Thursday, November 1, 2012

What the Blog will be in the future

Back in August I noted that the blog would no longer be as active as it was over the summer. In recent months I have had to refrain from posting my political opinions on the internet as a result of joining a school newspaper. Objectivity is key in reporting and I have no moral qualms about that. That's the nature of the business. That being said, I spent time thinking about whether or not I want to continue blogging. In the end I decided the answer is yes, but the blog will be different from what it was. Mainly now, this will be a blog based on going over older albums, digging up bluesmen that need to be listened to and the occasional poem by yours truly. I think this is the best way to go forward and I hope people will stay with me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No More

T.S. Eliot stands outside my front door
Selling Tracts and Leaflets funded by Las Vegas Liquor Stores
Without any regard for the schoolteacher and the whore
Singing the blues in the House of Commons on a Saturday Night

No means no in every sense of the word
It means no for a potential sunset viewing among the herd
It means no to the bastion of soliloquies of Richard the Third
It means no to George Washington Flying a Kite

I will hold onto these fantasies in my thicket of remorse
While I curse the darkness with Conor Friedersdorf
And cast my net for clarinets at fisherman's wharf
All the while, my I give up my vision for insight

Friday, August 24, 2012

Romney and Obama: Two Unwilling Mantle-Bearers

Ta Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic has put out an article about the general inability or flat-out refusal by President Barack Obama to assume the role as a leader of the Black Community.  Coates' assertion Throughout his term, there has always been a seeming unease about having a black President. In addition, the President has also shown a great fear of being seen as a "black President." Since the beginning of his career on the national stage, he has desperately attempted to not portray himself as the person to save Black America. In his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention, instead of talking about the struggles of Black America, he admonished black Americans for saying reading a book was "acting white" and the only other time he mentioned race in that speech was when he famously stated "There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America."

Similarly, upon running for President, he ran from his race. When the story broke about Reverend Jeremiah Wright, President Obama chose not to explain the traditions of the black church and did not defend what his priest said. Rather he pivoted gave a speech on the racial tensions still pervading America. Rather than owning his race, he attempted to paint himself in Pan-Americanism, showing himself as an ultra-Patriot. He has similarly avoided the question of his race during his Presidency, quickly back-pedaling after the Skip Gates controversy and instead of discussing race, chose to try and reconcile the misunderstanding.

As Coates notes in his article the only time the President has really directly addressed race relations since then was when he discussed the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and it was met with backlash. While the President has not said he regrets weighing in, and it is impossible to know what he is thinking, in most likelihood it probably validated President Obama's concerns about being a "black leader" as opposed to the leader of the United States of America.

Similarly, some of the President's greatest critics have come from members of his own race. Public Intellectual Cornel West, who vigorously supported him in 2008, called him the "black mascot of Wall Street." Similarly, Members of the Congressional Black Caucus like Emanuel Cleaver and Maxine Waters have proven to be some of his most vehement critics on the Hill. Yet, rather than address these criticisms or take them to heart, the President famously admonished the Congressional Black Caucus in a fiery speech where he exclaimed "Stop Complaining." Throughout his national career, a key aspect of the President's career has been his flouting of "black issues."

In some ways, ironically, this fear of identity ownership may be something that President Obama shares with his 2012 opponent, as Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has shown similar aversion to being seen as "the Mormon Candidate." Similar to Senator Obama's Speech on race, in 2007 Governor Romney gave a speech on his Mormon faith, firmly asserting "Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions." He later stated " A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States." Since then, Governor Romney has been wont to discuss his Mormon faith and its possible influence on his political worldview.

Yet, as trivial as it is, by becoming the Republican Nominee for President, Governor Romney is now the most prominent Mormon in America. In addition, since Mormonism has faced many stereotypes, and rumors as only a fringe faith, now that it enters the main stage, it will naturally be subject to closer examination.This appears to be a burden that he is unwilling to bear, naturally. Like President Obama, Governor Romney wants to be judged on his record on the issues and how he addresses the needs of the voters he is courting, not the needs of the Mormon Community as a whole. Whereas Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, his Primary opponent and fellow Mormon, was more comfortable discussing spirituality, and the role the church had on his life, Governor Romney altogether would avoid the issue.

A large reason for this is perhaps the fact that the Governor is part of a party that has strong influence from Evangelical Christians, many of whom assert Mormonism to be a cult. Coupled with his change of position on issues like abortion, it leads many in the Christian Evangelical wing to question his sincerity. Hence, like President Obama appears to try and paint himself "American," the Governor has attempted to paint himself as "Severely Conservative" to borrow one of his own phrases. Instead of focusing on his faith or portraying Mormonism in a positive image, he has ducked the issue, feeling it to be unimportant.

This analogy is not perfect of course. Governor Romney has not been elected and there is no knowledge of how he would tackle the Mormon question as President. However, as a candidate, he has found himself in a conundrum. Will he allow himself to address and discuss his faith in a frank and open conversation? Or will he hope both his would-be supporters and detractors alike turn the other way and find other aspects of his life to examine.

In some way though, by both Governor Romney and President Obama obfuscating their respective minority statuses, they may be doing what they feel is in the best interest of their communities. Like the immigrants who docked on Ellis Island, they feel a need to be "more American" than anyone else, in hopes of showing that Blacks and Mormons can be patriotic, competent Americans capable of governing from the highest office in the land. Yet, what both men fail to realize is that as long as they hide their race or only communicate with winks and nods, it also allows their opponents to speculate with winks and nods about their respective race and faith.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

End of Regular Blogging for the Summer

This Summer I re-launched the EMG Blog after having not properly tended to it and I must say it has been one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had as a writer. Though I know I do not have a loyal reading base, this blog has always been a cathartic thing and I feel I grew as a writer over this summer. But alas, this Saturday I shall be returning to the University of North Carolina for another year of schooling and therefore will not have as much time as I have had this summer to write. I will try and write monthly at best but my studies still do come first. Thank you for reading and I look forward to this Christmas where I can get some good quality writing in.

The Weekly Standard and Human Events Display Intellectual Dishonesty at their Finest. Updated

Usually I don't insert myself or use the first person in these blog posts but today I make a special exception because I am in some small way indirectly involved. Today, The Weekly Standard and Human Events, both conservative publications released a clip of Former Clinton Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles praising Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Mitt Romney's newly-minted running mate. This meme passed quickly and was even picked up by the liberal Huffington Post. The clip includes Bowles remarking the following:
“Have any of you all met Paul Ryan? We should get him to come to the university. I’m telling you this guy is amazing. ... He is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere. And the budget that he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, serious budget and it cut the budget deficit just like we did, by $4 trillion. … The president as you remember, came out with a budget and I don’t think anybody took that budget very seriously. The Senate voted against it 97 to nothing."
This in and of itself would be a damning clip, if it were intellectually honest and played the whole of what Bowles was saying. But it is a misrepresentation of what Bowles said and I should know, because I was there. Bowles, the former President of the University of North Carolina System, was speaking at his Alma Mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for the annual Thomas W. Lambeth Lecture in Public Policy. For those who do not know, I am a proud Tar Heel and decided to drop in on this event to see what Bowles would say. On this evening, Bowles was invited to speak about the work he conducted on National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Bowles-Simpson Plan.

The segment in which Bowles discusses Representative Ryan comes at around the 35:40 mark of the video. It is true that Bowles does praise Paul Ryan in a number of aspects. However, he does remark that the Ryan Budget did two very different things than the Simpson-Bowles budget. First is that the Ryan budget does not cut defense, but actually increases the budget, whereas Simpson-Bowles does tackle defense. According to Bowles, this means that Representative Ryan had to make up for $1 trillion in cuts elsewhere in the budget. Second, is Simpson-Bowles uses 92 percent of new revenue to lower taxes to create three new tax brackets and eight percent of the money to actual deficit reduction whereas the Ryan Budget takes all of the money from the closing of loopholes and deductions and uses them to reduce rates, forcing Ryan to make another $100 Billion in cuts.

