Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Thursday, February 23, 2012
"There's a limit to how much the MOEX settlement tells us about what may happen with BP and other companies involved in the spill, but it certainly signals the government is not going to seek anything approaching the maximum penalties against the other defendants," said David Uhlmann, director of the environmental law program at the University of Michigan and former head of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section. "There's no escaping the conclusion that this is an extremely small penalty in the context of the gulf oil spill."
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
"It's true that Texas entered the recession a bit later than the rest of America mainly because the state's still energy-heavy economy was buoyed by high oil prices through the first half of 2008. Also, Texas was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending.Despite that, however, from mid-2008 onward unemployment soared in Texas just as it did everywhere else.In June 2011, the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. That was less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble states like California and Florida, but it was slightly higher than the unemployment rate in New York and significantly higher than the rate in Massachusetts. By the way, one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation, thanks largely to the state's small-government approach. Meanwhile, Massachusetts has near-universal coverage thanks to health reform very similar to the "job-killing" Affordable Care Act."
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
"While I personally condemn violence of any kind, I am stunned that they are not participating more in the Tea Party, even rioting in the streets, clashing with the cops, conducting sit-ins at their colleges, interrupting political events and so on. Instead, the young people of this generation appear to be sound asleep, lethargic and seemingly unaware of how badly their generation is being royally abused by the deep-seated corruption and abuse of power in the government. They appear to be terminally stoned on apathy."
"I’ll vote for the gal or guy who says Washington is much too large, spends way too much money, taxes far too much and unfairly, who advocates for a balanced budget, has owned or worked for a successful company (not including law firms), and who believes health care and retirement is an individual’s responsibility."
"I want to shrink federal government, slash federal spending, cut taxes (especially for wealthy people like me), balance the budget by cutting services, elect businessmen who help their cronies, and you know what? Poor people deserve less medical treatment than wealthy people like me. And let 'em die in poverty. That ought to teach them responsibility"
Friday, May 20, 2011
4. AN OFFICER ENCOUNTERING A PERSON CARRYING A FIREARM OPENLY IN PHILADELPHIA SHOULD FOR THE SAFETY OF PUBLIC INVESTIGATE AS A POSSIBLE VUFA VIOLATION.
A. SINCE A SEPARATE LICENSE IS REQUIRED IN PHILADELPHIA AND IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANY OFFICER TO KNOW WHO DOES AND DOES NOT HAVE A VALID CONCEALED CARRY LICENSE, IT IS ENTIRELY REASONABLE FOR OFFICERS TO TEMPORARILY DETAIN AND INVESTIGATE ANY INDIVIDUAL CARRYING A FIREARM EXPOSED TO DETERMINE IF THE PERSON IS OPERATING WITH THE LAW.
B. IMMEDIATLEY SEIZE ANY FIREARMS FOR OFFICER SAFETY DURING THE STOP AND UNLOAD THE FIREARMS IF POSSIBLE, BUT ONLY IF IT CAN BE DONE SAFELY.
It appears as though Fiorino's poor judgment is the only thing that overtakes the officer's excessive aggression in the situation. Fiorino not only resisted the orders of an officer, an action that writers like Stossel would probably consider "combative" if Fiorino were a 25-year-old Hispanic or black man, but he audio-recorded the whole incident. It appears, to me anyway, that Fiorino just carried his gun past an officer for the sole purpose of egging on confrontation only so he could bring attention to an injustice against gun owners.
This feeling of injustice, not only limited to the Fiorino-Dougherty incident, seems to be setting off nation-wide loosening of gun regulations, an effort seemingly meant to make gun-owners feel more comfortable in public, while disregarding the safety of the general public.
In Texas and Arizona, the two state legislatures passed bills allowing guns on college campuses. The motive behind the bills is to prevent Virginia Tech-style mass shootings by allowing teachers and students to pack heat. As Texas State Senator Jeff Wentworth puts it, he wants to "put doubt in the mind of the shooter that 'maybe I shouldn't go on that campus and try to take a bunch of kids out." As the Daily Herald of Utah (a state already allowing guns on campus) said in a recent editorial, "laws banning guns on campuses are like putting signs outside every college and university saying 'Everybody here is defenseless."
Gov. Rick Perry will now have to weigh whether he agrees with such sentiment.
In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill (to the approval of higher education officials and students) for several reasons, including the bill's vague wording on the definition of an "educational institution." Brewer, a vehement defender of gun rights who is rarely on the right side of issues as I see them, was right to veto the bill. She saw what most Americans see when looking at gun rights. Guns on college campuses, grounds where young adults spend entire weekends under the influence of a whole variety of intoxicants, are a danger to more people than they are a savior.
