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12 January 2013

I have been out of the states for six months now. For some reason, this chapter in my story has been written mostly on journal pages rather than my blog. Perhaps I am becoming a more private person? I believe in story-telling and sharing experiences, so I would like to share backlogged journal notes…

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Rally Time!

Age is a mental space. I pursue what my heart dictates, not my birth year. But, did I mention I feel a bit older in my Kuala Lumpur hostel? As I am dozing to sleep, the European and American young ladies in my room are getting dolled up to head out. To where….probably just the roof to find their dream backpacker boy of the night. 3am rolls around and I am awoken by the returning party-goers. No big deal. I remember 21 and, boy, was it fun.  I easily fall back asleep as young men are snuck in and little girls tiptoe around giggling.

My alarm and jetlag wake me pretty early, so I am up and ready to explore! The girl on the bed under mine does not seem so thrilled by early morning sightseeing.  As I am locking away my bags she whips open her curtain to give me a very mean face. That’s it, no words. No polite request for silence. Just an angry, I-stayed-up-too-late-and-am-hungover look. For some reason I apologize. I am not sorry and despise when I apologize for no reason. I am the farthest thing from sorry. They were rowdy and whispering into the morning with their newest make-out buddy. I am tiptoeing and exiting as fast possible. This, my friend, is the joy of cheap stays. You deal with other people’s shit and schedules and share a room with 10 other people so you can spend your money elsewhere. I mentally rescind my apology and saunter into the heavy, early morning air.

I have a long list of things to do, so I stop to chat with the staff and see if it can all be done. Even if I am told no, I will likely do it all anyhow. I am told no, that I should go outside the city to the caves because there would be a large, political rally in the city and it get dangerous for “someone like me”.  All right. The caves are on my list so why not start there. I set out walking to the train station, but anyone who travels slowly and flexibly knows that the odds of me getting to my first destination first are low.


There are markets filled to the brim with people in different colored matching t-shirts. Hawkers galore. Groups chanting. I am armed and ready with my camera and notebook. The train station never stood a chance. A group of women cheer in the center of the market. They have a sign in English that demands: transparent and clean elections, eradication of corruptions, equality, among other important rights. My interest is piqued and the caves disappear from my mind. I wander trying to figure out what all the propaganda means.

I am stopped by an old man who is certain I am a journalist. I eventually stop trying to convince him otherwise. Today, I am Jessie, American photojournalist, roaming the globe to uncover and share the injustices of the world.  The man tells me more about his cause in broken English. He is super excited and says he can’t believe there is a foreigner joining in the rally. It came to be know at the People’s Uprising Rally or KL 112 Rally.

I walk on, not knowing where I was or where I was going. Note: the best type of walking. The flow of the people is magnetic. I began in an area only dotted with fluorescent t-shirts and end up at the very heart of the event. People line the winding walkway up to stadium where the rally would soon begin. The clamor of protest fills the streets. There are vendors selling food and shirts and masks and scarves and all things one would need to join the party. While I want more than anything to adorn myself in fluorescents, I am still not completely sure what each color and party represent. I choose to remain the American photojournalist rather than become the white chick protesting Malaysian corruption and government.

Children present. Check.

While I understand things can very easily escalate in this setting, there was an air of excitement and solidarity. I was on guard, but not fearful or concerned. I arrive at the stadium where the entry roads converge and determine it is safe for here. I see a few infants, which always makes me feel better. Hey, if people are going to take their kids and women are roaming around and making a ruckus as well…then I’ll hang around too. (Yes, I understand women and children get hurt all the time, but it, trust me, it felt right.)

Remember remember…

I continue past the main assembly waiting to get into the stadium. As I round a bend, Survivor by Destiny’s Child blares on the speakers. How perfect! Fighting for equality, calls to end corruption, Guy Fawkes masks and some Beyonce. I’m a survivor, I’m not gon’ give up. I’m gon’ work harder…  Solid message girl. I imagine she would be honored to know her song is played and perfectly appropriate for settings of revolution. I wonder what that song was written over…

I sit on the side of the road to observe and steal photos of little kids (that always sounds way creepier when I type it then in my head). Oh well. Kids are wonderful. Especially kid protesters.  I walk back up to the stadium where they just opened the gates and people are flooding in. Rather than get in too deep, I perch myself on a wall near the exit where I can overlook the whole event.

 Time to talk to people! I meet some 20-something Malays who explain (in better English than the dear old man from earlier) the rally and their positions. It seems good-natured. There is really no opposition present, though I’m sure there always is somewhere. The guys come and go from our spot and people continue to file in with flags and babies and colors and loud horns. A Chinese man soon joins me. The diversity of KL was phenomenal! Chinese, Malays, Indians, Christians, Muslims. Oh the languages!

Back to my new Chinese friend. He was on fire with rally excitement, explaining how terrible the government and corruptions are and how magnificent it is that everyone was coming together today to oppose it. There would be over 100,000 people present to listen to speeches from leading advocates of clean democracy and equal representation. Simply glorious stuff. We discuss where we thought trouble would go down and our exit strategy just in case.

The Malay guys come back and are giggly. There is only one possible outcome…. Yes, of course I’ll take photos with everyone in a 40-foot radius. It gives me a chance to hold up banners and flags and put on my protester face. As my fame subsides and the speeches soon to begin (in Malay), I slip out the gate to see what else I might stumble upon. I am reluctant to leave, but will not understand the Malay anyway and was not up for someone translating to me for 2 hours. The streets are even more crowded now as I force my way against the flow of the crowd. A politician enters. Photographers go wild. I wish I spoke Malay.