It is true that Bowles is critical of President at around the 41:00 mark of the lecture. However, he does say that the President did set up some triggers to slow the rate of growth. Also, is well known that Bowles and Former Senator Alan Simpson feel resentment that the President did not wholeheartedly adopt their plan so it is not any breaking revelation. Furthermore Bowles excoriates Congress for last year's debt ceiling debacle, and according to a New York Times article published this week, Representative Ryan worked to try and stall the "Grand Bargain" between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, joining with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his attempted obstructionism.

In addition, while Bowles may admire Paul Ryan, the love may not be mutual as Congressman Ryan was on the Simpson Bowles Commission and voted no on the plan, due to tax increases. Lastly, this week, Bowles criticized Governor Romney, Ryan's running mate, in an article saying his tax plan would not amount to real deficit reduction in an op-ed for the Washington Post. The idea that Bowles is a wayward Democrat who is somehow hitched completely to the Ryan wagon is a canard that deserves to be debunked thoroughly.

By the way, cool side note, in that video, yours truly asks Bowles a question at the 49:07 mark. And though this blog is not in the business of picking winners and losers, I make the exception by saying I am a proud student at UNC Chapel Hill, so GO HEELS!

Update: Bloomberg does a great service that I am not adept enough to do by showing the whole clip of Bowles' critique. In complete honesty and disclosure, when researching this blog, I had seen the link for this video that showed the whole clip, and I expected there to be an article, but I chose not to use it because I felt I could add a different contribution even if Bloomberg had not reported this, which they ably did. However, I still feel this blog post holds significant weight and it will stand with this update. I apologize for any impropriety.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What to make of Fareed Zakaria

This week, it was announced by Time Magazine that Fareed Zakaria would undergo a month of suspension after it was revealed that he had lifted a paragraph from New Yorker journalist Jill Lepore's article on gun control. Zakaria apologized "unreservedly" to Lepore and has not been heard from since the scandal. In addition, this weekend, his television show, Fareed Zakaria GPS did not air this Sunday on CNN (CNN is owned by Time Warner, which also owns Time Magazine). The fall is particularly brutal because of the fact that Fareed has been seen as a bright light on cable news; his show does have people with varying views but rarely does his show devolve into the shouting matches that dominates most news shows.

Plagiarism in and of itself is a serious offense for any profession, as any expelled college student will attest to. However, for Journalism it is the cardinal sin because it affects whether or not the reader can trust the writer. As Tom Plate explained in his book Confessions of an American Media Man, journalists do not have a "bar exam" or a medical license to prove that they are qualified to practice journalism-nor should they. All they have is their credibility, which is based on their accuracy in reporting. This also applies to op-editorial writers and "ideas" people; their notions must be rooted in factual and accurate reporting on the realities surrounding them. By Plagiarizing, the journalist gives up the right to have people trust their writing because it is intellectually lazy and thievery.

Moreover, plagiarism is fatal for someone like Zakaria because his entire career thrives on finding solutions and new ideas. On CNN, he has hosted a series of prime-time specials focused on fixing America's long-term difficulties such as immigration, healthcare, education and job growth. His columns are usually based on trying some middle ground to furthering the body rather than miring in the same ideologies. His is someone who is read and revered nationwide. Whenever there is an international crisis or some serious discussion on policy on CNN, Zakaria is called on for his wisdom. In turn, Zakaria has become not only the man who gives a breakdown of the news to regular people, but also to elites. President Obama was seen clutching his book on the campaign trail in 2008 and Paul Wolfowitz called him in the build-up to Iraq.

Now, Fareed can no longer claim the mantle that he once did of a sensible centrist and pragmatist not interest in ideology. Rather now it is clear through his plagiarism, whether through him or through an assistant, that Zakaria was only interested in his own brand and promoting himself. He became interested in having people know what he was thinking and not contributing to the dialogue. This is not to say he is insincere, he may think his voice has many important opinions that must be aired. But in compromising his integrity, he has lost the pedestal that he held for so long in American political journalism circles.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Was Anything Gained from the Chick Fil A Flap-Up for Religious Conservatives or Gay Rights?

Last week, in the wake of gay activists protesting Chick Fil A CEO Dan Cathy's statements on Same-Sex Marriage, Evangelical leader and former Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee announced Chick Fil A Appreciation Day. Nationwide, Christian Supporters arrived in troves to support Cathy's views on "traditional marriage" by lining up to order from the Chicken Sandwich chain. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin stepped into the fray posting a photo of her and her husband Todd purchasing food from the chain. In response, some in the gay community responded by holding kiss-ins at nearby restaurants. However, at the end, the fundamental question that must be asked is, what was gained from this whole, no pun intended, flap-up?

Cathy has always been vocal about running his business on "Biblical" principles and has also put his money where his views are. In addition, Chick-Fil-A has always been suspected of having somewhat anti-gay views, having sold their sandwiches at socially conservative functions, so for those who knew about the chain, this was nothing new. The difference is that now, in the wake of rising support for same-sex marriage, more people are not seeing same-sex marriage as a wedge issue but rather as a matter-of-fact acceptance. Similarly, Cathy had not previously been asked about his views as forwardly as he was in the interview. Furthermore, revelations that the restaurant had donated to groups like Exodus International and Focus on the Family, two notoriously anti-gay groups, seemed to accentuate the perceived homophobia.

Yet, the response by some supporters of gay rights was the equivalent, to quote Aaron Sorkin, of doling out "a thousand dollars of punishment for a fifty buck crime." Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, penned a spirited letter stating that Chick Fil A and Mr. Cathy were persona non grata in Massachusetts, while Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago said that "Chick Fil A values are not Chicago Values." However, by suppressing the restaurant's business simply because of their views on Gay rights, they betrayed one of the core ideals behind liberalism; opening up opportunities for all peoples despite their beliefs. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out, if one supports this, then they must also support say, a socially conservative mayor's ability to ban a pro-gay company from doing business in their city. Emanuel and Menino's support for equality should be just that; support for equality of all peoples, regardless of their views as long as they do not impeded the rights of others. One may find Cathy's views repugnant, but he should still be allowed to say them.

Conversely though, social conservatives' response to Emanuel and Menino clippling the proverbial wings of Chick Fil A, did nothing more than to invite contempt from those who support gay rights. Menino and Emanuel did not change their stances and gay Americans and their supporters were not intimidated by the show of solidarity. If anything, it further entrenched the opposing sides. Moreover, it showed the sorry state of conservatism. It showed how weak the social conservative movement was that they have to boycott Oreo Cookies, JC Penney and stay put in a Chicken Woodstock in order to show their support for a food chain. It showed how much the social tide is changing in regards to gay rights that they have to guard a restaurant as a refuge for their views.

In short, the Chick Fil A story tells more about America than it does about its views on gay marriage. It shows how its citizenry, its media, and its politicians turn small swipes into larger wars. It exposed how the country turns the throwing of a cherry bomb into the lighting of a Roman Candle and feeds on the conflict. Ironically enough, it comes on the anniversary of last year's debt ceiling debacle, which exposed the rotting core of the American political system. Except now it may lead people to wonder if, it's not Washington that has gone nuts, but rather how the people who send them conduct debates there that drives them nuts.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Will Anyone call out Republicans for their Dishonesty with Commanders on the Ground?