In Ohio, however, sports fans may not be so lucky.
The legislature in the Buckeye State recently passed legislation that would allow concealed carry in bars, restaurants and "open-air arenas." The bill's proponents claim it gives citizens the ability to protect themselves because, as Rep. Danny Bubp said, "you can't always count on law enforcement to be there to protect you."
While this sounds perfectly fair, it is void of logic. The idea that people are somehow safer from violence because more people are allowed to carry guns in the presence of alcohol and testosterone (both prevalent on college campuses and sporting events) is simply ridiculous. I only hope someone tracks the amount of out-of-state students that enroll at Texas institutions from this point on. Because I can assure you if I were a parent I would have a hard time sleeping if my child were in Austin with frat boys carrying Glocks.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I just had to take a picture of this guy when I noticed the stickers on his tailgate.
I sighted him in my hometown of Bartlett (about 325 miles from the Kentucky border), he clearly has an Illinois license plate, and yet he bears a sticker for Kentucky Senate candidate and tea party darling Rand Paul -- explaining the "don't tread on me" sticker right beside the Rand Paul sticker -- proving that the desire to dismantle the federal government knows no borders.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Current unemployment among teenagers is among the highest of all age groups, and unemployment for college grads is frighteningly high, especially considering the student debt these new workers are burdened with. And the future looks rather bleak, considering any job openings for years to come will likely be filled by those who were laid off during the great recession.
Future economic prosperity depends on one major factor: education. However, for my generation, the path toward success has not only become lackluster in quality, but more and more expensive. The nation has fallen behind many others in literacy and graduation rates, while tuition at both public and private colleges has increased as much as six-fold. One parent compared taking his child to school to "driving a new Corvette to Ohio every September, leaving the keys and taking the bus home." To receive an education that will (on average) earn us 54% more money over our lifetime, we have to pay three-to-six times what our parents paid. As a result, college grads take off their caps and gowns to bear an average debt of $20,200-$33,050. This does not include the money that they or their parents pay throughout their schooling, which in some cases, costs families their homes.
For some students, the military is a viable option for paying for college, resulting in an overwhelming number of young people fighting overseas. Over three-quarters of the military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq have been under the age of 30 -- over half of such soldiers have been under the age of 24. And yet, voters aged 18-24 years old consistently have had the lowest turnout in the nation, even in the 2008 election which saw an uptick in turnout among young voters. (Click the link for downloadable data tables in Excel spreadsheet format)
For my generation, it seems apathy is easier than action. But I fear my generation will find that the consequences of apathy are far more painful than those of action. The highest voter turnout in the nation is for voters between the age of 65 and 74. The next highest turnout is among voters 75 and older. This scares me. For this means the decisions made today that impact the future (funding education, social security, environmental conservation) are being made by officials who are elected by those who will least see the results of those decisions.
In essence, our future is in the hands of people who have no vested interest in making our future bright. This is not to say our grandparents plan on ending the world as we know it; but it seems counterproductive to our own success to let decisions be made by those who will not suffer from an uneducated workforce, an ever-growing government debt, environmental disasters or the bankruptcy of social security -- all problems with bipartisan recognition, but little to no bipartisan results.
This is because politicians have learned to ignore the needs of young people. It's not because they hate us or want us to fail, but because they reap no electoral benefits from meeting our needs. Simple math says that a legislator has an easier path to reelection if he funds a program for the elderly (37 million Americans), even if it buries 18-24 year old voters (28 million Americans) in debt. After all, if only 40% of 18-24 year old voters and 70% of senior citizens -- a larger demographic -- show up at the polls, who gets their way?
More importantly, who has the most to lose as a result of these decisions? Who has the most to gain?
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
For the vast majority of the Obama presidency, Republicans have controlled the message of every issue, with little opposition from the president or Democratic leaders. As a result, every promise that made Obama popular in 2008 has been framed negatively in 2010.
In summer 2008, Obama continued to promise to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if elected. Today, combat efforts in Iraq have ceased, and Afghanistan is expected to see the same draw-down in the next 16 months. In Spring 2008, Obama debated his future secretary of state on how to reform the health care system. In Spring of 2010, health care reform legislation that was fully expected to be a centerpiece of the Obama/Democratic platform was framed as a method of killing grandmas, a tax-hike, and a bolshevik plot to grow government. After the economic collapse on September 15, 2008, Americans heard John McCain claim "the fundamentals of the economy are strong" and decided instead that Obama's economic principles would better guide the nation back to prosperity. They agreed that the wealthiest 2% need to pay their taxes like the rest of us. Today, the Bush Tax Cuts are a place where Americans seem to agree with Obama.
