01 December 2010
The New START Treaty should be a no-brainer for passage yet Senate Republicans, led by Jon Kyl of Arizona, have chosen to delay consideration of this crucial piece of legislation under the guise of focusing on what the American people "really" need: lower taxes and less government spending.
Now Americans definitely seem to want both of these things, but to hold a recently expired, globally beneficial nuclear pact hostage for their sake is irresponsible and short-sighted at best and self-destructively hawkish at worst. There are few areas of disagreement in regards to this treaty, both within the American government and overseas with the Russians, and those that do exist can be resolved after the main goals of continued mutual disarmament and nuclear facility inspections are formally agreed upon.
But instead of doing what is right, Kyl and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have come out swinging with heavy rhetoric promising the block of the nuke deal's ratification (and all other legislation) unless select issues, ones that don't have the potential to end in a musroom cloud, are considered. Sounds dangerous to me.
For Republicans to claim that extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of the population is a more pressing priority than actively showing our commitment to nuclear non-proliferation just to gain political points with an angry and influential electorate is ridiculous. We elect our leaders to be responsible, especially with regard to issues of nuclear safety and national security, not to simply respond to the will of a clamoring public in order to ensure reelection (see: John McCain).
Congress must pass the New START Treaty as soon as possible. Then we can get back to bickering.
28 November 2010
I think the prevailing theme of the midterms was widespread dissatisfaction with what is viewed as runaway government spending, a slow recovery and high unemployment, not an overall sense of disdain for Obama and the Democratic agenda.
Consider: Any economist will tell you that in a recession, if the government doesn't spend money, no one will. Since the continuous flow of money was necessary to keep us afloat, this is exactly what any candidate who won in 2008 would have and should have done. It's just a matter of where to spend the money. Since Bush approved the bailout, voters couldn't have, or shouldn't have, blamed it on Obama. Since most in government supported some sort of economic stimulus at a time when very little money was being pumped into the economy, we can't really blame that solely on Obama either. And who would honestly argue that voters took Obama and the Democrats to task this month for trying (emphasis once again on trying) to reform the financial industry?
The only major issue that I can see as the possible impetus for an anti-Obama, voter-driven congressional facelift is healthcare. Although I know this issue is divisive to say the least and a popular one with older generations, many of whom voted, I don't see this as a satisfactory overall explanation for the red tidal wave that overtook the House. So I think that many Americans who voted this month did so because they expected us to be closer to digging ourselves out of this hole than we currently are and a scapegoat was needed: the party in power.
Democrats lost because they failed to articulate how their efforts have helped or will help average Americans, not because average Americans disagree with what Democrats are trying to do. Mark my words- if consumer spending picks up and unemployment drops by November 2012, all the Tea Party/healthcare/anti-Obama rhetoric in the world won't stop the guy from cruising to reelection.
25 October 2010
On the other hand, some of this "interest" and "participation" is extremely troubling. For starters, we are witnessing a level of involvement by ambiguously-named, deep-pocketed third party groups not seen since the Watergate era. Thanks to the Supreme Court, these groups, which are frequently intermediaries organized and financed by both domestic and foreign corporate entities or wealthy donors, are able to influence even the most seemingly insignificant of elections anonymously. Is this really the kind of free speech our founding fathers fought so hard to protect?
I believe that all politics really is local. Good candidates, not ads or dollars, win elections. But statewide races should be directly and indirectly influenced only by residents of that state whether they be individuals, companies or third party groups. Even though the Roberts Court doesn't agree, I feel that protecting the rights of multinational corporations to secretly spend large amounts of money influencing and manipulating elections should not trump the need for those directly affected by a race to hear an open and balanced representation of the facts from credible sources.
Secondly, the lingering economic crisis and the Obama administration's handling of it have created a new class of outsider candidates that will no doubt leave its mark on the 2010 midterms. For the most part, these individuals (or at least the ones that make CNN) appear unqualified to hold public office and will undoubtedly prolong Washington's political stalemate if elected. Now I try to be as balanced as possible and wish I could say these candidates are equally distributed throughout the parties, but it's clear they are predominately Republican, Tea Party-backed candidates who spend vast amounts of establishment cash while spouting inflammatory quasi-libertarian rhetoric.
Don't get me wrong, Democrats aren't offering gold by any means and benefit from anonymous ads and cash as well. And let's face it, the inevitable gains made by Republicans in 2010 will be due in large part to the disconnect between Obama's policies and the American public. But there is a level of secretive financial backing and coordinated manipulation of the facts, as well as a willingness to take advantage of the economic crisis for political gain, exhibited by Republicans this year that is both disturbing and impossible to ignore.
