Wordle of Obama remarks on Iran

June 23, 2009

I made this wordle of President Barack Obama’s opening remarks on Iran at his June 23, 2009 press conference. This is based on the prepared remarks as provided by the White House, not on an actual transcript. It does not include Obama’s responses to any of the press questions about Iran.

Wordle: Obama_preparedtext_Iran_090623

Here is the text on which the wordle is based:

First, I’d like to say a few words about the situation in Iran. The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people have a universal right to assembly and free speech. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect those rights, and heed the will of its own people. It must govern through consent, not coercion. That is what Iran’s own people are calling for, and the Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government.

I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.

The Iranian people are trying to have a debate about their future. Some in the Iranian government are trying to avoid that debate by accusing the United States and others outside of Iran of instigating protests over the elections. These accusations are patently false and absurd. They are an obvious attempt to distract people from what is truly taking place within Iran’s borders. This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran. This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

The Iranian people can speak for themselves. That is precisely what has happened these last few days. In 2009, no iron fist is strong enough to shut off the world from bearing witness to the peaceful pursuit of justice. Despite the Iranian government’s efforts to expel journalists and isolate itself, powerful images and poignant words have made their way to us through cell phones and computers, and so we have watched what the Iranian people are doing.

This is what we have witnessed. We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard. Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.

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Why budget disaster may save California

June 2, 2009

California is broke, its elected officials are paralyzed in mortal fear of making tough decisions, and the people are angry.


Total system failure may be the only thing that can save California

I’m a father of two native Californians and a nearly lifelong resident of the state. I visit my state parks and beaches regularly, and I’m disappointed that most of them seem set to close. I believe that government is an appropriate tool for addressing some of California’s biggest issues. So, how can I believe that mess we’re in now is good?

It’s good because utter failure may be the only thing that can possibly snap California out of some long-cherished illusions and eventually set it back on a path toward government that is efficient, appropriate and responsible.

Let’s be clear about this. No matter what short-term steps the state takes to keep itself in business, including the measures Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is scheduled to discuss before a joint session of the California Legislature Tuesday, to a lot of people are going to be hurt. Consider yourself lucky if the only pinch you feel is that your favorite state park closes or starts charging a fee – and spare some thought for those whose families will see diminished opportunities for work, education and health.

California’s leaders and voters must take this crisis as an opportunity to disillusion themselves from the idea that the problems with the state’s budget and governance are temporary, and the mistaken belief that once we round the next corner everything will be fine. As painful as the coming budget cuts will be, greater harm would come from refusing to face up to the fact that the state’s structures for gathering income, spending funds and agreeing on a budget completely fail to serve the needs of Californians.

I don’t share anti-tax groups’ confidence that the only possible reading of May’s special election vote is a mandate for big cuts in state services, or the liberal interpretation that voters were rejecting spending limits. I think it just as likely that voters’ rejection of the proposed budget “solutions” reflects a simple annoyance that they were asked to make the decisions they elected other people to make.

But the reality is that we cannot deny the state government income while also demanding it provide a high level of service. The reality is that we have created a system that encourages elected officials to duck responsibility and dodge compromise in favor of pushing decisions onto the voters who put them in office. The reality is that until California examines itself under a very bright light, it will continue to operate in a fantasy of vain hopes and fake fixes.

Eight questions for California

California must address some questions at the foundation of the state’s problem with governance. I don’t have the answers to all of these questions, and it’s possible that we can fix our state by addressing only some of these issues. But all of these matters bear strongly on California’s ability to govern itself and to find the level of services and costs that Californians really want.

  1. Does California need a full-time Legislature? Often, laws proposed in the Legislature can’t gain enough support to pass as they are first written. In most law-making bodies, this is when legislators alter their proposals to make them acceptable to more of their colleagues, or offer to exchange support of an opponent’s proposals for support of their own. In California, however, many times these failed proposals are simply kicked to the voters in the hope that political campaigning can achieve what compromise could not. This isn’t a problem with the people who hold office today, it’s a problem with the system. If legislators are unable or unwilling to fulfill their basic function of making law through debate and compromise, why pay them for a full-time job when they only do part of the work?

