Posts Tagged ‘speech’

Yes We Can (Again)

April 5th, 2013 No comments

Attending the opening ceremony for H-sho this morning was optional, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Not only was it a chance to introduce myself to the whole school at the same time and make a good first impression on everybody all at once, but it was my first chance to see a formal school ceremony in an elementary school.

I arrived at the school twenty minutes early and was given a nice welcome by the vice principal, the headmaster, and the principal (who hadn’t been there on Tuesday). I was shown to my desk and exchanged a few words in both English and Japanese with the vice principal, and after a few minutes we all headed down to the gym where orientation was wrapping up and the formal opening ceremony was ready to begin.

It was interesting to see what was the same as my old school and what was different. The gym was smaller, the students were in plain clothes, and there were only about 150-200 of them (making this actually the biggest school I’m now teaching at) but other than that it was exactly like the ceremonies from Togane Chu. Speeches from the top administrators, speeches from students to the top administrators, the singing of the school song, and so on. The students had cushions to sit on, but they stood most of the time in perfect obedient silence, bowing whenever prompted to do so.

My speech was scheduled for the very end of the ceremony. Right before then, there was a brief period in which each teacher’s name and position was called and they lined up in front of the students. My name was called surprisingly early on (I thought the gaijin always goes last) so for a good minute or so before my speech I got a good look at the student’s faces. How unbelievably cute they are. Many were already smiling at me.

When that was over, it was announced that the new English teacher was to give an introduction, and I was led up to the podium to get down to it. Like my other speeches, O-sensei had helped me prepare it in terms of Japanese-translation, but I had a few new ideas of my own I wanted to try out.

“Good morning!” I say in English. Many students echo the greeting—more than I expected. I continue in English: “My name is Kyle. I’m from America.” I hold up my American-flag flashcard upside down, then pretend I made a mistake and turn in right-side up, thus eliciting a chuckle early on. “I’m twenty-nine years old.”

I look out at the audience. “Did you understand?” I point to a few random students and say, “yes? yes? no?” Some students actually say “no”. I then say, “Okay, I will read it in Japanese.”

I proceed to read those first few introductory sentences in excruciatingly slow, poorly-pronounced Japanese, then look up at the students and say “eh?” as though for approval. A few laughs as I’d hoped, but there’s actually a small smattering of applause as well.

I continue in English. “I taught English in Germany for three years. Understand?” Nobody understands that, so I point to my paper and say, “Okay, Japanese” then repeat it in my poor Japanese. Afterwards I hold up a picture of the German flag. Now there’s more applause and some murmurs of interest that they’ve got a teacher who lived in Germany.

In English: “I came to Japan in August of 2011. Wakarimasuka? [poorly pronounced: ‘understand?’ which draws some more laughter]”. I repeat it in bad Japanese.

“Until now I taught at Togane Junior High School.” I don’t even need to ask this time, I just read the bad Japanese.

Now I say, “I really enjoyed teaching there. I think I will enjoy teaching here to.” Now for the big moment.

I look down at my page and pause for a second, then proceed to read those lines in fast, perfectly-pronounced Japanese. As these lines are much more complicated than anything before it, it comes as a shock to everyone. Unfortunately, I botch the second line a little bit, but it doesn’t seem to matter. I say “Nihngo da ne?” (‘Japanese, huh?’) and now there’s lot of laughter and more murmurs as students realize I’d been faking it before.

I do the rest of the speech in fast, flawless Japanese, and soon enough everyone is smiling with the realization that their ALT’s Japanese isn’t nearly as bad as they’d thought.

“I want to teach you English. Do any of you think that English is too difficult? Well, President Obama says, ‘Yes we can!’” I hold up my trusty Obama-flashcard to much laughter and applause. I explain what “Yes we can” means to those who might not know, then say, “Everyone, please repeat after me: Yes we can!”

The best response I ever got at Togane Chu was 70%, and at the opening ceremony it had only been 20%. Granted the set-up was much better this time, but I’m sure the response this time had almost everything to do with the ages of the kids: 100%. Students and faculty.

I repeat the chant, everyone repeats it again with more enthusiasm. I break it down to individual words: “Yes!” “We!” “Can!” and everyone’s loving it. One more big “Yes we can!” and a shout of “Wooohooo!” and everyone is cheering and clapping.

One last line in Japanese: “I’m looking forward to teaching you. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”

Not to brag or anything, but I got the biggest applause of the morning. When I stepped down from the podium the vice principal thanked me and told me the speech was excellent. I got compliments from a bunch of other teachers as well.

The students started filing out with their homeroom teachers, and I was led back to the teacher’s room. K-sensei (mother of my favorite Togane Chu student) complimented me on my Japanese before she had to run and go do something. The vice principal said I could leave and he’d see me next Friday. On my way out the door of the teacher’s room, the principal stopped me and enthusiastically thanked me for my speech.

I passed by a few kids in the hallway on my way out. They called me, “Yes-we-can-sensei.”

Seriously, there aren’t too many great things about Obama getting re-elected, but the best thing for me personally by far is being able to keep using that famous catch-phrase. I doubt any of Mitt Romney’s most famous lines would generate quite as much enthusiasm: “Everybody repeat after me: Corporations are people, my friend!” or “Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income taxes!” or “Binders full of women! Hooray!”

