Friday, November 30, 2012

The Future of the Israel Palestine conflict

            Today, the United Nations approved a resolution to lift the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. observer status from “entity” to “non-member state”.  138 nations voted in favor of the resolution and 9 voted against it: including the United States and Israel.  This resolution will not change the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it does allow Palestine to join the International Criminal Court and other UN organizations.  The Israeli government stated they would not treat this as a hostile move as long as the Palestinians do not try to join the ICC.  This was more of a symbolic victory for the PA and I do not believe they will try to further enrage Israel.             
           While raising Palestinian U.N. status does not create a sovereign independent state, it does recognize the universal right of a Palestinian state to exist.  With peace talks non-existent and last weeks conflict between Israel and Hamas, this is a very important wake up call to Israelis and Palestinians.  By elevating Palestine from an “entity” to a “state” the international community shows both of these nations that a two-state solution and peace process must happen. 
            The status quo of constant conflict will not be accepted.  As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Israelis and Palestinians must break out of a zero-sum mentality, and embrace a peaceful path forward.”  Both sides need to understand that they will NOT receive 100% of their desired territory / demands to achieve peace.  In the end the prize of peace will be great than any concessions by either side. 
            I believe the United States was on the wrong side of this symbolic victory.  Think of the message the US would send to Israel if it stated that the Palestinian Authority is not just an “entity”, but also a “state”.  As Israeli’s closest friend and largest supporter, we would say that the peace process MUST begin again.  It is exactly the kind of wake up call the Netanyahu administration needs. 
            Unfortunately, in America’s highly venomous partisan atmosphere any criticism of Israel is branded as anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli.  The United States supports Israel 100% and only wants to bring peace to the nation / region.  As Israel’s “best friend” the US should be in the position to provide constructive criticism.  Instead, officials like President Obama have to constantly claim their support for Israel, because others complain that he does not stand behind EVERY action Israel makes. 
            So what about Hamas?  Today Hamas reiterated that Israel does not have a right to exist.  How can Israel negotiate with an organization that think it should be wiped off the map?  I argued that Israel should not negotiate with Hamas.  Israel should create a viable peace plan with President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.  If Israel and the West Bank can reach a two-state solution, without Gaza, it has many beneficial consequences.  First, it will show Hamas that NOTHING will be achieved with violence and constant wars.  Second, it will bring relevance back to the PA, Abbas, and the West Bank.  Many pundits claim the big lose in the recent Israel-Gaza conflict is the Palestinian Authority because the conflict showed how irrelevant the PA is.  It is time to MAKE the PA relevant again and begin to negotiate a two state peace. 
            Now as for the two state solution, who says there has to be TWO states?  Imagine one federal state encompassing the lands of Israel and Palestine, compromised of two states, a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine.  Israel and Palestine would have their own parliaments as well as a federal government.  The federal government would force both nations to work together on issues they can agree on. 
            Now I know this is completely hypothetical and will never happen, but the point of this exercise is to get back to the peace process.  True peace will require concessions, compromise, and innovative ideas from both sides.  All I know is the status quo is completely unacceptable and if the international community, United States, Israel, and Palestine do not take this opportunity to forge a lasting peace, then more generations will grow up believing peace will never happen. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What did all that money buy? An argument for campaign finance reform

            This election cycle was the most expensive in history.  Candidates, Super Pacs, and political parties spent around $6 billion on federal, state, and local elections.  The Obama and Romney campaigns spent a little under $2 billion dollars combined.  In the post-Citizen’s United era the media-political industrial complex flourishes like never before.  A majority of the spending bought TV ad space, especially in the swing states.  I spent one weekend down in Miami and I saw political ads every commercial break.  300,000+ ads aired in Ohio alone.  And yet what did all this money by?
            Sheldon Adelson, the godfather of Newt Gingrich’s campaign and single largest donor in the 2012 election, spent over $50 million.  And what does he have to show for it?  Every candidate he backed at the state level lost, except one (I believe he lost 9/10) and Sheldon contributed $20 million to the failed primary campaign of Newt.  Too many $50 million is more than we will make over many lifetimes, but it is pocket change to Sheldon.  He stated he would spend over $100 million to defeat President Obama, so by his standards he went cheap this election cycle. 
            Karl Rove was another grand spender of this election cycle.  He planned to defeat President Obama and win back the Senate for Republicans via Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads.  These groups spent over $300 million combined!  And once again I ask, what do they have to show for it?  Democrats actually gained seats in the Senate and by any metric Karl Rove, Crossroads GPS, and American Crossroads were failures. 
            So what did we learn from this election?  Money cannot buy victories?  The consequences of Citizen’s United and unlimited political contributions by corporations and unions were overstated?  Some people are making that exact argument; that this election cycle shows we don’t have to worry about campaign finance reform and political spending. 
            However, if this election has shown anything, it is that individuals and corporations will spend exponentially large amounts of money to help the candidates they support.  And it just so happens that the most fervent contributors also possess the most extreme views.  As Democrats and Republicans have moved to the radical left and right, the last thing we need are more extreme candidates. 
            Today it is way too easy for a Karl Rove or a Sheldon Adelson to fund a campaign against a candidate he does not agree with; or for Grover Norquist and American’s for Tax Reform to fund a challenger to a Republican Congressman who did not sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to not raise taxes - under any circumstances!  
            These are not the candidates America needs.  We need more moderate, bipartisan candidates, and not for far left / far right candidates who refuse to compromise.  And we need 3rd party candidates who have real chances at winning elections.  So until I start to see billions of dollars spent on independent campaigns, I will argue against Citizen’s United and for campaign finance reform. 
            The real loser’s in the post Citizen’s United era are the American people because more political spending leads to more extreme candidates, which leads to less compromise and governance, which leads to more cynicism and punditry in the media, which leads to more political spending by radical individuals.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The election is over!! Now what happens...

