01 December 2010

A Dangerous Game

Political football is played on both sides of the aisle, but congressional Republicans have taken the game too far by playing it with something as fundamentally necessary and beneficial as a renewed nuclear non-proliferation treaty with Russia.

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

Thoughts On The Midterms II

So the midterms came and went, with predictable results. As much as I support Obama and what he is trying (emphasis on trying) to do in DC, it's hard to see the election results as anything other than a referendum on how Democrats have been handling things since they took over. But I'll give it a shot.

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

Thoughts On The Midterms

I'm not quite sure how I feel about the 2010 midterm elections. On one hand, it's great to see so much active interest and participation in the less glamorous side of the democratic process. Most Americans, regardless of party, are concerned for the country's future and want to play a part in shaping it for the better. I find this very reassuring.

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

Guest Post: The Clubhouse

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

My, Republicans, What Short Memories You Have...

I'm tired of listening to people condemn the Obama Administration's "government takeover" of American liberties. Sick of hearing ignorant, opportunistic candidates and talking heads paint Obama like a foreign dictator and call him the worst president in history. Anyone can see Obama's off to a rough start (that's what happens when you inherit four generations worth of problems) but to claim he's the worst in history you must either have little to no knowledge of American political history (see: Buchanan, Harding, A. Johnson, etc) or you must be willing to say anything to fuel the flames of a rabid voting bloc motivated by pent-up frustration, some legitimate and some scary, in order to get elected.

The aforementioned presidents were really bad. Obama's only been in office for two years, so it's pretty difficult and stupid to compare him to these guys. But if you're dying to compare him to someone, you don't have to look that far back to find one worse than Obama: George W. Bush did more to intrude on the daily lives of Americans, expand the powers of the executive branch and trample on the Constitution than most self-proclaimed neocons with daddy issues could ever hope to do. This is what amazes me about Republicans in 2010: their dissatisfaction with the current administration has apparently led them to block the previous eight years out of their collective memory in a pathetically transparent attempt to regain power at any cost. And it just might work.

But where were these proponents of conservative government spending when Bush led us into a war that ended up costing almost a trillion dollars? Where were these ardent defenders of the Constitution when Bush, Cheney et al were treating it like last Sunday's funny pages? Why wasn't the Tea Party formed after Bush turned executive orders and signing statements into de facto legislation and gave his cronies the authority to subvert limitations on presidential powers that had been almost universally recognized for over 200 years yet simultaneously avoid oversight in the name of executive privilege?

I'll be the first to admit Obama has racked up some pretty hefty additions to our deficit, but he did so in the course of fixing problems that most people agreed needed to be fixed (if healthcare and finance reform are "disasters" now, what the hell were they before???) in amounts that are equivalent to or less than the debt we would have incurred had we continued down our pre-recession road. The voters spoke in 2008: Obama was elected to reform industries that had proven themselves to be failures and in need of reform. And even though many of these same voters are now deserting Obama as he gets his hands dirty and we are forced to accept the painful but inevitable consequences of our behavior, the guy is sticking to his message and doing what he was elected to do. As he should.

It'd be one thing if Republicans were offering any specific, constructive ideas other than "undoing the damage" inflicted by Obama's "socialist agenda," but they aren't. That's an advantage exclusively granted to the opposition: it's easy to point to current negative socioeconomic indicators as a reason for change (Dems did it in '08) but much more difficult to prove things would have been worse had they been done differently. Regardless, now is the time for a united front. And it seems to me that the Republican congressional leadership's sole focus is on doing whatever it takes to regain the majority, even if it means pandering to the vocal fringes of its party and putting the entire country back on the path that led us into this mess in the first place.

16 August 2010

Why I Support The Ground Zero Mosque

I wish I didn't have to make a point to say that freedom of religion, more so than any other principle, represents the reason America came to be in the first place. But as the Ground Zero mosque (or Park51 now apparently) debate shows, there are those who don't think this fundamental right matters when it comes to certain religions building certain structures near certain places. Even worse, Republican congressional leaders and 2012 presidential contenders are turning the Park51 issue into an all-out attack on Islam. We know fear rallies the base, especially when you're in the minority, but this has gone too far. The calculated Republican response to the proposed mosque and Muslim cultural center a few blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood has been shameful and is contrary to America's founding principles.