In short, I think the 2010 midterm election season will be remembered as one that garnered unprecedented national interest (whether this will translate into voter turnout remains to be seen) but was marred by desperate partisanship and a boatload of cash that should have been spent on any number of more noble and needed endeavors. But what else is new? I guess as long as anonymous contributions are viewed as free speech and candidate ignorance is rewarded, 2010 will unfortunately be the model for future election cycles.
29 September 2010
From 2008-09, I worked as an AmeriCorps (basically domestic PeaceCorps) member in Boston's homeless shelter system through the amazing Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. To just say the experience was meaningful would do it no justice and to properly explain its meaning would probably take more time than you are willing to spare, so I won't do either. But while working at St. Francis House, a day shelter for homeless adults located in the heart of downtown Boston, I developed a friendship with an individual familiar with the shelter system who, speaking from his own experience, opened my eyes to a unique perspective of what it really means to be homeless in America.
In addition to being a talented writer and a great guy, Bob now also holds the distinction of authoring YP's first guest post. It's been condensed, but I know you'll still enjoy:
The Clubhouse by Robert L. Karash
(Excerpted from Spare Change News, Cambridge MA, issue of May 7, 2010. Full article can be found here.)
In some towns people who are experiencing homelessness have to wander around during the day until they are allowed back into a homeless shelter to get their bed to sleep for the night. In other places, so-called day centers for the homeless exist to provide services and to simply be a place to go during what are often long days of waiting. People in situations of homelessness frequently consider it a huge blessing to have a daytime shelter or "clubhouse." But interestingly enough, not only the presently homeless spend time in these. Others—including the formerly homeless—may also come.
Cities which have these daytime clubhouses are very lucky indeed to provide for their less fortunate and not force them to be purposeless and hungry daytime nomads. In fact, everyone comes out winning.
When a person spends a significant period of time being homeless, especially in a community with other homeless people, and then obtains permanent housing, sometimes a puzzling thing happens. This person doesn't break his ties with the homeless community despite now being in possession of his own apartment, home and new life.
It's been written that very few if any "outside" people realize how very tight-knit the sense of community within a homeless population can be.
Exiting this community to live in an apartment or house might be difficult. For many, there is no outside substitute since they might be afraid, emotionally distressed, estranged from former friends and family, or alienated by their new surroundings.
So where do they go? They return to the safe place, the place where they know they can say they belong—the clubhouse.
So housed, formerly homeless people return to the clubhouse for a variety of reasons, including not having much money. But most will say they want to check in with their old friends. They simply don't want to feel isolated in their new apartment.
Transition periods are never easy. For a while, the newly housed may have to keep one foot in the clubhouse and one foot in their new abode until things settle. This goes hand-in-hand with another factor, namely, the fear of losing one's new apartment. The only way to cope with this restless anxiety is to visit the clubhouse.
With proper support, people can manage the transition from homelessness or temporary housing to permanent housing successfully. Few can travel this challenging journey alone and navigate it well.
The daytime shelter, or clubhouse, is an important place for many people. For many, it represents their real home until they get settled in a new permanent housing situation. Even after making this transition, the clubhouse can remain a place of solace, security and belonging for the indeterminable time it takes to switch internal emotional gears from being homeless to being housed. Shaking off the traumatic experience of being homeless can take a long time.
04 September 2010
16 August 2010
24 July 2010
To get this out of the way, I am more than aware America has blood on its hands. No need to go through the list right now. We are currently paying for our country's moral failings and will continue to do so. But in a world where we are reminded all too often of mankind's capacity for intolerance, America was created as and remains today a symbol of all that is good about human nature. Our founding fathers didn't have to form a democratic republic, the freest nation the world had ever seen. They could have kept alive the traditions of monarchy, theocracy, autocracy, all of which were big hits at the time. But they chose to build a country that would include the people in government and protect the rights of those commonly stepped on when the sole driving force was their own conviction. Hard to argue that this wasn't one of the more unique and formative acts in all of human history.
America isn't perfect, but it's this imperfection that makes us great: We are a truer reflection of human nature than any nation that has existed on earth. For the most part, humans are greedy and self-interested, easily brought to arms but not inherently violent, short-sighted and proud but also compassionate and admittedly in need of moral direction. America is all these things and more, for better or worse; its flaws are humanity's flaws. While we have a lot of things right, we still have a long way to go. America is a foggy but true compass guiding those living in an imperfect world towards the destination progress will eventually, hopefully, lead us to.
