Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Republican Mandate?

Posted: November 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

Last Tuesday’s election was a hard blow to Democrats who lost the majority in the House by a significant margin and reduced their majority in the Senate. The GOP claims that they have a mandate from the voters, and that the vote was a wholesale rejection of Obama’s liberal agenda. The Obama administration maintains that they got the policies right, but failed to communicate well to the American public. Clearly Obama’s position is overstated; many Americans are dissatisfied with the policies and used their vote to say as much. I don’t think that Obama’s response means that he is out of touch with America, but I do think that the Republican response does—voters weren’t handing the GOP a mandate. I’m not even sure they were sending the Democrats a message; I think this is the natural “correction” that happens (a) in the middle of hard economic times and (b) after one party has huge wins like those that the Dems had in 2008. It’s a natural response that shows two things about the American electorate. I’ll discuss each of those below:

The first thing to take away from this is that America is impatient. That shouldn’t be surprising. It’s not necessarily unwarranted either given the dire condition of the economy. But let’s cut through the politics of it: if the Republicans had the presidency and had similar successes and failures, they would have been voted out of office too. It has nothing to do with the ideology, and everything to do with the results. And for most of us, results couldn’t come sooner. The problem is that economic recovery never comes easy, and it never comes quickly either. Some reports say it’s going to take us seven years to climb out of the recession. But there’s no question that we’re climbing out of the recession. We’ve added private sector jobs for the last ten months, and 1.1 million jobs this year alone. Jobs are being created, and the stimulus did create or at least save 1.4-3.3 million jobs (according to this analysis).More importantly to the politics of it all, it’s pretty clear that any economic policy takes time to work. Republicans used to talk a lot about trickle-down economics, and the number of people who believe that Reagan’s economic policies came to fruition during the Clinton years isn’t small. It’s surprising to me that conservatives would make this claim and then give Obama’s economic policies only 2 years to work (actually, it’s been less than two years since the policies could be fully enacted). Time will tell if the Obama administration’s approach to the economy—or pretty much anything else—was right, but all economic indicators say that it’s working. It’s just not working fast enough for the majority of people, especially if they’re looking for jobs.

The second thing we learned from the election is that the American people decided they didn’t want to give the Obama administration the legislative equivalent of a blank check. The Republicans tried to nationalize the election, and it worked. But again, I don’t think it worked because of a wholesale rejection of Obama’s policies; it worked because voters saw most of the administration’s legislation passed without Republican support. Some of the policies against which voters were said to be reacting weren’t even that liberal. TARP and the bank bailout was enacted by Bush. The stimulus plan wasn’t nearly as large as many economists and some members of Congress wanted. The health care bill was much more moderate than initially asked for and more moderate than the bill rejected during the Clinton administration. In fact, polls indicate that Americans like what’s in the health care bill—they just don’t like the bill itself. That tells me that they hated the way it was done. They don’t know exactly what’s in it (because of the multiple versions and misinformation spread during the process), and they don’t like the fact that it was done without bipartisan support. This is only natural. The country isn’t made of Democrats and Republicans; it’s made of moderates, many of whom had a hard time deciding whom to vote for in 2008. So in 2010, when they didn’t feel the results quickly enough, felt like Obama had all the tools he needed to make it work, and didn’t feel like the other guy had much say in the policy, they decided to give the GOP their shot. It’s the equivalent of putting in the second-string quarterback in the second quarter to see if you can get some momentum. It’s not that you don’t think first guy can get it done—he’s your starter for a reason. It’s that you’re willing to try anything to put points on the board. (Admittedly, the analogy is imperfect, and it really breaks down the minute we start talking about 2012—fortunately, I won’t be doing that here—but you get my point.)

So here’s the problem with all of this. I fear that it’s going to undo real progress that has been made, and there has been some (I hesitate to say a lot) of it. I mentioned the economic progress earlier. We can only hope that continues. There was real progress made in reducing the burden of student loans. And like it or not, getting anything on health care was progress. But this morning on the Sunday morning shows, the GOP made clear that they want to take a ‘hard line stance’ on the issues (see the CNN article).They say that “first and foremost, [they’re] not going to be willing to work with [Obama] on the expansive liberal agenda he’s been about.” Beyond clean coal technology, electric car development, free-trade expansion, and nuclear energy, they made it clear that they won’t work with the president. They don’t even want to work to make the Bush tax cuts permanent in the areas that the Democrats have advocated (they’re holding out to get all of what they want). Worse than that, they want to repeal the health care bill outright, saying, “We’re going to do everything we can to try and repeal and replace this thing” (Paul Ryan of Wisconsin). They know how hard that battle was, and they know it’ll be nearly impossible to replace the bill. So why not just try to amend it where they can? Unfortunately, the GOP seems blinded by their own success. They don’t realize that they took one half of one house. They didn’t take the Senate, and exit polling didn’t indicate that much more than 52-55% of the electorate was with them. Like it or not, that’s not an ideological mandate, it’s an indication of voters’ frustration and only natural under the current circumstances.

