Sunday, August 29, 2010

A New Glenn Beck?

On the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, Glenn Beck hosted the “Restoring Honor” rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In all honestly, I was impressed.

Yesterday, Beck did not speak as an outspoken, right-winged talk show host, or as a leader of the racially charged Tea Party movement. Instead, for the first time, he spoke as a true American. He spoke on the values of American society, including faith, hope, and charity. And for once, I couldn’t agree more with what Beck was saying.

He emphasized the need to love and honor each other, and how “there is one human race. I may not agree with you politically, but we must have respect for one another. We are not here to divide, but to unite.” I agree with Glenn on all these principles. More importantly, he stuck to his word that this rally would not be political, and focused exclusively on the American heritage. Is this a change of heart?

And yes, to some extent, I agree with his location of the rally. Although many have argued that the location of the rally would be insensitive and symbolically tarnish MLK’s legacy, I did not see that yesterday. Instead, what I saw was a crowd of more than 80,000 people organizing in Washington and being engaged citizens. This is a good thing, and it offered a refreshing glimmer of hope for the state of our union. By speaking on the anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, Beck actually re-enforced the King’s dream of peaceful unity and Americans coming together for a “better future. This is what King’s legacy is all about.

However, there is still much work needed to be done. Beck’s message finally seemed to resonate with me as an American, with no race-baiting or political slander. The rally, however, was not diverse. And although the rally was not about Democrats or Republicans, many at the event have been active in conservative politics and said they have attended Tea Party movement rallies. Some even wore shirts comparing President Obama to Nazis and Al-Qaeda terrorists. This is where MLK’s message has seemed to have been misunderstood.

And who can blame them. After all, although Beck may have been about “reclaiming the American dream” yesterday, his actions in the past have proved opposite. As a leader of the Tea Party, he has supported events that have included pictures of Obama with a Hitler-style mustache, racial epithets and threats to Democratic officials, and has repeatedly accused Obama of reverse racism and of having "a deep-seated hatred of white people.” How can your supporters have respectful disagreements with those they oppose if you, yourself, are practicing the opposite?

If you can forget Glenn Beck's hate speech history, then you must give credit where credit is due. But one speech is not enough. He needs to practice what he preaches and share this heartfelt message to his followers. Or he can return to his hateful ways on Monday, and the 8-28 rally will just be another day on the calendar.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Much Needed Vacation

Does President Obama deserve a vacation? I think so.

Many Republican leaders are criticizing Obama for his recent trip with his family to Martha’s Vineyard. But let us not forget that he has spent less time on vacation than his predecessor, George W. Bush, had at this point in his presidency.

According to CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller, Obama has had only nine vacations since taking office, bringing his total days off to 48. In comparison, Bush had about 14 vacations at this point in his administration and spent at total of 115 days off. That’s more than double the amount of “off” time Obama has had.

In all fairness, no president, especially a wartime president handling the worst economic crisis in decades, ever really gets a vacation. There are always advisers and other staff members that accompany the president, along with daily briefings and other presiding issues that he must attend to.

What is important, however, is that the president puts the American people first and does the work he set out to do in his campaign for presidency. Unlike President Bush, who took many more off days than needed with little to show for it, President Obama deserves a few days off.

After all, within his first year in office, he has passed Healthcare Reform, Wall Street Reform, Credit Card Reform, and Education Reform, while also managing to prevent another Great Depression, create jobs, improve our country’s image across the world, win a Nobel Peace Prize, conduct two wars, and nominate 2 female judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, just to name a few.

If that doesn’t require a small “vacation”, I don’t really know what does. By the way, how much vacation time do you get?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

To Be an American, Or Not To Be

According to a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released Thursday, nearly one in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim. There was also a strong linkage between those who wrongly believe Obama is a Muslim and those who disapprove of the job he is doing as president. Not surprisingly, the sharpest rise in those who say Obama is a Muslim is among Republicans (up 14 points) since 2009.

This issue at hand is not the fact that Republicans are making false accusations about the president but, more importantly, that they are fabricating stories about someone’s faith to win political points. What does a person’s religion have anything to do with his/her performance?

When Republicans say they disapprove of Obama because he is a Muslim, they make it shameful to be an American. But to be an American is to appreciate those that you may not necessarily agree with it or even understand. To be an American is to practice religious tolerance and promote diversity. That is why Obama has made strides to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and grant gay couples the same rights as every other American. That’s why Obama supports the First Amendment right of freedom of religion.

Neither Obama nor I are Muslim. But I ask you: so what if we were Muslim? Since when is that a bad thing? Maybe we should look back at Obama’s Cairo Speech in 2009, when he said, “as long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity."

When Republicans say a mosque near Ground Zero would “defile sacred ground”, they start to make the religion of Islam a criticism of American values. Since Muslims are every bit of Americans than those that make up the Republican Party, it does not matter whether the mosque will actually be more of a community center than a religious shrine; or that it will not physically be located on Ground Zero, but more than a few miles away from it. What matters is that those who have lost loved ones during the 9/11 attacks, including Muslims, have a right to build a place of worship near the site.

Republicans are also endangering Americans' national security by legitimizing the claims of Al Qaeda that wants Muslims around the world to believe the U.S. is at war with all of Islam, not just the extremists.

We, as a nation, have already witnessed the horrors and tragedies that accompany segregation and intolerance of those that are different from us. It seems, however, that the civil rights movement is in full swing again. When will Republicans learn from the past? When will Republicans start acting like Americans?

