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Archive for January, 2010

I really should have titled this post “The Danger of Hubris for all of Us” since it is a condition that readily affects any one of us.  However, as an eternal student of political science and public policy, I will focus my attention on my current source of alarm.

Last night President Obama did something during his State of the Union address that might have been overlooked by many.  He stated he understood the Constitution called for separation of powers (i.e. Executive Branch, Legislature, Judiciary) but then proceeded to rebuke the Supreme Court justices seated before him for their recent decision on campaign finance contributions.  Ironically, the only justice I saw visibly react with anger was Justice Sotomayor who happened to be in the minority (5-4) dissenting opinion.

Personally, I was infuriated.  The last time I was this infuriated by a President was when George W. Bush declared that the U.S. had the right to unilaterally remove a foreign head of state.  8 years and no WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) later, I am still incensed by that decision.  Do we have a right to stop those who commit acts of terrorism against US citizens?  Yes.  However, removing foreign heads of state, whether publicly or through covert action, is simply wrong!  A read of the Federalist Papers would show the Founding Fathers were particularly concerned about issues like this.  It sets a bad precedent, namely, if we have the right to remove a head of state in another country, other countries have the right to do the same to us.  The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is, thus far, we have more money and military power.  If that balance were to ever change, God help us!

It is for this very same reason (balance) that great pains were made to create a system of government here in the U.S. where each branch of government is expected to act independently of the other.  The Founding Fathers called this A System of Checks and Balances.  The State of the Union address is full of symbolism and decorum.  There are protocols to be observed.  Even “less formal” addresses call for observance of protocols.  When the President addressed Congress last year and a Republican member yelled out he was a liar during his speech he was rightfully and immediately rebuked by both sides.

There is an unspoken protocol between Presidents and the Supreme Court – they are not to publicly criticize each other.  The Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution and the President holds supreme power in the land as the elected representative of the people via powers granted by the Constitution.  This Court has not made any public remarks (jointly or individually) about the performance of the current President.  If they did they would be wrong.  However, President Obama has made a public statements disparaging the Court and yesterday, in my opinion, completely overstepped his bounds by rebuking them face-to-face during his State of the Union address.

How is a Court to judge independently if it is to be subject to public ridicule by the President?  Do we not criticize foreign leaders when they undermine the authority of their courts by making disparaging public remarks about their decisions? Al Gore gave us the ultimate display of proper statesmanship when the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal over the contested election against George W. Bush.  Gore did not like the decision but he said he had to honor the decision because it was the separation of powers that made this country great and if the Court deemed that it was not a Constitutional issue he would abide by their ruling.

There has been much talk about the growing dissatisfaction with Washington politics.  As an Independent who voted for President Obama I am finding myself increasingly dissatisfied.  When one discloses who one voted for the first question people ask is why?  Right or wrong, my reasoning was as follows: There were 3 viable candidates (in reality there were more but for me it got down to McCain, Hilary and Obama).  I really like Hilary and wanted a female President but, as she herself stated in last night’s Travis Smiley’s special report on her role as Secretary of State, she takes a lot of advice from Bill.  I did not want to have any more of Bill Clinton’s influence in the White House (he already had his 2 terms).   McCain I could not support after he picked Palin as a running mate.  This left me with Obama and the fact that he would also be the country’s first black President was a bonus.  Overall I had some reservations but I did not fundamentally disagree with anything he said or represented.  The one thing that attracted me most to him was his promise of Change.

Granted he has only held office for 1 year and it takes a good 3 years before a President really gets his stride.  He is taking on a lot and pushing through a lot of reforms so on that front he is upholding his promise.  However, I did not vote for a Change in the protocol that needs to be observed between the 3 branches of government.  On the issue of campaign finance reform, I find his anger to be a double standard.  President Obama won in large part due to unprecedented campaign contributions from the general public.  Hence, the issue is not whether or not campaign contributions should be allowed, it is an issue of who they come from.  Last time I checked, corporations and special interest groups are also protected by the Constitution.  In fact, the Court ruled that they have the same First Amendment (free speech) rights that individual citizens do.  If we are going to be against money influencing Washington politics then the stance needs to be against ALL financial contributions not just the ones that we do not like.

Money and politics have always been a bad mix.  When in school I once asked why state capitals tend to be in the most remote unfathomable locations.  It was explained that this was a deliberate attempt to keep politicians away from the financial centers of power in each state.  Being the nation’s capitol, DC draws financial power like a magnet.  The sad reality is that it does take money to get things done.  However, when politicians bemoan their plight and talk about the perils of lobbyist dollars in the 3rd party as if they themselves have never accepted financial contributions of any sort I just have to scratch my head.  Here I’m not just referring to the President but to all members of Congress.

