Politics Daily #17 – Sam Brownback Signs Bill Banning Islamic Law in Kansas

Actually, technically, no he didn’t.

But such was the title of the Huffpost article.  In reality, governor Brownback is signing into law a measure that prohibits courts and government agencies from basing their decisions on foreign legal codes, namely the Islamic Shariah law.  The intention of this bill was to ensure that legal cases in Kansas are only decided by American laws and constitutions.

Sounds kind of patriotic, doesn’t it? It was probably Brownback’s intention to make it appear so, as well.

When I saw the headline, I somewhat interpreted, my previous impression of Brownback as a staunch conservative, especially on social issues, the headline as ‘Sam Brownback hates Islam.’  While that might be entirely possible at a personal level, the signing of this bill, or even the contents of the bill, do not really support the notion that Brownback is targeting Islam specifically with this bill.  Hence I found the article title somewhat misleading.

Politics Daily #16 – The Wisconsin Recall Debate: Tom Barrett vs. Scott Walker

The first of two gubernatorial debates between Tom Barrett (D) and Scott Walker (R) took place last night, as Barrett aggressively went after Walker on a wide range of issues, including his out-of-state fundraising, the incendiary bill that stripped collective bargaining rights from most public workers, and his efforts to appeal to the far-right on the national level.

For a more detailed account about the debate, check out the Huffpost report here.

Mr. Barrett said during the debate that Wisconsin has lost “more jobs than any other state in the entire country in 2011,” and that Walker’s policies were polarizing to the point where it was impossible in some instances for neighbors to talk to neighbors, for relatives to talk to relatives, for workers to talk to co-workers.

And then there’s Walker, sticking to his talking points and talking about creating jobs.

It never ceases to boggle my mind that so many Republican politicians such as Walker keeps on talking about creating jobs while slashing spending.  My understanding of how government works is that it needs revenue in order to pay its employed workers.  As much as so many Republicans / conservatives / Ron Paul supporters want to turn the United States into an almost-government-free libertarian state, America is far from that.  Government jobs still encompass a large portion of the workforce as a whole.

So common sense should dictate that the less money government has, the weaker its ability to hire people.

On the other hand, Republicans have never stopped declaring their belief that the private sector is where most jobs are created, and we have heard too often that wealth will trickle down from top to bottom. This notion has all but proven to be untrue, as for example, the fat cats at Wall Street are back to business as usual with almost no new regulation imposed on them while the working class in America continue to struggle.

Soon-to-be-ex Governor Walker lit the fuse that blew up in his face when he wanted to strip public workers of collective bargaining rights, rights that represent entrenched values of working society and the relationship between the worker and the owner.  A landslide defeat could be depicted as a small-scale version of the defeat of Nicholas Sarkozy in France, as a rejection of borderline-outrageous fiscal conservatism.

Check out this article for a list of reasons why Scott Walker should be recalled.

Britain Knights Apple Designer

You may now refer to him as sir Jonathan Ive, chief designer of Apple.  Check out the Huffpost Report here.

According to Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson, the late Apple co-founder viewed him as a ‘spiritual partner’ of Apple.  That’s saying something.  

As someone who was born in the late 80s and slowly became aware of what types of computers were used in the classrooms, the colored iMac desktop made a lasting impression on me as it looked so different from everything before that.  It was cute but not childish.  It was chic.  

I’m not a tech guy, so I’m not about to discuss specifically what made the Ive-contributed Apple designs so great.  But that’s perhaps exactly why Apple products are so great: people love them because they are able to do incredibly technologically advanced things without knowing anything about technology.  They are simple and intuitive to use.  

Ive says in the interview that the product he is most proud off is yet to come.  Perhaps he will debut it at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference next month.

Movie Review: some thoughts on Marvel’s The Avengers

‘Awesome!’ is the word I keep hearing from people who have seen “Marvel’s the Avengers,” the first of the summer blockbusters featuring the superheroes that have had their stand-alone hit movies in the past few years.

Now that the film is breaking box office records almost everywhere and is approaching Avatar-esque gross, just how good is The Avengers?

