Friday, November 28, 2008

Funeral Dirges

No, not for people per say, as for the Wall Street investment banking community as a whole. Tom Friedman's Op-Ed on Thanksgiving Day, "All Fall Down," definitely had the ring of a funeral dirge on the downfall of Wall Street (most recently, Citigroup) and who was responsible. Which is something people will be discussing for years to come, no doubt. His source for the Op-Ed, from, was an article by Michael Lewis called simply "The End." Lewis wrote a book back in 1989 called Liar's Poker, which some could say was the harbinger of the current crisis, chronicling the excesses of Wall Street and the not exactly truly financially savvy people who were dispensing investment advice to average citizens. Time proved him more or less right, clearly-- the Humpty Dumptys of investment banking fell off the Wall and now they're looking to all the president's horses and all the Congressmen to put them back together again.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

From Deuteronomy 8:10-18 (emphasis, where added, mine):
"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today."
As do so many passages in the Bible, this section from Deuteronomy rather speaks for itself. Addressing the Hebrews who had been wandering in the desert, it tells them that they need to remember to give thanks to the God who brought them to where they are, and warns of the dangers of not doing so. Forgetting to give credit and gratitude where it is due is dangerous to us as individuals, and to us as a society. Saying "thank you" is one of the first things we learn to say when our parents are teaching us manners. So why do we always forget to do so as adults, especially when it most matters? Giving thanks to God is not something that is intended to be limited to some Thursday in November. It is something that is meant to happen every day of our lives, in part because it is the right thing to do and in part because it helps to give us perspective. When we start thinking that it was us who earned our bounty, we start to lose sight of the people who, though they may work hard, have not made it quite as high as we have. There are many societal ramifications to that which I will not go into right now (I would encourage reading Rev. Mark Schaefer's sermon on the related topic of consumerism, "Our Power and Might," for anyone who is interested). For now, I will simply say this. Tomorrow, in between "gobbling 'til you're wobbling," say a little prayer-- for those you love, for those who struggle, for the grace of the God who gives you all the people and all the wealth in your life. Then repeat-- daily if possible. Praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things You Don't Often Hear

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has an editorial article out on about Why It's Good to Have Former Senators In Charge. Interesting historical perspective included on the fact that very few presidents have come out of the US Senate...and all of a sudden both our prez and VP are products of that body.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Cabinet Speculation

Until January, the speculation about Barack Obama's Cabinet and top officials, and which of Bush's policies he will reverse, will be what predominantly dominate the political gossip-sphere. AOL News has an article out on just that topic.

Article Round-Up

Of course the news media was all over the election while the campaign was going on, and they're still all over the post-election happenings and postmortems. Here's some highlights of what I've been seeing:
From TIME magazine, an article speculating on how far Sarah Palin will go, some of the challenges she now faces in Alaska, and what it would take for her to get to national office.
Bob Greene has an article on's Political Ticker on the four different transitions that Obama, his supporters, and the country now have to go through. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi and others, delighted with their fresh mandate and increased majority, asked Obama to govern from the center as he starts his administration.
Less noticed on Tuesday was that the controversial Proposition 8 in California was voted down. Prop 8 allowed California voters to make the choice on whether they wanted gay marriage legalized in their state; their choice means that gay marriage is no longer allowed there. Naturally, supporters of gay marriage are extremely upset and have been protesting in the streets since Prop 8 was passed.
Finally- this is a not-to-be missed article from the Washington Post on November 7 about Eugene Allen, a former butler at the White House-- "A Butler Well Served by This Election."

Headlining Across the Globe

For any of you who may doubt the incredible international significance of Barack Obama's election as president of the United States...check out these images of headlines from across the globe on November 5, 2008, the day after the election. Congratulations, America-- the international community finally thinks you made a good choice for president. Maybe now you can repair your relationships and international standing so you'll have friends and allies again that aren't grudging.
Also, for a laugh, check out (from the same site) Obama's to-do list.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Round-Up Wrap-Up

It's been many months since I've been able to post here. Being back at college creates a rather different set of priorities, so blogging has gone on the wayside. To review, since I last posted in August, in big political events we've seen:

-the selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate
-the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate
-the Democratic National Convention
-the Republican National Convention
-three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate
-many humorous political sketches back on SNL
-lots of jabs and punches thrown back and forth from the two campaigns
-Barack Obama getting elected to be the 44th President of the United States
-Barack Obama commencing his transition into that post

