December 5, 2013 was marked by the death of Nelson Mandela. The name of the South African activist and first black President is known around the world, probably better than the abdominal legacy of apartheid that he sought to undo. He is so important to Twentieth Century history his death dominated the news of the day, for good reason.
An era of South African history defined by the brutal oppression and torture of blacks, apartheid ended with individuals like Nelson Mandela turning away from the impulse to seek revenge and dominance over whites. Instead, they recognized there was no punishment, no form of restitution, and no means of prosecuting the myriads of individuals responsible for what had been done to black South Africans and sought reconciliation.
Instead of tearing their nation apart along racial lines, leaders of South Africa formed Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to afford victims a channel to peacefully express their grievances, face their victimizers, and learn what had happened to their loved ones who disappeared. In doing so, Mandela and others started a healing process that today has helped South Africa thrive. This approach to resolving conflicts is unique and rarely pursued on a national scale, yet the lesson to be learned is an essential one.
When wrongdoings cannot be sufficiently undone or addressed through restitution, grievances can be addressed and conflicts resolved through the expression and public recognition of those grievances. Given the revolutionary forces driving change and unrest in the Middle East, as well as other regions of the world, there are several populations that will soon face the need to resolve past grievances and ongoing conflicts with rulers who did wrong. Although how those grievances and conflicts are addressed depends on what will satisfy the interests of the parties involved, the history of South Africa and work of Nelson Mandela should be remembered when doing so.
Unfortunately, President Obama has decided to continue his campaign style push for the Affordable Care Act. The truth is that such a campaign will do nothing for Obamacare, except give everyone something to joke about. At this point in the healthcare reform process, the legislation has been passed, i.e. the reason for a campaign, and we are waiting for the results. People experience, or will soon experience, the benefits. Where there are faults in Obamacare, such as the those faults in the Health Insurance Marketplace website, we need to see continual improvement. We do not need to hear why the Republicans are to blame for any failures in the effort; we need to see cooperative legislative efforts that can bring about additional reforms.
In fact, the President is strong when he deals with foreign policy issues in a firm manner. At the moment, the Chinese-Japanese dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is garnering his attention and the attention of the Press. He should focus his PR efforts on emphasizing his efforts to revolve a brewing international conflict instead of reminding people of the controversial healthcare law. In many respects, international conflicts of this nature are easier to solve, because both parties have interests in resolving the conflicts, i.e. war would seriously damage the world's second and third largest economies, while the conflict is not a major issue for America. Other people's problems can be easier to solve as the outsider can avoid being bogged down by emotionally charged and psychologically cutting details that often derail the resolution process. As such, the Obama Administration would better served by focusing on issues it can solve and by calling attention to those issues.
Furthermore, focusing so heavily on Obamacare demonstrates a lack of priorities on the President’s behalf, as well as our Legislators. Unfortunately, the divisive issue is certain to further polarize Democrats and Republicans, thereby undermining other legislative efforts. We live in an environment where our leaders do not put aside their differences for the greater good of the Country. We live in an environment where politicians take a hardliner, all-or-nothing approach. Consequently, over focusing on the politics of Obamacare decreases the likelihood we will avoid a government shutdown and Debt Default in early 2014.
Tensions are rising between China and Japan over the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with United States standing in the middle. Threatening to enforce its Air Defense Identification Zone restrictions, China claims ownership of the Islands; whereas, Japan has been recognized as the rightful owner of the islands since the late Nineteenth Century with a brief interlude following WWII when the US took control of the territory. The US is directly involved due to our Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security with Japan, but America is also seeking to avoid a military conflict between China and the militarily weak Japan.
Fortunately, we live in a civilized world where economic and diplomatic stability drive national interests; henceforth, America’s willingness to shield the Japanese through our military activities over the islands forces China to deal with the conflict in through non-military means. If China tries to engage in military action against the US, or Japan, it would have terrible ripple effects that would certainly undermine the entire Chinese economy and its diplomatic endeavors. Furthermore, America has many unspoken grievances against China while conflicts have a tendency of drudging up all sorts of issues, thus this conflict could help the US and China recognize our many grievances and recalibrate our relationship.
