SOCIAL VOX

My thoughts on the world around me

To the GOP, Jindal Just Ain’t Obama

From Day 1, I found it comical that the GOP deemed Gov. Bobby Jindal the party’s savior. Here’s the sort of conversation I bet Republicans were having:

Republican #1: “OK, Obama is our new president. What does he have?

Republican #2: He’s smart, diverse, and young. Kinda cool actually.

R #1: Got it. The demographics are changing in America, so let’s change, too!

R #2: Exactly. Who do we have that’s socially conservative, doesn’t believe in divorce or funding stem cell research, and is smart, diverse, young, and cool?

R #1: Bobby Jindal, of course!

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February 26, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Media, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Major Changes Depend on Little Details

President Barack Obama knows that if he wants to improve relations between the United States and the Muslim world, he will have to focus on the details. On Day 2 of his presidency, Obama made a statement by visiting the State Department.

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February 1, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mike Wallace’s Interview with Ayn Rand

CBS’s Mike Wallace interviewed Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, in 1959. I found the interview utterly fascinating.

In Part One of the interview, she discusses the conflict between a society whose morality is based on faith and self-sacrifice for one’s fellow man (conventional thought) vs. morality founded solely on reason and selfishness (Rand’s objectivism):

In Part Two of the interview, Rand argues in favor of a separation between state and economics (laissez-faire government):

In Part Three of the interview, she contends that the only solution is a market free of government interference:

“I have no faith at all, I only hold convictions.” Wow, it takes guts to believe in a statement like that so firmly.

At a time when women did not have many prominent voices, Ayn Rand was a luminary and a courageous trailblazer.

With that said, I’m curious to know what she would have to say about the current economic recession. Fifty years ago, she called for absolute deregulation. Look at how well that’s turned out.

January 29, 2009 Posted by | Art, Economics, Literature, Politics, TV | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What Obama’s Cuba Policy Ought to Be

In the ebb and flow of politics, change is the ultimate catalyst for achieving better government. As in the market, where demand for an old and unattractive product wanes, an unsuccessful political leader or policy, too, can lose favor. It is only a question of time before people realize that while one path may lead to stagnation, there is another that leads to possibility. When that time comes, the superior concept rises to the top.

In the 50 years since Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the United States has primarily advanced protectionist policies. On February 7, 1962, following the expropriation of numerous U.S.-owned properties in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order imposing a trade embargo on Castro’s government. In 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first of many travel restrictions went into effect. Most recently, the Helms-Burton Act was enacted in 1996 to penalize foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S.

What effects have these measures had?

The Cuban people live in poverty. They have little or no access to our medicines, products and other essential items. They are silenced by a repressive government that long ago erased their freedom of expression. And yet, while Cubans feel disdain for their leaders, they are equally scornful of the U.S. The trade embargo has crippled their economic opportunities, and the travel ban has kept families apart for decades.

After 50 years and 10 U.S. presidents, isn’t it time for the U.S. to rethink its position? It may help to look at a successful model.

In technology, the Internet is a powerful tool because it is open to everyone. Its emphasis on collaboration and integration allows people from all over the world to freely exchange ideas and solve complex issues.  The Internet’s openness is a strategy that breaks down barriers, physical or not, and empowers the individual who wields its awesome power.

When applied to Cuba, the key to reforming the communist nation is to bombard it with access and information. The U.S. must allow U.S. citizens to travel into Cuba and ignite the flow of commerce. It ought to lift the trade embargo, so that Americans may benefit from the sugar and tobacco industries, and Cubans may have access to medicine, Hollywood, and apple pie. The U.S. also needs to assign a special envoy to Cuba who will oversee this transformation and assure the Cuban people that the U.S. views its neighbor’s success as a priority.

But as with the Internet, these political measures require collaboration. Once the U.S. changes its policies, it will be up to the Cuban people to act. We will provide the tools, but they will have to take the courageous steps toward democracy and capitalism. Will Cubans prefer a repressive government, or one that denies them nothing? Will they side with the local government that rations what little food they have, or follow the global economy that rewards innovation and hard work? Only they can decide that.

Communism erected walls throughout the island and in the people’s minds. We should tear them down as we once did in Berlin. If the U.S. infuses the island with hope, then there is the possibility that the inhabitants will once again dream of something larger than themselves.

After 50 years of stagnation, a different path seems very attractive.

January 27, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Cuba, Economics, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Earmark Ban Doesn’t Really Ban Anything

Interest groups, lawmakers and lobbyists will have to be a little more creative to get funding for their pet projects. With President Barack Obama imposing an earmark ban on the $825 billion-dollar stimulus bill, lobbyists and others will have to seek money through “ready to go” jobs eligible for the stimulus plan.

This brand of politics disgusts me. It’s the very reason why people become so disillusioned by their government and the K Street, fork-tongued crowd that compete for its power and wealth. Some will argue that lobbying is a necessary evil in politics, or perhaps not an evil at all. For every lobbyist seeking to help the “mom and pop” shops, though, there are a million Jack Abramoffs who suck the life and idealism right out of public service.

From his years in law school, Obama should know that if the four corners of a document are not absolutely airtight, clever people will have their way with the fine print. Mr. President, if you truly did not want any earmarks whatsoever, you and your staff should have chosen the stimulus bill’s words more carefully.

January 26, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Economics, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ex-Gitmo Detainee Joins al-Qaeda in Yemen

Said Ali Al-Shihri, a Saudi man who spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay prison, is now the No. 2 of the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda. Following President Barack Obama’s executive order to close down the Cuban prison within a year, this news only underscores the complexity of the issue.

Several experts have said that the detainees fall into three categories:

1. Those who can be tried in a U.S. court;

2. Those who can be returned to their home country, or a third country, and be tried there; and

3. Some detainees who cannot be tried in the U.S. or returned to their home or third country (the most difficult category)

Given the difficulty in resolving this issue, it’s no surprise that the Democrats and Republicans have conflicting views on yesterday’s executive order.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, said that Guantanamo prison should still be closed in spite of today’s report:

What it tells me is that President Obama has to proceed extremely carefully. But there is really no justification and there was no justification for disappearing people in a place that was located offshore of America so it was outside the reach of U.S. law[.]

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the executive order as it was “very short on specifics.” He went on to say that former Guantanamo detainees are “back on the battlefield. They are attacking American troops.”

Closing the prison is symbolic and essential to our foreign policy objectives. The prison had become a propaganda tool for insurgents throughout the Middle East. Obama also seems to be keenly aware that it will not be easy to adjudicate each and every one of these cases. Some prisoners are very dangerous, but the extent of the evidence against them is razor thin.

Giving himself a year to handle this issue was a prudent move. Obama will have to proceed cautiously, and be aware that what is at stake is allowing more people like Al-Shihri to take to the battlefield against American soldiers.

That would be an unforgivable mistake.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Caroline Kennedy Unfairly Treated Because She’s a Woman?

I wrote earlier today about Caroline Kennedy’s poorly managed run at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s empty Senate seat. I noted that her withdrawal was likely a disservice to women in politics.

There is a perception among numerous political insiders, however, that Ms. Kennedy was treated too harshly by the media and other politicians who questioned her credibility and demeanor. In fact, their contention is that she was treated much more critically than a man would have been.