Polls, however, are unfavorable toward Democrats and the Obama agenda. CBS reports that an overwhelming number of polls are projecting doom for Democrats just 56 days away from election day. Somehow, Republicans have taken an agenda that was supported in the 2008 elections, and turned it into a "government takeover" that "kills jobs."
Obama, and his party leaders in congress, need to remind America what they voted for in 2008. Democrats have actually made attempts to fix the problems that have plagued America for years, while the GOP has been content with the current health care system and the growing disparity among middle America. Republicans have never been on the side of the middle class, and continue to favor tax cuts for those who least need them. Democrats, on the other hand, favor tax cuts for those who need them and actually use them. Click here for a graphic depiction of the opposing tax cuts.
Today, the GOP has no true agenda to offer America other than "we don't agree with Obama." There is little to no elaboration on what Republicans would attempt to achieve if they take over congress. Their gridlocking opposition to every bill proposed by Democrats, as seen in the highest filibuster rate in all of American history, has been their only platform. They have not offered an ounce of new solutions to the problems they created under President Bush. Even the Republican-friendly Chicago Tribune admits that the recovery act has saved or created jobs. Yet, Republicans continue to lambast "the stimulus" while leaning on it anytime they need an excuse to vote against a bill; the common excuse for voting against "spending bills" is that "we should just use unused stimulus money" despite the fact that they voted against funding the stimulus, too.
For 8 years, the Republican party controlled Washington. Over this time, what attempts did they take to fix the health care system? (none) Did they balance the budget? (no, they increased the deficit greatly) How high were gas prices? ($4+ a gallon) How many wars did they start and then stall? (2) Did they find Bin Laden? (no) Did higher education become more affordable? (no, tuition increased by 30%) Who more greatly benefitted from their tax policies? (the wealthy) Did they leave the economy in a stable condition? (no)
So why should we elect them back into power? (...)
The more important question: why isn't our president asking voters these same questions? (he would probably rather run for re-election against a "do-nothing" congress like Truman and Clinton did)
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Two candidates in Illinois are currently being chided by the media regarding their inability to pay taxes, and yet the conversation seems to be missing the point. State Sen. Bill Brady, Republican candidate for governor and millionaire businessman, was found not to have paid taxes in the last two years, using the tax code to avoid his monetary responsibilities legally. Using the same tax laws, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, was able to waive every penny of his tax liability.
Up to this point, the conversation has revolved around the idea that Gov. Pat Quinn (Brady's Democratic opponent) and Rep. Mark Kirk (Giannoulias' Republican opponent) have hit their tax-dodging opponents hard in ads and press conferences, despite the fact that while they attack their opponents, they are also attacking their partisan-colleagues. This has stumped the commentary pages of several writers, including Capitol Fax blogger Rich Miller, who only brushed over the true point of this issue in the weekend edition of the Sun Times.
"Brady's businesses had tanked with the economy, and he used various tax laws, including President Obama's stimulus program, to get a complete refund of his state and federal income taxes one year and of his federal taxes the next. Those refunds included all taxes withheld from Brady's legislative paycheck"
Note the part about the "stimulus program." I remember the battle on capitol hill when newly-inaugurated President Obama was pushing for spending programs to reignite a stalling economy.
While Republicans were vague on their solutions to the Bush recession, they were clear about one thing. Rather than spend, we need to cut taxes. Rather than block the bill, they would alter it. So Democrats compromised and put billions of dollars in tax cuts into the recovery act -- billions which are included in the price tag now berated in GOP campaign speech.
When the Republicans did offer an alternative recovery bill, its cost was only slightly cheaper than the Democrats' bill but its foundation was $430 billion in tax cuts, almost $180 billion more in tax cuts than the Democrats' bill that passed. According to CNN, that was even less than Republican leadership wanted, saying "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans appear to want to limit the stimulus to tax cuts and addressing the housing crisis."
Tax cuts, according to supply-side Republicans, are good for the economy because they create jobs. After all, if we cut taxes for wealthy businessmen (i.e. Brady and Giannoulias) then those wealthy businessmen can create jobs. So why aren't we asking them how many jobs they've created or saved with the money from their tax-cut?