It would be one thing if Rauf's Dharma Cordoba Initiative behind the proposed mosque/cultural center was in some way connected to Al Qaeda or any other known terrorist group. If that were the case, and if it ever is found to be in the future, I will be first in line calling for its demise. But until then, I (and the Constitution) support the project and the group behind it, the mission of which is to bridge the gap of cultural understanding between Muslims and westerners. Their location choice obviously stirs the pot, but it's no reason to prevent them from worshipping where they choose. Anyone who opposes this project on anything other than charges of insensitivity is either misinformed, anti-Islamic by nature or so desperate for political gain they are willing to slap the Constitution in the face.

9/11 was horrible. The wound is still fresh. It is insensitive of the Cordoba Initiative to make such a public and politicized, borderline stubborn, defense of where they build. NY's Gov. Paterson even reportedly offered them some prime real estate on the other side of the city, but they turned it down. Clearly, they don't have to continue building where they are proposing. However it is well within their constitutional rights to do so. I mean, it would be a nice gesture if they relocated a few dozen blocks away as a courtesy to this country and the almost 3000 who died that day. That would make quite a statement about their intentions to "bridge the gap." But, as Americans, we must be willing to accept and respect the decision of any legitimate religious organization when it comes to where they want to practice their religion in accordance with the law. There must be no exception, even for 9/11. As long as they obey the law, who are we to tell them where they can and cannot worship? It's not easy, but it's the stuff America is made of - being the bigger man even when it hurts like hell.

I applaud President Obama's defense of Park51. He's obviously swimming against the tide of public opinion...last time I checked, 70% of the country opposes the project. I guess I do too, on a reactionary gut level. But the issue requires more thought than just going with our initial emotional response. Obama is doing what he feels is right and constitutionally defended. Sure, he was speaking to a group of Muslims and got a little flowery with his language, but so did Thomas Jefferson when he entertained a Tunisian envoy for iftar in 1805 (as our current president so duly noted).

It wasn't an especially thoughtful or intelligent choice, but I support the Cordoba Initiative's right to build an institution dedicated to the practice of their faith and promoting cultural understanding, even if it's near an open wound. It's the definition of the American way. While I understand the public's emotional opposition, I don't agree with Republicans using 9/11 and the mosque issue as a way to whip up anti-Muslim, anti-Obama hysteria just before elections. It's predictably childish and deconstructive, not to mention far from patriotic.

All I know is many of the guys in opposition to this project, the same ones who love to spew Revolutionary era soundbites with vitriolic, Glenn Beck-esque fervor, would find themselves between a rock and a hard place if they could hear some of our founding fathers' thoughts on Park51.

24 July 2010

In Defense Of American Values

In my last post, I identified myself as a practical progressive. I think I may have to push the boundaries of excessive alliteration and change that to practical progressive patriot: I love America. Not in a weird or even exceptionalist kind of way, don't get me wrong; a combination of opportunity, will, determination, ingenuity and ruthlessness built this country, not manifest destiny. But I still can't help but feel lucky and proud to be an American. (Don't worry, I'm not pulling a Sherrod knee-jerk here to placate my conservative readers, if you even exist. I really am probably one of the more flag-waving liberals on the East Coast. Guess that's what happens when you grow up in Boston listening to bedtime stories about James K. Polk and Kit Carson. Thanks Dad.)

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

A Practical Progressive Assessment of the Obama Administration

It's been a while since my last post, and I apologize for the delay. The past month has been somewhat stressful; job change, personal issues, Celtics losing the championship in classic fourth quarter fashion to the Lakers. But I am back with renewed focus and an even stronger desire to force my opinion upon you and the world. So relax.

Recently I have been speaking (albeit aggressively and at high volume) with a certain conservative, Tea Party-supporting friend of mine who actually knows what he's talking about when it comes to politics. Hearing his constant and justifiable criticism of Obama's handling of everything from healthcare to the oil spill has pushed me to better define my own views.

I am not registered with either party, but consider the following facts: I voted for Obama.* I interned for Ted Kennedy. I was born and raised in and around Boston, the greatest city on earth. So it's safe to say I'm not going to run and join the Tea Party any time soon. My instinct is to believe that a strong, well-run government has greater potential to protect individual liberties than a weak one, or just leaving society up to the inevitable immorality of human nature. However, I also view government as a necessary evil; a system that, in a perfect world, would not need to exist. But it does, and should exist as an instrument of the people, not career politicians, elite bureaucrats or narrow special interests on either side of the aisle. In short, if I had to, I would call myself a practical progressive: someone who believes government shouldn't be the enemy and that reform is necessary to keep up with the pace of human ingenuity, but in the end will always side with reason.