Basically, America is as close to perfect as we're gonna get right now. We're a country built on slavery, yet we tore our fledgling union apart in the name of progress to end it and came out stronger because of it. We are the most powerful country the world has ever seen, yet we actively promote peace and self-determination, even if largely in speech and in the interests of our bottom line. After WWII we could have been much more aggressive and literally taken over half the world, but we didn't even consider it. We chose to try and build the world into a safer one of cooperation and democracy, even if we went about it like a bull in a china shop. We still have our issues, some that have been around since America's birth and aren't going away anytime soon. But at the end of the day, despite our differences, we all agree on one thing: people should be free. It's an idea that America has championed for 234 years, and one we need to stop taking for granted.
19 June 2010
23 May 2010
10 May 2010
29 April 2010
My generation is suffering due to the failures and short-sightedness of those before us. How do we stop this from happening again? Reform, of course. Change what went wrong in the past so it doesn't happen again in the future. Makes sense. But how do we guarantee that we don't allow ourselves to fall into another situation just as catastrophic, or worse, in the future? No retroactive policy reform is going to do that.
Only education can give us the long-term stability we desperately need. Education = rational debate and elections = more effective governance = a stable, productive and powerful America. If we become smarter, so too will our leaders. Too many big decisions are put off by elected officials too scared to do anything good for the country in the long-term if it means displeasing voters in the short-term. This (and gerrymandering) has been the nature of the beast for basically all of American political history. This model, however instinctive and logical, needs to go.
America needs more politicians like the ones our forefathers envisioned: men both enlightened and practical, faithful and humanistic, steeped in both tradition and progress. True patriots who felt a duty to serve their country, unafraid to make hard decisions when necessary. Someone who puts the good of the country over their own political fortunes without hesitation is a representative in the noblest sense of the word. Where are these people?? Politics and government in America was never meant to be synonymous with corruption and ineffectuality in the public mind. People like Sarah Palin should not be as influential as they are and issues like race, abortion and gay marriage should not keep us from doing what needs to get done. I refuse to believe this is the America George Washington imagined. (In fact, Washington warned of the distracting and divisive nature of political bickering between parties in his farewell address.)
We can easily recruit men and women closer to this mold if we start basing our opinions on facts and not blind, distorted logic. This can be difficult; everything you read is manipulated in one form or another, from the source down (even this). But education doesn't mean a bachelor's degree, it means knowing how to sift through the bullshit in order to find truth in whatever it is you're reading, hearing or watching. Every American can educate themselves through balanced, thoughtful analysis of current events and by resisting the urge to hear one point of view and settle on it.
Basically, we need more Thomas Jeffersons and less Joe Wilsons. More Paines and less Becks. More enlightened pragmatists and less ignorant opportunists. Elections and politics in general should be fueled by factual and relevant dialogue, not stereotypes, hot button issues, unsubstantiated claims, flip-flops, one-liners and regurgitated rhetoric. Am I wrong? I mean, I know there have always been idiots in American politics, but don't you think our founding fathers would be just a little disappointed if they saw how divided our country remains over issues that are irrelevant to what really matters?
24 April 2010
"And where the federal government, in the exercise of its superior authority in this field, has enacted a complete scheme of regulation...states cannot...enforce additional or auxiliary regulations."
20 April 2010
So when people like Sarah Palin dominate the media and spread ignorance instead of truth, it takes the whole "education of America" movement back a few decades. I know, I'm trying to promote reasonable debate and not personal attacks, but I can't help but feel like Sarah Palin is all that is wrong with American politics. From spreading lies about death panels to inciting violent retaliation against Democrats who voted for healthcare to now rejecting the idea of separating church and state, the woman seems hell-bent on dismantling all that is still holding our country together in a time of crisis. When America needs stability, she offers nothing but chaos.
I can't tell if she is just backwards and delusional or if this is a systematic ploy on her part to achieve massive celebrity status, or even worse, the Presidency. Is she really a misguided moron who through luck, good looks, charm and a few well-placed winks and "you betchas" managed to become Governor of Alaska, climb to the top her her party's socio-political ladder and get on a presidential ticket? Stranger things have happened I guess... But what if it's the opposite? What if she's perfectly aware of the effect of her behavior and actually enjoys dividing the country? If so, she is more dangerous than I thought.
Either way, she needs to stop being taken seriously as a political voice. OK, she's an interesting person, a straight-talkin beauty queen who snipes moose from a helicopter, I get it. But why should she still be relevant in a political sense? She abandoned an important executive office, has made countless factually inaccurate statements and even most Republicans don't want her to run in the future. For someone who claims to want to be involved in politics, she seems to have very little knowledge of what's going on. If she were in any other job she would have been fired by now. And her references would be terrible.
But as long as there are people out there dumb enough to believe Obama is a socialist, there will be support for Sarah Palin and we will see her face on TV. Which is unfortunate, because now is definitely not the time to waste on mindless distractions, no matter how attractive. Solving America's problems as a nation is going to take nothing less than all sides sitting at the the table together and working as equals, not shouting with their ears covered. This will only happen when we have an educated public that truly wants rational political discourse and is willing to listen to and understand all sides of a debate. Sarah Palin is just proof that we aren't there yet.