Giannoulias, as his opponent claims, is worth $7 million. His family's bank was tanking, and so he was able to avoid his taxes, yet the bank is still going out of business. So did his ability to avoid his taxes save any jobs? According to NBC Chicago, Brady was earning $500,000-a-year for several years prior to the economic downfall. In 2008 and 2009, however, he was down to $116,679 and $119,900 respectively, in annual earnings. NBC says over the recorded period of time, Brady laid off a good portion of his construction employees and more than half of the workforce in his realty business. So how many jobs did Brady create while avoiding his obligations to Uncle Sam's coffers?
This is the question that no one is asking. Why do wealthy businessmen like Brady and Giannoulias get to avoid taxes at the expense of those who can least afford to pay them? After all, Brady's real estate business most likely benefited from government spending when the same recovery act that slashed his taxes offered huge tax credits to new home buyers. And his construction company is very likely to have picked up a few contracts from schools, post offices, or other public buildings. And Giannoulias has admitted himself that his bank received aid from the FDIC.
So why don't these wealthy businessmen have to pay for their services received? Families struggling to pay bills have to make their payments to the government, and its only because they can't claim to create jobs. But apparently, neither can wealthy businessmen.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
After Tuesday's multi-state primary, a few results have shown trends regarding anti-incumbent or supposed anti-Obama sentiment speaking for themselves in the election results in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. However, the silliness of such broad-brushing at the ballot box ("throw 'em all out!") seems to have met the morning sun, and it doesn't look as pretty as it did last night. It looks ugly to everyone.
In Kentucky, a story has emerged and already been drained by pundits, as Tea Party champion Rand Paul (son of libertarian guru/yahoo Ron Paul) captured the Republican nomination for Senate. The morning after his nomination, newspapers and television news coverage shed some light on situations in which Paul dodged questions on civil rights until eventually saying he just thinks private ownership should allow business members to discriminate against anyone they so choose. Quotes have also surfaced saying he wants to repeal the Americans with Disabilities Act and supposedly has said he would eliminate the Department of Agriculture. Even in conservative Kentucky, last night's decision doesn't seem to look so good in daylight.
For Charlie Crist in Florida, the Tea Party struck before results could seal his fate. He will run in November as an independent. Despite his centrist reputation, Crist's chances against Florida House speaker/tea party favorite Marco Rubio, are slim given the amount of RNC money Rubio will have at hand. However, his targeted voters are likely to be more from Republican demographics than the state's Democratic base. Today's averages on RealClearPolitics show Crist and Rubio neck and neck, with both leading the Democratic nominee. In the end, Florida will likely elect a Senator who carries roughly 35-40% of the vote, leaving 60% of the state unsatisfied with their Senator-elect.
As a result, the Republicans could be destroyed by independent-repellent candidates nominated by Tea Party voters in their primaries, creating an energized Democratic base and eliminating the likelihood of a 1994 repeat. Joe Klein of Time put it best today:
"If Democrats play their cards right, by November most Americans will know that Medicare is government health care, that social security is a government pension service, that all the bank bailout money either has been paid back or will be covered by a modest tax on too-big-to-fail banks, that the Obama stimulus package mostly consisted of tax cuts for them and support for necessary local government functions like schools and cops--and that the jobs-creating aspects of the stimulus package have been remarkably free of corruption."I can only hope the Democrats play their cards right. Because while I enjoy watching the apparent fracturing of the Republican party, I fear the idea of men like Rand Paul even being one of a hundred Senators. With a "one-or-the-other" election system, unfortunately, it is quite likely we will see the junior Paul on Capitol Hill.
Monday, March 1, 2010
I'm not enamored with some of Obama's decisions (such as his recent extension of the Patriot Act) or the Senate that was supposed to have a "filibuster-proof" super majority. But I still feel like the ideas of Democrats, however similar they sometimes seem to those of Republicans, are better than those of the GOP. As Republicans continue to proclaim that the handful of elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts carry some meaning, they seem to ignore that the elections of 2008 had a greater meaning -- America does not want what Republicans are selling. And they still don't, according to Newsweek polling:
48% ApproveApprove of Obama's handling of health-care?
39% ApproveApprove of how Democrats in Congress are handling health-care?
9% Don't know
27% ApproveApprove of how Republicans in Congress are handling health-care?
12% Don't know
21% ApproveBetter Approach to:
16% Don't know
49% ObamaThe Deficit
46% ObamaSo if America is so fed up with Obama, where is the loss of support that we keep hearing about? I have yet to see believable numbers to tell me that America no longer desires health-care reform, withdrawal from Iraq, an end to the Bush tax-cuts for the wealthy or heavier regulation on banks, all of which Obama promised in his victorious 2008 campaign.
I do, however, believe in the anti-incumbency sentiments that have shown themselves in polls. However, this "throw the bums out" thing seems silly being that the replacement to "the bums" are slightly older bums, who have already failed in creating progress or prosperity.
