Supreme Court Upholds Trump travel ban – A bad news day

GettyImages_MuslimBan

(c)Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

This is bad, bad, bad news for America.

In addition to upholding this Muslim ban, this court has also a) upheld racial gerrymandering in Texas and North Carolina (where voting boundaries are re-drawn, effectively making votes of minority voters less important) and b) upheld voter purging in Ohio allowing them to remove the names of people who haven’t voted for the past 2 years which is simply a form of voter suppression which tends to affect lower income and minorities more than any other group due to people moving more. In the past, in one county in Cincinatti, 10% of eligible African American voters were purged from the voter list!

This is all designed to disenfranchise brown and black people while at the same time promoting racist theories and ideas about which people are deemed to be dangerous and unworthy (ie Muslims), not to mention essentially trying to rig forthcoming elections.

It’s really very sad to see politics and the law being used in this way, taking the country back to a place that many millions fought for a long time to move on from. This is an endorsement of prejudice. It’s a thumbs up to discrimination. This is a BIG deal.

The culture war is in full effect, the corruption is real, and I genuinely shudder to think how much this ruling will embolden Trump and his ilk. Trump thrives on stuff like this.

I don’t really have words for this today, apart from that it’s just a damn shame and I actually literally feel quite sick about it. 😬😬😬

Stay Woke: Brands get political in the Trump era


It was with anticipation that I tuned in, along with 111.3 million other people, on Sunday night, to watch the Super Bowl. I don’t fully understand American football to be honest, but I’ve always enjoyed a good Super Bowl party.


This game, however, wasn’t just your average Super Bowl. Not just because of the Patriots’ comeback from being 25 points down in the third quarter to finally – and unexpectedly – beating the Atlanta Falcons by 34 – 28 in an historic overtime play, but due to the striking politicization of the game itself, from the commercials to the reactions of fans and players alike.


Brands took the current political climate in hand, placing politics at the heart of their commercials, with themes such as integration, inclusion, diversity and immigration – all, of course, major issues which have dominated and divided America since Donald Trump was inaugurated nearly three weeks ago – tackled openly (and often beautifully) from companies like Anheuser-Busch, Air BnB and Coca-Cola.


Instead of conforming to conventional advertising wisdom to stay out of politics – especially at an event that is as widely watched and beloved as the Super Bowl – brands went to some lengths to clarify their values and to ensure that viewers were left in little doubt as to which side of the political aisle they are on.


No doubt there is an economic reason for this commercialized political activism, but it is always risky for any brand to delve into sensitive social and political topics. With 24% of the Super Bowl broadcast itself being dedicated to commercials, however, it was clearly not lost on advertisers that they could use their spots to say a lot more than just “buy our beer”. Influencing through soft power and culture will become even more prevalent over the course of this political term.


Then there were the fans. It is one thing for fans to be divided because they support opposing teams, but, again, things are different right now. Now, even your average fan is unable to ignore what’s going on politically.


With the Patriot’s MVP Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft being friends and supporters of Trump, supporting the Patriots took on a different meaning for some on Sunday; there were more than a few conflicted Patriots fans showing up in my social media timeline who felt that their support was betraying their political ideals, making them Trump supporters by association. One Boston based entrepreneur (a Patriot’s fan), for example, even offered to donate “$100 for every retweet up to $50,000 “as penance for Patriots politics” to the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization currently fighting Trump’s immigration ban in the courts.


Other people saw the Patriot’s unexpected and last minute win as a metaphor for Trump’s electoral victory over Hillary Clinton in the election. In other words, with all that’s going on – and uncertainty about what’s to come – people of all stripes are increasingly seeing what might usually be considered mundane through energized, political eyes.


Although Trump campaigned along the lines of being less political than the average politician, he has actually injected politics into the American everyday in a way that I certainly have not witnessed over the previous 8 years. Those who before may have said: “let sports be sports” are now asking “what are that football player’s/musicians/advertisers/magazine’s beliefs, and do they align with mine?” before making decisions.


On one hand, this is demonstrative of the overreach of the kind of politics that’s currently coming out of the White House. On the plus side, however, it is great to see so many more people participating in and engaging in politics and thinking about the impact of politics on everyday lives and actions. Right now, more than ever, America needs it.  

President Obama’s remarks on the Supreme Court Affordable Care Act ruling

Today marked an historic day, as the Supreme Court ruled that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act was indeed constitutional. My thoughts on it all to come later. For now, here are the remarks made by President Obama on the ruling.

