Wednesday, March 14, 2012

KTN IS NOW IN ARCHIVE MODE

Due to an increased course load at school and the hectic planning of my upcoming wedding, my blog has been put on hiatus for now. Displayed now are only the "best of" articles to give readers an idea of my previous political analysis and news commentary. I look forward to returning to the web in August, a married man and hopefully one semester closer to graduation.

Until later,

Ian A. Neitzke

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Election 2012: Week in Review

As part of a new weekly series, I will begin every week by discussing the week that just ended. I will generally begin with politics and carry through to other stories in sports, technology, education or other events.

Santorum falls on sword in culture war; Romney rises; Gingrich still absent
As of last week, it appeared Mitt Romney was stalling amid the rise of cultural issues. Polls in Arizona and Michigan -- two states that were long expected to be friendly territory for the former governor -- showed him losing ground to Santorum, with Newt Gingrich appearing to have fallen into obscurity. Today, however, Romney seems to have benefited from spending and strong debate performances. In Wednesday's debate, Romney slammed Santorum for his support of Arlen Specter and "No Child Left Behind." Between the pro-Romney SuperPAC and the Romney campaign, the two outspent every other Republican candidate combined in the month of January. And it's paying off. Today's poll numbers on RealClearPolitics:

Romney 38.2%
Santorum 30%
Gingrich 16%
Paul 8%

Santorum 33.8%
Romney 33.2%
Paul 10.4%
Gingrich 8.6%

What I am interested to see is whether Gingrich allows Santorum to take the lead on representing conservatives against the moderate Romney. Despite saying he would stay in the race until the convention, it seems as though he has given up the combative tone he espoused when he was contesting races in early states. The longer he stays in this race, however, the closer we get to my dream of a brokered convention.

Either way, general election numbers still look favorable for the president. Nationally, he leads all four candidates in the RealClearPolitics averages by a respectable margin, and in key swing states, he seems to be holding his own:

Obama 44.5%
Romney 42.8%

Obama 45.4%
Romney 45%

Obama 44%
Romney 41.8%

Obama 46%
Romney 44%

Drones cleared to fly over U.S.
The Federal Aviation Administration has been given the okay by congress to clear American air space for drone aircraft for the sake of "civil service missions." Most articles I've found on this strike an alarmist tone, understandable considering the possibilities this opens for the ever-dreaded "big brother." Drones provide a (relatively) low-cost, low-casualty option for U.S. forces, but the ethical debate regarding the distance between the warrior and his enemy is always a heated one. If Americans have a problem with drones over their homes, perhaps they should question the morality of flying them elsewhere. For more interesting info on UAV's, go here.

BP Oil investor to pay record fine
A Japanese firm that held a minority stake in the infamous oil spill rig of 2010 has agreed to pay $90 million in damages, a fine that the Obama administration heralds as the largest of its kind. However, independent analysts say the penalty leaves them pessimistic about future settlements with larger players, like the rig's owner.

"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."
Prelim-Lin-ary Linsanity
The Wall Street Journal ran a story last Thursday about Ed Weiland, an average basketball fan who predicted the successes of Jeremy Lin years ago while Lin was playing in the Ivy League. Apparently, the Fed-Ex driver wrote for a basketball blog about seeing Lin play against strong teams in non-conference play and was impressed by specific stats, predicting that Lin was "a good enough player to start in the NBA and possibly star."

Perhaps I am envious of this every-man-turned-prognosticator, but I feel like this story is the official sign of Linsanity becoming simply exhausted. How many sites did the Journal scour to find some random guy who took a chance on a no-name college basketball player to say that the kid would eventually become a "star?" Even that title that is still today premature. This is oddly reminiscent of the 20-something blogger who pushed for Sarah Palin's candidacy for VP as early as February of 2007 -- a year into her term as governor.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The real Texas: what Rick Perry fails to tell America

After entering the presidential race and effectively overshadowing the all-important/not-at-all-important Ames Straw Poll over the weekend, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) is starting to be uncovered by progressive writers across America. Nobel-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman effectively exposed Texas' job growth during the recession, dubbed by Perry and his supporters as the "Texas Miracle."
"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."
The numbers Krugman leaves out of his column only support his point. He fails to mention that the housing crisis partially missed Texas because the Lone Star State ranks 45th in home ownership -- put simply, there are just fewer mortgages to default on in Texas. And according to the census bureau, Texas ranks 41st in doctors per capita, with Massachusetts unsurprisingly ranking first. All the bottom ten in this ranking, with the exception of Iowa, are all heavily Republican states and most are in the south. All the top ten, on the other hand are all heavily Democratic states and with the exception of Hawaii, are all in New England. Infant mortality rates in these states closely trend with the doctors-per-capita numbers, with Texas ranking 31st and Massachusetts ranking 49th, meaning only Washington state had a lower infant mortality rate.

