Monday, December 28, 2009


I'm so glad this decade is over. When you look back at it, there's nothing great to remember. First, there was the "election" of George W. Bush which absolutely polarized the country. Everyone hated each other, during the 2000 election, it seemed like there was just some nerd who claimed he invented the internet, and then another guy you may have wanted to have a beer with. It wasn't really a question of who you liked more, it was really about who you hated less. The majority of the people weren't all that passionate about one candidate or the other, and no matter who won, Gore or W, neither would have had any true mandate to get any of their policy objectives accomplished. Then came September 11th 2001.

As in past crises, American's ran straight to the flag, and W's popularity soared. The election was left behind, it didn't matter anymore. Recently, and to my great enjoyment, there have been many people who have been making fun of Glenn Beck. One skit that has had many people laughing was his coalition for 9/10, where Beck wants everyone to feel the way they did before that awful day in September. But what I remember most about that time is actually the day after. Having grown up in New York City, I have always had to explain to people who are not accustomed to a big city that I knew everyone on my block. NYC is made up of small communities, and on 9/12, they were extremely important to getting things back on track. Schools were canceled and people were outside. My family and I went to Central Park where we saw a ton of people out with their dogs talking, exercising, reading, and yes the park is always crowded on nice days (which this was) but this time there was a bigger reason for it.

You had to be with someone. You couldn't be alone because the only way to get through what happened the day before was to be together. Karl Rove's strategy of there being two ideologues in American politics might be true, but where he and the Bush administration fell short wasn't the two wars, or the spending, it was leadership. We'll never know if Al Gore would have been a better President, but President Bush lost a great opportunity to bring people together. No one likes politics (trust me, I know) but the reason President Obama won this year wasn't because the majority of the people were absolutely in love with him. It was because of what he represented. While George W. Bush let September 11th define his Presidency, he should have defined September 11th. I'm 23 now, and when Barak Obama ran for President, he wanted to bring America together. That's why he won. Change was not just a slogan. It was a word that represented the ideals of why people came together on 9/12. Even during this financial crisis and what has been dubbed the great recession, everyone (Republicans and Democrats) looked to their government to do something.

I'm glad this decade is over because it means there is a chance Americans can feel exuberant again. And maybe this time even humble. Personally, I'm confident the economy will turn around next year, and hopefully there will be many people (including me) who can find a job. But as we go forward, it's important we do not forget how we felt on 9/12/2001, because that is the true America. Hopefully even Glenn Beck can remember that.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I Thought This Was The Time For Giving

At 8:46pm tonight I received a news alert from the New York Times that read "Senate Democrats Likely to Drop Medicare Expansion." I thought I read it wrong, or the Times was mistaken, or maybe the headline was just misleading/catchy so people would read the article which would result in more revenue in advertisements. Unfortunately, it was none of these scenarios.

The article quotes Senator Baucus saying he thinks that the headline is what is going to happen, and Senator Reid didn't even want to answer any questions when the Democrats came out of a meeting. I was willing to live with the proposal of people being able to buy into Medicare at 55. At least it was something. When Social Security was first created the average for people to live was 58 for a male and 61 if you were a female, but individuals couldn't receive benefits until they were 65. Maybe I was fooling myself, but the Social Security program has grown a lot since then. So I thought it was like that, baby steps.

But there's not steps being taken here. Insurance companies dominate the states they are in. There is no market, you either can afford insurance or you can't and that's that. President Obama has stated many times that we need to lower prices or no one in the country will be insured. Without any sort of public option, expansion of Medicare, buy in clause people to buy into the insurance plans federally employees (including members of Congress) get, insurance coverage will either stay the same or more likely be raised. Which means that by 2019 health care costs will raise more then all other domestic programs, including defense.

In my very first blog entry I tried to explain how health insurance works. The supply demand equation does not work. Especially if providers are more worried about making a profit and not spending money on the people who pay into their fees.

Even if there was a clause in the bill that allowed insurance companies to compete across state borders (a Republican idea) it would lower costs because it gives people more options. If insurance companies want people to pay them anything, they'll give them the best deal possible based on what other companies are offering. But if there are no other companies (and in most states there are little to sometimes none) companies can charge as much as they want and make huge profits. There is now nothing being offered in the Senate version of health care that will fix this prolem.

During the holiday season I always hear the phrase that this is the time for giving. Democrats wanted to pass health care legislation before Christmas, but now even if something does pass, it won't give anything to the 50 million American's who are uninsured.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Weekend Votes

As far as I'm concerned weekends are for doing nothing. Saturday and Sunday my job is to be as lazy as possible and no one can tell me otherwise. But as we all know the Senate is in session this weekend voting on their health care bill. As I'm watching C-SPAN 2 I saw Senator McConnell begrudgingly asked Reid when the votes were going to be held on Saturday and Sunday. He clearly, by the way he asked the question and the sound of his voice, did not want to be there this weekend.

Speaker Pelosi did the same thing. I went around the Capitol the weekend the House was voting on their health care bill and no one was there. Even watching the news cable broadcasts, I remember thinking there were only a few people actually on top of the situation. Speaking of which, Wolf Blitzer wasn't even on the air!

I know there is a lot of talk out there about whether or not the Democrats have the votes to pass their final legislation. But if I was a betting man I would I'd put my money on yes.

