Posts Tagged ‘US politics’

ObamaCare index measures newfound civility

January 18, 2011

In the wake of the Tucson shootings and President Obama’s call for dialogue, not diatribes, there’s plenty of talk about greater civility in US politics. This week’s House of Representatives debate on repeal of healthcare reform will give an early indicator of whether Republicans really mean it.

The healthcare debate is a test for Republicans because, at least on this subject, they’re responsible for lowering the tone of the discussion. They’ve spread disinformation about a government takeover of healthcare, death panels of bureaucrats (from the government, as opposed to the insurance company variety) killing Grandma, that no one in the US goes without healthcare they need, that the best route to reform is more power for insurance companies, and that US healthcare is still the best in world. They confused the issue so much that people declared, “Government hands off Medicare.”

The biggest injection of invective came from dubbing reform “ObamaCare.” It echoes use of “HillaryCare” during the Clinton administration’s failed reform effort. As with invoking the name of Hillary Clinton – Christine O’Donnell was hardly the first alleged witch in politics – attaching Barack Obama’s name to reform was designed to turn people’s attention away from the issues and recast the discussion in terms of Obama’s inherent evil.

In other words, it made the debate personal. When it’s personal, there’s no room for rational discussion or compromise. How can there be, when one side represents good and the other side is evil? If politics are going to start getting civil, then politicians will have to stop making things personal. To measure whether it’s happening, check the healthcare reform repeal debate for use of the term “ObamaCare.”

Before the Tucson shootings, here’s what Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said about healthcare repeal: “ObamaCare is a job killer for businesses small and large, and the top priority for House Republicans is going to be to cut spending and grow the economy and jobs. Further, ObamaCare failed to lower costs as the president promised that it would and does not allow people to keep the care they currently have if they like it. That is why the House will repeal it next week.”

Here’s are Dayspring’s post-Obama Tucson speech comments on healthcare reform repeal: “As the White House noted, it is important for Congress to get back to work, and to that end we will resume thoughtful consideration of the health care bill next week. Americans have legitimate concerns about the cost of the new healthcare law and its effect on the ability to grow jobs in our country.”

Those comments alone took two points off the ObamaCare index, indicating the House Republican leadership has changed its tune. Stay tuned to see whether Cantor’s new tone carries over to the actual debate and filters down to the rank and file.

This week also marks 50 years since John F Kennedy’s inauguration. As I wrote in November, JFK’s inaugural address would be mocked in this age of politics as blood sport.

Like Obama’s words in Tucson, Kennedy’s speech also included a formula for civility among enemies holding differences far deeper than Republicans and Democrats. Re-reading Kennedy’s stirring words after the Tucson shootings, under the shadow of JFK’s assassination and that of Martin Luther King, the other great American we celebrate this week, reminds us how much work remains to become the nation future generations deserve.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Ask not about the state of US politics

November 5, 2010

Tuesday’s midterm elections show how low US politics has sunk. Not because Republicans won, but how they won.

During the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Republicans disavowed any responsibility for the debacle rooted in Republican dogma and adopted, as a matter of party policy, opposition to every effort mitigate its impacts and address its causes. (Imagine if Democrats had reacted similarly to the outrageously undemocratic Supreme Court decision that handed George W Bush the 2000 presidential election or 9/11.) Then Republicans beat Democrats over the head with their failure to solve the crisis and, fueled by unlimited corporate and plutocrat spending, proposed as a solution the same save-the-rich policies dressed in populist clothes that sent the economy over the cliff; maybe this time Wall Street will stop when it’s just half-way down the abyss.

American politics wasn’t always like this. Fifty years ago, a young president spoke to higher ideals that would be mocked in today’s competition to call opponents the most outrageous names. As I wrote in Asia Times, that president also offered a prescription to revive the American tradition of seeking common ground instead of sowing conflict.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Speak up, moderates!

September 8, 2010

It’s a busy week, full of competing ideas and emotions. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, kicking off the high holiday season begins at sundown Wednesday. Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, ends Friday, giving way to the celebration of Id ul-Fitri. Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the US that left more than 3,000 dead. Amid the controversy over Cordoba House, an evangelical Christian pastor with a congregation of 50 in Florida has created an international furor with plans to commemorate the day by burning copies of the Qur’an.

On all sides, extremists have seized control of the debate. Moderates must raise their voices to be heard over the radicals and take back the conversation. In this last shared holy season between Muslims and Jews until the 2030s, Palestinians and Israelis have restarted peace talks; perhaps negotiators will be infected with the spirit of the season, as I suggested last year in The Guardian. It may not help to be hopeful, but as the old joke* instructs, “It couldn’t hurt.”

*For those who don’t know the joke: The legendary actor of the Yiddish theater Boris Tomashevski dies during intermission of a performance. The producer comes out from the closed curtain and tells crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, it breaks my heart to inform you that the great man, Tomashevski has passed away in his dressing room.”