One of the commonly repeated tropes in the Republican Debates in regards to the military is the desire to "listen to Commanders on the ground." Presumptive Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney frequently repeated this in regards to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Meanwhile, Pizza Mogul Herman Cain went so far as to say he didn't need to know anything about foreign policy as long as he had good advisers. This trend did not begin with the 2011-2012 Republican Presidential cycle. During the deepest dregs of the Iraq War, President George W. Bush said "“Troop levels will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by political figures in Washington, D.C.”

There are many issues with this concept of simply deferring to the generals or military leaders. First and foremost is the fact that the President serves as Commander in Chief and is the ultimate decision-maker in any military issue. Second of all, the concept of simply listening to commanders can lead to the military controlling foreign policy without any checks and balances. However, if one is to take Conservatives at their word, it is clear that they have not followed their own platitudes in the past and are more than willing to ignore them when it comes to Iran.

The most classic example of this comes with the build up to the Iraq War. As the Bush Administration hocked that Saddam Hussein was in the process of building Weapons of Mass Destruction, they were met with considerable opposition from security experts who felt that the War would either be disastrous for American interest or they were misjudging the gravity of such a war. The most glaring example of this of course comes with General Colin Powell, then serving as President Bush's Secretary of State, who famously warned the President "if you break it you own it." Similarly, General Anthony Zinni, who served as President Bush's Middle East Envoy, voiced his opposition to the war and in hindsight said the Iraq War was a blunder. Similarly, Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki was rebuked in a smear campaign after he remarked that the Administration was not planning to have nearly enough troops to secure victory in Iraq. Throughout the war, it was apparent that the President did not follow his own maxim and only did so when it was finally apparent that his own vision was not panning out.

Now, both in Israel and the United States, conservatives are once again flouting the better opinions of military leaders and security experts. Governor Romney has stated that he would back an Israeli strike on Iran if they even get the capacity for nuclear weapons, thereby moving the goal posts for an military strike. Similarly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently attempted to compare the threat of Iran to Nazi Germany, giving a causus belli to a possible military strike. All the while however, American Security Experts on both sides have said an Israeli attack would be disastrous. Meir Dagan, the former head of Mossad has said claimed an Israeli strike would cause the Islamic Republic to go nuclear. Similarly, former Israeli Security chief Yuval Diskin has denounced the idea right out as has Major General Benny Gantz.

Yet, all the while, it appears that the Israeli Prime Minister and the Massachusetts Governor remain undaunted in their drumming up for war. In turn, the prove their hypocrisy. They claim to be patriots, wrap themselves in their respective flags and spout platitudes about the nobility and wisdom of the American and Israeli military and intelligence agencies. Yet when the opinions of the leaders of those institutions are contrary to their own, they are more than willing to disavow and discredit them.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Do Sanctions Work?

This week, The House of Representatives passed further sanctions against Iran in a 421-6 vote as a consequence for not halting their nuclear program. This augments the sanctions which banned companies that do business with Iran's central bank from business in the US in 2011 and the first round of sanctions passed by the Obama Administration in 2009. President Obama has received great praise from leaders both in the US and in Israel like Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres for his stance on Israel-the latter two are featured in a new Obama campaign video.

The sanctions themselves have had a crippling effect on Iran's economy. As of January of 2012, Iran's currency has lost 71 percent of its value since September of 2011. In addition, stories have come out of Iran regarding planes not having proper landing gears due to sanctions against Iran passed by President Clinton. In addition, the Iranian Hemophilia Society claims that the lives of thousands of children are at risk of hemophilia due to the effects of sanctions.

It is common conventional wisdom that the United States pass sanctions against countries that act against the interest of the United States and its allies. The US enacted an embargo against Cuba with the rise of Fidel Castro passed sanctions against Iraq in order to prevent Saddam Hussein from obtaining chemical weapons, and against South Africa as a means of fighting apartheid. The general theory behind sanctions is that if enough economic pressure is placed on a country, either the governing regime will relent or the people will rise up and turn against their governing body. However, with economic sanctions comes severe pain for the populace of the country suffering under sanctions. In addition, it has become quite apparent over the years that economic sanctions have not been as effective as some of their proponents say they are.

Case in point, 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the aforementioned sanctions against Fidel Castro's Cuba. However in that time, the Cuban government has not changed hands. What has changed during that time is that healthcare quality has dramatically been diminished for Cuban people, particularly those with HIV/AIDS. In addition, the non-partisan Government Accountability Office has argued that the Embargo is frivolous. Furthermore, rather than deposing the Communist government, the embargo gives the garrulous Fidel Castro something to gripe about and cite as the source of his country's ills.

Similarly, from 1991 to the 2003 Iraq War, the United States enacted sanctions in an effort to contain Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime and prevent him from obtaining chemical weapons. However the sanctions also worked to create what UNICEF dubbed "a humanitarian emergency." During this time, infant mortality was rated at 131 deaths per 1000 live births. In addition, the Sanctions earned the United States the status of pariah by Islamist Extremists and was cited by Osama Bin Laden as one of a source of his antipathy towards the United States.

The two cases that humanitarians can point to as having had the desired effect of toppling regimes are the South Africa and more recently, the gradual rise in democracy in Burma. However, in both of those cases, the sanctions were specifically requested by the protesters. Bishop Desmond Tutu vehemently pushed for sanctions against his government at a time when Western leaders like American President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pushed for "constructive engagement" to gently nudge the government along. Similarly, Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi has warned the United States' easing of sanctions, hoping it does not cause the government to stop the reforms made during sanctions.

Meanwhile, in Iran, it seems that the sanctions have had the opposite effect that their proponents desire. Members of the Green Movement, Iran's main opposition force, has stated their discontent with sanctions. In addition, last year, Iranian students raided the British Embassy in Tehran, chanting "Death to England," in light of a round of sanctions the UK instated against the Islamic Republic. With this in in mind, perhaps the best way forward to assisting in the end of despotic regimes is not to continue to write the same failed prescriptions but rather listen to the actual dissenters and their desires as to how to move their countries forward.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tomasky is Wrong-The GOP's Leadership is Wimpy in General

Newsweek's cover story by Michael Tomasky about Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney being a "wimp," has lead to much discussion even from within the magazine's franchise. In a subsequent article elaborating his views, Tomasky argues that Governor Romney "lives in fear of America's Right Wing," and that they only care about "passing the muster" with what Teddy Roosevelt famously called the "lunatic fringe" of the parties. The evidence Tomasky refers to of course is Governor Romney's serial vacillating on everything from gun control, abortion, and the Individual Mandate in his Commonwealth Care Plan.

Governor Romney's unwillingness to confront the far right, of course stands in stark contrast to George Romney's refusal to endorse Barry Goldwater in 1964 and his courageous stance on Civil Rights. It is easy to simply lay blame on Governor Romney and ridicule his weakness as just an example of a man without principle. However, it is clear that Governor Romney is not an isolated incident. Rather the GOP's leadership is being dominated by "wimps" and incompetents as they have frequently shown their unwillingness to stand against their more radical fringes when they are wrong.

The highest ranking elected Republican in the Country, Speaker John Boehner is a classic example of this. While his caucus has said they would focus on jobs, they have instead resorted to ideological grandstanding and refuse address the reality of a Democratic Senate and White House. Since taking up the Speaker's Gavel, his Republican Congress has voted thirty-three times to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In addition, they voted for two of Representative Paul Ryan's budgets, and pushed for a Balanced Budget Amendment in the midst of a debt-ceiling debate, knowing none of these would pass the Senate.

Why? Because Boehner was too weak to set his caucus in order and create an agenda that addressed his surroundings to achieve conservative goals. Furthermore, he has ambitious understudies such as Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy breathing down his back, throwing red meat to his caucus, setting themselves up as the next leaders should there be a mutiny. In turn, like Governor Romney, the Speaker has abdicated his duties as Speaker of the House out of sheer terror. While a greater leader would shape the consensus, and keep his party in line, the Speaker is fearful of losing his power and therefore allowing ideological grandstanding instead of creating solutions.