Once through the crowd, I orient myself toward a nifty looking station building I had seen earlier. I suppose I can make my way to the caves now. Low and behold, I come across an ocean of purple shirts and signs marching towards me. YES! It the women’s group. I knew something was missing. There are a few men scattered throughout women and girls of all ages. I end up walking back toward the stadium with three schoolgirls, then branching off to try, yet again, to get myself to the train station. Just when I thought the whole of KL was at the rally, I round a corner to see hundreds of humans in colorful shirts pour out of every bus and train, rushing to the stadium. I board a nearly empty train out of the city. What a way to start a day.

Approaching the stadium.

Joy in the streets.

Waiting for the gates to open.

Choose your message wisely.

Group shot!

People filing into the stadium.

Joining the women’s walk to the stadium. Signs read: “Corruption-free government and “Better quality of life”

The Batu Caves

Now, it’s off to the Batu Caves, a holy Hindu site.  They are supposed to be stunning rock formations, so I am curious but cynical. Having been to the “most sacred space” in Hinduism—Varanasi on the Ganges River….I had no idea what to expect from another most holy Hindu space. Varanasi is incredible. I can’t help but think of it as the mini-Gotham City of India. It is a dark place. It is also one of the dirtiest, most intense cities I spent time in in India…or anywhere. I’ll leave it at that.

Back in Malaysia, it is a pleasant 28-minute train ride to the Batu Caves, which lie north of KL. The train exit is at the very gate to the caves where a huge colorful statue greets you, then an even larger gold one dares you to climb the 272 stairs into the caves. Monkeys ran amuck as I climb towards the heavens. The cave is indeed spectacular. In keeping with Indian motif, there were animals and mud and feces all over the place but I don’t think it distracted much from the grandeur of the cave itself. I’d like to be there for an actual ceremony. There is a set of darker caves you can pay to wander, but I do not believe they are part of the traditional ceremonies, rather a tourist trap.  I allow myself to sit in a dimmer space, close my eyes and breathe in the history of the space I am in.

On my descent, the monkeys became a significant part of the spectacle. It must be mating season because…there was a lot happening. I found myself getting ticked off at this one chauvinistic, little male monkey. He was rolling around and showing off then would choose a female monkey approach her and have his way. (Warning: I am going into detail here….).  The male monkey would turn the female around, stick it’s face and fingers in her then when it seemed he approved, he would bend her over. Then move on to the next. He was such a little ass, when he was having sex with one female monkey and another caught his eye he just pushed the one away and run on to show off.  I ended up sitting and watching the monkey debauchery (in hindsight I probably looked a bit odd and overly interested) and thinking about male/female interactions in other species. I left routing for a female monkey movement to burn bras and sexually liberate themselves. So there’s that.

As I venture down the stairs a hand grabs my backpack and pulls me back pretty hard. There are a good number of people around so I could not believe someone would so blatantly grab me. After the monkey incident, I just know in my bones it is some terrible man out to bother me. I wheel around with a fist raised to combat my assailant or at least look more threatening (hah). You would not believe it, it is that fucking male monkey (please excuse my language). He dug deep into the side pocket of my backpack, tore open my bag of snap pea crisps then sat, pleased with himself, eating them one at a time. I laughed. Everyone around joined in.

Anyoung Haseyo

Next, I hop on the train to the National Mosque. On the walk over I take a tunnel under a busy road. It was much longer than anticipated and pitch black in the middle. I am spooked and thankful when I see light. I am slightly on edge when I approach the mosque, not even sure if me and my vagina would be permitted to enter. I hear two Asian guys ask someone if they could go in the mosque. I saunter over to join the conversation and possibly walk in with them. We could indeed go in, so I join my new friends. I learn they just moved to KL from Korea for an internship.

We are given long robes, even though many people lounging inside are in exactly what we were wearing outside. As I go to walk in, a man that works there very abruptly stops me and hands me a piece of cloth saying, “I suggest you must wear this to go in”. Hmmmm, interesting word choice. Speaking of choice, it doesn’t seem to be available despite the “suggestion”. I cover my head to ensure I don’t distract any devout Muslim men from their mid-afternoon Mosque nap.

National Mosque, Kuala Lumpur.

It is a beautiful space. People lay around in the shade by pools of water. A volunteer gives us a tour of the grounds. It is a modern, clean, open space. The main roof and a few smaller ones look like umbrellas and there is a 73 meter-high minaret. We get to go to the second floor where the women are permitted to pray. They are not required to go to the Mosque as stringently as the men and are given burqas that look like curtains if they do not bring their own or are not covered enough. Seriously, they are made out of the curtains in my 1980s/90s childhood home.

Some other points of interest before I get too far into gender…. political leaders are buried at the mausoleum at the Mosque. When Muslims are buried they are laid on their side facing Mecca. The prayer area holds up to 3,000 people and the mosque’s capacity is 15,000. I tell the group about the rally earlier in the day. Our guide wants nothing to do with it so we move on. He tells us that Muslims are asking for forgiveness when they pray five times per day. Based on my guide’s logic (this was after he confirmed the Koreans are Christian)…if Christians only ask for forgiveness on Sundays at church or if they pray on our own (which he doubts they do 5+ times per day)…then who has “more forgiveness” and is more likely to go to heaven/receive God’s salvation. Christians out there, this seems like your call to prayer. You do not want Muslims receiving more forgiveness then you, now do you? As if religions are competing for each other spots in heaven. My oh my. Our guide had indicated earlier that women do not have to pray as much as men, so does that mean they are less likely to receive forgiveness and go to heaven? I question him for clarity not to provoke. The guide attempts to clarify his religion and disprove stereotypes, but from my perspective he did not make much progress. I was routing for him.

