The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: politics

Post-Orlando

It has been a couple days since the shooting happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The conversation has been continuing in the days since the shooting, and we are still feeling the emotional outflow of anger, pain, and shock that something like this has happened again. We’ve seen coverage of self-serving political candidates capitalising on this as a self-promotion opportunity, speculation about the sexuality of the shooter, the nation’s inability to act to prevent further shootings because it is crippled by lobbyists, intense coverage of the final moments as victims died, outrage at Muslims, people defending Muslims, Muslims being outraged, so on and so on and so on.

But amid the whirlwind of content outpouring, I find myself thinking about hate. I find myself thinking about what it must feel like to be living with so much hatred. What it must feel like to hate someone’s very existence without even having known them, hating them because they are labelled as something that goes against one’s “values”.

I tried to imagine hating the shooter Omar Mateen that took the lives of 49 sons and daughters that night in the club and I couldn’t do it. I could feel anger as I imagined what might have happened that night, but I feared that if I found myself capable of hating Mateen, I would be no better than anyone else hating someone else without knowing what they’re about. I thought about how I would have done had I been in that club, how I would have felt had any of the victims had been direct friends of mine. I was very cognizant of how removed I was from this incident, yet how connected I was to this issue at large. I was once again reminded that there were people who hated my for no particular reason, and wondered if I had been guilty of similar hatred.

People claim that this incident shouldn’t be about any individual — the problem is a systemic failure of the society at large. But larger problems are expressed at local levels, and if we don’t deal with problems from the ground up, how much less so can we attempt to solve problems at a larger level? I want to learn more about myself as I ingest this incident and I want to grow from it. From there, I hope to become a stronger person equipped to handle such complex issues and will be better equipped to talk to other people around it, and ultimately effect change that matters.

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Aftermath of a Singapore Election

The sun rose, as it always did, but one would not have noticed it. It hid behind a haze, some say the courtesy of Indonesia, but I know better. Hanging thick in the air was a calm that belied people’s true feelings from the frenzy of live tweets, climbing numbers, excitement and disappoint and clamour the night before.

An elderly Chinese man, pushing his bicycle along the foot of a HDB flat, walks up to an elderly Indian man. “Ehhh! PAP ar?” the Chinese man said, shaking the Indian man’s hand. “Ya,” replied the Indian man as they both shared a laughter, and then they parted ways.

The kopitiam was divided. Laughter and merriment rang from some tables, while nearby sullen tables glanced angry sidelong glares, with some shaking their heads.

Wa lau eh, why like that?” piped one.

Bo pian, what can we do?” said another, showing characteristic Singaporean spirit.

“Well, at least Lee Kuan Yew got what he wanted before the ghost gates closed. I guess his spirit can now return in peace.”

“Eh, I ask you ar, do you think his spirit went to heaven or to hell ah?”

Aiyoh, you think leh?”

“…aiyah my GRC no fight one lah! But then hor, I still voted opposition anyway just to show them what for!”

“I know it’s not going to make a difference, but I don’t want the PAP to become too complacent mah. They cannot keep on doing what they’re doing without answering to anyone right?”

“But even if you did that, got change anything meh?”

“So you stay up until how late last night?”

“I stay until 12 midnight, then I buay tahan liao. Anyway next day wake up see the results, see on the spot, also the same what.”

“So what you think? Who did you vote for?”

Aiyoh I tell you then still call elections for what?”

Nearby, an incense paper shop owner gave instructions on how to burn the offerings as the Hungry Ghost Festival drew to a close.

And Singapore lived through another General Elections.

So much bad reporting about the Obamacare-Little Sisters brouhaha

Little Sisters of the Poor. Courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Image credit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

One of the news stories that came out around the turn of 2013/14 was the story of a religious group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who aid the elderly. The story reported by many publications basically says this:

Obamacare is forcing a religious group of nuns to provide contraception to their employees! Shame on Obamacare!

