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.

Sarah Palin

It is highly unlikely Sarah Palin will ever be President. Palin resigns this Sunday from office, citing that she is unable to effectively go about her duties as governor. She has cited political operatives continually attempting to find dirt on her, and the press coverage she and her family have received as the primary reasons she is stepping aside.

To me and half the country this sounds like pathetic whining. Politics is a demanding profession, if you can’t handle the limelight you shouldn’t step into it. With that being said, don’t be naive to believe politics is limited only to those elected to office.

A large segment of the population identifies with Palin. Most are looking for someone who is culturally similar to themselves. Rather than someone who is well-informed on public policy. Obama will be impossible to beat, if and only if the economy recovers, and unemployment drops.

A breath of Fresh Air

As I watched President Obama field a variety of questions mostly on the economy, I was so proud to see that our President was able to answer each question thoughtfully. This was a huge difference from the past eight years, when our previous President could not break a question up in pieces, and gave simple yes or no answers. Tonight the American people, got the answers they were looking for, or at least I did and so did Gayathri and Luciana. Many of the topics he touched on the economy were self-explanatory for any person that has commonsense. For instance, Obama pointed out that tax cuts have been tried for the past 8 years, and they have not worked. Despite your philosophical difference on big government vs. small government, commonsense does tell you if something hasn’t worked you probably want to try something else.

The upshot is, Obama asked rhetorically did they want him to do nothing in the face of a huge economic mess caused by his predecessor. He also asked, why are most schools in the United States more than 50 years old, why are we not digitizing medical records to prevent errors and save money, why are we so opposed to green construction and retrofitting that will save us money.

The thing that made my night was when Rachel Maddow showed a graph of the GDP for the past century or so. When the US went into the great depression FDR decided to spend more through his new deal program. Now when the republicans convinced him to cut back on spending and give out tax cuts, guess what happened the GDP went down?It’s not that I don’t believe Americans can’t decide what they should do with their money. I just think its unreasonable to believe that receiving 300 dollars is a big deal. Overall, I remain optimist and I think Obama will silence his critics. For you intellectuals out there think about the similarities between Hoover and Bush.

Obama and Illinois and Asian Americans

I was extremely happy to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama, it was very exciting to see America finally moving forward on many fronts. Science, the environment, and political discourse, today finally got a break. Millions around the world witness the 44th peaceful transition of power to an African-American for the first time. What a remarkable accomplishment almost 43 years after the civil rights movement, and 143 years after the Civil War. Barack who was born to a white mother, and African father, without any high society connections became the most powerful man in the world today. Barack was also a guy who choose to take unconventional paths, and shunned some of the best offers a lawyer could dream of, and choose to become a community organizer. The rest is of course American history.

Now I promise I’d talk about Asian Americans, Eric Shinseki, the first Japanese American to become a four-star general, and the first Asian American to lead a branch of the armed forces, was confirmed unanimously for Obama’s cabinet as Secretary of Veteran Affairs. Here’s a guy who challenged Bush got fired basically, and because of his ability to stand up for what he believed in was rewarded. Another now prominent Asian American in politics, second-generation Chinese American Steven Chu a Nobel-prize winning physicist was appointed to be secretary of energy. Chu himself took an unconventional path, he was rejected by all Ivy league schools and still went on to win the Nobel Prize. Now he has become the top scientist in the Obama administration. Although not Asian Patti Solis Doyle deserves honorable mention as becoming the first Hispanic woman to be in charge of a political campaign for president, and the first Hispanic chief of staff for Hillary Clinton.

The point is, we live in pretty exciting times, I think because if you look around the Democratic Party you see Asian Americans, African-Americans, and Hispanic Americans moving into mainstream politics. Now you have to ask yourself how come the republican party isn’t as inclusive, why does the republican party shun diversity, and if you wish to argue with me about this. That argument would be very hard to carry. One thing you should note is all the people above broke societal conventions, they did not worry about playing by the rules or worry about making profit, they worried about what was right. And in the end that’s all I think matters.

Also…

Luciana has graciously forced me to admit that she had correctly chosen Joe Biden as the VP candidate weeks in advance. Yes, she was right all along. Although, I thought there was a chance Hillary could be chosen. However, I will note we were both wrong on the Republican VP candidate. Anyway, I will blog later on McCain’s pick and the DNC.

