Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Episode 53: 100 Days and WTF??


Yahoo! Obama has been president for 100 days! I wasn’t sure if this was a worthwhile post because the answer is quite obvious: Lefties gives him an A, moderates give him a B, reasonable conservatives give him a C, and the far right gives him an F. So all I have to say is I am happy with Obama’s progress, and I really think he will make good on his campaign for change. So whatever the hell it means, I’ll give him an A.

Now perhaps this 100 day milestone may have been a longer post, diving back into the economy, and presentation and style, and collaboration with world leaders, healthcare, and others, but in a The L Comment first, I’m making a double post!

WTF?! Arlen Spector is a democrat now? My political half is thrilled and my moral half is not. Once the Minnesota stuff is over and done, the democrats will have 60 seats, which means the healthcare, energy, and education fight becomes incredibly easier. Which is good and bad. As I have argued, the lack of true debate makes for lopsided legislation, but I strongly feel we have to get these things done now.

The circumstances under which he left are a bit fishy. He knew he didn’t stand a good chance of winning the 2010 midterm elections, so he jumped ship. I think if he firmly believes what he is doing is right, then he should be able to convince his constituency to continue following him, if for no other reason than loyalty.

But examination into why he left the party reveals a pretty damning indictment of the state of the Republican Party. The republicans has successfully rallied the base of the party, creating an even more partisan divide than what existed 5 months ago. This makes the election bid an uphill fight for a moderate republican. The irony is, the likely scenario (assuming Obama remains successful) would be a Spector would lose the primary, and the winner (Toomey) would likely lose the general election, because the republicans do not have the moderate constituency. So politically, the move makes plenty of sense. Morally, not really. Will I take him loving into my arms? Not lovingly, but I’ll take him.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Episode 52: The Scoop!


#1 – She Coulda Been Number Two…

A couple of weeks ago, Queen Noor was on Colbert Report, and I couldn’t help but think about what things would be like had McCain won. Now Joe Biden has pretty much been out of the limelight, but I don’t think we could have said the same about Sarah Palin. What struck me on the show was, our potential first female VP couldn’t hold a candle to any other female head of state in the world. Now, Palin and Noor share a few qualities: they are both charismatic, deliver speeches well, and have the aesthetic qualities of a modern leader – young, impassioned, and ambitious. However, Queen Noor carries herself with such grace and professionalism (trying not to get all gushy here), and Palin just doesn’t have it. I don’t know how any leader could take Palin seriously. She’s definitely not in the same ballpark in terms of intelligence and grace under fire. But that’s all I have regarding Palin. Forgive me for opening the pandora’s box of old news, but it’s all a bit funnier in retrospect... =)
Here is Noor on Colbert, and Palin in her most flattering interview with Hannity for compare and contrast

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#2 – If It Looks Like a Duck, Walks Like a Duck, Talks Like a Duck…

All of this talk of torture is rather disturbing. It doesn’t matter what kind of spin anyone puts on it… if you beat the living crap out of a detainee, drown him, starve him, and make him stand naked in front of a pack of starving dogs, IT’S TORTURE. Trying to reconcile the irreconcilable is a fruitless endeavor, and our lack of moral compass makes us look pretty awful. If you have to pick up the torture handbook from 1950s China for tips, that should be a pretty good indicator that we were probably doing the wrong thing. And “close doctor supervision” during all Advanced Interrogation Methods? That’s a good one.

So the ultimate barometer by which we attempt to justify our actions is “did the torture producer answers?” If you have beat a guy within a half inch of his life AND waterboard him 183 times before he talks, well I’m no expert, but I’m inclined believe torture does not work! So kudos to you Mr. President for releasing the memos, and shame on you for not pushing prosecution. I understand that Obama has important items on the agenda he wants passed, but we’re playing partisan politics right now… for goodness sake, healthcare will be voted on the grounds of reconciliation. So do the right thing and put those responsible for legislating and authorizing torture in jail. The law is only as good as our ability to enforce it.

#3 – The Empire Strikes Back

Why is Dick Cheney still in the news? I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an extreme case of sore loserness in politics before. He is well within his right to criticize the president, but is that really in the best interest of the nation right now? However, his presence in the media does highlight some pretty awesome ironies, and I’m an irony kind of guy.