Related arguments include: The Obama administration doesn’t think the Little Sisters are religious enough to qualify for church exemptions; the government shouldn’t force religious entities to do anything that goes against their moral beliefs.

Currently, the majority of news sites that tout this stance are mostly Op-Eds, as well as, of course, Fox News, and some others infamous for being less credible news sources, such as the NY Post.

However, given some of the facts of the case that were made available from the beginning of the case that really undermines the Little Sister’s standing, it’s unbelievable that writers are still deliberately ignoring those points and writing pieces with only side of the story — much bad journalism indeed. Well, I suppose sensationalising stories is nothing new, especially with some news sites whose purpose are not so much to enlighten but to build narratives.

However, some sites, such as the Huffington Post and the Denver Post, have also been guilty of reporting only one the side of the story where the Obama administration is being the overpowering encroacher. For them, it shouldn’t have been hard to do a quick search to find out what the facts are, should it?

I’ll summarise the facts and developments of the story:

  • On January 1st, 2014, a mandate from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare,” would require employers providing insurance to is employees to include contraception coverage, or face fines.
  • Religious organisations, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious-affiliated non-profit, not a religious organisation, so they are still required to provide contraception coverage.
  • However, a provision in the ACA states that religious-affiliated groups, such as the Little Sisters, can opt out by filling out a conscientious objection form.
  • The objection form will then pass the burden of providing contraception coverage onto a third-party insurer.
  • Little Sisters says that even signing the form goes against their religious beliefs, because it makes them complicit in providing of contraception.
  • However, their arguments have a flaw: their employees are using a “church plan” insurance, which pre-dates the ACA, and under the church plan, the Little Sisters doesn’t have to provide contraception coverage anyway.
  • Little Sisters appeals for an injunction of the ACA mandate on them, appeal was rejected. On December 31, one day before the ACA mandate takes effect, Justice Sotomayer grants a stay on the rejection of the appeal, until a decision is reached.
  • The U.S. government has asked the Supreme Courts not to extend the exemption

There is a law, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), that sets the standards for benefits provided to employees, should employers choose to provide them, and those under the church plan provision of ERISA don’t have to provide contraception coverage. Since it pre-dates the ACA, it limits the federal government’s authority over the health plan that the Little Sisters has, the Obama administration argues, and under ERISA the Feds couldn’t intervene or penalize it.

“There is no statutory authority to regulate the third-party administrator of a self-insured church plan and no legal compulsion for that administrator to provide contraceptive coverage where an eligible organization with a self-insured church plan invokes the accommodation, ” the government lawyers argued in an earlier Circuit Court brief.

So the Little Sisters is essentially just against the signing of the form, where if they do sign it, nothing changes from status quo — no contraception coverage will be provided, not even by third-party insurers. Yet if the Denver group doesn’t invoke that “accommodation” by self-certifying, it is still subject to hefty fines under the Affordable Care Act, at $6,700 a day, or $4.5 million a year, which comprises a third of their budget. Are they then petitioning against potential spiritual complicity, not even actual spiritual complicity, where signing the form equates to providing for the possibility of complicity, where if I sign, were I not under a church plan, I’d possibly have to provide contraception coverage, and that is against my moral beliefs? Can people actually petition against a counterfactual situation? The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which is also defending a similar case for Hobby Lobby, a private company that refused to provide contraception coverage because of their religious values, has taken up the Little Sisters’ case.

There is no deadline for court action, and Sotomayor can make the decision herself or refer it to the whole court, in which case all nine justices will decide.

The New Yorker’s guide to playing Nostradamus for 2014

Want to sound like you know what’re you’re talking about, when prompted for opinions on the outlook for 2014 when at a dinner party? The New Yorker provides a cheat-sheet on world events that will matter in 2014 based on the developments of the previous year, so that one can make impressive-sounding informed predictions for the year.