The GOP campaigned under the premise that Americans were frustrated and angry, and the vote affirmed this notion. But now, instead of carrying that recognition past the campaign, they say that not only will they not work with the president, they actually want to undo what was done. They should be taking this opportunity to make the voters less frustrated and less angry, but instead, they’re ready to promote gridlock and partisan bickering. Remember, the Democrats still hold the senate and the power of veto. That means that Democrats still hold the actual political power as spelled out in the Constitution. If Republicans aren’t willing to work with Democrats, nothing will get done. With any luck, they’ll find a way to work together, because they’re going to have to. This vote wasn’t a widespread repudiation of Obama’s policies, and it wasn’t about giving the GOP a mandate. They recognize that progress has been made and that there’s still a long way to go. This vote was the American people wanting more results quickly, and wanting both parties to work together to go the rest of the way.

Step Up and Know Your Role

Posted: October 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

As someone who gets to do a lot of work at home and keeps cable news on in the background, I’ve grown a strong affinity for CNN. When I get bored with their programming (most often during Larry King) I’ll occasionally turn to FOX News… never long enough to get a true sense of their programming because I usually end up yelling at the TV. It probably doesn’t help that Hannity runs opposite King. I’m obviously not the first one to criticize FOX—and especially Hannity—for being extremely biased, but here it goes.

Pat Caddell is a massive tool. He is Hannity’s supposed realization of FOX’s  “fair and balanced” slogan. As he was introduced on the show that I happened to catch (October 6) I was happy to see them live up to the slogan; it was noted that he was a former aid in Jimmy Carter’s White House and had numerous other Democratic credentials. As Hannity introduced him, he joked that he could forgive him for all that. And it’s easy to see why; the minute Caddell opened his mouth he started agreeing with Hannity and the two the Republican contributors brought in. Aside from the fact that it’s a 3 on 1 argument—hardly balanced—Caddell didn’t even put up a fight on any of the issues.

The one that sticks out in my mind was a discussion of the food stamps program and proposal by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Patterson asking the USDA to remove sugary drinks from the list of items that can be purchased with the stamps. Hannity and the other contributors railed against the proposal, saying that it was socialist and took away the American freedom to decide what you eat and drink. To my surprise, Caddell, when handed the opportunity to rebut this obviously hyperbolic claim, just agreed with them! The thing is, this isn’t even a difficult argument: the government already restricts what you can and can’t buy with food stamps! Removing soda and other sugary drinks from the list doesn’t change this fact, it just takes an unhealthy option off the list. Keep in mind that you can’t buy alcohol or tobacco with food stamps because these items are abused and can cause serious harm. Essentially Bloomberg and Patterson are saying the same thing: these are products that, when abused (what that means in terms of these items is debatable) can contribute to obesity (this fact is not debatable). There is no logical reason the government should subsidize obesity. If people want to buy these, the government isn’t making any law against that; all they’re saying is “do it on your own dime.” That’s perfectly reasonable, and as I said earlier, an easy catch. If Caddell had thought for 2 seconds about the issue, he could have easily seen that, but instead it seems like he just blindly went along with the Republican crowd on the show.