So that was my first day at H-sho, and though it wasn’t a paid work day it felt like my first day of the new school-year. If today was a good indication, I think I’m going to enjoy it immensely.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

“Liveblogging” the State of the Union

January 29th, 2010 No comments

An actual “Liveblog” is a running commentary of a major event as it happens. I can’t really do that because I live in Europe, and being 6 hours ahead of Washington I don’t really feel like waiting up until the wee hours of the morning to watch primetime events live. I just watch them online the next day, then write about them when I get a chance. I don’t have much to say overall about the President’s first state of the union speech, so I thought I’d simply have a little fun and do a running commentary of my own that can hopefully be enjoyed even by people who didn’t see the speech.

I’ll post noteworthy quotes when I feel an urge to respond to them, and when I’m responding to something visual (like Republicans applauding or not applauding) I’ll try to make that clear.

Full disclosure: I already watched the speech once and took in some commentary, so some of my opinions are influenced by other bloggers, pundits, and columnists. But in most cases I’m writing the immediate reaction I had the first time around.

[re: the stimulus] Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted, immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed.

You lie! Things may get better in the short term, but there’s just going to be another storm because you’re not doing anything to prevent it.

[re: the American spirit] It’s because of this spirit — this great decency and great strength — that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight.

The first applause line. Apparently everybody loves hope.

Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit.

You lie! Yes we do. Have you never even watched cable news?

[re: the bank bailouts] But when I ran for President, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary.

Then why don’t you?

To recover the rest, I have proposed a fee on the biggest banks. I know Wall Street isn’t keen on this idea, but if these firms can afford to hand out big bonuses again, they can afford a modest fee to pay back the taxpayers who rescued them in their time of need.

Apparently republicans don’t like the idea of paying back taxpayers for rescuing the banks.

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

Apparently republicans don’t like tax cuts either. And Obama calls them out, saying “I thought I’d get some applause there.” John Boehner is amused.

But I realize that for every success story, there are other stories, of men and women who wake up with the anguish of not knowing where their next paycheck will come from; who send out resumes week after week and hear nothing in response. That is why jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that is why I am calling for a new jobs bill tonight.

Republicans are standing now. Everyone likes jobs. Or at least everyone likes pandering to the unemployed.

[re: job creation] We should start where most new jobs do – in small businesses, companies that begin when an entrepreneur takes a chance on a dream, or a worker decides its time she became her own boss.

Lifted directly from every one of Bush’s speeches. And Clinton’s. And Bush Sr.’s. And Reagan’s…actually every speech by every president in history.

[re: infrastructure] There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products.

You lie! There is a damn good reason—their governments actually do stuff.

And to encourage these and other businesses to stay within our borders, it’s time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in the United States of America.

Also lifted from every State of the Union address ever given.

[re: the jobs bill] Now, the House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same, and I know they will. They will.

You lie! They won’t, and they know it.

You see, Washington has been telling us to wait for decades, even as the problems have grown worse. Meanwhile, China’s not waiting to revamp its economy. Germany’s not waiting. India’s not waiting. These nations aren’t standing still. These nations aren’t playing for second place.

If these other nations jumped off a bridge, should we do that too?

The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.

Hah! You’ll sign anything they manage to deliver to you, and you know it. Luckily for you, they won’t be able to deliver anything.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.

Yeah! Drill baby drill! Clean coal (which is utter bullshit)! Wahoo!

[re: global warming] But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

Why? Why not let some other nation lead the global economy for awhile? Our recent track record hasn’t exactly been fantastic.

[re: free trade] And that’s why we will continue to shape a Doha trade agreement that opens global markets, and why we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.

This time, only republicans are standing. That could only mean this is a bad idea.

To make college more affordable, this bill will finally end the unwarranted taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans. Instead, let’s take that money and give families a $10,000 tax credit for four years of college and increase Pell Grants.

Now the republicans are sitting on their hands. I guess they’re opposed to kids being able to afford college.

And it is precisely to relieve the burden on middle-class families that we still need health insurance reform.

Republicans, as expected, are not in favor of health care reform…wait…oh now they’re standing. I guess someone finally realized how bad they’re making themselves look.

Now let’s be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn’t take on health care because it was good politics.

You lie! You behaved exactly as though you were just trying to earn a legislative victory. Otherwise you would have actually fought to get a good bill.

And by the way, I want to acknowledge our First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.

Damn, there are some angry vibes coming from that woman. She really seems to hate her husband now. That was quick. I didn’t think Hillary started hating Bill until a few years into his presidency. Can’t blame her though. She knows more than anyone in that room just how empty his words are.

[re: health reform] Still, this is a complex issue, and the longer it was debated, the more skeptical people became. I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people.

Well, that’s music to my ears. But why aren’t you explaining it now? We’re listening.

But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. I’m eager to see it.

Actually, I think I remember a guy who had a much better approach than the one currently on the table in Congress. I think he ran for president back in 2008. What was his name? Oh yeah…Barack Obama.

So let me start the discussion of government spending by setting the record straight. At the beginning of the last decade, America had a budget surplus of over $200 billion. By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts, and an expensive prescription drug program. On top of that, the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget. That was before I walked in the door.

Republicans also hate being confronted with the fact that America existed before January 20, 2009.

[re: spending $1 trillion for economic recovery] I am absolutely convinced that was the right thing to do. But families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same. So tonight, I’m proposing specific steps to pay for the $1 trillion that it took to rescue the economy last year. Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze government spending for three years.