So I suggest a slightly less broad-brushing issue to base your vote upon: which candidates will better deliver a change from today's status quo?
Corporations and the wealthiest Americans still enjoy small tax liabilities, we're still in Iraq, we still haven't found Osama Bin Laden, health-care providers can still exponentially raise your premiums or drop you at anytime, banks and creditors are still charging ridiculous fees and interest rates while borrowing money from the government, we're still losing jobs to foreign workers, and the national debt is still increasing.
All of these problems could be traced to 8 years of Republican failures, and few of them can be changed in the 13 short months from the time Obama took office until now. Republicans always cut taxes for the largest earners before anyone else, they offer few solutions beyond "tort reform" when it comes to health care, they always side with banks when it comes to deregulation, they see no threat to free trade and tripled the national debt in 8 years after being handed a budget surplus. What change can you expect from Republicans on any of these problems?
Sunday, February 7, 2010
This is not only a sentiment of what was then a resilient Democratic Party, unlike today's which seems to whimper at any GOP threats of obstruction after, of course, letting Republicans add amendments to whatever they will ultimately vote against. This is a sentiment to why obstructionism has never been so rampant as it is today.
The most sickening modern example of a minority party stranglehold is that of Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). He has put a unilateral hold on confirming more than 70 nominees for homeland security posts. The senators protest not only comes at a time when the nation is fighting 2 wars and piecing together intelligence from a failed suicide bomber, but it comes out of selfish concerns. Says Politico:
"Shelby is frustrated over the Pentagon’s bidding process for air-to-air refueling tankers, which could lead to the creation of jobs in Mobile, Ala. And spokesman Jonathan Graffeo said in a statement the senator is also “deeply concerned” that the administration “will not release” funds already appropriated for a Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center to be built in Alabama."
Yes, you read that right. A Republican senator is angry because his state didn't get an earmark project, reportedly worth $40 billion. While his caucus complains that we're driving the federal deficit to dangerous heights, Shelby just wants to make sure his state can get the gravy. Not only does he want his state to get the contract, he wants it awarded to Northrop Grumman/EADs, who coincidentally donated $28,000 to his coffers over the last two election cycles.
And this is why Washington does not work. It is because the Republican powers-that-be refuse to surrender to the belief that elections should have consequences. While they crusaded at the turn of the century that we should be installing democratic governments around the world, the GOP has ignored our nation's democratic foundations.
In 1919, the nineteenth amendment (women's suffrage) passed the Senate with the signatures of only 56 senators. Had the minority party of the 66th congress been as politically sadistic as today's Republicans, women would have been denied the democratic rights they enjoy today. In the state of Tennessee, the 36th and therefore final necessary state to ratify the amendment, the ratification passed the general assembly by one vote. Even at the state level, decisions to obstruct American progress were put aside.
**As a side note, the list of states that quickly ratified the 19th amendment can still be viewed today as some of the most progressive states -- Illinois was the first to ratify, followed by Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts -- while the slowest are still today's most conservative -- South Carolina didn't ratify until 1969, followed by Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Mississippi, whose legislature didn't ratify the amendment until 1984).**
The first Gulf War was waged after H.R.J Resolution 77 only narrowly passed the Senate by a vote of 52-47. If the Democrats of 1991 (who actually had the majority) had rallied their 45 dissenting votes to filibuster the bill, the 41st president's greatest (and only) achievement would never have been.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Like almost every state in the union, Illinois is in debt. Really deep debt. The governor pitched a tax increase last March, in an effort to fix the budget deficit, but cut it from his plans in favor of pension borrowing -- a temporary fix that Quinn hoped would eliminate "tax hiker" from his opponents' attacks in 2010.
And this is the true reality of the problem. We have now reached 2010 and many of those in power have yet to offer more than temporary fixes, in fear of the always impending election cycle. No incumbent wants to risk their seat, even if their inaction means cutting much needed social services, underfunding schools (whether elementary or higher education) or passing debts to future generations.
And what do we, the people of Illinois, do about it? We keep the seats warm with the same hides, and expect new results.
Our state is in need of budget reform, and even conservative groups are starting to realize that a tax increase is a critical piece to a real solution. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a think-tank whose board hosts Jim Ryan, former Attorney General and current Gubernatorial candidate, stated it several times in a summer brief:
"Illinois has an antiquated revenue system that cannot fund public services in a modern economy. It in fact has a long‐term, structural deficit. It has already cut billions in funding for essential human services over the past decade. It is time the state faced reality and raised the revenue needed to invest in services relied upon by millions."**Note: Jim Ryan has since distanced himself from this position and others like it, now that he is running for governor**
The idea that Illinois' budget can be balanced strictly by cutting spending is as much a myth as the idea that revenue can be raised by cutting taxes. The facts are plain, but unspoken by anyone in our legislature (or the press). Our state has been funding its services on the backs of the least fortunate among us for the past decade or so.
