Posts Tagged Barack Obama

Fact check fact check

In this brave new world of instant media gratification, fact checking has separated itself from conventional journalism, since time is required to check facts. Through the two national political conventions, the morning after each speech has been followed by a barrage of asterisks from PolitiFact, FactCheck, and other independent organizations. Now, like the conventional media, their work is getting political.

Trying to see if a politician is telling the truth should seem like a straightforward, non-partisan thing, but that’s tough for a party that lies so much to accept.

Republican demigod Ronald Reagan once said that “facts are stupid things,” and his party proved that at their convention last week. A quick Internet search will turn up thorough dissections of each speech, showing where each candidate was less than truthful.

How does a political party respond when it is caught with its pants on fire? Blame the fact checkers! In an interview on the Colbert Report earlier this week, CNN Contributing Editor Reihan Salam tried to take some of the heat off his fellow conservatives.

“I think that people are being obtuse,” Salam said. He said the issue was not whether Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan lied about the closing of car factory or whether he voted for Simpson-Bowles, but that both parties were making claims about lying to distract people from the issues.

“When people hear something that sounds vague, seems like it’s ill defined, they don’t say “Oh, that must be what he meant,” rather, they say, “Let’s define it as narrowly as possible as a lie, rather than have a real conversation about what we’re saying,’” Salam said.

While it’s true that reality is rarely black-and-white, and that political parties deserve to emphasize certain (factual) points to make their candidates’ case at their own conventions, some things are simply false. Salam defended Ryan’s claim that the plant in Janesville, Wisconsin closed during the Obama administration, saying it had only been mothballed in 2008 due to low demand for SUVs, not fully closed. Who’s being obtuse now?

That is a distinction without a difference. The plant was still closed: it was not producing cars, and its employees were out of work. In addition, if the reason for the shut down really was lack of demand for SUVs, then Obama cannot be blamed for it. The President may be the most powerful man in the free world, but he can’t stop poor product planning.

One person’s views do not always represent those of an entire political party or movement (Salam could’ve also been kidding, I suppose), and I hope this isn’t how conservatives plan to deal with their leaders’ penchant for stretching the truth.

If given the opportunity, politicians will endlessly stretch the truth until it’s nothing but Orwellian doublespeak. People get frustrated by political lies, but the media gives them an opportunity to see through those lies. If someone doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth, that shouldn’t be everyone else’s problem.

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An outrage deficit

On Tuesday, the New York Times was full of disturbing headlines. A couple dealt with Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks on “legitimate rape” and the Republican’s somewhat nonsensical decision to announce an anti-abortion platform plank as they denounced Akin. Another was a grim milestone: the death of 2,000 Americans in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, there’s only so much outrage one person can muster.

If you take the time to find out what is going on in the world, it’s hard to know what to do next. This would be an appropriate time for remarks about how Americans forget the wars they send other people to fight and how we should “support the troops,” but how?

I think, now that Osama bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda is no longer a threat to the United States, we should extricate ourselves from Afghanistan. President Obama thinks likewise; he’s said on multiple occasions that he is working on getting our troops out. Unless your name is John Rambo, it’s hard to speed up the process.

By the same token, should one pay less attention to the abortion debate, especially when one party makes a major political move, because it is less important than one of the nation’s longest wars? Regardless of how you feel about abortion, if you feel strongly about it, it’s hard to ignore something like Akin’s comment, or the Republican anti-abortion plank.

I can see why some people don’t bother voting. In November, the Republicans will either be rebuked or confirmed, and both sides will be reminded about Afghanistan, but what do we do until then? Argue amongst ourselves?

These issues are much larger than any individual, but that can be pretty overwhelming for said individual.

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An opinion on opinions

Ricky-BobbySaying what’s on your mind can have unfortunate consequences, but there is a way to avoid them. I get into a lot of political debates/cage matches with people, some of whom say things that are flat out wrong. How do they maintain their credibility? They use a magic phrase.

Saying “Open Says Me” can open doors, and saying “This is just my opinion” apparently allows someones to make any stupid remark they want with impunity. I’ve had people tell me that, on average, conservatives are smarter than liberals, and that President Obama will raise more money than Mitt Romney because of his Hollywood connections. These seem like things that need to be backed up with evidence, but since each person qualified it as “their opinion,” they didn’t feel the need to.

In the cinematic triumph that is Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a redneck NASCAR driver played by Will Ferrell uses the same tactic. Ricky tells his boss that “With all due respect, I didn’t know you had experimental surgery to have your balls removed.” That sounds inappropriate, but he did say “with all due respect.” Most people who debate politics think they are smarter than Will Ferrell’s character, but I’m not so sure.

People don’t need to be reminded about the First Amendment, but they do need to be reminded about responsible use. Saying whatever you want and using the right to free speech as en excuse is not responsible; it just makes the speaker look dumb, and makes rational discussion more difficult. Everyone has an opinion, but they can still be wrong.

Still, being able to say whatever I want by using one simple phrase sounds like fun. I’m going to give it a try. This is just my opinion, but:

Mitt Romney is an alien sent to conquer Earth with an army of dancing horses.

