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Saturday, February 23, 2013

2013 Oscar Picks

(PHOTO: Cinemark Movie Theaters in Moosic, Pennsylvania)

In case you have not heard, this Sunday night is the Academy Awards! Everyone from the editors of Mediaite to Nate Silver is predicting who will prevail in each of the major categories of the Oscars. For the first time in this blog, I will give my readers the chance to say "wow, you were dead wrong about your predictions" by making specific predictions. Of the films in contention, I have seen in theaters "Lincoln," "Argo," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Les Miserables," and "Django Unchained" - allof which were very, very good, in my view.  I am excited for this year's award ceremony since I was a fan of all of these great films and the actors and actresses in these movies. I am also incredibly excited for Seth MacFarlane hosting too as I am a big fan of "Family Guy." Hopefully, he won't be a Lettermanesque flop (1994) but will instead be a Jon Stewartesque  audience favorite (2006 and 2008). It should be a terrific show on Sunday. So here are my Oscar picks - both who and what I would like to see win and who and what I think will win:

Who/what I want to win:
Best Picture - "Silver Linings Playbook"
Best Director - David Russell ("Silver Linings Playbook")
Best Lead Actress - Jessica Chastain ("Zero Dark Thirty")
Best Lead Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis ("Lincoln")
Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Walz ("Django Unchained")
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway ("Les Miserables")

Who/what I think will win:
Best Picture -"Argo"
Best Director - Stephen Spielberg ("Lincoln")
Best Lead Actress - Jennifer Lawrence ("Silver Linings Playbook")
Best Lead Actor - Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Supporting Actor - Christopher Walz
Best Supporting Actress - Anne Hathaway 

If any of these films or actors or actresses or directors won, I would be satisfied. However, for a myriad of reasons I am rooting for "Silver Linings Playbook" for an upset Best Picture win: 1) it contains an inspiring and beautiful message about the vital issue of mental illness - a topic I care deeply about, 2) it features a stellar cast composed of spectacular acting by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and the venerable Robert DeNiro, among others, 3) it is set in my state, Pennsylvania, in the beautiful and legendary Philadelphia suburbs and it incorporates aspects of PA culture and values - including the reverent and impassioned spirit of Eagles fans, and 4) everyone wakes up happy at the end on my birthday: December 29th. The movie, at its core, teaches us that no matter what ailments, troubles, or debilitations befall you, you can pick yourself up, turn around your life, move on, and be successful. All it takes is a little bit of hard work and a little bit of love. Perhaps that message is a bit corny but it is one we should always keep in mind. For that, I am rooting for "Silver Linings Playbook." Good luck to all nominated! 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Common Sense Progressive

(PHOTO: President Barack Obama pauses while delivering his State of the Union address to Congress.)

Since the advent of the modern American conservative moment in the wake of President Ronald Reagan's 1980 election, the term "common sense conservative" has been a part of our political discourse. During her slow slide towards eventual irrelevancy, 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin asserted that she was a "common sense conservative." Her running mate, Senator John McCain, delivered a speech to GOPAC in Washington in November 2006 in which he proclaimed that most Americans prefer "common sense conservatism" to the "alternative." Last December, the College Conservative penned an op-ed in which they argued that the Republican Party needed to return to Reagan's "common sense conservatism." The thinking behind the formulation of this phrase is that if a basic set of poll-tested conservative Republican solutions to our nation's most pressing dilemmas were presented in an easy to understand, reasonable, and pragmatic manner, the country would be supportive of these ideas. There was no need to be a radical right-winger the likes of Senator James Inhofe or Congressman Steve Stockman. Be a pragmatic but principled conservative appealing to what is in the public interest, rather than to explicitly appealing to the base, and you'll win elections. This formula helped Republicans - and more moderate Democrats co-opting Republican ideas (Bill Clinton) - win many elections but as the GOP moved even further right to where they were in the Reagan years and their solutions were discredited, the pattern broke.