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON THE SUPREME COURT RULING ON THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT

East Room

12:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  Earlier today, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — the name of the health care reform we passed two years ago.  In doing so, they’ve reaffirmed a fundamental principle that here in America — in the wealthiest nation on Earth – no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin.

I know there will be a lot of discussion today about the politics of all this, about who won and who lost.  That’s how these things tend to be viewed here in Washington.  But that discussion completely misses the point.  Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.

And because this law has a direct impact on so many Americans, I want to take this opportunity to talk about exactly what it means for you.

First, if you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance — this law will only make it more secure and more affordable.  Insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime limits on the amount of care you receive.  They can no longer discriminate against children with preexisting conditions.  They can no longer drop your coverage if you get sick.  They can no longer jack up your premiums without reason.  They are required to provide free preventive care like check-ups and mammograms — a provision that’s already helped 54 million Americans with private insurance.  And by this August, nearly 13 million of you will receive a rebate from your insurance company because it spent too much on things like administrative costs and CEO bonuses, and not enough on your health care.

There’s more.  Because of the Affordable Care Act, young adults under the age of 26 are able to stay on their parent’s health care plans — a provision that’s already helped 6 million young Americans.  And because of the Affordable Care Act, seniors receive a discount on their prescription drugs — a discount that’s already saved more than 5 million seniors on Medicare about $600 each.

All of this is happening because of the Affordable Care Act. These provisions provide common-sense protections for middle class families, and they enjoy broad popular support.  And thanks to today’s decision, all of these benefits and protections will continue for Americans who already have health insurance.

Now, if you’re one of the 30 million Americans who don’t yet have health insurance, starting in 2014 this law will offer you an array of quality, affordable, private health insurance plans to choose from.  Each state will take the lead in designing their own menu of options, and if states can come up with even better ways of covering more people at the same quality and cost, this law allows them to do that, too.  And I’ve asked Congress to help speed up that process, and give states this flexibility in year one.

Once states set up these health insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against any American with a preexisting health condition.  They won’t be able to charge you more just because you’re a woman.  They won’t be able to bill you into bankruptcy. If you’re sick, you’ll finally have the same chance to get quality, affordable health care as everyone else.  And if you can’t afford the premiums, you’ll receive a credit that helps pay for it.

Today, the Supreme Court also upheld the principle that people who can afford health insurance should take the responsibility to buy health insurance.  This is important for two reasons.

First, when uninsured people who can afford coverage get sick, and show up at the emergency room for care, the rest of us end up paying for their care in the form of higher premiums.

And second, if you ask insurance companies to cover people with preexisting conditions, but don’t require people who can afford it to buy their own insurance, some folks might wait until they’re sick to buy the care they need — which would also drive up everybody else’s premiums.

That’s why, even though I knew it wouldn’t be politically popular, and resisted the idea when I ran for this office, we ultimately included a provision in the Affordable Care Act that people who can afford to buy health insurance should take the responsibility to do so.  In fact, this idea has enjoyed support from members of both parties, including the current Republican nominee for President.

Still, I know the debate over this law has been divisive.  I respect the very real concerns that millions of Americans have shared.  And I know a lot of coverage through this health care debate has focused on what it means politically.

Well, it should be pretty clear by now that I didn’t do this because it was good politics.  I did it because I believed it was good for the country.  I did it because I believed it was good for the American people.

There’s a framed letter that hangs in my office right now.  It was sent to me during the health care debate by a woman named Natoma Canfield.  For years and years, Natoma did everything right.  She bought health insurance.  She paid her premiums on time.  But 18 years ago, Natoma was diagnosed with cancer.  And even though she’d been cancer-free for more than a decade, her insurance company kept jacking up her rates, year after year.  And despite her desire to keep her coverage — despite her fears that she would get sick again — she had to surrender her health insurance, and was forced to hang her fortunes on chance.

I carried Natoma’s story with me every day of the fight to pass this law.  It reminded me of all the Americans, all across the country, who have had to worry not only about getting sick, but about the cost of getting well.

Natoma is well today.  And because of this law, there are other Americans — other sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers — who will not have to hang their fortunes on chance.  These are the Americans for whom we passed this law.

The highest Court in the land has now spoken.  We will continue to implement this law.  And we’ll work together to improve on it where we can.  But what we won’t do — what the country can’t afford to do — is refight the political battles of two years ago, or go back to the way things were.