Senators are people too and they, just like everyone else, hate working on the weekends. On top of that, it's snowing here in DC. It's disgusting out, everyone wants to just stay inside in their sweats and watch football. But Senator Reid has all the Senators in their suits working. Their going to vote yes (even Senator Lieberman) just to get out of there.

Not to mention the fact President Obama is once again going to make one final push tomorrow and they wouldn't have him do that if they weren't confident it wouldn't have a positive effect.

I'm not saying the votes aren't going to be close, in fact when the House voted for health care the only thing that was truly bipartisan was the vote to adjourn. All sides agree this needs to get done and if any of them want a chance at reelection they'll vote for something that the majority of Americans are in favor of.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Put Up or Shut Up

This health care debate gets more and more exciting every day. Now it's the Senate's turn. Who needs Pacquiao vs. Cotto when you get to see Harry Reid whipping the rest of the Democrats to vote for his bill? The best part is that the vote is going to be on another Saturday night. Prime time! There's nothing else on Saturday anyway, and I guarantee you the networks are pissed they won't be able to charge for advertisements on C-SPAN when the vote is taking place.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the legislation would reduce the federal deficit by $127 billion over ten years. That's also probably a conservative estimate based on how CBO actually calculates the figures. Taxes are also going to be raised by the insurance companies who charge more then $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families, which will help key costs low.

I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed in the name. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That's boring. The bill should be called Put Up or Shut Up.

In 2006 Republicans lost control of Congress mainly because they didn't get anything done, they didn't get their act together. Some Democratic Senators (Lieberman, Landrieu, Lincoln, and Nelson) are threatening to not even let the bill come to a vote. If that happens it won't just look bad for Reid and the rest of the Democratic leadership, it sends the message to the American people Democrats don't have confidence in their own policies. And if they don't, why should the the American people?

The bill to be voted on Saturday has a public option which states can opt-out of. And a public option is the best way to control costs, the majority of the American people know this. The foundations are in both the Senate and House version for the Democrats to be confident in the bill.

When Vice President Biden was on The Daily Show the other night, he was asked, and I'm paraphrasing, "Why is it that the Republicans are able to stop legislation when they are in the minority, and the Democrats can't get anything passed when they have the majority?" Biden's reply: "That's a good point."

So Democrats, it's time to put up or shut up, because that's what this bill represents. You can either show the American people you are capable of running the country or you're not. The outcome of this bill will be the answer.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Learning from Sesame Street

I love Sesame Street. Before going to pre-school I would watch it and while being fully entertained, I would also be learning from Big Bird and all his friends. It's the shows 40th anniversary this week, which should remind us how teaching is one of the most important parts of our society but unfortunately can sometimes be taken for granted.

When trying to hold teachers and schools accountable within their districts, politicians and policy makers always go for the simple answer, standardized tests. Their argument is that these tests can give them data for them to see which schools are doing well and which ones are not.

Now don't get me wrong, I love data. I would never think of any policy or even try to without looking at some statistics because that would be irresponsible. But what sometimes is forgotten is how one size does not always fit all, and there could be multiple reasons why students may or may not do well on standardized tests.

When students take these tests, they become anxious, nervous, and frustrated over what may happen if they don't do well. Even worse is that by teaching to the tests, it takes away from actual learning from the classroom.

These tests narrow the curriculum to what will be tested. Teachers have to do this because they feel the pressure to make sure their students do well because in the end it will be a reflection on them.

I went to The Beacon School in New York City. It is considered one of the best public schools in the city and it started as a place where students were exempt from taking the New York state regents exams. Now however, they have to take them. So while President George W. Bush was touting immigration reform in his last term in office, there used to be (1999-2000) only two questions on immigration on those regents exams.

The most well known of these standardized tests is the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). After World War 2, soldiers coming back were given tests to see where they should be placed in the job market.

The problem was that the Army Tests were ridiculously slanted, rewarding anyone with a knowledge of brand names, baseball trivia and cuts of beef.

But Carl Brigham (the man who invented the SAT and founded the College Board) convinced Princeton University that these tests should be mandatory for students entering college. The test have changed over the years, but the fact of the matter is there is no correlation on how a first year student does in college and the SAT.

Engaging students is hard, Sesame Street has found a great way to do so and should be celebrated for it. Holding teachers feet to the fire is not the best way for students to learn, or for that matter teachers to teach. My prediction is that next year Nancy Pelosi is going to want to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, but eight years after its signing 8.7% of students are still not graduating high school.

In sum, while having all students take a test may seem fair, in reality someone is still getting less. Another lesson that can be learned from Bert and Ernie.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Who Wouldn't Want To Show Off The White House?

If I were President, I know all my friends would be asking: "So when's the party?" You could just imagine a kegger on the Rose Garden right?

The White House released a list of some of the visitors that have come since President Obama has taken office? It didn't get a lot of attention with Afghanistan, the economy, and healthcare taking up most of the news time, but some of the people who visited kinda worry me.

The first one was Michael Jordan. Now I know the president likes basketball, played for the Chicago Bulls, and is the greatest that ever played. But did you see his speech when he was inducted into the hall of fame? It's hard to say that I actually ever liked Michael Jordan considering all the times he came into MSG and trounced the Knicks. But I was a fan and to see how much of a douchebag he really is, is really shocking.