  2. Is California’s system of voter initiatives doing more harm than good? According to a new survey conducted by students at the University of California, Riverside, voters still favor using ballot initiatives to decide budget matters. Perhaps this means that voters view initiatives as a way to make decisions the Legislature cannot or will not make, an understandable sentiment, but ballot measures are imprecise tools that institute changes that can’t be modified without another vote of the people. If California wants to hang on to this tradition of direct democracy, maybe it’s time for at least a common-sense change to our initiative process to require propositions to deal with only one subject at a time instead of mixing often unrelated issues in the same measure.

  3. Does Proposition 13 still make sense? Prop. 13, which limited increases to property taxes in California, is still an untouchable issue to many state politicians. And indeed, voters may not yet be ready to change it. But more and more Californians have acquired their property long after the proposition passed, and some of them don’t see themselves as sharing the interests of those who still pay property taxes at 30-year-old rates. What we’re doing in California with Prop. 13 is penalizing new investment in the state – new buyers of homes – without producing any gain for the state on the surge in value some owners have realized simply by virtue of having bought a long time ago. Another effect of Prop. 13 that works against the interests of many Californians is the shift it produced in where local governments get their money. Prop. 13 is a big part of the reason so many small to mid-sized municipalities seem to keep building the same retail outlets instead of producing needed housing: Because of the limits on property taxes, local governments can’t get enough money out of new housing to pay for the increased level of services new residents require. In other words, because of Prop. 13, in many cases new housing costs local governments money. Retail development, on the other hand, does allow governments to obtain the necessary funding to support government services.

  4. Are term limits causing more harm than good? I’ve never liked the idea of someone else telling me who to vote for, or when to stop voting for them, so I’ve always opposed term limits. But beyond my philosophical opposition, there are some important reasons why California might want to reconsider its term limits. One is that under our current term limits, legislators know they’ll be moving around so fast it’s unlikely they’ll be held accountable for the decisions they make – or dodge – in any single year. The effort required to build expertise on any given topic of governance and build the consensus required for substantive new laws just doesn’t pencil out for legislators who won’t be in their current office for long.

  5. Are state electoral districts still favoring extreme politics? Last year, voters approved Proposition 11, which created a new method to set the geographic boundaries of state electoral districts. New district lines are expected to be in place for 2012 elections, but it remains to be seen if the new districts will be any more effective than the old in producing lawmakers who can meet in the middle of their ideologies to govern effectively. In the meantime, what’s certain is that we’re still stuck with too many legislators who occupy the far edges of the Republican and Democratic parties.

  6. Is it time to eliminate the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget? The idea of modifying the requirement for a two-thirds vote for the Legislature to approve a state budget is particularly popular among Democratic lawmakers and activists. I don’t oppose a change on ideological grounds, but I think this proposal is looking at California’s problems from the wrong direction. If we change the structures that favor a flaccid and unaccountable Legislature, it’s far less likely the two-thirds vote requirement will be a problem. In any case, that UC Riverside survey found that the two-thirds requirement to pass a budget is still popular among voters.

  7. Is it time to change the requirement that tax increases require a two-thirds vote of the people? As with the two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to approve a budget, many on the left are talking about trying to modify the requirement that many taxes require a two-thirds majority approval from voters. I can’t say that I think California’s tax income is always well-spent, and I’m wary of making the leash on new taxes too loose. But when voters decide whether they want low taxes or lots of services, this is one option they might very well choose.

  8. Does California need a constitutional convention? This is the big gun of California reform efforts, and it’s already gathered some good momentum. A constitutional convention would be able to undertake fundamental changes to the most basic structures and systems of California government. I don’t think a constitutional convention is the only possible solution to California’s situation, but it certainly would provide a means to resolve many issues at once and to produce a relatively simple, clear proposal for reform instead of relying on a bunch of disparate plans. In spite of the uncertainty of what kind of new constitution we might end up with, this is one idea California must consider seriously.

What’s your idea to fix California’s broken systems?

I’ve presented a handful of ideas for changing the way California does business, but there are many others out there. Do you have a plan, a solution, a proposal? Leave a comment and join the debate, and if you’re on Twitter, @ me a reply.

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Obama’s Iraq speech Wordle

February 27, 2009

Here’s a Wordle I made of President Barack Obama’s speech about Iraq at Camp Lejune Friday, Feb. 27, 2009.

Wordle: President Obama Iraq speech Feb. 27, 2009

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‘The time has come to set aside childish things’

January 20, 2009

Yes, I know, Barack Obama probably is going to disappoint me. He probably is going to disappoint a lot of people. Nearly every politician — nearly every person — fails to live up to the potential of what he could achieve, and that always is

Thank you for being our president. Make us proud. Artist Arlene Elizabeth created this portrait of Obama from 1,000 origami cranes.