1) Obama is making America less safe? There is no better sign of weakness that infighting. Let’s step out of the political arena for a sec and consider a show like survivor. Which teams always win? The unified ones. Which team goes home packing? The ones with incessant quarrelling and petty backstabbing. The stronger teams always look to knock out the infighting teams first to gain a competitive advantage. The very same is going on in real world politics today

2) Cheney is unarguably the top 5 most unpopular political figures in American history. Every time he takes the stage, his inflammatory marks pander to a shriveling base, and doesn’t do much to impress swing voters. In trying to make his party stronger, they actually become weaker.

3) Megan McCain (who would’ve had a better time running against Obama than her dad) had to tell Cheney shut up and go home. The republicans are desperately trying to get the “Megan McCain” vote (though a failed Michael Steele “bling bling” campaign cause a big setback in this department). But when a young republican is so outspoken against the Bush/Cheney/Rove politics that the “rising star” republicans employ, the efforts of getting the young vote are severely diminished. Cheney, pack up your bags, and enjoy your retirement.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Episode 51: Red vs. Blue vol.1


Red Vs. Blue - Big Government vs. Small Government

When the news is slow, it’s hard to find new news to talk about. So I thought I’d introduce a new segment into the blog called Red vs. Blue. It is not meant to be a divisive entry about why I disagree with some conservative ideas, but rather to compare conservative and progressive thought in attempt to understand each side’s point of view. Without further ado… big government vs. small government.

With the economy as the leading issue on the minds of every American, the notion of big government vs. small government is the preeminent debate these days. The commonly held belief is progressives champion big government while conservatives prefer smaller government. Smaller government means that conservatives have a strong belief in the 10th amendment, which states powers not granted to the national government nor prohibited to the states are reserved to the states or the people. However, there is what I believe to be a widely held misconception about the progressive stance on the size of government.

I think I can speak on the behalf of many progressives when I say we don’t want “big” government either, but rather a government just large enough to meet the needs of the majority of the people. Conversely, I believe conservatives believe in meeting the needs of the individual, or at best, a small constituency. This does not make conservatives selfish; because conservative thought is prevalent in less densely populated areas, it is typically more effective to self govern.

Regarding the economy, it is common to hear conservatives say “give me a tax cut because I can manage my money better than the government can.” Or regarding healthcare, conservatives may feel it is better to get a tax credit to cover healthcare premiums because they can choose how to access healthcare better than the government. Progressives however, see government spending as investments (albeit with not as much return as we’d like these days). Progressives would say “let us invest in education so that every American has equal access to quality education. Let us invest in green energy because we can significantly mitigate our dependence on foreign oil, while doing our part to protect the planet.” What is the origin of this dichotomy?

I believe the answer can be found back in colonial times. Big cities were located on the coasts because they were the centers of the ship trade, and to accommodate for storage and workers, communities were rather large. It was also the place where immigrants started their lives in America. From the very beginning, big cities had to deal with cultural clashes and many political, social, and moral perspectives. Thus, centralized government was necessary to as best it could, create laws that addressed the needs of the many. However, in the country, people lived in isolated pockets far removed from city life. They developed their own culture and way of doing things that worked for that community, and were guided by moral law (religion). As America expanded westward, the country had to evolve its legislation to incorporate the needs of the frontiersmen, while still maintaining legislative compatibility with the city culture. Such examples include drug and alcohol production. For a long time in the early 19th century, moonshine production was the lifeblood of some towns. When the federal government, banned alcohol during prohibition, it crippled the economies of moonshine producing regions. Naturally, the frontiersmen fought the federal government hard for their right to produce alcohol to the point of outright civil disobedience. Likewise, Kentucky was one of the largest producers of marijuana in the country. When the federal government tried to slow their operation, Kentuckians laid down fox traps to ensnare government officials looking for the crop so it could not be confiscated and destroyed.

It is amazing that nearly two centuries later, the ideology is nearly identical. It is no wonder that the electoral map is almost always blue in coastal areas and New England, where fur trade and fishing created large communities despite the lack of costal trade in some states. Similarly, it is no wonder that red states largely consist of the least densely populated states. How do we reconcile the progressive need for laws to benefit the needs of the many versus the conservative need for individual independence?

I’m not entirely sure we can. Obama’s wish (or really any president’s wish) to create a non-partisan government is but a wish. Non-partisan these days mean the party in charge has enough influence to sway the opposition to his point of view, thus alienating the dissenters. History has shown that progressive and conservative thought ebbs and flows in the political landscape, but one way or another, progressive thought wins when the time is right for it. From slavery, to education reform (via government funding), to civil rights, to information flow, these once progressive ideologies are now the norm. The next frontier is human rights, and with more states allowing gay marriage, conservatives are losing their grip on what was once an unshakable principle.