            The election is over!! Thank God!! If I saw one more ridiculous political ad on TV I might have puked.  This long, bitter campaign feels like it took forever.  Obama and Romney were campaigning since the 2010 midterm elections, if not earlier.  And people wonder why our Congress and government get nothing done?  In England candidates for Prime Minister campaign for 6 weeks and in France Presidential hopefuls campaign for 3 weeks.  Unfortunately that is not how things work in the United States.  Our media thrives with prolonged campaigns.  Just imagine what they would talk about on Fox News or MSNBC if our campaigns were only a few weeks! (Heaven forbid they focus on real news and informing the electorate rather than fear-mongering and partisan politics.)  Imagine what our leaders in Congress could get done if they didn’t have to focus so much time on fundraising and getting reelected. 
            Luckily for the American people the campaigns are over and the elections finalized.  Now we can finally focus on solving America’s problems.  Now is the time to put aside partisan politics.  Now is the time for the sacrifices and reforms that America needs.  And now is the time for Congress to give us a plan for the future, to lift the uncertainty of the fiscal cliff, and to allow our economy to flourish! 
            The election night rhetoric sounded promising.  Mitt Romney urged his supporters and party to work with the Democrats.  Barack Obama spoke not of red states or blue states, but of the United States.  Harry Reid offered his support to work together with Republicans in the Senate.  John Boehner said we must raise the bar and offered the President his help in garnering Republican support for increasing revenues as long as Democrats are willing to decrease spending and reform entitlements.  It seems like a grand bargain is coming after all!
            But all this sounds familiar to the 2011 debt ceiling debacle that created the fiscal cliff.  We hope this time ends with real reform rather than childish finger pointing.  So what did this election change you may ask?  Well not much to be honest.  President Obama was reelected, Democrats still control the Senate, and Republicans maintained their majority in the House.  This was a status quo election; even though, almost every American isn’t happy with the status quo. 
            My hope is that the message has been sent to our government.  They must do something to solve all the issues our great nation faces.  As I have stated before, the only thing holding back the United States is Washington.  I believe the economy is ready to take off.  Corporations have the cash and the desire to spend and hire, and they just need a plan.  Look at any consumer or housing index and you see that the American people are regaining their confident in the economy.
            So the ball is in your court Mr. President, Senator Reid, Speaker Boehner, and all of our elected representatives in Washington.  I urge you to listen to the people of our nation and put aside ideology and politics.  Put aside egos and agendas.  Put America first and work together to help us prosper once again!

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Importance of Voting

            The American people will vote tomorrow, but the election is far from over.  From what I have read the Obama and Romney teams are gearing up for a post-election legal battle.  I think this election will be eerily similar to the 2000 election debacle.  A lawsuit has already been brought against the state of Florida for halving the early voting time (from 14 days to 8 days) and the extremely long lines in heavily democratic counties.  In Ohio there is controversy over Secretary of State Jon Husted’s decision on provisional ballots.  Husted shifted the burden of recording the form of ID on provisional ballots from the poll worker to the voter.  This could potentially put in jeopardy thousands of votes.  As a result voting-rights advocates filed an emergency motion with a federal judge in Ohio.  So what does this all mean?  It means the results of the Ohio electorate can spend weeks or months in court.  Similar to Florida in 2000, each side will fight for recounts, for their votes to count, and for their opponents votes to be disqualified. 
            Besides making the 2012 election a debacle, and once again making American democracy a global spectacle, there is another issue at hand.  From voter ID laws to shortening early voting time to controversy over ballots, there is an attempt to limit the size and scope of the American electorate.  A smaller, less diverse electorate will directly benefit the GOP.  The Republicans have been losing the race with America’s fasting growing demographics and they know it. 
            It is no surprise that Republic Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, has fought to decrease early voting by a week, or that numerous Red states have fought for stricter voter ID laws.  Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai planned on using strict voter ID laws as a strategy to help Mitt Romney win his state.  He explicitly stated that voter ID would allow Governor Romney to win Pennsylvania.  Luckily for US, our system has worked and numerous judges struck down that law and others throughout the nation.  The judges argued that the laws inhibit the elderly, the poor, and minorities (usually democratic voters) from exercising their right to vote.  
            The problem I have with the GOP is they succeed when Americans are denied their right to vote.  The ironic part is that I believe most Americans are moderate Republicans (socially liberal, fiscally conservative, advocates of small government).  The message of the GOP has gone so far right that they alienated large groups of Americans.  Now I truly believe Mitt Romney is a moderate Republican, which is why I contemplated voting for him, but it is unfortunate that he had to feign being a conservative to win the primary.  But that issue is for another day. 
            The United States of America is supposed to be the bastion of democracy in the world.  Millions have died for rights that many of us take for granted.  Just take a look at Syria and Libya and see how people will give their lives for democracy.  Unfortunately, many institutions in the US have misplaced their attention.  Both parties should work to make sure every single eligible voter participates in elections because only when we practice what we preach will the United States be legitimate in promoting democracy around the world.  To try to prevent individuals from voting is the most Un-American thing one can do. 
            And to reiterate that point, it is the responsibility of every American who can vote to do so.  We owe it to everyone who died, is dying, and will die for the right to choose his or her government.  I can’t stand it when people say, “I’m not voting, the system won’t change,” or “voting is a waste of time.”  We take voting for granted, just like any other freedom, because we have never lived without it, but ask anyone who cannot vote how important they think it is.  So whether you vote for Obama or Romney or any other candidate all that matters is that you vote!  If you don’t like the current system then vote for 3rd party candidates.  No vote is ever wasted so get out and make your voice heard!