In 2006, Democrats won back control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years on a platform of opposition to the policies of President George W. Bush. In 2008 and 2012, Americans elected Barack Obama to the presidency after he ran on campaign platforms that included raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, investing in infrastructure, ending the wars in Iraq (an '08 pledge) and Afghanistan (a '12 pledge), reforming health care, and expanding gay rights. Well aware of the left of center agenda of the Democrats and Obama, the country put the Dems in control of Congress and elected Obama by comfortable margins in two consecutive elections - a 365-173 electoral win and 53%-46% popular vote margin in 2008 followed by a 332-206 electoral victory and 51%-47% popular vote advantage in 2012. Consequently, even conservatives like Sen. McCain, who said that in that 2006 GOPAC speech that America was still a "right of center" country, resigned themselves to the fact that that talking point was no longer applicable after 2012. The morning after the 2012 election, Sean Hannity (desirively) declared that the American people "now deserve Barack Obama" because more than half of them "took a look at his...agenda" and said they approved of it. Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist, said on Inauguration Day that "Reaganism is dead." The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continentti said much the same as well. Why is this the case? It is becuase President Obama has been able to successfully sell progressive policies with a pragmatic touch in a common sense, easy to understand manner. While this has not been true for some specific legislation - notably, Obamacare - it is true in broad brush strokes considering the large majorities of Americans that agree with Obama's most notable proposals for his second term.

In his State of the Union address, Obama portrayed himself as that kind of common sense progressive that the Democratic Party longed for when they were in the wilderness as the GOP won elections. He embraced raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour - a left of center policy proposal, one that would certainly help ease income inequality and increase GDP as the wage-earners go out and spend that hard-earned money, that has support from 80 percent of Americans. He called for investing in high speed rail - a smart proposal that would lessen our dependence on gas-guzzling vehicles and create potentially millions of new jobs and strongly boost the economy - an idea that also has broad public support. Check out a recent Guardian article touring how a high speed rail network would be enormously beneficial for America. The President firmly declared that "Gabby Giffords...and the families of Newton and Aurora..deserve a simple vote," appealing to the emotional core of what is at stake in the gun debate in a way most Americans can resonate with and backing policies like universal background checks, which has the support of over 95 percent of Americans in public opinion polling. Even the assault weapons ban polls at over 50 percent support in recent polling. Obama called for government action to address climate change -- an idea with over 60 percent support in a recent poll, according to The Huffington Post. The President ambitiously laid out a proposal to make preschool education universal - an investment that would ensure those kids grow up to become productive members of society and would lessen future government spending on prisons and safety net programs because of that initial investment. This proposal has wide public support too and even GOP Senator Johnny Issakson says it's a "good" idea as long as it is paid for in some way. Finally, Obama also put his full support behind comprehensive immigration reform including a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants - a plan that is clearly not only reasonable and pragmatic when balanced with strong border security but one that the 2012 election proved was an election year winner. Even John McCain is saying that the party needs to support this reform because of the growing Latino population and the political realities of that change. 

The Barack Obama that Americans saw last Tuesday night was a common sense progressive. He was a president clearly buoyed and strengthened by a convincing reelection and ready to take on a bold and liberal agenda - one that, while left of center, is backed by most Americans. The solutions are in many ways common sense in that they are reasonable, pragmatic, and have a history of proven success with statistics and real evidence to support the arguments behind them. America appears ready to embrace this agenda and that's a good thing because as Ezra Klein said, just "imagine" the country we would have would all of these policy items become reality. It'd the kind of nation that President Obama could rightfully say he left better than he found it after eight years in office. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

All You Need is Love

(PHOTO: Clockwise - Andy Warhol painting at The Woodlands Inn & Resort in Plains Township, PA; me at the LOVE sign in Philadelphia in June 2012; Barack & Michelle Obama hug at an August 2012 Iowa campaign rally {picture courtesy the President's Twitter account}; an American athlete & an Iranian athlete embrace at the London Summer 2012 Olympics {picture courtesy NBC})

In my very, very short life so far, my views on Valentine's Day have radically swung from one direction to another back to my original perception. I am not of course talking about the critically panned Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Garner 2010 film Valentine's Day -- which I ashamedly saw not once, but twice, in theaters. I am talking about the beloved holiday named for Saint Valentine.

