Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Tuesday Morning Conference Call

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee hosted a bloggers conference call this morning with guests James Robison and Michael Farris. The Governor fielded questions from a number of bloggers on everything from his recent surge in Iowa and New Hampshire polls to fundraising efforts and education policy.
Huckabee's two guests provided the discussion with some good points and obervations:
Robison commented that the next President must communicate with people and deal with the media.

Farris added that Huckabee is the most able political communicator he's ever met, a statement that I can understand. On the occasions that I've met him, Huckabee is genuine and, unlike other candidates, doesn't answer a question in the shortest way possible in order to move on. Farris also pointed out that the only Republicans to win the presidency in recent history have been true conservatives; moderates don't win. He concluded by saying that, "Mayors of New York don't win. Governors win."

I wasn't able to ask my prepared question to the Governor, but Huckabee and his campaign managers have recognized the positive reception for these conference calls and Huckabee mentioned he would be holding another call soon.

Even if you don't agree with his politics, Huckabee is the great communicator of the 2008 race, and his campaign is following its candidate's sprit by being one of the most open and accessible for bloggers like me.

Hats off to Huckabee!

Bong Hits 4 the Supreme Court

I stood outside the Supreme Court for nearly six hours on the chilly morning of March 19th. While the weather cooled the spirits of a crowd of over a thousand, I was lucky enough to find myself queuing in line with a number of Georgetown Law students. In talking to them I began to understand the position of each side of the case and for which reasons the Court could hand down a decision either way on the case. The Court's recent decision on Morse v. Frederick (in favor of the school's action of taking down the banner and suspending Frederick) would have surprised the students I talked with that day.

It's worth reading the opinion of the court as delivered by Chief Justice Roberts and the dissenting opinion presented by Justice Stevens. Here's a link to the Court's opinion--http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/06pdf/06-278.pdf

It often takes years to see the effects of a Supreme Court ruling, but the implications of this decision could be great and long-lasting--decide for yourself.

Looking Cross-eyed at Two Energy Policies

To be fair, Tommy Thompson is an intelligent man with significant experience in politics, and it would be misleading to believe his entire plan for energy and the environment is as short as it appears on his website (see above). But as the signs of serious harm being done to our earth are visible all around us, America (and the world) can't afford four more years of neglect to our environmental problems.

Tommy Thompson throws his three sentences of policy at the very bottom of the issues page on his website, below "marriage," "abortion," and "Second Amendment." I've been hyping Chris Dodd a lot recently, but for good reason. Anyone serious about running for president needs to have a plan for all the big issues--George Bush has shown us that deferring policy decisions to your best friend appointees is more harmful than having to read a dense 16-paragraph energy plan.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Considering A New Era of National Service

Since I was a young child I've occasionally dreamed of a career in the military, and among my friends I'm one of a few who isn't completely shut off from the idea of pursuing such a path later in life. However, the pros of fighting in today's military are fewer than ever before: the state of veteran's health care is under extreme criticism, the potential for a positive outcome in the current Iraq conflict is uncertain, and many of the traditional positions in the military, especially the Reserve and Guard, are no longer 'one weekend/month' commitments.

Senator Dodd has mentioned recently that he believes Americans possess a unique capacity and willingness to serve their country in whatever way they can. Although I speak for just myself, I'll answer in agreement to Mr. Dodd there; I'm fortunate enough to attend a high school where community service participation is a part of the graduation requirement, and while I've seen a share of people complain their way through forty hours, there's another share of people that like the thing they're experiencing and take it up outside of any requirement later on.

As the conclusion of my high school years looms less than a year away, I've considered taking a year off before college to work on a campaign, learn a language, take special interest classes, and get some sleep. After hearing Chris Dodd this past weekend and considering his national service proposal I've realized that he's talking about people like me. His speech inspired me to look for an opportunity to join an organization like the AmeriCorps or Peace Corps. This morning I emailed the local chapter of AmeriCorps and requested information about the programs they offer for rising college students; it's an option for a year of my life that I'm now seriously interested in. Dodd seeks to inspire a call to service that would echo the 1960's. Although my generation is slow to respond, I am still hopeful that my contemporaries will rise to the occasion.

JFK characterized the American spirit better than anyone else:
"The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly."

Whether or not Chris Dodd is the John F. Kennedy of our generation, he's beginning to tap into the pulse of America that has been ignored for years, and that's something for which I applaud him.

Targeting the Base of Your Support...With an Actual Gun

I recently stumbled across an interesting summary of a Tom Tancredo event in New Hampshire. The Congressman spoke about protecting the right of Americans to own and carry guns, and it just so happened that a number of those in attendance were actually carrying concealed weapons and weren't shy about letting everyone know.

