Tag Archives: Barack Obama

In Case You Missed It… President Obama Has Evolved

-Casey Klekas

On Thursday, February 28, the Obama Administration submitted a legal brief to the Supreme Court in favor of ruling California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

The Administration filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief insisting that Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A friend-of-the-court brief is an offering of case-bearing information to the court, which may be considered or thrown out. The brief also said that discrimination against same-sex couples deserves heightened scrutiny.

In effect, the Administration is siding with those who wish to overturn Proposition 8 and set a standard against similar laws across the country.

This seems to be another glimpse of the President’s “evolution” on the question of legalizing same-sex marriage. At one time he stood for traditional marriage, he but believed the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution, should be struck down. President Obama said this was an issue that should be handled at the state level.

This evolution was hurried along when in May 2012 Vice-President Joe Biden said at a press conference, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.”

This forced the President to publicly clarify his own views. On May 9, 2012 he said, “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.” Since then, the President hasn’t been shy about his views on same-sex marriage.

He was the first president in our history to mention gay rights in an inaugural address, saying, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Nine states plus the District of Columbia have already legalized same-sex marriage, including Maine, Maryland, and Washington, which were the first to do so as a result of popular vote. In those states, same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as are enjoyed by opposite-gender twosomes. This includes tax benefits, Social Security, and family medical leave protections.

The new move by the Obama Administration to file the friend-of-the-court brief is worth noting because the Administration was under no political obligation to get involved. The President could have simply let the two California couples who are appealing to the Supreme Court continue unaided by the White House in their fight to overturn Proposition 8. In a White House briefing on Friday, March 1, President Obama said the brief represented his Administration’s position on the matter, and that he wanted to help overturn something he thought unconstitutional and unfair.

In my opinion, the fact that we’re describing the issue as “marriage equality” rather than “gay” or “same-sex marriage” is of great value to the cause. The vocabulary of equality and fairness appeals to our national creed. Instead of using identity politics and demanding that special treatment be paid to a long-oppressed minority, the marriage equality movement has perhaps unconsciously enlisted public support by phrasing itself in moral terms rather than merely political ones. This is heartening news at a time when we need to be reminded of our country’s greatness. Most of our successful progressive movements have played a similar tune—a tune that shows the timeless dichotomy between the young and the old.

Image by JUZ © from http://www.flickr.com/photos/youthoughtyouhaditgood/8507055361/

What’s in a name? A Brief History of Pseudonyms

-Casey Klekas

I recently saw the documentary Searching for Sugar Man about a little-known American musician named Rodríguez. He made two albums in the early ‘70s which failed to summit the national stage, despite revealing a brilliant songwriter and talented musician. Somehow his music made the transatlantic journey to South Africa where, unbeknownst to Rodríguez, it became the soundtrack of the anti-Apartheid movement. His songs should have been Billboard hits in America, that much is clear. After the movie, my friends and I debated what we thought was the factor that kept him out of the spotlight. One suggested that a name like “Rodríguez” would have little chance of overcoming the widespread bigotry of many Americans in the early ‘70s. “What about Santana?” I quipped. Did I think a name-change would really have helped Rodríguez?

Had he stuck with his given name, would Robert Zimmerman be as successful as Bob Dylan? Would we still read a “Samuel Clemens” novel (better known as Mark Twain)? Would we care about a “winning,” tiger-blooded “Carlos Estéves”? (Hint, he made out with Ferris Bueller’s sister, Jeanie. He was in there for drugs.)

Many name changes are done for cosmetic effects, hoping to duck prejudice or simply to spice things up. Richie Valens, who gave us “La Bamba,” was encouraged to circumcise his family name, Valenzuela, for obvious reasons.

Joanne Rowling was told by publishers that many young boys would not read her first book if they knew it was written by a woman. She was encouraged to drop Joanne for two initials. Rowling had no middle name, so she used the “K” from her paternal grandmother, Kathleen Ada Bulgen Rowling.

If you happen to be in Oxfordshire, England, you might stumble across the grave of Eric Arthur Blair. The tombstone would give you no indication that the man under your feet also went by George Orwell.

Ringo Starr was Richard Starkey. Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay. “Tiger” is only a nickname that stuck for golfer Eldrick Tont Woods. Art Vandelay is George Costanza. Tom Riddle is Lord Voldemort.

Sometimes, things just sound better. “Robert Parker and Harry Longabaugh” doesn’t work like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu just isn’t as catchy as Mother Teresa.

The three names we still remember from the Russian Revolution—Trotsky, Stalin, Lenin—are all pseudonyms. Lev Bronshtein doesn’t have the same ring as Leon Trotsky.

Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. is known better to you as Snoop Dogg, Snoop Doggy Dogg, or Snoop Lion. Even Mitt Romney goes by his middle name. His first name is Willard.

But, whenever anyone suggests that so-and-so could never have made it to fame with their “real name,” I just think of the guy in the big house on Pennsylvania Ave. Here’s a list of the residents before him: Theodore, William, Woodrow, Warren, Calvin, Herbert, Franklin, Harry, Dwight, John, Lyndon, Richard, Gerald, Jimmy, Ronald, George Sr., Bill, and George Jr. Now it’s Barack (soon, Hillary?). The fact that Barack Hussein Obama does not go by Barry H. O’Bama is testament that it doesn’t matter much what you’re called, it matters more what you make of your name.

