Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Obama Should Go Nuclear

This whole talk of compromise is bogus. President Obama was able to pass the tax cuts, don't ask don't tell, and START, because the public was on his side. Polling consistently showed the American people were in favor of these two issues, and Republicans didn't want to look like they were not representing the people before they official gained power. But it will be a lot tougher the next two years and it will be important for Obama to pick specific issues that he can claim victory on.

Controlling the White House gives Democrats the ability to set the agenda and control the conversation. That means it is even more important to pick issues that they know they can win political points with since there will be so few of them coming up. By Obama saying he received a shellacking in this election cycle, he down played any new victories that may occur in the future, that way when he does get his initiatives passed through Congress, it is a bigger victory.

If the Republicans goal is to make Obama a one term president, there is no reason to give them an inch of breathing space. The energy legislation that passed the House this past term isn't going anywhere. While the bill received bipartisan support, it was still a close vote and very contentious. But there are a lot of elements in it that both sides can vote for. One of them is the expansion of nuclear energy.

Obama has consistently said he is in favor of creating more nuclear sites in the United States, and many Republicans have had this on their agenda. The list includes John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and soon to be the Chairwomen of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Lisa Murkowski. There will be plenty of quotes that can be used to contradict what these Senators will be saying if Obama decides to push this issue. But it is one that he needs to use the bully pulpit in order to get what he wants.

The microphone is going to be set on high for this one too. There are a lot of Not In My Back Yard issues when it comes to nuclear power. People either think of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island and do not want an instance such as that to effect their communities. Both of these accidents were caused by human error, unlike the BP oil spill which was caused by human error. That's why the Department of Justice is suing BP believing the disaster could have been avoided. More regulation will be needed for the new nuclear plants, but it is hard to make an argument that current plants and refineries don't need it either.

One of the factors involved with using nuclear technology is where to store the waste that comes from using the material. But while there are currently 104 nuclear power plants operating in the United States, the amount of material that would have to be stored would cover seven yards on a football field. The technology for storing this material has been improved insurmountable since the last two nuclear accidents.

While building new nuclear plants are expensive, there is still plenty of money to be made from building them, particularly with the right incentives that the federal government can provide. In the meantime, the money that is being spent will create jobs. That's why other countries like England are planning to build more of them. And I haven't gotten into the environmental benefits of using more nuclear power.

One of the reasons Obama had such a hard time with the media is because he was not specific enough in what he wanted. The public option was the prime example. The official position was "I'm in favor of a public option, but it does not have to be in the final bill for the bill to be effective." While policy junkies or people who work in the health sector may have understood what he was saying, it was confusing. And it didn't allow him to own the issue and take credit for the pieces of legislation that will benefit people.

The White House needs to keep it short and understandable. Not everyone is a physicist and kept up on the news coming out of the nuclear sector. Next year Obama is going to have to stop trying to teach, and needs to preach instead.



Tuesday, December 21, 2010

No More Filibuster?

There are some very legitimate questions being asking right now, but the one that has me stunned is, how has the Senate managed to get so much done after an election cycle where the party in power received a shellacking? I guess we forgot that mache eventually dries.

First, there was the infamous tax cuts. When President Obama made a deal with the Republicans three things were said 1) Obama gave up again 2) Obama won the political battle and 3) the tax cuts amounted to another stimulus. The first argument was made by the left who were upset that the people who earned the most will have their taxes further reduced. That money could have been used to subsidize the cost from the Social Security cut that was also made in the deal.

Pundits believe Obama won the political battle because he appeased the middle. The tax cuts were not a left, or right issue. Opinion polls repeatedly showed that the vast majority of people wanted to see the cuts go through, and because it was an issue the White House pushed, Obama won.

Now, everyone knows what I think about the stimulus argument. The short answer is that they will help, for the short term (but barely), but a lot more could have been done.

What made the extensions even more surprising was that it didn't look like they would pass. The White House did not want to extend those cuts for the rich. But the Republicans insisted on it, and would not have voted for the bill otherwise. The area that put the victory in Obama's corner though was the deficit. After all the talk about reigning in government spending and the wind at their backs, the GOP did not insist on one policy that would reduce the deficit, in fact, they only insisted on increasing it.

More importantly, Obama owned the issue. Maybe it was because he gave Bill Clinton the mic. But in the past Obama has always been trying to explain and level with people on why he made his decision. This time, he blamed the Republicans of holding the middle class hostage in favor of the rich. All the democrats were saying this, every time, they went on television. And it worked.

I wasn't going to say anything, and you have to promise not to tell anyone, but another victory also came when the Don't Ask Don't Tell law was repealed. Those who have been pushing for the repeal were wondering what happened to the guy who said he would repeal the law. After all the challenges in the courts, those hard core Obama supporters were wondering why they had to do so much more work after the 2008 election. For the people on the left that were upset about the tax deal, this may have made up for it. Two years from now Obama can go straight to his base and say he got this done. Unlike the tax cuts, which may or may not help the economy, the repeal of don't ask don't tell is a substantial change that a lot of people wanted out of him.

Also now thanks to the Senate, we can eat meat without fear of mad cow disease. In a late night sessions the Food Safety and Modernization Act was passed. You would think after we had so many close calls with food imports the last couple of years this is something that would have been done. But this is the first time food safety regulations has been improved in almost one-hundred years.

One of the bigger items which looks like it will be passed this week is the START Treaty. A post Cold War agreement between the U.S. and Russia that every Secretary of State (Republican and Democrat), says needs to be passed, and Senator Kyle is holding it up. This was the wrong issue to try and score political points with. This treaty has always had bipartisan support and has reduced the number of nuclear weapons around the world. The situation has become so bad that Russia is weighing in on the Senate. This did not have to be a political victory for Obama, it will only become one because some members of the GOP were so outspoken against it.