What is especially ironic is that the party is allowing itself to be lead by wimps when previously, the GOP were the ones who had the stronger leaders and the Democrats were the ones who picked wimpy leaders. Furthermore, they were able to achieve conservative goals in similar situations. Ronald Reagan got the triple crown of spending cuts, defense increases, and tax cuts in his first year in office, despite the fact that the bleeding-heart liberal Tip O'Neil of Massachusetts was the Speaker of the House. Newt Gingrich was able to achieve a balanced budget, and capital gains tax cuts with Bill Clinton as President. George W. Bush was able to pass exorbitant tax cuts, and drum up support for two wars while there was still a Democratic Senate and was aided by Tom "the Hammer" Delay and Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Then, the GOP suffered backlashes in recent years. Gingrich's hubris and vigor turned him into a polarizing figure who faced a mutiny within his own party. President Bush and Vice President Cheney's cocksure approach to Iraq led to adverse results on the ground and Tom Delay fell on his own ethical sword. In turn, the party was left with understudies who were being groomed for leadership but not necessarily ready for prime time, such as Boehner, who was not seen as leadership material. Governor Romney, meanwhile has been seen not as a standard-bearer with any relatively new ideas but rather the safe choice because he lacked the firebrand nature of his fellow 2012 candidates.

The subsequent wave of defeats in 2006 and 2008 saw the rise of the Tea Party. But instead of co-opting the Tea Party, and taming it to be a workable force, the leadership has failed to take the reins and has allowed a bucking bronco to not only disrupt their buggy but everyone else's as well. Furthermore, it appears that the Tea Party not only emerged out of this lack of leadership but it requires it. At this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said the following:

We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it.
Norquist's quote is telling. It shows that the GOP has reduced itself to not having a proper party hierarchy to mitigate its fringes to the point where the fringes essentially govern the leadership. The overall dereliction of duty by the leaders out of sheer fear has allowed people like Norquist, Bachmann, and others to completely govern the party agenda to the point that the people who should be spearheading are now paralyzed by the power of the fringes. The lack of willpower creates leaders afraid of their own shadows. However, ideology rarely leads to smart governing and if the leaders of the party continue to be silent, the party risks relevance.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Picking Apart the Romney Worldview

This weekend, Governor Mitt Romney touched down in Israel as the second leg of his three-nation jaunt to build up his foreign policy credibility. There he will hope to salvage what is left of this tour after his ill-spoken comments on preparations for the Olympics in its host city of London and also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In many ways, Governor Romney has the luxury of not needing to discuss his foreign policy worldview. However, when the rhetoric is examined, it is apparent the Governor's Foreign Policy Worldview is not leadership for the 21st Century but rather is stuck in the 20th Century.

One of Governor Romney's closer advisers on foreign affairs is Robert Kagan, a preeminent neoconservative historian who in March, published an article with the headline saying "America has Made the World Safer, Freer, and Wealthier." In the article's conclusion, Kagan expounds that "If and when American power declines, the institutions and norms American power has supported will decline, too." To Kagan, America is always seen as a force that supports free democracies, elections and capitalism. In turn, America must continue to have the role of global imposer of its will.

However, Kagan's logic can at times be deeply flawed. While it is true that the United States did play a large role in World War II and the success of the post-war recovery as well as supporting free elections, there were also instances where it compromised its democratic values in the name of containing the Soviet Union, as was the case with supporting Contras in Nicaragua; the deposing of a Democratically-elected Prime Minister in Iran for a Shah-which caused the breeding ground for the Iranian revolution in 1979-and the assistance in the overthrowing of Salvador Allende in Chile. The United States would continue this practice after the Cold War with its support for the Saudi Arabian Kingdom, and continued to support Hosni Mubarak until the final part of the February 2011 uprisings in Egypt.

This is not to say that the United States is necessarily an evil force either and to force between saying one or the other is a false dichotomy. However, what it does say is that the United States' foreign policy is oftentimes directed in what is in its national interest. Sometimes, this does lead to good results, as was the case with support for anti-communist forces, but the idea of America as some global enforcer of pure democratic intentions could not be further from the truth. It is that mindset that provided the intellectual impetus for neoconservative ventures like the War in Iraq.

This mode of thinking is clear in Governor Romney's approach to discussing civilization. In a speech to the Citadel last October, Governor Romney spoke of the need to create "a New American Century," quoting an essay by Henry Luce. The analogy is fitting given Romney's remarks that he is a "classic baby boomer" and therefore remembers the era where America was locked in a clash of the benevolent force that was the United States and the evil empire of the Soviet Union. In addition, he was born just two years after the United States had assumed the mantle of World Leader after the fall of Nazi Germany. In turn, to the Governor, the world is constantly pitted in a battle of good versus evil, with the United States force always being benevolent and any force questioning it questions the nature of America.

This zero-sum view is further augmented by Governor Romney's belief that the Constitution is "divinely inspired." By elevating the Constitution from a legal document created by intelligent but fallible men which contains, what Franklin called, "all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views," but still managed to be a wonderful document to being a divinely inspired religious text, it decreases the humility of American force and its ability to negotiate in diplomatic engagement with its enemies. For if someone's founding was ordained by God, then then any compromise of its nature. Hence, when he goes around saying that America should not apologize, it is not the typical conservative chest thumping seen by other conservatives but rather moral outrage because how can one question a country with a divinely inspired document?

In turn, Governor Romney's hawkish views have been on display in subtle hints. He called America and Israel the "true peacemakers" in regards to a military strike against Iran.  He has said famously that Russia is America's "number one geopolitical foe." It is also apparent when Governor Romney said that if President Obama had implemented the Bush Freedom Agenda, there would not have been an Arab Spring.

The problem with this worldview however, is that it is out of touch with what has really occurred since the end of the Cold War. Mubarak didn't fail to do democratic reforms because of the failure to enact the Freedom Agenda; in fact if the agenda had worked, then Mubarak would have left earlier. Yet the United States continued to financially support Mubarak even during this so-called "Freedom Agenda." Russia may stall action on Syria and in other areas but they do not have the military firepower to pose a serious threat and is in the middle of its own political upheaval. In addition, Romney's bullishness on a war with Iran is similar to Netanyahu's; it flies in the face of warnings of calamity by both Israeli and American security experts. In turn, it could be said that the Governor's foreign policy is little more than a cut and paste of previous foreign policy mores and could potentially lead to over-extension of military and diplomatic force.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Mental Breather for the Weekend

This weekend the blog will be off. I had finals this week and my brain is fried. This week will be a time for restoration, reading, reflecting and loved ones. I will be back next week.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Is the American Right fed up with the Tea Party?

It's been a year since the debate over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and whether or not it should also include spending cuts. The debate in many ways manifested what people thought about Congress assumed but was not confirmed. In turn, approval of Congress approval rating nosedived, to the point where it had a 9% approval rating. In turn, there has been a sense of how the country's politics got so polarized, particularly on the right and the rise of prominent conservative activists who have pushed for strident adherence to principle. Yet while most outside of the American Right Wing have been quick to point out the radicalization of the Republican Party and their marriage to the Tea Party, it appears that many in the Republican Party are having a case of buyer's remorse after making such a bargain.

Case in point, in the primary election, Tea Party Favorites Rep. Michele Bachmann, Governor Rick Perry and Herman Cain all enjoyed brief spurts of success. All of them were seen as threats to frontrunner Governor Mitt Romney. Yet in the end, all of them dropped out rather early and Congressman Ron Paul, the intellectual godfather of the Tea Party, never got higher than second place in any of the contests he competed in. Ultimately, the party wound up picking the equivalent of the prom third wheel in Governor Romney largely because of the fact that he is a candidate who is not tied to the Tea Party and does not speak with the fervor that his counterparts does. In addition, the candidate who forced Governor Romney to the right, Senator Rick Santorum, was not a Tea Partier but an old-fashioned social/neoconservative.