As Mr. Dylan said, “Some people—you’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

Image by Quinn Dombrowski from http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/4464205726/

In Case You Missed It… God asked to bless America, again

-Casey Klekas

I must have missed the performance of “God Bless America” during the 57th Presidential Inauguration, because it was the only thing absent from a full day of mixing religious rhetoric into political ceremony. Watching the inauguration, you would have thought we were living in a Christian nation, whatever that means. It seems God has a monopoly on our political ceremonies. I guess it’s natural that the main provider of rituals for life’s other great events—weddings and deaths—should be brought into governmental processions. The official theme of the day was, “Faith in America’s Future,” and was stressed by traditional invocations and benedictions, hands on bibles, and almighty welcomings. The question we should ask ourselves as citizens is how much use do we have for religious rhetoric in politics?

Whatever private consolation or strength a person gets from his or her religion is none of my business. On the contrary, it’s my business to make sure their beliefs are protected from infringement. It is not for me to tell them otherwise if they use their religion as motivation and guidance in political positions, just as they couldn’t tell me not to be ethically motivated by the writings of philosophers and poets. It would be impossible to imagine a scenario where the books we read couldn’t be used to justify beliefs we held in the public sphere. Even references to these texts shouldn’t be frowned upon. One man’s, “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness,” is another man’s, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Whether it’s John Stuart Mill or Jesus of Nazareth, I say to each his own.

There are at least two cases of religious language in politics that should be frowned upon: one is that these quotes are used to justify or incite hatred and intolerance. We should only have hatred towards and intolerance of people who are hateful and intolerant, and if they cite their favorite texts as justification, we should disqualify them from the argument. The other move that should be a disqualifier is if someone tries to force his or her private beliefs onto someone else.

In the case of the inauguration, I think that individuals, such as poets and presidents, should speak openly on their motivations and aspirations.  But, we should not make room in the schedule of our political events for the religious impulse. We should not have public prayers, invocations, or benedictions. I would hope that all God-talk would be kept to a minimum during speeches, and I’d prefer to be left out of the personal prayers of others. But, we should absolutely not be having opening and closing prayers as part of the procession. No inviting the nation to pray during inauguration day. No, thank you.

Lastly, in his inaugural address, President Obama should feel free to make reference to any religious tradition he’d like. If he wants to harness the momentum of the social gospel movements to limit cruelty and promote liberty, be my guest. He said, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

If he wants to promote marriage equality through almighty references, I say power to him.

If he wants to promise equal opportunity to all children, to say of a little girl born into poverty, “She is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own,” I say hurrah!

If he wants to say we should face the threat of climate change and preserve our planet, as “commanded to our care by God,” I say Hallelujah!

If he says that his oath of office was not to party or faction, but “an oath to God and country,” as a way of saying he’ll do what he thinks is best for the country as if he were being divinely supervised, I guess that’s fine.

Still, I would prefer he didn’t end every speech by asking God to forever bless these United States. Divine favor hasn’t lowered the debt and it’s not going to pass immigration reform. Let’s try and stay secular people!

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/56619626@N05/8403967894

The Fashion String: Why Are the Obamas so Stylish?

-Tamara Feingold

Barack and Michelle Obama manage to lead the United States, parent two teenage daughters, and remain one of the most fashionable couples in the news.

While I usually don’t turn to political figures for my style inspirations (cookie-cutter suits and uptight sweater sets, ew), I sometimes find myself staring at pictures online of the President and First Lady wondering just how they do it. Politics aside, the Obamas are the most stylish couple to occupy the White House.

Michelle’s style is a combination of Jackie O. and Carrie Bradshaw. She often pairs her 60’s-chic patterned dresses with simple strings of pearls and even throws in the chance pastel cardigan without looking like a high-strung politician.

Michelle isn’t your average Presidential sidekick; she showed up to the State Dinner honoring the Republic of China wearing a fiery red, one-shouldered Alexander McQueen dress from the label’s 2011 resort collection. Somehow pulling off the sassy Betty Draper look, I’m electing Michelle for my personal professional style icon this year.

Barack is rarely seen in anything other than a suit, but what else would we want the President of the United States to wear, really?

Setting the fashion bar high during his 2008 Presidential Campaign, Barack mainly wore custom-tailored suits by Hartmarx, a menswear brand based in his hometown of Chicago. His suits are consistently crisp and he keeps his ties simple, usually in red, blue, or black. I can’t help but assume videos like Crush on Obama were partially inspired by his flawless businessman ensembles.

The Obama parents didn’t hoard their style sense, either. The Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, are similarly classy. Showing up to Inauguration Day looking like miniature Blair Waldorfs, the sisters wore color coordinating pea coat and scarf combinations that should be the envy of eleven-year-olds everywhere.

The Obama family is fashionably perfect and hopefully future White House families will follow suit. By combining classic politician staples with designer duds, the family is an inspiration for anyone hoping to rule the world with style.

