Archive | January, 2010

Question Time Comes to America

30 Jan

If you have, oh, 60 or so minutes to spare, I give you one of the most engrossing, and compelling piece of political theater I have seen in quite some time.

After delivering his State of the Union Address on Wednesday, President Obama visited GOP leaders to talk about the issues on Friday. What was meant to be an untelevised discussion ended up being Question Time, a traditional event in the United Kingdom,but completely unheard of in the US, where the Prime Minister is grilled by members of Parliament, broadcasted live. The end result was President Obama taking each point raised against his budget, healthcare reform, his stimulus, and his efforts at bipartisanship, by Republican party members and tearing it apart, piece by piece. He managed to extemporaneously defend his policies and approaches, all while being civil and cool-headed.

As one Republican official said after the first Q&A ever of this type, bringing the cameras in was a “mistake.”

It sure was. For the Republicans, however, it wasn’t all bad. Many party leaders afterwards were very enthusiastic about this back-and-forth, saying it showed the American people they indeed have ideas to solve our country’s problems. They might’ve just been trying to hide the tears, but they’re right about the benefits of this type of discussion.

This might be the beginning of a new tradition: Question Time might finally come to America. And with it, trusting Washington might begin an upswing.


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Old Posts, Renewed

29 Jan

Here are some most posts, taken from the Archives, that are worth reading for the first time or revisiting for all the good times you had the first time. Enjoy.

Obama kills at White House Correspondents’ Dinner

LGBT group call out Obama on Defense of Marriage Act brief

Vanity Fair’s Palin profile

500 words on: Caring about Michael Jackson’s death

The Blame Game

28 Jan

President Obama ‘s first State of the Union was a mixture of contradictions, exaggerations and pointed fingers.  His attempt to bring revive the spirit he generated during his campaign fell flat and at times his speech seemed contrived, lacking the usual intellectual rhetoric that we’ve become so used to.

It was obvious that the goal of this State of the Union was to reassure cynical voters and independents that Obama can do his job, that is, if the Republicans would stop being so obstructive.   While he often spoke of bipartisanship, ironically Obama did not hold back his attacks on the Republicans.  This speech was possibly the boldest we have seen the President, as he challenged the Republicans when he said, “just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership.”

Blaming the Republicans for lack of success during the past year seems like a cop-out.  If Obama fails, it will be his fault, not the fault of the GOP.  The Democrats have the majority in the House and the Senate.  Lack of support from his own party to pass the healthcare reform bill is what is holding it back.  Perhaps instead of blaming Republicans for being obstructionists he should revisit why members of his own party refuse to support the bill.  Or why the majority of constituents are fervently against it.

There were many points that Obama made throughout the speech that were overstated and inaccurate.  He claimed that the stimulus plan saved 2 million jobs, failing to note that this is just a projected number pulled from reports put together by his own advisors.  In addition to the exaggerated numbers, the jobs he mentioned were mostly government jobs, (cops, firefighters, clean energy) a contradiction of his earlier statement that “the true engine of job creation in this country will always be America’s businesses.”

During one surprising moment, Obama criticized the Supreme Court ruling on campaign advertising, causing Alito to shake his head and mouth, “That is not true.”  Obama claimed the Supreme Court ruling would allow foreign corporations to spend without limit in elections. While this could be a possibility in the future, it is dependent on future rulings, not the one which the Supreme Court just passed.   The calling out of the Supreme Court was desperate and inappropriate. Given that the justices are to remain impartial, Obama essentially taunted them.

He spoke briefly of healthcare reform, encouraged Congress to push forward but failed to communicate a plan for doing so, placing the blame on the Senate for falling to push it through.  This statement incited criticism, even from Democrats.  Sen. Landrieu said, “Moderate Senate Democrats, who give the Senate the 60 votes, come from states that have to appreciate a broad range of ideas and since the president ran on a bipartisan, change, working with Republicans, [he] doesn’t do a great service to then say everything the House passes without any Republican votes is something the Senate should just take.”

Obama did finally call to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” but didn’t say much beyond what he had previously promised in his campaign.  At best, gay rights activists can put the pressure on and hope that Obama gets around to dealing with the issue this year.

Overall, a major problem with the speech was Obama’s failure to take responsibility.  Yes, he apologized for the lack of trust constituents have in the government, but quickly turned it around to blame lobbyists and Republicans. He attempted to separate himself from Washington by aligning himself with the American people, using words like, “we” and “them” and called out politicians for being in permanent campaign” mode.  A laughable statement, considering this week he brought his own campaign manager to the White House.

It is doubtful that the American people will feel satisfied with Obama’s half truths and poor follow-throughs.  He was voted into office based on his promise of change, and while he was right when he said “I never suggested change would be easy,” he has to accept that until he starts showing real leadership, he will face harsh criticisms from disappointed voters.