This is the stupidest idea in the speech, designed to pander to the uninformed independent who doesn’t understand the difference between a family budget and a government budget. The only way you get out of a recession is to spend your way out. A spending freeze didn’t work under Hoover, it didn’t work under FDR, and it didn’t work under any other president during any other recession. This is a cheap political gimmick that won’t have any positive effects.

It won’t win any republican support, as whenever the president moves to the right they just move the goal-posts. It certainly won’t help the economy recover. The only thing it will do is give the conservatives the ammunition they need to go on pretending that fiscal restraint is the right approach to an economic recession, in spite of all the economists who say otherwise and all the historical evidence to the contrary. Obama should have been explaining why the government needs to spend money in a recession, but instead he’s just conceded the argument to the side he knows is wrong, purely for the sake of a gimmick that won’t help him politically anyway.

I know that some in my own party will argue that we cannot address the deficit or freeze government spending when so many are still hurting. I agree, which is why this freeze will not take effect until next year, when the economy is stronger.

Some laughter in the chamber, which is appropriate. The economy may be a bit stronger next year but not enough to justify a spending freeze.

Oh, but they’re probably laughing because they think he should start the freeze this year. Obama responds with a “That’s how budgeting works.”

Even stronger laughter, though I’m not sure from whom or why. Are they democrats laughing back at the republicans who didn’t seem to understand that you plan a budget a year in advance? Or are they republicans laughing at how naïve that line made him seem? “Look mommy, I know how budgeting works!”

Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time to try something new. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the citizens who sent us here. Let’s try common sense. A novel concept.

Did the president just give props to Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck?

That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.

You lie! Lobbyists are still writing policy. They wrote most of the health reform bill.

And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections.

Okay, that was awesome at least. The president chastises the Supreme Court (rightly so) directly to their faces while they’re sitting a few feet away from him! I find out later that Justice Samuel Alito was mouthing the words “Simply not true” in quasi-Joe Wilson fashion!

Okay, Sam, it’s not true? What exactly is not true about it? Please, I’d like you to explain exactly why you aren’t responsible for handing the entire United States government over to giant profit-seeking corporations on a silver platter. I really want to hear you explain that to me.

I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform.

Pandering to the McCain voters now. Why didn’t we just vote for him?

Now, I am not naïve. I never thought the mere fact of my election would usher in peace, harmony, and some post-partisan era.

You lie!

But what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can.

Yes, absolutely. Look at the republicans sitting there smiling knowing that’s exactly what they’re doing and that they have no intention of stopping.

The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators.

The republicans are sitting on their hands to indicate that they are totally in favor of holding up the confirmation of well-qualified public servants for the sake of political grudges.

Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government. So no, I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics.

And you will not stop failing miserably in doing so.

To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills.

Democrats applaud, apparently not in favor of running for the hills. This indicates a major shift in strategy for them.

And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership. We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.

Republicans remain seated to indicate that they are in favor of practicing short-term politics that serve their own ambitions at the expense of citizens. They get points for honesty.

[re: national security] So let’s put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let’s reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values. Let’s leave behind the fear and division, and do what it takes to defend our nation and forge a more hopeful future – for America and the world.

That ought to convince Dick Cheney.

We will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and continue to partner with the Iraqi people to promote regional peace and prosperity. But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home.

You lie! Or to put it another way: Simply not true. Maybe most combat troops will come home but there will be troops there and military contractors for a long, long time.

[re: the troops] And just as they must have the resources they need in war, we all have a responsibility to support them when they come home.

Ooh, pandering to the troops. That’s politically risky.

That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.

He’s channeling Bush again.

This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

You will? I’d like to see that. Honestly. Even if you are just pandering.

We are going to crack down on violations of equal pay laws – so that women get equal pay for an equal day’s work. And we should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.

Pandering to women and pandering to xenophobes in the space of two sentences!

Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values they’re living by; business values or labor values. They are American values.

Oh man. China called. They’re missing a Pander-Bear (zing).

Unfortunately, too many of our citizens have lost faith that our biggest institutions – our corporations, our media, and yes, our government – still reflect these same values.

You l…actually you’re totally right. I wonder why we’ve lost our faith…

I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren’t sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.

No shit. I guess this is the part of the speech that was focus-tested on disillusioned progressives like me.

Those of us in public office can respond to this reality by playing it safe and avoid telling hard truths. We can do what’s necessary to keep our poll numbers high, and get through the next election instead of doing what’s best for the next generation.

Thanks for explaining your strategy like that.

Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.

Man, you almost had me. I was almost ready to give you some credit and line up behind you to support your agenda. Then you went and turned it back into more ass-kissing of “the American people”.

[re: the American spirit again] It lives on in the struggling small business owner who wrote to me of his company, “None of us,” he said, “…are willing to consider, even slightly, that we might fail.”

Does every president think every American is a small business owner?

We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.

Great, I’m ready. So what do we need to do? You told us what you want to do, but you still haven’t called on the people who supported your candidacy to get behind you and stand up and fight the powers-that-be. All you did was propose small-ball legislation that, if you keep governing as you’ve been governing, will end up getting so compromised and watered down as to be completely ineffective.

Most importantly, you’re still doing your whole “There are not Red States and Blue States” schtick, speaking the language of bi-partisanship even though you know full well that genuine, constructive bi-partisanship is hopeless in today’s political climate. You refuse to take a stand on anything that might make anyone angry (except Sam Alito) and try to keep winning with the same playbook that got you elected: be as vague as possible about your own convictions so that everyone can just project their own political beliefs onto you.

