Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama

2014 Three Amigos preview

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Three Amigos summits are rare and brief, not a combination you want from three side-by-side countries that have a lot to say.

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama for the latest Three Amigos summit in Toluca, Mexico.

Technically, the name is the North American Leaders Summit but the Three Amigos nickname has stuck for this event.

Despite what you might think based on the U.S. media, agenda items other than the Keystone XL pipeline will come up in the discussions.

For more on what we might see during the brief summit, check out our analysis from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Senate passes Farm Bill with yet more food stamps cuts

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The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

“Our political system is basically evil versus spineless now,” former Clinton USDA official Joel Berg.

As someone who has worked well with words over the years, I couldn’t sum up how I felt about the savage attack on food stamps in the new Farm Bill soon to reach the desk of President Barack Obama. The quote above was as close as I could get.

The Farm Bill cuts $8 billion in food stamps in the next 10 years. In practical terms, this means an average cut of $90 per month.

Those cuts are on top of $11 billion over the next 2 years that came a few weeks ago — benefits that expired from the 2009 stimulus bill. The average cut works out to $38/month.

The $8 billion is presumably a “compromise” especially since Senate Dems opened the bidding at $4 billion in cuts. This would be the spineless portion of the negotiations.

Berg is on the frontline of this battle as the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and author of “All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?”

The politician who has received the most criticism on the food stamps cuts is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Sen. Stabenow points out that the new Farm Bill gets rid of direct payment subsidies. The senator also points out changes for those who want more support for local and organic foods.

“Our agriculture economy is increasingly based on rising consumer demand for healthy, locally grown foods. We’re investing more in programs to promote fruits and vegetables. We provide over four times more funding for farmers’ markets and strong support for growers who want to transition to organics. We create local food hubs to help institutions like hospitals, restaurants and schools buy more local foods.”

Specifically, the senator states that the new Farm Bill “doubles SNAP benefits for low-income families when they buy healthy produce at farmer’s markets, increases funding for food banks, and provides financing for new grocery stores in underserved areas.”

As for the food stamps cuts, Sen. Stabenow says the bill is designed to reduce fraud and misuse. The “heat and eat” programs — where states can get extra SNAP money for signing up people for home heating assistance — is the primary focus. The senator says any SNAP recipient getting more than $20/year in home heating assistance won’t get SNAP cuts, and those getting less assistance have to show a heating bill to keep their SNAP benefits at the status quo mark.

Even if the bill does address direct payments, the bill still has plenty of crop subsidies and expensive crop insurance. The louder Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) screams, the better the bill will be. Fincher is in the dubious position of taking huge payments to not grow crops while calling for radical cuts in food stamps.

If people are choosing between heating their homes and eating, then we are shortchanging those people.

And if we are saving this much money from payments to those who don’t need the money, then we should be able to afford a boost for those who still need help.

The truth likely rests somewhere in between. The sad part is that we may not learn about whether people are suffering from the food stamps cuts since those stories go underreported. And in a struggling economy, especially without a subsequent raise in the minimum wage, it looks bad to cut food assistance, no matter how that might be done.

I love reforms to make sure those who need help are getting help. But those that need help aren’t getting enough help.

President Obama will be under significant pressure to sign the bill into law. Fights over the Farm Bill have weighed down Congress, but then again, this is part of the GOP strategy. Unfortunately, for Americans who struggle in real life with putting food on the table, the politicians in Washington have other priorities.

Why do Tea Party people think Canadian-born Ted Cruz can be president?

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Ted Cruz is making his way through Iowa as if he can run for president in 2016. But Cruz has a major issue hanging over his head; he was born in Canada. And Cruz was born in Canada under the same exact circumstances where the teabaggers thought President Barack Obama was, so why would Cruz be more eligible than Obama? Teabagger logic knows no thought process.

Here is my take from my sister site, CanadianCrossing.com.

When people joke about a president being from Canada, they usually refer back to the story of Chester A. Arthur, who allegedly was born in Quebec and not Vermont. That tale centered around a border dispute and may have been fodder from Arthur’s political enemies.

The assumption that people born in Canada can’t be president is being challenged, of sorts, by the talk of Ted Cruz running for president.

Cruz, who just got to the Senate in January replacing the retired Kay Bailey Hutchison in Texas, is being talked about as a possible presidential candidate by Tea Party people and TV pundits. Okay, not a whole lot to go on so far. But these groups don’t mention the (GOP) elephant in the room: Ted Cruz was born in Canada.

Cruz certainly thinks he has a shot at entering the 2016 presidential race. On Friday, Cruz made his first trip to Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus. Politicians who are running or thinking about the run make trips to Iowa 3 years before the caucus.

