Ex Orienti Lux

Look What She's Wearing!

Since the mid-term elections last November, we’ve heard a lot about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. We’ve heard about her fights with Ellen Tauscher and Jane Harman; her Armani suits, her hemlines, her pearl necklaces and her makeup; and we’ve heard about who she likes, who she doesn’t, and where her grudges lie. We’ve heard nearly everything about her except who she’s going to the prom with. And now, with her historic trip to Syria, we’re treated to endless debates about whether or not she should have worn a head scarf. If one didn’t know any better, he could reasonably assume that he was reading high school newspaper articles about the Mean Girl in Chief, rather than political coverage of the Speaker of The House.

How many political reporters know what brand and color of suits former Speaker Dennis Hastert wore? How many articles did we see about whether or not he wore too much jewelry, or his shirts were too clingy? Did anyone describe what kind of shoes Newt Gingrich wore, or which Congressmen he wouldn’t sit with at lunch? Do we know whom Tom Reynolds passed notes with in the Caucus Meetings? Why is this sort of thing considered hard news when it comes to Speaker Pelosi?

The picture we get from the reporting on Speaker Pelosi is not one of a strong-minded, politically savvy, grown-up leader who led her party from the minority to the majority. We’re not shown a leader who makes tough decisions about how to manage a fractious caucus that reflects the various viewpoints of America. Instead, we’re given a picture of a middle school girl stamping her feet, picking boys she likes and fighting with other middle school girls about who has the better shoes.

This kind of reporting on women leaders only serves to undercut their credibility. By focusing on trivial matters like clothing and makeup, it prevents us from taking their ideas and actions seriously. It also reinforces the bankrupt idea that the most salient feature of a woman is her appearance. When every mention of a woman’s ideas is buttressed by coverage of her clothing and looks, we reinforce the idea that the primary purpose of a woman is to be looked at, and then afterwards, we listen to her. In fact, given the kind of reporting we’ve seen on Speaker Pelosi, one could very well walk away with the idea that a female leader’s choices of Armani are more important than her choices of legislation.

No one expects reporters to use their voices to support the Speaker’s agenda, but it would be nice to see reporters treat her as the Speaker of The House, and not a movie starlet. Perhaps we can see more stories about why Speaker Pelosi had to go to Syria, and fewer stories about whether or not her headscarf matched her heels.

Of geese and ganders

In the leadup to yesterday's vote on The Employee Free Choice Act, America was able to see first hand the resonance of of the role of organised labour in the modern economy. While the regular partisans of opinion journalism lined up behind predictable lines, straight news coverage of this bill was almost non-existent. In fact, reading coverage of the bill could pretty much reveal the editorial views of the bureau in question. To be as clear as possible, here is what the bill does:

  • reinstates a "card check" procedure for voting on a union,
  • provides for third-party mediation and arbitration for first time union contracts and
  • makes the penalties for violations for NLRB sufficiently punitive to deter violations

As always, there are the real reasons that people oppose and support this bill, and the stated. The right wing, when they are being honest, will admit that the problem with this bill is primarily that it makes it easier for unions to come into being, expand and organise, and that they believe unions to be an objectively bad thing. Such is the position of Republicans like Phil Kerpen, Policy Director at Americans for Prosperity. Numerous Republicans, speaking off the record, have confirmed that this is their primary objection to the legislation. Similarly, no Democrat will deny that passing this legislation will ensure the gratitude of organised labour, a vital part of the Democratic coalition, and a partner whose numbers have been in sharp decline over the last several years. Passing this legislation will ensure the gratitude of blue collar workers, a swing demographic in this country and one whose defection relegated the Democrats vulnerable for years, for election cycles to come. These are the real reasons why partisans on both sides like the bill.

