Friday, May 21, 2010

Miss USA 2010: A Terrorist?!

Well, according to a few disgusting neocons, such as Debbie Schlussel, she is. Recently crowned Rima Fakih, formerly Miss Michigan USA, is facing outrageous allegations suggesting she is a supporter of Hezbollah, based on the fact she was born in Srifa, Lebanon, raised as a Shi’a Muslim and has a Muslim sponsor with Muslim friends, which really has nothing to do with, well, anything. Fakih is the first Muslim, first Arab-American and first immigrant to ever be crowned Miss USA.

First of all, Fakih moved to the United States with her family when she was seven years old. Yes, this means she is an immigrant, but I think we can safely say she has grown up American enough to love our country as much as the next person. She was not raised amongst gun-toting, propaganda-shouting terrorists. In fact, for those right-winged idiots who think religion dictates anyone’s place in the world, here’s something to soothe your soul: Fakih attended a Catholic high school, and her family celebrates various elements of the Christian faith alongside their own Muslim traditions.

Fools such as Schlussel allege that “intelligence sources” have found “evidence” that Fakih has relatives who are some of Hezbollah’s top officials and make up the ranks of their terrorists. Now, this very well could be true - it is common among Lebanese Shi’ites to have large, extended families. However, Fakih has already acknowledged that some of her relatives are quite radical - in both directions. Fakih has said she has relatives that are supporters of Hezbollah, but she also has relatives who are secular Shi’ites and even communists.

Schlussel also expresses concern over Fakih’s attendance at a Henry Ford Community College’s conference entitled “The Many Faces of Arab Women.” The conference was held to educate the American public on many issues concerning women of the Islamic faith, such as “Why do some Arab women cover themselves while others do not?” Schlussel says that many Shi’ite extremists were in attendance and the conference was actually attempting to promote Islam using tax payers’ dollars. I don’t think I even need to comment on how ludicrous it is that Fakih, an HFCC alumna, is receiving criticism for fostering understanding and supporting education. I am certain that no pretty blonde-haired, blue-eyes Texas girl would receive the same backlash for attending a similar conference that examines Christianity instead.

Fakih’s sponsor, Farouk Shami, has also been dragged into the ordeal. Whether or not the slew of allegations against Shami are true (anti-Jewish, anti-white), I fail to see how it is entirely relevant. First of all, all information is embellished. That fact that Schlussel calls The American Task Force on Palestine a pro-terrorist organization should indicate just how skewed her interpretation is. Some people are pro-Palestine. I myself have significant empathy for Palestine and hope Israel is more cooperative in the coming years. Should I be pegged as a terrorist co-conspirator? Regardless, I bet a good portion of all Miss USA pageant sponsors have less-than-desirable views on politics and some shady ties to even more shady people that we could argue over. The fact that Shami's ties are to Arab-Americans who at times may be controversial how nothing to do with the crowning of Miss USA.

The idiocy is astounding. She is not going to reject her Lebanese heritage, as I’m sure many would have it. Honestly, she shouldn’t even have to defend it at this point. She is an American citizen, with some bad relatives. According to family lore, I have a relative in the mob... maybe it was the mafia. Either way, we all have idiots in the family. When Joseph Stack crashed a plane into an office building in a rage against the IRS, no one began investigating his daughter Samantha Bell (although she responded “yes” when asked whether she considers her father a hero, so maybe someone should).

Fakih is a smart and beautiful woman, and I think she will make a great Miss USA who can set an example for plenty of young girls. Better than former Miss USA Tara Conner, the famous wild child who went into rehab for cocaine use, which started after she won her title. Fakih has nothing to apologize for, and hopefully people like Schlussel will soon be silenced by those who recognize the identity of an American is evolving and becomes more diverse everyday.

Watch Out, Wall Street

Yesterday, the Senate passed legislation, by simple majority, to reform and better regulate Wall Street and the national financial system and avoid another financial meltdown such as occurred in 2008 by a vote of 59 for, 39 against. The restraints passed are said to have the most far-reaching effects on big banks since the Great Depression and also represent an important legislative victory for President Obama, fresh off the heels of the health care reform overhaul.

With 4 Republicans - Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) - defying their party and joining all but 2 Democrats - Sens. Maria Cantwell (R-WA) and Russ Feingold (R-WI) - in voting for the bill, it also represents a minor milestone in Obama’s attempt to foster a bipartisan Washington. It seems that legislators are slowly becoming more comfortable voting their conscience as opposed to the party caucus decision.

The only difficulty will be reconciling the House and Senate financial reform packages, with the Senate containing provisions that are actually stricter than those from the House, despite the balancing act required in the Senate to garner votes. The major goal is to incorporate many of the Senate’s stronger measures without losing the support of any swing voters in either the Senate or the House.

The most talked about point of contention will be the derivatives title, with the Senate’s essentially requiring financial firms to spin off their swaps desks into separate companies in order to create more transparency in the derivatives trading market. The House version barely addresses the issue of derivatives, thanks to a strong lobbying efforts which resulted in many loopholes for various industry players. The bill will also contain better measures for more easily liquidating ‘too big to fail’ firms when they actually do fail. Hopefully, the final bill will also contain the audit provision which calls for a thorough audit of the Federal Reserve along with the creation of a new government agency, charged with protecting consumers from financial malpractice.