This trend is normal in most life-quality statistics.

In the category of "persons over 25 with a bachelors degree," Texas ranks 30th, well above most Southern states, but far behind Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Colorado, and New Jersey which top the list, respectively. With the exception of Colorado, all the top 5 also rank in the top 10 in salaries for elementary and secondary teachers. In this category, Texas ranks 29th.

And statistics support Democrats like Gov. Pat Quinn (D-IL) when he says "jobs follow brainpower." Personal income, average annual pay, and median household income in Quinn's state, as well as heavily liberal states like Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey all rank well above Texas. And all these states have far lower percentages of citizens living below poverty level, where Texas ranks a staggering 8th.

This is why Perry chooses to focus on pure numbers of job creation, rather than more telling percentages. But if America wants to walk the road Texas has built since Perry became governor -- in 2000, when he succeeded George W. Bush -- then jobs will be the least of our concerns.

ADDITIONAL LINKS:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do Millennials really care about the national debt?

Guitar-player-turned-political-loudmouth, and former DuPage County resident Ted Nugent has made a hobby of writing for the conservative-leaning Washington Times in recent months, and a few weeks ago, he touched on a topic he thinks he still understands: young people.

The 62-year-old musician, generously deemed by the Times to be "an American rock 'n' roll, sporting and political activist icon" took a swing at my generation in late June, claiming my generation (the Millennials, Gen Y, whatever you call us) are not upset enough about being "royally abused" by the government.
"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."
What Nugent doesn't seem to understand is that young people are not terribly torn up about the debt. Not because we think it does not exist -- we do, and we will likely never live like our parents because of it -- but because the debt has largely been accrued by giving one gift after another to affluent baby-boomers while repeatedly divesting from young people.

College tuition today costs twice what it did in the decade (the 1980's) in which we were born. The cost of living is continually rising, while wages for our generation are lower than our predecessors, despite being deemed "the most educated generation in American history." We are paying more and getting less. And by the looks of today's political discourse, it would appear that we are being ignored.

According to Pew Research, we are more likely than any living generation to identify ourselves as "liberal," we believe in shrinking the defense department, we want more domestic spending, and we rank "help[ing] others in need" in our top three priorities -- only behind being a "good parent" and "having a successful marriage." In fact, we put helping others above "having lots of free time," "having a high-paying career," and even "owning a home."

This data supports the title of "we generation," but clashes with the politics of the Nuge. From a column titled "Can't buy me love":
"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."
Code for:
"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"
The reassuring part of this story is that young people don't give a damn what Ted Nugent says.

The sad part is that some young people don't give a damn what happens in government. That's the only thing Ted Nugent is right about.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Gun rights gone wrong

A recent story out of Philadelphia has been grabbed by conservative media regarding a man named Mark Fiorino. The 25-year-old IT worker began carrying a pistol as a self-defense measure after some of his friends were reportedly mugged. On a February afternoon, he was stopped by an officer who immediately pulled his gun and asked Fiorino to show his hands. After Fiorino questioned the officer's motives -- a sign of disrespect equal to the officer calling Fiorino "junior" which apparently aggravated the 25-year-old -- the officer, Sgt. Michael Dougherty, started shouting at the man to drop to his knees and called for back up. Fiorino resisted the officer's requests, leading to the officer getting only more aggressive, a natural reaction from any police officer facing resistance. While the officer tells the young man that he cannot carry a firearm openly in the city of Philadelphia, Fiorino arrogantly tells him that "it is kind of disrespectful to ask me to get on my knees" and that under "directive 137" his Pennsylvania concealed carry license gives him the right to carry a firearm in his waist holster.

If you read the full text of Directive 137, it would appear that Fiorino and conservative bloggers like John Stossel stopped reading after the part that made Philly an open carry city again. From article 4 of the directive:

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.

OTHER LINKS: See Comedian Stephen Colbert sum up the Ohio guns-in-sporting-events bill perfectly

Monday, January 24, 2011

Anti-union aggression from newly elected officials is simply scapegoating


Only months after their wave of victories, newly elected Republican governors and legislators are becoming more aggressive against what they consider to be the biggest drain on the economy: public-worker unions. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker put his opinions bluntly shortly after his November victory.

