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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Uncle Sam after Sandy

Jaime R. Vergara

The U.S. presidential election has been overshadowed by the spectacle and debacle along the devastated path of Frankestorm Sandy, and in our reading, the natural melodrama does not help either of the candidates gain more votes. The undecided are still holding their ambivalence heading to the booths. Obama has been acting more presidential, true; and Romney has been more subdued rather than the just being ornery and contrary!

Absentee voters in the CNMI would have already sent their ballots to their respective states by now. We had not tried to influence their choice and obviously, could not do so now. But for the sake of full disclosure, we voted for Obama.

Rebuilding the country after Sandy is an apt metaphor in what faces the United States in Obama’s second term. What the presidential debate clearly revealed is that foreign policy is domestic policy, and vice-versa. Romney inadvertently kept returning to this position in the third debate while Obama pontificated on a magisterial podium. The polls gave the third debate to the President on a lopsided score of 2 to 1. Still, Romney stayed at our position, which is, that domestic policies determine our intents outside of the country, and the resources as well as the requirements of foreign soils influence domestic behavior.

The reverse is equally true. As dramatically reported in the late ’50s when then Vice President Nixon asked a Brazilian favela dweller what political reform meant to him, the respondent replied: "I want to participate in choosing the next President of the United States because what s/he decides affects my life." The whole world, not surprisingly partisan to Obama, awaits the tally of the ballot.

Meanwhile, citizens are rethinking the function of the federal government and the election process of its officers. The importance of the feds needs to move from being a regulatory body to promoting research and developmental thrusts. The feds can conduct periodic peer review over local governance from the states (we include territories down to the local wards/precincts) but I would let the states conduct the necessary regulatory functions, particularly regarding trade and commerce.

This means a stronger "paying attention" of states on their affairs. The California tandem of Brown/Newsome is painfully holding the reality of a state in deficit spending of $60 billion. Admittedly, the state is a big chunk of the U.S. economy, their debt minuscule compared to the feds’ debt now numbering in the trillions, but still, when local executives begin to take responsibility for their own turf and not rely on either stimulus packages or interventions from elsewhere, there is hope for the political process.

The conduct of elections for executive offices requires an overhaul. The Electoral College that actually elects the President is at variance with the popular vote, which is the common perception of how the President of the nation is elected. It is a representational construct designed when the Union was still agricultural, and states wanted to keep institutional prerogative separate from the popular will of the masses.

Gerrymandering of congressional districts along racial lines, meant initially as affirmative action, has now grown monstrously out of control. The U.S. Congress itself, designed when it took a congressman 25 days to ride a horse from California to Washington, D.C., could use more than just earnest tinkering.

We keep returning to the fundamental question that every citizen need to ask one’s self: 1) how do I physically support myself; 2) how do I socially participate in the decision-making process that affects my individual as well as communal existence; 3) how do I symbolize my understanding of the significance, or the absence thereof, of my life and that of my society. We call those three basic questions as the economic, political, and cultural poles of the social process. What is true of individuals is just as relevant to all levels of social configuration, from the nuclear family to the nation and the world.

Frankenstorm Sandy and a reportedly looming second storm are actual occurrences subject to quantification. That will be done by established agencies. They are also metaphors to gauging the quality of our consensed and intentional human existence. That’s a job for every awake and aware citizen.

Our unpreparedness for Sandy, though long predicted to occur by our scientists, reflects the deep denial we hold regarding the reality of climate change. We are not the only ones. The oil cartel around the world has been denying it the same way the tobacco industry used to junk any correlation between nicotine and lung cancer. Reversing the trend in climate change is no longer an option, and the global temperature, having risen by 0.9 Centigrade in the last 20 years, is expected to hit the catastrophic additional 2.0 C in another 20 years.

We live in a region in China where the burning of coal goes with 4-out-of-7 days of dark overcast skies. This in a region that is consciously trying to be "green" in many of its energy needs. Green is losing.

Obama II has a historic chance to lead a nation in aligning its domestic policies along global needs. We are hopeful.

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