One piece of legislation that did fail was the Dream Act. It is a shame because it made the process for immigrants to come into this country easier and they would have had less of an excuse to try and sneak in. It's also a way to reduce the deficit. The new immigrants coming in could have been taxed, and there were provisions making it easier for current illegal immigrants to get green cards. Now billions of dollars will be sent back to countries of immigrant families. Just more proof no one really cares about the deficit.

And it looks like the federal government will shut down this year! After the House passed a short extension for the start of the new year, Senator Reid announced the Senate will do the same. I'm OK with this, I loved the 90's.

What has helped get these pieces of legislation passed is the election being over. There is a full two years before the next election, and most public officials figure what they do now won't hurt them down the road. Especially if you are a Senator who only runs every six years. The rest of the time you are looking out for your state and helping your colleagues when you can.

Most of the legislation being passed this week was held up because the Republicans were filibustering it. When you hold up one piece of legislation it takes a longer time for others to come up and dealt with, especially in the Senate. But with a divided Congress next year it is hard to tell if compromises will be made.

It is a good sign that legislation is finally moving through. We just learned today that one of every seven Americans is now on food stamps. Needless to say, people need government to work. But as soon as the new year starts, the next election cycle will begin, making it important to pick battles carefully.




Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tax Cuts Don’t Stimulate The Economy

I hate leaving things for the last minute. Having something hanging over my head just bothers me to no end it always get to the point where I can't sleep until it's done. The political problem for the tax cuts was that the White House waited until the last minute to deal with it, but probably for the right reasons. President Obama has had major legislative victories which will help a lot of people. Making sure women are paid equally, allowing students to stay on their parents insurance after college, and expanding scholarship opportunities to pay for college, just to name a few. As we've all seen those victories didn't just come over night, and unfortunately for Mr. Obama, there was still one last thing he had to get done.

The latest round of tax cuts which will soon be passed by the Senate is being sold so that it will help everybody, the middle class, working class, and of course the rich. The Center for American Progress is defending the tax cuts and claim it will create 2.2 million jobs. What their analysis assumes though is that businesses will spend money and there will be a demand for their products. But if you look at recent experiences, you should know there is no guarantee that businesses will spend more money just because they have it. In these uncertain times, they are more likely to keep it in case the economy goes even more down hill, just like the banks are doing since they received the bailout money. The business cuts aren't even targeted anywhere which proves there is no strong demand for anything right now. Otherwise, policies could be enacted to create more of a demand to help a strong area grow even more, which could help overall growth. That absence is just more proof the economy is really up in the air.

The Center got these numbers from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and used their numbers to create their analysis. The CBO however, assumes that the tax cuts will be offset by increasing taxes later so we won't have to worry about deflation. And it does not even take into account that Social Security taxes are being lowered.

But then there are some analyses I just don't get at all. The Heritage Foundation argues that only tax cuts can stimulate the economy. They try and differentiate between "Disposable Personal Income" and "Personal Spending." Now if you're a middle income family earning $150,000 a year, you have enough to go out to dinner, a movie, and keep up with your mortgage payments. But this family is not going to spend money on anything extravagant. They will not be buying a new house, car, or plan a expensive vacation in this time of uncertainty. So when they receive a tax cut, they will not be spending in the areas where it MIGHT help the businesses feel a demand for their products. And if you are working class family, you are more worried about feeding your children and keeping a roof over your head, and that's where they will spend the money. Again, not creating a huge demand for anything, and not beneficial to helping the economy. Families don't think of their money as "disposable" or "personal," and neither should economists.

Instead, programs should have been created to help families cope with the new economic realities. The best part of the package was getting unemployment benefits extended for a year. For middle class families though, there should have been money spent to pay for their children's college, or help lower their payments if the banks unexpectedly raised the interest rates. But if you don't believe me, you can listen to President Reagan's former budget director David Stockman, who helped invent trickle down economics.

The problem with both of these analyses is that they argue broadly about policies that need to be looked at in a more specific design. As I've argued in the past, current economic models do not allow economists to take into account what really matters to families. The tax cuts families receive will be spent on areas that will ensure the families stability. President Obama could have made a strong argument to raise taxes on the wealthy to ensure programs like Social Security and Medicare stay intact. Many people rely on these programs, especially the baby boomers. Who, by the way, will be retiring soon and who will vote in 2012. But by waiting this long to deal with the Bush tax cuts he had no time. The consequences, politically and economically, would have been worse if he allowed everyone's taxes to be raised. He had to let high income earners taxes stay low. It was a classic no win scenario.

All in all, no harm was done, but unfortunately not a lot of good was done either. So lesson learned, don't wait for the last minute to get your ducks in a row.






Monday, December 6, 2010

We Need Energy

If you want evidence that only funny characters and what they say dominate the news media, try figuring out the latest debate on taxes. The Senate "worked" this weekend on the nations taxes. But since the United States Senate requires hours of debate before a vote can actually take place, it makes it easy to waste a lot of time. So unless you are a C-SPAN2 junky (like me) you missed hours upon hours of our elected officials talking about how they were going to vote.

[Quick side note: Notice how I didn't say debate to describe what the Senate was doing this weekend. The Senate doesn't debate anymore. If you want to read a great debate, look up Second Reply to Hayne, given by Daniel Webster.]

But don't worry, Senator's don't get paid overtime. After all that talk the only agenda that was accomplished was playing politics. Only two votes were taken and both sides knew they were going to fail. Democrats said they wanted to show Republicans only support the rich, and Republican's refused to raise taxes even though they claim to want to tackle the deficit. Now it looks like all the Bush taxes will be extended. The good news is that unemployment benefits will also. The bad news is that even if Democrats somehow manage to raise some taxes, Wall Street is already trying to figure out how to not pay them.

What both sides forget though is that Americans aren't looking for a show, they're looking for things to get done. While building Noah's Arc in Kentucky may seem funny, it is a policy that will create jobs and help the economy. It shows leadership and strength, which is exactly what people are looking for.