"You're not going to hear me degrade state and local employees in the public sector," Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in December. "But we can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and the taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots."

Walker's anti-union rhetoric likely stems from their attempts to keep him out of the governor's mansion (unions donated $395,629 to Walker's opponent, $83,570 of which came from the public-sector unions) but his assessment that public-sector workers make fortunes off at the expense of taxpayers is simply logic-free. Public-sector unions such as Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) pay their employees considerably less than private workers doing comparable work -- 11 to 12% less according to a report by the National Institute for Retirement Security.

The idea that public unions are a drain on state budgets is not supported only by Walker, however. Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio told the Columbus Dispatch he opposes prevailing wages (paying state-employed construction firms the same wages they would receive if they performed similar work for private employers) a year after saying he wanted to "break the back of organized labor in schools." Such sentiment is not universally Republican, either.

In the Democrat-run Illinois General Assembly, the turn of the new year meant a push for legislation known as "Performance Counts," which includes a provision which would "all but eliminate teachers right to strike" according to WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. Business interests of Illinois, such as the state's Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Business roundtable, have lined up behind the proposal; as has a group called Stand for Children, an out-of-state group that donated $600,000 to candidates in hopes of school reforms.

Attacks on public employees are not simply restricted to state-level legislators either. Congressional candidates, especially those in the newly elected Republican majority, decried federal spending as being "bloated" and federal employment as being "on steroids."

"We need to cut federal employment back to 2008 levels," Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN 6) declared on Meet the Press in September 2010. This was shortly after the "Pledge to America" which took shape as legislation in January 2011. The legislation aims to cut $2.5 trillion from the federal budget, which includes eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, massive cuts to railroad subsidies, and of course a repeal of the Davis-Bacon Act which makes prevailing wage a requirement for federal construction projects.

It is quite easy to say public employees need to take a pay-cut in times of budget deficits and economic uncertainty. But it is much more difficult to make it work. As the Associated Press points out, these "cuts would affect millions of people."

Can anybody say with absolute sincerity that their local librarian is overpaid? Does any American actually believe that a firefighter deserves a pay cut? Does anyone truly feel their post office is adequately staffed? Is it fair to tell children that their teachers are, as Scott Walker believes, becoming wealthy at the expense of their parents? Does your village actually need less park district workers? Better yet, does it need less police officers?

Because ultimately this is what politicians are telling us when they say spending cuts need to be made. And this is why public-sector unions don't donate to candidates who say they intend to cut-cut-cut their way out of a budget shortfall. These politicians have dehumanized the public servants which they intend to fire if and when they are elected. To them, the 3% budget cut is a step in balancing the budget. But to police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, librarians, teachers, public health workers, and other public servants, that means pay freezes or pay cuts -- both of which are technically the same when inflation is plugged into wage calculation -- or worse, layoffs. And at a time when the economy is in shambles, is it really smart to cut jobs?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Illinois Tea Party member doesn't know where he lives



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

Young voters need to show up like their future depends on it

For my generation -- born in 1987, I am told I am considered a member of "generation Y" or a "millennial," for whatever that's worth -- there are hopefully many prosperous years to come. American parents have always promised a brighter future for their children. But today, high school and college graduates have, for the first time, been told that they may not start climbing the economic ladder from the point at which their parents left them. The future looks grim for my generation, and yet it seems we are poised to watch social security go bankrupt, funding for our schools slashed, our jobs shipped overseas, our environmental beauty depleted and our peers sent to fight wars. All of these problems result from decisions are made by elected officials, and yet they are not elected by my generation. For that, I fear the future for Americans under 30.

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

Is Obama hoping to run against a Republican congress in 2012?

Labor Day weekend is considered by many political circles to be the last "official start" of general election season, preceded by Memorial Day and Independence Day. For Democrats and the President, the season's beginning still seems a procrastination.

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

Brady, Giannoulias being asked the wrong questions

Why aren't we asking them how many jobs they've created or saved with the money from their tax-cut?

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

Advice for the Tea Party: Disband for the sake of the GOP, the nation

Disclaimer: I am not actually hopeful that a member of the Tea Party will actually heed the warnings I am about to ominously dispense.

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

Why "Change" Should Still Be the Theme of 2010

In 2008, America swept a new looking president into office on promises of "change we can believe in," seeking nothing more than to escape the fruit of 8 years of Republican rule. And yet, 10 years after the election of George W. Bush, it seems we are still suffering the consequences of his decisions and a Republican congress that rubber stamped them. So why not continue to ask for "change?"

