Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Daily Strike-6/4/09-The Cairo Speech

Good evening and welcome to the Daily Strike, on what might go down as a historic day in the Obama presidency. Let's give you the rundown.

CAIRO SPEECH: The President gave a groundbreaking speech today, as promised, in a major Muslim capital. All serious analysis of the speech indicates that it was both groundbreaking in scope and vital to restarting our relationship with the Muslim world. For those of you who have not seen the speech, I highly recommend watching or reading the transcript.

In the speech, Obama touched on a wide range of subjects. He assured listeners that the United States is not at war with Islam. In fact, he said that Islam isn't the cause of extremism (a word Obama repeated several times), but rather an important part of seeking peace. He also talked about a new world of inter-depency, where it is necessary to seek common ground, citing passages in the Koran and Bible that address this theme. I particularly enjoyed this excerpt on inter-depency:

"For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. And when innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings."

The crowd was very enthusiastic, giving Obama several standing ovations (although there was notable silence when Obama leveled some criticism against various entities in the Muslim world.) There were reports of people gathering in Arab capitals watching the speech. A few commentators said that this may be the most important international speech by an American President since Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech in Berlin.

In may ways, the speech was vintage Obama. He talked about exceedingly complex issues as if they were, well, complex. Despite what many right-wing critics, like Liz Cheney, might say, the speech did not constitute moral relativism. Obama was not saying that the behavior of the United States under Bush and Al Qaeda extremists are morally equivalent. Rather, the President maturely talked about America's past mistakes, as well as the danger of those who use violence in the name of Islam. He used similar language in talking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. While calling the Israeli-U.S. relationship as a special bond, he noted the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. I think one of the most important lasting effects of this speech, and others he has given is that the rest of the world may begin to realize that issues aren’t always black and white, and that frequently both sides in a conflict are wrong. Bloviating about how morally “right” your side ultimately accomplishes nothing and actually just encourages violent extremism . It’s important lesson to learn in one’s own life, especially in relationships. There are times that I’m convinced I’m right in an argument in my everyday life, but I force myself to stand in someone else's shoes. It has nothing to do with relativism. I still think there are fundamentally good and fundamentally bad things. It’s more about doing something that actually decreases conflict, and increases partnership.

As Chuck Todd and others have noted, it wasn't just the words that made the speech powerful. George W. Bush said similar things about finding common ground. It had as much to do about who Obama is, the hope he represents, his heritage etc. When push comes to shove, a speech in and of itself can not solve global conflict. As The Big Picture wisely points out, the speech needs to be followed by substantial action. The administration has been doing some good things, including putting pressure on the Israeli government to abandon settlements. But it must build on this speech to forge a new era of international cooperation.

STATESIDE: The President left Egypt after spending some time at the Pyramids, and then headed off to Germany. Therefore, the rest of today's news came from here in Washington. The House of Representatives was very busy today, passing a couple of substantial bills. The first is a bill to authorize spending for the Transportation Security Administration. This is the first authorization bill for the agency, which was created in the wake of 9/11. The bill contains some policy changes, as we mentioned the other day, but mostly sets parameters for funding, and enforcement mechanisms to make sure the money is spent wisely. The bill passed by a vote of 397-25. 5 Democrats voted against the bill, presumably because of civil liberties concerns. Prior to final passage, the House approved a silly Republican motion to recommit that would prevent Guantanamo inmates from flying on commercial airlines. As if there was a chance of that happening anyway. Most members didn't want an ad running against them saying the voted to give terrorists the right to fly. The motion passed 412-12. All no votes were from Democrats, with the lone exception of good old libertarian Ron Paul.

The House also approved two amendments. The first, proposed by Republican John Mica (FL), would require the Secretary of Transportation to start a pilot "flyer identification" program that would incorporate biometric identification technology. Democrats objected the amendment, saying that it would violate passenger's right to privacy, but they couldn't convince enough of their members to vote no. With the support of 42 moderate Democrats, the amendment passed narrowly 219-211. The second amendment, offered by Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT), which would prohibit airports from using whole body imaging machines as the primary screening device. This technology allows TSA workers to see you naked, basically. The amendment also stipulated that passengers should have the option of a "pat-down" inspection instead. The amendment passed 310-118, with opposition split among the two parties. So basically, they approved one amendment that sacrifices your civil liberties, and one that enhances them.

Next, the House moved on to a bill that gives four weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees. Current law prohibits companies from firing employees who go on maternity leave, but does not require employees to be paid during such absences. A similar bill passed the last Congress, but died in the Senate. Prospects would appear to be better this time around, though with the Senate schedule so packed, I wouldn't expect this bill to come up anytime soon. The bill passed the House by a vote of 254-158, with 1 member (Rep. Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio) voting present. As you would expect, most Republicans objected to a bill giving additional rights to workers. Only 24 Republicans supported the bill, while 5 Democrats voted no. The guilty Democrats were Reps. Kanjorski (PA), Kosmas (FL), Minnick (ID), Schrader (OR) and Stupak (MI). Besides Minnick, this isn't your standard "Blue Dog" list. I wonder why these mostly liberal Democrats opposed such a common-sense bill.

Prior to final passage, the House rejected a Republican motion to recommit 171-241. It also rejected a bad amendment from Rep. Issa (R-CA) that require employees to use accrued vacation time before taking paid parental leave. As if new parents don't deserve to keep their hard-earned vacation time! The amendment failed by a vote of 157-258.

THE SENATE: The Senate was supposed to consider various amendments to a bill that would put smoking regulation under the jurisdiction of the FDA. However, a dispute between John McCain and Harry Reid delayed action on the bill until next week. McCain put a procedural hold on the bill because he wanted to vote on an amendment that would allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. Reid insisted that the amendment was not germane to the matter at hand, and would not let the amendment come up for a vote. I don't get why Reid did this. Who cares if the amendment isn't germane? Senate rules don't require amendments to be germane. That's not the kind of amendment that would kill a bill either. It has bipartisan support, and would probably help lower drug prices. It seems like Reid is picking a pointless fight. It is still a bit babyish for McCain to hold up a bill for five days just to get an amendment considered. But that is how the Senate works, unfortunately. A vote on cloture on the tobacco bill will occur on Monday evening. The Senate will then consider various amendments, including a substitute from North Carolina Senators Burr (R) and Hagan (D) that significantly limits the scope of the bill. Not surprising from Senators from such a tobacco-rich state.

Whew. That's it for today. Join us tomorrow for the comment of the week! Have a good night

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