Well, that won’t work anymore. You really have to pick a position and fight for it. There was nothing in this speech to indicate that you would.

Don’t get me wrong—it was a brilliant speech from a rhetorical standpoint, and you delivered it masterfully. You’re a really likable guy, way more comfortable to watch than W and almost everything you say—also unlike W—is something I agree with. I just no longer believe that you have a real desire to back up these words with actions.

I could be wrong. Maybe you really are going to undergo a course-correction and really turn things around this year and start fighting. Then I’ll take back all my “You lie”s and start writing about what a great president you are.

But this speech sounded only like you have people working for you who watch the news, who read the blogs, who talk to people from across the political spectrum and know what they’re thinking, and speech-writers who know how to seamlessly blend the cares and concerns of everyone into one coherent message. On the one hand, I suppose that’s the nature of a State of the Union speech, so I can’t really blame you for that. But on the other hand, you ran on a platform of Change, so you have to expect to be called out when what you deliver is simply more of the same.

In conclusion, if you’re really telling me that Change is coming, that the economy is turning the corner and the middle-class will rise again, that health care reform will finally be delivered, that we’re going to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that we’re going to break the stranglehold of major financial institutions on our government, I have two words for you.
(Hint: one of those words begins with a Y, and the other with an L)

Obama’s Health Care Speech: Delayed Reaction

September 12th, 2009 No comments

I wanted to write my reaction to Obama’s big speech Wednesday night before reading any blogs or watching my cable news programs, just to report my gut opinion before bombarding it with other perspectives that had the potential to change my mind. But as I’m currently living with company, I didn’t want to say, “Why don’t you twiddle your thumbs for awhile why I rant about politics for my blog?” and as such I put it off until now, Saturday morning, while my guest remains asleep and I’m ready to state my opinion. As it turns out, in spite of everything I’ve read and seen between the time I watched the speech and now, my opinion remains fundamentally unchanged.

My first reaction was that the man can give a good speech, as I expected he would, but that in terms of substance absolutely nothing has changed. We now just have a clearer view of what Obama wants in the plan, where he will put his foot down, and most importantly where he won’t draw lines in the sand, specifically with regard to the public option. In spite of all the brilliant, emotionally-satisfying rhetoric, the president seems just as poised as ever to flush the only meaningful part of health care reform down the drain.

But before I get to the substance, it would not be fair of me to dismiss the rhetoric. We heard things from this president that touched on issues going far beyond the narrow confines of the health care debate and strike at the core of America’s “national character”. When Reagan took office he put forward a philosophy that government is not the answer to our problems, but that it is the problem. Ever since then this has been the predominant view, the underlying sentiment in American politics, even throughout the Clinton years. A liberal may have felt in their heart of hearts that government can be the solution to some of our problems but they could never say so directly, as Reagan’s anti-government philosophy was the generally accepted common wisdom and you would be a fool to suggest otherwise.

Obama finally decided to grab hold of the pendulum that Reagan had thrust towards the right and with these words, which if he backs them up have the potential to become the most historic words of the speech, gave it a gentle nudge back in the direction of the left:

You see, our predecessors understood that government could not, and should not, solve every problem. They understood that there are instances when the gains in security from government action are not worth the added constraints on our freedom. But they also understood that the danger of too much government is matched by the perils of too little; that without the leavening hand of wise policy, markets can crash, monopolies can stifle competition, the vulnerable can be exploited. And they knew that when any government measure, no matter how carefully crafted or beneficial, is subject to scorn; when any efforts to help people in need are attacked as un-American; when facts and reason are thrown overboard and only timidity passes for wisdom, and we can no longer even engage in a civil conversation with each other over the things that truly matter — that at that point we don’t merely lose our capacity to solve big challenges. We lose something essential about ourselves.

The importance of such words finally coming from the American president can hardly be understated. For once, we have a leader willing to challenge the accepted doctrine that government is always the problem and make the suggestion that should have been trumpeted by liberals all these years, that the government can be the solution. He could have gone farther and completed this thought by asking his audience to consider what government actually is. Government, in the form of a representative democracy, is supposed to represent the people. Ideally, this would mean that the government, working on behalf of the people, would create laws and implement policies that would serve the best interests of the people. In reality, the only “people” the current U.S. government represents are the corporations, which are legally “persons” under federal law. And in service of those “people” the government has systematically weakened itself over the last three decades to the detriment of the actual people, the flesh-and-blood citizens of the United States. The current struggle over health care reform is emblematic of this problem, as half of the government, beholden more to the insurance companies than the population, is trying (quite successfully) to undermine reform and to transfer more wealth from the bank accounts of average Americans to the coffers of the health insurance corporations. This is the heart of the matter when it comes to health care reform, and I am pleased that Obama, at the very least, alluded to it.

And indeed, Obama laid out the case for health care reform in a far more strong and persuasive way than he has done so far, and it was gratifying to finally see the case—such an obvious and easy case to make—finally be made. All he really needed to do was shift the debate from numbers and figures and abstract projections to the moral level, the human level, the level on which the effects of this legislation will actually be felt, at which reform is most desperately needed:

One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy because his insurer found that he hadn’t reported gallstones that he didn’t even know about. They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it. Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne. By the time she had her insurance reinstated, her breast cancer had more than doubled in size. That is heart-breaking, it is wrong, and no one should be treated that way in the United States of America.