Umbrella dome.

Toward the end of the tour, after these fun talks with our, he keeps returning to female/male issues. A favorite of mine that I’ve heard far too often is how women should be covered lest we distract and tempt good Muslim men with our flesh. No matter how many times I hear or read that, when someone says it to my face it takes everything in my power to hold my tongue. Our guide then asks the Koreans what they think is the most attractive part of a women. They respond eyes. Good boys. The guide, however, corrects them: “No, men are attracted by the female figure and her hair, so because men cannot control themselves, women must cover these things.” Needless to say, it is an especially educational tour for me. The Koreans and I say our thank yous and leave. They comment on how ridiculous his comments were. I’m glad to hear that.

I planned to walk to the Islamic National Art Museum next and so my new friends decide to come with. Talking walking. The usual getting-to-know-other-humans dance. Leaving the area we encounter the post-rally ruffians. The streets were teeming! It seemed much of the crowd wanted to stay out after the speeches so they congregated around the mosque/museum. It was madness. Again, I found myself pushing through the masses to go the opposite direction.

Koran at the Museum of Islamic Art

Ceiling at the Museum of Islamic Art

We were starving after all of that Islam, so made our way to Chinatown to choose the most crowded restaurant we could find. It had that perfect Southeast Asian feel—tables all over the sidewalk, humid, steamy weather, huge woks. We had a small feast. I had planned on a siesta but the food revived me so we decided to stick together and forge on through the sprawl of KL. We visiting the space needle–like tower. Feeling slightly underwhelmed, we then stopped for a beers at an Iranian restaurant. We concluded the night under the magnificently lit Petronas Twin Towers. Sitting by the fountains under the tremendous, glowing, matching structures, we expressed our gratitude for each other’s presence and a lovely day of city exploration and breaking bread. Then, slipped off into the night.

Back at the hostel, I make no attempt to go to the bar. It was a cold shower and a cozy book for this little lady.

What Has Obama Done?

194 Accomplishments! With Citations!

{Repost from ThePCTC Blog}

If you’re one of those people who thinks President Obama is a “disappointment,” condolences for not getting your unicorn. And it’s time to grow up, get over it. We have four months to go before an election that will feature more political ads than you have ever seen before in your life. We’re not just having to beat Willard Romney; we also have to beat Citizens United. There will be TWO choices for president. You can either work for Obama and every other Democrat (yes, including Blue Dogs), or you can sit back and watch Willard Romney complete the job of taking apart the social fabric of the country that was begun by Ronald Reagan.

Obama2What makes the “disappointment” argument even more irritating is that it’s simply not true. He’s done nearly everything we elect a president to do, and he dd it all with little support from the left, and massive obstruction from the right.

Is he perfect? No, he’s human. Does he deserve some criticism? At this point, it really doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that this president has compiled a STELLAR record. If you can look at this list of the president’s accomplishments after three years, and not be excited, you have a serious problem with perspective.

Pass this list around to everyone you know. And don’t be afraid; unlike many such lists, every item includes a link to a citation supporting it.


He Returned The Executive Branch To Fiscal Responsibility After the Bush Debacle

1. Within his first week, he signed an Executive Order ordering an audit of government contracts, and combating waste and abuse.

2. Created the post of Chief Performance Officer, whose job it is to make operations more efficient to save the federal government money.

3. On his first full day, he froze White House salaries.

4. He appointed the first Federal Chief Information Officer to oversee federal IT spending.

5. He committed to phasing out unnecessary and outdated weapons systems. To that end, he also signed the Democratic-sponsored Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act, which attempted to put a stop to waste, fraud and abuse in the defense procurement and contracting system.

6. Through an executive order, he created the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.


He Improved the Economy, Preventing a Bush Depression

7. Pushed through and signed the Democratic-sponsored American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as “the stimulus package.” The bill passed, even though only three Republicans voted for it. In a major departure from the previous administration, he launched, a website that allows taxpayers to track spending from the Act.

8. The Bush-led Great Recession was costing the economy nearly 800,000 jobs per month by the time President Obama took office. But by the end of his first year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act created and sustained 2.1 million jobs and stimulated the economyby  3.5%.

9. Not only did he completed the massive TARP financial and banking rescue plan, he also leaned on the banks and others, and recovered virtually all of the bail-out money.

10. He created the Making Home Affordable home refinancing plan.

11. Oversaw the creation of more jobs in 2010 alone than Bush did in eight years.

12. Along with Democrats, and almost no Republicans, implemented an auto industry rescue plan, and saved as many as 1 million jobs.   Many are of the opinion that he saved the entire auto industry, and even the economy of the entire Midwest. This resulted in GM returning to its place as the top car company in the world. Willard Romney, on the other hand, advocated for the entire industry to go belly-up.

13. Doubled funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which is designed to improve manufacturing efficiency.

14. Signed the Democratic-sponsored Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act giving the federal government more tools to investigate and prosecute fraud in every corner of the financial system, and create a bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to investigate the financial fraud that led to the economic meltdown.

15. Signed the Democratic-sponsored Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which was designed to to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive credit card practices.

16. Increased infrastructure spending after years of neglect.

17. Signed the Democratic-sponsored and passed Helping Families Save Their Homes Act, expanding on the Making Home Affordable Program to help millions of Americans avoid preventable foreclosures. The bill also provided $2.2 billion to help combat homelessness, and to stabilize the housing market.