In spite of all of the fantastic visual effects, action sequences, coherent storyline, and engaging acting, the most brilliant feature of the film was director Joss Whedon’s ability to keep it from becoming scattershot.  Often times, big budget movies with megastars can fail miserably if the direction fails to hold everything together;  “Troy” fell into the wrong hands and became sluggish and campy; “Transformers 2” is one of the worst action movies of all time, although of course that did not stop Michael Bay from making a sequel, and perhaps a sequel after that.

Whedon’s ability to inject humanity into the characters amidst all of the special effects and battles in a film that clocks in at two hours is uncanny.   The characters are not delivering dull, corny lines like in the “Transformers” films.  They were, through their dialogue and various other non-verbal interactions, bonding.   Moreover, the actors were not just stoically reading from their scripts, they made the most in developing their characters and did so in a charismatic way.

That’s about all I have to say about this film.  Praising the action or special effects or acting was would take away from how awesome the film is as a whole.  When you see the film again (if you haven’t, do it!), just take notice of how well it holds together from start to finish, that everything hits the right note.  And above all, this film is what going to the movies is all about, having fun!

Politics Daily #15 – Obama Administration’s ‘War’ on the Press

The latest Huffington Post headline reads: “WAR ON THE PRESS: Obama Administration Attacks Basic Reporting Right.”

A lawyer representing the Department of Justice is arguing that New York Times reporter  James Risen should be forced to testify in the trial of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with leaking classified information to Risen about a botched plot against the Iranian government.

While it has somewhat become a struggle between the ‘reporters’ privilege’ and the Espionage Act – a World War I-era law intended to prohibit the aiding of enemies -, some, such as Lucy Dalglish from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, are arguing that it is not even necessary to force Risen to testify, as the DOJ has the power to obtain all the evidence it needs to make a case (airline tickets, hotel receipts, etc.)

I wouldn’t pretend to know much about the inner workings of D.C., or Federal politics, or the correlation between the methods with which reports obtain classified information from government departments such as the Department of Justice, the C.I.A., or the N.S.A.  I do think though, that it would be a shame if this issue with the press winds up becoming an election issue that comes back and bites Obama during the election.

While Fox News is the ultimate voice of American conservatism and Republican rhetoric, most other television news outlets are fairly centrists or liberal-leaning.  As such, it would be very unwise for Obama to anger the part of the media that has largely been standing on his side (you really only need to adhere to the facts to be on his side).  As Jake Tapper of ABC questions the inconsistency (bordering hypocrisy) as the Obama administration’s applauding of aggressive journalism abroad as highlighted by the recent passings of Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin and its crackdown of aggressive journalism at home, it seems like the administration is struggling to find the right tone to approach the issue.

Or perhaps it is more clear-cut than that; somebody inside the administration is controlling which direction they would take with regards to cracking down on leaks.  And that person, whom I doubt very much would be the President himself, is putting the notion that ‘there’s a reason classified documents are classified’ before ‘people have the right to know what the government is doing’.

Politics Daily #14 – The Two Things some Europeans are ‘Anti-ing’

A substantial number of Europeans, all over Europe, fervently dissatisfied with the political status quo, are electing politicians with radical beliefs and agendas to lead their country.

And it turns out, a portion of these folks are mixing another ‘anti’ with the ‘anti-austerity’ storm that has swept the continent.

For a detailed report on which peoples are voting for whom where, check out CNN’s report here.  The article highlights the notion that the number of people who voted for political parties with rather extreme views in recent elections in Greece, Austria, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, Hungary, and others, is large enough to take note, the majority of them enraged at the failed austerity economic measures.

However, the article aptly points out that, although many are turning to extremist political parties for change, the main force that is driving the incumbent governments out of power has more to do with their failure to revive the economy and their seeming disregard for the lower and middle classes rather than support for the extremist parties’ policies.  As the recent election in France demonstrates, the Socialist Party, led by Francois Hollande, does not hold extreme radical views.  He won partly because of the public’s discontent with the austerity measures implemented by Nicholas Sarkozy.

That was the first ‘anti’, anti-austerity as a significant number of Europeans have deemed fiscal conservatism a failure. The second ‘anti’ has somewhat caught on with the first one, for vaguely linked reasons.