First of all, as Secretary Clinton told a Pakistani government official who was complaining about the “strings” attached to the recent U.S. aid package: “we are offering you the money but you do not have to take it!” All this hullabaloo about campaign finance reform and the simplest of all solutions is never discussed: don’t take the money!  Much easier to pretend to be victims of an unstoppable system that needs legislating than to take personal responsibility for letting oneself be unduly influenced by money from vested interests.

Do I like the fact that the Supreme Court overturned regulations put in place to attempt to curb the nonsense that has been going on (not just special interest advocacy but all the slander and negative campaigning)? Not one bit.  Do I believe the right decision was made?  Absolutely.  We cannot continue to abdicate our individual responsibilities by blaming others.  Individual citizens have a responsibility to pay attention to what goes on in government AND to fact check information that is given.  Politicians have a responsibility to serve the people who elected them and, like it or not, these people include special interest groups.  I have a special interest in environmental conservation.  My only problem is that I am too poor to make any major contribution to sway anyone’s opinion on this issue.  If I had the money I would.  It is not the Supreme Court’s fault that I am poor.

As an individual citizen, I am able to write this blog and enjoy the blessings of living in a country where I can write a blog post like this and not end up in jail or tortured for what I have just said.  And yes, I do believe a President is protected by the First Amendment as well.  However, it is not a question of free speech it is a question of decorum.  When the President of the United States speaks, the entire world listens.  Last night the message that went out is that it is ok to undermine the Court by lambasting it publicly for a decision.  The First Amendment protects his right to do so but, in my opinion, it was extremely bad protocol and bad public policy.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010
6:30-8:30pm
Chatham University,

Eddy Theater

Africa: Open for Business- Film Screening and Q&A Featuring Director and Producer Carol Pineau.

If you are a community member and would like to attend the screening please e-mail
bgresock@chatham.edu. If you are a Chatham student, staff or faculty member please RSVP on my.Chatham on the Happenings Page under Feb 2.

Please RSVP by 1/28/10.


Film Screening, Q&A and Reception.

Award-winning documentary produced by Carol Pineau profiling ten companies throughout Africa. An inspiring story of human force of will. Africa Open For Business – Voted BBC World Documentary of the Year 2006. Ten stories, one continent, a global world. Get ready to see Africa as you’ve never seen it before. Imagine an Africa with entrepreneurial spirit that is striving to take care of itself and finding African solutions to African problems. That’s what you will see in this groundbreaking one-hour documentary by award-winning producer Carol Pineau.

There is no denying Africa has wars, famines and natural and man-made disasters, but it also has high rises, stock markets, and internet cafes. Africa Open for Business challenges the stereotypes and proves Africa cannot be so easily defined. Africa Open for Business offers a tour of the continent, profiling ten companies throughout Africa. Some operate in countries with good governance. One operates in a country with no government! What they have in common is hard work and good business sense. Taken together, they are inspiring stories of human force of will.

This is the Africa you don’t see on the nightly news. They are the real stories on the ground – the successes, the struggles, the challenges, and the solutions. Together, they are building Africa one business at a time.

Location, Fees and Directions
Location: Eddy Theater, Chatham University
Fee: Free but you must RSVP by 1/28/10. If you are a Chatham student in BUS 357, BUS 519 or COR 304 section 03 you are already pre-registered for the program.

Related Links

Chatham University web-site:

http://www.chatham.edu/

Africa Open for Business web-site:

http://www.africaopenforbusiness.com

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What is freedom…?

Happy 2010 to ALL!  Wishing everyone peace, prosperity, freedom & happiness.

Why am I starting on this note of all things?

There has been a lot of press over the recent bombing (may I add foiled) attempt on the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.   Not more than 2 weeks before the attempt I was on the same route as I traveled from Nairobi to my apartment in Pittsburgh.  When the news hit I had to laugh wryly.  I remember going through security in San Juan after the shoe bomber struck and asking the female agent who was patting me down if a person put a bomb in his/her panties would they check my underwear too?  (YES!!).

A lot of mixed feelings on this one.  Ultimately, security was enforced by ordinary civilians who were educated enough to be watchful for strange activity (can’t say I would have been as vigilant or pro-active since I’m always in my own world).  One wonders what all the heightened security measures bring if it was normal civilians with no security briefings who were able to put a stop to the attempt.