Who the hell tells their kids he would hate to be them?

My concern is that his douchbaginess will infect the White House, and all of a sudden Obama will quit being President and try a career as a day time talk show host. I know he's capable of doing it because he's a great speaker, and when people ask him questions he always knows exactly what to say. Plus I'm sure his ratings will be high if no one has a job.

Another name that stood out to me was former Presidential candidate John Edwards. It's safe to say this guy is on everyone's a-hole list right now. But according to the list, he's been to the White House four times.

Is this the guy Obama really wants to listen to? Forget all the stuff about the affair. Edwards was saying there were two different America's when then candidate Obama was telling people there's one and brought everyone together. There was an article about how the strategy Obama used to get this far in the health care debate has worked. Why, all of a sudden, would he want to be taking advice from someone who had no leadership position and didn't pass a single piece of legislation when he was in the Senate?

I guess having a blowout with all my friends wouldn't really be a good idea. But if Stevie Wonder wants to perform at my house he's more then welcome. And in the end these people are just visitors, and who wouldn't want to show off the White House?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Doing Business With The Enemy

I am a Giants fan. I have been really happy the way the teams been playing this year, and as I'm sure anyone who follows football knows there is a big game against the Saints tomorrow. Well here's my confession, my friends got me into fantasy football this season. I've never played in any fantasy league before and in all honestly didn't completely understand how it worked. But now, for better or worse, I am addicted.

I need to win every week. I know every Tuesday I am the first one looking to see which player I can get off waivers, who did well the past week, and figuring out if there are any trades I should propose. So this week a few of the players on my team have the week off, most notably Ronnie Brown so I needed a running back. So I'm looking to see who I can get, and guess who is projected to do well, Mike Bell on the New Orleans Saints.

Mind you, Brandon Jacobs and Steve Smith are both on my team. I do not want Mike Bell to have a good game against the Giants, not one bit. So now when he scores a touchdown I will not boo, but will not cheer either. I will sit on my couch stoic.

Now the point of the story is this: Sometimes, you have to do business with people we don't like. The New York Times had an article in today's paper about why the stock market reached 10,000 this week. It talked about all the bailouts (excuse me, TARP) and how using tax payer money to replenish the system, banks were given room to give out and invest in areas where they could possibly recoup their losses. The program also had to be initiated because if they did not, credit cards would have been useless and the entire economy would have crashed.

Then of course came the fallback. While some banks paid back the money the government gave them, most still have not, but did decide to pay their CEO's their multi-million dollar bonuses. Oh, and yeah, unemployment is probably going to reach 10% this year.

So there was another headline that read "Obama Drops Plan to Isolate Sudan Leaders." When campaigning, the President said he would try and use economic tools such as sanctions and divestment against Sudan's government to stop the violence in the region. Now, he has changed his mind and will instead:

make use of a mix of “incentives and pressure” to seek an end to the human rights abuses that have left millions of people dead or displaced while burning Darfur into the American conscience.

General Gration said the administration would set strict time lines for President Omar al Bashir of Sudan to fulfill the conditions of a 2005 peace agreement that his government signed with rebels in southern Sudan.

The fact of the matter though is that the situation in the Darfur region has changed. In May of 2006, the Sudanese government signed a peace accord with one of the rebel groups in the region. But there are two other groups still causing violence and millions of people are still displaced from their homes. Not to mention that President Omar al Bashir has been indicted on crimes against humanity.

So why do I think President Obama should engage talks with Mr. Bashir? Well Sudan's unemployment rate is 18.7% with 40% of the population under the poverty line. The country does have oil though, and has gained billions from it. Still, 80% of the countries economy relies on agriculture and the Darfur region in particular is known for droughts.

Imposing sanctions would not do any good to help the people in that country. President Bashir is in a weak position, and if that can be taken advantage of to get him to actually do something good for his country, I think it's worth a shot.

And for the moment I'm still able to use my credit card, and most economists are predicting a recovery starting next year. So yeah, we bailed out people who we didn't like, but it was necessary.

In the mean time I'm still projected to lose fantasy football this week by more then 40 points. But those projections have been wrong before. If Mike Bell has a good game and I win this week that would be good. If he has a good game and the Giants win that would be great. The only thing I know right now is that either way Bell helps me win. And if it means working with him, so be it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Debt, Schmebt

So I'm watching CNN the other day, and all of a sudden I see this ad by an organization called Defeat the Debt. Pure shock value. I'm sure it hasn't gotten the attention as much as they would have liked though (except of course for this), since when I searched for it on YouTube I had to type in the full name of the video to find it. Plus it has less then 50,000 viewings.

After I saw this ad, I was surprised more people weren't talking about it. After the whole uproar about a school in New Jersey singing songs about President Obama, isn't just as ludicrous to have children discredit the pledge of allegiance? And get paid for it.

Not to mention the fact that the policies they are promoting are wrong. But before I get into that, let me premise it by saying Defeat the Debt is a front group for Employment Policies Institute (EPI) which is lead by Rick Berman. He is a lobbyist who has been hired by the resturaunt and tobbaco industries to promote libertarian (keep government out of my pocket) views. Now if you've ever had a conversation with a libertarian, you know there's never any winning because they will just tell you you're wrong and leave it as a fact.

Here's an example:

Liberal: Man, I really hope Congress passes a public option for health care.