I know this is a long one but I want to leave with this quote from Time Magazine's Joe Klein, who has had to defend himself against criticism for saying personalities like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck push the boundaries of "seditious" speech. I think it's a good explanation of why we need to make clear the distinction between legitimate and radical opposition:
"Dissent isn't sedition. Questioning an Administration's policies isn't sedition. But questioning an Administration's legitimacy in a manner intended to undermine or overthrow it certainly is.It's not illegal—unless actions are taken to overthrow the government in question—but it is disgraceful and the precise opposite of patriotism in a democracy."
16 April 2010
Having worked in some of Boston's busiest homeless shelters as an AmeriCorps member, I find this idea absolutely disgusting. Anyone familiar with how the shelter system works knows that charging guests is an impractical and thoughtless idea that will benefit no one. Let's not pretend these people are coasting down easy street with free room and board. Shelter life is far from ideal and should be seen as a necessary evil, not a handout. And for those who are employed and homeless, looking for permanent housing is a full time job without having to fork over part of your meager paycheck just to live in what is basically the most undesirable environment imaginable. What an insult. Enforcing this short-sighted law will only make it harder for the homeless to find housing and further crowd NYC's shelters. Furthermore, the revenue generated will be minute at best and certainly not worth the hardships it will cause to countless homeless men and women who depend on the shelter system.
I guess this law has been around since 1997 but no one has tried to impose it until now. I know quick and easy revenue streams have always been popular with politicians looking to point to success near election time, but this is a new low. Why should our most vulnerable population, people who were struggling far before the Great Recession hit, have to bear the brunt of an economic downturn that was largely caused by those at the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum? Surely there are better ways for the city and state of New York to make a quick buck. I'll take the soda tax over this crap any day.
This must stop for the good of the country. Partisan bickering might be good drama, but ultimately it stalls the problem solving process and makes America weaker. We are the true power behind our government. If we demand more of our elected representatives, they will deliver more. But if we allow time and energy to be wasted on the absurd and childish ramblings of the fringes of our political spectrum, right or left, we will never have the kind of rational debate necessary to solve our nation's problems. I'm afraid if we don't do something about it soon, if those who oppose progress aren't somehow brought into the realm of the reasonable, things will only get worse. It seems as if Obama's agenda has brought out old divisions within American society, and we must rise above them or face a future of increasing divisiveness.
I feel very strongly that my generation of Americans will bring common sense and reason back to politics. The situation has become too grim to continue finger pointing and passing the buck, and I think young people see that, Democrat, Republican and everything in between. I hope the current divided state of American politics will push the youth of the nation to get politically involved in a useful and constructive manner. This blog is intended to help get that ball rolling.
Although the Tea Party has the numbers, shared interest and determination to pass itself off as a legitimate political movement, it must soon field or promote its own candidates in order to fully earn this distinction. Here's how I see it: If the Tea Party is truly principled, it will, as a whole, only support very conservative and far right-wing candidates. These candidates will, for the most part, probably not be those supported by the Republican establishment, and this will serve to split potential Republican votes between two candidates. Result: electoral victory for the Democrats.
But if the Tea Party is just a political establishment vehicle fueled by sometimes radical anti-Obama fervor (which I believe it is) then it will eventually split in half between those willing to abandon the movement's core principles just to win back the Majority and those who truly believe in the movement's conservative tenets. Either way, the future does not bode well for the Tea Party. Even if Republicans make huge gains in November 2010, it will be due to legitimate, defined opposition to Obama and the Democrats' political agenda and not ignorant catch phrases like "reload."
Don't get me wrong, Americans have a right to suspect the expanding reach of government. But when this reach becomes necessary due to the failures resulting from its absence (as it has become in the realms of finance and health care) the most patriotic thing to do is to support the President, whether it be Bush (who oversaw the bailouts, remember?) or Obama, as they set about the unwanted and difficult but ultimately right task of securing a stable short-term future in which to solve the major problems facing our country before they become unfixable. To deny this fact is the utmost in ignorance, and to do so and oppose Obama's agenda so rabidly is not patriotic, it's radical and downright scary. (As a history major, it is unfathomable that some people would compare our current situation with 1930s Germany. These people must be reading the same history books that call the Civil War the "War of Northern Aggression.")
The Tea Party should not be ignored or shunned from political participation, but it should be revealed for what it truly is: a once legitimate grassroots movement, hijacked by establishment Republican PACs and Confederate sympathizers, being pulled in opposing mainstream and radical directions. This conflict will inevitably leave the true followers of the movement with a bitter taste in their mouths.