To give him the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to say that he considered the above argument and decided on his own that he disagreed with it. Fine. Contributors can have their opinions and disagree with their parties from time to time. But as a political contributor paid to be the balance on a show, you have to recognize that function, if not for the bosses at FOX then for the public’s sake. That’s your job—to be the balance! If you don’t present the other side, Hannity surely isn’t going to. You can agree with him if you must, but at least say something like: “I completely agree with you, but here’s why Patterson and Bloomberg are saying what they did… and it’s completely reasonable, but I think they’re wrong, and here’s why.” Don’t just roll over and agree blindly. If it were once, I could maybe learn to live with it, but the truth is Caddell has a history of this. In fact, I didn’t have to wait more than 5 minutes to see it happen again. Hannity and his other contributors railed against San Francisco government officials, who have proposed a ban on toys in Happy Meals which don’t meet city-defined nutritional standards. Again, Hannity calls it an attempt at socialism. And again Caddell rolls over and takes it. He doesn’t point out that the toys are nothing more than a marketing tool (thus advertising) and that we already have well established and supported laws preventing tobacco ads directed towards children! Is it a stretch to say that unhealthy food is just as bad as tobacco and should be treated similarly in its marketing to children? Maybe, but the adverse health effects and addictiveness of fast food are so well documented, and child obesity rates are so high that we might not be too far off if we treat them similarly in this regard. Again, it’s an easy catch and Caddell doesn’t dare touch it.

The fact is, this one 7 minute or so segment of Hannity is a microcosm of Caddell’s recent history. I’m not the first to criticize him. Look at this website which details a number of the times he’s appeared as the Democratic voice and ended up slamming them. One more time for good measure: I’m not saying he’s not entitled to his opinion, but you have to recognize your role. Either stop acting like you’re going to be a Democratic voice, or step up and actually be one.

On Race in America

Posted: October 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

Right after the election of President Obama, we were all asking ourselves very seriously “Do we live in a post-racial America?” Whether it be the debate surrounding racist elements in the Tea Party or the infamous “Beer Summit” and the incident that sparked it, I think the answer is quite clear: we have made significant strides in racial issues over the last decades, and though we haven’t gone far enough to claim a post-racial status, as a nation we are willing to give minorities opportunities not afforded to them in decades past, we aware of racism and of its ugly side, and we do strive to banish it from our society.

But in asking this question, I think we are missing the real issue, the real question. What we really should be asking ourselves is if we live in an America where tolerance—whether it be on race, religion, or sexuality—is embedded in our culture, in the minds of each and every American. I think the answer to this question is also quite clear. Despite the aforementioned successes with racial issues, we have left many behind and treated them as lesser citizens because of their creed, sexual orientation, or national origin. I want to look at two recent issues to illustrate my point. (I will omit the issue of national origin, because I don’t think it’s a clear cut case of prejudice. I do think that plays a role, but the case is confounded by a misunderstanding that illegal immigrants have an overall negative effect on the economy: See two articles (1 2) for more.

The first issue I want to bring to light is that of homosexual rights. The most salient topic in this debate is marriage. The debate has been framed in practical terms, and I think that has a large effect on the way we view the issue. We talk about spousal rights—the right to make medical decisions for their partners, not testify against them in court, or refute wishes of disapproving family members—and we offer civil unions legislation as a compromise. While that may be well-meaning, many people fail to realize that the issue isn’t only about these practical issues. It’s about not wanting to feel like a second-class citizen. It’s about the fact that the heterosexual majority in America looks at the homosexual minority and, for one reason or another, says, “That’s ours. You can’t have it.” I understand that many believe that marriage is a sacred institution, and that gay marriage undermines its sanctity. I understand that many believe that homosexuality is repulsive and violation of nature. But we can’t confuse religious doctrine with sound policy. To do so is to compromise the very fundamentals of our democracy. (Look at it this way: if we really thought that religious doctrine was a good basis for government, we should have no problem with Sharia law in a country where Islam is the dominant religion.) Let me be clear; there is no good legal or rational argument against gay marriage. This is especially true when weighed against the retraction of our core beliefs as a nation.

I could discuss several other topics such as guarantees of employment, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and other discrimination issues. But the issue goes far beyond the issue of rights; it cuts deep into the treatment of homosexuals in General. The fact is that the LGBT community represents a persecuted minority. The recent issues regarding bullying (more correctly, harassment) and suicide should be all the evidence needed to show the persecution and stigma attached to homosexuality. While many straight teenagers also commit suicide due to bullying, there is a specific risk for homosexuals: harassment won’t necessarily stop after high-school. The blog “Chris Armstrong Watch” proves it. Run by Andrew Shirvell, the blog—despite his claims that it part of a political campaign—is clear harassment against University of Michigan’s first openly gay student government president. Even a nominee for Governor of New York, Carl Paladino, has said recently that he doesn’t want children “to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option [compared with heterosexuality]. … it isn’t.” Even in his apology, he implies that some homosexuals are intent on brainwashing our children, saying “Any reference to branding an entire community based on a small representation of them is wrong.” There are countless more examples of tactless, insensitive, and flat out bigoted comments made by politicians, radio hosts, and others. There are of course countless others, many of whom are straight, many of whom are religious that come to the defense of the LGBT community, but we still have failed to make significant progress in LGBT civil rights