Libertarian: No, let the market do it's thing. It always works itself out.

Liberal: No it dosen't, look what just happened to the stock market and what the federal government had to do. Plus prices are rising so fast no one will be able to afford health insurance in a open market soon.

Libertarian: You're wrong.

See, you just can't win with these guys!

So anyway, on the "Understanding The Danger" page, Defeat the Debt says:
Other countries buy our debt because it is a good investment — they trust us to pay them back, with interest. The most recent figures show we owe about $3.3 trillion to the governments of other countries, including nearly $800 billion to China alone.

All true. But this will only happen if China asks for their money back, which they won't. Why? Because it would freeze up the credit markets and no one would have any money to buy the exports China is sending into the country. There was just a huge shock to the system, if China does ask for their loans back it would only start another one.

At the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, emerging markets and developed countries decided that the only way the world economy would be fixed is if they worked together.

So yeah, it really dosen't feel good to owe so much money to other countries. But one of the reasons why China decided to take on our debt was because (as Defeat the Debt mentioned) they saw it as a good investment. America isn't going anywhere. If China really does want that money back, they'll enact policies to help America's economy so they can get thier money back in the future.

The worst thing about places like EPI is that they use scare/shock tactics only to get people excited over something they may or may not have a full understanding of (See: Death Panels).

Part of the reason we have debt now is because of the stimulous package (to create jobs) and the TARP program (or better known as bailouts) which most economists now agree helped calm the crisis. But anyone who's trying to look for a job right now can tell you the economy is still struggling. And the last thing those people need is something else to worry about.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reform The System, Not The Principles

Immigrants have a soft spot in American politics. Our country was founded on people who were escaping religious persecution and wanted to start a new life for them and their families. Growing up in New York City I went to the Tenement Museum and saw the conditions people were willing to live in so they could achieve their dreams. You cannot teach American history without learning about these people and their courageous stories.

It was announced today that there are plans being made to make obtaining a legal status in the United States easier. Actual legislation is being put off though because health care reform is taking up so much time. This is a good first step in achieving real reform, and it is expected that a lot of illegal immigrants will be taking advantage of the new rules when they come into effect. I have worked in a few congressional offices and helping people get visas, green cards, etc., is always one of the top issues that is being dealt with. The current system we have now just is not efficient. Those who come to the country illegally are sending billions of dollars back to their home countries, and running up costs at hospitals by going to the emergency room.

But lest we forget, they are helping to keep wages low. Since they are doing the jobs most Americans do not want to do such as food manufacturing, farming, and construction. Some economists predicted a 1% decrease in GDP if there were no people to do these jobs.

By cutting the red tape for immigrants, it will be easier to keep track of how many there are in the country and where they are. And when you consider the current deficit, people coming into the country can be taxed on all levels of government so services won't have to be cut.

There's a tricky balance when it comes to immigration reform. No one wants to say people are not allowed to come to America, that's a total contradiction to what this country was founded on. But you also want to keep Americans safe. The best way to do that though would be to make it so people coming into this country are easier to track. It's how we caught Najibullah Zazi.

So reform the system, not the principles. We're lucky to be living in a place where people want to come to start a new life, and are a symbol and a place to do just that. History teaches us important lessons when it comes to immigration. So when President Obama does introduce legislation for immigration reform, I hope he focuses on the system itself and not make it crisis. Unfortunately people in the media try to make everything into a crisis, but after health care I think we can all use a break from one.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Show, Not Tell

The title is something we've all heard. Probably in third grade when we start learning how to write stories. It's kinda funny though how such a simple phraze can also help in creating foreign policy.

We already have big news coming out of the UN Summit in Pittsburgh: Iran has a secret (or tried to have) nuclear plant where it can develop the material it needs to build a nuclear weapon. Should we really be surprised though?

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been trying to build up the countries nuclear proficiency since he's taken office. While he claims it is for the development of nuclear fuel for his own country, most people are a little skeptic. I mean, he is a denier of the holocaust, has been called one of the leading sponsors of terrorism around the world, and (as we have seen with his recent "re-election" Iran's human rights record isn't too great either.

This is all known, but what concerns me most is what could lead if Iran does become capable of creating a nuclear weapon. Carlos Pascual and Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution wrote in a column that:

Over 30 countries have declared an intent to develop new nuclear programs – 14 in the Middle East and North Africa. Should Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, there is little doubt that others in the region will follow suit. Now is the time for the United States and Russia to revitalize the framework for nuclear security, not after countries acquire a nuclear weapon.

President Obama has made very clear, and did so again at his speech at the U.N., that this is a time for action and America is willing to lead. When Obama first met with Russian President Demitri Medvedev the two men set the ground work for re-establishing talks and signing a new Non-Proliferation Treaty. This was a important step on two fronts. The first (and yes, obvious point) is that it will cease the creation of new nuclear weapons which have the potential to destroy the Earth. The second is that by taking these steps, Iran and other countries that are trying to build a nuclear weapon will have less of an incentive to do so. If the two leading countries start to take apart their weapons, other countries won't have a reason to build there's because they will not see themselves vulnerable by not having one.

