Monday, February 28, 2011

Obama backs giving states leeway on health care

President Obama's willingness to let states design their own health care systems while meeting key federal goals as early as 2014 represents a challenge to Republican governors and lawmakers opposed to the federal law.
Obama's endorsement of legislation Monday that would give states such freedom three years earlier than the 2010 law allows was panned by Republicans more interested in repealing the entire law or getting the U.S. Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.

On the other hand, the president's move was applauded by lawmakers in Vermont who want to go even further than the federal law, which is designed to cover 32 million more Americans with health insurance. The law will expand Medicaid and create a system of health exchanges, or marketplaces, in which insurers compete for customers.
"The president's embracing this proposal is good 'put up or shut up' politics," says Robert Laszewski, a private health care consultant. "He is challenging all of these Republican governors who have control of both houses of their legislatures to put a better idea on the table and show the country why it's better."

The law is being phased in, with the major provisions starting by 2014. States could not opt out entirely. Key requirements would remain, such as those prohibiting insurers from canceling coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

States can ask Washington for a waiver from other provisions, such as the law's mandate that all individuals get insurance — but they would have to cover as many people, provide the same level of benefits and not raise the federal deficit.
"A state may not like the way the (federal law) is providing that coverage and could argue that other ways would be more appropriate, but they still have to come up with a way to do those three things," says Laura Tobler of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In his address to the governors, Obama quipped that many are not in the health law's "fan club." But he urged them to work together to put it into practice and offered faster state flexibility as an olive branch. Obama also has agreed to two other, less sweeping changes, including one that would ease tax reporting rules for small business.
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Arab youth want democracy, not theocracy

Hosni Mubarak's resignation resurrected a tsunami wave of articles and commentaries on whether Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood would now come to power. And yet, few have asked why the primary leaders of grassroots revolt in Egypt and across the Arab world curiously have not been Islamic organizations.

Authoritarian rulers in the Arab world, like Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, have long justified their repressive governments by warning the United States and Europe that the alternative to their governments was "chaos" and an Islamist takeover.

The new generation of Arab youth and their supporters, however diverse and different, is united in its desire to topple entrenched autocrats and corrupt governments.

Having witnessed the failures of Islamist authoritarian regimes in Sudan, Iran, the Taliban's Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, and the terror of the Bin Laden's of the world, they are not interested in theocracy but democracy with its greater equality, pluralism, freedoms and opportunities.

But what about the Islamists, where are they?

The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups neither initiated nor have led pro-democracy protest movements. The uprisings have revealed a broad-based pro-democracy movement that is not driven by a single ideology or by religious extremists.
What has occurred is not an attempt at an Islamist takeover but a broad-based call for reforms.

People from every walk of life were united in a common cause: professionals and laborers, young and old, women and men, Muslim and Christian, the poor, middle and upper classes.

As their signs, placards, statements, demands and the waving of flags not Islamist placards indicated, protesters want to reclaim their dignity, control of their lives and the right to determine their government; they demand government accountability and transparency, rule of law, an end to widespread corruption, and respect for human rights.
This common platform has been evolving over the past decade in several Arab countries and has been endorsed by major political actors, including Islamists.

In Tunisia, Syria and Libya, mainstream Islamists responding to the political realities of their societies have become part of the broader landscape. They reject an extremist vision of imposing an Islamic state and have embraced a democratic electoral process and political pluralism, often forming alliances and working with other sectors in society.

Since the late 20th century Islamist parties have been an integral part of the social and political fabric of their respective societies.

Islamically-oriented candidates and political parties in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia have opted for reform through ballots, not bullets.

They have successfully contested and won municipal and parliamentary seats, held cabinet positions, and served in senior positions, such as prime minister of Turkey, Malaysia and Iraq, and president of Indonesia.

But what about the danger of an Islamist takeover?

In contrast to radical extremists who want to seize power and impose their brand of an Islamic state, mainstream Islamic groups have competed and done well in elections and remained non-violent despite government limitations, harassment, repression, and rigged elections.

They have created effective NGOs that respond to the social and educational needs of their societies. They have come to appreciate diversity and pluralism in society and the need for democracy as the best system to manage this diversity.

They have also been advocating many of the values of democracy, such as citizenship, rule of law, constitutionalism, separation of power, good governance and accountability.

Mainstream Islamists have a good grasp of the intricate socio-economic and political problems facing their societies and know quite well that these problems can only be resolved through cooperation and by sharing power and responsibility with other political forces, and not through monopolizing power.

Islamic movements, like all other groups and parties in their countries, have a right to participate in elections and be represented in government and will continue to have an influential role.

In past elections, Islamic groups and parties, absent other viable political choices, were the only alternative game in town. They garnered the votes not only of their members and supporters but also of those who wanted to express their opposition to, or disfavor with, the government.

However, in a new, more open and pluralistic political climate, they will be but one of many potential political players and parties.
by Jhon L. Esposito
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lawmakers criticize Obama’s response to Egypt crisis

Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticized the Obama administration‘s response to the political crisis in Egypt during a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat, accused the administration of “snatching failure from the jaws of success.”

“The Obama administration now appears to be wavering on whether America really backs the demands of the Egyptian people, or just wants a return to stability with a facade of change,” Mr. Ackerman said.

In a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday, senior Obama administration officials defended their response, saying it is not for the U.S. to “dictate outcomes” in Egypt.

“The future going forward is going to be determined by the Egyptian people,” said Ben Rhodes,“We don’t see this as a situation where we dictate outcomes, but we do stand for a set of principles and we stand for a process that can make this, as the president said, a moment of opportunity in Egypt and not just a moment of turmoil,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protests have amassed in Cairo's Tahrir Square and in cities around the country since Jan. 25 demanding the end of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak‘s 30-year rule. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.Jake Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and director of policy planning, said the administration  has been reiterating its message in private conversations with Egyptian leaders and its other allies that there needs to be “no violence and an end to the harassment and detention, and for the need for political change in Egypt.”

The Obama administration has called for a “process that is broadly inclusive … that includes a broad representation of the Egyptian opposition,” Mr. Rhodes said.

However, the U.S. officials said the Obama administration has had no contact with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt‘s largest and best-organized opposition.
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