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Category Archives: Politics

What is the Purpose of Society?

{Repost from The New York Times}

by Mark Bittman

11 February 2015

The world of food and agriculture symbolizes most of what’s gone wrong in the United States. But because food is plentiful for most people, and the damage that conventional agriculture does isn’t readily evident to everyone, it’s important that we look deeper, beyond food, to the structure that underlies most decisions: the political economy.

Progressives are not thinking broadly or creatively enough. By failing to pressure Democrats to take strong stands on everything from environmental protection to gun control to income inequality, progressives allow the party to use populist rhetoric while making America safer for business than it is for Americans. No one seriously believes that Hillary Clinton will ever put the interests of Main Street before those of her donors from Wall Street, do they? At least not unless she’s pushed, and hard.

It’s clear to most everyone, regardless of politics, that the big issues — labor, race, food, immigration, education and so on — must be “fixed,” and that fixing any one of these will help with the others. But this kind of change must begin with an agreement about principles, specifically principles of human rights and well-being rather than principles of making a favorable business climate.

Shouldn’t adequate shelter, clothing, food and health care be universal? Isn’t everyone owed a society that works toward guaranteeing the well-being of its citizens? Shouldn’t we prioritize avoiding self-destruction?

Plenty of Democrats, even those who think of themselves as progressive, would not answer yes to those questions. Some would answer, “Don’t be naïve, that’s impossible,” and others would say, “All we need to provide is equal opportunity for all and let the market sort it out.” (To which I’d reply, “Talk about naïve!”) I’m fine with disagreement, but I’m not fine with standard public questions like “How do we create a better climate for business so it can provide more jobs?” Consider what this implies about the purpose of people, to say nothing about the meaning of life. The business of America should not be business, but well-being.

Think about it this way: There are two kinds of operating systems, hard and soft. A clock is a hard system. We know what it’s for, we know when it isn’t working, and we know that 10 clock experts would agree on how to fix it — and could do so.

Soft systems, like agriculture and economics, are more complex. We don’t all agree on goals, and we don’t agree on whether things are working or in need of repair. For example, is contemporary American agriculture a system for nourishing people and providing a livelihood for farmers? Or is it one for denuding the nation’s topsoil while poisoning land, water, workers and consumers and enriching corporations? Our collective actions would indicate that our principles favor the latter; that has to change.

Defining goals that matter to people is critical, because the most powerful way to change a complex, soft system is to change its purpose. For example, if we had a national agreement that food is not just a commodity, a way to make money, but instead a way to nourish people and the planet and a means to safeguard our future, we could begin to reconfigure the system for that purpose. More generally, if we agreed that human well-being was a priority, creating more jobs would not ring so hollow.

Sadly, even if we did agree, complex systems are not subject to clever fixes. Rather, changes often have unexpected results (that shouldn’t happen with a clock), so change necessarily remains incremental. But without an agreement on goals, without statements of purpose, we are going to continue to see changes that are not in the interest of the majority. Increasingly, it’s corporations and not governments that are determining how the world works. As unrepresentative as government might seem right now, there is at least a chance of improving it, whereas corporations will always act in their own interests.

It’s been adequately demonstrated that more than minor tweaks are needed to improve life for most people. Let’s try to make sense of where the world is now instead of relying on outdated doctrines like “capitalism” and “socialism” created by people who had no idea what the 21st century would look like. Let’s ambitiously and publicly philosophize — as the conservatives do — and think about what shape a sensible political economy might take.

The big ideas and strategies for how we should manage society and thrive with the planet are not a set of rules handed down from on high. To develop them for now and the future is a major challenge, and we — progressives and our allies — have to work harder at it. No one is going to figure it out for us.

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Last Night In Oakland

Believe it or not, mainstream media does not accurately portray happenings on the ground. Yes, these were riots and there were fires in trash cans and broken windows and graffiti, but man was there good too, much more of it than the bad. I am happy to cough and tear up to peacefully protest and look forward to doing it again. How powerful would it be if every person stepped out from behind alarmist twitter feeds and inadequate news reports to see what’s happening for themselves and then make the stand?

Of course any harm, looting and destruction are bad, however that is not an accurate representation of most of the night. Worth noting, most of the window breaking and graffiti I witnessed was perpetrated by young white boys. Fucking children. I get civil disobedience and all, but I highly doubt that way their motivator or that they gave thought to the repercussions such actions have for the community we are marching for.