The U.S. senator from Texas placed sixth in Iowa in the Public Policy Polling survey released last week. Cruz was at 10%, 13% among men and 7% among women (among Republicans). The gender gap also is in effect, where men are more than twice to know who he is.

Unlike Arthur, Cruz clearly was born in Canada. He lived there for his first four years. By that standard, former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm could be eligible to be elected president. Granholm has lived in the United States since she was 4.

Cruz theoretically has one more element in his column that was separate him from Granholm: Cruz’s mother is an American citizen.

The criteria in the Constitution is “natural born citizen.” Traditionally, that has meant being born to American parents on U.S. soil, though that standard hasn’t been challenged.

George Romney, born in Mexico to U.S. parents, ran for president in 1968. John McCain was born in the Panama Canal zone and ran for president in 2008.

Barack Obama, who is the president of the United States, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but that didn’t stop some of the same people who support Cruz from claiming otherwise.

In fact, the Tea Party people pointed to Obama’s “illegitimacy” citing that being born to an American mother and a father who is a citizen of a foreign country outside the United States doesn’t make for a natural born citizen if that person is born outside the United States. Yet that same exact criteria applies to Ted Cruz.

Yes, Cruz’s mother is American, but his father was Cuban. And Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta and lived there for his first four years of his life.

Whether Cruz is eligible needs to be determined. If the Tea Party people are to argue that point, they need to explain why they didn’t support the same criteria for Barack Obama, if Obama’s life had existed in the Tea Party’s parallel universe.

The United States is more strict on citizenship issues than most similar countries. Being born to an American parent, even on foreign soil, does entitle you to U.S. citizenship. However, this is about being a natural born citizen, and until now, this action required a person to be born on U.S. soil to U.S. parents.

Also, to be president (and vice president) of the United States, you have to be a natural born citizen and at least 35 years of age. Contrast that with the Canadian requirements for prime minister.

Are you a citizen of Canada? Yes. Are you at least 18 years old? Yes. So if you can get elected to the House of Commons, you can be prime minister.

You certainly don’t have to be born in Canada to be prime minister. John Turner, who was born in England, served briefly as prime minister in 1984 after Pierre Trudeau’s reign before Brian Mulroney won election for the Progressive Conservatives.

Turner also didn’t hold a seat in Parliament while being prime minister, but ironically did win a seat in the election that tossed him out as prime minister.

The United States needs to decide what criteria is needed to determine who is eligible to be president. Canadians want to know if they have a shot.

Farm Bill split should lead to frank food stamps discussion

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Instead of being subtle about its hatred for food stamps, the GOP is being openly hostile by splitting food assistance away from the Farm Bill. But for too long, the combination of subsidies for rich farmers and food assistance has stifled the conversation about changing our food approach.

So to match the aggressiveness of the GOP, the Liberals and progressives and Democratic politicians should fight back to not only hang on to the current food assistance but also increase its effectiveness. Dems would also benefit with pointing out some of the side issues involved in food assistance, such as raising the minimum wage. When fast food workers can’t afford to eat, when people are working more than one job and are still having trouble, the food system is broken.

For more on this, check out the latest column from our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com.

Cheerios opening up breakfast to all families

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The following column originally ran on June 5, 2013 on our sister blog, BalanceofFood.com.

If you think a bowl of Cheerios is too healthy, you could mix half and half with Apple Jacks and create your own cereal treat. There the two cereals would be — side by side — in perfect harmony for your mouth.

Of course, some could object that Cheerios shouldn’t be so close to Apple Jacks much less Froot Loops and should stick with other Cheerios.

Now Cheerios even comes in chocolate Cheerios so you can mix regular and chocolate together.

Cereal is universal in that they are all one in the bowl of life. People are that way, too, though you might not think that was true given the negative reaction to the multiracial family in the latest Cheerios ad.

If you eat several different kinds of cereal in the same bowl and close your eyes when you are eating it, you can’t tell whether you are eating regular Cheerios or Chocolate Cheerios or Apple Jacks or Froot Loops. I’ve done this with snack chips and you’d be surprised how much is lost when you eat them all together.

People of all different colors eat all different kinds of cereal. You might hate another human being for a number of reasons, but find that both of you like the same cereal.

People of a mixture of colors and ethnicities, as the young girl in the ad is a classic example, has literally existed long before breakfast cereal was invented. So literally from the beginning of breakfast cereal, families who look like the family in the ad have been eating breakfast cereal together.

All the ad did was bring attention to that fact. Most of us didn’t think much about the connection. It was silly of the girl to pour Cheerios on the heart of her sleeping father, but such silliness transcends everything else.

In life and Life cereal, there is room at the breakfast table for all different kinds of cereal and the people who eat them. Some people just need to scoot over and make a little more room.