Can America be Progressive At All?

28 Jan

photocredit: twoblueday

As a veteran of the Great Progressive Disappointment of 2000 and 2004, I know what is bouncing around in most left-leaning minds. Compromises. Botched opportunities. Defeats. Disarray. Cynicism.

Despite what many people in the center or right may believe, this is a very tough time to be a liberal. I’m far from a traditional liberal myself, but I know what is expected of President Obama and the Democrats in Congress by the lefty crowd–and the despair setting in after a few years of apparent political gains. Without going too deep into what specifically is being sacrificed or sidelined in the progressive agenda, there needs to be a discussion about whether America is a country that is receptive to this sort of agenda at all. Can America find room in its political landscape for an honest progressive initiative? Can things like gay marriage, health care reform, and government spending ever be seen in a positive light, without having to coat them with “moderate” or “conservative” overtures? Is, and will America always be a center-right nation?

Last night, at his first formal State of The Union Address, President Obama presented a few shrewd political ploys. He proposed an across-the-board spending freeze ( not include entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, or security funding), and an elimination of the capitals gains tax. He’s already been getting flak for the freeze(as he should, having previously campaigned against such an ineffective gesture). The larger point here, however, is his reason for adopting such traditionally conservative proposals. The message is clear: inroads into conservative ground.

Bill Clinton, as president, made a similarly perplexing move. He labeled himself the “balanced budget” president. He loudly opposed big government, saying in 1996 that its “era is over.” Clinton and Obama, two left-of-center presidents,  adopted ideologically puzzling initiatives. Why?

They might have been facing the cold, compromising reality. Continue reading

Immigration Reform: Battle Royale 2010

27 Jan

Immigration plays a key role in making the United States a vibrant, prosperous nation.  The blending of different cultures and ethnicities creates a unique dynamic in many areas of the country.  Despite the current state of the economy, the U.S. is a bright light in the eyes of many immigrants.  They come here hopeful, looking for jobs that pay more than the ones offered in their home countries so that they can build a better future.  

While open borders would be an ideal situation, resources and materials have their limits. Overpopulating any country comes with extreme consequences and measures must be taken to prevent the United States from becoming overburdened.  The catch-22 is that in order to keep our country from becoming poverty-stricken (in a third world sense) limits must be placed on the number of people allowed to flee the same situation our country fears.   

Restriction of legal immigration leads to the inevitable issue that the United States has been struggling with for years: illegal immigration.  With over 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., there are many legitimate concerns that must be dealt with, including its effect on crime rates and the economy. The Center for Immigration Studies states on its website:

“Even though illegal aliens make little use of welfare, from which they are generally barred, the costs of illegal immigration in terms of government expenditures for education, criminal justice, and emergency medical care are significant. California has estimated that the net cost to the state of providing government services to illegal immigrants approached $3 billion during a single fiscal year. The fact that states must bear the cost of federal failure turns illegal immigration, in effect, into one of the largest unfunded federal mandates.”

While many statistics can be skewed in favor or against immigration, allowing people to illegally enter the country puts us at an enormous security risk. The government has been attempting to fix immigration policies for many years, the last being the failed attempt by George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy in 2007. 

Recent events have brought to light the urgency in which immigration reform must be dealt with.  Not only is a comprehensive plan that protects our borders and determines the fate of 12 million or so illegal immigrants essential, but the law must also protect the rights of those immigrants.  The New York Times recently obtained documents that exposed the cover up of abuse that led to the deaths of 107 immigrant detainees in government custody since 2003.  

The Obama Administration has pledged to address immigration reform in 2010 after it spent the past year on the back-burner because of a little issue called health care reform.  But alas, a new year brings room for a new hot topic and immigration policy is moving up in the ranks.  

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently discussed a strategy that would focus on improved border security with stronger fences, motion detectors and “real ID’s” being implemented.  Speaking to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee she said, “You have [to] deal with what is drawing people across the border, and that is a job.”

As the former governor of Arizona, Napolitano certainly has the experience and knowledge to tackle immigration policy.  The trick will be to implement new ideas instead of trying to beef up the same tired ideas that have been tried in the past, while offering both parties something they can chew on.  While Republicans and Democrats can both agree on enhancing border security (thought maybe not agree on how) Napolitano’s proposed strategy of offering a path to citizenship for current illegal immigrants will be a tough sell to Republicans.  

The most action immigration reform has seen since Obama took office is when Rep. Luis Gutierrez briefly introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIRASAP) in December.  Gutierrez’s bill appears to be a slightly longer version of the failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which both Democrats and Republicans vehemently rejected. 

The CIRASAP would allow illegal immigrants to become legal citizens after satisfying certain requirements (learning English, background check, etc) as well as increased border security and efforts to crack down on drug smuggling and other crimes.  Nothing new there.