We have to continue to demonstrate as well as propose actionable solutions. Check out this site where people can propose and share demands and actions:

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How cultures around the world make decisions

I read The Paradox of Choice and Art of Choosing while and after living overseas. Returning to the states I felt, as many do, overwhelmed and frustrated by the number of choices. Consumerism can be painful. Anyway…Great food for thought below, especially in light of the activism permeating American culture in this moment. What about making activism active?

{Repost from Ted Ideas}

by Amy S. Choi

Is the American obsession with individual freedom really such a great idea? What other cultures know about how to make good choices.

Sit down at a restaurant in France, and there’s a menu. Salmon with rice. French beans. Wine. If you ask for potatoes instead of rice, the restaurant will say no. Because it is their menu. Not yours. To an American, this is nearly unfathomable.

One American model: Give me personal autonomy or give me death.

“In terms of fetishizing the idea of choice, the U.S. is the absolute pinnacle,” says Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory and social change at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice. “We want to be able to choose everything that matters, as well as the things that don’t.”

We want to be able to choose everything that matters, as well as the things that don’t.

Rice and potatoes aside, the American desire for choice has manifested in numerous ways: politically, in a demand for a voice in governance; commercially, in the demand for a variety of consumer goods and services; and spiritually, in the demand to choose and create exactly the kind of individual life, and self, you believe in. In the U.S., the overriding perception is that anything you do out of allegiance to tradition and social expectation is inauthentic and not you. Because the real you is the choices you make.

After Protestant colonists brought the concept of personal autonomy to the U.S., the idea was further cemented into the national psychology with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Personal and religious freedom became irrevocably tied to economic freedom from the monarchy and early capitalism. “Americans were truly the only people that brought those ideas together,” says Sheena Iyengar, professor at Columbia Business School and author of The Art of Choosing (TED Talk: The art of choosing.) “It made the idea of personal autonomy such a dogma that it almost became a religion itself.”

The AMerican cultural responsibility to revere choice has been Present since before America was America. In other words, IT WAS NEVER A choice.

My fellow Americans and I believe that choice allows us to individuate ourselves, to prove that we are free. Our preferences, therefore, become who we are. We feel acutely the need to construct a personal narrative out of our choices and, thus, construct our own identity.

There’s a certain degree to which this is sheer lunacy, and also fallacy. Because our cultural responsibility to revere choice has been instilled in us since before America was America. In other words, we never chose choice.

The Amish model: Belonging, not choice, is crucial.

Even within the U.S., not all cultures regard the idea of personal autonomy as sacrosanct. In the Anabaptist religious tradition, for example, there is one major choice to be made: whether or not to be baptized into the church. The Amish are baptized between the ages of 18 and 24 years old, after a “rumspringa,” or period in their teenage years in which they experience modern life, including dating, driving and using technology.

The Amish wonder why we’re so anxious about our work that we’ll tear apart our families and move across the country for a job, to end up living among strangers.

Once they’ve made the choice to be part of the church — which the majority of young adults do — and are baptized, all other choices are made within the Amish canopy, says Donald Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, and author of numerous books on the Amish. For example, because formal education terminates at the end of eighth grade, there are limits to the choice of profession. You can’t be a lawyer or surgeon. But within limits, you have every freedom to choose whether to become a small business owner, or carpenter, or baker, or horse trainer, or any number of other occupations. The Amish sense of identity isn’t shaped by choices they make but is conferred to them by the community. Instead of choice, they have belonging.

Amish women at the beach in Chincoteague, Virginia. Photo by Pasteur/Wikipedia.

Amish women at the beach in Chincoteague, Virginia. Photo by Pasteur/Wikimedia.

“I have a very intelligent Amish friend who thinks the rest of us are crazy in how we view the professional choices we make,” says Kraybill. “We’re so anxious about our occupations that we’ll tear apart our families and move across the country for a job and end up living among strangers with no family or social support if we get ill or have an emergency. And put that way – how insane does that sound?”

Why should it be any less authentic to be a product of the family that raised you and the culture you grew up in and the religious institutions you participate in? Rather than knowing who you are by knowing your preferences, you know who you are by knowing what you belong to.

One Asian model: Focus on interdependence and harmony, not independence and self-expression.

In some Asian cultures, to fulfill your independent self is not the primary goal of an individual: The goal is to be interdependent and maintain relationships and make them harmonious. In Japan, for example, being a “going your own way” person is to be immature and not culturally sophisticated. Though people obviously have preferences, they often don’t choose what they like, because that’s not the ideal manner. “Your cultural task is harmony, not self-expression,” says Hazel Markus, social psychologist and professor of behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

The idea is that the person is not a whole, but a part, and only becomes whole in connection with others.