What is publicly argued, though, is quite different. Even Kerpen, normally a blunt and honest proponent of his beliefs, is unable to refrain from diversionary argument. In his 23 February, 2007, NRO column, Kerpen writes that his primary concern is that the legislation would demolish secret ballot processes and force workers into coercion and intimidation scenarios where burly thugs terrorise them at their homes to vote along with the boss. For any of us familiar with American history, it's easy to imagine. Visions of The Union League Club's machine politics come to mind.

It is, unfortunately for Kerpen, in no way based in fact, but let us ignore that for a minute. Prominently missing from his analysis of the situation is the fact that this very system of public voting already exists in the corporate world. Currently, shareholders are able to tracked down and pressured into signing proxies for voting by larger shareholders. In fact, it is quite probable that Kerpen would come out strongly in favour of this, as it allows for smaller stakeholders to easily communicate and entrust their staes to larger, more experienced stakeholders with more to lose. He would also probably laud it as a means to streamline internal communications and allows the company to move more quickly and responsively. Of course, he could always be consistent by next authoring an op-ed arguing that proxies disempower smaller stakeholders by allowing larger stakeholders to bully them and make their voices meaningless in a plurality and majority rule environment, but that is not likely.

As former Secretary of Labour Robert Reich argues, the workplace is not analogous to a democracy. In a democracy and government, only under very rare conditions can participation be ceased. The workplace, however, is an entirely different circumstance. The simple fact that people can quit or be fired changes the whole set of power relationships, and requires that people be given a straight up or down vote.

 

Exactly who's got the problem?

One of the most annoying trends in political reporting is the pervasive idea that the Democratic Party is in shambles, is unable to connect to a significant base of people, has to desperately scramble to get votes by trickery, exhortation, hyperbolic appeals to factions in society who don't share the values or beliefs of the American mainstream and that if they win elections, it's due to Republican incompetence. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is a well oiled machine, a juggernaut that rolls through the figurative streets unimpeded and destroying anything that may get in its way. Their votes are won by deliberate, careful consideration of several factors, and their voters are brought to the polls by disciplined and dedicated volunteers who inspire patriotic zeal in the American populace. Anyone who thinks that there is some kind of systemic bias in favour of the Democrats in the media should bother reading a newspaper some time, or watching a television, and seeing just how many "Dems In Disarray!" stories there really are. Even in light of the November elections, a resounding defeat for the Republican Party, and in light of the largely sucessful Democratic administration of the House of Representatives and Senate, the starting point of almost all political horserace coverage is that the Democrats, by virtue of being Democrats, are at a structural disadvantage and that the Republicans, by virtue of being Republicans, will shortly resume their natural places as the rulers of the playground. To put it bluntly, it's as if political reporters imagine elections to be a single shot contest, and that the Democrats are a handicapped chimpanzee, while the Republicans are Michael Jordan. Sure, it's possible that Jordan will miss once, and that the chimp is going to make a shot, but don't bet your retirement on it.

It is in light of years of consuming this kind of political reporting that I find this article by Bill Scher to be particularly refreshing. For once, the script has been flipped, and now it's Republicans who have to explain why it is that they do so badly amongst certain demographics. Scher is trying to make a serious point, and in doing so, has illustrated a systemic failure of political reporting. Just about anyoen with access to a newspaper or the internet since 2004 has heard about the "God Gap" between the two parties. To riff from Scher, how about we hear about what we can jokingly call the "Secular Separation" between the Democrats and the Republicans? Amongst people who don't frequent their places of worship more than once a week, the Republicans have been bleeding votes for years now. If we take the spokesmen of their largest coalition partner at their word, this country continues to slide into irreligious sin. Does this mean that ceteris paribus, the GOP are doomed to electoral irrelevance? Perhaps it won't be long before we see J.C. Watts on Fox News describing what tactics the GOP will be using to appeal to the all important "Secular Citizen."