There still exists a glass ceiling in politics. In the House, 75 of the 435 members are women. In the Senate, just 17 are women. Donna Brazile, a political analyst, made an important point:

Obama inspired us to turn the page, and now women seem stuck in the table of contents[.]

One thing is certain, the margin of error for a historically disadvantaged candidate (e.g. women, African-Americans) is much smaller. When David Axelrod came on board as President Barack Obama’s chief strategist for the campaign, Axelrod made it clear to Obama that he would have to be on his game at all times. When you try to break through old customs, it is imperative to not give anyone an excuse to vote for your opponent. Unfortunately, that is the state of politics today. We have made history by electing an African-American president, but that doesn’t mean that we, as a whole, won’t be more critical of a female or African-American candidate than we would of a white one.

Kennedy’s camp should have prepared her better. She could ill afford to appear weak or unprepared, particularly in the rough setting for politics that is New York. Had she known where all the blows were coming from, perhaps we would be writing about a different result today.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Media, Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Junior Senator From NY: Caroline, er, Kirsten Gillibrand

As reported in The Huffington Post, Kirsten Gillibrand will be taking over the Senate seat vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

As for Caroline Kennedy, she really couldn’t have managed this situation more poorly.

Where She Went Wrong

She should never have courted Gov. Paterson publicly, or at least as publicly as she did. In the blink of an eye, she went from private figure/JFK’s daughter to Obama supporter to the future junior senator from New York. One day the media pundits are wondering whether she’ll make a run at the seat, and the next she’s already in upstate New York talking to the key players in New York politics. A bit fast? A bit too in your proverbial face?

She would have been wise to speak to Paterson privately, behind closed doors. There would have been less pressure on both of them, and it would have shown more political savvy. Her entrance onto the political stage was dramatic from the start, and now her political death makes for equally good theater.

The Withdrawal Effect

Caroline Kennedy’s withdrawal from the Senate seat is a disaster for women in politics. Even if people don’t say it, the gender issue will be on their minds. Why couldn’t she just stick it out? If she wasn’t picked, then she wasn’t picked. It would have been an unfortunate political defeat, but at least she would have saved face. She could’ve gotten more experience working alongside lawmakers and other New York public figures, and then made a run in two years when that very Senate seat is up. At that point, who would deny her? She has the Kennedy name, would’ve had her face in the news for a couple years, and would’ve had a campaign fund raising machine behind her unlike any of her competitors. That was a total lack of foresight.

Now she leaves the media to wonder what happened. A housekeeper issue? Her taxes weren’t in order? She wanted to be near her ailing uncle?

Talk about a missed opportunity.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bear Baiting in Pakistan

People can argue that ignorance is bliss. It’s true, there are times I wish I didn’t know about certain cruelties in the world. If I don’t know about them, then they don’t affect me. While the feeling is normal, I urge you to fight it. Through education and information, we can cure the world of its ills – great and small.

Bear baiting is a vile, bloody sport. Usually held at  local fairs in Pakistan, bear baiting pits vicious dogs against bears who have had their teeth and claws removed. The bears are tied to a post, which renders them unnable to evade the attacks. While most of the animals are permanently scarred, the organizers don’t allow them to be killed because of their value.

Bear fights two hunting dogs

Bear fights two hunting dogs

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has done a wonderful job addressing this issue. While there were up to 300 bears involved before the WSPA undertook investigations, now they have been reduced to about 50.

The work isn’t over there. And the WSPA protects other endangered/mistreated animals. If this cause interests you, please go to the site as indicated above. You can also support their campaign by making a donation.

Don’t be afraid to be informed. Ignorance will only propagate more ignorance. Through information, then, we can truly help man and beast alike.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Human & Animal Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Partisan Politics Returned After the Long Weekend

Yesterday, Hillary Rodham Clinton was confirmed as the new Secretary of State by a 94-2 vote. So who were the two senators who voted “no”? I found Chris Cillizza’s take on this issue fascinating.

One (Senator Vitter) is seeking reelection, while the other (Senator DeMint) wants to position himself at the forefront of a Republican Party that finds itself in disarray.

It’s amazing what a little investigative work reveals about the minds of our political leaders: in Washington, there is an interest behind every decision.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Obama’s First 100 Days: Day 1

Since the days of FDR, following a new president’s first 100 days in office has been a tradition in the media. What actions will President Barack Obama take? Will we see policies advanced similar to those of the previous administration? Or will he break away from George W. Bush? To answer these questions, the first 100 days of the Obama presidency will be a good barometer of where we stand as a nation.

President Obama showed up for his first day on the job, and made it very clear that this is no longer George W. Bush’s White House. He quickly set the tone by freezing the salaries of his senior White House officials, imposing the highest limits on lobbying in the history of any administration (according to Obama himself), and calling for the government to disclose more information. For the video, please go to The Huffington Post’s link.

Here’s a breakdown of President Obama’s decisions:

1. White House Pay Freeze

The freeze would hold salaries at their current levels for the approximately 100 White House employees who make over $100,000 per year. As an act of good faith, he wants the administration to be a reflection of the troubles Americans are facing:

Families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington[.]

Those affected by the freeze include the new White House Chief of Staff (Rahm Emanuel), national security adviser (Jim Johnson), and press secretary (Robert Gibbs).

2. New Lobbying Rules

The new rules (a) ban aides from trying to influence the administration when they leave his staff; (b) ban those already hired from working on matters they have previously lobbied on, or to approach agencies that they once targeted; (c) ban lobbyists from giving gifts of any size to any member of Obama’s administration; and (d) require that anyone who leaves his administration cannot try to influence former friends and colleagues for at least two years.

How do you like that, K Street?

3. Greater Government Transparency

Again, Obama made a clear break from Bush policies. He is directing his agencies to follow a very different interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act:

For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.

To be sure, issues like personal privacy and national security must be treated with the care they demand. But the mere fact that you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should always use it. The Freedom of Information Act is perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable. And I expect members of my administration not simply to live up to the letter but also the spirit of this law…

Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.

In his closing, Obama recognized that these new directives will not resolve all the issues, but that hopefully they serve as a small step toward reestablishing a once-held trust between the people and their government:

Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And that’s why, as of today, I’m directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans — scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs — because the way to solve the problem of our time is — the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.

The executive orders and directives I’m issuing today will not by themselves make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be. And they do not go as far as we need to go towards restoring accountability and fiscal restraint in Washington. But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country. And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people in the days and weeks, months and years to come. That’s a pretty good place to start.

It was just the first day, and only small steps were taken, but we are headed in the right direction.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Speech

I was expecting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” rhetoric of hope and unity. I was expecting President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural speech from 1865, a strike of subtle genius and poetry in the midst of the Civil War. All the media pundits had me thinking I was about to witness the greatest speech my generation would ever hear.

When Obama finished his speech, I asked myself, “that’s it?” My expectations had been much too lofty for anything that he could have conjured up.

But then I decided to watch it again.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

Yes, we remain a young nation. A nation with youthful energy and curiosity. But we must not give in to irresponsibility. We have to show transparency, the good in each of us that strengthens all of us, and act justly upon our convictions.