18. Through the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009, he and Congressional Democrats provided tax credits to first-time home buyers, which helped the U.S. housing market recovery.

19. Initiated a $15 billion plan designed to encourage increased lending to small businesses.

20. Created, which allows for online collaboration between small businesses and experts re managing a business. (The program has since merged with

21. Played a lead role in getting the G-20 Summit to commit to a $1.1 trillion deal to combat the global financial crisis.

22. Took steps to improve minority access to capital.

23. Signed an Executive Order instructing federal agencies to review all federal regulations and remove any unnecessary and/or burdensome regulations from the books.

24. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, saved at least 300,000 education jobs, such as teachers, principals, librarians, and counselors that would have otherwise been lost.

25. Dismantled the Minerals Management Service, thereby cutting ties between energy companies and the government.

26. Along with Congressional Democrats, provided funding to states and the Department of Homeland Security to save thousands of police and firefighter jobs from being cut during the recession.

27. Used recovered TARP money to fund programs at local housing finance agencies in California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan.

28. Crafted an Executive order establishing the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability to assist in financial education for all Americans.


He Fostered Greater Transparency and Better Government, After the Excesses of the Bush Years

29. Signed an order banning gifts from lobbyists to anyone in the Executive Branch.

30. Signed an order banning anyone from working in an agency they had lobbied in previous years, and put strict limits on lobbyists’ access to the White House.

31. Held the first-ever first online town hall from the White House, and took questions from the public.

32. Became the first to stream every White House event, live.

33. Established a central portal for Americans to find service opportunities.

34. Provided the first voluntary disclosure of the White House Visitors Log in history.

35. Issued an Executive Order on Presidential Records, which restored the 30-day time frame for former presidents to review records, and eliminated the right for the vice president or family members of former presidents to do the reviews. Provides the public with greater access to historic  White House documents, and severely curtails the ability to use executive privilege to shield them.

36. Improved aspects of the Freedom of Information Act, and issued new guidelines to make FOIA more open and transparent when processing FOIA requests.


Wall Street Reforms and Consumer Protection

37. Ordered 65 executives who took bailout money to cut their own pay until they paid back all bailout money.

38. Along with Congressional Democrats, pushed through and got passed Dodd-Frank, one of the largest and most comprehensive Wall Street reforms since the Great Depression.

39. Through Dodd-Frank legislation, created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

40. Through Dodd-Frank, the Executive Branch fashioned rules that reduce the influence of speculators in the oil market.

41. Fashioned rules so that banks can no longer use YOUR money to invest in high-risk financial instruments that work against their own customers’ interests.

42. Supported the concept of allowing stockholders to vote on executive compensation.

43. Endorsed and supported the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act of 2009 that would close offshore tax avoidance loopholes.

44. Negotiated a deal with Swiss banks that now permits the US government to gain access to the records of criminals and  tax evaders.

45. Signed the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, which closed many of the loopholes that allowed companies to send jobs overseas, and avoid paying US taxes by moving money offshore.

46. Established a Consumer Protection Financial Bureau designed to protect consumers from financial sector excesses.

47. Oversaw and then signed a Democratic bill constituting the most sweeping food safety legislation since the Great Depression. 

48. Through the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, extended the False Claims Act to combat fraud by companies and individuals usingmoney from the TARP and Stimulus programs.


He Ushered Through Many Changes That Enhanced Civil Rights and Anti-Discrimination

49. Along with Congressional Democrats, advocated for and signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which made it a federal crime to assault anyone based on his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

50. Pushed through, signed and demanded the Pentagon enact a repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that forced soldiers to lie in order to be eligible to fight for their country, and put our troops at risk by disqualifying many qualified soldiers from helping.

51. Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

52. Appointed more openly gay officials than anyone in history.

53. Appointed first openly transgender Cabinet Official in History.  

54. Changed HUD rules to prohibit gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing  

55. Changed his mind and publicly expressed support for the right to enter into a same-sex marriage.

56. Issued a Presidential Memorandum reaffirming the rights of gay couples to make medical decisions for each other.

57. Wrote and signed an Executive Order establishing a White House Council on Women and Girls to ensure that all Cabinet and Cabinet-level agencies evaluate the effect of their policies and programs on women and families.

58. Signed the Democratic-sponsored Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers. This was after the GOP blocked the bill in 2007. Only 5 Republican Senators voted for the bill.

59. Expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act.

60. Under his guidance, National Labor Relations Board issued final rules that require all employers to prominently post employees’ rights where all employees or prospective employees can see it, including websites and intranets, beginning November 2011.

61. Advocated that United Nations adopt a policy supporting gay rights worldwide.

62. Issued an order requiring hospitals to allow visitation by same-sex couples. 

63. Appointed Kareem Dale as the first ever Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy.

64. Helped Democrats in Congress pass and signed the Civil Rights History Act.


He Made Major Improvements in Foreign Relations and American Status Around the World

65. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any previous president during his first six months in office.

66. As he promised, he gave a speech at a major Islamic forum in Cairo early in his administration. 

67. Helped to restore America’s reputation around the world as a global leader that does the “right thing” in world affairs, at least according to the rest of the world.

68. Re-established and reinforced our partnership with NATO and other allies on strategic international issues.

69. Closed a number of secret detention facilities.

70. Improved relations with Middle East countries by appointing special envoys.

71. Pushed for military to emphasize devlopment of foreign language skills.

72. Offered $400 million to the people living in Gaza, called on both Israel and the Palestinians to stop inciting violence.

