Sunday, January 27, 2008

President Bush's Last State of the Union Address

Post your thoughts on the speech as it is happening! Watch it live at 8:00 p.m. Publish your comments as it happens live! Mr. Keller will be posting along with you as the speech goes down. If you have any questions feel free to post and I will answer back via the blog. Your opinions, thoughts and ideas are welcomed throughout the speech. It should last for about 45 minutes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr.

OVER THE PAST couple of weeks, the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have proved to be as powerful today as they have ever been. One passage from his "I Have a Dream" speech from the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 seems particularly resonant, as his birthday (he was born Jan. 15, 1929) is celebrated.

"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir," Dr. King said. "This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt."

Dr. King's faith in America was not in vain. His dream of his children not being "judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character" is much closer to reality today than it was on that historic August day. Forty-five years later, the United States once again stands on the cusp of history.

The son of an African father and a white Kansan mother is in serious contention for the Democratic Party's nomination for president. Sen. Barack Obama has filled the hearts and minds of Democrats, independents and quite a few Republicans with hope. While his appeals to unity are explicitly about bridging the partisan divide between red states and blue states, they also are implicitly about bridging the racial divide. In Mr. Obama, many Americans see an opportunity to right a historical wrong with their votes. His decisive win in the Iowa caucuses has given many hope that racism in America is becoming a thing of the past.

One need only to look at what happened not long ago in Jena, La., for a reminder that prejudice and hatred persist. Nooses dangling from trees, a relic of America's violent Jim Crow past, have had a resurgence of late; they have appeared across the country, including in Maryland, where the General Assembly is considering a law to make it a felony to hang a noose as a form of racial intimidation.

But the vision of Dr. King seems stronger. At a Memphis church on April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated, he was at peace with death. "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. . . . I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."

For far too many, that land remains out of reach. But we as a people, as Americans, are still pushing toward the goal.

Barack Obama Speaks at Dr. King's Church

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Will You Get Involved Politically? Young Voters Roaring to Life!


COUNCIL BLUFFS - A new generation of young people who came of age after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks appears to be massing into a powerful voting bloc in 2008.

A crowd filled with exuberant young people cheers for presidential hopeful Barack Obama at the Iowa Events Center's Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines after he won the Democratic caucuses in Iowa on Jan. 3.The generation that some are calling "Millennials" proved instrumental in Democrat Barack Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses.

And in New Hampshire last week, voter turnout among people younger than 30 more than doubled from 2004.

These young men and women say the Iraq war, health care and the economy are driving them to the caucuses and primaries. Many say they are looking for candidates who are authentic and devoid of "political spin."

Thirteen percent of eligible Iowans younger than 30 participated in the caucuses. Obama won the backing of 57 percent of young Democratic caucusgoers.

The youth turnout in New Hampshire was 43 percent. Most of those young people voted in the Democratic primary. Obama won support from 45 percent and Hillary Clinton scooped up 31 percent.

If the trends in Iowa and New Hampshire continue, the number of young people who cast ballots this November could approach the record - 55.4 percent - set in 1972, when 18-year-olds were given their first chance to vote in a presidential election.

Rock the Vote
Since 1972, the first time 18-year-olds could vote, candidates have tried to woo young voters to the polls. Here's a sampling of the more recent efforts:

Rock the Vote, established two years earlier by members of the recording industry, helps register 350,000 young voters. The presidential election sees a 20 percent increase in youth turnout compared with 1988.

SmackDown Your Vote is launched by the World Wrestling Federation as part of a bipartisan effort to get young voters to the polls. Rock the Vote helps create Rap the Vote 2000, and hip-hop stars urge young people to "Register. Vote. Represent." In the closes presidential election of modern times, George W. Bush and Al Gore split the votes of those ages 18 to 29.

During one televised presidential debate, thousands of questions are submitted via wireless devices and the Internet. Four years later, debate questions are submitted via YouTube.

