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Friday, January 26, 2007

Barack Obama: An African-American for President?

"I believe that it remains possible to salvage an acceptable outcome to this long and misguided war,” stated Senator Barack Obama, D-Illinois, at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Obama believes that the first step would be to start withdrawing troops in the next four to six months.
Speaking on international affairs is a requirement for a potential presidential candidate. And Obama may be one.
Obama, a charismatic politician, would be the first African-American president if he were elected.
Obama would have to get the Democratic nomination which may not be easy. The major opponent would be Hillary Clinton who is most likely going to run.
Yet, Obama would be a strong competitor. A graduate of Harvard with a law degree, he won his senate seat in landslide, receiving 70% of vote.
He is recognized as having given an electrifying speech at Democratic National Convention in 2004. He’s been on the cover of Time Magazine and his books are best sellers. He can claim he did not support the now unpopular Iraq war since he was absent when the U.S. Senate voted its approval.
In the Democratic primary he’d be a tough challenger of Hillary Clinton because the New York Senator has been moving toward the center as she tried to shed her image as an ultra liberal.
The primary election always requires a more partisan position and in the case of the Democratic primary Obama would be well positioned at the progressive wing of the party that would have a significant impact. In particular, African-Americans who make a considerable part of the voting Democrats in the primary, would tend to support Obama.
Yet, Obama also has some areas which some people view as drawbacks. He’s only been in the U.S. Senate for only two years and making the jump to the White House at a very young age of 47 (he’s 45 now) would be unusual. He has very limited experience in international affairs.
Even these drawbacks are not insurmountable when you look beyond the surface. The limited experience in the Senate can be a positive since he has not accumulated a number of votes which could be used against him in the campaign.
The lack of international experience may not be a drawback and it certainly did not stop George Bush in going from governor of Texas to the White House.
Although he is not as well known as Hillary Clinton, he does not generate the high negatives that may hold back the former first lady.
As to his age, in 2008 he’d be one year older than Bill Clinton when he was elected president.
Obama may decide to wait for the next opportunity to run for president which could come in 2012 or 2016. But timing can be vital.
Running for president in 2008 could be very favorable since there will not be an incumbent president. The field is wide open in both the Democratic primary and the general election.
Some polls put Obama at the number two spot behind Hillary Clinton and ahead of “old” timers such as Al Gore, John Kerry, and John Edwards who have been nominated and lost to George Bush in 2000 (Gore) and 2004 (Kerry and Edwards).
In modern times two African Americans ran for president. Jesse Jackson and more recently Al Sharpton. Neither got very far. Obama can go far.
He may choose not to run in 2008 and wait until he’s built a more substantive record. However, if he decides to run, he’d have a good chance at getting the Democratic nomination. But even if he were to lose to Hillary Clinton, he might get picked as vice-presidential candidate and at the current age of 45 he’d still be young enough to run in future presidential elections. Whatever the case, Obama could very well be the first member of a minority group to become president of the U.S.
© Domenico Maceri
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Saturday, January 13, 2007

USA: A Living Wage?

“Sí se puede” (Yes, we can) chanted the hotel workers in a recent meeting at the Los Angeles City Council.
Workers were applauding the council’s vote which will require hotels near Los Angeles International Airport to pay a “living wage” of at least $10.64 an hour. These hotels benefit from the presence of the airport which is a public facility and therefore the city government can exert influence on business activities, including wages.
More than 120 American cities have passed living wage laws, often to force companies with government contracts to pay decent salaries. But in some cases these living wage laws have also applied to companies which have no government contracts. Typically, this occurred in union-friendly, liberal cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley, and Washington D.C.
Business owners hate these laws because they see the government telling them what to do. Executives in the Los Angeles claim that many hotel workers already make the living wage between salaries and tips.
In addition, business is concerned that this kind of legislation may apply to other services such as restaurants and other stores.
The impact of these living wages penetrates other salaries. So it’s not just the people at the very bottom that benefit. Business is concerned that other employees who now make $10 dollars an hour will also ask for raises.
Of course, raising wages increases the cost of doing business and corporations are concerned that in the long run, money will be lost to other cities which do not have living wages.
The other reason why business oppose living wage laws is that they are typically pushed by unions and are perceived as victories for organized labor.
Yet, these laws are necessary because the cost of living in many American cities is so high that without a living wage, it’s impossible to make ends meet, particularly when you consider that the minimum wage hovers around $6 dollars an hour.
It’s particularly difficult when many low wage jobs don’t even include health benefits.
Union officials claims that as many as 60% of hotel workers make less than $10 an hour.
The city council vote was a victory for hotel workers but to some extent also for the unions which have been trying to organize workers.
In the case of hotel workers near the Los Angeles Airport, unions have been trying to organize workers but so far have had limited success.
The passage of the living wage law may help them. In fact, unions have some close allies in the Los Angeles City Council. Two of them were arrested along with several hundred other demonstrators when they participated in a civil disobedience demonstration which aimed to highlight the plight of hotel workers.
Hotels affected may not be taking the city council action standing down. There is some talk about collecting signatures and putting the matter in the hands of voters. If enough signatures are collected, the ordinance would not take effect until after the result of the election.
The midterm election which gave Democrats majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate is another indication that workers will receive some help from legislators. One of the items in the Democratic agenda is raising the federal minimum wage which is currently $5.15 an hour, a figure which is lower than that of many European countries. In addition, someone making the minimum wage in the U.S. does not typically receive health benefits, which is not the case in Europe.
The ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council is a positive step since it means people may have a chance at more reasonable life, a living wage. It also means that raise people might get will be spent, generating more economic activity which will in turn benefit business, the same business which always opposes raises for its workers.
© Domenico Maceri
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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bush e la lingua dei latinos