73. Refused to give Israel the green light to attack Iran over their possible nuclear program, and thus avoid another war that Republicans wanted.

74. Worked with Democratic Congress to make donations to Haiti tax deductible in 2009.

75. Established a new U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

76. Issued Executive Order blocking interference and helping to stabilize Somalia.

77. Established new, more reasonable policies in our relations with Cuba, such as allowing Cuban-Americans to visit their families and send money to support them.

78. Ordered the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. It was Republicans (and, unfortunately, progressive Democrats) who prevented follow through.

79. Ordered a review of our detention and interrogation policy, and prohibited the use of torture, or what Bush called “enhanced interrogation.” He ordered interrogators to limit their actions to the Army Field manual.

80. Ordered all secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere to be closed.

81. Released the Bush torture memos.

82. On his second day in office, he signed a detailed Executive Order that banned torture, reversed all  Bush torture policies, and put the United States in compliance with the Geneva Convention.

83. In response to the emerging “Arab Spring,” he created a Rapid Response fund, to assist emerging democracies with foreign aid, debt relief, technical assistance and investment packages in order to show that the United States stands with them.

84. Passed the Iran Sanctions Act, to prevent war, and to encourage Iran to give up their nuclear program.

85. Ended the Iraq War.

86. Authorized and oversaw a secret mission by SEAL Team Six to rescue two hostages held by Somali pirates.


He Took a More Realistic Approach to “Defense”

87. Created a comprehensive new strategy for dealing with the international nuclear threat.

88. Authorized a $1.4 billion reduction in Star Wars program in 2010.

89. Restarted nuclear nonproliferation talks and built up the nuclear inspection infrastructure/protocols to where they had been before Bush.

90. Signed and pushed through ratification a new SALT Treaty.

91. Negotiated and signed a new START Treaty that will lst until at least 2021.

92. Through the Defense Authorization Act, reversed the Bush Administration and committed to no permanent military bases in Iraq.

93. Developed first comprehensive strategy with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan designed to facilitate the defeat of al Qaeda and the withdrawal of most troops, as well as the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

94. Returned our focus to Afghanistan, stabilized the country, and began the process of withdrawing our troops from the country.

95. Negotiated a deal with Afghan govenment, to withdraw troops and military support, while assisting in rebuilding and modernizing of the country.

96. Took steps to severely weaken al Qaeda and limited their ability to terrorize the world.

97. Negotiated and signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty with India.

98. Took decisive action to use NATO to limit the slaughter of innocents in Libya, so that the Libyan people could topple a despotic government and determine their own fate.


His Administration Treated Soldiers and Veterans with Respect That Was Missing Previously

99. Along with Congressional Democrats, not only reauthorized families of fallen soldiers to be able to visit when the body arrives at Dover AFB, but also provided funding for it.  Ended the media blackout on coverage of the return of fallen soldiers.

100. Funded Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with an extra $1.4 billion to improve veterans’ services.

101. Provided active combat troops with better body armor.

102. Created Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record program for military personnel, in order  to improve the quality of their medical care.

103. Put an end to the Bush-era stop-loss policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan beyond their enlistment date. (personal note: my son will be in harm’s way for six fewer months with Obama as president, so you know I love this one.)

104. Along with Congressional Democrats, supported and signed Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, which made more money available to enable better medical care for veterans.

105. Along with Congressional Democrats, ushered through largest spending increase in 30 years for Department of Veterans Affairs, with money to go to improved medical facilities, and to assist states in acquiring or constructing state nursing homes and extended care facilities.

106. Created the Green Vet Initiative, which provided special funding to the Labor Department to provide veterans with training in green jobs.

107.  Initiated and signed a recruitment and employment plan to get more veterans into government jobs.

108. Oversaw a $4.6 billion expansion of the Veterans Administration budget to pay for more mental health professionals.

109. Signed the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act, which ensures that spouses of military personnel who are forced to move because their spouse is posted for military duty will be able to avoid state taxes in their temporary residence.


He Refocused the Federal Government on Education

110. Repeatedly increased funding for student financial aid, and at the same time cut the banks completely out of the process.

111. Reformed student loan program, to make it possible for students to refinance at a lower rate.

112. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act , invested heavily in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education.

113.  Created the Race to the Top program, which encouraged states to come up with effective school reforms and rewards the best of them.

114. Oversaw major expansion of broadband availability in K-12 schools nationwide ,

115. Oversaw major expansion in school construction.

116. Also through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he put $5 billion into early education, including Head Start.

117. Signed the Democratic-sponsored Post-9/11 GI Bill, also known as GI Bill 2.0 

118. Oversaw expansion of the Pell Grants program, to expand opportunity for low income students to go to college.

119. Along with Democratic Congress, passed and signed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which provided an extra $12.2 billion in funds. 


He Pushed Through Improvements in National Safety and Security

120. Restored federal agencies such as FEMA to the point that they have been able to manage a huge number of natural  disasters successfully.

121. Authorized Navy SEALS to successfully secure the release of a US captain held by Somali pirates and increased patrols off the Somali coast.

122. Has repeatedly beefed up border security

123. Ordered and oversaw the Navy SEALS operation that killed Osama bin Laden.


Science, Technology and Health Care

124. Created a Presidential Memorandum to restore scientific integrity in government decision-making.

125. Opened up process for fast-tracking patent approval for green energy projects.

126. Eliminated Bush-era restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, and provided increased federal support for biomedical and stem cell research.

127. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, committed more federal funding, about $18 billion, to support non-defense science and research labs.

