Those who opposed the federal government's bank bailouts for rigid ideological reasons -- because they hate government involvement in the economy -- may have to eat their words: the U.S. stands to make $8 billion in less than two years off of its bailout of Citigroup, the Washington Post reports.
A few of my American friends and relatives weren't too pleased with this article I wrote for Today's Zaman, "Funny Things Americans Say About Turkey" because it revealed Americans' ignorance of world geography and culture. I tried to reassure them that this wasn't so much a reflection on them as it is a reflection on a longstanding American tradition. The United States is larger than any other countries in land mass except Russia, Canada, and China, and far more unified in language than they are. Americans feel little need to know what's going on in the rest of the world. After all, Turkey, for example, is just the size of Texas combined with Massachusetts. "How important could it be compared to the mighty US?" ethnocentric Americans might ask. "We have 48 other states in addition to Texas and Massachusetts."
The problem with our America-centric outlook is that we tend to stumble into foreign entanglements without knowing what kind of mess we're getting into. The Iraq War, President Bush and his advisors told us, would last a few months and not cost much. Years later, we're still hoping for a way out that will have positive results. Whatever the outcome, there is little doubt that Americans were blindsided by their lack of knowledge of Iraq.
Isolationism -- "America First" and "Fortress America" -- is a continuing theme of American political history. The US scores NEXT TO LAST in a National Geographic survey of world geography knowledge. See these disturbing articles:
I never studied world history as a required course in school. What I've learned has, until recently, come from what I have picked up on my own. At a ripe old age, I'm filling in the gaps in my world history knowledge as I teach and tutor my son in seventh grade world history. Alas, his peers back in the states are not taking world history, but North Carolina history, something he'll have to learn later, I guess, when we return to North Carolina.
CBS News poll illuminates the public relations challenge facing President Obama and the Democrats this year. Asked whether they approved of the health care legislation, just 42 percent say they do. However, this was up from 37 percent support before Congress passed the legislation. To preserve the Democrats' congressional majority, the percentage of people supporting the legislation probably needs to rise above 50 percent.
Nate Silver of FiveThirty Eight.com pointed out in a December analysis that 12 percent of the opposition to the health care reform legislation came from the left, while 31% of voters said the bill was about right. If the left unites behind the legislation, that would put support at 43%. About 20% of voters then were undecided or unsure, while 35%, the Republican base, said it went too far. So the challenge for both parties is persuading the undecideds.
If the 20% of undecideds split evenly, that puts support for health care reform at 53%, approximately the percentage by which Obama won the presidency and won his 60-seat majority in the Senate. So the challenge for Obama and the Democrats is to shore up and keep the support they received in the 2008 election.That's a special challenge in an off-year election where people are less engaged and tend not to vote than in presidential years. Historically, the people who are most motivated to vote in off-year elections are angry opponents of the president, whoever he is.
Newsweek's Howard Fineman interprets Rasmussen and Gallup Polls on health care reform as bad news for Obama and the Democrats, though they essentially track the same as the other polls. Perhaps Obama, the Democrats, public relations and political advertising firms will work together to reassure undecided voters, neutralize the opposition and allay fears. A significant plurality or majority of Americans are afraid the new health care law will:
harm the U.S. economy (44–34 percent).
harm the overall quality of health care in the U.S. (55–29 percent),
Health care reform, many people fear, will adversely affect
"the health-care coverage you and your family receive" (34–24 percent);
"the quality of health care you and your family receive" (35–21 percent); and
the "costs you and your family pay for health care" (50–21 percent).
It will be interesting to see if, with concerted effort, these negative numbers can move before the November, 2010 midterm elections. The 35 percent (Republican base) who are vehemently opposed to the legislation will never be persuaded. But some strategically placed messages on how the health care legislation
helps the U.S. economy;
improves the overall quality of health care in the U.S.;
reduces the federal balance sheet;
improves the health care coverage you and your family receive;
positively affects the quality of health care you and your family receive; and
either reduces or doesn't affect the cost of health care for you and your family
In an article for Today's Zaman called "Individualism Vs. the All for One and One for All Approach," I compared the Turkish sense of collectivism to American individualism. I concluded: "The Turks could teach us Americans a thing or two about the 'all for one, and one for all' approach to living. Or maybe, as a result of the Great Recession, Americans are having to reclaim such values for themselves."
Indeed, new census data proves my hunch about American behavior quite correct -- 16 percent of Americans lived in multi-generational households in 2009, compared to only 12 percent in 1980. Report Finds Shift Toward Extended Families (NYT). Of special interest are the comments from readers.
My friend Bruce Johnson offers his reaction to the passage of health care reform legislation:
"The wonder I feel is easy, yet ease is a cause for wonder," T. S. Eliot wrote in "Little Gidding," the last of his "Four Quartets." I don't know if that exactly expresses it, or if it's more that I was disappointed so many times before I still can't quite believe it happened . . . In any event my feelings are more of relief than of the joy that I might have anticipated.
