City of Brass

City of Brass

Why I am supporting Barack Obama

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
  • I am a liberal. That is to say, I believe that in addition to the tyranny of governments, there also the tyrannies of economics, of prejudice, and of religion. I believe that Liberalism is the route by which the indovidual is empowered to fight back against these oppressive forces and more importantly, take ownership of them and channel them.
  • I am a pragmatic liberal interventionist. I believe that we have both a moral duty and a self-interest in using our national power – military and economic and social – to effect change around the world, to stop genocides and to encourage (but not impose) democracy’s flowering.
  • I am an American patriot, and I believe that what makes this nation great is the fact that unlike almost every other nation in the history of the world, literally anyone can come here, and succeed. Obama is living proof. This is an immigrant nation and that is why our identity perseveres above and beyond race and religion.
  • I believe that Obama’s solution to health care, while not perfect, goes in the right direction (PDF), with the most critical pieces being true universal coverage, and no denial for pre-existing conditions. McCain’s central promise of a $5,000 tax cut is useless given that health care premiums cost $12,000 and up.
  • I believe that the tactical conflict in Iraq is winding down, and as such it is time to reorient on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, where we are losing the strategic war.The counter-insurgency methods that worked well in Iraq do not apply to Waziristan. Obama’s selection of Biden was absolutely superlative in this regard, since few Senators have as much knowledge of Afghanstan and Pakistan.
  • I believe that energy independence is the central challenge of our century ahead, with all other major issues – security, economy, environment – tied to it in a fundamental way.McCain talks a great game on supporting alternate energy sources but in 26 years in the Senate, he’s shown no leadership on the issue – and in fact been AWOL on it this year. And “drill baby drill” sloganeering betrays a fossil-fuel centric worldview that does not bode well for understanding how to proceed forward.
  • Obama has a genuine record of reform-minded legislation in the Illinois legislature and in the US Senate. I’ve looked at the record in detail and it belies the rhetoric of the right that he’s done little. Obama’s record is in fact superlative on reform.
  • I cannot countenance how McCain has changed from a true maverick candidate I’d have voted for over Gore in 2000 to the Republicanist loyalist in 2008 that he has become – with dozens of flip flops along the way. This isn’t the McCain I knew.
  • I believe that the Republican party orthodoxy is dangerously wrong with respect to science, with the prevalent orthodoxy completely wrong on climate change, evolution, and stem cells, to name the major issues. The GOP dogma on these issues seems to be motivated by political ideology rather than any commitment to scientific method.
  • I consider the general Republican disdain towards the judiciary, and the alarming increase in executive power at the expense of the other branches of government (including outright dismantling of the traditional checks and balances), poses a fundamental structural threat to our American government. Since 9/11, the GOP has embraced an ideological, authoritarian, and crony-capitalist approach to government that is at odds with the duty of governing well, as the response to Hurricane Katrina woefully illustrated.
  • I am tired of red-state-blue-state politics. It is time to go purple. Obama may be a liberal, but his policies for the middle class and the nation are deep-hued purple indeed.

These are the major issues for me, as best as I can recall. Some of these are ideological, others a critique of John McCain on the merits of his proposals, and others a dissatisfaction and anger at the evolution of the Republican Party as a whole. If you agree with me that Barack Obama is the change we need, then join me in making a small contribution to his campaign:

It’s time to step up.

Yom Kippur

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for the Jewish people. Yom Kippur is a sacred day in many respects, and has great relevance for Islam – after all, it was the Prophet Moses AS who initiated the observance of fasting on Yom Kippur. Sunni tradition holds that the Prophet SAW, on arriving in Medina in 622, found that the Jews in residence there were fasting in observance of Yom Kippur, and instructed muslims to observe the fast that day as well – which was 10th Muharram, or Ashura, according to the Hijri calendar. I am actually rather curious about that, it should be a simple calculation to verify sometime. Of course, in the Shi’a tradition Ashura is the day of martyrdom of Imam Husain AS, and so fasting on that day is done in remembrance and grief – the acknowledgment that Husain AS sacrificed himself for the sake of Islam. Thus, Yom Kippur carries an echo of atonement for Shi’a muslims as well. The deeper you dig into these kinds of things, the more parallels emerge, as should be expected since the prophets of Judaism and Christianity are also the prophets of Islam. 

Obama McCain Debate II: the best question

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

I confess that I wasn’t really watching the debate because I had any interest in what McCain would say. I already know who I am voting for and I already know where McCain stands on all the issues, except for his astonishing mortgage bailout plan, about which the less said, the better. I really wanted to get a better sense for the general governing philosophy for an Obama administration. On that score, the bulk of the debate was a rehash of Obama’s technocratic campaign, but this exchange (from the transcript) really stood out in my mind and was the highlight of the debate.