Former Russian President Mihhail Gorbachev wrote an op-ed in today's New York Times. He promotes nuclear non-proliferation for similar reasons and writes:

Unless they show the world they are serious, the two major nuclear powers will be accused, again and again, of not keeping their word and told that if it is acceptable for 5 or 10 countries to have nuclear weapons as their “ultimate security guarantee,” why should it not be the case for 20 or 30 others?

It is vital that the two presidents themselves monitor the negotiations closely, sometimes plunging into minute details. I know from experience how difficult it is to deal with such technical details on top of constant political pressures, but it is necessary to avoid misunderstandings that could undermine trust.
No one wants Iran to have a nuclear weapon. It's in no one's interest except Iran.

There has been talk of puting more sanctions on Iran, but what good would that do? This is a country whose unemployment rate was 12.5% in 2008. It's important to note that officials don't believe Iran has the materials to actually make a nuclear bomb. That's exactly why it's important to show Iran, not tell, that it dosen't need one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Think Of The Future

Between the start of the football season, Serena Williams, healthcare, and the economy, there are so many things to write about I really didn't know where to start.

So thank you Senator Levin for giving a speech about sending more U.S. troops to the middle east. If you remember though, the United States already has been using UAV's to attack the terrorists hiding on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also, if President Obama does choose to send more troops to the region I highly dought (if history has anything to say about it) Congress will not give him the money.

While most members of Congress have come out against another troop surge, Senators Lieberman, Graham, and McCain wrote an Op-Ed in today's WSJ about why they think President Obama should send more troops. They say:

We went to war there because the 9/11 attacks were a direct consequence of the safe haven given to al Qaeda in that country under the Taliban. We remain at war because a resurgent Taliban, still allied with al Qaeda, is trying to restore its brutal regime and re-establish that country as a terrorist safe haven.

It remains a clear, vital national interest of the United States to prevent this from happening. Yet an increasing number of commentators, including some of the very same individuals who opposed the surge in Iraq and called for withdrawal there, now declare Afghanistan essentially unwinnable. Had their view prevailed with respect to Iraq in 2006 and 2007, the consequences of our failure there would have been catastrophic.

There's an important difference though between Iraq and Afghanistan. The Taliban relies on Afghanistan for funding its operation through the poppy fields growing in the country and are willing to defend it at any cost. We have already seen the intensity of the fighting increase over the months since President Obama originally sent additional troops to Afghanistan. The Taliban are also in areas where they have an advantage because of those tall poppy plants and mud walls in the area which can be used for defense and surprise attacks.

The New York Times reported today that Zbigniew Brezinki said American and allied forces are being preceived as invaders (not liberators) which give more political capitol to the Taliban and enable the organization to recruit more members.

Some people are arguing that there is no reason for American forces to be their anymore. But the fact remains America went in their with a declaration that we would help the Afghan people recover from the regime America and its allies took out. Leaving them now would be irresponsible and only create more terrorists in the future. Since the Taliban is so reliant on Afghanistan there's a realy good chance to do important damage to its infrastructure.

The fact still remains though if the terrorists are going to be defeated, it will not only be won on the military front but also the political. It's starting to look like the elections were tampered with in favor of President Karzai.

The best thing the allied forces can do right now is put pressure on the Afghan government to take care of its people, or the troops will be pulled out. Also, to show (not tell) the Afghans we are on their side, the State Department should help them build schools and other facilities that are needed for their society to thrive.

So as healthcare is something that needs to be reformed for America's future, so does the war in Afghanistan. People remember how you treat them, and if we leave the Afghans stranded, there will be consequences in the future.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Stay In School

With the recent town hall meetings that were broadcast on TV, some people might think that people had always listened to politicians. Let me tell you, I’ve been to enough political debates, forums and what have you, to know that’s not the case. Usually people are talking, eating, basically doing anything except listen to their elected official. It’s sad but true.

What’s worse right now is the uproar over President Obama talking to schoolchildren.
Let’s be clear, it’s a back to school speech. He’s going to tell these children to stay in school because education is important to succeed. I like this message, and who knows, the children may actually pay attention.

Apparently, some parent’s are afraid that the President will try to influence their children into believing in his political ideology. But this is not a policy speech, and as I’m sure most people know (and will hopefully be watching) he will be giving one Wednesday night. If staying in school is a controversial issue in this country, we have some serious issues.

My friend (a Republican) sent me a link to the Heritage Foundation explaining why having the President talk to school children is a bad idea. Apparently it’s not just because parent’s don’t like the President, it’s also because there are lesson plans being released by the Department of Education which asks questions about the speech the President will give. Heritage believes this goes over the mandate by the Education Department and the federal government is getting too involved in local schools. But while the release makes it seem like the lesson is mandatory, it’s not.

As I recall though, there was a little bill called No Child Left Behind which required all States to make sure their schools were being held accountable. And I know it was a long time ago, but I believe it was signed by Republican President George W. Bush.

No Child Left Behind was passed on bipartisan consensus. We don’t get a whole lot of that today and unfortunately it makes it harder for politicians to get good things done for the American people. The debate on health care is so heated that it has become hard for even the non-controversial parts of the plan to come to a vote.

I guess what I am trying to say is: get a grip. Relax. It’s Labor Day weekend. Go to the beach, spend time with family and friends. The last thing anyone has to worry about is the President giving a speech talking about the importance in education.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Finding Justice After Torture

There was always something that bothered me on the show 24, Jack Bauer never eats. He is running all around the world killing, torturing, defending America all in one day. It’s incredible really, and because the show is so dramatic it has a huge following. No one who watches the show though cares when Bauer tortures people because it’s just part of the show. When it’s real though, the people have a different response.