All the major candidates have pages on Facebook, an Internet-based social networking site, and use text messaging to reach young voters.The youth turnout in presidential elections had a mostly steady drop until 1992 when, aided by the recording industry's Rock the Vote campaign, 52 percent turned out. Bill Clinton has said the youth vote helped him win the White House that year.

But experts caution that the youth vote seen in the primaries and caucuses this year may evaporate. Young voters can never be taken for granted - as Democrat Howard Dean learned in 2004, when his youth wave failed to materialize in the Iowa caucuses.

And turnout among older voters continued to surpass young voters in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Many of the young voters have friends in uniform overseas.

Josh Gottschalk, 27, of Minden, Iowa, a member of the Army National Guard, has friends serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A Republican, he caucused for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee because of Huckabee's support for the war and his anti-abortion views.

"If we go over there and pull out and 3,000 of our friends died, then they died for nothing," Gottschalk said.

Danielle Mocha, a 19-year-old from Honey Creek, Iowa, said she understands that America may need to keep some troops in Iraq for several years, but she wants the war to end.

Mocha is a Democrat, still deciding between Clinton and Obama. She likes Clinton's experience, but Obama inspires her. She's a student at Iowa Western Community College and had to work on caucus night.

"Hillary has a really good health care plan and Barack is like a new, fresh, nice guy who looks like he can change (the country) a lot," Mocha said.

Issues are not the only thing leading young people to vote. Political candidates are becoming more savvy at targeting youths.

All the major candidates have pages on Facebook, a social networking Web site, to connect candidates' supporters with each other and inform young people about candidates' views.

Candidates also send volunteers to places where young people are known to congregate, including coffee shops, laundries and bars.

The Young Voter Pact sent 56,000 text messages to young people in Iowa and 96,000 text messages to young people in New Hampshire, urging them to vote, said Jane Fleming Kleeb, 34, an organizer for the Democratic group.

"Basically, you have to target young people where they live and where they hang out," said Kleeb, who lives in Hastings, Neb.

Past efforts by candidates to ride a wave of young voters to victory have often met with failure. As a group, youths are notoriously tough to get to the polls. They often are consumed with getting jobs and working their way through college.

They are transient, forgetting to register to vote when they go off to college or a new job.

In 1972, the youth vote was expected to help Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, an opponent of the Vietnam War, in his bid for the White House.

Even though record numbers of youths voted, McGovern lost 49 states to Richard Nixon.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Smoking ban to be debated in Legislature


LINCOLN — Nebraskans should learn quickly whether public buildings and workplaces across the state will be required to go smoke-free.

Lighting up at lunch in places like the Hiway Cafe in Lyons, Neb., would eventually be just a memory if the Legislature approves a statewide ban on smoking in workplaces and public buildings this session.The Legislature is expected to resume debate on a proposed statewide smoking ban early in the lawmaking session that begins next Wednesday. Lawmakers could cast a deciding vote on Legislative Bill 395 before the end of January.

If the bill passes, Nebraska would join a growing list of states and countries with laws aimed at restricting exposure to secondhand smoke.

As of Tuesday, 28 states had passed laws prohibiting smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars or some combination of the three. Six states passed their laws last year.

Both Nebraska and Iowa limit smoking in public places to designated areas. Nebraska prohibits smoking only in child care centers and state buildings and vehicles.

The World-Herald's annual pre-session survey of Nebraska lawmakers suggests that a vote on a statewide ban will be close.

Twenty-one state senators responding said they favor a ban on smoking in workplaces and public buildings across Nebraska.

Seven senators said they would support a ban only if local communities could opt for less restrictive measures. Five opposed a statewide ban.

The deciding votes will be cast by 16 senators who said they were undecided, who didn't answer or who didn't participate in the survey. It takes 25 votes to pass a bill in the Nebraska Legislature.

State Sen. Joel Johnson of Kearney, chief sponsor of LB 395, said he wasn't surprised at the survey results. He said the survey reflected his own vote tally and the informal vote counts taken during last year's debate about the ban.

