Questions for the Prime Minister (PMQs) and an Introduction to the British Parliament

IMG_2869Last summer, while I was in London I visited the Palace of Westminster home to the houses of parliament and the mother of all parliaments. Every Wednesday when the House of Commons is in session members gather for 30 minutes at noon to ask the prime minister questions about his policies and thoughts on current events. The question time is moderated by the speaker of the house who interjects if members of parliament (MPs) or the prime minister are not following the protocols of the House or if the House becomes noisy and disorderly.

The lively debate and animated nature of the questioners make watching PMQs sometime entertaining, the prime minister has to be rather quick on his feet and usually have a few clever retorts to MPs asking questions. The members usually stand up and engage in jeering to express disagreement. It has become something of a national pastime in Britain where all major TV networks cover the question session. Tickets to question time are also one of the most sought after parliament tickets for visitors.  Questions are provided by MPs from all parties and the order that questions get asked in are determined randomly by a computer. The prime minister does not have advanced warning about what specific questions he will be asked about so he must prepare for all possible type of questions. If the prime minister is out of the United Kingdom on official business, the next most senior member of the cabinet takes the questions. Also in the absence of the prime minister the opposition questions will be lead off by the deputy leader of the opposition.

A few things that make the British government interesting is the fact that like most parliamentary systems multiple parties can hold power together. The parties that have been elected and hold power are referred to as the “government”, while the parties that don’t hold are referred to as the “opposition”. During PMQs the Prime Minister and his cabinet sit on the front bench next to him, with the opposition leader(s) and his shadow cabinet sit on the benches opposite.

While watching PMQs you’ll probably notice there are a lot of members of parliament (MPs) standing the reason for this is that the house of commons chamber was not designed to fit all members of parliament. The chamber was destroyed during WWII by incendiary bombs, and when parliament debated rebuilding it they decided to keep the size of the chamber to 427 seats even though there are 646 MPs in the parliament. Winston Churchill favored this design because it gave the appearance that parliament would always seem more full than it really was even if all members didn’t show up. They also opted not change the shape of the chamber to be more semi-circular which was seen as less adversarial design. Instead they decided to keep the traditional rectangular design that allows the two major opposite parties to face each other keep the adversarial feel. Churchill commented that the building had shaped Britain’s parliament into two-party system and that is the way it should stay. It’s good to see that democracy is alive and well in the United Kingdom.

Memorial Day 2013

When I looked down at stamps I purchased from the post office last year, I realized these four stamps succinctly summarized the American experience: Freedom, Liberty, Equality and Justice Forever.

USPS StampsLiving in America is one of the greatest privileges in the world on this Memorial Day like the others that have come before, we must recognize the price of a freedom comes at a high cost. Memorial Day is a federal holiday which falls on the last Monday of each May, origins of the holiday stem from the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who lost their lives during the war. Into the 20th century Memorial Day has been used to honor all Americans who have died while serving our country.

While diplomacy should always be the first course of action, sometime there is no alternative to warfare. In the Afghanistan War 2,226 US soldiers have been killed defending our country from a fundamentalist regime. We are lucky that we are isolated from much of the world’s problems: unrest in the middle-east, brutal dictators in Africa committing genocide, and totalitarian regimes.

It is not our politicians that provide this isolation but it’s our troops that allow us to live the way we do. This is why it is unfortunate that many of soldiers are not getting the help and support they need to re-enter civilian society. According to a study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs which examined suicides from 1999 to 2010 there were 22 deaths a day on average. Posttraumatic stress disorder also affects many veterans who persistently re-experience the traumatic events they encountered on the battle field, overwhelming their ability to cope.  Many veterans have been waiting to get government benefits in the form of compensation, medical benefits, and job assistance. It’s unacceptable our veterans have to wait so long to get help, thankfully veterans and military charities have stepped in to help where they can, but there is still more to be done.

State of the Union Address

Random Thoughts to all:

Lately for one reason or the other I haven’t had a lot of time to sit down and really peer through the political issues as much as I use to. But I’ll give you comments on what I think will be in the State of the Union, based on what I have read.

Tonight,the President will talk about health care reform. We’ve all been hearing about health care reform since Obama’s inauguration. As we know the process has stalled as some people are hesitant moving forward with reform. As I’ve stated before I think reform is necessary. Health care needs to be more affordable and avaliable to all.

Two, the economy unless you all have been living under a rock lately, the United States and the global economy is just starting to recover. However, don’t expect that to translate into more jobs. Companies won’t necessarily be the large entities that they use to be. The Obama administration is in a really tough position. I mean how do you solve an economic crisis, as far as I know there’s no magic fix, no sure answers. The Obama administration is taking a gamble, albeit a carefully planned out one to solving our nation’s economic issues. But who knows if it’ll work.

Expect the President to talk about immigration reform. There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Any reasonable person, will tell you it’s impossible to find and remove 12 million people, many whom contribute to our country. That’s why I think these people deserve a path to citizenship.

Well hopefully we’ll all get a chance to catch the speech, or the replay.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/world/asia/05korea.html?_r=1&hp

As a fellow journalist, I am very pleased to see former President Bill Clinton, was successful in securing the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. They were detained and sentence to 12 years hard labor for illegal entry, and crimes against the state. Politically, it was another brilliant move by the Obama administration (Yes, the oval office signed off on the trip), and another excellent move for the Clinton team. Cleverly, the administration did their best to separate the situation of the journalists’ from the ongoing North Korean nuclear crisis.

Politically it’s fun to watch. Bill Clinton shows up,and less than 24 hours later, you see Clinton leaving with Ling and Lee, on a unmarked jet, bound for LA. If you really believe he sat down and negotiated a deal on the spot. You are deluding yourself. Politics does not work like that, you don’t walk in room, without knowing the outcome already. There were obviously a lot of behind the scene negotiations.