“Quiero sus botas” (Voglio le vostre stivalette) disse George W. Bush a un gruppo di latinos durante la campagna elettorale del 2000. La poca destrezza in spagnolo fece uscire “botas” invece di “votos” (voti) dalla bocca di Bush.
Ciononostante Bush fece buon uso del suo limitato conoscimento linguistico. Il suo interesse nello spagnolo formò parte della sua riuscita strategia di raggiungere i latinos e ricevette il 44% del loro voto, ottimo risultato per un repubblicano, quasi il doppio di quello che aveva ricevuto Bob Dole quando fu sconfitto da Bill Clinton nel 1996.
Nella recente elezione di midterm dello scorso novembre il partito democratico ha ricevuto il 70% del voto latino mentre il GOP (Grand Old Party, i repubblicani) si è dovuto accontentare del 29%.
Bush non parlerà spagnolo molto bene ma lui ha capito il messaggio. La sua recente nomina di Mel Martinez a capo del partito repubblicano manda un chiaro segnale che il voto dei latinos è importante. La nomina di Martinez non è piaciuta all’ala destra del partito repubblicano perché il senatore della Florida, nato a Cuba, ha idee moderate sull’immigrazione. Il gruppo duro dei repubblicani ha visto la nomina di Martinez come prova che Bush è un debole quando si tratta di immigrazione. Di fatti si tratta di un’ottima mossa da parte di Bush dato che il numero degli elettori latinos continua a crescere e i loro interessi saranno di somma importanza specialmente nell’elezione presidenziale del 2008.
Le questioni che interessano i latinos non sono diverse da quelle degli altri americani, cioè a dire l’economia, l’Iraq, la sanità ecc., ma i latinos hanno anche un forte interesse nell’immigrazione. Benché gli elettori latinos siano già cittadini, alcuni da parecchie generazioni, altri naturalizzati recentemente, l’immigrazione ha un impatto molto forte su di loro.
La retorica stridente del GOP contro i clandestini non avrebbe dovuto influenzare gli elettori latinos ma infatti si è riversata sui cittadini di origine ispanica. Le manifestazioni gigantesche pro immigranti avvenute in parecchie città americane a maggio del 2006 hanno incluso lavoratori clandestini ma anche immigrati legali ed altri latinos che sono già iscritti nelle liste elettorali.
Le prese di posizioni estremiste del GOP sono venute a galla per mezzo di azioni. In un caso in particolare, Tan Nguyen, candidato repubblicano alla camera nella zona di Santa Ana, California meridionale, mandò una lettera a 14.000 elettori con cognome ispanico avvertendoli che gli immigrati che voterebbero nelle elezioni potrebbero essere arrestati.
La lettera fu condannata da politici democratici ed anche repubblicani ma fu interpretata come un’offesa non solo contro elettori latinos ma anche immigrati di altri paesi. Inoltre la voce stridula di Tom Tancredo, parlamentare italo-americano del Colorado e leader del Congressional Immigration Caucus, un gruppo di parlamentari di destra, fu decisiva all’approvazione del disegno di legge chiamato Sensenbrenner Bill. Si tratta di una proposta dai caratteri draconiani che renderebbe i clandestini criminali da potere essere arrestati e messi in prigione invece della semplice deportazione. L’approvazione del Secure Fence Act (Atto dello steccato sicuro) che ha autorizzato la costruzione di un muro al confine con il Messico è un’altra azione del GOP mediante la quale i repubblicani si sono dati un pugno nell’occhio nella mente dei latinos.
Se l’ala destra dei repubblicani si è allontanata dai latinos alcuni moderati invece sono riusciti a ottenere una buona percentuale dei voti di questo gruppo etnico che da qualche anno ha sorpassato il numero degli africani-americani. L’esempio più chiaro è Arnold Schwarzenegger, rieletto recentemente a governatore della California. Benché Schwarzenegger abbia alzato la voce in supporto dei Minutemen, un gruppo di estremisti che vuole chiudere il confine con il Messico, l’immigrato austriaco, si è poi allontanato dall’estremismo e nei suoi ultimi discorsi ha parlato di una linea immigratoria moderata. Ha ricevuto il 41% del voto latino che per un repubblicano è proprio un risultato molto positivo.
Il messaggio sembra essere chiaro. A mano a mano che la popolazione latina continua a crescere a causa dell’immigrazione e dell’alta fecondità ispanica gli interessi di questo gruppo etnico avranno un parallelo aumento di importanza politica. Bush ha capito nelle sue campagne politiche che il voto dei latinos può essere cruciale soprattutto in elezioni con margini di vittoria molto ridotti che si sono visti in tempi recenti. I suoi sforzi di “corteggiare” i latinos con la loro lingua e le sue prese di posizione moderate gli hanno permesso di ottenere buonissimi risultati. È ora per altri candidati repubblicani di imparare lo spagnolo?
© Domenico Maceri
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Bush Speaks Latinos’ Language