My daughter (with white backpack) writes a message to President Barack Obama in San Francisco's Civic Center on Inauguration Day: "Thank you for being our president. Make us proud." Artist Arlene Elizabeth created this portrait of Obama from 1,000 origami cranes.

disappointing. But standing among my fellow San Franciscans in Civic Center Plaza on Inauguration Day, it was impossible not to share some measure of the hope, pride and excitement that filled the crowd as Obama took the oath of office and issued an inspiring call to strive toward the pinnacle of our collective potential, even knowing that we may fall short of the goal. That, after all, is what many Americans of the post-Baby Boom generations have awaited for so long: a call to make big changes, a call to do great things, a call to right wrongs, a call to strive to become better than we are. Earlier generations heard their own calls and faced their own tests in accordance with the challenges of their time, and if what I saw in that crowd on Inauguration Day was any indication, young Americans are eager to take up the challenges and opportunities of our day. I hope for the sake of the country that we can remember that while falling short of our potential is part of the human condition, so is getting up to try again.

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Obama inauguration: a San Francisco perspective

January 20, 2009

I’m getting ready to head out for some of the public events in San Francisco related to today’s inuaguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. In light of the historic nature of this inauguration, I’m pulling my daughter out of school for the day and bringing her with me. I hope waking her up with hot chocolate convinces her that today is as important as I’ve told her it is. Look for liveblogging here at PretePress.wordpress.com and Tweets from http://twitter.com/tomprete as much as I can manage. I’ll wrap up in a post later today.

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David Chiu elected president of SF Board of Supervisors

January 8, 2009

First-term Supervisor David Chiu has been elected president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, one of the most powerful political posts in the city. Chiu, who took the oath of office earlier Thursday, was elected by his

San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu. Chiu was elected in November 2008 to represent District 3. He took the oath of office on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 and was elected president of the Board of Supervisors by his colleagues the same day. Photo from David Chiu campaign Web site, votedavidchiu.org.

San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu. Chiu was elected in November 2008 to represent District 3. He took the oath of office on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009 and was elected president of the Board of Supervisors by his colleagues the same day. Photo from David Chiu campaign Web site, votedavidchiu.org.

colleagues in the eighth round of voting. Chiu replaces Aaron Peskin both as president of the board and as supervisor for District 3, which is composed largely of the North Beach and Chinatown neighborhoods.

Chiu’s Wikipedia entry

Chiu’s page on the City and County of San Francisco Web site

Former colleague Marisa Lagos’ article on Chiu’s election as board president

Chiu’s campaign Web site

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Top 10 best and worst communicators of 2008

January 7, 2009

If the past is prologue, perhaps I’m not too late to point out communications guru Bert Decker’s list of the 10 best and worst communicators of 2008. I was pleased to introduce San Francisco Examiner readers to Bert’s observations back when I was editorial-page editor there, and he’s never failed to produce relevant insight each year. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has the uncommon distinction of making the 2008 list twice: once among the best, and once with the worst.

Sarah Palin at the August 31st Road to the Convention Rally. This was taken just after she entered, before John McCain delivered his speech to over 10,000 supporters in the T.R. Hughes Baseball Stadium in OFallon, MO.

Sarah Palin photo by Jeff Geerling, http://flickr.com/people/lifeisaprayer/

PretePress readers may recall a similar observation I made following Palin’s speech to the Republican Convention in September.

From Bert’s blog:

1.    Barack Obama
As his star continues to rise, there’s just no contest for #1 Best Communicator.
And it’s not just because he was elected President that he deserves #1, but that he was elected President BECAUSE of his communications ability. President Elect Obama is the first repeat at #1 (2006) and for the same reason. He vaulted from obscurity on the strength of his words and speeches at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and just kept talking. To date he hasn’t really done much except communicate. Shows you how important that skill is. One of the greatest modern orators, we’ll now see if he can replace Bill Clinton as “the great communicator” while in office.

2.    Tim Russert
He was one of the best, and we’ll miss him.
One of our best TV journalists died this year, and he would have made this list without the posthumous honor. Russert was personable, energetic and open but also tough, incisive and smart. Meet The Press, and Network TV News will never be the same. His son Luke Russert was eloquent in his eulogy, and maybe there will be more…

Read the rest of Bert Decker’s list on his excellent — and useful — blog.

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