Why I became a Democrat and why you should too

Now that I’m done with my ECE 290 LAS hw it feels good. I guess this week I’ve been revealing information on myself. Today, I’m going to explain why I became a Democrat. In the United States many people believe we have a winner take all system. There are winners and losers, a simple fact of life some might say. If you are lucky enough to be born in a well-off family you may attend Harvard or some other college that costs 40,000 a year to attend. You’ll get a six figure job and not have a care in the world. The question is how many Americans have 40,000 a year to spend on college when most people barely make more than that amount. Our society tells us that we should get an education but who’s going to pay for it. If you get into a good college, you have to take out loans. If you can’t qualify for a loan you end up in community college, if you can’t afford that then too bad. I use to have the attitude that it didn’t matter what was going to happen to anyone else outside of my family and friends. Which I believe is the republican argument, if you are making it, its too bad if someone else isn’t.

I felt really sick after I realized this was the type of mentality I had embraced when I about 12. It wasn’t until I took history in 11th grade with Dr.Aldo Regalado also a professor at the University of Miami, I realized all my beliefs about society and government were ill-founded. I started to notice the republican party was a party comprised of rich people that were not as ethically or economically diverse as the democratic party. As an Asian friend of mine pointed out Elaine Chao the first Asian person appointed to a cabinet position doesn’t do anything to help Asian people. Condi Rice hasn’t done much to help black people. Of course the appointments of Chao and Rice are historic first, but what has it done to help the people from the ethnic backgrounds they come from.

I don’t understand how the republican party can call it the moral party of the United States when it helps the wealthy. It does not look after the poor. Yes it does stand strong on wedge issues. Which if you notice I will not reveal how I stand on these issues. However I thought a party that had a religious compassionate edge to it would care about the social well-being of people. No one can tell me George Bush has done anything to help people that really need help right here in the US. The mother without health insurance. The guy who needs to see a doctor but can’t afford it. The people that want to go to college but are burdened by large loans. I see some many problems in the US its overwhelming. I hate to believe we are thinking on terms of class these days.

My good friend Luciana and future co-blogger took a huge interest in politics when she started going to college in DC. I hate to admit shes often a step ahead of me on current issues now days, but that is the life of an engineer. Luchy has spent an enormous amount of time working at the DNC looking at women’s issues. I enjoy when we talk about issues facing our country and how the democratic party is trying to answer these issues. We both believe that the Democratic party has the most concrete ideas to get this country back on track. By raising people out of poverty, getting our economy back on track, and making the US a country that’s once again held in high regards around the world. Barack Obama says he often gets people whispering to him saying, Barack I support you, and I’m a republican. And he says why are we whispering. Bill Clinton once said people want to join our side but their scared to jump off the diving board. My friend is scared to abandoned the republican party but I keep assuring her she has to follow what she believes is important to her, and I think the democratic party will suit her well.

Obama is not doing too well in recent polling. A new CBS news poll shows John McCain beating Barack Obama among indepedent voters, and in a head to head match-up. I think these numbers are being overhyped considering the election is still months away. Barack still leads in elected delegates, and I think he will go on to win the nomination unless Hillary Clinton has a awfully good comeback, in the remaining races. I’m continuing to enjoy my break, although I need to do homework today!

Coming soon:

A totally new blog started by Luchy and I covering the daily political events from two different locations. From America’s heartland to our nations capitol. I think this is a good endeavor for both of us to undertake.


In a stunning upset Hillary Clinton pulled off an unforeseen win in both Ohio and Texas to keep herself on the road to the democratic nomination. I expected Hillary would win Ohio, but I thought she would lose Texas to. Apparently her negative campaigning and 3 am ad worked.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQiGqS0Yfkw

Last night John McCain clinched the GOP nomination I’m not convinced that this is McCain’s year for the white house. When I was in Taiwan and Hong Kong it seemed people were much more interested in Barack and Hillary. As for me yesterday was another busy day of school. Today I have two quizzes I need to prepare for, then after that my weekend begins. If I’m lucky I might be able to get a hold of some old classic to watch. Otherwise I’ll catch up on some reading, I’ve got a Bob Woodward book that I’d like to continue reading.