 

 

White House Gaggle 19 January, 2007

Originally appearing at Talk Radio News Service

The White House Gaggle 19 January, 2007

By Dheeraj Chand

President’s Schedule

President Bush had his usual meetings and briefings, and will continue to do so through the day. The President will record his radio address today. The topic is health care, and we can expect to see previews of some of the policy initiatives from the State of the Union. At 1.20 p.m., the President will be giving an interview to David Jackson of USA Today. He is leaving for Camp David on Saturday morning. Secretaries Gates and Rice will be joining him there, but are not traveling with him.

The Week Ahead

Monday: The President will make his annual call to the participants in the "March for Life". He will make this call from Camp David. He will then return to the White House.

Tuesday: The President will address Congress for the annual State of the Union speech.

Wednesday and Thursday are still to be determined.

Friday: The President will deliver remarks to the House Republican Conference at 12.15 p.m.

Saturday: The President will attend the annual Alfalfa Club dinner.

The State of the Union

Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino spent quite a bit of time talking about the State of the Union address. She was emphatic about the global, positive vision that the President intended to set out about Iraq and other policy issues. He intends to discuss his surge strategy during the address, but in global terms, as part of the larger war on terror, and will most likely not use the address as a forum from which to rebut specific arguments against his strategy. Perino said that she didn’t expect that the weekend meetings with Secretaries Gates and Rice would affect the content or substance of the address.

Iraq

Perino had not heard about Talebani’s remarks that he would be willing to come to an understanding with Iran, and had no comment.

Chinese Anti-Satellite Weapon

The White House has conveyed its displeasure and concern to the Chinese government through diplomatic channels but has not yet heard back. Japan and Australia have also expressed concern. This is in response to the successful test of the satellite disabling weapon that the Chinese have been attempting to develop for almost thirty years.

White House Gaggle 18 January, 2007

Originally appearing at Talk Radio News Service

White House Gaggle 18 January, 2007

By Dheeraj Chand

President’s Schedule

President Bush had his usual morning meetings and briefings this morning.
Throughout the day, he will be giving interviews with different regional
media outlets. The President is headed to Camp David on Saturday, coming back to D.C. on Monday.

The Regional Media Interviews

Press Secretary Snow was asked which regional media outlets would be given
interviews. He responded that the major ones were Tribune, Cox, Sinclair
and others. He did not clarify the length of the interviews or the subject matter.

Maliki’s Statements on U.S. Funding

Asked about Maliki’s comments to the press that the United States
government didn’t give enough money to Iraqi troops for guns, bullets and
other supplies to accomplish their tactical objectives, Snow disputed that
characterization of the remark, saying that it was one comment taken in
isolation. Both Prime Minster Maliki and President Bush are very serious about a secure Iraq, Snow continued.

Hussein Hanging

Press Secretary Snow said that President Bush was not insulting the
government of Iraq during his interview with Jim Lehrer, and that the
disagreement over the hanging of Saddam Hussein was just a disagreement
between sovereign governments.

Agenda for the Weekend

Snow said that the agenda item for now is continuing work on the State of
The Union.

President’s New Strategy

Asked whether or not the White House regards Iraqi P.M. Maliki is fully on
board with the President’s new strategy, Snow enthusiastically responded,
"Oh, yeah!" He then said that the situation in front of us is that a
foreign head of state wants to take responsibility for political,
diplomatic and security issues of his state, just like any other leader.
They’re moving ahead as we speak, making progress towards critical
legislation like the hydrocarbon law, de-Baathification, etc.

Republican National Committee

Asked again about the RNC meetings taking place, and the anger of Sunbelt
and southern border states with the appointment of Sen. Mel Martinez, Snow
retorted that he is certain that the RNC is going to ratify Martinez and
Duncan. He responded to the specific complaints about Martinez, that he
is perceived as being pro-immigration, by saying that the President is
aware the that the GOP functions as any political party does, with
agreement and disagreement, and will move forward with great leadership.

Senate Activity

Snow said that the White House does not yet have a statement of
administrative policy on the Senate Finance passed small business tax
cuts.

