Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hello, Governor Jindal

Governor Jindal, my name is Omar. I, too, am the Gen-X son of immigrants who considers himself an American. My parents saw poverty in their home nations before immigrating to the United States. My Filipina mother was a baby during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Her oldest sister had told me of the necessity of keeping a low profile around the Japanese troops lest she catch the eye of a soldier looking for a comfort woman. My aunt also told me that the Japanese had used their Manila home as a garrison headquarters, which makes me appreciate the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that much more.

The start of your response to President Obama’s speech seemed bipartisan enough, calling for Republicans to not only support the President and Democrats during times of agreement, but to also offer up better ideas when disagreeing with Democrats. Then your speech went south and turned into a problem that has been plaguing conservatives for quite some time: the notion the government, any government, is bad government. Your example as evidence: the lack of proper government response at the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. That’s where you lost all credibility, all the more so because you are the governor of the state most affected by the storm and the government inaction.

Governor Jindal, it was precisely the conservative notion of limited federal government that allowed the mess of Hurricane Katrina to perpetuate. It was the reluctance of President Bush to let the state and city fend for itself that prevented the swift recovery of New Orleans. It was the lack of regulation and oversight that prevented FEMA from acting in a responsible way when the federal government did eventually step in and attempt to do its job. Yes, the hurricanes caused the destruction, but it wasn’t government that failed at the recovery; it was bad government.

You then proceeded to criticize the wasteful nature of Washington politicians, a criticism often spouted from the very Republican hypocrites who are doing the actual wasting. You point to silly programs such as “$300 million to buy new cars for the government, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a ‘magnetic levitation’ line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, and $140 million for something called ‘volcano monitoring…’” Governor, if you knew what you were talking about, you would realize that the funds for new government cars are actually for battery-powered vehicles that are now being used on military bases that save money on gasoline; that keeping track of volcanoes is not a frivolous expense. Governor, you and I may have been children when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1981, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and cannot happen again. As far as the mag-lev train? The $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail projects is to be spent at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation, a Republican. In addition, the proposed mag-lev line from Anaheim to Las Vegas (supported by the Republican governors of both California and Nevada) is not part of the Recovery Act.. Governor, do you even know what a mag-lev train is? If you did, then maybe you would support its inclusion.

Governor, your opposition to government-run health care is an understandable one. No one wants the government to supersede an individual’s decision over his or her health care. But that is precisely what HMOs are doing right now. Families are suffering from longer wait times, higher co-pays, and shoddier service, because HMOs are cutting costs by not only not hiring more physicians and staff, but also by not purchasing more equipment. A typical visit to an HMO may end up costing a family $100 in co-pays and medications, not to mention lost work time, all in the effort to keep medicine privatized.

Governor, I recognize your love for this country, but I’m disappointed you do not recognize that your pride in its accomplishments does not catch the whole picture. You said that America was “the nation that cast off the scourge of slavery, overcame the Great Depression, prevailed in two World Wars, won the struggle for civil rights, defeated the Soviet menace, and responded with determined courage to the attacks of September 11, 2001.” Governor, what you do not seem to recall was that we were the last enlightened nation to cast off the institution of slavery, and that it took another century after the Emancipation Proclamation to guarantee civil rights for all races. By that time, communist Cuba had more equality than Louisiana. You bring up 9/11, not remembering that the world had responded with courage and sympathy with us, until they scorned us when we invaded Iraq. And we are still paying for it, 8 years later. Governor, you said that “the American spirit has triumphed over almost every form of adversity known to man, and the American spirit will triumph again.” I believe that as well, but you have to recognize that the American spirit triumphed over adversity in spite of social conservatives.

Governor Jindal, on a more personal note, your election to the governorship of Louisiana could be an inspiration for all children of immigrants to this great country were it not for the fact that you changed your name in order to hopefully better assimilate in the United States. You went with the name “Bobby” instead of “Piyush” because it was more American, and it is telling – you wanted to fit in. I understand. I can relate. I hated my Arab name growing up. I felt second-class, different, all because of my foreign name. But now, thanks to men and women of all different races in this nation, from Denzel, to Kanye, to Barack, to Ming-Na, I’m not ashamed of my name anymore. I certainly hope you aren’t either.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The (George) Will of the People (Part II)

Usually, George Will offers his conservative viewpoints with a bit of evidence to back them up. Unfortunately, today's column offered no evidence.

First of all, in the politics of fear, this column was quite two-faced. Will accuses Obama of trolling out fearmongering, and then Will concludes his article by comparing the nation to Napoleon's troops at Waterloo. Nothing more calming than a comparison to Waterloo. Let's mention Little Bighorn while we're at it.

The seeming failure of bipartisanship (as if the first 100 days of a new presidency are the only times where a government can demonstrate bipartisanship) was caused by a failure of the losing side to offer up anything new to the table. Tax cuts are said to be stimulative -- in 1981, 2001, etc. What proponents of tax cuts forget is the recessions that soon followed (Black Monday, anyone?). What proponents of tax cuts also forget is that massive deficit spending has been proven to recover a failing ecomony. And no, I'm not talking about the New Deal.

The debate about how effective the New Deal was to pulling us out of the Great Depression continues, but all can agree that it was World War II that got us out of it completely. And what happened? Massive borrowing, massive deficit spending, raised taxes, businesses in support of government jobs, full employment, a draft, and food and materiel rationing. It was government intervention at such a grand scale, and this intervention pulled us out of the Depression. And New Deal opponents seem to forget that it was the same president who presided over the New Deal as who presided over World War II.

And afterwards, what did we do? We experienced the biggest economic boom of the time with the most massive public works project in the 20th century outside of the war effort: the building of our nation's interstate system.

The role of government to secure the rights that all men (who are created equal) are inalienably endowed with is considered one of the self-evident truths of the Founding Fathers. And when it doesn't work, we have to alter or abolish it. That's what voters did in 2006 and 2008.