7.22.2011 | This blog has moved

This blog is now located at http://blog.omaryak.net/.
You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to

10.10.2009 | A Nobel gesture

The last time a sitting president won a Nobel prize was 90 years ago. Woodrow Wilson won in 1919 at a time when America was rising on the world stage to end a bitter global conflict. His Fourteen Points, especially "peace without victory," set forth the principles that would allow America to carry out the Marshall Plan post-WWII, in sharp contrast to the steep reparations that were levied on Germany for World War I.

Now in 2009, as another president who rocketed to prominence on the world stage seeks to bring the world together after a divisive period, the principal question being debated in the media is what President Obama did to deserve the prize—as if he needed to have fielded an army in Europe or negotiated a groundbreaking treaty to deserve the award. The committee's critics charge that the prize is politically motivated, a cheap shot at the outgoing president, with the nomination having been completed only two weeks after the president was elected.

Tommy De Seno of Fox News put it thusly: How to Win the Nobel Peace Prize In 12 Days. (Mercifully, an editor's note at the beginning explains that the selection process takes a year.) Seen on an Internet forum, one commentator noted, “All you really have to do to qualify as a world-renowned humanitarian is to replace George Bush in office.”

Surprise and sarcasm over, it's time to figure out why the Nobel committee would have made the decision it did. I'm going to operate on the assumption that—understanding that it might face charges of politicization—the committee nevertheless believed that its selection would fulfill its founder's mission of promoting peace. Alfred Nobel, inventor of trinitrotoluene (TNT, or dynamite)—a mild explosive by today's standards—created the foundation that awards the prizes that bear his name as a matter of regret for having brought such a weapon of war to the world. Robert Oppenheimer, inventor of the nuclear weapon, died with similar regrets.

So the key fact that's been missing from the discussion over Obama's meriting the prize, the one that has been sorely overlooked, the one that makes the award completely consistent with the committee's founding principles and aims, is Obama's tireless work toward nuclear disarmament. Not only did he dismantle the Bush-era missile defense system that restarted a nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia and partially led to a war in Georgia last summer, but as Senator he worked to pass nonproliferation legislation. Beyond nonproliferation, Obama's explicitly stated goal of zero nuclear arms (nuclear disarmament) creates a bold new framework for agreement as U.S. and Russia enter negotiations on the START I missile reduction treaty that is shortly coming up for renewal. (Obama's predecessor, by contrast, withdrew from the START II treaty agreed in 1997 that explicitly banned missile defense systems.)

So we come to the supposed "cheap shot"—which I would argue, far from cheap, is both a politically and historically important message key to the promotion of peace in the 21st century. Perhaps because of the politically charged nature of the debate, this historical perspective has been most sorely missing from the media coverage of Obama's win.

The doctrine of unilateral preemption espoused by Obama's predecessor represented the most significant threat to international stability since World War II. By taking the bold political stand that the committee has done, it has fulfilled its mission to promote world peace by ensuring that policy does not stand without repudiation. Without that repudiation, it would have stood as valid precedent, a green light with strong temptation for future presidents to repeat.

While it's too early in Obama's term to know what he will or won't accomplish, and we can't know if a peace prize will be enough to stop future presidents with an itchy trigger finger, we can know what the award was trying to do. In response to a policy of pre-emptive war, we have an act of pre-emptive peace—an attempt to help Obama politically in the moment to restore diplomacy as a primary means of resolving international disagreement, and a message to future presidents that this is the right way to go about things.

As ridiculous as it might have been to award Obama with a peace prize less than a year into office, the only thing more ridiculous would be to repeat the eight years of foreign policy that preceded him. And that's a prize-worthy statement.

Labels: ,

7.07.2009 | Democrats' supermajority dilemma

Al Franken was sworn in today. But now that Democrats have their magic number of 60 Senators, they don't. Power's a funny thing like that. And — by way of the Alanis Morrisette I heard playing on the radio on the way home this evening — so is life:

"Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right"

— Alanis Morrisette, "Ironic"

"Democrats now hold 60 seats, enough to block filibusters — but only if every Democrat and two independents show up, and they all vote together. The chamber's most senior members, Robert Byrd and Edward M. Kennedy, are ill and haven't voted in weeks. Without them there, Democrats need the support of at least two Republicans."

— Associated Press, "Democrats wave Franken as trophy over limping GOP"

It took Franken so long to get seated that two of the Democrats' oldest — and most powerful — Senators aren't even around to help keep the majority together. And Lieberman and Sanders aren't even technically Democrats. So can we really call it a supermajority?

In a body like the Senate where even one senator can keep legislation from passing, the job of majority leader will always be one of herding cats. And thanks to the way our country's founders set it up, there will always be a fragile tension in the balance of power.


11.06.2008 | Race over, a question of race

For all the talk of reaching across party lines during the presidential election, I'm sure Democrats in the New York state house didn't have this in mind: four rogue Democratic state senators in Albany are putting Democrats' control of the house in jeopardy by threatening to vote for a Republican majority leader, potentially spoiling the first chance Democrats have had of controlling the state house and governorship since the New Deal (that's about 80 years, give or take a few). So those are the stakes.

Why the mutiny? Three of the four senators are Latino, and the incoming majority leader is African-American. While none of the rebel senators claims to be angling for the majority leader post, in the words of Rubén Díaz (representing the Bronx):

"There’s a concern that we have a black president, a black governor and we have a concern that we have to be sharing power."

Excuse me? I'm all for striving for the ideal of racial balance, but can you honestly say that because there are people in power of one race, the interests of the other won't be represented?

Despite Democrats' best intentions to embrace diversity, this could be one area where the Affirmative Action mentality needs discarding. Especially in an election with this historic scope, people elected Democrats in record numbers to move the country in a different direction. Here four senators are ready to hand power back to the minority party, against the will of the voters, to push a racial agenda.

Why am I talking about a state house in Albany? Because what happens there could happen in Congress. With a woman as Speaker of the House and an African-American in the White House, I'm worried about racial or gender angst hindering the mandate of either of these people, or members of any race in positions of power in the future. (Though I have to admit: compared to where this nation has been, that's a pretty good worry to be having.)

Let's govern a nation of people, not races. There may be a valid argument in business for hiring equally qualified minorities to address lingering economic inequality, but in government everyone is equal before the law.

Obama's victory in traditionally red states is in itself evidence that white voters are moving past race in their voting decisions. So why the hangup among these Latinos? What can one race possibly do in power that the other one wouldn't do? Maybe I need an education here. Help me out.

Labels: ,