128. Signed Democratic-sponsored Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, the first comprehensive attempt to improve the lives of Americans living with paralysis.

129. Expanded the Nurse-Family Partnership program, which provides home visits by trained registered nurses to low-income expectant mothers and their families, to cover more first-time mothers.

130. Obama EPA reveresed research ethics standards which allowed humands to be used as “guinea pigs” in tests of the effects of chemicals, to comply with numerous codes of medical ethics.

131. Conducted a cyberspace policy review.

132. Provided financial support for private sector space programs.

133. Oversaw enhanced earth mapping, to provide valuable data for agricultural, educational, scientific, and government use.

134. Along with Democrats in Congress, ushered through and signed a bill authorizing FDA to regulate tobacco. As a result,  the FDA has Ordered Tobacco Companies to Disclose Cigarette Ingredients and banned sale of cigarettes falsely labeled as “light.”

135. Through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, provided $500 million for Health Professions Training Programs.

136. Increased funding for community-based prevention programs.

137. Oversaw a 50% decrease in cost of prescription drugs for seniors.

138. Eliminated the Bush-era practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug companies on price.

139. Two weeks after taking office, signed Democratic-sponsored Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, which increased the number of children covered by health insurance by 4 million.

140. Urged Congress to investigate Anthem Blue Cross for raising premiums 39% without explanation. Democratic Rep. Waxman responded by launching a probe, and Anthem Blue Cross put increase on hold for two months.

141. Ushered through and signed Affordable Care Act, which expanded health insurance coverage to at least 30 million more people, ended many common insurance company practices that are often detrimental  to those with coverage.  He also established, so that taxpayers could keep up with developments.

142. Through ACA, allowed children to be covered under their parents’ policy until they turned 26.

143. Through the ACA, provided tax breaks to allow 3.5 million small business to provide health insurance to their employees, and 29 million people will receive tax breaks to help them afford health insurance.

144. Through the ACA, expanded Medicaid to those making up to 133% of the federal poverty level.

145. Through the ACA, health insurance companies now have to disclose how much of your premium actually goes to pay for patient care.

146. Provisions in theACAhave already resulted in Medicare costs actually declining slightly this fiscal year, for the first time in many years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The increase in 2011 was 4%, which is very low compared to the average 12% annual inflation rate during previous 40 years.


He Took Steps to Strengthen the Middle Class and Families, and to Fight Poverty

147. Worked to provide affordable, high-quality child care to working families.

148. Cracked down on companies that were previously denying sick pay, vacation and health insurance, and Social Security and Medicare tax payments through abuse of the employee classification of independent contractor.

149. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act , cut taxes for 95% of America’s working families.

150. Tax rates for average working families are the lowest since 1950.

151. Extended and fully funded the patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax for 10 years.

152. Extended discounted COBRA health coverage for the unemployed from 9 months to 15 months, and he’s extended unemployment benefits several times.

153. Provided  a $20 billion increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps).

154. Signed an Executive Order that established the White House Office of Urban Affairs.


He Took Concrete Steps to Improve Our Environment and Address Our Energy Needs

155. Fast-tracked regulations to allow states to enact fuel efficiency standards that exceeded federal standards.

156. Fast-tracked increased fuel economy standards for vehicles beginning with the 2011 model year. It was the first time such standards had been increased in a decade.

157. Oversaw establishment of an Energy Partnership for the Americas, to create more markets for American-made biofuels and green energy technologies.

158. Obama EPA reversed a Bush-era decision to allow the largest mountaintop removal project in US history.

159. Ordered the Department of Energy to implement more aggressive efficiency standards for common household appliances.

160. Ordered energy plants to prepare to produce at least 15% of all energy through renewable resources like wind and solar, by 2021.  (As you can see, Republicans are trying hard to kill it.)

161. Oversaw the creation of an initiative that converts old factories and manufacturing centers into new clean technology centers.

162. Bypassed Republican opposition in Congress and ordered EPA to begin regulating and measuring carbon emissions.

163. Obama EPA ruled that CO2 is a pollutant.

164. Oversaw doubling federal spending on clean energy research.

165. Pushed through a tax credit to help people buy plug-in hybrid cars.

166. Created a program to develop renewable energy projects on the waters of our Outer Continental Shelf that will produce electricity from wind, wave, and ocean currents.

167. Reengaged in the climate change and greenhouse gas emissions agreements talks, and proposed one himself. He also addressed the U.N. Climate Change Conference, officially reversing the Bush era stance that climate change was a “hoax.”

168. Fully supported the initial phase of the creation of a legally-binding treaty to reduce mercury emissions worldwide.

169. Required states to provide incentives to utilities to reduce their energy consumption.

170. Following the neglect of Bush’s eight year reign, he reengaged in a number of treaties and agreements designed to protect the Antarctic.

171. Created tax write-offs for purchases of hybrid automobiles, and later he and Democrats morphed that program into one that includes electric cars.

172. Mandated that federal government fleet purchases be for fuel-efficient American vehicles, and encouraged that federal agencies support experimental, fuel-efficient vehicles.

173. Oversaw and pushed through amendment to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 authorizing advances from Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

174. Actively tried to amend the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to eliminate the liability limits for those companies responsible for large oil spills.

175. Initiated Criminal and Civil inquiries into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

176. Through his EPA, he asserted federal legal supremacy, and barred Texas from authorizing new refinery permits on its own.

177. Strengthened the Endangered Species Act.

178. Obama EPA improved boiler safety standards to improve air quality, and save 6500 lives per year.

179. Through the EPA, attemped to take steps to severely limit the use of antibiotics in livestock feed, to increase their efficacy in humans.