The second issue is that of the “Mosque at Ground Zero.” Sadly, it is an issue where prejudice cuts across all sectors of American society: Time reported that 61% of Americans opposed the construction of the mosque in mid-August, and “more than 70% concur[ed] with the premise that proceeding with the plan would be an insult to the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center.” That statistic alone is offensive in and of itself—it disregards the obvious fact that Muslims were killed in the attacks ( puts the number at “several dozen” and lists 31 names/bio data). More importantly, millions of American Muslims saw their religion attacked that day, and they were helpless to stop it. The internal conflict in Islam right now is a hard battle, with moderates struggling to weed out the extremists. But many American citizens aren’t helping them fight that battle by supporting sects of Islam, which are moderate and embrace many of the reforms called for by the western world; they’re making it more difficult by lobbing accusations of terrorism at moderate Muslims who must be successful if the war on terror is to be won. More than mere accusations, there have been many reports of violence against Muslims, including 1,714 hate crimes reported to the Council on American-Islamic Relations nationwide since 9/11.

The unfortunate truth is that the debate is a microcosm of American attitude towards Muslims in general. Some say that the mosque is simply too close and they would be better off building somewhere else. The problem is that other communities are sending the same message: “You can build, but build somewhere else.” No case illustrates this better than Murfreesboro, TN, where controversy over mosque expansion rages, and a fire at the construction site was ruled arson. (Note, however, it is currently unclear who set the fire and the motivations behind the arson). The key parallel here is that both the mosque Murfreesboro and the one in New York City have existed peacefully in their respective communities for decades, making accusations that they practice a hostile form of Islam not only misinformed and unfounded, but profoundly irresponsible. It also betrays the ignorance of many people who oppose these mosques. They don’t seem to understand that extremist factions exist in every religion, and they don’t take the time to form a nuanced understanding of Muslim-Americans and Islam as a whole. Consider a video from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria: in it, he describes how Muslim Sufis have been persecuted by Al Qaeda and Islamic extremists. This is also the sect, to which Imam Rauf (imam of the proposed mosque at Ground Zero) belongs. It’s hard to understand how this form of Islam could be confused with those forms practiced by radicals. But just today, Bill O’Reilly proclaimed on The View that it was inappropriate to build a mosque near Ground Zero because “Muslims killed us on 9/11”.

Those who oppose the mosque at Ground Zero make two additional claims that betray their ignorance and show their prejudice. The first is the claim that it would be just as insulting as if the Japanese built a Buddhist or Shinto shrine at Pearl Harbor. If that such an instance were that infuriating, they would surely be aware that a Shinto shrine already exists at Pearl Harbor (see this for more). The second claim is that Muslim countries are extremely intolerant of Christian and Jewish places of worship. I submit for your consideration another video detailing the reconstruction of a synagogue in Beirut, which was even supported by Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States government. Hezbollah says that they support the reconstruction because their issue is not with Judaism, but with the Israeli occupation of Arab lands. (Contrast this view with the views of the Florida pastor who wanted to burn the Quran to protest the attacks of 9/11.) Taken together, we can see how these claims aren’t rooted in fact, but on assumptions and prejudice. That is, the lack of motivation to seek out the truth of their claims gives us an insight into the driving force behind them. Thankfully, the burning of Qurans did not find widespread support, but the truth is that many remain suspicious of Muslims in the United States. Again, there are many Americans who have supported the Muslim community every step of the way, but we haven’t gone far enough in changing the attitudes

What does all this tell us? It tells us that we have a long way to go. In the above discussion, I realize that I may have painted America with a broad brush, and my characterization of America is by admission far too simplistic. But even if it is, the national debate on homosexuality and Islam does give us a glimpse into our shortcomings. We ask ourselves if we are where we need to be on race, but if we want to address the issue of race and racism in America honestly, we first must address a sub-culture that not only allows, but even endorses discrimination and prejudice in any case. For if we allow intolerance against one group, we legitimatize it, and it will continue against all groups.