With “all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness,” President Obama invoked The Declaration of Independence’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But words are mere words without action. We have to break free of the shackles that constrict our spirits, limit the scope of our dreams.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things…

Do not sit back idly. When each brick of the crumbling economy falls upon us, we have to reach high and erect a wall once more. We do not cheat our fellow citizen, and exploit him to turn a profit. Instead, we must build and dig, create and redesign.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

The partisan bickering is futile. Gone are the Reagan days of debating whether the government is too big or too small. Does our government work? We must build upon everything based on that question. Where the government is effective, those measures will remain in place. Where the government goes wrong, it will be swiftly remedied. The reason why there is such little faith in government is because hypocritical lawmakers and politicians devote their energy and our tax dollars on arguing over petty matters. When the time comes to judge them, however, they are never accountable. To all politicians, from President Obama to the local school board official, focus on a solution to the problem, not on our differing ideologies.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.

We will not sacrifice our morals and values in the name of national security. We shall not torture and dehumanize the enemy in exchange for a false sense of safety. For over two hundred years, the United States has been viewed abroad as a nation of laws and ideals, of principled men and an unwavering belief in personal freedom. We must close Guantanamo and take our troops out of Iraq to restore our image abroad, to show that the United States has not forgotten the meaning of justice or spurned the world’s trust.

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Mr. President, that was one heck of a speech.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Law, Media, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Project for the First Lady, Michelle Obama

At least in recent years, one of the roles of the first lady has been to increase awareness of certain women’s issues throughout the globe.

While I’m sure that Mrs. Obama already has an agenda for herself, there is an issue that I believe is worthy of her attention: widows in India. In The Forgotten Woman, the documentary tells the story of some of the 20 million Indian widows who are abandoned by their families and forced to live on the streets when their husbands die.

The trailer for “The Forgotten Woman”:

United States’ interests in the region of south Asia, namely India and Pakistan, are only increasing. How those relationships are handled in the coming years is imperative to the success of our foreign policy. Along with Secretary of State designate Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presence, Mrs. Obama’s deft touch, as a woman and as a high-powered intellectual in her own right, may be an effective tool for furthering both women’s rights and U.S.-India relations.

Mrs. Obama, perhaps this issue should be on your agenda.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Foreign Policy, Politics, Women's Issues | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What Each of Us Can Do Now

Millions of Americans watched Barack Obama deliver his inaugural speech today. He called for accountability, selflessness, and service. In his speech, President Obama said that each of us must play a role in restoring the U.S.’s image in the world. We all must take part in leading and breaking new ground, promoting innovation and listening to others, healing old wounds and remaining steadfast in the face of the obstacles that lie ahead.

But what exactly can each of us do? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Report for All Voices or Ground Report

All Voices  and Ground Report are global communities where anyone can share news, videos, images, and opinions with respect to news events and people. Essentially a global blog, you can utilize these sites to report on breaking news or something the rest of the world is overlooking. Yes, you can be a journalist, too. Each of us has a voice, so make sure to express your own unique view.

2. Serve your community (local or global) through USAservice.org, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, or any other service organization

USAservice.org explores the social side of community service. Through this site you can: participate in public service projects already planned within your communities, create your own project and invite others to join in, and even share on the experiences gained and lessons learned.

In AmeriCorps, you can: tutor and mentor disadvantaged youth, fight illiteracy, improve health services, build affordable housing, teach computer skills, clean parks and streams, manage or operate after-school programs, help communities respond to disasters, build organizational capacity, as well as tackle a plethora of other issues facing the particular region in which you’re located. There are 75,000 opportunities, will you seize one of them?

In the Peace Corps, you can work in a foreign country and focus on: education, youth outreach, and community development; business development; agriculture and environment; health and HIV/AIDS; and information technology. Past volunteers have worked in 139 different countries. There are people beyond our borders who can use your help. Will you be there for them?

These are but a few possibilities to explore. It is within each of us to make a difference, and ensure that the fruit of our labor is tomorrow’s joy and prosperity. President Obama’s speech was a plea, requesting the support of all Americans.

It now falls on us to make his words come to fruition.

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Inauguration: Frozen in Time

Go to CNN.com’s “The Moment” site to see the really cool Photosynth, a Microsoft technology. It creates 3D spaces from everyone’s 2D photos of the Presidential Inauguration.

Contribute by sending in your photos, or watch as a piece of history is frozen in time!

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Art, Fine Art, Media, Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watch Live Coverage of Inauguration

The Washington Post is providing live coverage of the Inauguration. Go there for Post coverage and live feeds.

From all at Social Vox, enjoy this momentous occasion!

January 20, 2009 Posted by | Media, Politics | , , , | Leave a comment

The Major Cities to be Hit Hardest by Recession

According to Associated Press, New York City leads all U.S. cities in expected job losses for 2009.

These are the statistics of the top 4 cities:

New York City – 181,000 jobs

Los Angeles – 164,000 jobs

Miami – 85,000 jobs

Chicago – 80,000 jobs

Studying the numbers, I think the AP’s column overlooks an important fact: The Miami metropolitan area is much, much smaller than the other three metropolises. According to a city population website, here are the populations of the New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami metropolitan areas as of 2007:

New York City – 18,815,988

Los Angeles – 12,875,587

Chicago – 9,524,673

Miami – 5,413,212

While Miami has less than one-third of New York City’s population, it will incur roughly one-half the job losses (181,000 to 85,000). So, while New York City may lose the most jobs in total, Miami will lose the most jobs (at least from the list above) per person.

If Miami had New York City’s population, it would lose 295,000 jobs in 2009.

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Recession Hits the Beltway

The recession is also being felt among the nation’s political elite. With President-Elect Barack Obama taking over, loyal Bush appointees are now scrambling to find work.

In spite of their powerful positions and experience, these officials are seeing how difficult it becomes when the market shrinks:

“For Republicans, the inn is full,” lamented veteran GOP operative Ron Kaufman, a close White House adviser to former president George H.W. Bush and an executive at Dutko Worldwide. “You have lots of folks in the House and Senate on the streets and 3,000 administration appointees on the streets at a time when the job market is shrinking anyways. It’s just not a fun time.”

Of the roughly 8,000 politically appointed positions in the federal government, hundreds have been vacant since a wave of departures last spring, administration officials said. But appointees who have remained through the final days of the Bush administration have seen an already shaky job market collapse. The traditional avenues of employment for outgoing government officials — corporations, nonprofit foundations or think tanks — are clogged because of hiring freezes.

Some are choosing to forgo the job market, at least for the time being:

Bush appointees who can afford the luxury are taking time off. White House press secretary Dana Perino plans to travel with her husband to volunteer in South Africa at the Living Hope Community Center, a beneficiary of Bush’s anti-AIDS initiative.

“I didn’t want to sit around the house thinking about what I want to do next,” Perino said. “I wanted to do something that would help others.”

This recession truly does not discriminate.

January 19, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Redeploying Troops Into Afghanistan a No-Brainer, Right?

Barack Obama has noted that among his foreign policy objectives, he plans on gradually withdrawing troops from Iraq and redeploying them into Afghanistan. Like the Guantánamo Bay prison, the war in Iraq is a legacy he would prefer for President George W. Bush to savor alone.

With no WMD’s or terrorist training sites, Iraq does not currently pose a national security threat to the United States. In Afghanistan, however, the Taliban grows in both strength and boldness, and al-Qaeda continues to lurk along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

So redeploying the troops into Afghanistan is a no-brainer, right?