Monday, August 16, 2010

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility…promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”

This is the America that the Constitution talks about. This is the America where everyone is free to worship what they want, when they want, and how they want. This is the America that promotes freedom of language, freedom of thought, and yes, freedom of religion. This is the America I live in. Recently, however, this America has been called into question.

There has been an increasing debate as to whether or not there should an Islamic mosque built near Ground Zero in New York. Many on both sides of the political aisle have issued concerns, yet some have seemed to forgotten the true meaning of what it is to be an American.

Some have argued that the building of a mosque would be insensitive to those who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks. But as President Obama mentioned, “it is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit as opposed to al Qaeda as the culprit. We were not attacked by all Muslims…There were Muslims killed there [Ground Zero]. There were Muslims who ran in as first responders to help.” We must never forget this.

For those that have criticized Obama for meddling in such an issue, let me remind you that the president, regardless of his party affiliation or political views, has a duty to protect the citizens he serves and defend the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religion for everyone, including millions of American-Muslims. By preventing the construction of the mosque, we would not only be violating the Constitution, but would be equating the entire religion of Islam with violence and terrorism. This would make our nation more prone to violence and hatred at the home-front and abroad.

But would we be having this same conversation if a church or a synagogue were to be built? If the answer is no, then how can we progress as a society? How can we stand up for what we believe in and prove to the world that Americans are not prone to the same injustices we have fought against?

There is no better place for healing, reconciliation and understanding than Ground Zero. There is no better place to understand the basic principle of being an American:

United we stand, and divided we fall.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Navigating to Success

In the last two days, President Obama has made even more strides to recover this nation from its recession.

First, he signed the Emergency Jobs bill, which will provide $26 billion to help states avoid a budget crunch that would force them to lay off teachers, firefighters, police and other public workers. It would also help these states pay Medicaid payments to doctors. By providing this much needed assistance, states are better able to meet other priorities, including keeping more than 150,000 teachers, police officers and other public workers on the payroll.

Second, Obama also signed into law the Emergency Homeowner Loan Program, making $3 billion in additional funds available to help troubled homeowners avoid foreclosures.

Third, he strengthened U.S. manufacturing by signing into law an act that reduces tariffs paid by American companies on certain imports needed to manufacture their products.

Irrespective of the benefits these new laws will provide, Republicans have further labeled themselves as the “Party of No” through their constant filibustering and opposition. However, what they fail to understand is that, in order to grow this economy and provide long term sustainability, we need to put aside politics and offer real solutions. We need to keep jobs, strengthen our companies, continue educating our youth, and keep people off the streets. It may also be noted that to further ensure that these new measures are fully paid for, Obama has closed tax loopholes that encourage corporations to send American jobs overseas.

If we lay off thousands of workers, outsource manufacturing jobs, and stop providing the basic necessities of shelter and education for our citizens, how can we, as a nation, compete globally? The answer is we cannot.

Thus far, the Obama administration, with the help of Democrats, has been successfully steering us into recovery. But when will Republicans help us navigate? Hopefully November will wake them up.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

America In the Driver's Seat

President Obama wants the Bush tax cuts to expire, thus ending tax breaks for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. Republican leaders, however, argue that these tax cuts would encourage small businesses, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. They are wrong for several key reasons.

First, the average small business income is around $40,000, and therefore, extending the tax cuts for rich individuals making more than $250,000 isn't going to do much for small businesses. Instead, Obama has proposed the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act, which would offer tax incentives for these businesses (who create more than half of all new jobs in America) and save taxpayers $1 billion over the next 10 years. However, the constant filibustering by Republicans has made it difficult for the Senate to pass such a job creating measure. Strike #1

Second, to truly stimulate the economy, you need to provide benefits to those who are out of work and looking for a job. Long-term growth requires widely spread prosperity, not an ever increasing concentration of wealth at the top and an increasing gap between the rich and poor. That’s why Obama has extended unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. As I mentioned in my blog post “Unconstructive Criticism”, just as the Bush tax cut puts more money in the pockets of the wealthy, unemployment insurance gives more money to the unemployed (who are likelier to spend it). But again, Republicans have argued against it. Strike #2.

Third, Republicans argue that by transferring more money to the wealthiest, we would entice them to invest more in the economy. But let us not forget that the rich have had this tax cut since 2003 and, instead of investing and creating jobs, they paid large corporate bonuses, laid-off millions of workers, and outsourced manufacturing jobs. Strike #3.

By allowing these unnecessary tax cuts to expire, the tax rate for the wealthiest will go back to Clinton-era levels. During the Clinton administration, the rich paid a high individual income tax rate of 39%. However, the economy still created more than 23 million jobs (about 90% in the private sector) in less than eight years -- the most jobs ever created under a single administration. He also left office with a huge surplus.

When Bush took office, he lowered the top individual tax rate down to 35%. But, compared to the prior administration, he only created about 3 million jobs during his 8 years in office. In addition, Bush took a $230 billion surplus and turned it into a $1.4 trillion deficit. If the tax cuts are not left to expire, they will cost us an additional $3 trillion in the next 10 years through lost revenue.

Compare that to Obama administration, which has already created and/or saved more jobs in his first two years as president than Bush did in 8 years! By investing in our future, Obama has created jobs in almost every major sector of our economy, including construction, education, healthcare, clean energy, and the auto-industry.

As the Democratic leadership has put it: when you are driving a car, you push “D” to go forward, and “R” to go backward. So, where do you want to go?