Does this mean conservative thought only serves as a barrier to progressive thought? I believe that conservative opinion serves as a social checks and balances system, thus the relationship is complementary. Perhaps there is some truth that without conservative dissent, progressives would spend spend spend. And without progressive dissent, the country would evolve at a slower rate. Let us consider the one time in recent history when conservatism was a highly valued principle for all Americans – the Regan presidency. All of the craziness of the 60s and 70s between civil rights and Vietnam created a progressive overload, and conservative ideals was desperately needed to restore balance to the American psyche.

Although the probability of conservatives and progressives becoming a non-partisan decision making unit is very low, what we have in President Obama is a leader who is the most thoughtful and intellectual president we’ve had in a very long time. His style is the closest to a non-partisan government we’ve seen because he is guided by intellect more than ideology. What makes him a progressive is his desire to create policies that serve the majority of Americans. Because he is not guided as much by ideology, some of his policies also make the left upset, for example, the non-commitment to prosecute C.I.A. officials that practiced torture. It makes sense, if trying to find middle ground, to release the memos to clear the air and expose our moral wrong doing (which makes the left happy), but not undergo full litigation and risk losing the confidence of the operatives he needs in the continuing war in the Middle East (which makes the right happy). The problem we are facing today is the lack of true opposition. Conservatives cannot simply reject every policy that comes off the Obama desk without reason. Without true checks and balances, progressives have free reign to pass whatever legislation they want. This is not a good thing. The worst mistake conservatives can make is not participating in political discourse. In trying to vehemently defend conservative ideals, they are actually losing more battles than they are winning. More of their ideals would make it into legislation with a president like Obama if they practiced true politics.

The issue of big government versus small government is the primary debate, from which all other debates derive. Thus, it is important to constantly examine our differences and common interests in hope that we can achieve true middle ground. Typically this is not possible because presidents are guided by ideology. Clinton was concerned with universal healthcare. Bush was concerned with tax cuts and national security. Had Hilary Clinton or John McCain won, we would once again have a leader who is guided largely by political ideology. Obama is our best to reconcile the differences between big city and small town ideologies. Let us hope that politicians from the left and right realize this soon so we can get real work done in this country.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Episode 50: Iced-Tea?


Wow… episode 50! This is officially the longest I have been able to maintain a blog (well that record was beat 35 or so episodes ago) so I’d like to thank the regular readers and passer bys for joining the debate, and to look forward to many more!

Now, on to the meat and potatoes, I try my very best to not talk about Fox News. Any sane person knows that “fair and balanced” means “unfair and unbalanced right-wing, psycho-babble propaganda.” Thus, it is a complete waste of time to rationalize their inherently irrational arguments. This time around however, Fox News took their “unfair and unbalanced, right-wing, psycho-babble propaganda” to the next level, adding fuel to the grassroots fire by turning a small teabag movement to a fuel blown extravaganza.

Now don’t get me wrong – I have zero issues with the protest itself. It is a first amendment right, and everyone has a right to exercise that right. However, the fuel for such a movement stems from counterfactual, irrelevant, and plain made up information being propagated by the likes of “news” outlets and right wing radio. The truth of the matter is simple. 95-99% of the people attending these Teabag Parties WILL NOT BE AFFECTED BY OBAMA’S TAX PLAN. He has made it unquestionably clear that his tax plan will CUT taxes for 95% of Americans, and for Americans making over a quarter billion annually their tax rate will increase by THREE PERCENT. One more time… THREE PERCENT! This is what the tax rate for the elite class was when Bill Clinton was president. Which is to say using real numbers, if in 2008 you made $1 million, they’d take home $640,000. In 2009, if you made $1million, you’d take home $610,000. So rich folk, you really mean to tell me that you are going ape sh… over a $30,000 decline in your take home salary?! You still make 12.7 times more than the average American, and the $30,000 you lose helps to take care of healthcare, education, and other programs to keep Americans competitive. Give me a break! That $30,000 difference is more than most middle class Americans bring home in a year!

But I get it, I really do… we hate paying taxes. Everyone hates paying taxes. If you keep cutting taxes however, where will the government have the money to pay for essential services? Yes, I suppose we can argue over the amount or quantity of taxes, but governments, state and federal need money to provide services to the people. Tax cuts is NOT the answer. Not the complete answer at least. It is a temporary boost (I’m talking weeks or months) that jump start consumer spending. I often cite the case in New York when then Mayor Giuliani (and subsequently Long Island followed suit) cut taxes for a month on retail items. On top of that, retail shops took advantage and offered sales galore. For that month, you could not find a store that wasn’t filled to capacity. The following month, the taxes were back to normal, but people were still shopping. That is an example of an effective tax cut. Take a hit in April to make a huge profit in May. But to base an entire national economic policy on tax cuts alone is foolhardy, and not economically sound.