One of President Obama's problems the past two years is that he let Republican's control the debate on all the issues. Whether it was health care or Wall Street Reform, the Obama never used the bully pulpit to the extent other Presidents like FDR or Reagan did. Even though both President's lost seats during their midterm elections, their base was ready to fight for them when they were up for reelection, and they won big.

The State of the Union speech is coming up soon. It will be a moment where the president can set the agenda and tone for the next two years he is in office. The first issue he should talk about is energy. This is an area where Republican's and Democrats can make themselves happy. Obama already came out in favor of nuclear energy, which Republican's have been pushing for years. Wind and solar energy have are already a growing industry. With the right incentives, creating new energy industries can create thousands of jobs that can't be shipped off. The best part is that the technology for these new industries is being developed in America, and that means more exports which (according to standard models) will help America's economy grow.

President Obama not only needs to create more energy, he also needs to show more energy. Letting the other side control the modern hyperbole of a debate, only takes away the victories he has already accomplished. We all know what a great communicator he can be, next year, it's time to step up and speak loud.



Monday, November 29, 2010

Building A House

Remember when Republicans were saying: government should act like American households when it comes to its budget? It was a great line. Short, easy to understand, and appealed to the GOP base (aka Tea Baggers) which allowed them to get excited. It then culminated with the recent shellacking this past election. The household analogy was used time and time again even though it was false. While it would be great to be able to print our own money (or if money grew on trees), we gave that right to the federal government when we ratified the Constitution.

But because elections have consequences, the two parties will be fighting to show who is most fiscally conservative. Obama announced today that he will be issuing a two year pay freeze that will save the federal government two billion during current fiscal year, twenty-eight billion over next five years, and sixty billion over ten years. While it sounds good on paper, it's really a political move. It's worth pointing out that it won't really be known how much is being saved until President Obama is out of office. And it's no accident. That way the White House can keep citing those numbers as a way to say the deficit is being reduced. Also, the pay of federal employees isn't the problem, it's the benefits they get that is driving costs up. That's why Defense Secretary Robert Gates is looking at ways to raise funds for the militaries Tricare. Of course, the new health care law will help maintain some of those costs, but apparently most of the new GOP governors won't enact the policy in their states.

This pay freeze announcement comes on the same day that several liberal think tanks are unveiling plans that are trying to tackle the federal deficit, all of which cut programs by federal agencies. In the meantime, government bureaucrats are always lobbying to keep their programs running. Think of it as an annual review where you have to tell your boss what you did this past year. You have to go through everything to show what you did while having to worry about keeping your job. Government agencies worry about the same thing, except it's all the time. They will give grand presentations, trips, gifts, and anything else that is legal to make sure they get the funding they think they need. While Obama doesn't have a J. Edgar Hoover problem, he still needs to make sure his employees are happy.

And do I even need to go into the special interest lobbyists like Jack Abramoff? There are plenty of those guys too. But whether you know it or not, you too have someone lobbying for you. For instance, do you want to save the environment? There are plenty of environmental groups out there who talk to members of Congress and their staff every day. Just look up The Environmental Defense Fund and read about how the Environmental Protection Agency was created.

One of the most contentious issues when it comes to the budget is taxes. No one likes them, and if a politician ever talks about them, he/she better say they will be lowered. But if you want a balanced budget someone's gotta pay for it.

The White House is right on this one, extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and let them expire for the rich. When people earning over a million dollars get a tax cut, they don't spend the money, and it does nothing for the economy. What makes raising taxes even more volatile this year is that state governments have had to raise their taxes over the last four years. So if Congress does nothing, the people who need help the most will be giving more than they can. Middle and working class Americans need the break and will spend it on the items they need to live, which will also help the economy. They deserve the extension.

It is baffling me how many Republican candidates are considering running for President in 2012. Just today John Bolton (who has never run for public office before) is thinking about running for President. Political Action Committees are already in the first couple of primary states for Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin will probably run as an average Joe just to make a few more million. In the meantime, decisions need to be made, and the people who actually have to balance their budget are hurting the most.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pre-Election Mortem

Watching this election cycle has been like watching a movie that's really bad but you can't manage to walk out of the theatre. The Tea Party is the stupid friend who is funny (think Zach Galifianakis), the Republicans are the guys who seem alright but keep getting everyone else into the dumb situations (Mike Myers in Wayne's World), and the Democrats are supposed to be one of the main characters but you really have no idea what they're doing there (Gene Hackman in Heartbreakers).

The Tea Party has managed to nominate people with no political experience, or for that matter any experience, and single handedly made what should have been strong races for Republicans and turned them into toss ups. Harry Reid was behind more then ten points in generic ballots (at which point a politicians tombstone is usually being built), but has been able to make Nevada a close race. But he can only thank his opponent Sharron Angle who made demoralizing comments toward Latinos. Alaska shouldn't even have been a contest with the conservative Republican Lisa (spell my name) Murkowski, but I guess she wasn't obnoxious enough for the Tea Party. So instead, the nomination goes to Joe Miller whose claim to fame is being a lumberjack. And then there's Christine O' Donnell. Running for Vice President Joseph Biden's former seat, she lied about finishing college, her personal finances, and being a witch.

Since the Tea Party has become the main character the Republicans can't get rid of them. They need them for the movie to go on and to win on Tuesday. Even with this apparent hijacking, the Republicans can't say anything because they need the Tea Party. Unfortunately, most people don't vote in the midterm election, and less in the primary where the people listed above became famous, which give these small groups more influence.

After passing two historic pieces of legislation, the Democrats aren't able to come up with a strong message to tell voters. President Obama should be proud of what he's accomplished in the past two years. But part of being President is also being Communicator In Chief. While the debates for health care and financial reform were taking place, he should have been out there talking to the people and saying what he wanted passed in this legislation. He knows he will be compared to other Presidents like FDR, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan. While on paper they've accomplished similar feats, Obama didn't use the bully pulpit like the others did to win the political points he needs right now.

