Tag Archives: Politics

Who is Dependent on Welfare

It is time for a new social contract.

Momma Welfare Roll

Her arms semaphore fat triangles,
Pudgy hands bunched on layered hips
Where bones idle under years of fatback
And lima beans.
Her jowls shiver in accusation
Of crimes clichéd by
Repetition. Her children, strangers
To childhood’s toys, play
Best the games of darkened doorways,
Rooftop tag, and know the slick feel of
Other people’s property.

Too fat to whore,
Too mad to work,
Searches her dreams for the
Lucky sign and walks bare-handed
Into a den of bureaucrats for
Her portion.
‘They don’t give me welfare.
I take it.’

-Maya Angelou

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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.

-President Barack Obama // The 57th Presidential Inauguration


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His Holiness Emeritus

by Evan Osnos

The Dalai Lama announced his retirement today, an event that will be duly recorded—and then all but ignored for the time being. It’s not that the many parties with an interest in this issue don’t agree with his decision to remove himself from the political hurly-burly of the Tibet movement. (In fact, that’s one of the few things on which both the Chinese and Tibetan government-in-exile might agree.) The problem is that, despite his persistent attempts to renounce his political functions and pave the way for a new generation of leaders who can govern without the emotional and religious baggage he represents, he simply looms too large over the Tibet conflict to be there and not there at the same time.

But the announcement is more significant than people might imagine: When it’s finalized, this will be remembered as the formal end of his five decades as head of state of the Tibetan government-in-exile. (Though, in fairness, no country in the world recognizes that government as such.) But he has always been known for far more than that. To his admirers, he is the icon of endurance, a guru, a post-political figure. To his critics: a manipulator, a ditherer, a “devil with a human face.” This announcement will not change the fact that he remains the senior religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism, and, as I wrote in a Profile last year, that neither he nor China nor Washington yet knows what will happen when he dies. (Chinese authorities recently reasserted their longstanding declaration that the Dalai Lama has no right to be reincarnated without the Communist Party’s approval.)

There has abundant speculation that his spiritual role might be filled in the years ahead by the Karmapa Lama, who was born in Tibet but fled to Dharamsala a decade ago. Now twenty-four, he has grown into a large, commanding figure who is often seated at the Dalai Lama’s side at public events. But when I interviewed the Karmapa last year, he was a surprisingly fitful figure: Internet-savvy, barred from traveling widely by Indian officials, some of whom suspect he is a Chinese spy, and deeply curious about the West. The notion that he might slip easily into the sandals of the Dalai Lama has always struck me as an unexamined proposition. (Further complicating the prospect of him taking over
is a swirl of controversy rooted in the fact that another man also claims to be the Karmapa.)

The emerging reality is that the Dalai Lama will never truly be able to give his power away. It must be earned, gradually and meaningfully, by the next generation of leaders, people such as Lobsang Sangay, a Tibetan legal scholar at Harvard who is a frontrunner to be the next prime minister in exile. Eventually, a new generation of leaders might help break some of the logjam with the Chinese government, though I’m not optimistic. The transition will not be swift, and it will not happen entirely until the Dalai Lama’s “change of clothing,” as he calls his own death. But today is the next step toward a change that he has sought for years.

I’ve often wondered, watching the Dalai Lama tinker with his mechanical toys or geek out with a visiting scientist over the details of brain science, whether, in some other scenario, he might have had a happy life as a bench scientist at a lab in Jersey. Now he might get a bit more time to himself. “Retirement is also my human right,” he once told an audience. They thought it was charming, and they giggled madly, as people always do in his presence. But the comment always sounded painfully sad to me. “Since sixteen years old,” he added that day, “I carried this responsibility.”

The New Yorker / Letter from China / Published: March 10, 2011

I always giggled in his presence. He deserves a break, but I miss him already. I know many will and many who have for a long time. A slightly scary beginning of an end. A hopeful beginning to another end.

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by Hendrik Herzberg

The Disney Channel showed “Ratatouille” last night, as if in rebuke to the New York City Health Department’s recent decision to humiliate restaurants that value taste over tidiness by forcing them to post letter grades evaluating them for cleanliness—a fine quality no doubt, but one whose traditional place next to godliness might be better occupied by gastronomy.

What with so many awful things happening as we sink into the twenty-tens (global heating, murderous fundamentalisms, chronic warfare, Tea Partisanship, poisoned oceans, media “platforms” that function as scaffolds for journalism), that delicious movie is a reminder of one of the consolations of twenty-first-century American life: the ever-expanding culture of good food and good cooking.