It's not hard to see why Tancredo's campaign is running into the ground; not only has he scaled down his campaign effort in New Hampshire, but he's not even talking about the issues that the top tier of candidates are having to wrestle with. Aside from the small portion of the population that considers protecting gun rights as the most pressing issue in America, the majority of us realize that a candidate whose strongest points are making sure only English is taught in schools, mandating that a 2,000 border fence is built, and broadening gun rights would fail to properly address issues like poverty, the environment, and a peaceful resolution of the Iraq war.

It's the most used saying in the campaign phrase book, and Tancredo seems to be using it now, "If we can place well in the __ primary, than our campaign will really take off."

I hate to rain on Mr. Tancredo's parade, but candidates such as Governor Mike Huckabee and Governor Mitt Romney (who have placed similar emphasis on states like New Hampshire) are actually seeing a rise in their support in the granite state.

Tancredo has nearly $600,000 in cash on hand for the '08 election, but he's got a long way to go before he can start building his border fence...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Vice Presidential Option #1: Chris Dodd

Chris Dodd had a busy day yesterday--two house parties, a major policy speech, a mural painting, and a volunteer action day event. I joined a number of others at the home of New Hampshire State Senator Lou D'Allesandro for a uniquely New Hampshire candidate lawn party to have a chance to meet him. The youthful organizers of this event and the Dodd NH people were some of the most cheerful and attentive campaign staff of any of the candidates I've seen so far and the crowd that assembled to hear the Senator from Connecticut was diverse, concerned, motivated, and knowledgeable.

Dodd's speech covered his initiatives for solving the challenges posed by global warming as well as his new proposal for increasing national service in America. The latter being a continuation of the speech he gave earlier in the day in Nashua. Dodd's proposal lays out 6 ways of increasing service such as a mandatory 100 hours of community service for every high school student, a doubling of the Peace Corps, and a Senior Heroes Program which rewards senior citizens who volunteer in schools with a small payment towards the cost of education for their grandchildren or relatives. The proposal that stuck me as being one of the best was Dodd's idea of a Rapid Response Corp of citizens to assist in emergency and disaster response--a role that used to be played by the National Guard before they became active duty combat troops under the current administration.

It's these types of ideas that set Dodd apart from the rest of the Democratic presidential field. Dodd's proposals for ending the Iraq war and solving the energy crisis and dealing with global warming were well thought-out and were soon imitated or followed by the other candidates. Similar to what he said in his speech, don't you think they'll follow him on his national service proposal as well?

To be fair, bits and pieces of Dodd's proposals have been taken up by the current Congress. For instance, increases in the fuel standards for American automobiles. But none of these proposals have taken into account all of the factors that contribute to the many difficulties posed by changes to the current energy policies. Some of these difficulties include the cost of researching alternative energy technologies and the high cost of paying for new energy sources for all Americans. Dodd uses the idea of a carbon tax to provide for billions of dollars in funding for technology research as well as tax incentives for families and companies that invest in new energy sources.

Chris Dodd made the point that John F. Kennedy, the man that inspired him to serve his country in the Peace Corps, spoke on the same steps in Nashua where Dodd spoke yesterday. While Dodd's ideas provide for significant changes in the field of national service, Dodd's personality is less dynamic than Kennedy's. Vice presidents are often the figures that quietly churn out brilliant ideas before passing them on to the president to act on them, but they need not be the most poignant and persuasive characters of their time. Dodd's poll numbers suggest an almost impossible road ahead in terms of the presidential primaries, but his creative solutions and sensible leadership are desperately needed in America, and we'd be lucky to have someone like him on the Democratic ticket as a vice president.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

When Opposition Needs a Commanding Voice

Nobody's voice was louder at the New Hampshire Democratic Debate than that of Senator Joe Biden. Whether directing his criticism at George Bush's handling of the Iraq war or the Democrats' belief that continuing to block the recent troop funding bill could end the war, Joe Biden hasn't been shy about making his feelings known.

I'm not in favor of a candidate who uses anger and his or her intimidating presence to convince anyone of anything, but I have a profound admiration for that candidate who matches the absurdity of the current war with a spirit of fury and inspired righteousness. It's about time that a Presidential candidate shed the polished image of what is perceived to be the television-friendly indifference towards critical issues such as Iraq that we have seen from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards.

If YouTube could conjure up some clips of politicians from America's early years--when holding your ground on a political matter was an honorable thing to do (and doing so in a forceful manner even more so), I'm sure those politicians would be very similar to Joe Biden.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Download the BB&N POV!

The second issue of the BB&N POV was released a few weeks ago.