But Johnson said he is committed to pursuing a statewide ban with only minimal exceptions, even if he might get a few more votes by agreeing to allow local communities to opt for less restrictive smoking measures.

"Our plan is to have a good bill or no bill," Johnson said. "We want to just take an up-or-down vote, and if we fail there are plenty of people ready to go out and collect signatures" to put the question before voters in a statewide referendum.

Mike Salkin, vice president of the Group to Alleviate Smoking Pollution, said an initiative petition drive is a "distinct possibility" if the Legislature fails to pass a smoking ban this year.

But he was cautiously optimistic about the chances of a statewide ban getting through the Legislature.

Where legislators stand on smoking ban
Here are state legislators' responses to this survey question:

Should Nebraska law ban smoking in public buildings and workplaces?

Yes (21): Adams, Aguilar, Ashford, Avery, Cornett, Fulton, Gay, Hansen, Harms, Janssen, Johnson, Kopplin, Kruse, Louden, McGill, Nelson, Pankonin, Pedersen, Raikes, Stuthman, Wightman

Yes, if towns and cities can opt for less stringent bans (7): Carlson, Christensen, Flood, Howard, Pahls, Rogert, Wallman

No (5): Engel, Erdman, Fischer, Karpisek, Langemeier

Undecided (4): Burling, Friend, Lautenbaugh, Nantkes

No answer (5): Dierks, Heidemann, Hudkins, Pirsch, Synowiecki

Did not participate (7): Chambers, Dubas, Lathrop, McDonald, Preister, Schimek, White"The indications are, we believe, that a law will pass this year, a good law," he said. "I think if they don't pass it, there's going to be a lot of very unhappy people in Nebraska."

The legislative landscape changed some this past fall, when Sen. Mick Mines of Blair resigned his seat. Mines had led opposition to a proposed statewide ban and negotiated an amendment to allow towns and cities to opt out of a statewide prohibition.

LB 395, as amended during second-round debate last year, currently includes the opt-out provision. Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk said he likes the current version of the bill because it preserves local control.

But the opt-out provision doesn't satisfy some senators, such as Phil Erdman of Bayard, who said he opposes a smoking ban.

"Workplaces and private businesses should have the responsibility to make the decision for themselves, their employees and their customers," Erdman said.

Other senators said they oppose allowing a local opt-out provision because it would leave Nebraska with the same kind of patchwork of local smoking regulations currently in effect.

Lincoln has a smoking ban that applies to bars, restaurants and workplaces, with exemptions for home-based businesses, some hotel rooms and laboratories used to study smoking.

Omaha's ban applies to restaurants and workplaces. Bars that don't serve food, keno outlets and Horsemen's Park are exempt until May 2011. Ralston's new ban is similar to the Omaha ordinance but also exempts private clubs.

Other cities have expressed interest in enacting smoking bans but have hesitated out of concern that the change might drive local smokers out of town.

"The amount of discrepancy has reached such a level that it is appropriate for the state to make a uniform decision," said Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln.

Johnson said he will drop LB 395 if he cannot get the opt-out amendment removed, thus killing the bill.

In Iowa, anti-smoking groups are pushing legislation to allow communities to pass local smoking ordinances that are more restrictive than state law. The legislation responds to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that said current state law pre-empts local smoking ordinances.

Local control proposals died during last year's legislative session, but Iowa advocates are hopeful about the chances of passage this year.

Cathy Callaway, president of the Iowa Tobacco Prevention Alliance, said she would love to have a statewide smoking ban in Iowa but is not sure it has enough support. A proposed statewide ban died in the Iowa Senate last year.

In most states, support for statewide action has grown out of success with local bans, Callaway said.

She said 18 towns and counties have passed resolutions asking the Legislature for the authority to enact smoking bans. Among those communities are Des Moines, Ames and Iowa City.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Hunger For America

By Moisés Naím
Wednesday, January 2, 2008; Page A13

The world wants America back.