My prediction for Tuesday: Democrats lose 23 seats in the House and the Republicans are one short of taking the Senate. The script for this disaster will be spun in two ways. Republicans will say it is a referendum on President Obama and his agenda. Democrats will say there were seats we knew we were going to lose, while historically, new Presidents always lose seats in the midterm elections. Democrats will look like they're giving excuses, and they are. I know I've said this before, but for a campaign that was so good at delivering a message and being clear as to what they wanted to accomplish, you almost wonder how they won just two years ago.

Not having a strong message explains the big difference between voter enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans. Liberals feel they worked so hard to elect a candidate they believed in and they still got the short end of the stick. But change has always been slow. With these types of movies there is usually a sequel or a spinoff, but it doesn't necessarily means it is as bad. Maybe next time the Democrats can figure out what to do.



Saturday, October 2, 2010

Capability vs. GDP

Goals are important. They give us something to strive for, get us to make the tough decisions that life requires to accomplish them, and in an ever complicated world, can help keep us focused on what is really important. For public policy purposes though, determining how to assess goals can be controversial. How can you count for hundreds of millions of people, and still implement public policies without interfering on what those same people want to accomplish for themselves?

Coincidently, in a time where many people are saying how economists are failing us, I completed my thesis on how new economic methods need to be used to assess a countries development. What economists are currently accounting for are inputs and outputs, how much it costs to produce the product, and how much money can be made by selling it. I don't want to say this is a bad thing. There are legitimate arguments out there on why these numbers are important. For businesses to hire people, they need an estimate how much they are going to make, and how much of a loan they need from a bank.

But while the Great Recession has been over for a year, the poverty rate in the United States has dramatically increased. The organization that punched these numbers is highly respected, and all they did was their job. They saw Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went up three quarters in a row and declared everything was fine. Unfortunately, there are millions of people out there who would tell these economists differently.

GDP only accounts for the health of businesses, not the population that keeps them thriving. Instead of assuming that if businesses are prosperous the people are too, economists need to develop new goals that take into account for what people need in order for them to achieve what they are working towards. My thesis focused heavily on the work of Amartya Sen and his Capabilities Theory. This theory focuses on human development, bringing it back to the basics of education, health care, housing, freedom, democracy, and other factors, in order to ensure people are given a chance to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.

In his recent struggles to get the democratic base out to the polls, President Obama stated that during the Bush administration personal family incomes had fallen. But still, most economists thought the economy was good because GDP was going up. The fact is recessions happen, whether in a time of strong regulations or weak ones. You just have to hope they're not as bad as the one we are in now and they don't turn into a depression. What is great about the Capabilities Theory is that when recessions do happen, policies are already in place to make sure people are protected. By having economists measure basic goals that all people need, individuals will still have the opportunity to decide what they want to accomplish for themselves because they were given the capability to do so.

Of course, while democracy is a important for the Capabilities Theory, there are numerous examples that can be used to show how politics can be really stupid. Gail Collins had a good piece today on how some of the major races in the coming election have been outright dirty, where the candidates have resorted to political mudslinging. While the politicians and their advisors may see attack ads necessary to get their base out, it turns just as many people off, and doesn't get any more people to vote for the person who put out the commercial. Even the numbers that economists come out with are at times manipulated to further a public officials agenda. But if new assessments of goals based on the Capabilities Theory were implemented, it would be harder to spin how many people are receiving a strong education, living in a safe neighborhood, and have what they need to support their families.

Elected politicians don't get reelected on what they say about their opponent, it's on their own record. By focusing on the people, instead of the corporations, elected officials will know what areas to focus on and try to do something about it. Then, it would be a lot harder for their opponent to come up with legitimate attacks.

This post may seem like a utopia to some people, but I am well aware there will always be socio-economic differences. But when I first learned about the Capabilities Theory, it was one of those things that just made sense, and hopefully after going through this tough time, more people will think it makes sense as well.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I Haven’t Heard The Fat Lady

As the 2010 election gets closer and closer, it seems like everyone is trying to figure what the results will be and who's going to win where. The story lines are great too. The Tea Party is two steps away from taking over the Republican Party (they're already old and have party in their name), Robert Gibbs' media flaps, Momma Bear Sarah Palin, and President Obama's approval ratings. And with all that, the election is still up in the air.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to Democrats that the party without an agenda seems to have better winning odds. Finding holes or problems with policy ideas are easy. No policy is perfect and in today's twenty-four hour media, blogs (except for this one), and Twitter, it's easy to get as much bad information as much as there is good. But then you have to ask yourself, how many people realize the amount of money that will be saved by the new health care law ($143 billion), that the government actually made money from the TARP program ($201 billion), and we don't even know how many more jobs would have been lost if not for the auto bailout which all recently reported strong earnings. Governing is hard, and even though the Democrats did a good job communicating during the campaign, it's hard to juggle the two acts at once.

There are economists who fear deflation, and the unemployment rate is still staggeringly high (9.5%), but there are no actual facts that can be used to blame President Obama or the Democrats to say they have made it worse.

The Democrats should be touting their victories while they campaign, and Obama is finally doing so. The latest Third Way poll shows that the American people don't want to go back to the policies of the past. Even with all the craziness out there, I still believe that (especially since we are in such troubled times) people pay attention. The American people want answers, and the Democrats have legitimate evidence to show their policies have been working. So let the Republicans have no agenda, let them try and say things are worse from when they were in charge, and while doing so, ask what they would have done differently.

The only way the Republicans can actually claim victory is if they take over one of the Houses in Congress. But according to Real Clear Politics, both are still very much in play. I haven't heard the fat lady sing yet, and neither should you.