Obama has been meeting with economists from the left and the right months before he was sworn in to get their perspective. It was the general concession, that government spending is how we get out of this mess. It is the only institution we have left in this economy that has the resources to move massive amounts of money around. That’s why we have stimulus packages and bailouts and things of the like. No American is happy about it. But if we don’t get large amount of money moving around, and restructure the manufacturing industry (which employs much of Middle America) then we would have the economical equivalent to a seized engine.

I’m always excited to see Americans involved with politics, so a national movement to get the word out about the way a particular group feels is a great thing. The not so great thing is the people are getting out to protest something they either don’t understand, or never bothered to go beyond the Fox News propaganda… something easily fixed by hopping on Youtube, watching the speeches, and judging for themselves the merit of Obama’s policy. However, this is new age politics. Sadly most Americans don’t care enough to get information from the source, even though it is increasingly easier to do. So I solely place the blame on “news” like Fox News, Limbaugh, Coulter, and the rest of the right-wing psycho-babble outlets (and yes, there are some conservative outlets that have integrity). Where were you when millions of Americans protested the war? Where is the commericals to stir up a big anti-war movement? Shame on you for letting ideology get in the way of “journalism.” MSNBC and to a lesser extent CNN are more commentators than journalists as well, but you will not find commercials and endorsements from the anchors for this tea part from anyone else but Fox News.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Episode 49: Marriage Equality For All?


Well at least for 8% of the union. Iowa, Connecticut, and Vermont have joined Massachusetts in legalizing gay marriage. Vermont, the state that invented civil unions, is also the first state to pass gay marriage through legislation as opposed to the courts. Currently, New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire have proposed bills to allow gay marriage.

I strongly believe the time is now to allow equal marriage rights. The sanctity of marriage argument doesn’t hold any water because the divorce rate is at 50% and rising in America. The argument that gay marriage encroaches religious freedom is a hypercritical one because it disallows gays from freely practice their religion notwithstanding their sexual preference. Most importantly, no one has the right to define love. Whether homosexuality is natured or nurtured is irrelevant, because if two people make a lifelong commitment to each other, they should have the full social, economic, and political freedom to express that love. America really needs to grow up and open up their minds and open up their hearts.

Quite frankly, America should redifne the marriage law for all. ALL marriages should be considered a civil union (for heterosexual and homosexual couples) so that ALL Americans benefit from the economic, polticial, social advantages a union brings, including hosptial visitation rights. Then let individual churches decided whether they are secular enough to allow the marriage ceremony. This is the fiarest way to ensure all Americans have equal treatment under the law, and for social conservatives, to some extent, protect their religious ideology.

I sincerely hope that by the next presidential election, gay marriage will no longer be an issue, because it will have been adopted by all 50 states. Please America, let us not become like these people in the commerical below...


Monday, April 6, 2009

Episode 48: International Man


This post is more of a thought than a commentary, but I was very happy with Obama’s performance during the G-20 summit. It is very interesting (and a testament to his oratorical ability) that his political ability translates so well around the world. Of particular interest was the town hall meeting in France. As I understood it, they don’t have town hall meetings, so it was very unusual for the people to interface with the government in such an open fashion.

I watched almost all of the speeches, and I took away from it a sense of renewed interest in participating and contributing to the global community. Our politics of the last 8 years has very much been an “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality. The change of tone seemed to be very welcomed. Speaking of which, adding a touch of native tongue to many of his speeches was a nice touch that says to the world, “we get you, and we want to work with you.” Obama really is the true embodiment of the American experience, as the country, like himself, has such a diverse background. He really conveyed what makes our country so unique through his speeches. I also appreciate his message to the Middle East. We are not at war with Islam, and I think the people of the region need to hear that.

It wasn’t a flawless victory; he failed to convince the EU that a stimulus plan was the way to go. However, the trip was excellent PR for America. I believe the most important thing Obama could’ve done at the G-20 summit was set a new tone for American diplomacy and leadership. On that account, I think was immensely successful.

I think it is unwise to pass too much judgment too soon on Obama’s effectiveness during this summit. He still has somewhere between 1,384 to 2,845 days left in office. Now that the world seems more willing to work with us, or at the very least, give us another chance, I believe we will in time, see a more collaborative global atmosphere. Let us hope.