Why? Partly because being part of the social organization is a core tenet of traditional Eastern religions. “All of them foster an idea that a person is not a whole, but a part, and only becomes whole in connection with others,” says Markus. “The fundamental, ontological understanding of what a person is is as a node in a network.”

In Confucianism, especially, the belief is that without knowing your place in the hierarchy, and behaving accordingly, chaos will ensue. Certainly, you can choose not to adhere to the norm; Confucius says not to do certain acts if you don’t believe them, says Peter Carroll, associate professor of Chinese history at Northwestern University and author of Between Heaven and Modernity: Reconstructing Suzhou.

You have the choice to opt in or opt out; the difference is that there’s a clear expectation of what the correct choice is. By not doing the correct thing, you are demonstrating that you are less than a full person.

Meanwhile, in America, a similar rhetoric rules. By not exercising your full range of choices, you are demonstrating yourself to be less than a full person — even though most people don’t exercise the choices they believe so strongly in, such as the right to vote. This is the fiction of choice in the West, says Carroll. “Individual choice is a powerful received idea, but frankly, it’s a bit of a white lie that our culture tells itself,” he says.

According to the United States Census Bureau, only 57.1 percent of Americans over the age of 18 voted in the 2008 presidential election. Chart courtesy of Jmj713/Wikimedia.

“We’re not the most non-conformist, and we’re not the most individualized,” says Iyengar. “But what Americans do have is a very strong dogma. We believe ourselves to be the most autonomous; we value autonomy more than any other culture; we value the concept of non-conformity more than any other culture; and we value the concept of individual freedom and individual choice more than any other culture, at least rhetorically. But we’re certainly not the most radical in offering freedoms, such as with gay rights or getting women the right to vote. We are not the first ones to actually empower people with autonomy.”

As Western consumer culture proliferates around the world, will cultural views on choice change?

Our fixation on individual choice is actually dangerous to our society, because it pacifies our activism, argues Renata Salecl, philosopher and sociologist (TED Talk: Our unhealthy obsession with choice). Making choices based on social and political good actually engineers the most change. In the Scandinavian countries, she notes, it was a political choice to open government to women and make rules regarding energy use and environmental sustainability. If left to the individual, that likely wouldn’t have happened.

As Western consumer culture, with its seemingly endless choices, proliferates around the world, will the cultural view on choice change?

In India, studies found that even while young college students become megaconsumers, that picking clothes or music without consideration for what their parents might think is not considered particularly moral, says Markus. In Japan, advertisements explicitly encourage individuals to “follow the trend” and “fit in.” Similarly, in Korea, ads for food products advertise that “You might be able to make a dish almost as good as your mother-in-law’s” — because the ability to uphold tradition is most valued in driving personal choices, not innovation or individuality.

Still, as countries become more urban, more people will be exposed to diversity and, generally, open themselves up to reflection. Likewise, as more people around the world are educated — and educated in a Western style — the more they will come into contact with different ways of living and the more they will see and deliberate on choices in their own life. The digital revolution vastly accelerates the process.

The American obsession with choice insists that choice be installed globally, whether through geopolitics or consumer goods.

“You have a lot of people around the world consuming an American-style education, and what that does is teach a common language regarding how you discuss and frame your ideas,” says Iyengar. “A result of that is that the intellectual class around the world is starting to debate more. That’s leading to more conflict for sure, but they are also using this way of arguing when it comes to choices they need to make, even when it comes to defending an absence of choice, like in a political system.”

The American obsession with choice insists that choice be installed globally, whether through geopolitics or consumer goods. It’s anathema to let people limit their own choices. “It’s tied to being free,” says Markus. “And how do you know you’re free? Because you get to freely choose and do what you want to do and follow your heart and your dream. The way things are now are not the way they have to be tomorrow. It’s bedrock for us, for our American selves. Freedom equals choice, and in every human heart is the desire to be free, so that must mean choice for all.”

Yet complete radical freedom and individualism creates a life that can’t be lived. Tyranny is unacceptable too, of course. But somewhere between tyranny and radical freedom resides a mixture of constraints, social norms, legal constraints and individual freedom of choice that enables people to lead satisfying, meaningful and authentic lives.

Featured image by Lyza/Flickr.

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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%.