As the far-right gained more support in recent elections, so did their ongoing anti-Muslim sentiments.  Many Europeans, such as those who voted for the ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration Golden Dawn party in Greece, are merging their anger at austerity measures together with their distrust towards foreigners.  It’s a strange mix, and these parties face the difficulty of being convoluted in their messages between nationalism and anti-austerity while channeling the public’s anger into supporting them.

The supporting of far-right groups for either anti-Muslim or anti-Austerity reasons might result in more chaos for Europe.  But once the economy recovers, albeit which might take many years, support for these groups is likely to wane.  As Dr. Matthew Feldman said in the article, “it’s clear that a large minority across Europe isn’t comfortable with these things — demographic change and multiculturalism… But what the far right offers is not something that many can accept.”

Politics Daily #13 – Gay Donor Pulls Support From Mitt Romney Over Gay Marriage

Bill White, head of a consulting firm in New York and openly gay, has decided to pull his support from the Romney campaign and instead support President Obama’s reelection bid.  He has also asked for his money back.

Read the Huffpost report here.

The article’s highlight:

“While he clarified to CNN that he does not agree with the president on fiscal issues, White said that Romney’s speech during Liberty University’s commencement on Saturday led him to believe that Romney would press for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage — a position that White simply cannot support.”

This incident is proof that, in an election dominated by concerns over the economy, social issues such as same sex marriage bear a strong enough influence to change which candidate a voter supports.  In this case, Mr. White was willing to support Mr. Obama because of his support for gay marriage and despite disagreeing with him over fiscal issues.

Now that someone has taken the first step in switching their support, it’s likely that a lot more gay supporters of Republican candidates, including the Senate and the House, will support a Democrat instead.

And it just might illustrate the potential brilliance in Obama’s calculated move to finally declare his support for gay marriage, as not only will he draw votes from gay conservatives, he can also garner up support from more homosexuals who will vote for the first time because of this issue.

Politics Daily #12 – When the President says ‘I Do’

So President Obama came out expressing his personal support for Gay Marriage.  Now what?

The President says that he has struggled with this for a long time, having in years past  favouring civil unions over marriage.  In the sense of an actual declaration of his support, this was a breakthrough.  But in terms of policy, this was, as Rachel Maddow aptly puts it, icing on the cake, for the Obama administration has up until this point had a consistent pro-Gay rights policy record.

Instead of talking about the policy implications of Obama’s declaration, I want to focus briefly on what impact this would have on the upcoming election, but moreover, I want to discuss what Obama’s declaration means within the larger context of the overall direction of how politics is evolving.

By announcing his support for Gay marriage, President Obama has all but locked in the fact that a portion of the voting electorate, a substantial portion at that, will for sure not vote for him in the upcoming election.  He is now more guaranteed than ever to not receive any vote from the religious right.  But where Obama is losing votes where he was never going to get a lot of anyway, he is, for one, affirming to his liberal base of his support.  But more importantly, he is trying to get out the young vote.

It has become clear that Obama is trying to frame his reelection campaign about the young, the next generation.  He has, for some time now, highlighted the issue of keeping student loan interests rates low as the key current issue. He has used this issue to attack Republicans as willing to let the interest rates double when summer arrives.  For the record, the Republicans have proposed their way of keeping the interest rates low, and it involving slashing funding for a preventive health program for women who would like to check for breast cancer and other illnesses.  But lets not talk about the Repubicans’ ‘war’ on women here as that would induce too big of a tangent.

But most importantly, Obama’s statement lands itself in a bright spot on the somewhat linear line of the overall progress of politics.  As values go, most historians will agree with the notion that it is something that is constantly evolving.  Even Christian values evolve over time.  This evolution of beliefs has been accelerated in recent times with the advances in information and communication technologies.  In addition, we have a country where more and more of its children are educated, and therefore gaining the knowledge and wisdom to develop progressive beliefs that continues the evolution of politics.  There are many bumps on the road, of course, as many children are still left behind and various Conservative groups and politicians are fighting this progress by introducing legislation that are viewed as medieval in nature by other Western countries, or are having children taught regressive or downright untrue things at school.