On the other hand, whether domestic or foreign, mad people with guns or knives attacking their peers, or those who take pride in calling themselves terrorists, it is very clear that there are those who take great pride in spreading fear and violence.  I can’t begin to fathom why such behavior is justified although a friend of mine told me that I had to learn compassion.  I was told, those who know love and support spread love and support.  Those who are filled with fear and terror feel the need to spread fear and terror so rather than get angry one should feel sorry and compassionate that a human being could be so deprived of love that he/she feels that the only option in life is violence.

Like any journey in life, my journey to pure compassion will be a long one.  I can be compassionate as long as I don’t see those I care about affected. (-:  At the same time, I have to recognize that compassion allows one to see the commonalities in others.

Take yesterday.  One of those rare days where not only was I able to watch both Oprah and full news programs I like but both Oprah and World Focus touched on the same topic – Islamic women and veils.

Western propaganda portrays Islam as a religion that promotes violence against women and gives them no choice.  The burka is taken as a symbol of female degradation and wearing veils is proposed to be outlawed in countries like France.  (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-moves-to-outlaw-the-burka-and-niqab-citing-galit-1861411.html).

The truth is that the original Sharia law allowed women legal rights that Western systems did not allow for them until the 19th and 20th centuries. (see women’s rights http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia).  Women still tend to be revered by non-extremist Islamic men and a true Muslim man will always take a phone call from his mother (even if he is in the most intense business negotiation).  Just like in any culture, the role of women in the Islamic world is a complicated one full of contradictions (both spoken and implied).

The question then becomes one of tolerance. When those of us in the West say we want freedom, what do we mean by this?  Do we mean freedom as long as it looks and talks just like we do, OR,  do we mean freedom to self-determination even if we don’t agree or understand the choices made by others?

Violence is something that, at least in my interpretation of the world, every culture and every religion condemns.  It is simply counter productive behavior.  Why then are acts of violence so prolific?  As we condemn others, do we play any part in eliciting the violence that is brought upon us?

There are always 2 sides to any conflict and to illustrate let me go back to the example of the wearing of the veil by Islamic women.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not prescribed by religious doctrine.  It is more of a cultural norm just like the wearing of skirts was the accepted norm for female attire in the Western world for many centuries.  Would I personally wear a burka – no. Not because it means anything one way or another but rather because I have zero cultural appreciation for it and I have never tried it.  To me, I imagine (never having worn it) that it would mean quite a bit of heat plus I’m used to having my face and hair shown in public.  However, if someone were to tell me that I had to move to a culture where the norm is for women to walk around naked, regardless of whether or not it was safe, I would be equally and vehemently opposed simply because it is not what I am culturally used to.

The burka and veil ARE a choice for many Islamic women.  Lest you think I’m making this up, take a look at women telling their own stories

Oprah show

http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow///20091021-tows-women-world/6

http://www.oprah.com/media/20091021-tows-dubai

World Focus (minutes 11:08 to 16:11)

http://worldfocus.org/blog/2010/01/07/full-show-january-7-2010/9157/

It is said that in order to kill another human being we first need to dehumanize them.  Perhaps this is the root of all our problems? Instead of seeking to value the humanity in each other, we seek to ignore it.

What is clear from both sets of commentaries and videos is the women feel culturally attacked.  They feel like the very essence of who they are is being devalued by everyone who labels Islamic people with the broad brush of terrorist.  It reminded me of the sentiment here in the U.S. after 9/11.  Showing or wearing the flag was deemed to be culturally appropriate, a show of solidarity.  How would people have felt if a campaign had been started in other parts of the world to say that everyone who showed or wore the American flag was a terrorist/promoted the oppression of others? Would it not have elicited the same anger and pain that we are causing on others with our words?

There are those who would like to dismiss this with statistics.  Right now those committing acts of violence in the world are of the Islamic faith they would argue.  Really, what about the violence that goes on in ghettos and poor neighborhoods any where in the world?  Are these all Islamic people too?  What about massacres like Columbine and terrorists like Timothy McVeagh?

We are indoctrinated to believe that those of Islamic faith promote and support wonton violence through “jihad” and that they hate us.  However, research shows the opposite, the more violence, the less general support there is for such tactics among those of Islamic faith (http://www.newsweek.com/id/138508).

I carry a U.S. Passport and yet if someone were to take the Simpsons or Desperate Housewives as an accurate representation of me as a person living in the U.S. I would be infuriated.  Why then is it we feel it is ok to stereotype others and why are we surprised when they get equally infuriated?

I am not foolish enough to believe that this blog post will change the world but if I can get at least 1 other person to first seek the humanity in others before resorting to labels and blanket bias, then there is truly hope for all of humanity in this new decade that starts in 2010.

For 2010 and beyond, I wish that EVERYONE on the planet have TRUE FREEDOM OF CHOICE!

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