Seriously, republicans, why don’t you argue with that? Why don’t you explain to these people exactly why it’s not the government’s responsibility to make sure your health and well-being, your very life, which through the military it protects from foreign enemies, is protected from the domestic threat of profit-driven medicine? Profit-driven medicine kills people—more people than died on September 11, 2001—so why shouldn’t the government do something about it? This is plain and obvious, and it’s high time the president started framing this debate in this way.

So, with all that said, and with all the hope I had that the president really would come out swinging and look like the leader he seemed to have the potential to be during the campaign, I simply can’t and won’t delude myself into believing that this speech will make any real and substantive difference in the shape of the legislation that will finally be made law. To be fair, I think it went a long way in increasing support for reform over all, but what kind of reform will we get?

At the very least, it will be illegal for insurance companies to exclude people for pre-existing conditions and to deny necessary treatments to those already insured. These kinds of laws are long since overdue, and I would be happy if congress merely voted to pass these measures without any of the other legislation being proposed, as I expect about 99% of Americans would as well (the remaining 1% being those with a vested financial interest in health insurance industry profits). Making it illegal for companies to let their clients die for the sake of profit is the very least that the government can do for its people in this area.

But what of the remaining issues? How do we keep costs down and the health insurance companies honest? Well, the only real way to do this (since we’ve already given up on a single-payer system) is with a public option, a government-run insurance program that can compete with the private industries and offer an alternative both for those who can’t afford private insurance and those who, like me, would rather die than let these evil companies have a nickel of our hard-earned money. The public option is more than a great way to inject real competition into the insurance market—it is an option of conscience for those who are unwilling to subsidize the private insurance industry, which we see as morally equivalent to the mafia. So what does the president have to say about the public option?

Now, I have no interest in putting insurance companies out of business. They provide a legitimate service, and employ a lot of our friends and neighbors. I just want to hold them accountable. And the insurance reforms that I’ve already mentioned would do just that. But an additional step we can take to keep insurance companies honest is by making a not-for-profit public option available in the insurance exchange. Now, let me be clear. Let me be clear. It would only be an option for those who don’t have insurance. No one would be forced to choose it, and it would not impact those of you who already have insurance. In fact, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, we believe that less than 5 percent of Americans would sign up.

Right off the bat he affirms his fidelity to the insurance mafia by declaring that “they provide a legitimate service” and that he has no intention of putting them out of business. While I and many of my progressive friends feel that they provide no service whatsoever other than imposing the obstacle of a profit-motive between people and their health care, and while we would be more than happy to see these giants crumble to the ground and be replaced by one completely not-for-profit single-payer system, the president abandoned this idea long ago. And while my progressive friends and I felt that at the very least, the public option could be a step towards the single-payer system we desire in that the insurance companies wouldn’t be able to compete with a non-profit-driven entity, the president assures everyone that the option would be so weak and contain so many limitations as to constitute less than 5% of the insurance market. Hardly reassuring. But then he goes even further, and says in what I may one day look back on and regard as the moment I completely gave up on Obama:

Now, it is — it’s worth noting that a strong majority of Americans still favor a public insurance option of the sort I’ve proposed tonight. But its impact shouldn’t be exaggerated — by the left or the right or the media. It is only one part of my plan, and shouldn’t be used as a handy excuse for the usual Washington ideological battles. To my progressive friends, I would remind you that for decades, the driving idea behind reform has been to end insurance company abuses and make coverage available for those without it. The public option — the public option is only a means to that end — and we should remain open to other ideas that accomplish our ultimate goal. And to my Republican friends, I say that rather than making wild claims about a government takeover of health care, we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have.

There are two elements here, the first being that he warns his “progressive friends” (who probably won’t be his friends much longer) that the public option is merely one element of his plan and that it is, essentially, expendable. It is only a means to an end, he says, and if there are other ways to achieve this end he is open to them. Well, without strong competition from a not-for-profit entity, I just don’t see how the end of preventing the abuses of private for-profit insurance companies can possibly be achieved. As long as every player in the health care system is motivated by profit, there will be abuse. Whatever other laws and restrictions you might make, these companies will find a way around them, just as the Wall Street banks continue to find their way around whatever regulations they allow their bought-and-paid-for congressmen to impose on them.

The second element to this section is his message to his “Republican friends” (who have never been his friends at any point) that he still wants to work together. Now, perhaps this is good politics and it certainly appeals to all the moderates and centrists in his audience, but anyone who is paying any kind of attention knows that not one single Republican really wants to make a good-faith effort to work with the president to bring about meaningful reform that will help the American people. Obama has already compromised so heavily with those whose only objective has been to kill the bill and destroy his presidency that any willingness on his part, perceived or otherwise, to make any further compromise would be insane.

Finally, we come to the element of the plan mentioned even before the bit about the public option, the part of the plan that makes it far worse than even the fucked up non-system we have now, worse than what we’d get if there were no reform at all. Regarding the rising cost of health care he says:

It’s why those of us with health insurance are also paying a hidden and growing tax for those without it — about $1,000 per year that pays for somebody else’s emergency room and charitable care. And that’s why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance — just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.

