Politics & government

[2734] Obama in Kuala Lumpur, a disappointing townhall session

I was lucky enough to get invited to a townhall meeting where Obama talked about the US involvement in Asia. The President gave a speech and I thought he touched on many issues which are close to Malaysia, from equality, rule of law, how democracy is not just about elections, to security in Asia. The audience loved it when he talked about equality, clapping immediately forcing him to pause. A particularly touching story was about an American teacher from Boston in Malaysia, who after the bombing, encouraged her Malaysian students to write letters to the victims, highlighting the people-to-people relations that exist between the US and Malaysia.

The audience also clapped almost every time he said a Malay word. Yea, cheap thrill. Every time he shouted “Go Blue!” at my university (he gave a speech at Michigan a week or two back), a tiny part of me would vote for the Democrats even though I am a libertarian.

I thought he set the tone for the townhall session. A good, critical tone. But it was not to be.

This was the chance of a lifetime to ask the President of the United States of America important questions at the time when the Trans-Pacific Partnership is under negotiation and the temperature in the South and East China Seas is rising, becoming the ground for the next Great Game. But it was wasted by ridiculously fluffy questions about his regrets, about his values, about “share with us how Malaysia can become a rich country”, about… what on earth is going on, ask real questions you sheep!

I was so frustrated that I raised my own hands, hoping that Obama would pick me. I wanted to show these people what a critical question would sound like. I had two questions in mind:

  1. How confident are you that the TPP would be closed given that you do not appear to have the Congress’ full support?
  2. What the US is doing to ensure resolution in the South China Sea will come through peaceful means?

But with about 300 people, the chances of me being chosen by the US President himself was less than half a percentage point.

There are other questions one could ask, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to Iran, climate change, North Korea to… oh god, the Pivot to Asia, to MH370, to the US position towards the sharia laws, to… plenty of real issues. This is the leader of the United States, the world’s superpower. Not Justin Bieber goddammit.

It was quite unbelievable the quality of questions asked. These guys cannot possibly have a university degree.

Obama tried to relate his answers to the bigger relevant picture, probably trying to make the questions respectable. I do not remember all the details. I think he made a statement about how a country could not possibly succeed if the minority in the population were discriminated against. Right there, a direct rebuke of Malaysia’s racial policies. There were between-the-lines messages in it. He tried to raise the standards I think. But there is only so much one can do with a terrible question. I meant, terrible questions.

So, here is how I feel. He gave a respectable speech but the actual townhall session itself was an utter, horrible disappointment.

Still, I am glad that I was there.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved
p/s — The White House just released the transcript from the townhall session. Judge the questions for yourself.

Politics & government

[2607] Romney won because he was underestimated

Before the presidential debate began, I had expected Romney to be creamed. The Obama team was steamrolling for weeks or months now and it appeared that Romney was doing a terrible job at campaigning for the election. Yes, Obama is only maintaining a slim margin, but that margin has not been changing much. Already various commentators are scratching their head, thinking how on earth did Romney screw up his chances?

Plus, given Obama’s oratory skill, if the debate was a trap, then Romney was going straight into it.

Boy, was I wrong. I underestimated Romney and I am sure Obama did too. At the very least, the Obama team did not do enough preparation for the debate.

Quite the contrary, Romney was the debater. Almost throughout, Romney was the dominant debater that at times, it might have surprised Obama. Obama appeared stumped at times. So dominant was Romney, that the moderator of the debate was Mitt Romney and it was not Jim Lehrer.

I thought the reason Romney was so dominant was that he appeared to have changed his position, or at least his rhetoric. He sounded so reasonable that as I was watching the debate on television, I said to myself, “wait a minute. Did he say that?”

After a while, it was clear that this debate was about the middle ground. There was no Tea Party, there was no Occupy rhetoric. I thought this was yet again the affirmation of Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty. During the primaries, one appeals to one’s base. Romney, after being accused as being too liberal, moved to the right to fight off the more conservative Republican candidates. During a national election with no conservative to fight against, he appeals to the median voter. One needs to win the primaries first, before one can win the presidential election, after all.

Romney played that card in this debate.

Obama did not see that coming and he struggled to overcome the new, extremely confident Romney. Even on the issue of healthcare which I think Obama has an edge, Romney met Obama head on without a flinch.

From the debate, which was very wonkish, I thought Obama lost it. He lost on taxes and schools. Even on financial regulation. Imagine that.

No, I do not think Romney won the debate on financial regulation just because I am a libertarian. I claim so because Romney said he wanted clearer regulation, not less regulation after Obama effectively said Romney wanted to return to old-style no regulation. Romney brought up the qualified mortgage case as an example of bad regulation and Obama had no answer for that. In fact, Obama, struggled to reply on the wider issue of too-big-too-fail. Indeed, Romney turned the Main Street-Wall Street debate, which is naturally a Democrat’s strong point, on its head that Obama lost his bearing.

And so, I thought Romney won the domestic policy debate.

There are two more debates. The next two debates will be about foreign policy and while I do think Obama will win that (Romney’s foreign policy, I think, is horrible), I am preparing myself to be surprised.

Conflict & disaster Politics & government

[2356] A dead Osama means dead Republicans

President Obama has just announced that Osama Bin Laden is dead.  I am sure there will be a lot of discussions on the matter, of how it will affect relationship with the Muslim world, of how this will affect military operation in Pakistan and many others.

One question I want to explore is its potential effect on the 2012 Presidential election.

This is a huge achievement for the Obama administration for one reason: by choice or by accident, the Republicans made Bin Laden the center of their administration and they failed to close the issue it satisfactorily. President Bush was positioned as a war president and I remember during the 2004 election when I was in Ann Arbor, the Republicans relentlessly attacked the Democrats for being soft on War on Terror. The Republicans put themselves as the only party that could lead the US in time of war.

In the end, Bin Laden was the political object of the war, regardless of his strategic value. Yet, four years later, eight years later, he was nowhere in sight, still roaming the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hence, the Republican administration under Bush failed politically.

Now that Bin Laden has been killed by the US military, the objective has been achieved. And was achieved by a Democrat administration.

For a party that is traditionally seen as the one with the experience and the backbone in terms of foreign policy, this cannot be good for the Republicans of 2012. Surely, among the pro-war groups that centered its motive around the need to avenge, the Democrats are the heroes, not the Republicans.

As security concerns slowly retreat into the background and merge with various political noise, so too the likelihood of us seeing a Republican President in 2012.

Economics Humor

[2271] Of Obama is not a Keynesian, he’s an American damnit

Hahaha via Greg Mankiw.

This takes the cake.

Agitated woman: Why, why do you have the sign?

Man: Arr… do you disagree with it?

Agitated woman: …that he’s Keynesian, that he’s like not American. Is that what you’re saying?

Man: Well, we’re… we’re asking a question.

Politics & government

[2199] Of Obama says Go Blue!