Brokaw: Sen. McCain, for you, we have our first question from the Internet
tonight. A child of the Depression, 78-year-old Fiorra from Chicago.

Since World War II, we have never been asked to sacrifice anything to
help our country, except the blood of our heroic men and women. As
president, what sacrifices — sacrifices will you ask every American to
make to help restore the American dream and to get out of the economic
morass that we’re now in?

McCain: [spending cuts, entitlements, earmarks, blah blah blah. Defense? ooookay.]

Obama: You know, a lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11
and where you were on that day and, you know, how all of the country
was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not
only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country.

And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the
opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American
people, he said, “Go out and shop.”

That wasn’t the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for.

And so it’s important to understand that the — I think the American
people are hungry for the kind of leadership that is going to tackle
these problems not just in government, but outside of government.

And let’s take the example of energy, which we already spoke about.
There is going to be the need for each and every one of us to start
thinking about how we use energy.

I believe in the need for
increased oil production. We’re going to have to explore new ways to
get more oil, and that includes offshore drilling. It includes telling
the oil companies, that currently have 68 million acres that they’re
not using, that either you use them or you lose them.

We’re going to have to develop clean coal technology and safe ways to store nuclear energy.

But each and every one of us can start thinking about how can we save
energy in our homes, in our buildings. And one of the things I want to
do is make sure that we’re providing incentives so that you can buy a
fuel efficient car that’s made right here in the United States of
America, not in Japan or South Korea, making sure that you are able to
weatherize your home or make your business more fuel efficient.

And that’s going to require effort from each and every one of us.

And the last point I just want to make. I think the young people of
America are especially interested in how they can serve, and that’s one
of the reasons why I’m interested in doubling the Peace Corps, making
sure that we are creating a volunteer corps all across this country
that can be involved in their community, involved in military service,
so that military families and our troops are not the only ones bearing
the burden of renewing America.

That’s something that all of us have to be involved with and that requires some leadership from Washington.

I can’t overstate the importance of this. Most serious analysts have long observed that energy lies at the crossroads of most of our 21st-century challenges: national security, environment, economy, and arguably liberty itself, since the track record of oil-producing nations in that regards has not exactly been great (OPEC stands as an exception to Fareed Zakaria’s general observation that political liberalism increases with per-capita GDP in his excellent book, The Future of Freedom). So not only did Obama answer the question, but he answered it in the right context – Americans should be asked for sacrifice, but not for something of minor importance. This is the essence of leadership – to draw people forward and lead them in positive action, not just treat the American public as passive entities along for the ride.

Interestingly, Obama’s answer is fundamentally conservative. First, it is literally conservative by definition – since we are being asked to conserve energy for our own collective sake. Politically, Obama’s answer is conservative because it places the responsibility for action directly upon the individual – McCain mentioned numerous times how great and resourceful we are as a people, but Obama here is actually paying more than lip service to that idea. Fundamentally, the concept of national service is also conservative – a protection and contribution to the home and hearth, an “energy militia” of citizenry in a sense. This is critical in fostering that sense of ownership that a citizen should feel at a gut level towards not the “government” but the society and nation.

Related – Daniel Larison’s extensive discussion on “patriotism” vs “nationalism“. It’s not an arbitrary distinction.

Strange twist in the Dayton incident

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

There’s been a followup in the Dayton mosque incident, with the police now revealing that the can of pepper spray was found inside the mosque, not nearby:

The can of pepper spray found four days after someone sprayed a
10-year-old girl in the face at a local mosque was discovered inside
the mosque, a Dayton police lieutenant said.

The girl said she was sprayed about 9:40 p.m. Sept. 26 through an
open basement window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, Lt. John
Huber said.

The girl told police one of two men outside the basement window
sprayed her with something from a white can with a red top as she
watched children whose parents and relatives had gathered at the mosque
to celebrate Ramadan.

A can of pepper spray was found Sept. 30 in another room in the
basement inside a red and white-striped bag, Huber said. He said it was
initially reported to him that the can was found near the mosque, but
he later learned it was inside the mosque.

The article also mentions that the police interviewed a ten-year old boy in relation to the incident. It’s possible that this wasn’t an attack at all, but an accident between children. If that’s the case, then obviously the Obsession mass-mailing was not relevant to the incident at hand (though hardly exculpatory for the more serious critique of Obsession, that the movie creates a climate of hate and mistrust towards ordinary muslim-Americans. There’s no white-washing the cynical evil intent of the movie and its cowardly, shadowy backers).

I hope that this incident turns out to have been nothing more than an accident and not a hate crime at all. That would be really, really great news indeed.

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