Not according to Bob Herbert, a New York Times op-ed columnist. In a recent column, Mr. Herbert argues that the time for a prolonged war in Afghanistan has come and gone:

In an analysis in The Times last month, Michael Gordon noted that “Afghanistan presents a unique set of problems: a rural-based insurgency, an enemy sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan, the chronic weakness of the Afghan government, a thriving narcotics trade, poorly developed infrastructure, and forbidding terrain.”

The U.S. military is worn out from years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The troops are stressed from multiple deployments. Equipment is in disrepair. Budgets are beyond strained. Sending thousands of additional men and women (some to die, some to be horribly wounded) on a fool’s errand in the rural, mountainous guerrilla paradise of Afghanistan would be madness.

The time to go all out in Afghanistan was in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. That time has passed.

Mr. Herbert contends that the prudent move would be to withdraw the troops and live to fight another day:

With no personal military background and a reputation as a liberal, President-elect Obama may feel he has to demonstrate his toughness, and that Afghanistan is the place to do it. What would really show toughness would be an assertion by Mr. Obama as commander in chief that the era of mindless military misadventures is over…

In his article for Newsweek, Mr. [Andrew] Bacevich said: “The chief effect of military operations in Afghanistan so far has been to push radical Islamists across the Pakistani border. As a result, efforts to stabilize Afghanistan are contributing to the destabilization of Pakistan, with potentially devastating implications.

“No country poses a greater potential threat to U.S. national security — today and for the foreseeable future — than Pakistan. To risk the stability of that nuclear-armed state in the vain hope of salvaging Afghanistan would be a terrible mistake.”

Making matters worse, the troops’ negative morale is being overlooked. According to a Yahoo! News article published last month, over 540 active-duty soldiers in the Army have committed suicide since 2003. Redeploying soldiers, sometimes on their 4th or even 5th tour of duty, cannot be the most sensible option right now.

Mr. Obama, there are two things you need to focus on: the economy and on bringing the troops home. Having waged war for seven years, our soldiers now need for us to rally around them. Bring them home, get them psychiatric help, and allow them to decompress.

If the troops are redeployed, Mr. Obama will owe the country an explanation. As Mr. Herbert notes:

He will owe that to the public because he will own the conflict at that point. It will be Barack Obama’s war.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Political Institutes and the Dystopian Future of Film

Films advancing political views are as old as films themselves.

In 1915, “The Birth of a Nation” provoked controversy by suggesting that the Ku Klux Klan restored order in the post-Civil War South, allegedly endangered by abolitionists, freedmen, and politicians from the North.

However, it is striking to learn that there are institutions that actively use films to advance a political ideology.

What is the Moving Picture Institute? From their “History” section:

Founded in 2005 by human rights advocate Thor Halvorssen, the Moving Picture Institute is unlike any other foundation dedicated to promoting the ideal of liberty. At MPI, we believe that film, more effectively than any other medium, can bring the idea of freedom to life. In keeping with that belief, we are working to ensure that film becomes a center of genuinely democratic art in the coming years. Our goal is to guarantee that film’s unique capacity to give shape to abstract principles—to make them move and breathe—is used to support and promote liberty. Toward that end, we fund films from development through post-production, support up-and-coming filmmakers, and serve as a high-level intern placement service.

Historically, the film industry has been largely unconcerned with developing a distinctive and nuanced portrait of deep-seated American values such as free speech, freedom of association, and the free enterprise system. Such values have been defined and defended almost exclusively in print and through oral argument. But as visual media become increasingly prevalent, we depend more heavily upon movies for our philosophical, moral, and social guidance. If the ideal of freedom is to endure—if it is to maintain its vitality and relevance in our society—it must find its way into film, our most vital, relevant, and far-reaching art form. Freedom must be seen to be believed.

If the masses truly are relying upon movies for guidance in these critical matters, then this may be the beginning of a very slippery slope within the film industry: what stops an institution, or even a government, from producing films that attempt to brainwash? While this may seem like a topic reserved solely for a science fiction novel, let us not underestimate the influential power of the motion picture.

The problem is that media, in recent years, have become battlegrounds for partisan politics. “Outfoxed” tackled this issue with respect to the news media:

This is not to say that the Moving Picture Institute’s films, which have a right-wing slant, are invalid. Here are two of them:

The foreseeable problem is an unnatural escalation of left- and right-wing films being produced — not unlike a nuclear arms race. Both sides of the political aisle would compete for your attention, your loyalty. For two hours, while fact blends with fiction, you become their social experiment.

Keep your eyes open, and be wary of the political propaganda. Films are likely the next frontier.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Media, Politics, TV | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

America, Be Not Afraid to Look Behind You

Appearing in a New York Times op-ed column, Slate Magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick says Americans would rather turn the page than prosecute top Bush officials for war crimes and other atrocities. The crux of her argument is that this hope of “rebooting” the government, of preferring to recover, is not found in the language of law. There is no legal justification for not investigating or prosecuting senior officials who have authorized torture and warrant-less surveillance.

Americans want to focus on the brighter future that hopefully lies ahead, not dwell on our dark past. As Ms. Lithwick notes, however, that would be a mistake:

Nobody is looking for a series of public floggings. The blueprints for government accountability look nothing like witch hunts. They look like legal processes that have served us for centuries. And, as the Armed Services Committee report makes clear, we already know an enormous amount about what happened to take us down the road to torture and eavesdropping. The military has commissioned at least three investigative reports about the descent into abusive interrogation. Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has compiled what he believes to be sufficient evidence to try senior Bush administration officials for war crimes…

It’s not a witch hunt simply because political actors are under investigation. The process of investigating and prosecuting crimes makes up the bricks and mortar of our prosecutorial system. We don’t immunize drug dealers, pickpockets or car thieves because holding them to account is uncomfortable, difficult or divisive. We don’t protest that “it’s all behind us now” when a bank robber is brought to trial.

And America tends to survive the ugliness of public reckonings, from Nixon to Whitewater to the impeachment hearings, because for all our cheerful optimism, Americans fundamentally understand that nobody should be above the law. As the chief prosecutor for the United States at the Nuremberg trials, Robert Jackson, warned: “Law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power.”

At the Senate confirmation hearing, Eric Holder said that “waterboarding is torture.” Is Holder and the Obama administration prepared to bring these people to justice? Can the American people stomach the potentially difficult process? We must all remember that, as Mr. Holder said at his confirmation hearing, “no one is above the law.” To not investigate or prosecute these officials to the full extent of the law is to establish a dangerous precedent.

There is no immunity for war crimes, even when allegedly done for the sake of national security.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Eyes on Holder

Since the days of Alberto Gonzales, the Department of Justice, and particularly the Office of the Attorney General, has tainted, to say the very least, the United States judicial process. In the Bush years, torture and CIA black sites have become somewhat synonymous with the war on terror.

That’s why today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Eric Holder’s nomination for US Attorney General is so significant. Immediately, Holder’s responses established a position, both a legal and a philosophical one.

These were Chairman Leahy’s first two questions, and Holder’s answers to them:

Is waterboarding torture?

“Waterboarding is torture.”

Can the commander-in-chief override a law, in the name of national security, to allow this form of torture?

“No one is above the law.”

Hopefully this is the beginning of the cleansing process. Hopefully we will reconstruct our image as a nation of laws.