With today’s announcement, it’s time for us to move forward — to implement and, where necessary, improve on this law.  And now is the time to keep our focus on the most urgent challenge of our time:  putting people back to work, paying down our debt, and building an economy where people can have confidence that if they work hard, they can get ahead.

But today, I’m as confident as ever that when we look back five years from now, or 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, we’ll be better off because we had the courage to pass this law and keep moving forward.

Thank you.  God bless you, and God bless America.

Obama 2007 until today – My view in photos and words

I first saw Barack Obama speak in New York City in the summer of 2007. On that day, surprised by the multi-generational, multi-racial crowd, I realized that something very major was going to happen in the next (2008) election.

    

2008 came… I spent a lot of time writing and doing TV and radio appearances in the lead up to the election.

I also watched, with fascination, the intense public sentiment about the possibility of the first African American president.

Barack Obama’s election took place on November 4th, 2008. My 28th birthday.

     

My piece for The Guardian written shortly after his win was announced talked about Obama’s election crossing racial lines.

I was at President Obama’s historic inauguration in 2009.

      

Despite being one of the coldest days I have ever experienced, I managed to rush back to The Guardian offices to thaw out my fingers and type a piece. In it, I mused that Barack Obama’s ambitions could not be achieved without the help of a supportive public.

….this means a more responsible America, which as a nation has a less arrogant way of dealing with the world and doesn’t take its greatness for granted or misuse its power. It goes without saying that there are many in the world – Obama talked specifically about the Muslim world in his speech – who will have been pleased to hear that and are looking forward to seeing America take that new approach, which is so markedly different from the aggressive ways of George Bush.

This also means a more thoughtful and reflective American individual who will continue to “take in a stranger when the levees break … and who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job.” Obama’s campaign was built on people power and today he made it clear that it is that same power that will help lead America, under his presidency, become an even greater nation.

I also did some partying afterwards! It was a momentous time to see, and be there to celebrate, the first African American president sworn into office.

  

I have been to the White House a few times since then. Here is a recent photo, taken from the White House lawn, as Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama spoke at a joint press conference.

A lot has happened, and much has changed, in the past 4 years, the global economy being a prominent issue. In 08, race was a big issue. This time around it’s class and socio-economics. The American Dream is in jeopardy.

Politics has become increasingly divisive. It really is right v left. The Tea Party emerged after the last election to claim their place in American history. Sadly, despite the President’s desire for bi-partisanship, American politics continues to be even more highly partisan and highly oppositional. Washington, I believe, is even more broken. I don’t think this is Obama’s fault per se – if anything, I think his election simply drew more attention and added more fuel to the already-existing issues.

In 2012, it is now former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney v Obama. Obama is now the incumbent and clearly a threatening one as super PACS aim to spend plenty of money (one group will spend $1bn) to destroy the incumbent. Despite the Occupy protests and growing discussion about politics for the people, there are some who are clearly not listening.

Romney continues to swing to the right, to his detriment in my view. Romney could have stood strong as a business man and played that card right. I have actually worked at Bain, and I very much enjoyed my time there. I found it an excellent company. Instead, Romney has gone socially conservative, talking about women’s rights, abortion (which, honestly, I think is a woman-only domain) and courting Donald Trump who continues to bang on endlessly about Obama’s country of birth. As if this is what matters.

Obama has both centrist and leftists to factor in, as well as those sorely disillusioned by his 08 promises of hope and change. The grassroots swell has died down, and the Occupy movement has come in to provide the space for those who thought that an Obama presidency would mean radical change in the US. Obama certainly has work to do.

I’d rather this election was just about pragmatism and what is best for the country, but that’s partisan politics for you. Polls in key states are saying that Obama and Romney are close. We shall see.

Four years is not a long time, and not long enough to fulfill a mission for a nation. I hope that Obama gets another shot.

Leave confederate history in the past

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell wants to celebrate confederate history – but it is inextricably linked to slavery

There’s no shortage of events to create uproar in America. A couple of weeks ago it was caused by members of the Tea Party who seemed to forget that this is 2010, not 1965, and took to insulting black and gay congressmen while protesting in Washington. This month it has been Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s turn to cause outrage with his declaration that April is Confederate History Month in the state of Virginia.