John Boehner is an Oompa-Loompa who took steroids.

On average, conservatives are most likely to be cannibals.

After being defeated by the Light Side, Emperor Palpatine fled to Earth, starting a new life under the pseudonym “Dick Cheney.”

Ronald Reagan did not end the Cold War.

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The Republicans’ worst enemy

Nixon portrait by Norman RockwellEvery political party has members that it is ashamed of. The Democrats have Lyndon Baines Johnson and, to some extent, Jimmy Carter. The Republicans have that incompetent oaf William Howard Taft. However, the GOP’s biggest political bogeyman is Richard Milhous Nixon, and not just for the obvious reasons. Republicans could probably excuse Watergate, but they could never excuse Nixon’s love of big government.

Today’s Republican Party is obsessed with small government, but few presidents have done as much to expand government power as Nixon. Like any power-hungry leader, his foreign policy was a one man show. Nixon made many controversial decisions, such as the Christmas Bombings and the invasion of Cambodia near the end of the Vietnam War, unilaterally. “Tricky Dick” was also pathologically secretive. He sent Henry Kissinger to negotiate secretly with China, a move that would surely be out of line in a party that believes the president shouldn’t even raise taxes.

When President Obama authorized air and cruise missile strikes against Qaddafi loyalists in Libya, the right wing decried his actions. They said Obama was overstepping his authority by authorizing military action without consulting Congress, and accused the President of dragging America into another war. Those are valid points, but Obama didn’t do anything Nixon wouldn’t have done. American troops did not invade Libya, but they did invade Cambodia.

Nixon was also a fan of big government in domestic policy. He may have thought everyone under the age of 30 was a filthy hippie, but he also created the Environmental Protection Agency and approved the Clean Air Act. Most Republicans believe the government should spend less, but Nixon authorized massive agricultural subsides, so you can thank America’s 37th President for all the high-fructose corn syrup in your food.

In a stump speech, Newt Gingrich implied that all African-Americans are lazy, and the conservative backlash against birth control made the Republican Party seem a tad misogynist. In that context, the current frontrunners would be appalled by Nixon’s platform. In 1970, Nixon implemented the Philadelphia plan, the first major federal affirmative action program. While he was not exactly a feminist, he also supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

Clearly, a lot has changed since 1974. Today, Republican candidates are encouraged to take a more absolutist view, saying “yes” to tax cuts, “no” to health care reform, and leaving it at that. Nixon, who ran on a “Southern Strategy” meant to play on whites’ opposition to the Civil Rights movement, but also supported affirmative action, seems much more rational and nuanced than his successors. How could that be?

Many people shudder every time Newt Gingrich talks about the biased liberal media, or when Rick Santorum talks about religion or family values, but they were nothing compared to “Tricky Dick.” This was, after all, a man who kept a list of enemies. Nixon cut his teeth politically in the “Red Scare” days of he 1950s, and thought he could convince North Vietnam to sign a peace treaty by dropping more bombs. There was that whole Watergate thing, too.

The Republican Party of 2012 is very ideological; its members adhere to certain ideas and believe they are non-negotiable. Nixon was the same way, which is what drove him to act unilaterally. He sent Kissinger to meet with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in secret because he did not want to deal with opposition from Congress and the media.

Nixon could be just as stubborn as any current Republican candidate, but he was also more interested in holding onto power. Anyone in 1968 could tell that supporting peace in Vietnam would garner a significant number of votes, so that’s what Nixon did. In office, he supported liberal policies because he knew it would give him political credibility beyond the Republican base. In other words, Nixon was a real politician.

That level of activity is in stark contrast to the current Republican strategy, where members of Congress stall debates and candidates spend more time talking about what they disagree with than what they actually plan on doing. When Richard Nixon starts looking like a big government liberal in comparison, America is in a very scary place.

Nixon’s abuse of power was a clear demonstration of how badly things can go when a Commander-in-Chief shuts out the voice of opposition. Yet Nixon was able to acknowledge that opposition, at least for his own selfish political reasons. Even that is too much compromise for today’s Republican party.

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The government is forcing us to pay for our medicine

Supreme Court protestors

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing was unusually lively. People with signs stood outside America’s highest court, and justices sparred verbally with Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli Jr. This is a momentous occasion in American politics. The biggest piece of social legislation in generations, President Obama’s healthcare reform law, is on trial.

The central issue in Tuesday’s arguments was whether the federal government can require people to get health insurance; what the administration calls the “minimum coverage provision,” popularly known as the “individual mandate.” Verilli cited Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which gives the federal government power over interstate commerce. The purchase of health services is part of interstate commerce, the administration argued.

The opposition argued that, since people without health insurance are not engaging in such an act of commerce, they cannot be regulated. In this view, the government would be forcing people to purchase something from a private company.

“Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy asked. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. likened the individual mandate to the government forcing everyone to buy cell phones.

I am not a lawyer, but I do think Justices Kennedy and Roberts, and their conservative allies, are misinterpreting the implications of the health care law. If health insurance, and the health services it pays for, were a frivolous consumer product, they would be right. However, everyone needs to see a doctor at some point during their life. A health insurance mandate is simply stating the obvious: everyone needs to have a way to pay for their healthcare.