It should not be lost on the American People that those making around minimum wage were required to work on Thanksgiving Day at stores that opened early to expand their Black Friday shopping. Protests on Thanksgiving focused on raising minimum wage; however, raising minimum wage does not solve the underlying problems, i.e. the economy is not responding to the financial needs of the majority of the American People. The rules of our economy, i.e. set by government policies, favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor, thus too many people are relying on food stamps, government sponsored medical insurance, energy assistance, and other socialist subsidies as their jobs do not pay enough to cover their living expenses while they will likely never see a job that does.
Meanwhile, protests in Thailand have also flared up. Being poor in a place like Thailand is inconceivably worse that being poor in the United States, but America is headed toward that extreme. Children of the poor in Thailand face a lifetime of hopeless struggle to simply feed themselves and threats like childhood prostitution. If it were not for socialist programs in the US, we would be well on our way to an economy of desperation. Clearly, the system is not working well enough in America, but Thailand has an even worse situation. We should be thankful for that, but the status quo must be overcome.
Enjoy the very American holiday of Thanksgiving. You too world. Remember, it was the generosity and kindness of the original Americans toward foreigners, which set in motion a series of events that changed the world forever. For all the bad that came after the Pilgrims' first winter, there has so much more good in this world thanks to the rise of American Democracy while we must strive to learn from our misdeeds and build an even better future. In closing, feast well my friends.
For around 7 billion dollars in sanctions relief, the International Community gets Iran to agree for the next 6 months to no net increases in its stockpile of enriched uranium, no new production of uranium enriched beyond 5 percent, the destruction, or dilution, of all uranium enriched to near 20 percent, which is one technical step away from weapons grade uranium, no new centrifuges, more than half of Iran’s already existing centrifuges idled, all next-generation centrifuges idled, and all construction on its hard-water reactor near Arak, which could be used to make plutonium, stopped while Iran would have to allow more invasive monitoring, including daily visits by IAEA, inspectors to nuclear sites.
Although this deal may only delay the ability of Iran to produce nuclear material from two week to only two months according to IAEA deputy director Ollie Heinonen, it does break the forward momentum. Before we can reverse the nuclearization process, the social inertia that has been provoking our adversarial relationship with Iran for decades must be overcome. This intermediate deal ensures the US and the rest of the world can continue to engage in negotiations over the nuclear issue and other grievances we have with Iran without giving up too much. Six months is a long time, if used properly. Consequently, the deal affords the US, the International Community, and Iran the space to develop a more mature plan without easing the lion’s share of our sanctions. In addition, the seven billion dollars gives Iran assurances that the world is serious.
That said, I wouldn’t bet on normalized relationships, especially if I were an investor, because things could go south very quickly if Iran cannot start build trustworthy relationships with its neighbors, which it will take more than six month to overcome several decades of bad conduct. The world wants to be certain Iran will not get a nuclear bomb, because Iran has demonstrated a willingness to support terrorist activities while a nuclear arms race is the last thing the Middle East needs. As such, Iran must engage in confidence building on all fronts. This, of course, includes internal reforms as well as an end to its involvement in the Syrian Civil War and other conflicts.
Paying for insurance is like buying a really expensive ticket for a lottery you would rather not win. From car insurance to trip insurance
, people need coverage for unexpected expenses they know they cannot afford. From basic healthcare to travel medical
insurance, individuals want to know their financial and medical needs will be met when they get sick. The Affordable Care Act created high standards to guarantee health insurance would work for policyholders, but it has yet to ease concerns over the affordability of coverage. An ongoing lack of certainty and answers, coupled with reports of widespread premium increases, scare people, especially considering the individual mandate requires them to purchase insurance or pay a fine.
In late September, as healthcare.gov
was about to be launched, some pundits were comparing the average monthly payment for a mid-tier health insurance plan to that of the average monthly payment for a new car. In many respects, this emphasizes the reason so many Americans are fearful of the individual mandate and Obamacare as a whole. It also demonstrates the financial divide between the wealthy political elite, who likely have health insurance as a guarantee, and the majority of Americans, who sometimes see it as an unnecessary necessity.
A great number of people cannot afford an additional car payment. In fact, many people cannot afford a new car, period. Although the median household income for all Americans may be around $50,000 per year, the median household income for the bottom 90 percent of Americans is around $30,000 per year. For most people, this means buying even a used car can be a struggle, whether or not it is an absolute necessity. Accordingly, it is not an issue of wanting health insurance for most of the uninsured.