As Jim Broadway of State School News Service points out, many budget deficit "solutions" are those that take no concern for an individual's income, but rather flat fees (such as recent hikes in drivers license fees, and local government sales tax hikes like that in Cook County) that hit the poor harder than the wealthy. And while Broadway relates these principles to schools, they can be said of almost every government program:
"For example, by over-relying on property taxes and constraining state general revenue (low, flat income tax rate, narrow sales tax base), state policy widens the local revenue gap among school districts even as it chokes off the intended “equalizing” effects of the General State Aid formula.We need to send our officials a clear message: something needs to be done to preserve a future for our state. If we replace our regressive tax system (one that taxes the wealthy at a significantly lower percent than the lower and middle class) with a progressive tax system (one that taxes the wealthy at a slightly higher percent than lower and middle class and lowers taxes for the latter) our state will not only be more equal morally, but more importantly, it will be more responsible fiscally.
The GSA was designed to ensure adequate funding even in the poorest school districts. It was based on a 50% state share of total education funding. It does not work at the 30%-33% levels we have seen in the last 15 years or so. The gap in school funding grows."
The idea that fiscal responsibility can only mean one thing -- cutting spending and lowering taxes -- as the conservative movement has always claimed, must be reversed. Fiscal responsibility means paying your bills, and little more. While lowering those bills by cutting waste is an essential part of a balanced budget, creating revenue to fund the necessary programs (schools, roads, etc.) is the most essential piece of any balanced budget. In most cases, this can only be done by raising taxes on someone. But we cannot expect our state's current leaders to do this, as they have already quietly announced intentions to ignore the problem. As Broadway concludes:
"The word currently circulating is that the legislative leaders hope they can avoid any general revenue increases until the veto session of November, after the November 2 general elections. If that is the case the state budget for FY 2011 will be a disaster for all who rely on state support – including schools."We need to make this an issue. We must ask candidates where they stand on this issue. We must ask elected officials why they refuse to act upon it. Most importantly, we need to support the candidates and incumbents who support efforts to fix the budget by raising revenue, rather than those who hope only to cut spending.
Republican gubernatorial candidates like State Senator Kirk Dillard, who promise only to lower taxes and cut spending, offer few solutions, opting rather to pander to Illinois, telling us taxes will stay where they are and all will be fine. Dillard bragged several times on Public Affairs (a local-access show) about his hopes to maintain the status-quo. In one case, Dillard even has the ignorance to claim that tax increases will inhibit school reforms.
"There’s got to be massive school reform, so it’s ridiculous for anybody to talk about a tax increase. I’m not for a tax increase and I believe I’m the best candidate, with my managerial skills, to stop a tax increase.."The only thing more disgusting than elected officials who do not recognize a problem are those who recognize a problem and choose not to properly fix it.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
But that is why I find myself so enraged with the Catholic institution as it declares itself today. I was apparently wrong about everything I (thought I) learned about the teachings of Christ. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops signaled last week that the nation's sick and suffering (those people we bless every Sunday) will always come second to the unborn; and now the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. has informed me that their hatred toward gay rights will always be prioritized above helping the poor (those people Jesus told us to help).
The Washington Post reported last week that the archdiocese told the City Council that if a gay-marriage bill passes as expected, the church would kill all their contracts with the city. Though this bill does not require any church to recognize same-sex marriage or accommodate same-sex marriage ceremonies, the church says if the bill passes they would be forced to give employee benefits to same-sex couples -- as if any homosexuals would feel welcome in a Catholic church, let alone working for one.
Ending the agreement between the city and the archdiocese would mean ending services such as health care and adoption services to tens of thousands of people, and shuddering shelters that service a third of Washington's homeless.
It just reinforces to me my premonitions about the church: we don't care about America's poor or sick if gays are given equal legal rights. Notice the italicized word: legal -- governmental and secular -- not religious.
What is most shocking in this case is not only that they are willing to leave a third of Washington's homeless on the street and end healthcare services, but they are also willing to end adoption services. You read that right. The church would rather inhibit adoption, commonly accepted as the most humane substitute to abortion, than do business with a town that allows a two gay men the equal rights of a married heterosexual.