For the next several years, world politics will be reshaped by a strong yearning for American leadership. This trend will be as unexpected as it is inevitable: unexpected given the powerful anti-American sentiments around the globe, and inevitable given the vacuums that only the United States can fill.

This renewed international appetite for U.S. leadership will not merely result from the election of a new president, though having a new occupant in the White House will certainly help. Almost a decade of U.S. disengagement and distraction have allowed international and regional problems to swell. Often, the only nation that has the will and means to act effectively is the United States.

To be sure, anti-Americanism will never disappear. Nor will America's enemies go away. But strong anti-American currents will increasingly coexist with equally strong international demands for the United States to play a larger role in world affairs.

Of course, the America that the world wants back is not the one that preemptively invades potential enemies, bullies allies or disdains international law. The demand is for an America that rallies other nations prone to sitting on the fence while international crises are boiling out of control; for a superpower that comes up with innovative initiatives to tackle the great challenges of the day, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and violent Islamist fundamentalism. The demand is for an America that enforces the rules that facilitate international commerce and works effectively to stabilize an accident-prone global economy. Naturally, the world also wants a superpower willing to foot the bill with a largess that no other nation can match.

These are not just naive expectations. Foreign leaders know that, even in the best circumstances, the next U.S. president will not be able to deliver on all these things. They also understand that American leadership always comes at a price. Appearing too closely allied with the United States is a risky political position for elected politicians everywhere. Still, some have shown a surprising readiness to stand with America.

Consider what happened last March, when President Bush traveled to Latin America, a region he has largely ignored. To many, it seemed that the trip was bound to be inconsequential, as Bush had nothing concrete to offer. Yet all the Latin American presidents who were asked to host this lame-duck, empty-handed and politically radioactive guest agreed to do so; some even lobbied not to be left off his itinerary. What was in it for them? The hope of getting the superpower to do something for them. Leftist Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, for example, a personal friend and staunch supporter of Bush's nemesis Hugo Chávez, wanted help with his country's ethanol industry.

In Turkey, much like in Brazil, the population is deeply critical of the United States. Yet, much like his Brazilian counterpart, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has openly courted the Bush administration. The Turkish prime minister knows that the United States is his country's best ally in the effort to get Turkey into the European Union.

Lula and Erdogan are just two in a long list of world leaders who understand that while the United States may sometimes use a heavy hand, the alternatives are much worse. Few want to see the world's stage led by autocratic regimes such as those in Russia or China. An ineffectual Europe does not offer much in the way of leadership. And short of these options, there are few possibilities besides living in an anarchic vacuum. Many foreign leaders will therefore be willing to pay the price that comes with American leadership. They ask only that the price not include subservience to the whims of a giant with more power than brains and whose legitimacy is undermined by regular displays of incompetence, recklessness and ignorance.

Polls in multiple countries have shown for years that the legitimacy and prestige of the United States has deteriorated. Yet reports that the same populations that don't want the United States to be the world's "leader" say that they don't want America to withdraw from world affairs. For example, 93 percent of respondents in South Korea, as well as 78 percent in France and 71 percent in Mexico said last year that the United States should play a role in solving international problems. Moreover, despite the overall negative perceptions of the United States, most people surveyed believe that bilateral relations between the United States and their country are improving. In no country surveyed does the population think that the nation's relations with the United States are getting worse.

Americans are likewise yearning for the United States to be more respected abroad. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say they believe it is best for the United States to take an active part in world affairs. And one of the Bush administration's most senior members recently called for a new direction in U.S. thinking about world affairs. "Success," he said, "will be less a matter of imposing one's will and more a function of shaping the behavior of friends, adversaries and, most importantly, the people in between. . . . We need a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security -- diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development." The American appealing for a drastic departure from the administration's overly militarized foreign policy? Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The demand for a new brand of American global leadership is there. Increasingly, the supply to satisfy this demand will also be there.

Moisés Naím is editor in chief of Foreign Policy. A longer version of this column will be published in the magazine's forthcoming issue.