Attorney General Eric Holder has decided to investigate the torture methods that have recently been documented in reports released by the Justice Department. Some of which included holding electric drills to detainee’s head, and threatening to kill their children.

In what seems like a response to the Justice Department, the CIA released reports written in 2004 and 2005 detailing information they received from Khalid Shaik Mohammed (planner of the attacks on 9/11), which says the information “dramatically expanded our universe of knowledge on Al Qaeda plots.”

All American’s (whether you watch 24 or not) were shocked at the methods being used on detainees. This was especially seen when photos of the methods came out in 2004 from Abu Ghraib prison. The balance between keeping American’s safe and not violating the laws and morals, which are trying to be defended, can sometimes be difficult. In this case though, torture was being used not to find out information on attacks on the country, but finding out where other members of Al Qaeda were and how they could be found.
The reason why there has not been another terrorist attack since 9/11 in America is because of the great police work put in place after that horrific day.

In polls, the people show they do not want our government to torture (58%), and they also want the Obama administration to investigate if the treatment of prisoners (50%) by the Bush administration.

In his statement on issuing a special prosecutor the Attorney General said “my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law. In this case, given all the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action…” The law is what we are trying to defend against the terrorists, and when the founding fathers decided that all men should be created free and equal, they too wanted to defend what they were fighting for. People are shocked at what has happened at Abu Gharib and other secret prisons across the world, not because it is a new concept, but because it is un-American.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stop Being Afraid

President Obama’s campaign ran on one word: Change. It was quick, easy to remember, and resonated with a lot of people. Obama was a great candidate who also kept his cool and always knew exactly what to say. But the big question in the media was whether or not people would vote for a black man. While he tried not to make race an issue, the press kept asking him about it even before the controversy with Reverend Wright. But it didn’t matter. He had a strong message, and the people voted for him because they felt he was the stronger candidate to lead the country.

This time though, he’s losing the media game which he played so well during the campaign.

It recently came out that Conservatives for Patients Rights put out a misleading advertisement about England’s health care system. Republican members of Congress are telling people to be afraid of a government run health care system. Democrats have started a “war room” so they can fend off attacks on the proposals they’re putting out there. All in all, both sides have spent over $57 million dollars on advertisements.

Whether you are for or against what President Obama is proposing on health care, I think most American’s would agree that the rhetoric which has been put out there has disenfranchised our country. Personal freedom relies on being able to collect information in order to make a decision which they feel can improve their quality of life. That is a fundamental truth in democracy and it is not being practiced.

This has been seen in the town hall meetings. So far my favorite has been where a women asked Senator Specter a loud but pointed question, and later admitted on FOX News she didn’t even listen to the answer. Not to mention all the screaming which has drowned out any debate which is of course the point of town hall style meetings. These circuses and the media rhetoric which has taken place around the healthcare debate has boiled up so many emotions it has been hard for people to sit down and think about the issue.

In the fast paced media, and the thirty-second sound bites that fill up their time, it’s always hard to cut through the ridiculousness that is out there. The news channels that are supposed to give people their information have only been talking about the disinformation that is being put out to the public.

There has been nothing on the actual problem. Hardly any talk that while the reforms being proposed will cost one trillion dollars, doing nothing would cost three times that. Or that if insurance rates keep rising, hardly anyone will be able to afford any sort of health care.

When I was at Muhlenberg College I worked at the school’s polling center and every year we did a quality of life survey. One year we asked the question about how Route 22 (a major state highway) should be taken care of. The overwhelming majority said they wanted the state government to deal directly with the problem instead of handing it off to a private company. American’s aren’t afraid of government, but unfortunately the media is focusing on the people who are. That focus has infused the debate with false information that has scared more people about the reforms which need to take place.

So now, politicians are trying to save political capitol. It’s looking like anything that passes in Congress which is called “health care reform” will be considered a victory for Obama; Whether it is actually real reform or not.

So to the press: Get your act together. Politicians: Do your job. People: Stop being afraid.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's the people stupid!

So, officially, the Obama administration is saying that getting the two journalists (Laura Ling and Euna Lee) was strictly a humanitarian mission by President Clinton and they had nothing to do with it. They only, you know, talked to North Korea for several weeks through back channels, made sure Kim Jong il would like to meet Mr. Clinton, and then asked the former President to go to North Korea. And yes, the administration knew the reporters would be coming back with Clinton because that’s what they agreed to even before President Clinton left.

This is not to take away anything that has happened. I’m happy for the journalists and their families, as I’m sure all American’s were when we saw them come off the plane. But while people have suggested that separating this humanitarian issue with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions was a good idea, I think they forgot what country we’re talking about.

The reason why Lara Ling and Euna Lee were on the border (or not) of Korea was to report the human trafficking that takes place there. North Korea spends a lot of money on its military, when in fact they should be spending it on helping their people. Since 2007 there have been extreme floods that have lead to a food shortage because there’s not enough land to farm on. On top of that, in October of 2005 Kim Jong il prohibited private sales of grain and re-instituted a centralized food rationing system. By December of the same year, he also stopped all international assistance operations.