*(NOTE: If you did too, don't let anyone give you retroactive crap for it. Some people forget how awful things were in November '08. Obama was a great candidate with an overdue message. If you didn't vote for Obama, you either voted for Palin, threw your vote away or didn't vote at all. Sweet.)

That being said, I'll admit I had high hopes for Obama. All of us who voted for him did, himself included. Even though the guy came to the table with the worst place setting for any president in recent memory. I mean, his first major act was to pass the most sweeping economic stimulus package since the Great Depression (one that was supported by every reasonable decision-making mind in the country and already in the works when he took office). He hasn't had it easy by any means, and since the country is still in one piece and arguably in better condition than when he got here, I have to approve of his overall performance. But the sad fact of the matter is that however effectively President Obama might be dealing with the economic crisis, which I feel still remains to be seen, he's not doing the best job of communicating it to the public.

In a time of crisis, Americans want our President to BE smart, calm, cool and collected. But we want to SEE emotion. People, myself included, are tired of the stoic, obviously teleprompted press conferences and speeches. Tired of the same old knuckle-pointing and vague rhetoric (Everyone can appreciate this mixtape of presidential bs put together by the Daily Show). Obama, the next great communicator, the Democrats' answer to Reagan, has seemingly failed to connect with ordinary Americans.

Taking on an enormous agenda and surrounding yourself with establishment politicians and advisors will make it difficult to shoot straight with the public. But come on, almost 60 days before a major speech on the oil spill and a meeting with BP brass? Obama is handling this situation TOO rationally and politically correct. He should have pulled a Teddy Roosevelt and come out swinging from the beginning, put together a coordinated response coupling US military resources with BP technology and barreled through all ideological opposition. Instead, he sat back to gauge the mood of the country, and reasonably the extent of the spill, when he should have acted. He's probably kicking himself now for not taking things over from the start, which I'm sure everyone advised him against doing at the time and wouldn't have overcome the limits of human technology. Regardless, the bottom line is that Obama, not BP, should have been running the show from the beginning.

But to be fair, I don't think anyone in office would have done things much differently thus far than Obama has (minus healthcare, which I think is philosophically right and has the potential to open up a vast new market and source of revenue...but could also end up bankrupting us). Despite rumblings of Obama's no-confidence vote within the Democratic Party, he actually seems to be following a pretty establishment-oriented line. But even if establishment ideas are sometimes good ones, he needs to better bridge the gap between the American public and his administration's policies (if he cares about reelection). He is obviously not afraid to assert his authority (see: Healthcare), he just needs to do so in areas all Americans can relate to: fixing the economy, creating jobs and saving the Gulf Coast.

I guess I wouldn't give Obama an A so far, but I certainly wouldn't give him an F either. The guy is smart, determined and well-intentioned, despite his lack of effective multi-tasking and communicative abilities. I know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But I would rather continue to support a President who wants what's best for the country when he has much more work to do than sit on the sidelines shouting and obstructing. All I ask is that he talk with, and not at, the American people.

Even FDR's critics couldn't deny his connection with the people. Ultimately, it was this spirit of unity through adversity, culminating with the attack on Pearl Harbor, that made it so easy for Americans to mobilize and turn the country into an industrial superpower as soon as we entered WWII. Obama needs to take a few pages out of both Roosevelt playbooks.

23 May 2010

Rand Paul: Better Than Bunning

So it appears the Tea Party actually managed to field a candidate on a major party ticket. With Rand Paul's win in Kentucky's recent Republican primary for Senator and MLB hall of famer Jim Bunning's seat, someone with Tea Party (and Sarah Palin's) support might actually go to Washington. I guess the apocalypse is coming sooner than I thought. Just kidding...sort of.

(Before I get to Paul, let me start with Bunning. The guy is borderline senile. Although once a fearsome presence on the mound, he has been arguably one of the weakest and most ineffectual Senators in history, except when it comes to single-handedly blocking unemployment benefits. Also, I'm pretty sure the only legislation he ever introduced had something to do with retired baseball players. In 2006, Time Magazine named Bunning one of America's five worst senators. He hasn't done much to improve his reputation since then. His retirement couldn't come soon enough, but I digress...)