Mr. Holder, our eyes are on you.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

U.S. Selling Bomb Parts to Iran

Yes, your eyes have not deceived you. The United States is selling bomb parts to Iran. How?

According to Joby Warrick, Iran is using several front companies, from the United Arab Emirates to Malaysia, to acquire weapons parts. Since Iran cannot buy directly from the US due to strict exporting laws, it’s using dummy corporations, littered throughout the globe, in order to bring western technology into Tehran.

The article notes how complex the issue has become:

While illegal trafficking in weapons technology has occurred for decades — most notably in the case of the nuclear smuggling ring operated by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan — the new documents suggest that recent trading is nearly all Internet-based and increasingly sophisticated.

Many of the schemes unknowingly involve U.S. companies that typically have no clue where their products are actually going, the records show.

“The schemes are so elaborate, even the most scrupulous companies can be deceived,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and co-author of a forthcoming study of black markets for weapons components.

Albright said the deceptions can be even more elaborate when the target is nuclear technology. “That’s where the stakes are the highest,” he said. “If Iran is successful, it ends up not with an IED but with a nuclear weapon.”

This issue has a sad, dramatic flair to it:

Iran in the past two years has acquired numerous banned items — including circuit boards, software and Global Positioning System devices — that are used to make sophisticated versions of the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that continue to kill U.S. troops in Iraq[.]

American technology is killing American soldiers.

As I read the article, two things struck me in particular:

1. How much research is going into finding out where these parts are going?

2. Weapons trade is a monster that the US has no control over.

First, do US companies know who they are selling these sensitive materials to? It does not seem as though much research is going into it. The article notes this very same point:

Typically, the new front companies will not be discovered until long after crucial technology has left American shores aboard ships ultimately bound for Iran, Albright said.

Based on the above statement, US companies apparently do discover, at some point, that Iran is the end-user. How long does that process take? Couldn’t they just hold on to the technology until they are absolutely certain where the parts are headed?

Second, the US has no control over their weapons market. According to the article, they’re selling parts out of “California, Florida, Georgia and New Jersey.” Are these plants all operating under the US government, or are they separate private entities. I think that’s an important distinction that needs clarifying.

I find the distinction important because, presumably, the US would be looking out for US interests. The US would have to think in terms of national security, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, a private company is ultimately looking to turn a profit. A private engineering firm will be focused on the bottom line, and not take the risk of losing potential buyers if their turn-around proves too slow.

Ultimately, the article points out the difficulty the US is having in reigning this issue in:

“The current system of export controls doesn’t do enough to stop illicit trade before the item is shipped,” he said. “Having a law on the books is not the same as having a law enforced.”

The article makes a dangerous revelation: the war on terror is escalating, not just in intensity but in complexity. Worst of all, the US is being outmaneuvered.

January 11, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Bailout and the Media: A Circus Coming to a Town Near You

Arianna Huffington’s latest blog post was a slap in the face. Directing her scathing remarks at the media, she wonders why reporters are so enamored by the Blago-Burris and Kennedy-Paterson-Cuomo stories, yet have put such limited effort into uncovering the colossal mystery that is the nearly trillion-dollar bailout.

I give Ms. Huffington high marks for her compelling argument. Here’s a sample on display:

“[T]he bailout is a fascinating story. Not so much a whodunit as a who’s-doing-it. This mystery is unfolding right in front of us, and the size of the victim pool could very well depend on whether we unravel the mystery in flashback or while it’s still in progress.”

Here’s a quote that blew my mind:

“As a GAO report last month dryly concluded: ‘The rapid pace of implementation and evolving nature of the program have hampered efforts to put a comprehensive system of internal control in place. Until such a system is fully developed and implemented, there is heightened risk that the interests of the government and taxpayers may not be adequately protected and that the program objectives may not be achieved in an efficient and effective manner.’ In other words, the money is flying out the door but no one is watching where it’s going.”

As Ms. Huffington points out, the bailout is a poorly-hatched plan that is spiraling wildly out of control. Worse yet, we don’t know anything about it because the government won’t tell us.

That’s where the journalists should come in. You see, the media ought to be America’s watchdog. It’s supposed to represent what Thomas L. Friedman, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, has coined the “democratization of technology” and the “democratization of information”: innovations in computerization and telecommunications that have made it possible for hundreds of millions of people around the world to get connected and exchange information, news, knowledge, money, etc.

Now, a second news article is reporting that the soon-to-be Obama administration, and senior Democrats, are talking to the current administration about requesting the remaining rescue funds ($350 billion).

According to the article, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Service Committee, will soon be proposing legislation that would overhaul the remaining funds.

Here are some important points to the overhaul:

1. Treasury must develop foreclosure relief plans for owner-occupied homes by March 15 and start committing TARP funds to it by April 1. The plans can include government guarantees for modified loans, paying down second liens and outright loan purchases to bring down payments.

2. Toughen executive compensation rules and make some of them retroactive for banks that have already received funds.

3. Give smaller banks access to TARP funds and set benchmarks for institutions to meet in expanding their lending.

Will there be greater oversight and accountability over how the second half of the bailout package is utilized?

Ms. Huffington notes in her post:

“There is an all-too-real economic drama playing out behind the drawn curtain — a mystery waiting to be unraveled. And journalistic careers to be made by those doing the unraveling. So what are the media waiting for?”

Hopefully this post helped to pull the curtain back just a little bit.

January 10, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Obama’s Vision for US Foreign Policy

President-Elect Obama’s inauguration is now just 11 days away. The dilemmas that await him are by now well-documented. I would, however, like to revisit Obama’s thoughts on what the United States’ foreign policy ought to be in the years to come. Here is the July/August 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs, in which Obama wrote a piece titled, “Renewing American Leadership.”

Here is a summary:

After Iraq, we may be tempted to turn inward. That would be a mistake. The American moment is not over, but it must be seized anew. We must bring the war to a responsible end and then renew our leadership — military, diplomatic, moral — to confront new threats and capitalize on new opportunities. America cannot meet this century’s challenges alone; the world cannot meet them without America.

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Foreign Policy, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ground Report and the Citizen Journalist

Thanks to The Huffington Post, I learned of a really interesting news source: Ground Report. What’s Ground Report? Check out this revolutionary concept (found on their “About” page):

On GroundReport, you’ll find trusted world news, video and opinion from citizen journalists like you.

GroundReport.com is a global news platform that lets anyone publish videos and articles and earn money based on traffic. We have over 3,000 contributors worldwide who regularly break stories hours, days and weeks before major media outlets.

GroundReport brings you on-the-ground news coverage you won’t find anywhere else. And unlike other sites, we pay all of our contributors a share of revenues, based on their traffic.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

To the aspiring citizen journalists out there: grab a camera, find a story, and inform the world!

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Media, Politics | , , , | 2 Comments

A Speech for Then and Now

Over the past few days, I have blogged on matters that have troubled me deeply: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United States’ response in the Middle East, and the rampant corruption within our own political structure.

In moments like this, I turn to art. Somehow, art has a revitalizing, redeeming quality. It reminds me that there is goodness in the world, or that, at the very least, there is hope for it. It inspires me to participate; to lend a hand to those who need it, to smile at those who have seen darker days than I.

Here is Charlie Chaplin’s speech at the end of “The Great Dictator.” Though this is a film from 1940, it is as timely now as it was then.