Finally. After given up for dead so many times. The dream that was the central goal of progressives for almost half a century has become a reality. The racial slurs yelled at John Lewis, the spitting on another black congressman, the gay slurs at Barney Frank, even the incomprehensible shout of "baby killer!" to staunchly pro-life Bart Stupak, the hero of both getting the bill passed AND ensuring that it will continue to protect unborn life, yelled out by a fellow congressman - none of that can change the fact, the legislation PASSED.
Like you, I too grew very weary of the posturing. There was one point where I almost gave up on Democrats -- when some of them would admit they were putting up a bill with no chance of being passed in the hopes of scoring points in the next election. Of course, the posturing from the GOP over the past year has been amazing.
I agree with you that the bill isn't perfect but it is a HUGE improvement. And I think Axelrod has it right. If the Republicans want to run on repeal, "we welcome that battle."
About the only provision that kicks in IMMEDIATELY is that kids with pre-existing conditions can't be denied medical coverage. I'd love to see some guy say he wants THAT repealed. Personally, I agree with the President - I think once people see it in practice, they'll see that all the Chicken Little types like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin who've gone around screaming "the sky is falling, the Commies are coming!" are going to be seen as having been just ridiculous. The sky isn't going to fall, America won't go communist, and people will see at least some improvements.
Check out David Brooks' piece, "The Dems Rejoice" in The NY Times. It was anti-Dem but in as thoughtful a way as you could imagine - a guy who grew up "with a poster of Hubert Humphrey over my bed" writing how watching the Dems in the health care debate felt like watching his family reunion, but why he doesn't feel he fits in the family any more. But he had a half-way wistful, regretful way of saying it, and he admitted he still admires Democratic idealism and passion for fairness and social justice.
I reported on health care policy for 12 years -- including the 1993-1994 Clinton health care reform plan -- but got frustrated by all the partisan posturing, windbaggery and lack of action to correct obvious flaws in the system. I could have built a huge bonfire from the reams of proposals and counter-proposals I collected that never went anywhere.
But the next 10 years, until 2020, are going to be very interesting times to be a health care reporter. There will be so much to report on as the health care system adapts (or doesn't adapt) to the historic legislation passed by the 111th Congress and signed into law by President Obama.
Republicans are mounting a massive public relations campaign to inflame voters and portray the legislation as disastrous. Their hope is to win back control of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections. But even if they do, chances of repealing the most popular provisions of the law are highly unlikely. Especially if Democrats mount a counter-campaign that persuades a majority of the public that the legislation passed represents real progress, and an increase in their personal security.
Of course few things in life are absolutely certain, and the legislation is far from perfect. Whether proponents' best hopes about the new law are realized remains to be seen. Opponents have a lot of complaints, which they will be pursuing in the courts, at the ballot box and in future Congresses. But for now, it's good to celebrate the triumph of action over inaction, after 100 years of proposals that went nowhere.
Here are some of the provisions of the new law, as proponents see it:
I made this video for my students who are learning English. I am an American based in Kayseri, Turkey, and frequently traveling the region.
Before tourists even step off the bus at the pyramids in Giza, Egypt, outrageously aggressive vendors are lying in wait for them, offering "gifts" with which they "welcome" you to the pyramids. They place headscarves on your head and then demand a "small token" such as "$20 or $30 dollars, 20 or 30 Euro" for their hospitality. No thanks. They play a "cat and mouse" game with the authorities at Giza. Despite their obnoxious distraction, the pyramids were awesome. I hope I captured the fun of the visit in this video.
Remember the 1980s hit, "Can You Walk Like An Egyptian"? It provided some inspiration for this video. Here's Michael Jackson dancing to it (embedding disabled), and here's the original music video featuring the Bangles:
After a visit to Rome, I noted the parallels between the U.S. and ancient Rome, and how we Americans would be darn lucky to match "the glory that was Rome." In addition, high unemployment in America for the long term sparks economic pessimism and raises questions about whether America's best days are behind it. But Piers Brendon, author of "The Decline and Fall of the British Empire," offers an optimistic assessment of America's future. Brandon, in a New York Times article, says America is in a far superior position to ancient Rome in its ability to maintain its world leadership because its economy is far more diversified: "The Roman economy depended on agriculture whereas the United States has an enormous industrial base," Brandon writes. The U.S. produces "nearly a quarter of the world’s manufactured goods, and dominates the relatively new invention of the service economy." Unlike Rome, America is constitutionally stable and not currently vulnerable to internal strife. Militarily, Rome was overrun by barbarians, but America's military remains powerful around the world. "It is hard to visualize an attack on America as devastating as that inflicted by Vandals, Goths and Huns on Rome," Brendon writes.
Unlike the Roman empire, the British empire, or other relatively small countries that once had empires of one kind or another, the American empire is founded on a huge and bountiful continent bordering two oceans.
To avoid over-extending itself, America needs only to reduce its hard military commitments to make them more compatible with its resources, and rely more on soft power, diplomatic and economic strength, Brendon writes.
Far more important than grasping tightly on the trappings of empire and geopolitical power -- manipulating other nations like pawns on a chess board -- Brandon believes Americans should strive to maintain national self-esteem the way the Brits have done, by perpetuating “ 'the imperishable empire' of their arts and their morals, their literature and their laws."