Rand Paul is not a bad guy. Neither is his dad. They just have some radically impractical ideas based on a vision of how our founding fathers would have wanted America to turn out. I realize the Pauls just want to go back to simpler times, when most Americans were farmers, we basically produced everything we consumed and the federal government largely stayed out of certain affairs over which it now has influence. I can understand that. But, for better or worse, those days are gone and they aren't coming back anytime soon.

Over time, America has grown and with this growth has come experience through crisis and knowledge about how best to keep our country safe, stable and strong. At certain points along the way, our predecessors felt it necessary to give the Federal Reserve the power to regulate the financial industry, establish a federally regulated education system, limit corporate expenditures in elections and make it easier for historically oppressed minorities to enter the workforce. These things happened, and for Mr. Paul to openly criticize some and call for the abolishment of others is both impractical and insensitive but most importantly a waste of time. Don't even get me started on his use of free market principles to defend BP, a massive foreign corporation whose regulation-skirting caused one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In American waters.

What scares me most about Rand Paul is that his message strikes a chord with people, even me sometimes. Most Americans want fresh faces in Congress who won't uphold the status quo and follow the party line. We want new decision makers making new decisions. (I'm trademarking that.) But I don't think some people realize that although they agree with Paul's take on America's problems, they really aren't going to like his solutions. What we need are realistic minds representing us in Washington, not backwards idealists too wrapped up in colonial nostalgia and anti-government passion to actually be an effective lawmaker at the national level.

I have to give Rand Paul credit for sticking with his gut now that he is in the limelight instead of falling in line with the Republican establishment. But I don't think he is good for the country at a time when we need real solutions and not what-if pipe dreams. Hindsight's 20/20, Mr. Paul. Let's hear some practical ideas.

10 May 2010

A Dark Place: WTUs "Worse Than Iraq"

Ensuring the medical and mental (I would argue even financial) stability of veterans should be a basic and essential function of the United States government. It's really not that difficult: No man or woman who has ever served in combat wearing an American uniform should have to worry about proper medical care or homelessness. Ever. So why are so many veterans not receiving the medical attention they need? How is it possible that almost one quarter of America's homeless are veterans?

Ever since the Washington Post exposed the despicable conditions and practices at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (unfortunate naming, Walter Reed was an American pioneer of modern medicine) people have been paying more attention to how we treat our veterans. We've come a long way since our regrettable treatment of soldiers returning from Vietnam, but our government still has work to do. A recent New York Times story shined a light on what the Army has created in the wake of scandal: Warrior Transition Units, or WTUs.

Instead of a traditional hospital setting, WTUs were intended to offer a more relaxed and personal rehabilitation experience for soldiers suffering from both physical and psychological battle wounds; an apparently novel concept for the VA. Problem is, they don't seem to be working. Reports indicate that instead of receiving adequate and individual care, soldiers are being neglected and abused, pumped full of meds and left to aimlessly watch TV, drink or use illegal drugs. What kind of rehab centers are WTUs supposed to be?

These might be isolated incidents, but is it really normal that one of these WTUs in Fort Carson, Colorado has had seven patient suicides since it was established in 2007? Is it just coincidence that numerous patients and doctors have reported seriously injured and traumatized veterans are being treated as harshly as if they were still in boot camp? Reports of over-medication and even illegal drug abuse also seem to be common in WTUs. This is not the environment in which our injured veterans should be preparing to return to society as healthy and stable citizens.

War is serious, and helping veterans of war should be taken just as seriously. We should expect that ALL returning veterans need our help; if they don't, that's great, good luck to them. But if they do, the U.S. government should do everything reasonable in its power to make sure they get proper treatment, care and attention on an intensive and individual level. Regardless of their condition, addiction or financial situation, we should have the best of the best making sure all veterans who reach out for help are met with respect and open arms.

Instead of forcing returning soldiers-in-need to enter time-specific and sometimes inadequate VA care programs, the government should be flexible around individual needs and provide more alternatives, such as footing the bill for certain private doctors, psychiatrists or treatment centers if they aren't willing or able to provide these services. Maybe we can start paying for it by firing some of the bitter scumbags currently staffing WTUs and disrespecting injured Army veterans.

