As we approach this holiday season with its message of hope and peace and our shared desire to keep our families close and safe, I thought it might be interesting to take note of some things in the news lately. While Americans are anticipating a peaceful change in our government's administration after the holidays, there are sobering considerations, too.
For example, many American families will not be together for this holiday because a military family member is serving overseas in a hostile environment in order to protect our freedoms, including freedom of religion. Many other Americans are rather nonchalant about the quality of this military service, unable to personalize its meaning into their busy lives. Think about this: According to a recent CNN news report, in Obama's Illinois district (apparently up for sale now and at a very high price) less than 6% of age-qualified residents there are eligible to serve in the military because they either have not earned a high-school diploma or have a criminal record. But even our high-school drop-outs and criminals (other than felons) can vote because they are born with that right, safeguarded by a stable government supported by a volunteer armed forces.
On Tuesday, our current President spoke to West Point cadets about the heavy load of service responsibility they will inherit upon graduation. These are bright young people who care about our safety and American value system in a proactive way. You can read this informative speech here. While you read this speech, consider the Congress-mandated low pay, the constant moving, and often-difficult living conditions that military service members and their families earn in return. (I know this first-hand. My husband is a retired Army officer and West Point graduate; my first husband was killed in Vietnam; my 3 older children have each spent several years in military service before starting their prosperous civilian careers; my youngest plans to serve as an Army doctor. Last Christmas my son and daughter-in-law were serving in Iraq. In case you thought military families were somehow society's cast-offs, I'll mention that I've attended Oxford University, the Sorbonne, American University in Beirut, and was a President's Fellow at RISD.) The military is under-appreciated because it is a necessity in a democracy, not because it is illiterate or criminal.
Then contrast the just-revealed $50B 30-year-long largest-ever Ponzi scheme, run by a former head of Nasdaq, Bernard Madoff, a different kind of upstanding American. The effect of this obscene rip-off act, which looks uncannily like that of a dictator's (start with Saddam, or Yasser Arafat) leaching his country to line his own pockets, is $50 billion's worth of projects just sucked out of the economy, including hospitals being built by the Shapiro Group, many charities like Spielberg's, and much much more.
So, as you make your holiday wish list, I hope you'll add a fervent wish for the safety and success of your fellow Americans in the military overseas -- who are safeguarding the pleasure we take in conducting our lives and holiday celebrations as we choose.