Similarly, this week, Senator Tom Coburn published an editorial in the New York Times, excoriating Grover Norquist, the zealous head of Americans for Tax Reform, who created the now infamous pledge calling for no increases in taxes. Nobody would ever accuse Coburn of being a tax-and-spend RINO; he recently released a book on deficit reduction, supported the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and famously blocked the Zadroga Bill, which would have provided healthcare to those who responded to 9/11. Rather, Coburn seems to be pushing for an end to the games for the sake of fiscal conservatism, rather than in a mutiny against it. The fact that he is willing to say speak out against the shenanigans of a prominent activist like Norquist shows a possible break in the fever that has emblazoned the Republican Congress.

In addition, it appears the electoral arm of the Republican Party has seen that Tea Party politics may not be the best route to winning elections going forward. Numerous Republican Congressional candidates have said they would not sign Norquist's pledge. Tellingly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, albeit a fiscal conservative but also a someone who criticizes the war on drugs, will be giving the keynote address at the GOP's convention in August, signaling a possibly different tone for the future of conservatism in America. In addition, it was also revealed that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the 2008 Vice Presidential Candidate and Tea Party darling, was not invited to Tampa.

Lastly, it appears that the vitriolic outlandish claims that Tea Party politicians have previously contended have also grown out of fashion. This week, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and four other members of Congress, alleged the State Department was being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, going as high as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin. These types of claims are not new to Bachmann, as she is the same woman who in 2008 accused then-Senator Barack Obama of having anti-American views and called for investigations into members of Congress for such sentiments. Similarly, the Tea Party has been alleging President Obama was not born in the United States, and party leadership has either not tried to squelch these claims or have said such half-hearted "I take the President at his word."

Yet with this recent string of accusations, Bachmann has been met with strong backlash. Senator John McCain returned to his maverick roots by giving a speech on the Senate floor defending Abedin, saying “I am proud to know Huma and to call her my friend.” Similarly, Speaker of the House John Boehner, soon followed suit, saying the accusations were "pretty dangerous." Even Bachmann's former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, denounced his former client in an op-editorial on Fox News of all sites.

The GOP is often accused of allowing the furthest wings of the party take over from the grown-ups, as was the case with Senator Joe McCarthy, the 1964 nomination of Barry Goldwater, and with the rise of Newt Gingrich's rancorous tactics during his tenure as Speaker of the House. Yet what is also important to realize in all of those cases was that at one point or another, there were those grown-ups in the party who took a stand to say "enough;" as was the case with Senator Margaret Chase Smith against McCarthy, Governor George Romney refusing to endorse Goldwater's candidacy, and with the the attempted coup against Newt Gingrich and his eventual ouster led mainly by those in his own party after the government shutdown and his own indiscretions. While some of those efforts failed to prevent the party from self-immolation, it should not discourage modern conservatives who care enough about their party enough to break Reagan's 11th commandment and call foul.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Can Religion Co-Exist with Liberal Democracy in the West?

This week, the German Parliament passed a motion to protect religious circumcision of young boys, after a German Court had ruled against circumcision of young boys. The movement was endorsed across party lines and had the backing of Jewish and Muslim religious groups, stating "Jewish and Muslim religious life must continue to be possible in Germany. Circumcision has a central religious significance for Jews and Muslims." Meanwhile German doctors have since testified against male circumcision.

The incident is just the recent in a string of clashes between liberal democratic governments and religious groups. Similarly, Israel's coalition government came tumbling down amidst a divide between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz on the drafting of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs into the Israeli Defense Forces. Meanwhile, America experienced its own crisis in the lines between separation of church and state in the wake of the accessibility of contraception, with the Catholic church crying "war on religion" and many on the left crying "war on women." While there are always difficulties in pushing for liberal democracy and there should be robust debate, the year of 2012's socially political events must make one wonder if liberal democracy is compatible with faith.

The basic premise of religion-particularly religions of the Abrahamic tradition like Christianity, Judaism and Islam-is the idea that truth has been revealed to mankind by a divine being through His sacred texts, or adherence to certain practice, leading to an enlightened life, deeper understand of the higher being or the promise of a hereafter paradise. Consequently, this leads to unwillingness to compromise on said principles because of the fact that there is a feeling that a divine being, the highest authority of all, is the grounding for their value systems and compromising on said values means diluting the will of the supreme being.

Meanwhile, Democracy is predicated completely on compromise. It is predicated on differing parties coming together and making the necessary compromises in order to further the country's interest, be it maximizing the liberty of the individual, promoting economic growth or national security. But being fallible beings, it is impossible to get the entirety of what one wishes. Therefore, democracy is always an evolving process and one wherein one must be willing to accept compromises, or delay gratification. In a speech to the Constitutional Convention on September  17, 1787, Benjamin Franklin remarked:
I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. 
Furthermore, the concept of liberal democracy-"liberal" as in classic liberalism not left-wing democracy-is a product of Enlightenment thinking, which rejected restricted thinking and promoted tolerance for others, and equality amongst men-albeit not necessarily practicing it. In addition it worked to promote the rights of the minorities or those who did not necessarily belong to those rigid ideologies. It was focused on ensuring that everyone would be able to enjoy a life of liberty and to choose their way of living. Hence there would be protections from democracy's worst abuses like the tyranny of the majority.

Part of this would also include working to promote religious freedom. The American Democratic Experiment worked to mitigate this contradiction by ensuring religious liberty for all people and creating a separation of church and state vis-a-vis the First Amendment. In Israel, the Declaration of Establishment of the State of Israel worked to achieve a Zionist dream by working to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture."

Yet, in recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that these two concepts might be anathema to each other. One is interested in seeking the will of a deity or connection to something deeper while the other is focused on what is most effective for the populace, promotes liberty and prosperity. Case in point, with the aforementioned contraception debate, when President Obama worked to reach a compromise with Catholic hospitals, it failed to satisfy the Catholic hierarchy and when Orthodox Rabbis were chided by their more secular Jewish counterparts for their insulting of a Jewish girl, they cried out in persecution and had their children dress as Holocaust prisoners as a symbolic means of crowing persecution.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this clash, comes with same-sex marriage. In the 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections, same-sex marriage was seen to be a losing issue for anyone who supported it. President Obama famously opposed it. In California, Proposition 8 passed, amending the state's Constitution to limit marriage between one man and one woman, with broad support from Evangelical Christians, African Americans and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints only to be struck down on the Federal Level  by a judge appointed by President George Herbert Walker Bush, before it became aware that the jurist was gay.

However, as LGBT rights continues to gain traction and popularity both among private citizens and by corporations, religious groups have been seeing themselves in a state of flux. Either they continue to preach the same message that they spoke prior to public support for gay rights, or they do what many contemporary churches have done wherein they do not address how to live or how to react to the world but instead focus on the micro level between God and Man and how to worship but not necessarily how to correspond to the world around them.

All of this is not to say that religion and democracy will have to come to a war wherein democracy beats religion or religion trumps democracy. What it is to say however, is that there will inevitably have to be some adaptation for either force to survive. But the rub  is where do they adapt? If democracy adheres to one or more particular religion's demands, then it risks losing its ability to promote liberty in manners that may be contrary to one or more religions' particular demands and surrenders the concepts of equality; if religion changes itself to adhere to Democracy in the wrong way, it risks diluting its initial message and possibly misleading its masses.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

To Governor Romney: Getting Condi as VP isn't a Shoe-in

Last week, the Drudge Report announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on the top of Governor Mitt Romney's shortlist for running mates. While the choice for Vice President is oftentimes a game of rampant speculation and rarely gets the selection right, the fact that the Romney campaign would be considering Secretary Rice is a sign that they are looking for a shoe-in candidate. Ideally, Rice would seem to be the ideal companion to Governor Romney; what the former Governor lacks in foreign affairs expertise and experience in management of the federal government management, Rice brings experience as the nation's top diplomat and representative to the world. However, while this may seem like the ideal choice, picking Rice will not necessarily guarantee victory.