"Quiero sus botas" (I want your boots) said George W. Bush to a group of Latinos in the presidential election of 2000. Bush meant to say "votos" (votes) instead of "botas," his mistake reflecting a weak knowledge of the Spanish language.
In spite of his gaffes Bush made good use of his language skills. His interest in Spanish was part of his successful efforts to reach out to Latinos. He received 44% of the Latino vote in the 2004 presidential election, a little more than double the number received by Bob Dole in 1996 when he lost to Bill Clinton.
The midterm election of 2006 saw Republicans losing the Latino vote as Democrats were favored 70% to 29%.
Bush may not speak Spanish very well but he got the message. His nomination of Mel Martinez to the post of Chair of the Republican National Committee sends a clear signal that the Latino vote is important.
The nomination of Martinez did not please the right wing of the GOP because the Florida Senator, a native of Cuba, has moderate ideas on immigration.
In a way, to the GOP hard core, the nomination was further proof that Bush is weak on immigration.
In fact, it was a smart move since the Latino vote keeps increasing and their concerns are going to have a significant role in future elections, particularly the presidential election of 2008.
Issues affecting Latinos are no different than those of most Americans—economy, Iraq, healthcare, etc. Yet, Latino voters also have strong interests in immigration.
Latino voters are already legal citizens but they remember well the issue of immigration since it affected them and now affects people they might know.
The strident GOP rhetoric against illegal immigration should not have had an impact on Latino voters, but the fact is that it inevitably spilled over to Latino citizens. The pro immigration rallies which occurred earlier this year included not only undocumented workers but many other legal immigrants as well as Latino registered voters.
The GOP extremist position on immigration became manifest through actions. In one case, Tan Nguyen, a Republican congressional candidate, sent a letter to 14,000 voters with Spanish surnames in Santa Ana, California, warning them that immigrants could go to jail if they voted in the next election.
The letter was condemned by Democratic and Republican leaders but the message offended not just Latino voters but also legal immigrants from other countries.
In addition, the loud voices of Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and his Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus were instrumental in passing the Sensenbrenner Bill in 2005. The draconian legislation made criminals of undocumented workers and would have even penalized anyone aiding illegal immigrants in the U.S.
The passage of the Secure Fence Act which authorized the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was another action which gave the GOP a black eye in the minds of Latino voters.
While the right wing of the GOP moved away from Latinos, moderate Republicans managed to stay away from strident rhetoric against immigrants and succeeded in not being painted anti-Latino.
The clearest example is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although he made some statements in support of the Minutemen, a fringe group that wants to close the border, Schwarzenegger was very conciliatory in his latest speeches and embraced a moderate stance on immigration. He received 41% of the Latino vote in his reelection this past November, which is very good for a Republican.
The message seems to be clear. As the Latino population increases and their voter registrations also go up, politicians have to look very carefully at the needs of this group.
In his political campaigns Bush understood that the Latino vote can be crucial. His efforts of reaching Latinos through language and moderate stances on issues dear to Latinos enabled him to reap significant political results. Is it time for other GOP politicians to learn Spanish?
© Domenico Maceri
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