Individual mandates. If you don’t have health insurance, you will be breaking the law, and you will have to pay a fine. Coupled with an obvious willingness to drop the public option, these two elements are the nightmare scenario for progressives, for those of us unwilling to subsidize the private health insurance mafia. If this is the shape of the plan that passes, it will force every American citizen to fork over a chunk of their hard-earned money to this evil mafia thus making them even stronger, and without competition from a public option to deal with the premium hikes, the denials of coverage, and every other nasty element that the profit-motive introduces into health care. It would be like Obama and the rest of our government forced every citizen to bend over and take it up the ass by Big Insurance. All in the name of “reform”, in the name of making life “better” for the American people.

It is the antithesis of the ideals and principles on which Obama ran, on which his supporters threw their weight behind him. We were excited to see an outsider candidate beat the odds and win the game, someone who really seemed like he might be on our side, someone at the helm of government who really believed in what government ought to be—not “so small you can drown it in a bathtub” but strong enough to serve as the people’s voice in this country dominated by corporate power. A government that took some of the wealth and power back from those corporations and kept the promise of America alive: that if you work hard, follow the rules, stay honest, and apply yourself to your goals that you could achieve a comfortable life in which you could spend most of your money as you choose and live free from the fear that you might lose everything just because of a downward turn in the stock market or a sudden injury or illness that could drive you bankrupt. The corporations have undermined America’s promise and representative government is the only way, short of full-blown torch-and-pitchfork revolution, that has any potential to restore it.

Obama talks a great game, and his rhetoric is exactly the kind of rhetoric I would want from an American president—it’s the reason I supported his candidacy in the first place. But if it turns out that this rhetoric is pure political calculation, that it’s only purpose was to strengthen support among the American people for a bill that will actually serve to their own detriment, than we ought to throw Obama to the wolves and start to once again think seriously about revolution.

Obama’s Historic Cairo Speech

June 6th, 2009 No comments

For awhile now I’ve been meaning to write about my thoughts on Obama now that we’re a few months into his presidency and we now have a much clearer picture of what kind of president he’ll be. Presidents often step back from or abandon many of the promises made or sentiments expressed on the campaign trail, and Obama has been no exception. During the campaign, he called for reform of Wall Street, but his appointment of Tim Geithner to the post of treasury secretary has ensured that no significant change will really occur, and that the boom/bust economic cycle of Ronald Reagan will continue to make the wealthy wealthier and the middle class poorer. During the campaign, he said he would end the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy but hasn’t lifted a finger to make that change even though as commander-in-chief he could easily issue a standing order that the policy is not to be enforced until legislation to overturn it goes through Congress. During the campaign, he called for openness and transparency in government, but he won’t allow the release of more photos from American prisons depicting torture.

And most grievously of all, during the campaign he called for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and a renewed commitment to the rule of law with regards to the treatment of POWs, but his actions have been nothing more than a P.R. campaign. Guantanamo is a symbol of America’s violation of human rights, and by closing it Obama is certainly winning points around the world, but meanwhile the detention centre at Bagram Airforce Base, which is basically just Gitmo in another time-zone, will remain open. Not only that, but for some of the prisoners still at Guantanamo, those who fall into that odd category of definitely dangerous but unable to be convicted due to lack of evidence (or inadmissible evidence because it was obtained through torture), Obama is willing to keep them detained indefinitely without a trial, lest he let them go and they attack Americans. I understand perfectly well why he doesn’t want to let any dangerous detainees go even if the law demands it—a terrorist attack by a former Gitmo detainee released by Obama is the Republican party’s wettest of wet dreams, and Obama doesn’t want to take that political risk. But by refusing to take the risk, by endorsing a policy of preventive detention, he is not only blatantly violating his oath to defend the Constitution, but he is affirming the worst of the worst of Bush’s sins—of claiming for the President the rights of a despot to hold anyone in prison for any amount of time for any reason, thus rolling the progress of human rights back several centuries. When news of this came out, I was just about ready to give up hope entirely, to abandon my already tepid support of Obama and dismiss him as just another bullshit hypocrite American president, superior to Bush only in terms of style while effectively identical in substance.

Then I watched the speech he gave in Cairo. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by it. In fact, I expected to be somewhat bored by it as I’ve often been while watching other speeches he’s given on issues such as the economy. But this speech was not only completely riveting from beginning to end (foreign policy is just inherently far more interesting to me than economics anyway), but it was actually downright inspiring. For someone who spends a great deal of time dwelling on the question of whether humanity will ultimately destroy itself or come together in common interest, to witness this moment in history actually gave me some hope that maybe, just maybe, it will be the latter.

Before explaining myself, I want to address the most basic and common objection I’ve been reading online, both from columnists and journalists reporting on the reactions of Muslims around the world, which is that it may have been a nice speech but words ultimately mean nothing without the actions to back it up. Of course, it is completely true that actions are more important than words, but in many cases words do matter, especially when spoken by the most powerful man in the world. Bush’s words certainly mattered when he called the Global War on Terror a “crusade”, describing it as a “clash of civilizations”. That set the tone for 7 years of jihad, of violent Islamic radicals easily recruiting angry young men into their ranks to fight a Holy War against the Evil American empire, led by a man who, in his own words, was on a “crusade” against Islamic civilisation.