This aspect of the church's attitudes continues with the church's comments on an amendment to the marriage bill. The amendment would have given individuals the rights to decline services for same-sex weddings. The amendment was rejected by a council committee and Susan Gibbs, the archdiocese spokeswoman said the following (paraphrased by the Washington Post):
Gibbs said Wednesday that without Alexander's amendment and other proposed changes, the measure has too narrow an exemption. She said religious groups that receive city funds would be required to give same-sex couples medical benefits, open adoptions to same-sex couples and rent a church hall to a support group for lesbian couples.Again, the church is not only ignoring the fact that lesbian couples are not likely to feel welcome in a church hall, but they reject the idea that same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt a child. It seems as if "Adoption, not abortion" bumper stickers need to be supplemented with adjacent stickers proclaiming "as long as applicants are not gay, do not support gays, and don't support government-run healthcare."
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I think that race in particular gives us a peek to the future of the Republican party. After being unhappy with Dede Scozzafava, the moderate candidate who won the Republican primary, the 23rd district's conservatives (who apparently didn't vote for a more conservative candidate in that primary) endorsed an independent Conservative party candidate, Doug Hoffman, along with national GOP figure heads like Sarah Palin. After losing the support of Republicans in her district, Scozzafava dropped out of the race, endorsing the Democrat. In Florida, Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite has already been threatened by a primary contender for showing support for her fellow Republican. Said Brown-Waite of the attacks on Scozzafava:
"I don't want to see females in the Republican Party saying, 'Wait a minute,they're going to destroy me, they're going to distort every vote I've ever taken,' and that's really why I felt so strongly about going up there."
Fact: Out of the 217 Republicans in the House and Senate, only 20 are women -- 9 percent. The Democratic party has 346 members in the legislative branch, 63 of which are women -- 18 percent.
The health care debate really proved to me that a woman's legal rights are no more than a device for advancing the Republican agenda and riling up their base. The Pitts-Stupak amendment, though sponsored by a Democrat from Michigan's conservative upper peninsula, was used by Republicans solely to get the religious right involved in their efforts to kill health care reform. The amendment to the Democratic health care bill (H.R. 3962) was meant to restrict women who purchase health coverage from the government or in the public exchange from ever receiving an abortion, even if paid for with 100% of the woman's private funds. This makes an abortion the only legal medical procedure that would not be allowed, even if the procedure is paid for without the assistance of the federal government or a private insurer.
As far as Republicans are concerned, it seems, abortion is the only way to make people of religion care about an issue that should otherwise be supported by my fellow Catholics. The involvement of lobbyists representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the wording of the Stupak amendment is the only aspect of this ploy more disturbing than the destruction of a woman's rights for political gain. Not only does it bother me that the Catholic church pays lobbyists, but the violation of a constitutional separation between church and state could not be more apparent when you literally have representatives of the Catholic Church in talks with the Speaker of the House.
The following are wishes from the Catholic Bishops' website, regarding health care:
- a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity
- access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of immigrants
- pursuing the common good and preserving pluralism including freedom of conscience and variety of options
- restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
"You have to put in something where there is downside to people who really mess up large institutions," Buffett said in an interview conducted by Business Wire, the Berkshire subsidiary that posts corporate press releases. "Too many people have walked away from the troubles they have created for society, not just for their own institution, and they have walked away rich."Buffett goes on to invite regulation for Wall Street, a sector of America's economy which will likely see a 40% increase in bonuses, according to Johnson Associates Inc., consultants in compensation. Though the bonuses have not yet reached pre-meltdown levels, Buffett says there is little incentive for executives to earn their bonuses.
"What you have to change in Wall Street, is you have to make sure that in addition to carrots, there are sticks," he said. "And it can't be a one-way street where they are making ungodly amounts of money when things are good and then they move on to someplace else for a while when things are bad."Buffett clarifies that he does not think Wall Street is inherently "evil" but rather that it is "given to huge excess sometimes."
I honestly believe Warren Buffett is the only billionaire whose economic views I respect. Or he is at least the most vocal proponent of social justice in a market that has essentially been built by a government. President Obama summarized Buffett's approach in The Audacity of Hope, describing a conversation he had with Buffett in his modest Omaha office. Said Buffett:
"(The wealthy) have this idea that it's 'their money' and they deserve to keep every penny of it. What they don't factor in is all the public investment that lets us live the way we do. Take me as an example. I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I'd been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can't run very fast. I am not particularly strong. I'd probably end up as some wild animal's dinner.Buffett has even walked the walk, agreeing to accept no more than $100,000-a-year for his work as CEO of Berkshire. Not only does he pay a higher percent of taxes this way, but he leaves more for the company, its employees and its stockholders.