1. Can Obama recover? Sure he can. After all the troubles of the past couple of months, his approval rating is already rebounding a bit. According to the Gallup daily tracking poll, he ended 2013 with a forty-four per cent approval rating. That’s not great, but it’s higher than his numbers throughout much of 2010 and 2011. Surprisingly enough, it’s also higher than his ratings in the summer of 2012, just before he waxed Mitt Romney in the general election. How high can Obama go? That depends upon the answers to the next two questions.

2. Will the economy accelerate? Yes. Barring some great cataclysm, this should be the year when G.D.P. growth finally rises above three per cent—a rate of expansion it hasn’t seen since 2005. According to the latest figures, all the major sectors of the economy are picking up, withmanufacturing and construction leading the way. Job creation has increased, and economic-policy decisions are helping. The Fed remains committed to keeping interest rates at record lows, and the recent budget deal between Democrats and Republicans means that fiscal policy will be a bit less restrictive than it was last year, when it reduced growth by about one and half percentage points.

3. Will Obamacare work? Yes, but there will continue to be problems. On New Year’s Eve, the government announced that six million Americans had already signed up for health coverage. About 2.1 million have found private insurance policies through the online exchanges operated by the federal government and the states; another 3.9 million have signed up for the expanded Medicaid program. So much for the idea that the Affordable Care Act was unworkable.

The potential problems are threefold. Enrollment through healthcare.gov, although it has picked up sharply, remains below the Administration’s projections. And it’s not clear who is signing up. If, as some observers suspect, it is mainly older people and folks with preëxisting conditions, then this will create problems for the insurance companies, who will be tempted to raise prices for 2015. That could lead to more complaints about people losing their existing policies and being forced to buy more costly plans.

4. Can the Republicans take the Senate in the midterms? It’s not out of the question. To gain control, the Republicans need to gain six seats, which is a big swing. But the Democrats are defending seats in seven states that Mitt Romney carried in 2012: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Early polls show the G.O.P. candidates leading or close in all of these states. Democrats will be hoping to hold at least a couple of them. Two of their best bets may be Louisiana and North Carolina, where the Democrats, Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan, have plenty of money and strong organizations. In Georgia, Democrats also have hopes that Michelle Nunn, the daughter of former senator Sam Nunn, will take the seat being vacated by G.O.P. senator Saxby Chambliss. Throughout the country, much depends on whether the Republicans can put up mainstream candidates, or whether, as in 2012, they will be burdened with Tea Party extremists.

5. Will Hillary Clinton launch a second bid for the Presidency? Yes. In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, she said that she would decide in 2014. She has a lot of support in the Democratic Party; her poll ratings, although they have slipped back over the past twelve months, are still decent; and, since she is now sixty-six, this is probably her last chance to become the first female President. Not long ago, I spoke to somebody close to Hillary who said that the chances of her running were seventy-thirty. I reckon the real figure is about ninety-ten.

6. Will the Iranians agree on a permanent nuclear deal? Only Ayatollah Khamenei and his fellow mullahs know the answer. So far, they have supported President Rouhani’s outreach to the West, which resulted in an interim agreement that suspended nuclear enrichment in return for limited relief from sanctions. But talks on a broader agreement have already run into difficulties,and reaching a deal would necessarily involve the Iranians making a series of concessions that they have hitherto stoutly rejected. “It remains uncertain if Iran recognizes the extent to which it will have to roll back its infrastructure to reach a deal,” Robert Einhorn, a non-proliferation expert at the Brookings Institution, told the Wall Street Journal.

7. Will the civil war in Syria end? No. Now that both the Obama Administration and many of the Islamist rebels have effectively given up on the Free Syrian Army, the only victor in the war is likely to be Bashar al-Assad and his government forces. But the United States, along with Assad’s traditional enemies Turkey and Saudi Arabia, will be loath to accept this reality. Together, they’ll provide enough weapons and logistical support to keep a hodgepodge of anti-Assad forces in the field, while the international community tries to cobble together some sort of face-saving peace deal. The likely result: more bloodshed and more refugees.