At first, of course, when I was really little, I loved Valentine's Day. Those days were consumed by pure childhood innocence. Before serious relationships and dating, there was the cherished ritual of putting Valentine candies in little designated pouches for your classmates every February 14th. In those years of elementary school where I had a crush on a girl in the class, I would make sure to, naturally, stuff extra Valentine candies and messages in that particular girl's pouch. Alas, performing this task resulted in no dating or flirtations in third grade. This ritual continued until the middle school years began.

Into the middle school years, I started to slowly grow disenchanted with this holiday. Without divulging into detail, I experienced a horrible Valentine's Day in 2006 - seventh grade - which had nothing to do with any crush or young love interest or anything of that nature. To put it simply, it was a day marked by ridicule and hate, not the spirit of love that defines this day. That single day would come to partly define how I viewed the holiday for the coming years. That occurrence was soon followed by the famous February 14, 2007 Pennsylvania snowstorm, the mindless manufactured drama of the first two years of high school (though I did give away flowers for the first time on Valentine's Day 2008), and a lack of success in dating anyone while many friends started "going out," in earnest. I hated Valentine's Day.

That didn't last long. I finally had a valentine by February 14, 2010. The atmosphere of love and appreciation of one another that is supposed to consume Valentine's Day felt real and legitimate to me. I finally came around to loving Valentine's Day once again. Why not? It is a great day defined by the expression of something truly uncontroversial: loving one another - a central tenet of the Ten Commandments and one of the fundamental standards of a morally righteous life. Although I have not had a real valentine (a date) in the years since, I still have loved this holiday since that time. The 2011 and 2012 Valentine's Days were marked by reminders of love: exchanging of chocolates and candy grams between some of my best high school friends and dinner with my best friend (2011) and lots of expressions of support for my successful campaign for GW CCAS Undergraduate Senate (2012).

While it is true that one should show this kind of love toward one another every single day of the year, it does nobody any harm to have a day set aside in the year to amplify, fully recognize, and entirely embrace the spirit of love. If we follow this logic, why do we even have some of our most popular non-religious holidays? What is the point of Father's Day, Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, and  MLK Day? Should we not love our fathers, our mothers, our servicemen and servicewomen, our veterans, and the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. every single day instead of just on one day of the year? Sure. Honoring our parents, troops, MLK, and loving one another every single day while also setting aside holidays in the calendar to recognize these tasks do not have to be mutually exclusive.

To quote The Beatles, "all you need is love." Embrace the atmosphere of love around you, be happy for the wonderful couples you see around you, remind your family and friends just how much you love them, and be a beacon of love to everyone you pass by, become acquainted with, or friends with at any point in time. President Obama said it best in his beautiful January 2011 address at the Tucson memorial service for those lost in the shooting that nearly cost former Rep. Gabby Giffords her life. The President said that in this "fleeting" time we have on Earth, we will be judged partly by "how well we have loved." Indeed. In the Bible, Jesus talks at length about "loving...your neighbor as yourself." It should go without saying but Jesus was literally the perfect example of the kind of unconditional, forgiving, and beautiful love that one should always strive to show to friend and foe alike. Jesus preached of showing stedfast love, displayed tremendous compassion towards the poor and the sick, and displayed the kind of incredible mercy towards others that we can only strive to achieve. That kind of love is at the core of what it means to enjoy and embrace Valentine's Day. Be the most merciful, loving, compassionate soul you can be because after all, it is those qualities that will save all of us from our inner demons and ultimately save the world. In the words of a president whose birthday was celebrated earlier this week, let's appeal to the "better angels of our nature." Love one another. Happy Valentine's Day!