Responding to questions about the veto threat on the energy bill because
of tax increases and spending cuts, Snow said that the President
doesn’t care for tax hikes. One of the great miracles of modern times, the
robust economy in light of historically unprecedented shocks, is largely
due to strategic tax cuts, and as a general policy, this administration
doesn’t care for tax cuts.

White House Gaggle 17 January, 2007

Originally appearing at Talk Radio News Service

White House Gaggle 17 January, 2007

By Dheeraj Chand

President’s Schedule

President Bush had his usual meetings and briefings, and will continue to do so through the day. The President went to the National Institute of Health labs today in Bethesda, Maryland, to attend a roundtable discussion on cancer prevention. In attendance were also Secretary Leavitt from the Department of Health and Human Services and several prominent oncologists. At 1.15 p.m., the President is meeting with a group of Republican legislators to discuss Iraq.

President Bush’s Recent Interviews

Asked about why the subject of Iran has not come up in any of the President’s recent interviews, and whether or not this was the result of a White House ban on the topic, Press Secretary Snow categorically stated that this was not the case. He said, tongue in cheek, that the White House would never dare dictate to Jim Lehrer or CBS News what they may or may not ask.

Sentiment on Iraq

Snow was asked whether it is the case that the President agrees that he and his advisors messed up when he says that he agrees with public sentiment that things are not going well in Iraq. He responded that the President agrees that the Baghdad security plan didn’t work as planned and that it is time to try new things in order to secure a free, stable and democratic Iraq that will be a valuable ally in the global war on terror.

Maliki Government Relations

Snow said that he is unsure of the last time that there was any diplomatic communication between the United States and the Maliki government, and that he’d imagine that it went through the normal diplomatic channels.

The Cancer Roundtable

Snow said that as a survivor of cancer himself, he is very moved by the President’s commitment to this issue, and that the reason that President Bush is focusing on this issue today is that there has been a lot of progress in the field and that it’s important to focus on programs that are doing well. He would not comment on funding priorities or the impending State of the Union, but he did say that the President is hopeful that the combined efforts of public and private sector actors would help the lives of the American people.

Oppositional Congress

Snow backed away from as many questions about the non-binding "Sense of the Senate" resolution as possible. He reiterated that Congress should ask itself what message it is sending with such a resolution. Then, when asked what he thinks that an appropriate role for Congress would be, if passing resolutions of disagreement is seemingly inappropriate. Snow responded that as far as passing resolutions goes, they’re free to do what they wish, but that they should be mindful of the message. Each branch of government has different responsibilities, and the courts have been very consistent in ensuring that executive power remains with the executive branch.
Snow clarified that the concerns that Congress should be mindful of are the following: First, the U.S commitment to success and peace for Iraq, second; that those who commit acts of violence in Iraq are mindful of our commitment, and third, that our international allies know that we remain committed to these goals. He said that he couldn’t comment on threats to cut off funding, as those bills don’t yet exist.

Israel/Syria

Press Secretary Snow had no comment for the second day in a row on the Ha’Aretz story claiming that the United States squashed an agreement of understanding between the governments of Syria and Israel.

War Protests

Responding to the protests of active-duty soldiers on Capitol Hill yesterday, Snow said that he understands that all wars are unpopular with some people, but that one could sense the overwhelming support of the armed forces by the high re-enlistment numbers and the thousands of people joining up for their first tours.

White House Gaggle 5 January, 2007

Originally appearing at Talk Radio News Service

White House Gaggle 5 January, 2007

By Dheeraj Chand

President’s Schedule

The President had his regular morning briefings, and will have his regular
meetings throughout the course of the day. He will record the radio

address this week on the subject of the budget. He will also continue his
congressional outreach meetings during the day.