This simple fact has gotten caught up in a vicious debate over American freedoms that doesn’t need to be continued here. The bottom line is that everyone gets sick, medical services are expensive, and we should not kid ourselves otherwise. If your insurance company pays for your medication, that doesn’t make you the lackey of an authoritarian state. It does make you a more productive member of society, and we could use more of those.

People may be spooked by the idea of the government mandating something, but that’s kind of what it does. Congress is empowered by the people to make laws, and it has used its power over interstate commerce to regulate plenty of things. According to the New York Times, Congress used the commerce clause to regulate how much wheat is grown on family farms, and to stop home-grown marijuana. Those seem like fairly local, private, concerns, but no one seemed to care when the federal government got involved.

Some might argue that selling wheat and weed are economic transactions, while the decision not to buy health insurance is a form of inactivity. Does anyone who opposes the healthcare law own a car? If they plan on driving said car, they’ll need car insurance. As with health insurance, the people’s elected officials decided that car insurance was a necessity, and that everyone should have it.

If you get in a car accident, would it be fair if the person who hit you couldn’t pay to repair your car, so you had to fix it? Similarly, is it fair to spend the rest of your life paying medical bills after getting sick once? As a business owner, is it fair to lose an employee who can’t afford medical treatment, or customers who don’t have any  money to spend after paying their medical bills? Everyone needs a secure way to pay for their healthcare, Obama’s healthcare law is just making sure that they get one.

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Highway robbery

CTS-V WagonSometimes, the best ideas come from history. Thankfully, the 2008 recession is starting to fade, but many people are still out of work and there is no legislation in place to stop the banks from going back to their old ways. What to do?

Analysts compared the recession to the Great Depression, and that is where the answer lies. Depression-era Americans hated banks as much as their descendants, so they weren’t too upset when outlaws like John Dillinger started robbing them. Why couldn’t that work today?

Several individuals sued banks for illegally foreclosing on the plaintiffs’ homes. Some even walked into local branches and took furniture as their payment after the banks were defeated in court and refused to pay damages. This seems like the next logical step.

Many people have criticized President Obama for bailing out failing companies instead of letting them fail, which would be appropriate punishment for their financial irresponsibility. But Obama’s bailout of General Motors and Chrysler actually gave us the tools to get our money back.

Dillinger may have been a Ford man, but GM and Chrysler make some pretty good getaway cars. The Cadillac CTS-V wagon has 556 horsepower, and plenty of room for loot. A Chevy Volt will get you across the state line while the cops are still filling up their cruisers. The Chrysler 300 looks like it was designed by Al Capone.

Obama hasn’t made much progress in prosecuting the financial concerns that caused the recession, or in passing legislation to prevent the same thing from happening again. He is obviously waiting for real Americans to take matters into their own hands, instead of getting the government involved. I don’t think he’ll be sending the FBI after the modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.

So go rob a bank; it’s your patriotic duty. Just remember: when choosing a getaway car, buy American.

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When it comes to gas prices, people have short memories

It’s amazing how short people’s memories are. The media is talking about $5.00/gallon gas this summer, which means that there will be $5.00/gallon gas this summer, and many people think President Obama is not doing enough to stop the increase in prices. Obviously, the president should try to lower gas prices but, as a certain Texas Republican will tell you, it’s not like he has a magic wand.

According to a recent Times/CBS News poll, many Americans think Obama has the power to lower gas prices. Fifty-four percent of respondents believed that a president can do a lot to control gas prices, while 36 percent believed they are beyond a president’s control. That is completely different from the majority view a few years ago.

Gas prices may be rising from $3.50 to $4.00/gallon under Obama, but they shot up from roughly $1.50/gallon to $3.00 under the George W. Bush administration. Bush, however, got a pass. When asked what he was doing to lower the cost of fuel, Bush claimed he was powerless, saying that he wished there was a magic wand that could lower prices, but that things weren’t that simple. No one argued with Bush. Remember that, America? It was only a few years ago.

The president does have some ability to control prices. He can institute a system of price controls, possibly offering tax credits in exchange for price caps. However, this probably wouldn’t gain much traction with Republicans, who would probably view it as socialism, fascism, or both.

Of course, oil prices are not determined solely by the companies that sell the stuff. Events in oil-producing regions like the Middle East can disrupt the production and transportation of oil, cutting off the supply and driving prices up. Again, there is a lot the president can do. He can assist in the overthrow of a dictator, like Muammar Qaddafi, and open up a new source of oil for Western markets. He can also dispatch U.S. Navy carrier strike groups to show Iran that closing the Straight of Hormuz is a bad idea. Hasn’t Obama already done that?

It is perfectly reasonable for people to expect their president to solve the country’s problems, whatever they may be. It’s just a little odd that Americans think the president holds sway over gas prices when, a few short years ago, they didn’t. After all, if a former oil man can’t lower gas prices, who can? Obama should try to bring prices down, but if he can’t, that doesn’t make him a failure.

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