180. Increased funding for National Parks and Forests by 10%

181. Announced greatly improved commercial fuel efficiency standards.

182. Announced a huge increase in average fuel economy standards from 27.5mpg in 2010 to 35.5mpg starting in 2016 and 54.5 starting in 2025


But That’s Not All…

183. Expanded trade agreements to include stricter labor and environmental agreements such as NAFTA.

184. Oversaw funding of  the design of a new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History, which is scheduled to open on the National Mall in 2015.  He protected the funding during the recent budget negotiations.

185. Oversaw and passed increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.

186. Nominated Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic Justice in the court’s history, and the women represent only the third and fourth women to serve on the court, out of a total of 112 justices.

187. Appointed the most diverse Cabinet in history, including more women than any other incoming president.

188. Eliminated federal funding for abstinence-only education, and rescinded the global gag rule.

189. Loosened the rules and allowed the 14 states that legalized medical marijuana to regulate themselves without federal interference.

190. Signed national service legislation, increasing funding for national service groups, including triple the size of the Americorps program.

191. Signed an Executive Order that will speed up deployment of a more comprehensive broadband infrastructure.

192. Signed an Executive Order creating jobs immediately by instructing them to reduce the time needed for review and permitting of infrastructure projects.

193. Signed a bill that provided $4.3 billion in additional assistance to 9/11 first reponders.

And Did You Know?

194. Despite the characterizations of some, Obama’s success rate in winning congressional votes on issues was an unprecedented 96.7% for his first year in office.  Though he is often cited as superior to Obama, President Lyndon Johnson’s success rate in 1965 was only 93%.

February 2012. Tahrir Square. Cairo, Eygpt.

Christians form a circle around Muslims to protect them during prayer.

Photo Credit: Nevine Zaki



{repost from The New York Times}

U.S. War in Iraq Declared Officially Over

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Flag bearers carried the colors out at the end of the ceremony marking the end of the United States’ military involvement in Iraq. More Photos »

Published: December 15, 2011

 BAGHDAD — The United States military officially declared an end to its mission in Iraq on Thursday even as violence continues to plague the country and the Muslim world remains distrustful of American power.

In a fortified concrete courtyard at the airport in Baghdad, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta thanked the more than one million American service members who have served in Iraq for “the remarkable progress” made over the past nine years but acknowledged the severe challenges that face the struggling democracy.

“Let me be clear: Iraq will be tested in the days ahead — by terrorism, and by those who would seek to divide, by economic and social issues, by the demands of democracy itself,” Mr. Panetta said. “Challenges remain, but the U.S. will be there to stand by the Iraqi people as they navigate those challenges to build a stronger and more prosperous nation.”

The muted ceremony stood in contrast to the start of the war in 2003 when an America both frightened and emboldened by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, sent columns of tanks north from Kuwait to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

As of last Friday, the war in Iraq had claimed 4,487 American lives, with another 32,226 Americans wounded in action, according to Pentagon statistics.

The tenor of the hour-long farewell ceremony, officially called “Casing the Colors,” was likely to sound an uncertain trumpet for a war that was started to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it did not have. It now ends without the sizable, enduring American military presence for which many military officers had hoped.

Although Thursday’s ceremony marked the end of the war, the military still has two bases in Iraq and roughly 4,000 troops, including several hundred who attended the ceremony. At the height of the war in 2007, there were 505 bases and more than 170,000 troops.

According to military officials, the remaining troops are still being attacked on a daily basis, mainly by indirect fire attacks on the bases and road side bomb explosions against convoys heading south through Iraq to bases in Kuwait.

Even after the last two bases are closed and the final American combat troops withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31, under rules of an agreement with the government in Baghdad, a few hundred military personnel and Pentagon civilians will remain, working within the American Embassy as part of an Office of Security Cooperation to assist in arms sales and training.

But negotiations could resume next year on whether additional American military personnel can return to further assist their Iraqi counterparts.

Senior American military officers have made no secret that they see crucial gaps in Iraq’s ability to defend its sovereign soil and even to secure its oil platforms offshore in the Persian Gulf. Air defenses are seen as a critical gap in Iraqi capabilities, but American military officers also see significant shortcomings in Iraq’s ability to sustain a military, whether moving food and fuel or servicing the armored vehicles it is inheriting from Americans or the fighter jets it is buying, and has shortfalls in military engineers, artillery and intelligence, as well.

 ”From a standpoint of being able to defend against an external threat, they have very limited to little capability, quite frankly,” Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the outgoing American commander in Iraq, said in an interview after the ceremony. “In order to defend against a determined enemy, they will need to do some work.”

The tenuous security atmosphere in Iraq was underscored by helicopters that hovered over the ceremony, scanning the ground for rocket attacks. Although there is far less violence across Iraq than at the height of the sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, there are bombings on a nearly daily basis and Americans remain a target of Shiite militants.

Mr. Panetta acknowledged that “the cost was high — in blood and treasure of the United States, and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain — they gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”

The war was started by the Bush administration in March 2003 on arguments that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and had ties to Al Qaeda that might grow to an alliance threatening the United States with a mass-casualty terrorist attack.

As the absence of unconventional weapons proved a humiliation for the administration and the intelligence community, the war effort was reframed as being about bringing democracy to the Middle East.

And, indeed, there was euphoria among many Iraqis at an American-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. But the support soon soured amid a growing sense of heavy-handed occupation fueled by the unleashing of bloody sectarian and religious rivalries. The American presence also proved a magnet for militant fighters and an Al Qaeda-affiliated group took root among the Sunni minority population in Iraq.