Personnel Changes

Asked whether or not the personnel changes reflected the President’s
opinions on how the war in Iraq has proceeded and his opinions on the
prior staff’s competence, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow replied that there are no
implications and no one should make any inferences about President Bush’s
pleasure or displeasure. They have needed a Deputy at the Department of State,
but they were more concerned with finding the right person than they were
with merely filling the slot. Snow went on to discuss the
qualifications of Admiral McConnell, citing his experience, creativity,
intelligence, management capacity and his extensive contacts and good
relations with the intelligence community. Asked whether or not the
personnel changes in the intelligence, diplomatic and military are part of
President Bush’s Iraq policy-making process, Snow reminded the
press that he was not going to comment on the nominations and appointments
until after the President had announced them. He did, however, discuss
John Negroponte’s vast diplomatic experience. He also clarified that
Harriet Miers was not fired, and that she had resigned.

Meetings with Congress

Press Secretary Snow opted not to name which Representatives and Senators would
be meeting with the President over the course of the day, although he did
say that these meetings would continue over the weekend. He also declined
to comment on what the President and legislators would be discussing.

Relationship with an Opposition Congress

When asked what kind of bills the President would veto, Snow
replied that it would be irresponsible and dangerous for him to threaten a
veto on bills that haven’t been filed, yet, and tantamount to tossing a
gauntlet to Congress.

White House Gaggle 15 December, 2006

Originally appearing at Talk Radio News Service

White House Gaggle 15 December, 2006

By Dheeraj Chand

Special Notes

Today was Deputy Press Secretary Tony Frattow's first gaggle. He was formerly press spokesman at the Department of Treasury. Chatter in the press room said that it was comparable to Scott McClellan’s.

The President’s Schedule

President Bush had a foreign leader call with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah. They discussed the general political climate and circumstances in the Middle East, their mutual hopes for a two-state, peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Bush expressed his regret that outside actors are interfering with the Iranian nuclear proliferation issue. He had his daily briefings at 7.30 a.m. After his briefings, he’ll be recording his weekly radio address. The topic is the economy, and we can expect that there will be a strong message to Congress on the subject of earmarks. At 8 am, there will be an hour long ceremony for recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Frattow joked that Tony Snow was excited about the ceremony, as it would give him a chance to discuss "guitar pickin’ and slingin" with B.B. King.

After the ceremony, the President will be at the Pentagon for a full armed services review.

Week Ahead

On Tuesday, December 18, there are no public events. On Wednesday, Bush will sign the tax extenders package, which also has all kinds of other legislation attached to it. He will also sign HR 6407: The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. On Thursday, there are no public events. On Friday, President and Mrs. Bush will attend a holiday service project at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He will then leave for Camp David, where they will spend Christmas. They will leave for Crawford, TX, on the 26th of December, returning to D.C. on the New Year.

The Pentagon Ceremony

During the Q&A, Frattow informed us that Bush was expected to praise Rumsfeld at the ceremony, and to thank him for his six years of service and vision in restructuring and modernizing the military.

The Iraq Body Count

Helen Thomas wanted to know if the President was made aware with any regularity of the number of Iraqis who were injured or killed. Frattow had no answer.

Secretary of State Rice’s Statements about Syria

Frattow clarified that Secretary of State Rice said nothing new about the United States’ diplomatic position towards Syria and Iran, and that furthermore, the White House was not going to comment on specific recommendations of the ISG.

The Iraq Study Group

When asked about Bush’s plans to learn more before the Iraq policy speech, Frattow told us that there were no public events, but that Bush met with his military and diplomatic advisors with great frequency. The White House had no information on what other allied governments think of the Iraq Study Group’s report, but Bush and Blair have discussed it.

Saddam Hussein’s Nephew

Saddam Hussein’s favorite nephew escaped from prison this summer, and now wants to lead the Baathist rejectionists in Iraq. The White House had no comment on this.

Governor Bill Richardson

Frattow didn’t know that Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) was meeting with North Korean officials, and as such, had no comment.