Monday, July 19, 2010

The Three Rules

What was Robert Gibbs thinking? It's almost been two years since President Obama has taken office and his administration still hasn't learned you never state the reality, the obvious, or the truth.

The basic rules of Washington is to make yourself look better then everyone else, distort the other guys message, and never take responsibility unless people like what you're taking responsibility for. By admitting defeat in the coming election, Gibbs broke all those rules and managed to piss off the entire Democratic Party at the same time.

Give him some slack though, he's lasted a lot longer then some of his predecessors and when you're talking to the media every day you're bound to screw up at one point or another. Of course the reality (and what any political consultant in the district will tell you) is that the Democrats are going to lose seats in Congress this coming election, it is only a question of how many.

However, I don't believe it is as obvious or gloomy as Gibbs had stated it on Meet The Press. The problem with the Democrats messaging is that they have been on the defensive, always trying to explain what they are doing. This is especially dangerous when people are anxious and need help. But the fact is this Congress has done a lot of good. Between health care reform and the new Wall Street regulations they have accomplished a lot, and when people look back on it, they will be grateful this reforms were passed.

But now it's time to get back on the offensive. Get a clear message and don't be afraid to defend your vote.

A recent poll conducted by the moderate think tank Third Way showed how bringing former President Bush back into the picture, voters are much more willing to vote for the Democrat.

David Broder
wasn't so convinced. He thought the Republicans could just bring back Reagan since the same poll showed most people also wanted more tax cuts. But don't forget, this Congress gave 95% of Americas a tax cut and Reagan raised taxes in his first term.

When the two parties debated these issues this past Sunday on Meet The Press, the Democrats were clearly back on the offensive and had the upper hand. So while Gibbs may have been telling what he thought to be the obvious truth, there's still a lot of time before the next election becomes the reality.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Breath From Politics

Since it seems so rare now a days, it is important to take note of when politicians do something that's not political. We learned today that the Obama administration will be implementing new policies to curb the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic.

These policies will be based on a year long report where a study was conducted with experts across the country. This comes at a time when over one million people in America are infected with H.I.V, with a new infection found every nine in a half minutes. Thousands of people are also unable to receive care. The new health care law that passed this year will help some of those people, but there is still a lot more work to do.

Even after all these years, and all the information about H.I.V./AIDS, there is still a stigma associated with having the disease. The report released today stated how people who are infected have a harder time getting a job, getting a loan for a house, and it becomes harder to receive certain health care services.

While the administration is clearly gearing up for the mid term elections, and Congress begins its last few weeks before summer recess, it's good to see some actual governing.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Focus On What's Important

Between all the frenzy about Lebron James and Lindsey Lohan, its hard to remember that there is actual news stories out there. The fact that a basketball player has been able to completely attract the medias focus from the oil spill, Congress not extending the unemployment benefits, and even the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Between the two wars, 6,637 young men and women have lost their lives. The Iraq War is already the longest military operation in America's history, and as it turns out, there may not be any end in sight. General Ray Odierno said that while American troops will still be leaving Iraq by 2011, the United Nations will still need to have a presence there because of the fighting between the countries ethnic groups.

Vice President Biden recently visited the country in order to try and get the elected leaders there to work together and establish programs that will help Iraqi's live their lives. Mr. Biden's trip was marred by an attack where he and his wife were staying, and a successful attack by a suicide bomber who killed four people. Then, two days later, the military charged one of its soldiers with downloading secret information onto the Internet. The most famous of which is a video of Iraqi citizens and press being shot and killed by a U.S. helicopter.

One or two misses I can understand, the people who run the media are human. But the sheer ridiculousness of the media being fascinated by a poor girl who we should be feeling sorry for, and a basketball player who you would think has a big enough ego to solve the golf oil crises and capture Osama Bin Laden, is just irresponsible.

Maybe I'm wrong, and it's not the press' fault they need the ratings to keep themselves in business, and its our fault that the type of stories we want to hear aren't what is actually important.

This argument can go back and forth, and anyone who tells you they know they answer is lying. But to remedy this situation individuals need to keep perspective, and focus on what's important.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Staying Positive

My intuition was partly confirmed when I was searching information for this post. After you type in "learning" into Google, "learning disabilities" is the third term on the drop down list.

I found some very good sites on what learning disabilities are, and some ways which parents can help their children, and adults can help themselves, when one is learning disabled. Kids Health and the Learning Disabilities Association of America has great information, and can help answer a lot of questions for people whos lives they effect, or for those who have never heard of the term learning disability.

There was a recent New York Times article which showed the problems teachers have when they have to teach students who are extremely disabled. What makes learning disabilities unique, is that you would never know that someone has a learning disability unless he or she tells you. Learning disabilities not only effect the development that one learns, but social development as well.

Students have only recently begun being diagnosed with learning disabilities, and they usually are in their early teens. Now, I don't know anyone who liked middle school. Whenever I talk to anyone about it they always have bad memories, mostly from being picked on because, as you know, everyone is cool when they are twelve years old.

While school is a place to learn the skills that prepare you for the world, it is also a place where you are supposed to learn how to interact with other people without your parents telling you how to behave. But having a disability can make it difficult. Since you are struggling, school becomes a place where you are not comfortable. You are forced to work harder then your peers but still not getting as good of grades, your teachers keep telling you you're doing something wrong, and then your friends are calling you an idiot. It's not fun, and needless to say, you don't feel too good about yourself.

Having a learning disability is not something that goes away. While there are methods which can help those who are learning disabled, there is no way to fix whatever it is that causes someone to have these troubles.

There still needs to be research done to determine how to help students who are having these struggles. But what we know is that these students need extra help not just with their homework, but figuring out the best ways for them to learn. Time needs to be set aside with a teacher who can show students how to take notes, organize their work, and also give them the confidence necessary in order to succeed.