Living conditions are so bad in the North that thousands of the countries residents try and cross into China. Women and children are lured by the promise of freedom. But if they get into China they are either forced to become prostitutes, get married, or work hard labor.

Now you may ask: How did the country get in such bad shape? Let me tell you. North Korea is ruled by a dictatorship, and when Kim il Song (Kim Jon il’s father) was President he was influenced by the Soviet Union to attack South Korea in order to expand communism which lead to the Korean War. The United States took the South’s side, helped them fight back, and in 1945 (as part of the surrender of Japan) the United States agreed with the Soviet Union to to divide the Korean peninsula into two occupation zones. After this, Kim il Song adopted a policy of self-reliance in order to make sure there won’t be outside influence involving the countries future endeavors.

In 1994 President Clinton signed an accord with North Korea where the U.S. would give them oil to stop developing nuclear technology. This worked until President George W. Bush invaded Iraq and kicked the remaining weapons inspectors from the accord out of the country. Kim Jong il moved enough plutonium that could produce five or six nuclear weapons. In 2006 Kim Jong il tested a nuclear weapon and it has been reported that he is giving this technology to Myanmar.

President Obama cannot only deal with the nuclear issue though. By doing so he still leaves a situation of instability that will lead to a deterioration in a area of the world whose economy is becoming increasingly important. Their economy (and ours) can only grow and prosper if trade is open and the two countries work together to create a reciprocal relationship. Multinational corporations don’t mind investing in a country that has poor labor laws, but they can’t do it if the country does not invest in its infrastructure. The jobs that will come when the corporations move into the country will help the people, in time, reach a better quality of life.

By dealing with the human rights abuses in North Korea, President Obama can gain a new ally in the east, help the American economy, and Kim Jong il or future leaders of the country will think twice before launching or testing a nuclear weapon. They will not want to upset the international community, and risk sanctions that can hurt their economy or deter companies from investing within their country.
Sending President Clinton to North Korea was throwing Kim Jong il a bone. More importantly though, it shows that he is willing to negotiate. President Obama should take this opportunity to keep the dialogue going and work toward a positive and prosperous new beginning between the two countries.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Keep The Trains Rolling

These last couple of weeks I’ve been pretty annoyed with the DC Metro system. When I moved here, I liked the fact you could see how much time you had before the next train came. That was until I saw there were times you had to wait twenty minutes. I’m on the Red Line and there was a major accident going up toward Maryland, so DC Metro has been very cautious (and rightly so) in running the train. This past weekend another accident occurred in San Francisco on their light-rail system. This is all after a report was issued by The American Society of Civil Engineers that graded America’s infrastructure a D. The report said the main problem was that the current infrastructure is getting old, and there hadn’t been the leadership necessary to push for changes in the system.

We all know the deficit and economic climate that America is facing has put certain constraints on what states can spend money on. This is particularly true for the nations transportation system. Even though ridership is at a fifty year high, ninety-percent of America’s transit agencies have had to cut services or raise fares. The stimulus package set money aside to make improvements for transit infrastructure, but if you talk to the people who run the agencies, they will tell you they also need more money for their operating costs. Past spending measures did not allow funds to be used for operating subways or buses, and the stimulus package originally did not allow for this either. But when Congress had passed the war-funding bill this year, a provision was put in to allow some money from the stimulus to be used to pay for operating costs. While the economy has shrunk, tax collections that agencies rely on have been lower, and current fares that metro agencies charge still only cover a fifth the cost of a ride.

So despite my frustrations, I digress. Public transportation is extremely important to the way people function in their every day lives. Elderly and disabled people rely on these systems to get to the doctor, go food shopping, and allow them to be social and active in their communities. People also rely on this system to go to work. Major cities are already congested with traffic (no one likes rush hour) and not only does public transportation get cars off the road, it has a double impact of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

While Congress has allowed for recent funding to be used for operating costs, this should be done for future transportation spending bills as well. Operating costs are just as important as it is to maintain the system. One cannot be done without the other. Some members of Congress are afraid that transportation agencies will become reliant on the money that will be used for operations. But given the importance of public transportation (not to mention the fact it would save jobs) it is crucial for the federal government to step in order to make sure the nation can operate efficiently.

Something that the transportation agencies themselves can do, is to start to charge their riders fee at the pace of inflation. Now, before you say don’t raise my rates, remember what inflation is. It is the rise of general prices of goods and services. As I mentioned before, one of the problems agencies have is not raising enough revenues to operate. New York just had to raise their rates from $2.00 to $2.50. Having grown up there, I know it has been a few years since they had done so and because of that they lost more money since the amount they were charging was not equal to what the current purchasing power of the dollar is. This means consumers are still paying the same rate it only feels like they are paying more.

So I won’t tweet anymore about how annoyed I was taking the Metro these past couple of weeks. Clearly, important steps need to be taken to make our transportation networks better. Some of these steps can be taken now which will also help the economy. By making infrastructure improvements, people will need to be hired to make the improvements, and then build them on the aging tracks. While the momentum to fight global warming and rely less on foreign oil is high, making the nations transportation system should be a high priority. If it is done correctly, it can be something that America can proudly announce they gave to future generations that will help them run the country.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

American's Can Handle The Truth!