First and foremost, it is a canard to believe a selection of a Vice Presidential Candidate rarely affects polls or can pick up voters. Senator John McCain threw a hail Mary pass in 2008 picking Sarah Palin but in the end, the economy trumped the firebrand nature of the Alaska Governor. Similarly, John Edwards failed to pick up his home state of North Carolina for John Kerry, and Geraldine Ferraro did not aid in Walter Mondale's embarrassing campaign in 1984. At the end of the day, voters choose the top of the ticket, not the bottom. Come November, people will not care about what Vice President Joe Biden or Dr. Rice (hypothetically) say or believe-they will only care about President Obama and Governor Romney.

Second, Governor Romney is under the false impression that by picking someone as universally respected as Secretary Rice, that she will be absolved from the usual scrutiny that Vice Presidential candidates face. This is misguided because of the fact that as National Security Adviser and later as Secretary of State, Rice was not directly accountable to the American public, though she has been indirectly via her Senate confirmation hearings. In addition, Secretaries of State have the luxury of having the most non-partisan job in Washington. The role of Secretary of State is that of America's representative to the world and promoting America's interests rather than the interests of one party's ideology over another-though it is possible to instate ideology at the State Department. It is for this reason that partisan hands like James Baker made the transition from George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan's attack dog to foreign policy sage and Hillary Clinton shed the polarizing image she had as First Lady and Senator to becoming one of the most revered members of the Obama Administration.

However, the moment Dr. Rice enters the national stage,  her foreign policy doctrine and her worldview will all be fair game for the press, and the voting public. In turn, all of these will become subject to polarization. It is for this reason that many military and diplomatic technocrat superstars like Colin Powell, David Petraeus, and the aforementioned Secretary Baker have all turned down the offers to run for President; they know running departments and running for office are very different animals altogether. For every Dwight Eisenhower that America may yearn for, there are a thousand Alexander Haigs, Bill Richardsons and Admiral Stockdales.

In addition , a Rice Vice Presidential run would also include questioning on some of the more unpopular aspects of the Bush Presidency, including her advice in how to handle the briefing of President Bush on the eve of September 11, and her hand in the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. Thus, Governor Romney would have the odor of a still relatively unpopular former president attached to his ticket. It could also become a battering ram for President Obama. Together, he and the Vice President could then target the ticket as "continuing the policies of the eight years before, Romney with the fiscal issues and Rice with the foreign policy."

While Vice President is certainly a high call to service, it would mean Dr. Rice would need to value service to Governor Romney more than she values her own legacy. Furthermore, her power would be tethered to how much a hypothetical Romney Administration would give her and if she is given a menial Vice Presidency, the role could be a demotion in regards to her actual work while being a titular promotion. If there is one lesson that both Governor Romney and Dr. Rice need to know before going into a race together is that the candidacy must benefit both of them equally.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is Egypt Destined for a Clash between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Old Guard

Last week, Egypt witnessed the inauguration of Mohammed Morsi, the leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and the first freely elected President in the nation's history and the first President since Hosni Mubarak. The inauguration comes at a time when many are uneasy about an Islamist Party leading one of the most consequential Arab States. In addition, given the ever tightening grip of the country's Military, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, has led some to wonder if Egypt's uprising has gone sour.

In his inaugural address, Morsi tried to assuage the concerns of the populace, remarking that the military was "the shield and sword of the nation." Despite attempts to assuage fears, the military has continued to be seen as encroaching on the populace that had so welcomed its protection. In fact, it was revealed upon Morsi's election that Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Chairman of SCAF, will stay on in the new government as the country's Defense Minister. In addition, Egypt's court system ruled that the Military would oversee the writing of the nation's new Constitution.

Since supplanting Hosni Mubarak back in February of 2011, SCAF has ruled the nation almost autocratically, subjecting women protesters to virginity tests, instated a curfew around its defense ministry, and continuously quashed protests. While this may alarm some people as having the makings of a full blown military coup, it would only be half correct; while the military did in fact force Mubarak out of the presidency, it was for the preservation of regime, not for its destruction. It is important to realize that Egypt has been under the rule of a military officer since the 1952 Free Officers' Movement, when Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser, both military officers, overthrew the monarchy of King Farouk. Both of their successors, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak, were high-ranking military officials. Similarly, SCAF has been suspected of having control of almost thirty percent of the economy.

The continuation of the regime has been seen when the country's Presidential Electoral Commission disqualified ten of its presidential candidates, and its courts ruled the nation's freely elected, Parliament unconstitutional. This is a mere continuation of power and an effort to maintain the stability of Egypt, in the eyes of the Military. To SCAF, the prospect of democracy is dangerous because of the possibility that having a civilian government could limit its power [more of that on yesterday's blog post]

What is interesting about all of these efforts to quell real democracy is that in each instance, the elected officials vying for power have included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party that was outlawed during the Mubarak rule. While the Muslim Brotherhood was officially decriminalized in the wake of the ouster, there appears to still be great effort on behalf of the regime in order to prevent their rising influence. Many of the candidates barred from running for president were members of the Brotherhood or from Salafist breakaway factions-though to be fair the military did bar Mubarak's former intelligence officer from running. Similarly, the Egyptian parliament had a strong Islamist tilt after the first round of free elections.

The Brotherhood similarly, has had a sordid history. Initially starting as a social organization, equivalent to the YMCA or the Boy Scouts of America, the Brotherhood turned itself into mobile political force that pushed for more religious-based government. While initially supporting the Free Officers, over time they attempted to assassinate members of the regime and Sadat became a source of contempt after the Camp David Accords with Israel. Initially not an active part of the January 25th movement, they emerged as an active and viable political party, and after initially stating they would not put up a Presidential candidate, did just that, only to be met with constant electoral roadblocks.

In turn, it is possible that the Military and the Brotherhood can come to lock horns, and nowhere will this be more apparent than in the coming writing of the Constitution. The military will certainly attempt to curb the religious nature of the ruling party in the draft, but they will balk if the Brotherhood attempts to put them under civilian control because it will mean they are only "the sword and shield" and not the actual governing apparatus of Egypt. Similarly, the Brotherhood's will inevitably face continuous roadblocks by the judicial system and it is very possible the courts could nullify their Constitution, in which case, they will mobilize their devout following against SCAF. In turn, there could be a political implosion or an all out civil war, in which case, it is very possible that a number of offshoot political ideologies will be spawned and set off a new strain of revolutionary thought.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Was Jefferson Opposed to Hyper-Militarism?

On July 4th 1776, the Thirteen British Colonies in America signed the Declaration of Independence. Oftentimes, too much attention is given to its defiant preamble, which states "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" and rightfully so. However, it is important to note that the preamble was the philosophical foundation that the Founders stood on to declare their independence while the list of grievances are the actual manifested reasons for their separation from Britain. It should then serve to purpose that these grievances are ones that should be consistently read by every concerned American to make sure these errors are not repeated by the American government.

While many know of the colonists distaste for the preferable treatment of the East India Tea Company and the taxes levied by the stamp act, and the quartering of British soldiers inside civilian homes-something which would serve as cause for the Third Amendment of the Constitution-one of the oft ignored complaints was "He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures." The Declaration does not end there in regards to the military. It continues, saying "He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power."

