten code” onto its citizens as well. Unwritten civic duties are optional and those who view them as mandated have the benefit of, at a minimum, being viewed in a brighter light than other citizens.

Marlana Moore: There are certain attributes that make a person a good, admirable human being, regardless of nationality. When I think of civic duty, I think of those things I can do to be a good and responsible person in context to my identity as an American. Civic duty includes voting, obviously, but voting entails some other duties as well. In order to vote responsibly, you have to be aware of the candidates and know what they stand for. Similarly, being a responsible American involves knowing what your government is doing, and telling them what you think about it. I think if more Americans really took this attitude of their civic duty seriously, our government would not feel so removed from us, and we might instead feel that they are helping us.

Ben Kharakh: I think that America lacks both a cohesive and shared vision of what it means to be a good citizen and the means by which the virtues of good citizenry are to be cultivated. Rather than wait, however, for the government to improve or for people to start discussing what it means to be a “good American”, it’s up to those people who desire reform and deliberation to be the change they wish to see. That means asking one’s self, “What can I do to be a good citizen?”, which is the same as asking one’s self, “What can I do to be a good person?”

It’s important to be a good person for a number of reasons, one of which is that the way we treat others teaches them how to treat us, something that’s easier to discern on a micro scale with a family than on the macro scale with a nation. A nation, however, is just a family with a lot of people, which means that it simply takes longer for the treatment that we’ve taught others to come back around and affect us. But it will, it does, and we are seeing the affects of now more than ever. Not that this is anything new; we just didn’t have TV and Internet 2,000 years ago.

Who’s to blame for this? No one or everyone; take your pick. Personally, I find the question of, “Who’s responsible?” less useful than, “What do I do?” It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.

Brendan Kaplan: By “sense” I think what you mean is cohesive whole, picture, or gestalt.

Any position on the matter, even one devoid of commitment to civic duty is nonetheless a sense. We HAVE a sense… is it the right one?

I think the question really is then, what type of sense of civic duty should individual Americans have? How does this sense impact the greater country as a whole?

Things tend to function fractally, and that means the the number one thing you can do to change the country is to change yourself. To determine what type of country we should have, is to contemplate what type of people we should be. In short, by asking if there is a proper type of civic orientation, we are asking ourselves if we think that there is a proper way to act or not.

I am of the mindset that there is. I guess then, that I believe that we as individuals, and therefore collectively as a country, should maintain a set of behavioral standards. Our question further suggests that those personal standards that I think we should maintain are relevant to the way the nation functions as a whole.

OK, so what standards should these be?

I think it is very difficult to predict how any process will manifest in any specific situation. The content may be different for different people. For example, to become more well rounded, a really rich arrogant kid might be well served by working in a field for a week and being treated with little importance, while an illegal day-worker might truly benefit from being prodded to act arrogant and demand Pellegrino sent to his table. The content of the process of balance is different depending on the direction any particular actor is coming from.

Thus, by realizing that individuals can attain balance by acting in seemingly divergent ways, and considering that a cohesive national “feeling of duty” would necessarily account for these diverse methods of balance, a true and proper sense of civic duty would have to connect and encompass all of these facets.

Our duty must be then to translate the experiences of individuals within the country into content that others can understand as of the same process as their own. Civic duty isn’t about symmetrization, as in what I call ‘the new diversity’ whose maxim reads “Nobody can be discriminated against, therefore everyone has to be exactly the same [when measured against pre-approved factors such as income, education, wealth, aptitude]” Instead, civic duty is about recognizing the differences in the individual stories that become aggregated into cultures and nations, and elevating those differences as the welcome product of a highly specialized humanity that has evolved traditions and customs that allow it to live in a variety of situations.

Interaction between these different cultures must be facilitated in such a way as to not allow the willful destruction of a culture simply for the sake of its destruction.

Civic duty, then, is about communication, accountability, and rights. These days, accountability is so often lost as people are reluctant to suggest that an individual’s perspective might be flawed for fear of offending a cultural perspective. To compensate, these same people often become overly concerned with communication or rights, and end up as misguided activists, protesting anyone and anything in their paths.

A further revision then: Civic duty is about a mediation of communication, accountability (consequences/ resolutions), and rights. Those concerned about their civic duty engage in processes that further these three ideals.

Way to go JVP!!

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