In a very broad sense, the linear nature of the history of Western Civilization would have Europe as the longest-standing and most progressive.  While there are many exceptions to this idea, in general, the United States is following Europe’s footsteps on many issues, as it is just now treading on territories that the Europeans have already passed.  Most European countries allow same-sex marriage, abortion, the use of marijuana, are anti-gun, and are less inclined to indulge in a money-driven, competitive capitalist society.  Will America follow Europe in this regard? My guess is, eventually.  Although faced with strong resistance on all fronts, increasing number of Americans support same sex marriage, anti-gun, support the legalization of marijuana, and don’t view the Wall Street, the symbol of the rise and fall of capitalism, in a favorable light.

There is evidence where in certain areas, America has shown that it can surpass Europe and lead as example in the current course of history.  By using bailouts and government interventions (even with one major party being against it), the United States is on pace to have a faster economic recovery than Europe, which resorted to a series of austerity measures.  The effectiveness of the dreaded ‘A’ word has been beyond disappointing, and many have paid the political price for it (France, Greece, Britain) while more might soon.

Ultimately, I think Obama made the claim that he did as a leap of faith to jump forward in the linear progress of history, to accelerate the progress of tolerance and achieving the goal of allowing same sex marriage in the entire country.

Politics Daily #11 – Republicans Shying away from Losing the Student Loan Debate

Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a bill that would have frozen student loan interest rates before they are set to double on July 1.

Read more on the Huffington Post here.

Republicans claim that while they are also keen on keeping the student loan interest rates low, the disagree with the Democrats on how to pay for it, opposing the Democrats’ proposal of raising Social and Medical payroll taxes on certain high income earners while suggesting to cut a preventive health fund.

This speaks to a larger issue relating to the upcoming general election.  I can’t help but guess that the Republicans, knowing that the younger voting demographic have never been big supporters of their party, is trying to put the student loan issue to the wayside, minimizing its power to galvanize young voters to vote for President Obama.

Republicans are seen as being in an uphill battle as polls have shown that Mitt Romney has a clear edge on Obama in only one demographic, the old-wealthy-white-men, and is either behind or in a statistical tie with the President in all other groups.  They are trying to downplay the student loan issue by blaming Democrats, as usual, even though it blows my mind when Republicans say that raising taxes on the wealthy ‘job-creators’ will cause them to create less jobs (if they were creating any in the first place).

 The young needs to come out and vote if they would like President Obama to have a decisive win, and the President needs to put the student loan issue on the forefront in order to get out the vote.

Politics Daily #10 – The John Edwards Trial: Trying the Conscience-Free Criminal

New testimonies emerging from the John Edwards trial reveal that he had a remarkable display of not showing any remorse for what he did, having fathered a child with a mistress and using his donors’ contribution to his presidential campaign to help raise the child.

Read an in-depth report, including highlights of key testimonies from previous Edwards staffers Christina Reynolds and Josh Brumberger, on the Huffpost here.

There were two highlights from the testimonies, the first was John Edwards’ blatant disregard when confronted by Elizabeth Edwards, hysterical from her rage, even as she bared her chest in front of him and other staffers.  Reynolds said that Edwards “didn’t have much of a reaction.”

What kind of person does that? Even if he has lost all love for his wife, shouldn’t he, as a politician, at least try to comfort her? Can he possibly be viewed in a positive light by his staffers, or anyone else for that matter, for standing idly by while his wife is confronting him with affair allegations? Behaviours like these come from a man who is drunk on power and is devoid of all of his moral conscience.

The other highlight is the claim made by Brumberger that Edwards tried basically every trick in the bag to keep his mistress close to him and to give her the best care possible, including providing her with health insurance paid by the PAC that she works for.  It was also evident that Hunter, the mistress, was incompetent as a film maker, or even a camera-woman.  So it was somewhat shocking to see Edwards completely lose his temper when he confronted Brumberger after Brumberger had discussed Edwards’ affair with other staffers.

It would be somewhat comforting to know, for example, that Edwards fell under some kind of spell by Rielle Hunter that caused him to throw his political career away and face possible jail time, but that wasn’t the case.  I used to like John Edwards; he was a charismatic politician who was adept at connecting with the working class (other than the $600 haircut issue), and it makes me sick to know that he is such an amoral creature.