While the terrorist group has been rendered ineffective by a punishing series of Special Operations raids that have killed or captured several Qaeda leaders, intelligence specialists fear that it is in resurgence. The American military presence in Iraq, viewed as an occupation across the Muslim world, also hampered Washington’s ability to cast a narrative from the United States in support of the Arab Spring uprisings this year.

Even handing bases over to the Iraqi government over recent months proved vexing for the military. In the spring, commanders halted large formal ceremonies with Iraqi officials for base closings because insurgents were using the events as opportunities to attack troops. “We were having ceremonies and announcing it publicly and having a little formal process but a couple of days before the base was to close we would start to receive significant indirect fire attacks on the location,” said Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the military in Iraq. “We were suffering attacks so we stopped.”

Across the country, the closing of bases has been marked by a quiet closed-door meeting where American and Iraqi military officials signed documents that legally gave the Iraqis control of the bases, exchanged handshakes and turned over keys.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey of the Army, has served two command tours in Iraq since the invasion in 2003, and he noted during the ceremony that the next time he comes to Iraq he will have to be invited.

 ”We will stand with you against terrorists and others that threaten to undo what we have accomplished together,” General Dempsey said during the ceremony. “We will work with you to secure our common interests in a more peaceful and prosperous region.”

Confucius Peace Prize Year Two

Last year when I was living in Shanghai, I posted about the advent of the Confucius Peace Prize in response to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Well, ladies and gentleman, it’s been a year since then and so the Chinese government has named the second recipient of the prize. I’ll let this NY TIMES article explain…  drum roll please…


By Published: November 15, 2011

BEIJING — The Chinese committee that awarded this year’s Confucius Peace Prize minced no words in honoring the winner, Vladimir V. Putin, prime minister of Russia.

It praised his decision to go to war in Chechnyain 1999.

“His iron hand and toughness revealed in this war impressed the Russians a lot, and he was regarded to be capable of bringing safety and stability to Russia,” read an English version of the committee’s statement. “He became the antiterrorist No. 1 and the national hero.”

Not only that, it applauded him for “acting as the propagandist of current political events” while still in high school, and for being selected to join the K.G.B. while in college, “which made true his teenage dream of joining the K.G.B.” Much later, of course, came the “large-scale military action towards the illegal armed forces in Grozny, Chechnya.”

So went the announcement by a group of 16 patriotic scholars awarding what they call their second annual “grass-roots” peace prize. Four members of the group, the China International Peace Studies Center, held a news conference on Sunday in the Fragrant Hills Park west of central Beijing, but there was curiously little reporting in the Chinese news media about the award. Then word spread over Twitter on Tuesday that Mr. Putin, who had engaged in wars in Chechnya and Georgia, had won the prize, which has been steeped in political intrigue in recent months.

“Those wars were righteous wars,” Qiao Damo, the self-described co-founder and president of the Confucius Peace Prize committee, said in a telephone interview. “Mr. Putin fought for the unification of his country.”

In fact, the campaign in Chechnya led to a stream of human rights abuses by Russian and pro-Russian Chechen security forces, including rape, torture and murder, numerous human rights organizations found at the time.

Mr. Qiao also said that the committee, which had voted for Mr. Putin from among eight nominees, valued his opposition to war. “He was against the NATO bombing of Libya,” Mr. Qiao said.

The award was first given out last year as a rejoinder to the Nobel committee’s decision to give the Peace Prize toLiu Xiaobo, an imprisoned dissident writer. Mr. Qiao said this year’s ceremony would be held on Dec. 9, and organizers hoped to hand a gilded statuette of Confucius, the Chinese sage, to Mr. Putin, along with a certificate. The award announcement did not mention any cash prize.

The winner last year, Lien Chan, a Taiwanese politician, said he had never heard of the award when contacted by foreign journalists. He did not show up at the ceremony, even though the prize came with the equivalent of $15,000 in cash. Instead, a young girl with no relation to Mr. Lien accepted a statuette and a bundle of bills.

When asked about the award on Tuesday, Dmitri S. Peskov, a spokesman for Mr. Putin, told a reporter in Moscow: “We have only heard about the award from the press. We do not know much about the prize.”

Besides Mr. Putin, candidates for this year’s Confucius Peace Prize included Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft; Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor; Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president; Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations; Yuan Longping, a Chinese scientist; Soong Chu-yu, a Taiwanese politician; and a Tibetan boy named by Chinese officials as the Panchen Lama after the abduction of a candidate supported by the exiled Dalai Lama.

Mr. Putin received nine of the 16 votes cast, Mr. Yuan six and Ms. Merkel one, Mr. Qiao said.

Among the 16 voting committee members was Kong Qingdong, a professor of Chinese literature at Peking University who has boasted widely that he is in the 73rd generation of Confucius’ lineage. Mr. Kong is also famously known for cursing at a Chinese journalist on Nov. 7, which has prompted editors at Xinhua, the state news agency, and students at Peking University to demand Mr. Kong’s resignation.

Meanwhile, a founding member of the committee, Liu Haofeng, said in a telephone interview that he had split off from the group and planned to start a new award with the help of Americans, the World Harmony Prize.

The Culture Ministry has berated the original prize committee for claiming to hand out last year’s award in the name of the ministry.

As for a new competing prize associated with the Culture Ministry, the Confucius World Peace Prize, an announcement posted last month on the ministry’s Web site said the group that had proposed the award had decided not to distribute it.

Nikolay Khalip contributed reporting from Moscow, and Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.