But now along comes Barack Hussein Obama with his middle name and his background of life experience within the Muslim world, saying:

No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly the things we hold in our hearts, and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Obama understands that this is only a speech, and that he can’t expect the Muslim world to just forget and forgive America’s transgressions just because the president quotes the Koran a few times. That’s why I don’t think it’s fair to criticise the speech because it was only words—of course it was only words: it was a speech. The goal was nothing more than to set a new tone, to open up a dialogue between the current administration and the Muslim world, and to demonstrate to Muslims around the world that just as Islam is not the stereotype of a violent fanatical religious cult bent of the destruction of all things good and decent, nor is the United States the stereotype of an evil empire bent on world dominance and the elimination of all local cultures and traditions. Those who fault Obama for merely talking about improving the relationship between East and West are missing the whole point—in order to improve the relationship you have to start by talking.

And as the speech demonstrated, Obama is willing to talk. He raised every major issue, every “source of tension” between America and the Islamic world, when most American presidents wouldn’t go near them—at least not until near the end of their second term. Obama took the biggest risk of his presidency so far by addressing these points: by announcing his positions openly in front of the world as opposed to keeping them behind closed doors, he opens himself up to be measured by history in terms of how well he lives up to the promises he made and the sentiments he expressed. Just as Americans are measuring him in terms of how his actions as president measure up to his words on the campaign trail, the world will ultimately measure him in terms of how his actions in the Middle East measure up to the aspirations he expressed in this speech.

I will now comment on each issue he raised, starting with the most obvious obstacle standing in the way of peace—violent extremism:

America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security. Because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

This is essentially Obama’s explanation for America’s current actions in the Middle East, and it’s one that most reasonable Muslims can probably accept. Personally, I don’t believe that our presence in Afghanistan is making us safer, but I don’t have all the facts so I don’t know. And while I believe that the first duty of the President is to protect the Constitution (it was Bush who expressed the notion that the president’s primary responsibility was the safety of the American people), this at least serves as a legitimate, consensus-seeking explanation for our actions, as opposed to Bush’s “You’re either with us or against us” rhetoric.

Obama also drew a distinction between Afghanistan as a war of necessity and Iraq as a war of choice. And again, while I believe that Afghanistan was also a war of choice, this is something I’m glad to hear our president say to the Muslim world. He also repeated his commitment to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by 2012, thus inviting himself to be held accountable by the Muslim world and by history if he fails to live up to this pledge.

Secondly, Obama turned to the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, first ensuring he maintain the support of the Jewish community by invoking the Holocaust and imploring Muslims to stop blindly hating Jews, but then bravely expressing the other point of view:

It is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

As someone far more sympathetic to the Palestinians than the Israelis, I was extremely happy to hear the American president speak like this, and not to shy away from the word “occupation” when describing Israel’s actions. But it’s not the words themselves that fill me with hope, it’s the simple fact that he’s saying them now, at the beginning of his presidency, while most would wait until nearing the end of their second term to go near this problem, lest they invite historical judgment based on their success or failure in brining peace to middle east. Because the odds are so overwhelmingly tilted towards failure, the president has demonstrated extreme testicular fortitude by jumping right in at the beginning of his presidency, basically saying to the world, “I take responsibility for this—if peace between Israel and Palestine fails during my presidency, I will own that failure.”

Obama spoke directly to the perpetrators of violence on both ends, and delivered my favourite line of the speech when he said:

It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

It is one of the most simple, most obvious, and yet most often ignored truths in history—violence against innocents is never justified. No matter how noble your cause, if you seek to advance it through means like firing rockets indiscriminately, kidnapping people and chopping off their heads, throwing acid on the faces of little schoolgirls, or let’s say, holding people in prison indefinitely without the opportunity to stand trial, you have sacrificed your moral authority and your side no longer has any more of a right to prevail than your enemies. More than anything else he said, this part of Obama’s message must be taken to heart by everyone involved in these conflicts, including Obama himself.

Obama continued by addressing nuclear weapons, explaining why it would be dangerous for the region and the entire world if Iran acquired such a weapon and thus began an arms race in this volatile region, and confronted head-on the charge of hypocrisy that immediately follows from such a claim. He renewed America’s commitment to elimination all nuclear weapons including its own, thus further inviting history to judge him based on how well he lives up to this pledge.

One of the most eloquent passages came during his discussion of democracy. After acknowledging the controversy over America’s imposing of democracy in Iraq by clearly stating that no system of government can or should be imposed on a nation by any other, he said:

That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.

This is spoken with humility and respect, and is exactly the kind of thing I would want my president to say on behalf of myself and all of the American people. He does not insist that American-style democracy should be adopted by everyone, but only expresses the conviction that we all share the belief that people ought to have a say in the way they are governed, and should be free as possible to speak their mind and to live as they choose. Again, Obama would do well to listen to his own words when it comes to issues such as gay marriage or Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, as even in America there are groups of people who still don’t have the freedom to live as they choose.

The fifth issue Obama addresses is religious freedom, saying little more than that everyone ought to be free to believe as they choose. Of course I agree, but I don’t think Obama goes far enough in condemning religious intolerance. Indeed, he was much more generous to the Islamic faith in general than I would be—there are just as many Koranic verses condoning violence and intolerance as there are supporting peace and understanding—but I’m not dumb enough to expect or to hope that the American president get into any kind of theological debate. Had Obama said anything that might have been perceived as the least bit critical of Islam as a religious faith, his entire goal in reaching out to the Muslim world have been undermined. It’s a shame that this is the case, and it underscores how difficult it will be to work with nations and governments still adhering to such a stringent belief system, but Obama said only as much as he could say on the subject.