8. Will John Kerry produce a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?No. With its security policies working, and Palestinian terror attacks greatly reduced, the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu sees no need to make the sort of compromises that a peace treaty would entail. Earlier this week, as Kerry arrived in Tel Aviv to try and revive the peace process, Ze’ev Elkin, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said, “The Jordan Valley must be under Israeli sovereignty forever.” He added that “the 1967 borders are Auschwitz borders.” A great many Palestinians, meanwhile, see the 1967 borders as the basis for a negotiated solution.

9. Will the Chinese economic miracle continue? Yes. After thirty years of rapid growth, the Chinese economy is now threatening to overtake the U.S. economy as the world’s largest, according to some measures. But there’s still plenty of scope for so-called “catch-up growth.” In terms of G.D.P. per person, the United States is still about five times as rich as China. Even middle-income countries such as Latvia and Chile are twice as rich. But with the formerly Communist nation still spending close to fifty per cent of its G.D.P. on infrastructure projects, education, and other forms of investment, the gap is likely to keep closing for some time. That’s what happened in other fast-growing Asian economies that industrialized earlier, such as Japan and Korea, and there’s no reason to expect China will be different.

10. Will the bitcoin bubble burst? Perhaps. In recent months, the online currency has gone from a cult object to an economic phenomenon that governments and investors are starting to take seriously. Even Ben Bernanke said that such currencies “may hold long-term promise.” But that doesn’t mean that bitcoins are worth their current price in the market. Underlying all the hype and discussion is a bit of a contradiction. If bitcoins are the next-generation means of payment for global online commerce, which is what some of the currency’s techie boosters believe, we are going to need a lot more of them in circulation. But once there are lots more of them going around, their scarcity value will diminish, and so will their price.

11. Will the stock market crash? Over the long term, U.S. corporations are a much safer bet than bitcoins, but this year could be a tricky one for the market. It’s not just that prices have gone up a lot—in 2013, the Dow jumped thirty per cent. The bigger problem is that long-term interest rates are rising, which often portends trouble for stocks. Paradoxically, the biggest danger is from a strong economy. If G.D.P. growth accelerates dramatically, investors will start to worry about the Fed shifting back to normal faster than expected, and this could lead to a sell-off in stocks. Wall Street is hoping for the “Goldilocks” recovery to continue, with growth strong enough to boost corporate profits, but not strong enough to spook the Fed.

12. Will Brazil win the World Cup? No. With an experienced coach in Luiz Felipe Scolari,and gifted young stars like Neymar (Barcelona)Oscar (Chelsea), and Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Brazil has the talent to match anybody. But in such a soccer-made nation, and with a relatively inexperienced team, the pressure of winning at home will prove too much.

Finger on the pulse of the shutdown

Photo credits to Doug Mills/The New York Times

For those who are confused why the shutdown happened, here is a New York Times graphic showing the spending bill that was bounced back and forth between the Senate and the House, and the lack of resolution on the future budget led to the shutdown.

For those who are curious as to which agencies specifically are affected and how many people will be furloughed, here’s a CNN searchable interactive list of all agencies affected, with numbers of furloughed listed as well.

P.S. When I first saw that NY Times picture (posted above), I thought I saw a picture of a guard precariously balancing on guard rails.

Only in America: Government shutdown edition

coverage

Approximate two hours ago, at midnight, as the U.S. congress was unable to reach a resolution in passing the budget, a shutdown of the government happened, furloughing some 800,000 government workers and shuttering some non-essential agencies and services.

That is repeated ad nauseum; what’s interesting is: how are the two polarised news sources — MSNBC on the left, and Fox News on the right — reporting this brouhaha?

For those not in the know, the Republican-held House in the Congress has been largely blamed for being unwilling to pass the budget without trying to force through language that aims to strip the Affordable Care Act, also popularly known as “Obamacare,” from the bill.

Fox News has reported that lawmakers have “missed the deadline,” emphasising that the shutdown would “limit access to national monuments, parks,” and how the shutdown might impact travellers.

MSNBC, on the other hand, of course, was all “First shutdown in 17 years!” and various iterations of how the shutdown is impending doomsday.