So, to start at the beginning, I thought that the selection of Joe Biden as VP by Obama was an inspired choice. I was initially a proponent of Biden for Secretary of State, but I definitely did not have a problem with his selection as VP. Biden probably helped sway some blue-collar voters and people who were concerned about Obama's comparatively minimal level of experience in the government, and I'm hopeful that Obama will make use of him as an advisor and diplomatic envoy, rather than shunting him to the usual VP role of state-funeral-attender-in-chief.
My first reaction when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate was "who's that?" The unknown Alaska governor seemed an ununsually low-profile pick. I was expecting someone like Mitt Romney, who would shore up McCain's shaky credentials on the economy. Palin attracted a lot of attention, though, and it looked like McCain picked her to energize conservative voters and hopefully grab some women too...possibly even some supporters of Hillary Clinton. In very short order, though, as people started to find out about her, it was really only people who already leaned conservative that Palin helped to cement for McCain. Stories about her "diva"-esque behavior and lack of basic geographical competence have been flying around since she was picked.
The Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention were their usual interesting blend of pageantry and speeches by politicians of national and local significance. Some of the stars of the Democratic convention were Michelle Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton, fmr Pres. Bill Clinton, fmr VP Al Gore, fmr VA Gov. Mark Warner, VP nominee Joe Biden, and of course the presidential nominee himself, who gave a great speech in front of a huge crowd at Denver's Invesco Field. The Republican Convention was also interesting, although the first day's events were largely canceled due to an incoming hurricane. It was incredibly patriotic, as the Republicans clearly tried to grab the title of "most patriotic" again with McCain's slogan "Country First." The most interesting moment of the RNC was easily Gov. Sarah Palin's speech, which was really the first chance for the country to get to know her. What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull, again?
As the general election campaign season progressed, each side shot back and forth with criticisms of policy, acquaintanceship, and personality. The Obama campaign persistantly linked McCain to the incredibly unpopular President Bush, and the McCain campaign tried to link Obama to domestic terrorist William Ayers. Obama and Bush clashed in three presidential debates, which progressively decreased in structure and virtually always gave the most attention to the defining issue of the campaign-- the slumping US economy. The vice-presidential nominees also debated, in the most-viewed debate in recent years. The Biden-Palin matchup was highly anticipated due to the stark difference in experience and knowledge between the two. But Biden didn't lose his temper or make any kind of gaffe, and Palin didn't completely flop and so, as my Government professor said, they both exceeded expectations.
The other, somewhat unexpected, major media contributor to this campaign was NBC's comedy program Saturday Night Live. It all started with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's brilliant sketch of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton offering a message about sexism. From there, we continued to see the VP debate sketched, an endorsement from Bush (Will Ferrell in a reprise), and Palin's infamous interview with Katie Couric. Then the candidates themselves decided to get in on the action, and we saw John McCain and Sarah Palin themselves appearing on the show towards the end of the race.
Of course, it all had to come to an end at some point. And come to an end it did. On November 4, 2008, the voters went to the polls and cast their votes. The major issue in US elections is of course not the popular vote, but the electoral college votes. Obama or McCain had to get to the magic number 270 electoral college votes in order to win the election. As things turned out, the country was ready to embrace Obama's message of change. He took the traditionally blue states, and then grabbed the critical (and, for the past two elections, Republican-leaning) states of Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado. I was watching the returns come in, keeping up with the electoral math on a map of the US, and as soon as Ohio was declared for Obama, my friends and I knew it was all over as soon as the polls on the West Coast closed. This proved to be true, and the party started around 11:00 PM ET. Here in DC, my entire campus went berserk, people screaming and crying and hugging and running around in insane joy. Ultimately a lot of people wound up down at the White House after McCain's very gracious concession speech (in front of considerably less gracious supporters) and Obama's victory speech, where my peers and half of the District of Columbia essentially held our own victory rally in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It was a fantastic night.
So now the hard work begins. President-elect Obama has set up a transition team and is beginning the work of setting up a new government. He will be getting briefed on economic and foreign policy matters and appointing new officials. His first decision, announced a couple of days after the election, was the selection of Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, as his Chief of Staff. Emanuel will probably be a very effective Chief of Staff, regardless of the fact that he may not be the most diplomatic of men (his nickname on the Hill is 'Rahmbo'). The likely next appointment will be Robert Gibbs as Press Secretary. Other speculations include keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, and appointing Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) or Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB) as Secretary of State. Keep an eye out; further appointments will likely be coming frequently as Barack Obama prepares for the hard work that will face him in his new job as the 44th President of the United States of America.