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American Heros

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We toss this term around a lot these days, but here are some who deserve the title.
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Laura Berg: American Hero

The New York Times reports (April 27, 2008, p. 11) the strange case of V.A. nurse Laura Berg. She wrote a letter critiquing government policy. And the next thing she knew, her office computer had been seized and she was accused of “sedition.” According to Reason Magazine she got a response from some nit in the V.A. named Mel Hooker who wrote her that “You have insulted the very government that employs you, and the agency has a responsibility to investigate you for possible sedition."

After the ACLU and a senator got involved, the VA climbed down and apologized to her.

But, let’s pause for a moment at this claim that she “insulted” the government. That does take one’s breath away, doesn’t it? Has the cult of personality around right-wing leaders now spread out to the government itself as an entity that must be worshipped and its majesty not ‘insulted’ by pointing out that (the case Berg was making) that Katrina response was a big failure?

And has Mr. Hooker been fired? Disciplined? Apparently not. The VA says they’ve “moved on.” It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever worked in a large company that Hooker is in that totally misnamed “human resources” department.

And Berg’s characterization of the current junta in Washington as having “misplaced priorities” and suffering from “criminal negligence” is still true, isn’t it?

Mission Al Jazeera: Josh Rushing

I admit that I admire Rushing. From his first appearance in the movie Control Room through the last page of this book he is unfailingly calm, reasonable and even handed; not something we have a surplus of these days. His personal journey is compelling, but his mission: to break down barriers of misunderstanding between Americans and the world confident that most people everywhere want to live in peace is one I strongly believe in.

The book mirrors this. He recounts his personal story, his upbringing, his career in the Marines, his frustration with the political appointees who shaped relations with the media during the early days of the Iraq war and his transition out of the Marines due to their distaste with his appearance in Control Room. By the way, he explains that almost all of the film of him in that movie comes from one interview, and doesn’t really reflect an arc of growth over a period of time.

My only frustration with the book is that because he so calm, that he doesn’t provide many of the juicy details I was hoping for. Some are there, and my favorites are the stories of the arch-conservative spokespeople who orate against the evil of Al Jazera and then accept money from it for interviews. But even then he can’t bring himself to indulge in inflated rhetoric and violent denunciations. Probably a good thing.

Most of the book is given to him arguing his case for increased and open interaction with the Arab world and the key role that interacting with Al Jazera could play in that. He points out that, by one survey, Al Jazera is the number one media brand in the world. He defends the network against some common distortions (it has never, not once, shown a beheading, for example) and reminds readers that Al Jazera has been thrown out of most of the Arab world for its honest reporting.

One of the interesting ironies is that Israel is more open about interacting with Al Jazera than is American media. Israeli government spokespeople appear on the network regularly; American’s refuse.

Rushing’s vision of the world is hopeful and compelling. His tag line on the book is reflected on every page: “Build a bridge, seek the truth, change the world.”

 

Last modified 6/14/08; posted 1/15/07; © 2008, 2007 John P. Nordin