As a guest on Rev Al Sharpton’s radio show last week, I listened to caller after caller express their view on commemorating confederate history. Unsurprisingly it is a sore point (to put it mildly) for the many African-Americans whose roots lie in the south. It shouldn’t just be a sore point to African-Americans though – the confederacy was a stain on America’s history. It’s truly a wonder that any American would feel comfortable commemorating something which was the source of so much suffering for others and that created a legacy of deeply entrenched inequality that could be said to be at the root of many of the continued issues that America faces today.

In 1861, just weeks after Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas seceded from the union, Alexander Stephens, the vice-president of the confederacy delivered a speech which became known as the Cornerstone Speech. In it, he said: “[The] foundations [of the new government] are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” Even though McDonnell has now recognised slavery as part of Confederate History Month, the above statement alone should be enough to make him ponder deeply on the merits of commemorating anything from which such assertions came.

States like Virginia only fought so hard for their independence from the union in the civil war because they wished to continue to enslave millions of black people and to maintain the white supremacy that Stephens talked about in the Cornerstorne Speech. Furthermore, not only did confederate states secede from the union in order to protect their interests as slave owners, but their actions were also considered treason and illegal in the eyes of the rest of the union. And all that is the “sacrifice” that is apparently worth commemorating?

A man who called into Rev Sharpton’s show last week said: “What surprises me [about the reinstating of Confederate History Month] is that anyone’s surprised that this is still happening.” His view was that, African-American president or not, in many parts of America there are still people who cling to the notion that America was better in the old days, in the days before black people had the opportunity to do anything, much less become president. It is a shame that these can find allies in people like McDonnell.

While there are clearly progressive, forward-thinking Americans, it has also become clear that there are a number of Americans who are clinging to a very unsavory version of the past. The ugliness that has reared its head from those people since President Obama’s election has also been nothing short of spectacular and nothing short of depressing. It is truly a strange and sorry thing to see.

It is time for all people, Governor McDonnell included, to start looking ahead to the future. The past is gone, and celebrating the olden days in this way is a fruitless exercise which only courts controversy and creates deeper divisions. Politicians who practise divisive tactics like this should not be allowed to remain in office. Society simply has no need for this.

Forget confederate history. It is time for politicians of this kind to be history.

Dalai Lama visit shows US-China flaws

[Originally published in The Guardian]

The Dalai Lama’s trip to DC has seen the US and China acting like a dysfunctional couple. They must find ways to co-operate

The controversy surrounding the Dalai Lama’s visit to the White House to see President Obama has highlighted the confrontational politicking that can take place as powerful countries attempt to get what they want. China’s way of trying to get what it wants in this situation (ie cancellation of the meeting) is to bully and issue threats, while the US’s stance has been to ignore China and proceed with the meeting anyway.

This dysfunctional, agitating approach to Sino-US negotiations and communications only continues to erode the relationship between the two countries, which has already been weakened recently as a result of US comments over internet censorship and the sale of arms to Taiwan. This should not become the normal way for the two nations to engage, particularly when it comes to bilateral issues.

If China and the US were a couple, a relationship counsellor would have a lot to say about the way they deal with their differences. There’s no doubt the two nations need each other: China is one of America’s biggest creditors, currently second behind Japan, with some $789.6bn in US government bonds, and the US needs China’s support in places such as Iran and North Korea, as well as on issues like climate change. Some argue that, with the amount of money that China has in the US, the US has more at stake than China. Others argue that the creditor needs the debtor as much as the debtor needs the creditor.

It is perhaps in recognition of this mutual dependence that both countries feel able to engage in this passive/aggressive behaviour, since neither can really afford to lose the other. Whichever way you look at it, any successful relationship requires two parties working together. And, as China’s global power continues to grow and Sino-US relations become even more important than they are already, the way in which the two countries deal with each other will become even more crucial since an inability to deal effectively with bilateral issues will have a deleterious impact on their ability to work together to influence international and multilateral affairs.

Are there not more mature, and productive, ways for countries to negotiate and have their needs met without threats, confrontation or, when all else fails, stand offs? How about partnership, co-operation and mutual understanding? Undoubtedly, there are issues – such as Taiwan, and Tibet, which has sparked this current controversy – on which the US and China have very different, and even conflicting, perspectives. China sees the Dalai Lama as a separatist, for example, while in the past few years President Obama has made strong statements in support of Tibet and the Dalai Lama. However, they must seek an approach that has them working together and looking for and finding common ground.