Believe it or not though, there are some positives to have a learning disability. For one, you know what you're good at. I'm 24, most of my friends have graduated, have jobs, and I still hear that they don't know what they want to do with themselves. Even in undergrad, no one knew what they wanted to major in and had to figure out their niche. When deciding what type of job or career path someone with a disability wants to go in, they're going to choose something that works toward their strengths. In the end they will be doing a job that they enjoy, and after all the struggles through school, will also be able to take more satisfaction in whatever they decide to do.
Being learning disabled also makes you a hard worker. All the days with tutors, or studying late at night, students with disabilities will be used to working those long hours that employers might need their employees to do.
Since learning disabilities are still relatively new to the world of education, those with disabilities may feel alone. But it is always important to remember that there are a lot of people with learning disabilities out there. Which is why I suspect so many people are googling the term. And even though it may be difficult at times, it's important to think positively. Take a break from school/work and do something you enjoy, which people should do whether they have a disability or not!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Another Day in Washington

There are days where I can understand why people hate politics. Then, you realize it's just another day in Washington. Tony Hayward's, dare I say, "testimony" yesterday reminded me of a cat with a tail between its legs. Not only was he playing dumb, but he also didn't take any responsibility. I watched the entire hearing, and around the 1,000 "I don't know" I was ready to throw my TV out the window.

It's amazing how many times you can say I don't know in different ways. "I was not aware," "I was not involved in that decision," "I am not qualified to comment on that issue," or my favorite, "it's not you it's me."

At least BP can stop trying to play the good boy. The television advertisements of Tony trying to look compassionate almost worked. Pundits on TV were describing the CEO as a compassionate figure, even after he said all he wanted was his life back, not even thinking about the eleven people who lost theirs on his company's rig.
Then of course there was the Republicans, who felt bad President Obama made BP pay $20 billion for the businesses and families affected by this disaster. But Congressman Joe Barton wasn't thinking about those who are losing their livelihood, he only wanted to score political points. Winning the next election has become so important to some members of Congress that they forget they are actually responsible for running the country.

You would also think a disaster of this magnitude would force Congress to get their act together and pass a climate/energy bill. But no, members of the Senate don't seem it is fair that businesses like BP pay some sort of carbon tax while America transitions to renewable energy.
The whole situation is politics at its worst and for some reason there isn't more outrage. According to polls Americans are divided on whether to continue off shore drilling. Of course, I'm sure if BP was planning to build a rig in their back yard, those Americans in favor of more drilling would change their mind.

Jon Stewart had a great bit the other night where he showed speeches of past presidents trying to change American's energy policy. President Obama's speech from the oval office wasn't bad because it was poorly written, it was bad because he didn't call for anything. He didn't grab the bull by the horns and take control. He missed an opportunity, and no ones taking responsibility.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Screw BP

Need I say more? There is not a more hated company right now and I don't feel bad for them one bit. Especially after seeing today that BP knew the Atlantis rig had safety issues from the start. According to internal docments releaed today, BP decided to save money on a "well control" mechanism which may have caused this disaster.

This rig had problems from the beginning. In 2006 it was two years behind schedule because of hurricane Dennis, then of course there was Katrina. At this time BP admitted that the rig failed four tests in the platforms subsea system. BP also had every reason to get the rig running since it would have put them in position to be the leading player in America's deep water production.

Atlantis was considered the most sophisticated and technologically advanced oil platform today. According to offshore-technology.com, this platform was the "deepest moored floating dual oil and gas production facility in the world." Now all we're hearing is executives blaming each other in preparation for the all the law suits they are going to have to fend off.

How Americans are even divided on continuing off-shore drilling is beyond me. Why take this risk again? Develop new energy resources here, starting in New Orleans, and screw BP.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Filling In The Bubble

As summer is just around the corner, it's getting warmer outside, flowers are blooming, and productivity goes down the drain. This is also the time when school's are about to be let out, and standardized test scores across the country will soon be released.

There has been a lot of news coming out of the world of education. Recently, a panel of superintendents from around the country came together to create national standards for America's schools. Even though the panel neglected science and history, the subjects that they did take on will help schools know where there students need to be and implement reforms that will get their students up to par. Also, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave out the first round of the Race to the Top money, but with mixed results. Only two states received any money, while many others who had changed their policies in order to compete, received nothing. Now those states are saying they will not participate in the second round because they don't see the point.

The fundamental problem I see here is how we are determining which schools need to improve, and which ones should be looked at as good examples. The No Child Left Behind law required states to report their schools progress in order to keep receiving federal money. The law let states determine how they would assess their schools, and most of them decided to use standardized tests. Why not? It helped the state get money, and if the students were passing the test it was obvious they were learning, right?

If only it were that simple. We now know that states would purposely make the tests easier so students would do well, thus qualifying the state to get more money. That is why Secretary Duncan recently came out to change this system. These new changes will require states to not just submit test scores, but other factors as well, which hold individual teachers and students accountable. President Obama took a lot of heat for saying he supported the closing failing schools, but what other choice is there? With only being able to look at test data, there is no way to determine why a school is failing.

Standardized tests are a good way to get data on students, but this is only a macro snapshot of a problem that needs a micro solution. Usually, the main factor of students doing well on standardized tests are their families socio-economic situation. While more affluent families can afford tutors, or their parents have a college degree and can spend extra time with their children, students of lower income do not have these advantages. Plus, there is no correlation between a teacher and how well his or her students did on a standardized test.

New policies need to be implemented to make sure this problem ceases to exist. One solution is to have new teachers go through a training program before they actually start teaching. States have hired many new teachers in the last year, but many of these individuals (while they may know the material they will be teaching) have never lead a classroom before. Instead of having teachers learn on the job, they should go through a paid program to develop the necessary skills to teach. This will ensure that there is a steady stream of teachers going into the classroom who from day one can effectively teach students what they need to learn. There is an organization called Urban Residency Teachers United where they pay individuals to do a residency program so they can gain experience in the classroom. This model is based on what doctors are required to do before they are allowed to practice medicine.