Foodism, as it might be called, won’t cure any global disasters, and its direct beneficiaries are mostly the relatively privileged and comparatively well-educated—the sort of people who shop at Whole Foods, support farmers’ markets, and patronize restaurants that have “executive chefs.” But the benefits have trickled down, as a visit to any midrange chain supermarket will confirm. Compared to the Grand Unions and A&P’s of a generation or two ago, the ShopRites and Safeways of today are a gourmet’s paradise. And at McDonald’s you can now get a salad with that. Let us count our blessings while we can.

By the way, I don’t actually object to the Health Department’s move. Yes, Homo sapiens and Rattus norvegicus have lived together for a long time, and if we ever succeed in getting rid of them entirely we might discover to our regret that in some unforeseen way they had been a vital link in the ecology of urban life. Nevertheless, and “Ratatouille” notwithstanding, it’s probably a good idea to discourage rodents from frequenting restaurant kitchens. Cleanliness in general is a good thing, too, as long as it’s not taken to extremes. (If it weren’t for “germs,” i.e., bacteria, we wouldn’t have cheese.) The evidence is clear: in Los Angeles, which has been rating restaurants for cleanliness since 1998, substantially fewer people end up in the hospital after a nice dinner out.

Like Mayor Bloomberg’s trans-fats bans, smoking bans, and posted calorie counts, awarding A’s, B’s, and C’s for hygiene is an emanation of the liberal Nanny State so scorned by libertarians and conservatives—who, it seems, would prefer a Neglectful/Abusive Parent State and a Tyrannical Stepfather State, respectively. Don’t they know that nanny knows best, and is nicer besides? If the candidates in the next mayoral election are Mary Poppins (Dem.-W.F.P.), Pap Finn (Libertarian), and Mr. Murdstone (Rep.-Cons.), I’m voting for the carpetbagger with the umbrella. Spit spot! ♦

The New Yorker / Good Stuff / Published: July 13, 2010

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More than a year’s worth of intense political haggling, legislative maneuvering and emotional debate reached its stirring conclusion Tuesday morning as President Barack Obama officially signed health care reform legislation into law.

Speaking in the East Room of the White House, with roughly 200 lawmakers seated before him as well as Vicky Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), the president called the moment a “new season in America.”

“Today, after almost a century of trying, today, after over a year of debate, today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America. In a few moments when I sign this bill, all of the overheated rhetoric of reform will finally confront the reality of reform.”

“We are not a nation that scales back its aspirations,” Obama said. “We don’t fall prey to fear. We are not a nation that does what’s easy. That is not who we are, that’s not how we got here. We are a nation that faces its challenges and accepts its responsibilities.”

On Sunday, the president finally got the votes he needed. Three year’s prior he had told the audience at a progressive forum that he would judge his “first term as president based on the fact on whether we have delivered the kind of health care that every American deserves and that our system can afford.” On Tuesday he did just that, putting under his belt the greatest achievement in social policy in the past forty years. It wasn’t the end to the process. The Senate still needs to pass its reconciliation bill. But it was certainly a time to reflect on and savor what has been accomplished.

Speaking before Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden praised the president for “delivering on a promise,” and showing the resolve to get reform done.

“Your fierce advocacy, the clarity of purpose that you showed, the perseverance, these are in fact — it is not hyperbole to say it — the reasons why we are assembled in this room together,” Biden said. “Mr. President, you are the guy that made it happen… you have done what generations of not just ordinary, but great men and women, have attempted to do — Republicans as well as Democrats.”

The Huffington Post / Politics / Posted by Sam Stein: March 23, 2010

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“A New Birth of Freedom” commemorates the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. The words, echoing across 200 years from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, express Lincoln’s hope that the sacrifice of those who died to preserve the United States would lead to “a new birth of freedom” for the nation.

To a new era..

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‘What I Want for You — and Every Child in America’


Next Tuesday, Barack Obama will be sworn in as our 44th President. On this historic occasion, PARADE asked the President-elect, who is also a devoted family man, to get personal and tell us what he wants for his children. Here, he shares his letter to them.

Dear Malia and Sasha,

I know that you’ve both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn’t have let you have. But I also know that it hasn’t always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn’t make up for all the time we’ve been apart. I know how much I’ve missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.

When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential-schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college-even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.

I want us to push the boundaries of discovery so that you’ll live to see new technologies and inventions that improve our lives and make our planet cleaner and safer. And I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.

Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war and other dangerous situations to protect our country-but when we do, I want to make sure that it is only for a very good reason, that we try our best to settle our differences with others peacefully, and that we do everything possible to keep our servicemen and women safe. And I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free-that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.

That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.

She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better-and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be.

I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much-although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.

These are the things I want for you-to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.

I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful every day for your patience, poise, grace, and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House.

Love, Dad

PARADE Magazine / Published: January 14, 2009

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