It’s not easy being the CIA now a days. Between the torture at Abu Gharib, Guantimo Bay, and at other secret prisons around the world, America’s intelligence community has been taking a beating in the media which has led to a collapse in public confidence.

In the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson argues we need him (a four star general) on that line defending America and argues the people turn a blind eye because (as he yells at Tom Cruise) “You can’t handle the truth!” Recently though, a lot of truths have come out.

While Jack was arrested for giving an order to kill a American soldier, the latest real controversy is over former Vice President Richard Cheney and what he told the CIA not to do. The CIA was planning assassination attempts on top Al Qaeda officials. Currently, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) are conducting the same type of missions on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan where these officials are thought to be hiding. What the CIA was trying to plan was to place spy’s in foreign countries in order to be able to find and kill the Al Qaeda leaders. During the planning, Vice President Cheney told the CIA not to tell Congress about these plans.

Congress is having a frenzy with this. Key members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are threatening the White House that they will pass legislation granting them more oversight authority. President Obama has said if they do he will veto the legislation. Of course no public statements by President Obama of other White House officials have been made because they want to keep the focus on health care. Why pour gasoline on a small fire?

Now, the Vice President should not have told the CIA to withhold information from Congress. Congress has every right to oversee what the executive branch is doing. When Leon Panetta came out and said the CIA was not truthful when informing Congress about the use of torture, a commission should have been convened to investigate why this information was withheld, and make recommendations to make sure it does not happen again.

In the case of torture, the past administration was clearly trying to cover it up. The only way the public and Congress found out about what was going on at Gitmo was because a memo by the Red Cross was leaked to the press. American’s were shocked by this news and President Bush even claimed the tactics being used were not torture. If you’re going to fight a war to protect your way of living, you should also make sure the laws that bind your society are being followed.

It is important to note that the plans for the assassination attempts never came to be implemented, and Panetta stopped the Agency from developing them. But let’s assume for a second that Congress did know about what the CIA was planning. Is it really plausible to believe that those members who knew about the plans would come out and say those people (who planned the attacks on September 11th 2001) should not be gone after? I don’t think so. Even now there has been no talk about whether the CIA should or should not have been doing these plans, Congress was only mad because they weren’t told that these plans were being developed. If they were, what controversy would we be talking about?

How people perceive things in the media greatly affects the way Congress goes about making laws. People hated the fact that TARP was a bailout. Congressional Democrats should know that they are not going to win their next election based on what authority the Intelligence Committees have. It is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of what is almost a secret world. Movies and television shows are made about it. So while I’m no fan of the former Vice President, my advice to Democrats is not to take your eye off the ball and work on something (like healthcare) which scores big points with the public.

Between the news of torture, having not found any WMD’s in Iraq, and 9/11, people still seem to be trying to get on with their lives. So there you have it, American’s can handle the truth, and so should Congress.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Healthcare, Here We Come

So insurance companies like to say that the federal government won't be able to keep health care costs down, you won't be able to choose your doctor, and you'll have some bureaucrat telling the doctors what treatments they can and cannot perform on their patients. I will now explain why these arguments are wrong.

Case in point: Health Maintenance Organization's (HMO). These companies were started in the 1990's and was thought to have solved the problem of rising health costs. Groups of people would join a HMO and the organization would negotiate on behalf of the people in thier gr0up. This drove health care costs down. Why? Because doctors wanted to treat the patients. It's their job, it's how they make a living. When doctors saw the potential amount of patients they would be able to get they would take the HMO's insurance because they then had the chance to get more patients and earn more money.

So, a big group of people joined a health care plan which was able to drive costs down, sound familiar? President Obama and Democrats in Congress want to create a federal program in order to do the same thing. With close to 50 million people without health insurance in this country, the government would be able to charge less to join the federal program and negotiate for a large amount of people, driving down health care costs. Doctors will want to be involved in the government's program because once again (you guessed it!) it's how they make a living.

And for the last two arguments; as I said before doctors will want/need to be in this program because they provide a service and therefore need people to serve. There will be plenty of people who will join the government program also even if they already have insurance (unless of course they like paying all those high costs to private companies). I also do not feel threatened by a bureaucrat telling a doctor what to do. The fact of the matter is that's not their job. Their job would be to make sure people are getting the coverage they need so doctors can provide their services. Last time I checked, older people wanted to be covered by Medicare and Medicaid and I haven't heard anyone say those programs don't work.

Not to mention the new computer system passed in the last stimulous package. This will help estimate medical costs and also allow doctors to know what treatments work better then others which will also help drive costs down.

Even Wal-Mart is on board. The retail giant loves to say that now 90% of their employees have health coverage. And yes, they admit most of them are covered through government programs.

Congressman Charles Rangel yesterday announced how the Democrats plan to pay for a new federal health care plan. They will be raising taxes on individuals who earn $280,000 and up a long with couples earning $350,000 or more. The plan will raise an estimated $540 billion over ten years while the program itself is supposed to cost $1 trillion in the same amount of time.

When polled, the vast majority of American's say they are willing to pay higher taxes so everyone can receive health insurance. This plan just makes too much sense to pass up. Those who are against this program are the insurance companies who are afraid of the competition. I'm confident that health insurance will be afforded to everyone in this country. Congress wants to get something done though before the August recess, so for everyone's sake, let's hope none of them get sick.