In many ways, this opposition to fierce militarism should not come as a surprise, seeing as it was authored by Thomas Jefferson. To Jefferson, militarism by governments was antithetical to the idea of free and open societies. During his time as an Ambassador to France, Jefferson sent a letter to friend and confidante James Madison, stating his dissatisfaction because it did not include a Bill of Rights that would include freedom of religion, freedom of the press , and the protection of habeas corpus alongside" protection against standing armies." To Jefferson, the idea of a standing army was one that was antithetical to free society.

Jefferson's opposition to standing armies would also carry on in his Presidency. In his first Inaugural Address, Jefferson extolled what he believed were "the essential principles of our Government," among which were "a well disciplined militia, our best reliance in peace and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them; the supremacy of the civil over the military authority." He was not oblivious to the fact that a nation would need armaments in order to protect itself and to secure liberty's blessings; he famously sent in troops during the Barbary War. But he also believed that an America that had freed itself from the Imperial sword of Britain could not retain its identity of liberty if it were to resort to perpetual war.

He also was aware that if left unchecked, that the Military could turn into a force that could supplant the civilian government. This is not an unfounded fear; it is a possibility in Egypt, where the top General, Hussein Tahtawi serves also as the military's Commander-in-Chief, and is a reality in nations like Pakistan. Hence, having civilian control of the military would mitigate an all-out power grab and ensure that the military would be strong enough to protect the nation, but also weak enough as not to control the citizenry.

On this independence week, there is much fanfare for the wisdom of the Founders of this country and rightfully so. For a Nation less than three centuries old, it has accomplished a great deal and is a promoter of liberty and justice for all. Hence, it is important to also remember the prudence which one of our most beloved Founders saw American military power; not as something to be abused, but something to use with tact and then to be withdrawn.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Active Patriotism

In churches, it is often popular to see the slogan of "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" or to remind the world that it is not "Happy Holidays" but rather "Merry Christmas." However, with tomorrow being the Fourth of July, it is important that the United States has a "re-taking" of Fourth of July. Tomorrow, inevitably shall be filled with feasting, festivities and fireworks. There is nothing inherently wrong with such celebrations. In fact, John Adams famously wrote that on anniversaries of the signing of the Declaration "...It ought to be commemorated as a day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bell, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other."

However, when the celebrations become an end in and of themselves, it is important to refocus and remind ourselves that the founding of this country is exactly what makes America great; that a band of rebels were willing to risk the comforts of complacency to pioneer a new path forward for the land that they loved. It is important to remember that on that muggy day in 18th-century Pennsylvania, the men we see now as our nation's most refined wise men, were committing the highest act of treason by breaking from the mighty British Empire to forge a new nation that would not be based on class, or not on where one was born but on the principle that all men are created equal. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Founders signed their death warrant. But they did not shirk from this danger; they reveled in it for they believed in a country not yet borne but in the making.

Thus is the story of all true patriots; to forge that country not yet in existence but borne in one's mind. It is the story of Abolitionists who believed that no men were free until all were free. It is the story of Immigrants who came to these shores and docked at Ellis Island who took the perilous journey, where they would face hard labor and sweat but in their hearts knew there was a chance at prosperity. It is the tale of women who marched and embarked on hunger strikes for their vote, working to make the republic work for them. It is the tale of Rabbis and Preachers embarking on Civil Disobedience, some risking assassination.

Too often, Patriotism can become a Saturnine action, where the extent of our patriotism is hanging a flag upon our doors, firing up our grills and some cherry bombs. Far too often, the word is invoked to silence any criticism of the government. When one is protesting at a politician's event, they are often met with chants of "USA USA," as if simply complying with a politicians' words is somehow more patriotic than the voice of dissent. Yet, this cannot be the extent of our patriotism. True patriotism must be an active thing. True Patriotism must not be blind adherence to government or to national sentiment or to consensus. True patriotism must contain that same moral outrage at wrongdoing and overwhelming joy in times where liberty and justice prevail.

Consequently, there must be risks taken by the populace to preserve this nation. In turn, there will be debate. Oftentimes, the Founders and the Framers are beatified as wise men in robes who received the Constitution from the Celestial powers; this could not be further from the truth. The truth is that they were fallible men who actively debated and argued with their words and pens to discuss the future of their nascent experiment. While some may find that version disheartening, in truth it should be all the more awe-inspiring; it proves that this country was made by imperfect men willing to defy the procrustean tradition and instead opting for a better nation for posterity.

So too, must this generation be willing to embark on the next challenges. This is not a call for constant agreement. On the contrary, this is time for active, debate, that entrenches itself in the discussions of progress. Yet it must also be predicated on the notion that what unites both sides is an abiding desire to move the nation forward. This is a time for constant patriotism. America will not die when an outside force strikes; America will die when the populace rests on the inheritance of its ancestors.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Did President Obama Waste too Much Political Capital on Healthcare Reform

In 2004, after being re-elected by 51 percent, then-President George W. Bush remarked "I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it." If President Bush could say he earned capital in his re-election, it is fair to say President Obama had a great deal more capital in his first term than his predecessor. Though he only won 53 percent of the vote, his approval rating coming into office was in the high 70s. While his immediate concern was passing an economic stimulus project, his true priority was passing comprehensive healthcare reform, which was evident even in his 2007 announcement of his candidacy. As a result, the President's approval rating nosedived, gave impetus to the rise of the Tea Party, and became the subject of scorn for many in his political base.

Now in the wake of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama appears to be enjoying some political vindication. In a statement prepared after the decision, President Obama remarked "it should be pretty clear that I didn't do this because it was easy politics. I did it because it's good for the country." While this statement may allow the President to gain some sense of moral superiority, given his open disdain for playing beltway politics, it does raise the question of what he could have conducted the healthcare fight that would have been "good politics.

When he came into office, the United States Economy had just witnessed the collapse of the financial system, which led to the bailouts of Wall Street and the Auto industry. As a result there was a public outpouring of outrage against what many people felt was the reckless practices of bankers. Had the President's first major fight been for Wall Street reform, it is very possible he could have used the populist sentiment to bolster any kind of regulations he could have wished for. Moreover, when he was met with opposition from Republicans, he could have rebutted that it was they who were siding with the financial institutions that there was antipathy towards. With popular opinion on his side, it is very possible that the President could have gotten the rules for banks that he truly wanted with a robust Volcker Rule, as opposed to the anemic version that has been rejected by Sheila Bair and even its namesake.

With this victory in hand, the President would have had the wind at his back, giving him a boost that would allow him to come into the healthcare fight from a position of strength and would have possibly allowed him to keep the Public Option. Yet, by primarily focusing on healthcare reform and not on what many felt was the cause of the economic crisis, the populace was left scrambling to understand why he was not putting laser focus on the banking industry. In turn, with the Tea Party storming town halls and with Republicans in Congress obstinately refusing to negotiate, the President wound up squandering his entire first year in exchange for a piecemeal bill that wound up looking quite similar to the health reform bill passed in Massachusetts by his now-opponent, Governor Mitt Romney.

President Obama has always appeared to pride himself in not "stooping" to the levels of his political opponents and doing the politically convenient thing. However, it is fair to say that had the President gone with public opinion and done the expedient thing of focusing on Wall Street Reform, he could have also done the inconvenient fight for healthcare and in turn, gotten true strong reform, with true change the public could believe in.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Blog is Re-Open for Business

Ever since starting this blog, I have admittedly been quite negligent, and have usually taken to writing on my Facebook Notes Page. However, in light of my desire to show my original sources and the overall better structure of Blogger, I feel compelled to give this blog a proper re-starting. Hence I am proud to re-christen the old "Philosophical Bluesman" blog as "The EMG Blog: Amplified for Your Pleasure."