As for complaints, there are plenty. Wall Street feels threatened, as would be expected, with JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon issuing the following statement:

“With the events in Europe and constantly changing proposals in Washington, global markets are in need of certainty. The U.S. should take the approach of passing sensible derivatives reforms based on facts and analysis.”

However, it seems that Wall Street is being a little selfish, as some would have the banks suffering much more. Cantwell and Feingold dissented from their party and voted against the bill because they felt the restraints did not go far enough to address the root causes of the prior financial meltdown. Feingold released the following statement addressing her concerns:

"The bill does not eliminate the risk to our economy posed by 'too big to fail' financial firms, nor does it restore the proven safeguards established after the Great Depression, which separated Main Street banks from big Wall Street firms and are essential to preventing another economic meltdown. The recent financial crisis triggered the nation's worst recession since the Great Depression. The bill should have included reforms to prevent another such crisis. Regrettably, it did not."

Despite what the bill is lacking, it represents important progress that has been needed for years. It is reversing years of legislative loosening that provided banks and other firms with so much freedom that the market began to resemble something close to anarchy. It is also a major accomplishment as midterms creep up, and provides Obama with an argument for why Democrats should stay in power in Congress. Finally, it is nice to see at least some delivery on the promise of bipartisanship on such major legislation. Hopefully, this legislation will be the fix everyone is looking for.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Conservative-Liberal Alliance? Only in Dreams...

Or in the United Kingdom. That’s right, readers: the United Kingdom has a new coalition government, made up of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties. For the first time in over thirty-five years, Parliament is hung, meaning there is no majority (a shocking concept, yes?). The Conservatives came out on top with 306 seats, while Labour lost its position as top dog and fell to 258 seats and the Liberal Democrats fared about the same as in the last election with 57 seats. This provides a perfect opportunity, or rather a necessity, for a coalition government and steps towards postpartisanship. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats aim to bring in a new era of government after thirteen years of Labour party rule.

Though the Liberal Democrats have the smallest place in politics among the three major British parties, they now find themselves with leader Nick Clegg in a position with quite the gravitas, serving as Deputy Prime Minister under Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who replaces Labour’s Gordon Brown. This new coalition seems shocking because of our polarized system here in the States, but it is even relatively ground breaking in the United Kingdom - it is the first coalition government in seventy years.

The Liberal Democrats, despite their apparent weakness in numbers, get their power from the fact that the Conservatives were forced to compromise in order to form a coalition government. Had negotiations failed between the two parties, Labour reserved the right to continue to govern by either forming its own coalition or attempting to pass laws by trying to win votes from individual MPs. Therefore, either the Conservatives had to concede on certain important issues or they could have lost their chance to govern. Because of this, the Liberal Democrats got quite a few changes guaranteed that they have been seeking and would have sacrificed had the elections yielded a majority, including a referendum on voting reform and the axe on a plan to raise the threshold on inheritance taxes. The Liberal Democrats had the ability to decide whether Labour stayed in power or the Conservatives got their chance, and by gently wielding their power have formed a historic coalition.

Now obviously I’m getting at the fact that maybe a two party system sucks, because maybe, just maybe, with more parties, then politicians will be forced to face one another and dare I say it, work together. One of the many things I learned from my political theory class this semester (props to Professor Kaplan) is that one of the strong points of a representative democracy is that it forces moderation, because people cannot get what they want without compromise, and therefore no particular faction can get what it desires and control the agenda of the entire nation on a certain issue.

However, the United States has somehow managed to become exactly what the founding fathers wanted to avoid. Factions often are able to get their way with little or no fight, because one of the large mechanisms to prevent such occurrences has failed due to a belief that might (or majority) makes right. This is the main lesson the British elections can teach us: the majority isn’t always right (okay, we knew that), and therefore possessing a majority should not serve as a right to rule. The threat of factions which make up minorities is lessened purely because it cannot, by rule of the institution of government, force its way on others entirely. Therefore, it seems a plurality of parties is much more logical.

I’m not proposing a solution - in fact, I don’t have one, and there is no guarantee the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition will even last. I guess Kaplan just instilled a political theory streak in me, and I think everyone should think a bit more about how our country works and how it could be better. Perhaps people shouldn’t be so afraid to break away from their party (maybe I have an idealistic streak, too). After all, it has only taken the small, underdog Liberal Democrats a little over twenty years (thirty if you count the Social Democratic Party - Liberal Alliance before 1988) to have a significant impact on the British Political system. I know I’m a bit of an anglophile, but seriously, can we go back to being British-ish for a little while?

*Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom are typically described as center-left, with Labour to the left and the Conservatives to the right.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Evening Tunes: Graduation

Hey Lefties! Haven't been on here in a while, but I figured I'd bring back some Sunday Evening Tunes. Henry and Brendan just graduated from Notre Dame today, so I figured I'd congratulate them with some cheesy graduation music.

First off, "Graduation (Friends Forever)" from Vitamin C.

And, of course, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life). Not sure why songs like these always have parenthetical alternate titles.

Let's wish these guys congratulations on a big day! And a congratulations to everyone else who's graduating this year too. This is your day, enjoy it. You'll all be moving on with your lives soon, doing great things. For now, you can just celebrate.

I was tempted to put up Whitesnake too, but I decided against it.