“We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in…

Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want…

Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind…

We think too much and feel too little…

More than machinery we need humanity…

More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness…

Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.”

January 6, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Foreign Policy, Politics, Protests | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Obama’s Transition to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Here are some photos The Washington Post is providing of the Obama family moving into their temporary residence, the historic Hay-Adams Hotel.

As a former George Washington University Law School student, I can recall walking past the hotel on numerous occasions. Accustomed to Miami’s 90-degree weather, I greatly enjoyed the opportunities I had to bundle up and walk around the White House/Lafayette Square area. As you turn up 16th Street, NW, and you hit H Street, NW, you’ll find the elegant entrance to the hotel.

That general area, alone, reminds you that you’re at the heart of American politics and history.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Travel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

American Progress or American Dilemma?

The theme of the day (I commented on this subject, to a certain degree, in “The Washington Post’s Ann Telnaes’ Cartoon“) appears to be that the United States, at least with respect to its interaction with foreign governments, has a tendency to impose its value system.

In Fareed Zakaria’s most recent article, he notes some of the late Samuel P. Huntington’s most important work: “the most important political distinction among countries concerns not their form of government but their degree of government.” Of Huntington’s findings, Zakaria goes on to say that “American-style progress – more political participation or faster economic growth – actually created more problems than it solved.”

From Vietnam to Afghanistan, from Iraq to Pakistan, the United States’ foreign policy has been fatally flawed. The self-proclaimed notion that the United States is a liberator, and that it is in every country’s best interest to follow its Protestant Work Ethic, is not only a fallacy, but the very reason why its foreign policy has failed to adapt over the past 50 years.

We are a secular, capitalist society. Such principles work for us. That does not mean, though, that those same ideals would function under varying political landscapes, religious beliefs, and socioeconomic structures. As Zakaria states, Huntington, on tours to Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, observed that the Vietnamese people felt “secure within effective communities structured around religious or ethnic ties.” The United States viewed such sources of authority as “backward,” and took a different route. We now know how well the military campaign in Vietnam turned out.

In two months, it will be the 7th anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq. After nearly seven long years, where do we stand? The number of recent fatalities due to suicide or car bombings are mind-numbing. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban grow stronger in the areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But fret not, Americans. Our soldiers, who are already on their fourth or fifth tour of duty, will likely be re-deployed to Afghanistan.

Are these examples of American progress or an American dilemma? Samuel P. Huntington warned us of these flaws decades ago. Empires throughout history have fallen because of such short sightedness.

Only time will tell what the United States’ legacy will be.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Foreign Policy, Politics, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Washington Post’s Ann Telnaes’ Cartoon

The Washington Post recently published one of Ann Telnaes’ cartoons. In it, George H.W. Bush, with George W. sitting on his lap, tells the world how he would love for Jeb Bush to run for the US Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez, and to later run for president. At the news of this, George W. lets out a shriek, ultimately shattering the picture frame of Jeb in the background.

This cartoon, while simple, reveals quite a lot. George H.W. Bush plotting to have three generations of Bushes in the White House reminds me of “Manifest Destiny.”

Manifest Destiny was the historical belief that the United States was divinely ordained and destined to expand across the North American continent, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Under this belief, not only was it good to expand, but it was both obvious (“manifest”) and certain (“destiny”).

I found this painting on Wikipedia. Painted by John Gast circa 1872, and titled “American Progress,” it’s an allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny. Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads the American settlers westward, stringing telegraph wire as she travels. She’s also holding a school book. The painting, then, highlights the various economic activities of the pioneers, as well as the changing forms of transportation. As you’ll notice to the left, the Native Americans and wild animals flee.

George H.W. Bush saying “I’d like to see [Jeb Bush] be president some day” suggests that he thinks that it’s his family’s destiny to control the most powerful office in the world.

Well, Papa Bush, thankfully we live in a society with elections. I certainly would hate having to flee as our native brethren did in centuries past. Granted, we’re not above making a mockery of elections (Bush v. Gore), now are we? With that said, though, I truly hope America has had enough of this family.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Art, Fine Art, Humor, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Slavery in the 21st Century

New York Times op-ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof, traveled to Cambodia to report on the sex trafficking of girls into brothels.

Reading the article, I was reminded of a feature documentary film that will be coming out — “Call + Response.”

Here’s a fact: In 2007, slave traders made more money than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.

Toward the end of Mr. Kristof’s article, he notes that President-Elect Obama will have a new tool to combat traffickers: the Wilbeforce Act. Just passed by Congress, the Act strengthens sanctions on countries that allow sex slavery to take place within their borders. For details on the Wilbeforce Act, please see this detailed summary.

As Mr. Kristof’s article states, Mr. Obama, an African-American, ought to be at the forefront of this abolitionist movement toward ending all 21st century forms of slavery. In doing so, he truly would become a transformative figure, a modern day Frederick Douglas.

“Never forget, justice is what love looks like in public.” — Dr. Cornel West

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Art, Film, Law, Media, Politics, Protests, Travel | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Va. Governor to become next DNC Chairman

According to this Washington Post article, Va. Governor Tim Kaine will become the next Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman. He’ll work part-time until 2010, when Va. gubernatorial elections take place, and then he’ll assume the role full-time.

In that role, Kaine will be responsible for defending President-Elect Barack Obama against the Republicans. Certainly, then, he’ll be an important figure to follow. Partly responsible for the historic successes Obama had in Virginia, a state that hadn’t gone Democrat since 1964, let’s see if Kaine will also be an effective Obama cheerleader in the years to come.

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hundreds of Brazil’s Eco-Warriors At Risk Of Assassination

Hundreds of Brazil’s Eco-Warriors At Risk Of Assassination, Says New Report.

According to a report compiled by Brazil’s Catholic Land Commission (CPT), at least 260 people live under the threat of murder due to their fight with a coalition of loggers, farmers, and cattle ranchers.

Is this really going on in the 21st century?

The individual cases are absolutely startling. Brazilian police are investigating claims that there’s a £14,000 price on the head of a French priest because of his fight against slave labor. An Austrian bishop has been under 24-hour surveillance for two years because of his clash with developers and child prostitution in his Amazonian diocese. Also, a leader of the landless movement was assassinated earlier this year with a single shot to the head.

According to the article, in the 1980’s there were over 1,000 murders in the Amazon.

In the last 12 months, deforestation in the Amazon has risen by 64%. Inside a reserve, nearly 7,500 acres have been deforested, mostly illegally.

This story reminds me of a book I read a few years ago: Killing Pablo. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Pablo Escobar was the king of the Colombian drug trade. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were killed during the reign of the Medellin cartel. Those murdered included politicians, judges, policemen, and anyone else who tried standing in Escobar’s way.

Here, the case is eerily similar. Law enforcement in Brazil seems to have little or no impact on the rampant lawlessness and threat to human life. In the case of Pablo Escobar, a special task force was sent from the US to help in the hunt. A similar maneuver may be called for in this circumstance – a special group of law enforcement focused on this, and only this, matter.

Knowing how the political landscape works, though, both in the US and abroad, such proactive measures seem unlikely. In spite of recent efforts, such as the production of “An Inconvenient Truth,” the issue of preserving the environment has yet to elevate to the sort of global awareness that the war on drugs and terror have.