The BB&N POV is a high school political magazine written, designed, and published by students in Cambridge, Mass. Three times a year we put out a twenty page magazine for Boston-area and online distribution.

Our Spring '07 issue featured an extensive exploration of 'The Cost of War.' We interviewed a prominent public finance expert from the Kennedy School of Government and an ex-Marine with Operation Iraqi Freedom combat experience to better understand the effects of the current conflict.

Download a free PDF file of the latest issue from the links below.

Download Issue 2 Here!

Rudy v. Ron

The following is the editorial that I co-wrote and was published in the BB&N POV, the high school political magazine that I helped to create and for which I serve as the editor-in-chief. To download the BB&N POV navigate over to www.bbnpov.com

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th. And I would ask the Congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”

That is the angry retort that 2008 Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani threw at fellow candidate Ron Paul. Texas Congressman Paul stated bluntly in the Republicans’ South Carolina debate that he believes American foreign policy in the Middle East has fostered much of the hatred for America from Middle Eastern extremists which has led to tragedies such as 9/11; much more so than their possible abhorrence of American liberties and way of life.

We feel that Mr. Paul is correct. Although Mr. Giuliani, in his forced show of disgust, commented that he had never heard this explanation for Muslim aggression, this theory is not new. The basis of Mr. Paul’s argument is the theory of “blowback.” Roland S. Martin, in a CNN editorial on this subject, defines “blowback” as someone’s action coming back to afflict them. In essence, it makes perfect sense. Imagine living in Iraq during the Gulf War and watching as your country was partially destroyed by the United States. Regardless of whether or not the attacks were justified, you would still feel a level of animosity for the power that had assaulted your country. As the United States attempts to establish bases and ministries, and to interfere in Middle Eastern politics and policies, without regard for the outrage of the citizens of these nations, we do little but breed aggression. The United States has always defended, and must continue to defend our own interests in the world, but we must also be mindful of how we go about achieving our goals. In this age of warfare, diplomacy and the tools that go along with it must not be abandoned.

In 1974 when President Nixon traveled to the Middle East for a seven-day tour, he was welcomed with cheers from the citizens, lauding Nixon and his administration. America has changed little from the time of Nixon in regard to what America stands for, so the argument that the terrorists hate America for our liberal ideals is foolish. If this were the real reason for terrorist hostility, then why aren’t targeting free constitutional governments that are not directly allied with America?

Mr. Giuliani should also rethink his careless use of the events of 9/11 as a way to gain support or, in the case of last week’s debate, applause. It is utterly detestable that Mr. Giuliani quickly dismisses Mr. Paul’s reasonable views by using the misery of 9/11, while pushing himself to be seen as the winner of the debate. It shows the true naiveté of the American people when they blindly give applause to someone who is, in reality, doing little but capitalizing on his presence during that catastrophe, not defending its sanctity.

The theory of blowback, if properly considered and examined, may be an important way of beginning to end the promotion of anti-American sentiment in those Middle Eastern countries where our policies have the greatest impact. Mr. Paul was quite right when he asked how we would feel if our own country were overrun by a foreign power; how our citizens would feel; and whether those feelings might, in some respects, parallel those of the terrorists who now wish to harm us.

Horses and Huckabee

A week ago I made the winding journey from Boston to Francestown, New Hampshire for an intimate afternoon house party with Mike Huckabee. For a sleepy town on a stormy day, the Governor drew a lively gathering of local residents (and a handful of press) at a quaint horse farm. The two dozen or more local residents and supporters that showed up looking to get some face time and talk with the Arkansas man gaining traction little by little in the state parked their cars and pickups on an uneven horse field surrounded by a New England-style fence. And face time we got.

The Governor spoke with all assembled for about fifteen minutes before giving a short but substantive speech and taking a handful of questions that covered everything from the legalization of medical marijuana to foreign policy. Huckabee's most stirring comments came after a question about energy independence and alternative energy technologies. Instead of falling in line with the passive (at best) attitudes of many Republican candidates on the issue of energy and the environment, Huckabee inspired the group by posing the challenge of making America energy-independent and free from the stranglehold that foreign nations have on our economic security. He compared the challenge ahead to our past quest to put a man on the moon—that in ten years the country went from bottle rockets to technological greatness. Such a challenge didn’t seem to worry Huckabee, whose calming attitude of pleasant conversation and peaceful practicality seem a necessary break from seven years of stubborn decision-making from a confrontational President.

It will take a few months to see if Huckabee’s campaign goes anywhere, and with poll numbers creeping up after a series of nationally-televised debates Huckabee’s true test will be to show he’s capable of bringing in the contributions that can inch him ever closer to the top tier in the Republican party.