Partnership and co-operation are what President Obama extended to China from the outset. And, indeed, it appears that his approach didn’t get him too far in the short term: it was China, for example, that damaged the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen. Perhaps now, the Obama administration believes that the honeymoon – just one year into Obama’s presidency – is over.

However, being a partner does not mean being soft. Hillary Clinton’s statement that the US would not allow China’s record of human rights abuses to get in the way of dealing with issues such as trade disputes, for example, is not partnership – that is enabling. At the same time, it is understandable that China would find America’s approach contradictory: talking about co-operating while selling arms to Taiwan does not much seem like co-operation. America must find a way to be a partner and work together with China and still stand firm on important issues without turning it into a zero-sum game.
What the Dalai Lama’s visit has revealed is that the US needs to set a coherent and consistent approach to its relationship with China and continue to foster mutual understanding and co-operation especially when it comes to difficult bilateral issues. The world’s biggest powers can do better than acting like a dsyfunctional couple with communication problems.

Opportunity knocks for Sarah Palin

[Originally published in The Guardian]

Individually ridiculed as devoid of substance, together Sarah Palin and the Tea Party could be a powerful Republican force

Sarah Palin may not know that Africa is a continent, but if there is knowledge that she is not lacking, it’s a canny ability to spot, and seize, any opportunity that will propel her into the spotlight.

Palin’s delivery of the keynote speech at this weekend’s Tea Party conventionin Tennessee was a reminder that it was not, and is not likely to ever be, substance nor innovative ideas that characterise her mainstream political career. What gets Palin ahead is her way of maximising and exploiting what are, essentially, gaps in the market for her own gain.

One gap that was open, and seemingly filled by Palin on Saturday night, was leadership of the fledgling Tea Party movement. Both the movement and Palin have been branded, and ridiculed by commentators and politicians, as hollow and devoid of any substance; both are seeking to assert themselves as legitimate political forces.

The Tea Party, at least until this past weekend, had no public face with which to reinforce legitimacy; Palin – not highly favoured in mainstream Republican circles – had no party with which to align herself. Both have now found in each other a perfect partner. Off the back of the speech, the perception that the Tea Party movement is the most dynamic part of the Republican party has grown, while Palin has started to construct her very own base and carve out her own political identity.

Palin’s political identity is neither nuanced nor sophisticated, which made for a somewhat predictable speech. The folksy turns of phrase for which she became known during the 2008 campaign are still in effect. “How’s that hopey, changey thing working out for ya?” she asked mockingly during her speech. She continues to engage in deep partisanship, taking cheap shots at President Obama – who she described as being a “lawyer at the lectern” – and regularly invoking Ronald Reagan, who would have been 99 years old on Saturday.

As during the 2008 campaign season, Palin disregarded factual accuracy during her speech, particularly on sensitive matters such as terrorism and national security. She claimed, attempting to paint the president as lenient on national security issues, that Obama does not use the word “war”, preferring instead to use “overseas contingency operation”, despite the fact that the president said, just after the failed Christmas Day bombing: “We are at war. We are at war with al-Qaida.” Comments that Obama should play the “war card” to improve his chances of re-election in 2010, made during her appearance on Fox News on Sunday, also highlight the cynical and opportunistic approach to politics that Palin is employing.

What is perhaps most fascinating is watching Palin position herself in a similar way to how Obama did during his election campaign. She is now claiming the spot as a leader of a bottom-up, people-led grassroots “revolution”, which she believes that America so desperately needs. And people are buying it. What remains to be seen is just how many people.

And therein lies another tool in Palin’s box. To her advantage, Palin has a willing, and fascinated, media who are sucking up her every word. If we were still in the era of print media, Palin may have been a blip on the radar. However, in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and the internet, all Palin has to do is produce some great soundbites. Palin’s suggestion on Fox News that she may run for election in 2012 if it is “the right thing to do for our country and for the Palin family” created yet more fodder for consumption. Whether or not she actually runs doesn’t really matter. The mere fact that she has hinted at it now guarantees her increased attention.

Sarah Palin’s variety of “leadership” is interesting. While she condemns old Washington ways and purports to be for the people, she simultaneously continues to use some of the most insidious types of political manoeuvring that makes voters so resigned and cynical.

I don’t know if Palin is in it for the people or the publicity. But if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that when opportunity knocks, Sarah Palin goes running. Is this the type of future “leadership” that America wants or needs?