Obama also took a lot of criticism by not going far enough in talking about his sixth point—women’s rights. He merely pointed out that our daughters have just as much to contribute to society as our sons, and that countries where woman are well-educated are far more prosperous than those where they are oppressed. Of course it would have been a lot more satisfying had he strongly condemned this oppression, but Obama knows that when it comes to women’s rights issues, he must tread very carefully or he will alienate an entire segment of the Muslim population that would perceive his denouncement of their patriarchal beliefs as an attack on their religion and culture. So as much as I may despise the way women are treated in these cultures, I must accept the need for the president not to press this point too hard too early on.

Obama’s final point had to do with globalisation, and I believe he once again sent exactly the right message:

I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and changing communities. In all nations – including my own – this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we will lose of control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities – those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

This is exactly the fear we all have about globalisation, and an issue I will no doubt witness firsthand as I travel the world during these changing times. How much uniqueness of culture will be retained from country to country? Will travelling the world feel less and less like seeing different and exotic lands and more and more like seeing only different departments of the same worldwide multinational corporate empire? It’s already the case that you can’t go anywhere that doesn’t have a McDonald’s, and that saddens me, but it would be nice to believe Obama’s assertion that “There need not be contradiction between development and tradition.” We’re still at the relative beginning of this period of worldwide coming-together, and its ultimate effects on local cultures and traditions remains to be seen.

In closing his speech, Obama returns to the loftly, high-minded rhetoric he is so famous for, the kind of rhetoric that gave me hope in his presidency in the first place. Returning to the question of whether there is any chance for the long-term survival of humanity, I remember Bush’s warning about the “axis of evil” and how it seemed to me at the time that catastrophic destruction was inevitable. Now I sit and watch the American president standing in front of the world and using rhetoric that I thought was only used by high-minded idealists such as myself, imploring the world to think about itself in from a much broader point-of-view, for humans to think of themselves as part of a collective much greater than all of us individually:

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort – a sustained effort – to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It is easier to start wars than to end them. It is easier to blame others than to look inward; to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There is also one rule that lies at the heart of every religion – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This truth transcends nations and peoples – a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian, or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the heart of billions. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

As a child I imagined a president who would unite the world in peace. The prologue to my book describes such a man, but even in my book I only imagined he would appear on the world stage after some kind of disastrous third world war and many centuries of chaos. But to see Obama standing there and using these words, I could not help but think that perhaps there is a chance for us to avoid that catastrophe and start coming together in peace right now, at this moment in history.

The essence of Obama’s message to the rest of the world is simply this: Grow up. Abandon your juvenile beliefs and your petty grudges. Think about the long-term consequences of your actions. Understand that you are responsible for the people lower than you in the social or political power structure, and operate with their interests in mind instead of just your own. Most importantly, consider the world you are leaving behind for your children, and how if you are unwilling to put the past behind you and extend an open hand to those that have offended you in the past, you are dooming your children to repeat the cycle of violence that you are perpetuating.

Finally, I will end with a reflection on Obama’s pronouncement that the heart of every religion, the Golden Rule, is essentially a “faith in other people”. He did not say “faith in a higher power” and this I believe is probably the most significant philosophical proposition in his speech. I’ve read no commentary about that particular line so it’s safe to say that its significance was missed by the media, and I believe more attention should be paid to it.

Faith in a higher power entails a lack of responsibility on our part to do any of the things Obama calls on us to do. If Allah demands the destruction of Israel, that’s the end of the story. If God intends to ends the world in fire and brimstone and save Christians alone, it’s pointless to even try to extend an olive branch. Faith in a higher power leads to a concern only for those in your circle, whether it’s your family, your local community, your nation, or your religion. When you place your faith in a higher power, your central purpose in life is to do whatever you believe is necessary to gain the favour of that higher power, often at the expense of those you belief are in disfavour. Faith in a higher power is anathema to the success of humanity.

Faith in other people, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. A faith in other people entails an unspoken agreement among all human beings to take responsibility for the welfare of all others. Whether or not God exists, it is up to us to determine the course of our own destiny. We must do what we can within our own sphere of influence to make the world a more just and peaceful place, and have faith that others are doing the same thing within their own spheres. Faith in other people is essential to the success of humanity. Without it, we’re only sitting back and waiting for civilisation to destroy itself. If we don’t believe we have the ability to overcome the challenges we face, that we don’t have the capacity to tear down the walls that divide us and embrace our common interests, then we never will.

So it remains to be seen whether Obama’s words will have a real effect on the attitudes of the rest of the world towards the United States and towards humanity in general. I am not so starry-eyed and naïve that I believe there is any strong likelihood of success, of any realisation of Obama’s vision of “a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected” but I do appreciate that the most powerful man in the world is expressing such a vision. No other candidate in the 2008 race would have been so bold.

As I often say, we are standing at the most crucial hinge moment in human history, a time period from which we will either spiral into complete economic, environmental, and violent disaster, or rise to meet the challenges we face and reshape humanity under the principles of freedom, sustainability, and peace. Because those who actually hold power tend to have little interest in these principles, I believe our chances are slim. However, because the masses of people throughout the world do tend to believe in these principles, and because people like Barack Obama are out there promoting them, I no longer believe we are inevitably doomed. As much as I despise some of the choices he has made since entering office, I think that in the long-term when we look back at the Obama administration and consider the speech he gave this week in Cairo, we may just see that he was in fact the right man with the right message at the right time.