Same-sex parenting

When asked whether or not Bush had flip-flopped on the issue of same-sex parenting, Frattow said that he had no idea on previous statements, but that the entire White House was happy for the Cheneys. He then tried to avoid the question by saying that the President believed in marriage being a unique institution between a man and a woman.

When asked whether or not Bush had flip-flopped on the issue of same-sex parenting, Frattow said that he had no idea on previous statements, but that the entire White House was happy for the Cheneys. He then tried to avoid the question by saying that the President believed in marriage being a unique institution between a man and a woman.

The Best and The Brightest: The Wrong Immigration Crackdown

Notate bene this originally ran in 2005, but very few people know about it, so I am moving it to the front page for a little while. -dx

Originally printed in The Providence Journal.

The Best and The Brightest: The Wrong Immigration Crackdown

AUSTIN -- Immigration is the most explosive issue in U.S. politics. While the controversy rages over how to deal with the problems created by illegal immigration, legal-immigration issues are in danger of being derailed in the frenzied political atmosphere.

On Sept. 15, the State Department released a shocking document that was barely noticed. Innocuously entitled "Visa Bulletin for October 2005," this document would normally be of interest only to bureaucrats and immigration lawyers and their clients. But this particular bulletin announced a five-year ban on all EB-1(3) petitions from people born in India: a radical change in policy that will badly hurt the U.S. economy and our diplomatic relations with a nuclear power and key ally in the war on terrorism.

An EB-1(3) visa is a petition that lets someone who works as an executive for a foreign branch of a multinational company immigrate to the United States to continue his or her job. The visa is normally used as a way of bringing talented employees from abroad to continue their professional development at the higher levels of management in the United States.

This is one of the most difficult immigration petitions to seek. It is used by firms who are capable of retaining expert counsel to navigate the process, which includes demonstrating the existence and viability of the company and the business necessity of the employee.

Such executives help develop these businesses in the United States, contributing to the local economy and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs for American workers.

In fiscal 2004, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, 38,443 employment-based visas were issued to people of Indian birth, of which 8,363 were for managerial, executive or professional careers. The rest went to craftsmen, artisans, educators, and other workers.

Unfortunately, the Immigration Service doesn't publish the number of petitions denied or pending, so we have no way of knowing how many businesses have been frustrated in their efforts to bring their top employees to the United States.

The new ban means that all petitions filed after Oct. 1 will have to wait five years to be considered. This is sheer lunacy on the part of the State Department.

While a fierce controversy rages over immigration in this country, these are people who, we can all agree, should be welcomed with open arms.

They are the best and brightest, coming here to work for established businesses that are prosperous enough to have multinational operations. They are at the top of their fields, and work tirelessly to expand their companies here. Telling companies that they can't bring top executives home to corporate headquarters is a senseless policy, which will inhibit the growth of thousands of major U.S. companies and offer one more incentive, along with burdensome taxes and regulations, for corporate flight to offshore havens.

On the diplomatic level, we know that economic relations are an essential component of strong international alliances. After a mixed bag during the Cold War and the early Clinton years, India and the United States have finally built a fledgling level of trust, due largely to economic interdependence.

When large sums of money move back and forth between two countries, the two governments have to work together. This association is strengthened by the personal and cultural ties that develop as the populations of both countries become more aware of and connected to each other through commerce.

Economic and cultural ties to India, the world's largest democracy, and the region's one stable democracy, can only advance strategic U.S. interests in Asia.

We don't know why the U.S. State Department has made this decision (it has kept its internal deliberations private), but keeping highly skilled and educated people out of the country is no way to help the American economy.

Immigration is a complex and emotional issue, but even in this politically charged environment, highly skilled corporate executives should be immigrants whom everyone can support.

To advance the economic, diplomatic, and security interests of the United States, this misguided policy should be reversed.

Dheeraj Chand is president of Desis for Texas, a political-action group promoting the interests of South Asian - Americans.