From the back of the theater, a woman’s voice calls out, “Give him an enema.”

The producer ignores the cry and continues, “Of course, the performance will not continue, and we will refund your money. I’m sure you join me in sending deepest condolences to the family of the great man…”

“Give him an enema,” the woman repeats.

The producer can’t contain himself any longer. “Lady, Tomashevski is dead. An enema can’t help him.”

“It couldn’t hurt.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

America’s Muslim problem

August 28, 2010

I’ve been ignoring the controversy over Cordoba House – the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – hoping for a sudden outbreak of sanity across America. I took a similar approach to run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and, considering how well that worked out, I really should have known better.

Opposition to the community center – calling Cordoba House a mosque is like calling Columbia University a restaurant since it serves food, or Saint Patrick’s Cathedral a bar since it serves wine – makes me ashamed to be an American. Opposing Cordoba House does far more damage to America and its values than a few planes flown into buildings ever could.

The bigotry and narrow-mindedness behind much of the opposition to Cordoba House attacks the fundamental principles of our nation and does irreparable damage to America’s image overseas. Hostility toward Cordoba House proves radical Islamists’ point: Americans hate Muslims, so Muslims should hate them back. Building Cordoba House won’t help recruit terrorists to attack the US and Americans overseas; opposing Cordoba House is doing precisely that.

I was plenty ashamed about the Iraq invasion, but now American is making war on its own values. What’s particularly troubling is that, unlike the highly orchestrated Tea Party movement, the Cordoba House backlash truly is a grassroots movement. Two years ago, during another controversy involving Islam, I noted that many Americans consider “Muslim” a dirty word. Since writing that piece for The Guardian, the percentage of Americans who believe President Obama is a Muslim has doubled, and I doubt any of them laud his links with Islam.

The arguments against Cordoba House are specious at best, at worst against the very principles that make America the land of the free. Islam didn’t attack the US on 9/11, al Qaeda did. Assigning collective guilt to Muslims is no more logical than blaming Christians (or God) for Nazi Germany because its soldiers carried Bibles and wore belt buckles proclaiming “Gott Mitt Uns (God is with us).” Collective guilt, a fancy term for bigotry, means we all end up hating each other. When Newt Gingrich argues that the US shouldn’t allow Cordoba House because Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow churches or synagogues, he paints a grim vision for America. If our country doesn’t aspire to a higher standard than a theocratic monarchy, then what’s the point of America?

I’m shocked that so many Americans are acting this foolish, this bigoted, and this misinformed. But perhaps I shouldn’t be. How many years ago would there have been poll number similar to those opposing Cordoba House against living, working or going to school with Irish, Catholics, Jews, blacks, Hispanics? Opposing Cordoba House follows the tradition of Yankee hypocrisy that began with slaveholders who declared all men are created equal.

Americans can take no comfort that it’s just this one special case because it’s Muslims and Ground Zero, as if James Meredith and the University of Mississippi, or Rosa Parks and the Memphis bus, or Jews and the Ivy League, or women in the executive suite weren’t also special cases in their day.

America is either the land of the free, or it’s not – and right now, the Cordoba House controversy points which way the country is heading. It’s up to good people to take our country back, to stop making excuses and equivocating and stand up for liberty and justice for all.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Amid healthcare triumph, a sign of Democrats’ losing ways

April 7, 2010

Following passage of the US healthcare reform bill, I wrote about the impact of US reforms on medical travel in Asia for Asia Times. I promptly went into the hospital for three days of unscheduled research.

What could have sickened me was an article that broke just after the healthcare bill’s passage. The Associated Press reported that Republicans originated and supported the health insurance mandate in President Obama’s healthcare reforms. The mandate is now behind Republican cries of “Armageddon” and “the end of the American way of life,” to the extent there is anything behind those bleats beyond hot air.

According to the AP report, Republicans crafted the mandate during the 1990s as a private sector alternative to Clinton era healthcare reform proposals. At that time, Republicans didn’t see the mandate as socialism but instead called it taking responsibility. The individual insurance mandate is at the core the Massachusetts reform plan that Mitt Romney signed as governor and newly elected Senator Scott Brown supported as a state legislator.

What’s sickening to me isn’t that Republicans would so blatantly flip-flop strictly for political advantage and predict disaster from a policy they once championed. I’m appalled that during a 14 month fight for its political life, the Obama White House didn’t uncover and use the Republicans’ flip-flop against them. Unlike the arcane and windy arguments Obama and his team put forward to support healthcare reform, here was a sound bite sized argument that would put Republicans on the defensive about their opposition to reform they once championed.