Barack Obama calls for infrastructure fixes 4 years too late

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In 2009, Barack Obama inherited a situation with crumbling infrastructure and a lot of people out of work. In a 2+2=4 world, the logical step would be to take the people out of work and have them build up infrastructure. Even if everyone couldn’t do those skills, there were enough people who could, and if they had jobs, other jobs and businesses wouldn’t have fallen in 2009 and 2010.

In 2009, if CBS or any other broadcast network came out with a show idea about giving someone a job, that could have turned into the next “American Idol” or “The Voice” or “So you think your smart 5th grader has talent.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama, having been elected to a second term, has proposed a “Fix it First” to help rebuild infrastructure. Obama said 70,000 bridges were in need of repair, among countless problems. Jon Stewart thought the bridges were a rather immediate concern.

In 2013, CBS is running a show called “The Job” where they make people go through humiliation for a “dream job” such as being an editorial assistant at Cosmopolitan magazine. As the promo notes — “the employer has all the power” — a rather depressing and not altogether accurate statement.

This feels more about humiliation than help; Stephen Colbert put it best when he labeled the program despertainment.

“And with one hire per show, ‘The Job’ should run for 12.3 million episodes.”

In both cases, the feeling is “too little, way too late.” The difference is that Obama is being sincere and CBS, well, doesn’t look like they really want to help.

Our infrastructure still needs fixing as does our job market. So we can certainly use the help. One bridge and one job at a time is too little, but better than we have had lately.

Getting infrastructure improved and a jobs program requires help from the GOP, and that party isn’t interested. Nor are Republicans game for raising the minimum wage.

Republicans preach about the value of work, yet they aren’t willing to pay for it. The proposed raise to $9/hour wouldn’t be immediate. The minimum wage would go up incrementally over three years to $9. Even then, the minimum wage will be undervalued, worse if someone is a tipped employee.

Liberals joke that the GOP wants the world of “Leave It to Beaver” brought to life. If the minimum wage reflected buying power in 1957, the wage would be well beyond $9 right now.

The United States needs rebuilding, but the GOP doesn’t want to pay for it. Poor people need a raise, but the GOP doesn’t want to pay for it. The GOP wants people to get jobs, but won’t submit any plan to get those jobs.

The good news for the Republicans is that Barack Obama can’t run for president in 2016. So they might as well give Obama the chance to succeed or fail based on his requests. Don’t worry, Obama won’t get as much horrible stuff as you think he will, or anyone else for that matter.

We need help, but the GOP doesn’t want us to get that help. The GOP House controls the House. So as the saying goes, “Lead or get out of the way.”

Senate needs Mo Cowan, mo’ African Americans

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Someday, you can tell your grandchildren that you were alive when the Senate first had two African-Americans at the same time. Hopefully, your grandchildren will find that strange, since the Senate would be full of African-Americans.

U.S. senators of Hispanic descent haven’t had much trouble getting elected. Women also have an easy time getting in, though not nearly at the level that they exist in the real world. But having African-Americans in the Senate is still a gigantic hurdle.

When conservatives point out that black people have made it because Barack Obama was elected president, now twice, the United States has only had three elected African-American senators.

Mo Cowan is the newest senator, being appointed by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (one of two total elected black state governors) to replace John Kerry, the new Secretary of State.

Cowan joins Tim Scott, appointed by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to replace Jim DeMint. Cowan will have a short stay in the Senate with the special election to fill the remainder of Kerry’s seat on June 25. Scott gets to stay at least until 2014, though Scott is likely to run again to keep the seat.

The only other African American to represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was one of the three elected senators. Edward Brooke held the seat as a Republican from 1967-1979. Our current president, Barack Obama, is one of the three to be elected. Carol Moseley Braun is the other elected senator, representing Illinois from 1993-1999.

Scott and Cowan join Roland Burris (D-IL) as appointed senators since Reconstruction.

The common political adage is that African Americans can win local races but not statewide races. After all, the Congressional Black Caucus proves that African-Americans can get elected to the House. Interestingly, Scott is the only one on the list who has served in the House of Representatives. Often, senators get elected out of the House.

3 elected senators, 2 elected governors — this isn’t progress. Appointing senators gives the power of incumbency, which can lead to re-election. Burris had no chance of winning re-election and Cowan is trapped in a scenario where running for the election isn’t viable.

Scott has a chance to be elected to his seat; if that happens and no other African Americans run and win in 2014, then he will be the fourth elected senator and the second Republican.

Obama became president by serving less than a term in the U.S. Senate, an unusual path regardless of race. Governors and senators run for president, yet very few of them are African American. At this pace, we’ll look back fondly on the just past Inauguration. We just saw the re-election of America’s first black president. It will be awhile before we see that again. maybe our grandchildren will tell a different story.