Hopefully, articles like this one will slowly awaken people to the unacceptable practices that are compromising both people’s lives and our environment.

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Richardson Withdraws Bid, Possible “Pay-to-Play” Scandal

Richardson withdraws bid to be commerce secretary – Yahoo! News.

Man, Obama just can’t catch a break. Multiple bailouts, the corruption scandal in Illinois (we still really don’t know the extent of his transition staff’s involvement), the Israeli-Palestinian escalating conflict, and now Bill Richardson’s possible “pay-to-play” situation — all before he even takes office.

It seems a California-based company that contributed to Richardson’s political activities was later granted a state contract worth over $1 billion.

Secretary of Commerce was a mere consolation prize for Mr. Richardson, at one time thought to be the next Secretary of State. Now, that’s all a moot point. Mr. Richardson has withdrawn his candidacy so that the new administration doesn’t “delay for one day the important work that needs to be done.”

Mr. Richardson, I hope you and your staff have some good attorneys.

January 4, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israel, Watch Your Step

According to this NY Times article, Israel is facing a political quagmire: how far should it take this military campaign against Hamas?

Israel’s main concern is addressing the rockets being fired into southern Israel. So the question becomes: can the rockets be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power? If not, then is the operation to remove Hamas entirely, at any cost?

In 2006, Israel was unable to defeat Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, and the terrorist organization was legitimized. Here, it seems that Israel is facing a very similar problem. Aluf Benn, a political analyst for Haaretz, contends that if the war ends in a draw, then Hamas will be legitimized and grow stronger.

Most people, including many Israelis, would prefer that a truce be brokered. Any potential truce would likely have to include an end to the economic boycott that Israel has imposed on Gaza. However, such a result would build up Hamas. If the boycott remains in place, though, 1.5 million Gazans will remain living in poverty.

The article goes on to say that Israel can only achieve victory if it were to once again occupy Gaza.

As several political insiders point out, though, removing Hamas would be unrealistic. Hamas won a democratic majority four years ago, and the group has 15,000-20,000 armed men.

What about the Fatah party? Couldn’t it just take the place of Hamas, as it once did? The article points out that Fatah is likely too disorganized to take over. Complicating this matter further, the longer Israel retains a military presence in Gaza, the weaker Fatah becomes. In the minds of Gazans, it would appear as though Fatah were collaborating with Israel.

Ultimately, the article notes that the destruction of Hamas’ infrastructure would likely result in chaos. With no influx of capital, and no political party to maintain order, Gazans won’t know which way is north.

If Israel’s goal is to reach a peaceful accord with its surrounding enemies, it had better calculate its moves very, very carefully.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Te Acuerdas, Cuba?

Mi querida Cuba, te acuerdas?

Yo tenia puesto mi vestido preferido, el rojo. Mamá decía que el color hacia resaltar mi piel dorada.

Caminé sobre El Malecón, de la Habana Vieja hasta Vedado. Agarrada de la mano de papá, salude al pescador.

El mar chocaba violentamente contra la pared, la espuma refrescándote. Te sentías protegida.

Te acuerdas?

Fuimos a Santiago de Cuba. Ay, que calor. Mira allá, me dijo papá.

Una morena se movía en la calle. Mueve los pies y las caderas porque el piso está caliente, pregunté yo.

Cuando estés disgustada, dijo mamá, el único remedio es bailar. Ese día descubrí el son.

Habían cuatro hombres sentados que acompañaban a esa morena.

Tocaban el tres, el violín, las maracas, y el instrumento que con cada llanto llenaba tu alma de alegría y tristeza, la trompeta.

Te acuerdas?

Paseamos por Santa Clara y le dimos vuelta al parque Leoncio Vidal. Aquí nos conocimos, dijeron mis padres.

Besé al Niño de la Bota, y rápido corrí de la vergüenza. El ha sido testigo del amor, no es cierto?

Te acuerdas?

Terminamos en Pinar del Río. Caminando por la plantación de tabaco, dejé que mis manos sintieran las aojas. No se pongan tristes, les dije. Pronto los sentiré de nuevo en el aliento de papá.

No te olvides de lo que has visto, dijo mamá. Nos tendremos que ir por mucho tiempo, ella agregó, y la memoria es frágil.

Bajó una tormenta de la Sierra Maestra. En vez de brindarte agua para darle vida a las flores, los relámpagos han asustado y los vientos han ido destruyendo tu belleza.

Han sido cincuenta años desde que te vi. Y siempre he estado consciente de lo que me dijo mamá.

No te he olvidado.

Mi querida Cuba, te acuerdas de mi?

Te pido que no me olvides. Aguanta un poco mas, pues yo volveré pronto.

Volveré para que me abracen las palmas reales. Volveré a respirar.

January 2, 2009 Posted by | Art, Español, Poetry, Politics | , , , , , | 3 Comments

The New Global Financial Architecture – The Davos Debates

This video was submitted recently to the World Economic Forum in response to the economic question: Will the world economy be restored in 2009?

I like everything about this video. From a creativity standpoint, the cut out letters, music, and pace of the video are original and effective. As for substance, I like that the person addressed the question by presenting an economic game plan step by step. Judge for yourself:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

January 1, 2009 Posted by | Economics, Media, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Protesters glued inside BBC HQ

If the media is to be objective, it should show the different sides of any argument. Here, the protesters contend that the BBC is offering a one-sided, pro-Israel angle.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

One thing I found interesting was how the woman called for the BBC to give equal coverage to Palestinian government officials. Isn’t Hamas the leading political party in Palestine (In January 2006, Hamas took 76 of 132 seats in the Palestinian parliamentary elections)? Hamas…the known terrorist organization? In essence, then, the woman is calling for BBC to share the limelight between Israel and Hamas.

Should the BBC air whatever Hamas has to say? There does seem to be something inherently wrong with handing the podium over to a terrorist organization whenever it feels like spouting off its religious/political agenda. As far as the western media is concerned, wouldn’t it be enabling or legitimizing the organization were it to chronicle every spoken word or action?

My feeling is that, even though the Palestinians have democratically given Hamas the right to speak on their behalf, Hamas should not be entitled to equal air time.

January 1, 2009 Posted by | Law, Media, Politics, Protests | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

World Economic Forum and YouTube: Make Your Voice Heard

World leaders and thinkers, from Bill Gates to Bono, will be attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 29, 2009. They will be meeting to address some of the key issues facing our planet: the economy, ethics, environment, and politics. The theme for the forum is “Shaping the Post-Crisis World.”

Through YouTube.com, you can submit a video weighing in on these contentious issues, and possibly win an opportunity to attend the forum in Davos:

Here are the FOUR questions you can respond to…

1. The Economy:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

2. Corporate Ethics:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

3. The Environment:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

4. Politics:

Want to see how others answered that question? Click HERE

This is our chance. Let’s make our voices heard.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Economics, Education, Law, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bush Wins Rulings on Gitmo Detainees

Very quietly, an important case was passed on Tuesday.

Richard Leon, a federal district judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled Tuesday that the government was properly holding two Guantánamo detainees as enemy combatants. This was the first clear-cut victory for the Bush administration in what are expected to be more than 200 similar cases.

Rulings such as these are significant, among other reasons, because the Obama administration may use them to justify continuing to hold certain detainees even if they’ve already closed the Cuban prison down.

