Obama and the Pesky Muslim Rumors

http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/062608/opl_295470633.shtml

Smear: Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Sen. Obama in his justifiable quest to correct the record, so unfairly distorted by viral emails and insidious propaganda, has launched a website titled 'Fight the Smears.' He is well within his rights to vehemently deny that he is a Muslim, when in reality he has always been a Christian.

But is it acceptable to insinuate that being Muslim is a 'smear'? That is a question Muslims, many of whom are Obamaniacs, are asking.

What if Obama was a Muslim? Would it make his message less hopeful? Will it make his personality less charming? Will it make his candidacy less viable?

A recently released report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, titled 'U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,' shows 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that 'many religions can lead to eternal life'- a sign of progression towards a more inclusive and pluralistic society. And yet despite this progress, a Presidential candidate is being forced to go to unprecedented lengths to counter smears.

Last week New York Mayor Bloomberg speaking in front of a Jewish audience in South Florida stated that the deceptive campaign against Obama, 'threatens to undo the enormous strides that Jews and Muslims have made together in this country.' He went on to say, 'This is wedge politics at its worst, and we've got to reject it - loudly, clearly and unequivocally.' Despite the Mayor's commendable efforts, one audience member was reported in the New York Times to say, 'I still have doubts about him (Obama).'

Rumors often stick, which is why rumor mongering persists. Rumors are particularly lethal when they are easy to remember (Obama's middle name is Hussein thus it is easy to insinuate his alleged Muslim links) and they exploit emotive stereotypes (Muslims are out to destroy America). Simply dispelling the rumor without addressing the stereotype that makes such rumors stick is like treating the symptom without isolating the cause.

Thus, potential for blowbacks continue to fester. Given that Obama has not vigorously challenged the inherent bigotry behind the 'Muslim' rumors, some of his supporters got the errant message that any association between Obama and Muslims is potentially damaging to his candidacy. At a rally in Detroit last week, volunteers from the Obama campaign, citing 'a sensitive political climate,' prohibited two head scarf donning Muslim women from sitting too close to the stage lest they be visible in photo and video footage. Obama, to his credit, later apologized to the women and his campaign put out a message that the volunteers were not carrying out any campaign policy.

Over the past couple of months, I have been lecturing across America to Muslim audiences about civic and political engagement. Over the course of my trips I found that American Muslims in general recognize the historicity of the moment and are genuinely excited about the upcoming election. However, they are appalled at their faith being exploited for political gains.

Most Muslims were dismayed by Obama's clumsy denials. Many more were offended by his support for an undivided Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. Yet they are willing to look past them, partly because they perceive the alternative to be worse. They believe that Obama will restore lost civil liberties, is less likely to start a war and instinctively favors diplomatic resolutions to contentious foreign policy issues.

The second camp thinks that Obama will be so bloodied by the time he takes office that to prove his toughness he may swing to the right of Bush. They cite his comments that he may unilaterally send U.S. armed forces into Pakistan if he had actionable intelligence, as a grave concern. This group though small is prepared to sit out this election if their concerns remain unaddressed.

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that while Muslims remain a small minority in the overall electorate, they are however likely to play a decisive role in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Obama ought to reach out to the Muslim community much in the same way he has reached out to Evangelicals and Jews. His claims of a holistic attitude towards all faith groups require consistency in engaging all groups.

Obama needs to not only continue assuring people that he is not a Muslim but also challenge the collective conscience of this nation to not let their fears undo the progress we have been making towards racial and religious tolerance. His ultimate legacy will not only be judged by becoming the first person of color to be elected President but more importantly what he does after he is elected.


Obama's vision of 'One America' needs to be more than mere rhetoric.

Oil Prices, Market Regulation and the 2008 Elections

http://www.counterpunch.org/ahmed06182008.html

On June 6, 2008 crude oil futures surged to an all-time high of $139.12 per barrel, a doubling of price in the past 12 months. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson rightly suggested that the increasing price of oil is "a real burden on American consumers." The surge in oil prices is also threatening millions of poor people forcing them further into poverty, according to a report by the UN Development Programme.

Secretary Paulson has blamed the increase in oil prices on rising demand. However, there has not been any dramatic rise in demand even as economies in China and India continued to soar over the past year. It stands to reason that growth in energy demand is somewhat correlated with growth in gross domestic product (GDP). As an economy grows so will its need for energy. The projected annual growth rate for worldwide GDP is about 4.1 percent annually over the next quarter century. China and India is expected to lead that growth at about 6 percent per year.

Further, the demand for oil is tied to consumption of fossil fuels. According to Energy Information Administration (EIA), the official source of energy statistics from the U.S. government, worldwide consumption of energy from liquid sources, “is projected to increase from 83 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2004 to 97 million barrels per day in 2015 and 118 million bpd in 2030.” This represents a less than 2 percent annual growth in projected oil consumption. Thus, global growth or the Chinese red-scare alone cannot account for a doubling of gas prices at the pump.

On the supply side, the latest EIA estimates show that oil output from non-OPEC countries remain weak but that weakness is somewhat offset by increases in supply from OPEC countries lead by Saudi Arabia, which increased output in May by 300,000 bpd and will increase supply even more once its Khursaniyah oilfield is online. EIA projects that OPEC crude oil production is expected to increase during the third quarter of 2008, contingent on security situations in Iraq and Nigeria.

If neither demand nor supply explains the doubling of prices (and it is certainly not the falling US dollar), it leaves us with one other possibility - market speculation. Reminiscent of the Worldcom saga when telecom analysts like Jack Grubman working in concert with Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers put out false information about the “explosive demand for networking infrastructure” once again a group of market insiders are peddling rumors about dramatic demand increases. On May 6, Goldman Sachs speculated that oil could reach $200 per barrel fueled by the surging economies of China and India. “Goldman Sachs was one of the founding partners of online commodities and futures marketplace Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). And ICE has been a primary focus of recent congressional investigations; ….. Those investigations looked into the unregulated trading in energy futures, and both concluded that energy prices' climb to stratospheric heights has been driven by the billions of dollars' worth of oil and natural gas futures contracts being placed on the ICE—which is not regulated by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission,” wrote Ed Wallace in Business Week. Speculation coupled with lax regulation is causing untold misery to millions, while the shrewd insiders continue to game the system.

Heck even to play Monopoly you need rules! So how can complex markets trading sophisticated financial products be left without public oversight? In calling for more stringent regulation, the idea is to strike the right balance between fairness and efficiency. William Greider in his book the Soul of Capitalism writes, “With a few important exceptions, the agents of capital operate with dedicated blindness to capital's collateral consequences, an indifference to the future of society even as they search for the future's returns. The capital system does not authorize financial agents to think about such things and may well penalize them if they do.”

Undoubtedly futures markets serve an important societal function by allowing appropriate management of risk for both farmers and factories. The markets in and of itself are thus not the problem. It is the unmitigated greed of speculators and the herd mentality of the rest that creates the perfect storm for the development of price bubbles. While regulation may not be a panacea it can certainly help by injecting more transparency into markets like ICE. It appears that lessons from another unregulated energy market, Enron, have been forgotten all too soon.

Thus far both Presidential candidates have parroted the Bush administration’s line that increased demand from China is the reason for runaway gas prices. It is time they take another hard look at the data. Will any candidate favor more stringent regulation to prevent the next speculative bubble? Will they commit to using the Presidential bully pulpit to promote a culture of social responsibility such that doing well cannot come at the expense of doing good? After all the free market envisioned by Adam Smith requires human society to be “bound together by the agreeable bonds of love, affection and are, as it were, drawn to one common center of mutual good offices.”
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