Although it is traditional for US Presidents to deliver their State of the Union Addresses in a positive light, President Obama would have been more effective if he had taken a blunter “keeping it real” approach. The State of the Union may be strong, but that strength is not sustainable. By making the need for political reconciliation and bipartisan efforts to fix our dysfunctional government the focal point of his speech, the President would have used the opportunity before him to deal with the most pressing issue of the day.
That said, he did address some key issues. For one, he is moving to raise the minimum wage for government contractors to $10.10 per hour, thus government is setting a higher pay standard instead of using the weight of government to support the impoverishment of subcontractors. Obama also pledged to seek private-public approaches in order to increase wages and job opportunities as part of his overall effort to address economic disparity.
On the other hand, a few of his initiatives require a slight recalibration of thinking. Trade agreements are important for economic development, whether they are free trade agreements or not, but such deals must be designed to favor American interests by freeing US goods of foreign tariffs while freeing foreign goods, not readily produced in the US, of American tariffs, such as cane sugar. A national economy must be built on industries that serve the local needs of its People with locally plentiful resources that are as local as possible with excess production being used to participate in the global economy, thus our trade agreement should reflect this thinking
In regards to education and retraining, education should focus learning to learn and not supposed “lifelong learning” that relies on costly and time-consuming programs, which foster lifelong dependency on academic institutes. Although some “on-the-job-training” and training programs will always be needed, American workers and the American workforce are best served by providing schools students with broad, dynamic skills set that can be expanded via vocational and educational experiences.
At the same time, employers need better tools to assess the skills of potential employees, so the cost of investing in a new employee will be worth it. Skills assessment tests like those offered by ACT should be more readily provided by public and private staffing/unemployment agencies as well as schools, so job seekers do not need to jump through educational hoops in order to enter the workforce when they already have the skills to do a job.
President Obama’s 2014 State of the Union Address certainly updated the President’s resume by optimistically listing his accomplishments to date while offering a handful of minor policy pursuits shadowed by the need for massive reforms to public policy as he reiterated his commitment to the liberal agenda. From the other side, the Republican response took the tone of a motivational speaker offering hollow catchphrases that undercut social/leadership/positional responsibility and support problem avoidance over problem solving.
Instead of offering a vision for America, Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers offered a heartwarming message loaded with key phrases that the anti-Obama Camp wanted to hear as she set forth a Republican agenda seeks to the circumvent the President. Given that Congress acts through the Executive Branch, this essentially means Republicans are planning to continue their “take what we want or leave it” approach as the President pledges to continue his efforts to circumvent Congress whenever possible. In many respects, the GOP has treated President Obama as a lame duck President since the 2010 elections with Obama fighting against this status with so-called Executive Orders and actions. What we have is a lame duck President and Congress fighting a political system built on the wounded egos of self-serving, self-righteous special interests groups driven by their pursuit of power.
Unfortunately, both sides are trying to play nice, yet no one is willing to apologize and commit to political reconciliation. Both President Obama and Congresswoman Rogers said some nice things, but the only thing the American People needed to hear was how our politicians are going to work together to get things done. Neither side offered anything resembling a path forward. As such, American political theater will probably be less nasty in the coming year, but we are still on the same degenerative trajectory we have long needed to change.
Karzai provokes America once again
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has managed to disrupt the American-Afghanistan relationship one more time before he is due to leave office. By releasing 30 some prisoners deemed to be dangerous by the US government, Karzai has embarked on a path of confrontation with the United States. When it comes down to it, America’s access to Afghan airspace and territory for counterterrorism efforts is important, yet America’s support of the Afghan People is far more critical to Karzai’s People. Quite frankly, starting a conflict with the US is a lose-lose for Afghanistan as American can walk away; whereas, the Afghan People cannot. Finally, Karzai has nothing to gain by scoffing at America’s charity, unless he is truly realigning himself with the Taliban. In which case, it is America and the Afghan People who should be forcing a confrontation with the lame duck President.
Looking at the spreading protests and violence in Ukraine over the Yanukovych government’s decision to strengthen its ties with Russia at the expense of its relationship with the EU, there are two dynamics in play. On the one hand, the Ukrainian government failed to adequately address the interests of a critical mass of Ukrainians, thus public outcry was expected. When they then attempted to suppress that outcry instead of reaching out and addressing the concerns of protestors, the government guaranteed escalation. On the other hand, this out-of-control crisis could have been avoided. The Arab Spring protestors have had the positive influence of encouraging people to hold their governments accountable. Unfortunately, this atmosphere has also lead to a hypersensitivity on behalf of governments when it comes to cracking down on protestors. Instead of governments reaching out to protestors with solutions that avoid and resolve conflicts, their impulse seems to be far more combative while protestors probably do need to be more measured in their responses. In the end, governments must properly balance the interests of all citizens; a failure to do so will only lead to greater instability and violence. What the Yanukovych government must do to resolve the current chaos is to directly address the issues protestors have with Russia and its influence over Ukrainian policy.
As the so-called Geneva II talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire agreement and a deal to let humanitarian aid into Syria continue to flounder, diplomats are desperately trying to find ways of establishing a sustained dialect. Clearly, almost all parties want to end the Syrian Civil War, though each side has their own goals in mind. Given this, one of the problems may be our focus on ending something with the hope of starting something new.
What our diplomats need to do is focus on starting something new to end something old. Although this may sound like a nonsensical, inapplicable distinction thoughtlessly made by a counselor who is offering no viable solutions, it is an important one that helps determine what is prioritized in the problem solving process. Everything in life ends; the question is whether or not it will end with death. After all, you can continually try to end undesirable aspects of your life until you are left meandering in a catatonic state just existing, because ending something does not mean you have the ability to start something new or something better than what you had before.
To put this into context, what matters to the Syrian People, anti-Assad groups, and pro-Assad groups is what happens after the fighting is ended. As of now, pro-Assad groups view ceasefire to the conflict to mean Assad loses and Syria falls into chaos; whereas, anti-Assad groups see an ceasefire as a failure to address the issues that started the conflict and an opening for retaliation by Assad. Wars happen for reasons and wars sometimes end when those reasons no longer become relevant, yet conflicts can only be resolved when viable solutions are found. This means diplomats must focus on building a vision or path forward that all parties can live with and act on. As such, the International Community can solve Syrian Civil War if we help the Syrians find what they cannot on their own, i.e. a meaningful reconciliation and reconstruction plan.
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