Also, because we are in the 21st Century, there are now many websites where teachers can write about problems or questions they have, and get feedback from others who are teaching. This should be encouraged. Like everything else, teaching is a skill, and some are better at it then others. Secretary Duncan should help promote programs that allow teachers to use these sites, and go to forums where they can learn new skills and methods to teach their students.

Standardized tests are only good for students who want to practice memorizing facts and fill in a bubble. Secretary Duncan is right when he says we only have one chance to teach the next generation, which is why we need to make sure we are doing it the right way.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Certain About Green

As of today, Real Clear Politics shows that 41% of the American people are supportive of the Democrats health care bill, while 48% are opposed. This isn't enough for either side to claim the American people are on their side or against the others. When I look at this, it tells me they are undecided even after the issue has been debated for over a year. Seeing how the debate has taken place, it makes sense. Health care is one of the most complicated issues any policy maker can deal with, and frankly, the Democrats or the press has done a good job explaining it, and the Republicans are saying anything to make sure it dosen't get passed.

Now, once the Democrats bill pass their health care bill this week, they will undoubtedly claim a huge victory. Earlier this week Nancy Pelosi said it would be a fundamental change if the bill is passed. But the truth is the effects of the bill won't be seen for most Americans until a few years down the road, and will be a non-factor in the coming elections because the law won't have any immediate effect. What people will be voting on is how Democrats have been running the country.

Democrats will have to answer questions on the stimulus, bailout, and if they have any ideas on how to get the economy moving faster.

What can have a faster effect on the economy, and people's well being, is a comprehensive energy bill that focuses on green technology and becoming less reliant on importing oil. There won't be a lot of time before politicians are fully focusing on their elections, but the great thing about energy bills is that their easy.

While Arizona can put money into developing solar technology, New York can do the same for nuclear. Different types of power are better for different parts of the country, and the states can use their own natural resources to determine which type of energy source is best for them.

Any real energy plan will require a variety of new technologies to be developed. As long as the bill creates grants to incentivize states to develop those technologies, even Republicans would be hard pressed not to vote for it.

While an effective way to speed the development of green technology would be helped by cap and trade, it won't be necessary if the demand for these technologies is already high. Even Al Gore admitted recently that we have more time to combat global warming then we first thought. People in Greenpeace shouldn't complain if cap and trade isn't in the energy bill signed into law if new power sources that don't emit any CO2 are being used and developed.

People like green technology because they know it will create jobs. When President Obama visited OPOWER, people were more excited to learn about the company then why the president went their in the first place.

By passing a comprehensive energy bill, Democrats can claim (with the combination of the stimulus and bailout) that they have a handle on things, and the country is being steered in the right direction with them at the helm.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Thank God I'm not claustrophobic. Snowpacolyps has been absolutely ridiculous, Washington, DC hasn't seen this much snow in over seventy years and the entire federal government is shut down. Except for the Armed Services, so don't get any ideas Canada!

One note on the Super Bowl. Great game and I'm happy for New Orleans. They went for it the entire game. But if they lost that onside kick at the start of the second half Sean Payton would have been ripped in the headlines like no other coach.

And can we all agree that CBS leaned conservative in their choice for super bowl ads? First they didn't allow a commercial for a gay dating site to be aired, but did allow Tim Tebow and his mom to promote their pro-life views. I was also at a party with a lot of people who work on the Hill or politics one way or another, and none of them knew about the defeat the debt ad. This concerned me so I just wanted to post a link for when I wrote about it here.

Now to more important issues, did anyone watch House last night? If you didn't you need to. I swear its the only show on television that is actually trying to push the barrier, and this season has been great. Last night they followed the day in life of the head of the hospital, Dr. Cuddy. She was in the middle of negotiations with an insurance agency, and because her hospital had better numbers then others who are under the same insurance, she wanted to get more reimbursements from the insurer. While other hospitals were getting more money, Dr. Cuddy's hospital was not because they were smaller then the others.

Then I happen to be reading the New York Times this morning and I see an article on this very subject! One of the experts said they would like to see payments from insurance companies based on how well a hospital takes care of its patients, not just on how many patients they admit. One of the key wins for the Democrats this year was in the stimulus package where they put in incentives for hospitals to invest in technology to share records on their patience. This will allow doctors to see what works for certain illnesses. Economists estimate this will save millions for hospitals just on overhead alone. Plus when we know what to do, doctors can better treat their patience which will also save them money.

As I'm writing this, the President was taking questions from reporters, and he said there are now more people who get health insurance from the government then private insurers. This should be a rallying call for a public option. Private companies cannot support getting all Americans health care. Even before this, we already knew that while private insurers spend 8% on overhead, it only costs the government 1%.

One of my favorite quotes by FDR is: "A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward." There has been a lot of talk lately on bipartisanship and how Social Security had many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle vote for it. At this time there were 322 Democratic members in the House, and 69 Democrats in the Senate. 81 Republicans in the House and 16 Republicans in the Senate voted for the Social Security Act, so yeah it was bipartisan. But FDR still had a lot of work to do to get it passed. Speeches, town hall meetings, meetings with leaders on the Hill, plus the Supreme Court. With Obama wavering on all the specificson health care its hard for the people to understand what he's trying to do, and it doesn't make him sound confident in his policies. That's why he's having a hard time getting health care reform passed.

FDR's New Deal was clear to everyone, he made it so popular that voting against it would have been political suicide. That's how FDR got bipartisanship. President Obama hasn't made it clear to people how health insurance reform will help them, particularly those who have insurance. But talking to Republicans isn't going to help, no matter how ridiculous it makes them look. While Congress' approval ratings are low, Americans still want Democrats in charge.