You can tell a lot about a people by the way they treat their returning soldiers. These are the men and women who physically, not metaphorically, protect us from harm. If you are willing to risk your life for your country and its people you deserve the full benefits of the state. Far less worthy expenditures of tax dollars clog our fiscal drain on a daily basis; I think we can make some room to spend here.

29 April 2010

Generation Common Sense

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

Arizona Cracks Down On Illegal-Looking People

I can't say I agree with this new law in Arizona, which looks like America's toughest immigration law since we put quotas on immigrants from certain Eastern European and Asian countries in the 1920s. Nevermind that it basically turns police officers into immigration officers and will inevitably lead to charges of racial profiling, it is blatantly unconstitutional. But while the East Coast liberal in me cries out for the blood of racist morons, the conservative in me says it's about time somebody did something.

Let me explain. The problem with Arizona attempting to enforce its own immigration policy is that, according to the Supreme Court, federal immigration law trumps state law. However, Justice Hugo Black included in the opinion of the seminal case Hines v. Davidowitz (1941) the following caveat:

"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."

And there lies the real problem. As of yet, the federal government has failed to enact a "complete scheme of regulation" dealing with illegal immigration. In the absence of specific and relevant federal law, and in the midst of some of the worst drug related crime in the country's history, Arizona finally decided to take matters into its own hands.

Now I don't think, like some, that Arizona is just backwards. But it does seem as if Arizona voters, albeit rightfully tired of the bloodshed and kidnappings associated with illegal drugs coming from Mexico, short-sightedly put people in office who overstepped their constitutionally granted powers. Passing this bill was a desperate act on the parts of elected officials under pressure to respond to a serious issue when the federal government failed to do so.

Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the driving force behind this new law, has been widely quoted as saying "illegal is not a race, it's a crime." I agree, but I don't think this naive and weirdly egalitarian view of the issue matches up with the practical implications of the law. At the end of the day, it will be up to police officers on the streets of Arizona to determine whether or not an individual appears to be present in this country illegally. While I don't think Arizona cops are going to arrest every person of Hispanic descent in the state, it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to see how this could create a slippery slope toward unwarranted arrest and detention.

The law's broad language, discriminate scope and unconstitutional foundation make me confident it will be overturned in court. But the elephant in the room is that the federal government must act. Congress needs to come up with a realistic, bipartisan solution to illegal immigration that keeps our borders secure and our cities free from drug violence. At the same time, any solution must also distinguish between immigrants who already contribute socioeconomically (they do exist, and after monetary punishment should be given the opportunity to become citizens and pay taxes) and those who are just plain criminals. If the feds continue to drag their feet, more states will follow Arizona's lead. I'm not proud of what has happened in Arizona but I'm mindful of the bigger issues that created this situation in the first place. Hopefully we'll be able to look back on this and say Arizona was responsible for getting the federal government to finally act on illegal immigration.

20 April 2010

On Sarah Palin's 1500 Minutes Of Fame

If we want rational public discourse, we need a rational public. Which means we need an educated public. America's education system is decades away from offering every citizen an equal and quality education. Until then, in order to see that all Americans not only know the facts but know how to go about finding the truth themselves, we must do our part to educate ourselves through whichever means possible.

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

Need A Buck? Shake Down The Homeless!

OK, so I told myself I wouldn't bombard my blog with posts when the thing isn't even up and running yet, but I had to share this. Apparently, New York City is going to start charging the homeless to stay in the shelter system. That's right folks! Finally those bastards really responsible for the financial mess we're in are going to pay. Forget the Wall Street fat cats, crooked politicians and sinister lobbyists. It's about time someone focused political energy on squeezing every last penny out of those who are truly at fault: the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in our society.

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.

Why Write?

Because I am concerned for America's future. Not scared of a socialist takeover like certain historically-inept Tea Party members, but scared that the level of political debate in this country has devolved to new (well actually, old) and dangerous lows. The current environment closely resembles something created by an nineteenth century urban political machine (see: Gangs of New York). Overzealous protests and death threats are commonplace, rhetoric has become increasingly radical and borderline violent. Rational debate has been replaced by unfounded accusations, ignorant passion, and, as Hunter S. Thompson would have put it, a lot of bad noise.

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.

Kickoff Post

So this is my first post and I feel the need to make it a good one. Here goes. Since Tax Day has just fallen upon us, I thought I'd focus this first post on the Tea Party. Now, normally I don't like to give these people more press than they already get, but I figure no one is reading this blog at this point, so it shouldn't matter anyway.

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.