But I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent, and gave me a good education to develop that talent, and set up the laws and the financial system to let me do what I love doing -- and make a lot of money doing it. The least I can do is pay for it."
Imagine that, folks. A billionaire taking a 99% pay cut so that he can "spread the wealth." My favorite aspect of this is Buffett's innoculation from being called a "socialist," being that he has essentially been the poster child of the successes of capitalism for decades.
**Excerpt from The Audacity of Hope courtesy of Crown Publishing, copyright 2006**
Thursday, October 15, 2009
This is what Roskam fails to disclose honestly, when he describes the situation as a "leftist" president, Manuel Zelaya, being removed from office by the Honduran Supreme Court for seeking an abolishment to term limits. He was replaced with the president of the Honduran congress, Roberto Micheletti. Roskam not only fails to mention that Zelaya did not achieve the abolishment, but leaves out the details of Zelaya's "crimes." According to Reuters, Zelaya merely requested an unofficial vote to gauge support for his proposed reelection. Zelaya is right to question whether democracy is really in action in a region with a history of dictatorships and corruption:
"If holding a poll provokes a coup, the abduction of the president and expulsion from his country, then what kind of democracy are we living in?" Zelaya said in Costa Rica.
Roskam, and a few other Republican congressmen, have visited Honduras' interim government, rejecting the stance of the State Dept. and of the European Union, which has also condemned the coup, by meeting with the newly appointed Honduran government, which has not been formally recognized by the United States.
Roskam vails his pride in the fact that an ally of Hugo Chavez was forcefully exiled from his home country by claiming it is integral to support Honduras' upcoming elections.
"There remains a solution that will satisfy American interests, provide stability to a region in short supply of it and, most important, give Hondurans what they deserve -- fair elections. Even if the State Department will not recognize Micheletti's interim government, it should support election monitors to observe the upcoming Honduran elections.
Neither Zelaya nor Micheletti are on the ballot, nor should they be. Micheletti lost his presidential primary and has made no efforts to alter his situation. Zelaya is term-limited and his time as president has come and gone.
The silver lining will be the election of a new, legitimate leader in Honduras who will provide a counterbalance to Chavez's dictatorial regime."
It's hard to argue with Roskam about elections having great power. However, if democracy is to be a solution, what justifies a military coup to overthrow a democratically elected president? If democracy is the true answer to Honduras' problems, why was a referendum considered by Roskam to threaten that democracy?
What is most aggravating in this situation is that we watched right-wing pundits complain when Sean Penn, an actor, visited Hugo Chavez, because Chavez was a dictator and an enemy of America. And yet, Republican legislators visit a government not recognized by the U.S., and publically offer their support, and there is no wrongdoing.
The committee vote was basically along party lines, with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voting with the Democrats in support of the Baucus bill, which is free of a public option but rather instituting a cooperative non-profit health care insurance provider, to be run by its members.
Snowe has caught a great deal of grief since the election of Barack Obama, from conservatives and even her party's chairman, Michael Steele, who told Fox News he was "disappointed" with the bill's advancement and Snowe's vote. Yesterday, however, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also announced she would be willing to support Democratic health care reform.
What I find ironic about the Snowe-and-Collins shaming from the GOP is that it is coming from the same people who claim blue-dog opposition to progressive health care reform is just "congressmen representing their districts by opposing big government." These same people, however, ignore the fact that both Snowe and Collins are from Maine, and the polls showing that Mainers are in favor of a public option, and heavily in favor of regulating insurance providers. They're representing their constituents, and Republicans won't have it.
Steele has a history of hating on Snowe and Collins, though. He claimed he would run primary challengers against the senators, and Sen. Arlen Specter, after the three of them voted in favor of the stimulus bill. Specter essentially told Steele to "stick it up his trunk," and defected to the Democratic party.
Like I said in a post last week, Obama and the Democrats have done too much to reach across the aisle in the health care battle, in turn watering down the bill to a point that, without a public option, it looks more like a gift to insurance companies than "health care reform." However, the president's unyielding effort to make Congress work for all Americans (or at least look like it does) seem to have made him more favorable as Republicans reject his outreached hand.
I maintain faith as the bill enters the Senate. At this point, the bill has passed the most conservative vote it needed to pass and come Christmas the Baucus bill will, at worst, pass as it is written today, or at best, be merged with House bills to include a public option. The least we can say is that it will provide for a very entertaining holiday season. Hopefully, we can count on Snowe this Christmas.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
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