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:

Obama Approval

48% Approve
40% Disapprove
Approve of Obama's handling of health-care?
39% Approve
52% Disapprove
9% Don't know
Approve of how Democrats in Congress are handling health-care?
27% Approve
61% Disapprove
12% Don't know
Approve of how Republicans in Congress are handling health-care?
21% Approve
63% Disapprove
16% Don't know
Better Approach to:
The Economy
46% Obama
30% GOP
Jobs
49% Obama
26% GOP
The Deficit
42% Obama
33% GOP
Iraq
45% Obama
30% GOP
Afghanistan
46% Obama
27% GOP
So 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

What if every congress was like todays GOP?

Throughout America's history, minority parties have been forced to accept defeat in narrow numbers. Today's minority, however, has become so obstructionist as to hold the Senate at a stand-still unless they are given their way or until they win back power.

Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina is the most evoked figure of American history when discussing the filibuster, remembered for his 24 hour and 18 minute attempt to kill the Civil Rights Act of 1957. However, the word "attempt" seems the most crucial in this rememberance. Unlike today's congressional requirements, Thurmond actually had to talk for an entire 24 hours and 18 minutes in an attempt to bore congress out of voting for the bill, and yet the Senate still listened to his droning readings and rantings only to pass the bill 2 hours after his discussion ended.

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 fact, the Republican minority in the 111th congress is on path to destroy the previous record of 112 filibusters (set by the GOP minority in the 110th congress) and has done so strictly in efforts to score political points. One can only imagine what our history would look like if every minority party had decided to follow this strategy.

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

Illinois' budget crisis diagnosed, but cure is ignored



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.

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."
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 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

Catholic church: The less fortunate are less important than stopping gay rights

I don't like the fact that this is now my second post in a row directed at the Catholic church. As I have stated before, I am a Catholic and, despite disagreeing with the church as an institution, I believe to have constructed my moral foundation in the pews and religious education classrooms of Catholic parishes, and further supported it for 4 years in an active role in a Catholic youth group.

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

Women and Catholics are in need of true representation

Though they won both gubernatorial races a week ago, the GOP doesn't appear to be in any better a place than before the "sweep." Muddled polls have shown little animosity toward a president sworn by Republicans to be unpopular; and while Republicans Chris Christie and Bob McDonnell won New Jersey and Virginia (respectively), both congressional special elections were won by Democrats, including the NY-23 race. Portions of that district haven't been represented by a Democrat in more than a century.

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."
Is this the future for the Republican party? Are pro-choice candidates (like Tom Ridge) unwelcome regardless of their stances on big government? Are gay-friendly candidates shooed from the party, regardless of their pushes for populist tax-cuts? Most importantly, are women even welcome in the GOP anymore?

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
Note the surprisingly "socialist" language italicized above, before noting that all 4 of these wishes closely resemble what Democrats have proposed, and until the Stupak amendment was involved, not one Catholic could have cared about this bill. So my question is this: now that the Stupak amendment has been approved, will the Catholic church work as hard to pass this bill for the benefit of the living as it did for the benefit of the unborn?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big Buff always says it best

As the second richest American, Warren Buffett (sorry to mislead Blackhawks fans with my headline) usually makes the best arguments on the side of regulation and greed-capping. An article in today's Chicago Sun-Times (via Bloomberg) reported that Buffett, CEO of investment company Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said failure should be punished on Wall Street, rather than being shrugged off.
"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.

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."
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.

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

Roskam misleads on Honduras

In an op-ed in today's Chicago Tribune, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL-6) explained his reasoning for why the Obama administration should support the upcoming elections in Honduras. Roskam's point of view is from one that appears to be centrist, but in reality is in agreement with his far-right Republicans like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who claimed there is more chaos in "the Obama administration's policy toward our poor and loyal allies in Honduras," than in the nation itself. Honduras was overturned when a sitting president was ousted by the army over which he was to oversee.

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.

Battle is only starting for health care reform, Maine Republicans

After the Baucus bill passed by a vote of 14-9 out of the Senate Finance Committee, health care reform looks more alive today than it has at any other time in decades. However, the battle is nowhere near over, as the bill will be open for full Senate debate in coming months. And it will be months, with modest predictions saying the bill will pass by Christmas.

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

Olbermann: Health care is a human right

Say what you will about Keith Olbermann, but his point was clear last night in his hour-long "special comment": health care should be a universal human right.