As a Modus Operandi, the EMG Blog will serve as a free-form blog, that will cover a wide array of topics, from domestic politics, to foreign policy, to the culture that politics exists in, as well as critiques of books, essays, music and movies. All of the opinions here will be mine and mine alone. The EMG Blog will strive for independence, and, despite inevitably carrying some of the biases of the blogger-as is the case with any blog-it will not serve as a mouthpiece for any one party, ideology, or platform. In addition, I will strive for honesty in the use of all resources and will be as honest as my understanding of the facts as I can possibly be.

In keeping with that spirit, if someone can, with primary sources and well-substantiated arguments correct me, I will be more than willing to admit I am wrong. In addition, any time I critique fellow bloggers or writers, I will post my sources so that you, the reader, can examine for yourself and see if I misunderstood the facts.

With all of this in mind, I am excited to re-start the EMG Blog and begin the conversation.

Shimon Peres: The Anti-Bibi

Last Week, President Barack Obama honored Israeli President Shimon Peres with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a President can confer on a Civilian. The event was a heartening moment to display solidarity between the two countries, with President Obama praising Peres' longstanding efforts to achieve peace with Palestine, and his service to the state of Israel. Peres meanwhile, spoke highly of President Obama and stood in solidarity with the American leader in regards to his support for US policy towards Iran.

Since taking office, President Obama has enjoyed a less-than-friendly relationship with Israel's head of government, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, infamously having a "hot-mic" scandal when he agreed with then-French President Nikolas Sarkozy's dislike for Netanyahu. The Obama and Netanyahu Administrations has led to disagreements not only on Iran's nuclear program and the probability of a military strike by Israel, but as well as ever-looming question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Early in his Administration, President Obama pushed for a settlement freeze by the Israeli government and worked to offer a peace solution as an alternative to Palestine having the UN vote to recognize them; in both instances, Netanyahu fiercely opposed the Administration. In turn, his 2012 re-election opponent Governor Romney has taken to saying he will do "the opposite" of President Obama in regards to Israel.

In turn, the ideological and policy disagreements give President Obama and President Peres a common bond. Peres and Netanyahu have a sordid past and hail from differing ideologies in regards to Zionism. Peres was a protege of David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel and a proponent of left-wing Labor Zionism, and Netanyahu was the son of Benzion Netanyahu, a Revisionist Zionist who slammed Menachem Begin for conceding the Sinai in the Camp David Accords. Peres was also involved in the Oslo Accords, a deal that prompted then Opposition Leader Netanyahu to opine made the leader of Peres' Party Yitzhak Rabin "worse than Neville Chamberlain." Peres and Netanyahu have clashed not only ideologically, but at the polls as well, when in 1996, Netanyahu beat Peres by less than half a percent.

However, in the modern day, Peres has served as a sort of foil to the hard line policies of Netanyahu, taking almost the opposite position on virtually every issue. In light of fears of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu accused the United States and the other nations engaged in the P5+1 talks in regards to the Nuclear program of giving the Islamic Republic a "freebie," in the first round of negotiations, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak saying Israel still might attack Iran despite negotiations. Peres on the other hand has adamantly stated that his firm belief that "Only America Can Manage the Iran Situation," and has spoken in praise of President Obama's Sanctions.

On the issue of the Arab Spring, Netanyahu has criticized the uprisings in Arab Countries as being "Islamic, anti-Western, anti-Liberal, anti-Israeli and undemocratic wave. Meanwhile, in an interactive interview on his Facebook page, Peres took a much more measured tone, saying that "[Israel] has to handle it with great care and consideration, with great restraints in our remarks," almost clearly alluding to the inflammatory statements by the head of government. In addition, Peres has stated he believed the Islamic parties will fade if they do not address the pressing economic issues of the youth in their countries.

Of course, perhaps the greatest diversion between the two men comes in their views towards Peace. Netanyahu has shown opposition to almost any concession of land as part of a peace deal-famously resigning from Ariel Sharon's coalition after the disengagement from Gaza and calling President Obama's 2011 plan "indefensible." As one of the Architects of the Declarations of Principles, Peres has conversely been an indefatigable advocate for Peace, urging Israel not to delay the Peace Process. In light of these differences, it is possible that President Obama's accolades to Peres was  a clear sign of that he is an ardent supporter of the Israel of Ben-Gurion, Rabin and Peres and not the vision of Netanyahu, Barak and Lieberman.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Leftists must Avoid Hero Worship

This week, former President George Herbert Walker Bush celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday with much fanfare. In the past months, many journalists have pointed out that the Republican Party is the most conservative than any other incarnation in the past century. This has been a large sticking point for President Obama, who awarded the Elder Bush with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. As a result, George H.W Bush, whose conservative credentials were always seen as spurious to the point that he was primaried by Pat Buchanan,  is enjoying a revival, including among liberals mourn the fact that the GOP has seemingly purged anyone with an iota of centrist leanings.

Similarly, President Bill Clinton is enjoying a renaissance of his own for the past three years.  He famously went to North Korea to retrieve two journalists who were sentenced to labor by Kim Jong Il, and gave a notoriously awkward press conference with President Obama endorsing the extension of the George W. Bush Tax Cuts. In addition, Clinton with his 2011 book, Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, in which he lays out the need for government action in order to revive the economy, as well give some not-so-subtle nudges to President Obama about how to steer his policy and attack Republicans. In addition, Clinton has served as a campaign surrogate for the President, holding a fundraiser last month and sending him to Wisconsin for the recall election.

Yet, while both men did have significant accomplishments, it also important that they not be beatified to the point that either their supporters in their own party or those in the opposition who use their statements as fodder for their own agenda put their records beyond reproach. While President George H.W. Bush may have had a more civil tone to him than today's average Tea Party Patriot, liberals should also remember that he was far from being civil with his opponents. A client of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes, he was more than willing to engage in smear tactics against Michael Dukakis and Roger Ailes to portray him as somehow less American, a charge often hurled by conservative pundits on Ailes' own Fox News. While not necessarily pandering to evangelicals in the same way as Senator Rick Santorum, he did say that he did not think atheists should be considered American Citizens. In addition, far from the gentlemanly image that H.W. portrays now about refraining from partisan bickering, he was an ardent critic of the Clinton Administration.

Similarly, the left must also take caution when praising a former President in their own party. Much of Clinton's resurgence is a result of President Obama's reservations about going on the offensive against Republicans in Congress. Indeed, when President Obama's at times naivete prevents him from achieving truly progressive goals and his attempts to bring Republicans into the fold lead him to passing piecemeal legislation, it is easy to want someone willing to be pugnacious against the GOP. However, what is important to realize with Clinton, is that while Clinton did indeed willing to publicly shame Republicans, his Presidency was not one of remarkable Progressive accomplishments. He failed to pass healthcare reform in 1993-1994, hired economic champions of deregulation and Wall Street knows-best mentality like Robert Rubin, Jack Lew, and Larry Summers as his closest advisers and in his 1996 State of the Union Address, remarked "The Era of Big Government is Over." At times, Clinton was more than willing to sacrifice a true policy win in order to secure a victory in the political realm, most infamously with adviser Susan Rice's wariness on using the word Genocide to describe the atrocities in Rwanda before an election.

None of this is to say that neither of these men deserve to be admired for their accomplishments. Indeed, President George H.W. Bush's even-handedness on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is something to be admired, as is his handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and his management of the Persian Gulf War. Similarly, President Clinton's work towards balancing the budget, and make the Democratic Party viable again after twelve years in the wilderness are works of political brilliance. However, to hail either man as vanguards for the left to hold up as a standard to be admired is as ridiculous as completely disregarding their legacies.