In the short amount of time he has left to get something done, the President needs to tell the people exactly what he wants. He has said many times that he would prefer a public option, but what he should say is that he wants a public option. The tell them he wants it because it is the best way to lower costs for families. That is whether they are paying for their own insurance or their parents if they go into a retirement home.

During House, Dr. Cutty was having a conversation with the CEO of the company she was negotiating with. The CEO said "You can make me look like a rich bastard in the press all you want, but I'll still be a rich bastard." But Dr. Cutty stook to her guns. She told the insurance company exactly what she wanted and got it. Obama should do the same.

We're expected to get another foot of snow here in Washington. The federal government will probably be closed again, and none of the politicians are going to go on TV. This will give the administration time to think of a game plan, and hopefully get something substantial passed. Obama should take advice from Teddy Roosevelt and stop using the carrot, and go with the stick.

Monday, January 18, 2010


At Muhlenberg (my alma mater), there is a Sociology professor named Christopher Kovatz-Bernat who has studied the country of Haiti throughout his professional career. His class on the country is extremely popular with students, and most of my peers came away thinking that Dr. Bernat was a little crazy to keep going to such a volatile state.

I did not take Dr. Bernat's class on Haiti, but when I did a presentation on the country, he was more than willing to sit down with me to go over details. By now, you have all heard Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemesphere, and when you learn about the recent political history of the country, it's not hard to understand why.
In December of 1990, Jean Bertrand Aristide won 67% of the vote in a Presidential election for the country of Haiti. President Aristide was looked at as a symbolic figure who would be able to bring economic stability and development to the country. However, in September of 1991, a coup was staged to overthrow Aristide. The act was led by the economic elite of the country, a long with elements of Haiti’s army.

From 1991-1994 an interim government was formed. It was not until the United Nations passed Resolution 940 where members were supposed to use all necessary force to oust the interim government. The United States took the lead in this initiative, and in mid-September of 1994 U.S. troops prepared to enter Haiti. In June of 1995 local and parliamentary elections took place with a pro-Aristide contingent winning. President Aristide then took the Presidential office back in September of 1995. After that though, there were many problems with the legitimacy of future elections. In 1996 Rene Preval won the Presidential election with 51.15% of the vote that was looked at by many of the international community to be illegitimate.

Without full legitimacy, it has been hard for the international community to come together to work with the country, and harder for the President Preval to bring the country together in order to help it. And remember, this was all before the earthquake.

People were already living in unsanitary conditions. There was barely any running water, and the only way to get any was through a public filtration system. There was also no sanitation department to pick up the trash so people left it on the streets and walked around it.

There had also been law enforcement issues making the country a dangerous place to live. After the international community went into Haiti, the military was disbanded, but its members still kept their weapons. This left thousands of guns on the streets with no counter force to help keep the peace. This is a picture of Haiti's former military personel on the streets of Port au-Prince:

In 2008, the Caribbean was hit by three storms, Haiti getting the worst of it. This is how the country looked after that:

This country needed help way before the major earthquake that destroyed the little people had in the country. If any good can come out of this, its that there might be a sustained effort to build stability and economic growth to a place that has needed it for a long time.

The American Red Cross has had members going to Haiti for a long time now. They and other organizations will be conducting much of the heavy lifting that is now necessary more then ever. That link will lead you straight to a place where you can donate what you can. Large amount of funds will be necessary to carry the effort out now, and into the future.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Show Me The Money!!

I'm usually really excited to wake up Sunday, read the paper, watch Meet The Press, and absorb all the new information that's going to come out. There are times though when my political Sunday is kinda a let down. Kinda like the last week of the NFL season. Unfortunately, I have a feeling this is going to be one of those weeks.

I know exactly what's going to be said tomorrow. Jobs. Everything and anything about jobs, or rather, lack there of. In December 85,000 jobs were lost and the unemployment rate stayed at 10%. There's no way around it, it's very bad out there. Businesses are forced to cut back, and families are being forced to make extremely tough decisions such as between buying health insurance or food. Now the President and Congress are talking about passing a jobs bill which they hope (hope!), will create more opportunities for companies to hire.

Most economists are saying things are going to get worse before they get better. But of course a recent piece pulitzer prize winning economist (Paul Krugman) said: "The next employment report could show the economy adding jobs for the first time in two years." So what do they know? And as for Republicans, all they can do is say the Democrats $275 billion stimulus package isn't working. But when I looked to find out what that money was doing, it turns out its just sitting there.

According to Recovery.gov, as of October 30th 2009, only $19 billion of the stimulus packaged has been spent, but over $158 billion has been rewarded. Only 13% of the money has been given to the states. Wyoming has been awarded over $476 million, but has only received a little over $60 million. California (the state with the most fiscal trouble right now) was awarded over $18 billion, but has only received a little over $8 billion.

So for all you fiscal hawks out there, stop complaining. While the money has been allocated it hasn't gone anywhere yet. Why? Who knows. I'm sure if you ask any member of Congress (well, maybe not McCain) they will be more then happy to get some of that money for their constituents.

My advice: spend the money! Banks aren't lending, and as we learned from the Great Depression, the government needs to be the one that creates the demand to spur economic growth. There are arguments out there that another stimulus needs to be passed. But let's wait and see what this one is actually able to accomplish. Considering our infrastructure needs a lot of work, I'm willing to bet there are plenty of roads, bridges, and highways that can use some sprucing up.

Since health care took up so much of Congress' time this year, people are frustrated they cannot see any tangible results from the stimulus or anything else. Democrats had a mandate to do something and while they can legitimately claim they got things done, none of it has taken effect yet. There have been tours here and there touting where the stimulus money has been spent (including minority leader John Boehner's district), but more needs to be done. With all the families struggling out there they need to hear it's going to get better.

From the money that had been spent, Democrats can legitimately claim it created jobs. So show me the money!