2012: A Year of Change

-Jamie Hershman

A revolution is starting. It’s one that can’t be stopped, and one that shouldn’t be stopped. A documentary has ignited a fire among thousands of people. Kony 2012, created by Jason Russell, is a heart-wrenching story about Joseph Kony’s rebel acts in Uganda and how he must be stopped immediately.

For 26 years, Joseph Kony has been creating rebel armies of children in Uganda, Africa. He abducts children and forces them to do unspeakable acts such as forcing them to kill their own parents and using young girls as sex slaves. Kony is not supported by the Ugandan government and only continues these acts to gain more power. More than 30,000 children have already been abducted in Uganda.

Jason Russell has lobbied to arrest Kony for about eight years, and he finally believes that his commitment to peace will pull through. On October 14, 2011, Russell and the Invisible Children staff received a letter from President Barack Obama stating that American troops were to be deployed to Africa to advise the Ugandan military in finding Kony and arresting him. Hope and relief had been found, but that was quickly shattered two short months later. Kony had somehow been informed of the American presence and immediately changed his war tactics. All of the Invisible Children’s efforts were shattered.

But Russell knows Kony can still be stopped. His documentary is creating a change and inspiring people across the country to get involved. This unique documentary is only available for viewing for up until December 31, 2012, emphasizing the point that Kony must be arrested this year. But, we won’t be able to see quick results unless the public takes more initiative and becomes more active in the campaign.

The idea is simple: to find Kony there needs to be American advisors with the proper technology to track him. But the U.S. government is in charge of deploying soldiers, and without American citizens backing the cause, there will be no deployment.

In order to do this, Russell has proposed a nationwide wake-up call. On the night of April 20, he has asked supporters to bombard their cities with posters and stickers to inform and raise awareness. Russell’s plan is to inspire people to seek knowledge and hopefully to seek answers. If his documentary is not inspiring enough, this will definitely prompt change.

Innocent children should not be forced into a life where they wake up every day wondering whether or not they will be abducted; whether they will be forced to kill their parents; whether they will be alive at the end of the day. Kony’s arrest is certainly not imminent, but if we are passive and don’t spread the word, children will go on living like this indefinitely.

This is the year we can make a difference. Every voice counts. One person lit the match, but we all can ignite the fire.

To learn more about the movement, visit Kony2012.com

How Pizza Became a Vegetable

-Neethu Ramchandar

Put away your baby carrots and V8 Juice friends because now, according to Congress, pizza is a vegetable.

This decision came to be through a recent school lunch’s bill. Initially, the bill proposed changes that would help to reduce childhood obesity. The New York Times explains that the proposed bill in January asked to add more vegetables and fruits to school lunches. In addition it would have cut down the use of potatoes, sodium, and would have only allowed schools to count pizza as a daily serving of vegetables only if one slice contained more than a quarter cup of  tomatoes sauce. The bill would have increased spending  by $6.8 billion to the existing $11 billion program.

However on Monday, Congress fell for the lobbying of special interest groups and decided to not support the bill.

Now, school lunches do not need to increase their mandatory amounts of vegetables and fruits, and pizza can be classified as a vegetable. Food companies including ConAgra, Coca-Cola, and Del Monte Foods celebrated this victory as they had continually argued that such proposed laws would only be raising costs for food that students would simply throw away. It wasn’t important to them that this bill could reduce childhood obesity because it would be bad for business.

In their statement, the Agricultural Department responded to the bill’s outcome by expressing their disappointment.

“While it is unfortunate that some in Congress chose to bow to special interests, U.S.D.A. remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals that improve the health of our children,” said the department in their statement.

The Daily Mail Online explains that this move was purely a cost cutting method to enable the US government to spend less on fresh food ( including vegetables) for school lunches.

“The final version of a spending bill released late Monday [will] unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year which limits the use of potatoes and delays limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains. The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable” reports the Daily Mail.

This bill will negate the work that the Obama administration has done to promote healthy eating. Even First Lady Michelle Obama has made healthy eating an issue of concern. However, this simple “money saving” technique undermines her work to stop childhood obesity.

Photo taken from dailymail.co.uk

Born This Way Foundation

-Tamara Feingold

Lady Gaga announced on November 2nd that she is launching the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit project dedicated to youth empowerment. Gaga, a constant supporter of anti-bullying causes and an encourager of acceptance started the foundation with her mom, Cynthia Germanotta.

Although Gaga hopes the project will be “a place for Bravery, Love, Acceptance,” young people today could also find inspiration for individuality in some of Gaga’s most shocking moments:

  1. Showing up to the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards dressed as a man.
  2. Repeatedly incorporating fake dripping blood and deaths into her performances.
  3. Wearing a dress that looks like it’s made out of meat.
  4. Asking United States President Barack Obama to make a law against bullying.
  5. Referring to her fans as “little monsters.”
  6. Wearing a dress made entirely of bubbles.
  7. Announcing her celibacy in a Vanity Fair interview.
  8. Performing a dance routine in a wheelchair in her “Paparazzi” music video.

The Born This Way Foundation, in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the California Endowment will launch in 2012. Check it out.