Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Welcome President Obama

President Obama. Gonna have to get used to writing that.

A bitter farewell to one of the most destructive presidents in American history, and a warm hello to the new commander-in-chief, Barack Obama. I watched much of the inauguration today; Obama's inaugural address (transcript here) was the first presidental speech I have ever witnessed that did not leave me feeling like my president was not only competent, but surrounded by radical ideologues. (Keep in mind I wasn't old enough to analyze Clinton's speeches during his time in office.)

That being said, it was a very fine speech, covering everything from climate change issues to the flawed economic system to keeping the nation safe to helping those in need abroad. For once in my politically-active life I feel confident in the executive office, and this brings me a feeling of great satisfaction. At last, a man who works for the people instead of representing the interests of those on top. After eight long years, at last a president who can do some good for this fine country.

When the clock struck 12 today, my heart leapt with excitement. Let us see if President Obama can or will bring us the new era he's promised. Even if things fall though, it would be very difficult for Obama to perform worse than his predecessor. I wish the new 'leader of the free world' good luck.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Ready for a new president?

Tomorrow Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. CBS News' political blog has all the day-before details...

Obama has been pushing for the release of the second half of the $700bn bailout, and this time he promises oversight — a new concept, it seems, for today's federal bureaucracy. Not even the feds know where the first (roughly) $350bn truly went. Another reassuring Obama move is the promise to close Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Bush is expected to pardon Republican cronies, corrupt businessmen, etc. (the usual Bush supporters) at the last minute. Politico lists 10 potential pardons here. Political pardons like these are yet another reason the American justice system lacks fairness, especially if a super-corrupt felon like Ted Stevens gets off... (Remember what happened with Scooter Libby?)

I'm looking very much forward to a new political era, though certainly not one without challenges like the current economic downturn and the state of the environment.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Israel attacks Gaza, hundreds parish, with no end in sight...

I have been greatly disturbed by Israel's attacks on Gaza these past couple of weeks. (As always, Hamas' and other terrorist organizations' rocket-fire on Israel is also greatly troubling, though the destruction from those attacks are minuscule compared to the havoc Israel has managed to wreak even in a day.) Elections are coming up in Israel, and many analysts are saying there are political motives behind Israel's offensive streak.

This has to stop. Israel has no right to punish all of Gaza for the crimes of a few. In fact by attacking innocent civilians it just provides Hamas and other extremist organizations with a populist rallying cry against Israel. The air raids lead to indiscriminant killing; the ground offensive has only escalated the bloodshed.

BBC News:

Thirteen days of fighting between Israel and Hamas have left an estimated 765 Palestinians and 14 Israelis dead.

Israeli warplanes appeared to be making new air strikes on Gaza after dark.

The sound of circling planes and car horns hung in the air over Gaza City and several explosions from apparent airstrikes lit up the night-time sky, an Associated Press reporter says.

A UN agency has halted aid operations in Gaza citing danger to its workers.

The suspension would continue "until the Israeli authorities can guarantee our safety and security", the UN's relief agency Unrwa said.

Among the dead are tens of children. Gaza's infrastructure has been all but wiped out, meaning its economy will continue to hurt even after the attacks cease (Israel cutting off supplies, etc. even when it's not attacking certainly doesn't help either).

On an international level, the United States has proven to be an obstacle a UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire, and Egypt — cooperating with Israel — refuses to open up the Rafah border in the south of Gaza.

Israel has behaved inhumanely these past couple weeks (no departure from its usual policy regarding the Palestinian territories, of course). It has prevented media from reporting the happenings in Gaza despite an Israeli supreme court order ruling such actions are not allowed. Furthermore, the prevention of the UN from sending aid into Gaza just means more suffering for the people of Gaza, most of whom pose no security threat to Israel. Meanwhile the International Red Cross has also been prevented from reaching civilian victims of Israel's air offensive:
The international Red Cross accused Israel on Thursday of "unacceptable" delays in letting rescue workers reach three Gaza City homes hit by shelling where they eventually found 15 dead and 18 wounded, including young children too weak to stand.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, said the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the site in the Zeitoun neighborhood for four days. Ambulances could not get to the neighborhood because the Israeli army had erected large earthen barriers that blocked access.
The ICRC normally conducts confidential negotiations with warring parties, and its accusation against Israel was a rare public criticism of one party in a conflict over a specific incident.

Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but this is a horrible and impractical way to go about doing so. Hamas is to blame at the core of this, but Israel's response to the terrorist group's rocket attacks is wholly disproportionate. Hamas must, for the sake of the people of the Gaza strip, budge on its stubborn, extremist positions; and Israel must stop going about defending itself the wrong way. Send in special ops to try to raid strategic Hamas strongholds; don't risk bombing schools full of children, children who will remember seeing the dismembered remains of their peers and vow revenge on the perpetrators of the attack, dragging out this conflict for generations (as if it hasn't been going on long enough). We must learn from the past.

Update: The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Nearly a trillion dollars, and where is it going?

First of all, a happy new year to all my readers. This is In Perspective's first post of 2009; too bad we aren't starting the year on a better note.

The $700bn bailout is just one big mess, benefiting the institutions that brought the financial system into this crisis mode in the first place. We need government spending to stimulate the faltering economy, but this is the wrong way to go about it. There is little to no oversight where billions of taxpayer dollars are going. This is a disgrace, plain and simple. Worse yet, while there were articles about the initial GAO report (albeit pushed to the back of the news section, incredibly enough), the media has once against failed to challenge the Bush administration to make sure these flaws in the bailout are fixed in time; the White House has dodged the spotlight, and thus the pressure. Congress also deserves its great share of blame, handing out the money without figuring out an endgame first. The financial institutions who received this generous (worth somewhere in between the nominal GDPs of Turkey and the Netherlands), practically no-strings-attached handout remain silent on where the money's even going.

I'm legitimately angry because it's my generation that will be paying for the effects of all this insane government spending. The interest on the trillions of dollars of loans taken out from Japan, China, Britain, and other countries adds up year by year, we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into this deficit of trillions.

I'm hoping the upcoming Obama administration will bring enhanced oversight of Wall Street and beyond — such a shadowy area of the American economy. While I think this rushed bail-out was the wrong way to go about things, government-sponsored programs helped pull America out of its last major economic funk: the Great Depression of the '30s. However, despite what one might read in the news rags these days, that was an economic crisis many times more severe than the current recession. Amidst all this financial downturn, one hopes people will learn the lesson of reaching for gold that just isn't there; perhaps our system free-wheeling free-marketism that was born in the 1980s will begin to be scaled back, but people can only learn so much...