Monday, November 13, 2006

Sara's Sunday Rant: When We Come Home

Sara Robinson

Mr. R and I spent much of this weekend on the road between Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR. We made the six-hour drive each way to fetch our new, long-awaited red Prius. (Fun fact: Although I didn't know it when I ordered the car back in August, this makes me the second person writing for this blog to drive a red Prius. Which, I guess, means we can declare the red Prius as the Official Pace Car of Orcinus. Memo to Dave: is it time to contact Toyota about getting a sponsorship deal?)

The red car made an eye-catching contrast against western Washington's last burst of yellow and orange fall color -- and the beautiful deep indigo of its politics. It was great being back on American roads in the wake of last week's election. Everywhere we stopped up and down I-5, we notice the palpable signs of relief, a subtle lessening of stress, a certain tentative optimism emerging. Like maybe we've got half a chance of pulling America out of this tailspin after all.

The spirit was so infectious that, by the time we hit Seattle on the northward run, we were having a lively old-marrieds discussion about what it would take for us to consider a return to the U.S. At present, we're committed to stay in Canada until 2008 -- the year that our eldest graduates from her IB high school program, Mr. R and I both finish our masters' degrees, and we all attain Canadian citizenship. (And there's another important election in there, too.) But after those milestones are passed, the option of returning will open up for us again. We've always looked at fall 2008 as a major reconsideration point -- and, suddenly, for the first time, it's looking like we might have an honest-to-God choice to make when the time comes.

I suspect our personal list of terms and conditions reflects the hopes that many progressive Americans have for this Democratic Congress, so I thought I'd share the things we'd like to see happen in the next two years. Bear in mind that this is a very personal list. I'll look forward to reading your additions and amendments in the comments.

1. Iraq -- By late 2008, America needs to be out of Iraq -- or well on its way down the road to disengagement. As the parents of teens, we'd also look closely at the odds that our children would be subject to a draft in the years ahead -- though, once they have Canadian citizenship, they'll always have the option of coming north again in the future.

2. Voting -- A strong federal law enforcing one clear standard for voting systems across the country. Either voting machines will be abolished in favor of hand counts (which still work fabulously in Canada); or machines will run on standardized code that any citizen can review (as in Australia), and provide a verifiable paper trail of all votes. Extra points if this federal law also sets out explicit, non-discriminatory, easy-compliance guidelines for voter ID, rather than leaving it to the states to come up with their own bizarre voter-triage schemes.

3. Torture -- We will need to see strong signs that the country has examined and accepted its role in committing torture crimes, and is actively repudiating US involvement in torture anywhere on the planet.

4. The Wages of Crime -- Iran-Contra happened, in large measure, because Richard Nixon was allowed to fly away to San Clemente instead of being frog-marched away to a federal prison. From that, the GOP learned that that the vast rewards of running criminal governments far outweigh the practical risks, especially as long as Presidential pardons are in the offing. The whole Bush administration, in turn, is happening because Iran-Contra only reinforced that lesson. Crime pays, often in billions. In the end, a few poor schmucks will have a few bad years of media humiliation and white-collar prison time before retiring to cushy think-tank jobs to write their memoirs. In the long run, though, nobody will really be any the worse for wear.

We can't come home to a country where criminal mobs are allowed to govern with impunity. Which is why our homecoming will depend a great deal on the trajectory of various House investigations over the next two years. We need to see Bush and Cheney personally called to account, either by the US or by an international court. We need to see war profiteering exposed, and real restitution being made. We need to see people trading in their Brioni suits for orange jumpsuits, and years of real prison time, and public humiliation so total that no PR flack will ever be able to rehabilitate their good names.

5. Global Warming -- We need to see substantive signs that the US is dealing honestly and effectively with its greenhouse gasses. Under Harper, Canada's proud participation in Kyoto has been reduced to a painful national joke. If the US isn't making bold strides to reduce its emissions load by 2008, it may be too late for everyone - no matter where they live -- to escape the coming changes. In which case, we might as well just stay put.

6. The USA PATRIOT Act -- will need to be substantially amended, if not scrapped, so that it conforms to Bill of Rights. We'll also want to see legislation passed returning supervision of all wiretapping to the FISA court. And Congress and the Supreme Court should make it clear that executive privilege does not give the President power to abrogate the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights.

7. Homeland Security -- will need to be overhauled. The prospect of passing through a US airport is literally enough to make my husband break out in hives. (And the thought that we could avoid much of this by driving a high-mileage car factored largely into the purchase of the Prius.) It's about teaching Americans to tolerate increasing levels of government intrustion and coercion -- lessons we must resist learning with all our might if we're going to continue as a democracy.

Anybody who reads Bruce Schneier knows that the TSA's border and airport procedures are almost entirely theatrical productions; and that anyone who's seriously determined to get dangerous items through this flimsy line of defense can do it without too much resistance. In the meantime, the vast holes in our port security remain. The Democratic Congress needs to focus on giving us real-world, expert-level security, and not merely humiliating political rituals designed to give the gullible an illusion of safety.

8. Health Care -- We'll come home when we can take the Canadian universal health care cards out of our wallets, and replace them with US ones. As I've said here before: making sure everyone has access to care is a national security issue that the US continues to ignore at its own peril.

9. Education -- Canada has the fourth best public school system in the world, right up there with South Korea, Norway, and Denmark. The US, on the other hand, is languishing down around 20th place. It's not a good omen for the future of a country that wants to guarantee its technological lead into the next generation.

By the time our 2008 decision point comes around, our kids will almost be beyond the point where we'll need to worry about this personally. But if we are to cast our lot with America again, we'll need to see signs that she's willing to invest once more in her own future -- good schools, good infrastructure, good science, and all the other common goods that make a country truly rich.

That covers most of the bases for us. You've got two years, Congress. We left because we felt we no longer recognized the angry, reactive, backward-thinking nation America had become -- and no longer trusted our fellow citizens with our children's future. Give us a proactive, optimistic America that's reaffirming its best ideals and looking ahead toward its own prosperous future again -- and we'll come back and invest everything we can to help you make that happen.

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