This is only a district court case that is likely to be appealed, so the extent of its impact is likely yet to be determined. The lawyer of one of the detainees said several issues were appealable, including the fact that the government was allowed to rely on classified evidence which her client was not permitted to see.

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , | 1 Comment

Roland W. Burris? The Plot Thickens

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich sure loves to create scandal. In his most recent move, the Ill. governor appointed Roland W. Burris to replace President-Elect Obama in the US Senate.

In a New York Times article, Don Rose, a former Democratic political consultant in Chicago, described Mr. Burris as “not a terribly exciting figure,” and that “there’s never been a breath of scandal about [Mr. Burris].”

However, another Times article suggests that the political waters surrounding Burris’ relationship with Blagojevich may be a bit murkier. Following the 2002 primary for governor, Mr. Burris encouraged Mr. Obama to endorse Mr. Blagojevich. At one point, Mr. Burris served as the vice chairman of the governor’s transition team.

Moreover, Mr. Burris and his consulting firm have made several contributions to Mr. Blagojevich’s campaign. State records show that the consulting firm has given more than $9,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, and Mr. Burris has personally handed out at least $4,500. In June of this year, Mr. Burris contributed $1,000 to Mr. Blagojevich’s campaign. The article also notes, though, that Mr. Burris is not someone believed to be mentioned in the conversations prosecutors recorded of Mr. Blagojevich’s apparent negotiations over the seat.

Can the Senate now exclude Mr. Burris from taking the seat? Not so fast. A Wall Street Journal law blog noted the effect that the US Supreme Court’s decision in Powell v. McCormick could have on this issue.

In Powell, Adam Clayton Powell, a Harlem representative facing some legal issues, won reelection in 1966. The House of Representatives voted to exclude him. The US Supreme Court’s decision was that the proceedings against Powell were intended to exclude him rather than expel him, and that the House did not constitutionally possess the power to exclude a duly elected member.

How does this affect Mr. Burris? Well, it seems that the Senate would have to wait for him to be seated as a new member of Congress, and only then could they force a vote to have him expelled. Removing Mr. Burris from the Senate would require a two-thirds vote, however. Will two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor of his removal? Only time will tell.

Regardless of how this political game plays out, Mr. Rose thinks Mr. Burris will “run again,” that this is what “[Mr. Burris has] always wanted.”

December 31, 2008 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israeli Missile Attacks on Gaza

This video gives a sense of the horrors currently transpiring in Gaza (WARNING: some images may be too disturbing for some viewers):

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The most shocking image for me was the Palestinian policeman, presumably praying as he met his end. Watching him, I was reminded of two things: José Martí ‘s poem, “Cultivo una Rosa Blanca,” and the final scene in the film, “All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).”

In the poem, José Martí writes, “Cultivo una rosa blanca…para el amigo sincero que me da su mano franca. Y para el cruel que me arranca el corazón con que vivo…cultivo la rosa blanca.” Martí’s message is that one should cultivate a white rose, a symbol of purity and innocence, for both friend and foe. Martí, a prominent thinker during Cuba’s war for independence from Spain, was instructing his readers to love, not hate. The poem calls for us to embrace, rather than kill, the enemy.

The ending of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930) is a cinematic classic:

In the film’s final scene, the soldier is killed as he reaches to touch a butterfly. That image has stuck with me. The soldier, weary and solemn, found beauty on the battlefield. In that moment, he forgot about the hell he was living in. He was in a trance pursuing something pure. In reaching for the butterfly, the soldier’s heart beat louder than any gunshot. In that moment, just for that moment, he was human again.

I don’t have an answer for the Middle East crisis generally, or the Israel-Palestine conflict specifically. I don’t know if Israel’s response (Israeli bombs have killed 270+ Palestinians, mostly militants) was proportional to the Palestinian militant aggression (300+ rockets fired into Israel in the past week). On this matter, I am truly impotent.

I can, however, provide a few words in favor of peace. This is my message to those in Gaza, Israel, and any other war-torn territory:

God, watch over them. Watch over their families and their people. Let them know that violence inevitably leads to more pain. Teach them that love for the enemy, while difficult and seemingly unnatural, may be the only solution to keeping their skies blue and not gray with smoke. Guide the soldiers away from the war zone and back into their homes. Heal the wounded and soothe the broken-spirited. Let rain, not warplanes, fall from the sky to wash away the blood, tears, and soot. Allow words, not guns, to determine the outcome.

Shalom Aleichem (Hebrew for “peace be upon you”).

Wa Aleykum As-Salaam (Arabic for “and upon you be peace”).

December 28, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Will Obama Abuse His Power?

In response to a New York Times article, in which a Yale Law School student said that some liberal students, disillusioned by how conservatives had run government, would be applying for jobs within the Obama-Biden transition team because they “feel like government now can be potentially a huge force for social justice,” George Mason University law professor David Bernstein made an interesting argument:

“[I]t’s a categorical mistake to think the fundamental problem with abusive government is who is in power, rather than the existence of the power itself, combined with human nature.”

Sure, political philosophers, from Machiavelli to Kant, have opined on man’s difficulty to wield political power without abusing it. Power, some have argued, inevitably corrupts.

Look no further than President George W. Bush.

The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing a case in the spring, Al-Marri v. Pucciarelli, to address the issue of whether the Executive has the legal authority to indefinitely detain a legal resident in the United States, without charge, by declaring him an “enemy combatant.” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri was arrested in 2001 as a material witness in the FBI’s investigation of 9/11. In 2002, he was charged with credit card fraud and other criminal offenses. Prior to his trial in 2003, however, President Bush declared al-Marri an “enemy combatant.” Five years have passed, and Mr. al-Marri remains in solitary confinement without charge.

Our “lame duck” president also continues to push highly contentious regulations into the midnight hour. One such regulation, if enacted, would provide stronger protections for doctors and other medical staff to refuse to perform abortions if the medical procedures would violate their moral or religious beliefs. While Roe v. Wade remains good law, this regulation would gravely impact indigent women, whose access to medical resources is already limited.

Will President-Elect Obama follow in his soon-to-be predecessor’s footsteps? Will he, too, abuse of his power?

There is little way of knowing what may transpire over the next four years. However, if the formation of Obama’s cabinet is an indication of anything, it’s that Obama is aware of checks and balances. By many considered a “team of rivals,” this group consists of political heavyweights whose views span the entire ideological spectrum.

During the Democratic primaries, Senator Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State designee, differed from Obama on troop withdrawal from Iraq. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates is a Bush appointee. General Jim Jones appeared with John McCain during the campaign. The fact that these public officials are forming part of Obama’s “CHANGE” team has many liberals outraged.

And that’s the point.

One marked difference between the Bush administration and Obama’s cabinet picks is cronyism. The American public expected Obama to select his friends. On MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Chris Matthews, referring to Obama selecting former Clinton officials and even Republicans, said that “elections ought to matter.”

But this election has mattered.

Obama has purposely surrounded himself with people who will challenge him and question his views. By debating him, his advisers hold him accountable. If he is answerable for his actions, then Obama may be less inclined to abuse of his constitutionally granted powers.

So, Professor Bernstein, while the marriage between man and power is necessarily volatile, there still remains hope that the future commander-in-chief can be a man of principle, a leader who navigates perilous waters with integrity.

December 12, 2008 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | 3 Comments