Where the CIRASAP differs from the 2007 attempt is the plan that allows immigrant workers into the United States in the future based on the recommendations of a federal agency.  This agency would use research to determine the need of U.S. employment and place workers where they are needed.  A modern day bracero program, if you will. 

While Gutierrez’s bill proposes some new strategies, it will hardly be the end all to the immigration reform debate. If this last year is any indicator, the Republicans and Democrats will once again be at each other’s throats, echoing the current health care reform debacle.  With the Democrats wanting a free for all with a slap on the wrist and many Republicans willing to send illegal immigrants back to their country to wait in line for a visa, a compromise at this point seems far-fetched.   

It is important for both parties to remember that just like health care; there will never be perfect groundwork for a successful immigration system.  Immigration is not clear cut; it is a complicated, emotional issue that affects people’s lives. Exploring options and bringing new ideas to the table while leaving xenophobic nonsense behind will bring our country much closer to finding an adequate solution than tossing insults back and forth.  

Old Posts, Renewed

21 Jan

Here are some most posts, taken from the Archives, that are worth reading for the first time or revisiting for all the good times you had the first time. Enjoy.

SCOTUS pick reflects Obama’s politics

Afghanistan’s no. 1 domestic enemy

500 words on: Iran and Mexico, and Democracy’s growing pains

Has gay marriage hit a tipping point?

The Enduring Cost of Poverty

20 Jan

photocredit: United Nations Development Programme

Hurricane Katrina jolted us as Americans. “How could something like that happen here?” “Why so much destruction? Why so little help? Why so late?” It brought back issues of inequality, race, poverty, and what a cad once called the “Two Americas.”

After a few days of eerily similar footage coming from Haiti, after a 7.0 earthquake rocked the entire country, many more questions are raised. People will ask a lot of why’s–Why do poor countries always get struck with the most devastating disasters?–but they will also raise a lot how’s. How can we prevent this from happening again? How influential was poverty in making an earthquake that would have killed dozens in an American city, into a disaster that will leave nearly 200,000 people dead and over one and a half million homeless?

The devastation in Haiti could have happened in countless other countries. According to Dr. Jeffrey Sachs’ research, one of the leading academic voices in the field of development economics, nearly one billion people around the world, one sixth of humanity, are in extreme poverty; 1.5 billion are poor and barely live above mere subsistence. The poor and the extreme poor make up 40% of humanity. 40%. The direct effects of poverty are clear: hunger, malnutrition, disease, and lack of water and electricity. But poverty has what is called a “multiplier effect.” It turns on a chain reaction that can easily gain speed with the right push.

Haiti’s infrastructure was weak, now it’s crumbling. Haiti’s economy was teetering, barely gaining some modest momentum, now it’s completely halted. Haiti’s health and law enforcement services were spotty, now the island is best described as on the verge of “anarchy.” It seemed as if Haiti was rocking on the verge of a precipice…and this earthquake rattled it into the abyss.

The underlining poverty in that country exists despite decades of foreign aid from industrialized countries. One discussion that has left development economists with more questions than answers is how can an influx of foreign aid be effective. Some believe the focus should be the amount, making each grant small and focused, i.e. $1m for mosquito nets rather than a $10m blank check. Others think there should never be strings attached, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) on the ground should manage the use of that money. Almost everyone agrees that foreign aid, as it is used now, is a hit or miss venture. It hardly guarantees a country will be better off tomorrow than today, no matter how much money they are given.

What is a guarantee is that the pervasive poverty seen in countries like Haiti are like a puddle of gasoline, waiting for a match to fall on it. The effects of poverty are not only limited to emergency aid, but extend to people’s reactions. Frustration leads to anger, struggle leads to rebellion: the poor reach an “enough is enough” point. In a country where 80% of the population is poor, and the richest 1% own nearly 50% of the wealth, one earth-rumbling shake is enough.

Katrina reminded us that the poor are often overlooked, until we have no other option than to acknowledge their plight. Our attention hones in on them for a mere moment, compared to the years they’ve spent as a side-note in our collective conscious and politicians’ rhetoric. Katrina came and swept a city; years later, the city has been nearly forgotten. New Orleans is nowhere near done being reconstructed, but we hardly hear any stories about how much it still needs us. The city, like its underlining troubles, are once again dismissed.

In Haiti, there is an opportunity for renewal like never before. Goodwill and resources are pouring in, instilling some optimism amidst the wreckage. It may take years to regain some of the momentum this little island had before the quake, and decades more to truly be on the path to better living standards. The only way it will reach such a path is if the deeper issues are dealt with, long after we seal the dam with a  finger. Along with foreign aid, in whatever type or form,  Haiti needs ambitious and dedicated people and nations to help her stand up, for good this time, empowered and ready.

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