The Marketplace healthcare insurance premiums may be a good deal and everyone may need health insurance to live well, yet healthcare becomes a luxury when the ever-increasing costs of modern day living quickly eat away at the stagnate wages of the majority. Most people want to be healthy and want medical care; however, this means nothing when tough choices must be made. Considering how unresponsive our government has become and the way politicians toss relatively large quotes about as though they are trivial amounts, many Americans fear they will be stuck with a bill they cannot afford.
What people need is assurances that their government will help them financially, not crush them with taxes and mandates. Unfortunately, it seems the only news coming from our political leaders involves the broken Marketplace website and how Washington is trying to coerce insurance providers into renewing obsolete health insurance plans for a minority as a way for President Obama to honor an over simplified promise.
Furthermore, opponents of Obamacare are not helping the situation with their constant efforts to undermine reforms. They are simply latching onto the fears of the American People and using them for political gain instead of acting as leaders and solving problems with solutions that address the needs of most Americans. Unfortunately, their concerns are largely focused on business interests and an irrational drive to avoid increased costs for themselves, not the wellbeing of the financially vulnerable; henceforth, the options they push are terribly destructive to the majority of Americans.
Consequently, both Democrats and Republicans need to do a better job of addressing the concerns of those most affected by policy deficits like those found in the Affordable Care Act. Our leadership needs to reassure people by making government more responsive, so the American People can trust government to make constructive policy changes.
Friday, October 22, 2013 marked the Fiftieth Anniversary of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy. So respected and so loved was JFK that his murder traumatized a nation to the point almost everyone who lived through the tragedy has very distinct memories of the days surrounding the events. Even as we have learned more and more of President Kennedy’s personal faults, his status a legionary leader only grow stronger. I think part of this comes from Kennedy’s approach to government: “ask what you can do for your country,” i.e. support society, while using government as a tool to serve the interests of the disenfranchised, i.e. make government effective and ensure it plays its proper role in society.
It is also important to remember this was a time when Americans were just learning to distrust government and recognize the hazards of the self-serving influence of special interest groups. Although it is pivotal to understand and address negative aspects of government, there is a lesson in trust. No trust equals no support for government and no government means the good government does, which is often taken for granted, goes undone. When dealing with our nuclear dealings with Russia, the US embraces the motto: “trust, but verify.” I think we should embrace a more Kennedy era faith, but get more involved in our democratic government to ensure government is serving our interests.
Just on the Tuesday before this Friday Anniversary, the Anniversary of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech was also marked. Another well-respected and beloved leader, Abraham Lincoln respected States rights, but also acted to preserve our society and defend the disenfranchised. In many regards, President Lincoln and President Kennedy have much in common, including the support and faith of the American People. For democracy to be successful, the People must support government and our leaders enough to seek their leadership and pursue our interests through the powers garnered by government. It is absolutely essential to call our leaders out on their bad behavior and policies that undermine our interests, but we also need to actively support and encourage our leaders when they do what they should be doing and seek to inspire us to be more.
Senate Democrats finally voted away filibusters for Presidential nominees, excluding Supreme Court Justices, on Thursday, November 22, 2013. Republicans, of course, view the move as a form of corruption, though both sides are hypocrites as their views often change with which Party is in power. According to Senate Leader Harry Reid, half of all executive and judicial nomination filibusters throughout the history of the US have occurred during the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, today filibusters have been used to shutdown government in a time when government needs to be more responsive.
In many ways, removal of the filibuster for nominees is an experiment. Filibusters exist to modulate the inherently erratic nature of the more democratic House and reduce the damage caused the whims of the day’s politics, or at least goes the theory. The main charge of Republicans is the elimination of the filibuster creates a situation where the minority has no power. Clearly, a majority vote is still needed, but our two-party, deeply polarized system makes it difficult for the minority to resist the majority rule without a filibuster.
If we had a multiparty system and if our parties were more fractured, the need for a simple majority would be enough to block an unpopular majority effort. Even though this is currently not reality, Congress is still divided and Senators are elected in staggered terms, so differences in the House and Senate will continue to help minimize the power of the majority. Meanwhile, removing the filibuster tool may well encourage internal fracturing of the parties on issues key to constituents, new alliances, and an overall shakeup in our political system. Besides, what really stops the majority from acting against the will of the American People is an engaged populous. That said, what may come is unknown; we will just have to wait and see.