At least one progressive political group uncovered Republican mandate support ahead of the AP, so why didn’t the White House? Heads should roll for failing to unearth such a tasty political truffle nestled right under their noses. Getting the healthcare bill passed doesn’t excuse the failure. There are plenty more tough battles to come – over financial reform and climate change, for starters – and the White House can’t afford to miss this kind of low hanging political dynamite, especially in an election year. Get some people in there who are smart enough and work hard enough to do the job right and give Obama the support he deserves.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Edward Kennedy’s legacy of failure

August 28, 2009

Amid the tributes, remember that Senator Edward Kennedy was a spectacular failure, the leader of US liberals while a conservative tidal wave swept the country. As this longtime supporter wrote in Asia Times, Kennedy’s legislative accomplishments are mere footnotes to the nation’s march to the right. On Kennedy’s watch, the word liberal became an accusation instead of an adjective. For every dollar his name raised for liberal causes, he probably raised ten times as much for his opponents. Kennedy’s personal and political conduct are largely responsible for the decline of the US left. Ted, you chose to fiddle with legislation while the American left burned.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Putting Your Mouth Where Your Money Is

August 15, 2009

Macau’s two biggest American casinos operators are making plans for share sales in Hong Kong, as detailed in my Asia Times report. Analysts are divided on whether the Macau operations of Las Vegas Sands, owner of the Venetian Macao, and Wynn Resorts are worth a gamble. Before placing their bets, investors might also want to consider the leaders of these two companies.

Wynn founder Steve Wynn and LVS chairman Sheldon Adelson are both self-made multi-millionaires. They also share an apparent conviction that success bestows skills beyond their fields of apparent expertise.

Adelson fancies himself as a master of repartee. During LVS’s earnings conference call, according to the transcript from, one analyst trying to discuss that possible stock offering (or IPO for initial public offering) prompted the following exchange:

Analyst: What is the earliest you think you can do something in Hong Kong?
Adelson: What do you mean do something in Hong Kong? You mean go to have dinner there?
Analyst: Well, you will probably do that pretty soon. You probably…
Adelson: We have great Chinese restaurants…

Adelson loves showing off his conviction that he’s the cleverest guy in the room. In BBC interview just after LVS’s close escape from bankruptcy last year, reporter Sharanjit Leyl asked about financing the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the most expensive casino resort ever built, price estimates reaching US$8 billion. Adelson brushed aside the inquiries. When Leyl rephrased the question to ask about his “problem with money,” a visibly annoyed Adelson replied, “I don’t have a problem with money. We don’t have any arguments, any confrontations. Money and I get along very well.”

Steve Wynn wouldn’t talk about his company’s IPO filing during his conference call with analysts last month, but he opted to play talk radio demagogue. “Right now we are watching the United States government deal with complex problems that clearly seem to be beyond their intellectual ability,” Wynn said. “Right now, we are more afraid of Washington than we are of the economy.”

Denouncing “bombastic rhetoric from the White House and from the administration,” Wynn said, “There is an attitude that, there is a very definite bias in this administration that business is bad… The President of the United States has his own office and he has his own group of little cadre of people that agree with him and look at the world just the way he does and they don’t listen to anybody from what I’ve heard from my business friends. They invite people down to Washington and tell them what they think, they don’t ask or listen to anybody.”

In this conference call meant to discuss company earnings and business prospects, Wynn went on to praise China – “maybe we could all learn a lesson by watching what happens there…. but I’ll bet you that government sees to it that economy and that workforce is protected” – and Macau’s incoming Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai-on, who was chosen to run unopposed in a backroom deal and endorsed by the 300 electors (also chosen in an unopposed election) voting for Macua’s leader in the local Beijing-approved version of democracy.

Chui is a member of the cabal of families that have dominated Macau for generations. His candidacy sparked outrage among grassroots Macau, including a protest ad that had to be run in Hong Kong newspaper because no Macau publication would dare risk the wrath of the entrenched elite.

From Macau’s handover to China in December 1999 until this May, Chui served secretary for social and cultural affairs, reportedly using his position to enrich family business interests. Chui undeniably did little to improve Macau dismal social services, most notably healthcare, Chui’s area of academic training including a US PhD, despite Macau’s vast government surpluses thanks to the casino boom. People in Macau at best see Chui as an empty suit fronting for big business interests (which, given a chance to do it again, would have never let Wynn or Adelson into Macau), more commonly as a not particularly smart or honest empty suit.

But for Steve Wynn, Chui is a heroic figure. Contrasting Chui with the US leadership, Wynn praised Chui for “understanding issues that affect people” as well as exemplifying the “the level of education and sophistication that permeates the Chinese, the People’s Republic of China government.

“These are very smart people, very highly educated people, very thoughtful people. My own feeling is the government of Macau will protect and so will the central government in Beijing and the regional government in Zhuhai at Guangdong province, Guangzhou. The government will do a very enlightened and thoughtful job of protecting the interest of the citizens and the business enterprises that support the health of those businesses.”

Yet, no matter how lavish their praise for China’s government, Wynn and other international investors in China never get around to trading in their passports for Chinese citizenship.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

%d bloggers like this: