Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A whirlwind controversy

Eric Cantor recently went on record saying that any money sent to Joplin MO to aid in the recovery and reconstruction after the massive amount of tornado damage there should only be sent after an equivalent amount is cut from other programs.

In other words, Cantor is saying that thousands of American citizens will be left without federal aid (in other words, held hostage) in order to push the GOP's agenda of spending cuts to federal programs.

As far as I know, we are still sending money overseas to pay for disaster relief. We are certainly still paying oil companies billions in tax dollars so they won't raise the gas prices. No one has ever suggested that we balance those expenditures by cutting the money from other programs. Yet, when American citizens are suffering and in desperate need for help, the Right comes up with this ultimatum: cut the money from somewhere else, or they get nothing.

Update: Jon Stewart takes up the the story against Cantor.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Abortion Debate

This is probably the single most divisive issue in our political realm today. The unique aspect surrounding abortion is that is primarily a moral or ethical issue rather than a political, economic, or social one. The people who support abortion and those who don't are not broken cleanly on party lines as with other issues. The debate has, until recently, been put to rest by the compromise that keeps federal money from being used to fund abortions in exchange for the freedom of women to choose an abortion when they feel it is right for them.

In the past few years, however, this compromise has been dropped by those on the Right who are now pushing for tough sanctions, bans, and criminalization of abortion state- or nation-wide. It's a symptom of the new conservative movement, led by individuals who have been listening to GOP talking points so long that they honestly believe them and are willing to take a stand on the issues that the conservative party has built its base around.

In the case of abortion, the continued legal status of the procedure meant that the conservatives could appeal to the religious "right" that disagreed with it, thus strengthening their voter base. By doing this, and then not passing legislation to ban or limit abortions, GOPers kept their base strengthened and their votes from one election cycle to the next. In the new conservative world, this is no longer acceptable. Conservatives are expected to not only speak along the party lines, but get results on what they preach as well. This has resulted in a recent rush of abortion limitations being passed all over the country.

These steps being taken across the country have systematically dismantled a long-standing health safety net for women in America. Many states now require women to go through special screening processes, pay for their abortions out of pocket, and have voted to defund organizations such as Planned Parenthood (despite the law that says such organizations cannot use those funds for abortion services). The results of all of this has been that women are now in a very precarious situation. Their innate right to dictate what happens to and within their own bodies is being taken away because someone else's morals do not believe in what they have a right to do.

Personally, I am pro-life, but I would never, NEVER, support legislation that would limit the rights of another individual because my personal beliefs are not supported. By destroying the safe havens for abortions that exist in our country, we are bringing ourselves back to a point where women who need or want an abortion must go through dangerous and illegal avenues to attain one. How is this meant to foster a healthy, happy society of people with mutual respect for each others diverse beliefs and opinions?

Best. Cover letter. Ever.

In this job market, you've got to market yourself well. I'm currently looking into a new line of work, and it can be a challenge just getting people's attention.

Thankfully, we have Roanald.

Just take a look at this cover letter, and let it be an example for you. It certainly inspired me. I know that, no matter how bad things get, I've still got one-up on this guy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pointing out the fox-ocrisy

Jon Stewart's rant/rap regarding the hypocrisy of Fox News's outrage at the rapper Common being invited to the White House. He makes some great points about the double-standard, and even manages to put it to verse!

And here is the follow up debate that Bill O'Reilly challenged Jon to after his performance.

CFPB Hearing

Elizabeth Warren, head of the still-forming Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was brought before a congressional committee to answer questions regarding her bureau's budget, intentions, limitations, and structure. What followed was more about character assassination, lying, and distorted political mud-slinging than actually getting answers to important questions.

Watch the video and read the portion of the transcript that is provided in this article to see what I mean.

The discussion was not so much about how the CFPB would operate, but how it was an entitled entity, and Warren was an arrogant bureau chief who felt that she was above the laws and regulations that define her position. It's pretty obvious from the video that this isn't the case.

GOPers on the committee tried hard to cast the CFPB as unconstitutional, overly powerful, immune to oversight, and a financial black hole. Warren systematically destroyed each and every one of these notions, plus more besides, all while keeping her cool in the face of stiff opposition.

It got the point where Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C) argued that Warren was trying to skip out on the proceedings when she reminded them that they were running over their agreed ending time. He even accused her of lying about their agreed time limit, and even refused to apologize when it was brought to his attention that he had been mistaken.

Overall, it was a wonderful performance by Elizabeth Warren, a shameful display by committee GOPers, and an interesting look at how our nation is being run these days.

If you want to see Elizabeth Warren chatting with Jon Stewart, here's a link to the full episode in which she appears as a guest.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The extremism of ideology

Newt Gingrich, until recently a highly praised conservative Republican who then shot his character and campaign in the face by voicing a personal opinion that was not in line with the party, made a good point recently about keeping one ideology from completely overwhelming the political landscape. His comments were in reference to Paul Ryan's fiscal plan, and went along the lines of saying that a far-right conservative totality of political influence is just as undesirable as a far-left liberal totality of political influence.

That's a great point to make, and one that has been missing in recent months as everyone has been so focused on attacking the President and the Left for their policies. No one stopped to question the validity of the arguments and plans coming from the Right. Until Newt. And he got shellacked by his own supporters for being so "anti-ideologue" with his opinions.

So here's a great example of extremes in the form of an Onion article by Larry Boudrias.It relates, in a humorous way but with a serious point, the consequences of absolute extremes to either the Right or Left. On the one hand, you have the glorification of minorities, the humanization of plants and animals, and freedom to do anything you want. On the other hand you have privatization of everything from schools to currency, you have a pure free market where everyone is an unwilling participant, and you have a militaristic state to keep order. It's meant to be a joke, but it makes a good point.

One of the things that the GOP, and the Tea Party in particular, have got wrong is the belief that they don't have to compromise on their positions and that everyone will simply agree with them. They don't feel that they should have to make any concessions, which results in nothing getting done. Those on the Left tend to compromise too much, and don't stand on their issues as strongly, but at least they're willing to compromise. 

Newt had it right when he said that extremism is the road to ruin, politically as well as financially. He knew, and still does, that compromise and a central position is the best only real option. But the absolute conservative ideologues won't stand for such heresy in their party. 

Here's a look at how paranoid the conservative groups are about compromising on their ideals. The democrats have realized that all they have to do is praise a Republican for supporting something they do and that Republican will be dropped by their party before their done reading the press release. It's an amazing example of how extreme the GOP has become and how high their standards have become for their candidates. This continued movement to the Right will likely result in their have trouble getting any candidate elected since they'll have to become more and more crazy just to be considered.

I feel bad that this continued polarization is leading to a political climate that actively fights against compromise and a group of representatives and political pundits that are more concerned about pandering to their base than serving the American People as a whole. Where is the servitude in public service?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Oil Subsidies

As one might expect, the bill to cut $2 Billion in U.S. subsidies to the five biggest oil companies failed to pass the Senate when a majority blocked it from consideration. This is just the latest bill that was encouraged by the Obama administration that has been stopped before it has come to fruition.

Even the oil companies say they don't need this money, and Obama has called for double the proposed amount to be cut from oil subsidies. Yet, for some reason, our Congress is not willing to take back our money from these companies, but are perfectly willing to vote against something like this, and then complain that the President can't get anything done.

Is this something that should even be up for discussion? This should be a common sense first step. After this, cut the money we send to foreign countries in aid, stop sending our troops into decade-long wars, and start investing all the extra capital in our infrastructure and education. Problems solved.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Shot in the Foot

GOP leaders like Boehner have been calling for massive cuts to the federal budget, the gutting of Medicare and Medicaid, the ending of funding for those who are leaching off the system and subsisting on government money. They want to flush out the waste, fraud, and abuse that is plaguing out federal government and streamline our spending to incorporate only the bare essentials.

Apparently, the only "essentials" are military and big oil subsidies.

Boehner has succeeded somewhat in calling the end of oil subsidies "tax hikes" even though they are not at all the same thing. First of all, big oil has said they don't need the subsidies, and their profits seem to prove that. Why should we be giving billions to oil companies and foreign powers to ensure oil production when we are wallowing in debt back home? Why should we have to cut spending on our education and health care when we are funding places like Pakistan and companies like Exxon Mobil who don't even need the money?

Subsidies are not tax cuts. The argument by the GOP is that, if you cut the subsidies, gas prices will rise. There's no reason for this to happen unless oil companies are just that greedy. If that's the case, they should be reigned in. If they don't roll back the subsidies, it's just further evidence of the oil company's control over our lawmakers, whether that control is enforced or not.

The GOP is likely shooting themselves in the foot with this, claiming to be fiscally responsible while at the same time making fiscally irresponsible decisions. They are trying to defend subsidies for oil, tax breaks for billionaires, and cuts to health care, education, and retirement? That's not responsible. That's insanity.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The barbell effect

Andy Kroll has a good editorial on what the recent job numbers mean and how our economy and workforce are changing. One of the terms he uses is the "barbell effect," in which jobs are pushed into lower and lower wage brackets and those at the top get richer and richer. The result is a job market that is heavy on the top and bottom, but practically non-existent in the middle.

From a business perspective, this makes good sense because it means you're spending less money to employ fewer people at lower wages and benefits. You can train them to do a specific job and send them off to do it over and over hundreds of times a day. This is how McDonald's hires people, and so this has come to be known as a McJob. So now, with all these Mcjobs bolstering the employment numbers while people are still struggling to make ends meet, those at the top are making tons of money and businesses are posting record profits.

Being in the lower-middle or working class, I know that one job rarely cuts it anymore. It feels as though the deck is stacked against you when you try to move ahead, like you have to be part of an elite group to get an in. You have to know the right people, or have the right background, but if you don't than you're out of luck.

The problem with having no middle class is that the economy will eventually suffer for the loss of its greatest asset. Those at the top hoard their millions and billions more than they spend it, and their investments are designed to make them more money. Those at the bottom don't have enough money to stimulate an economy because they're constantly paying off debt, cutting household budgets. They don't go on vacations, they don't invest in the stock market, they don't start small businesses, and they don't have the tools for upward movement. They're stuck.

The middle class was once the best of both worlds. You didn't have to pay the high taxes, but you had a good quality of life. You used to own a house, buy a new car once every couple of years, buy new clothes for the new school year, and get a good education. Now, the middle class is disappearing because their jobs are being cut, the pay is being slashed, benefits taken away, and more and more of the tax burden is heaped on them. The barbell effect is the strangling of the middle class, American innovation, and the financial freedom to live comfortably.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A point about Pakistan

A lot of people have been questioning Pakistan's knowledge regarding bin Laden and his whereabouts, since it seems he was hiding mere miles from a major metropolis in Pakistan, in a compound that was part of a large neighborhood full of government and law enforcement officials.

I will concede that there are likely those who knew where bin Laden was hiding and chose not to report it. There are likely government officials who concealed information that may have led to bin Laden's death much sooner. For those who have kept this secret, I have no sympathy.

However, it should not be something that we use to attack the entire Pakistani government. For one thing, it is unlikely that everyone knew where bin Laden was. We have gotten a lot of support from Pakistan recently, and I find it hard to believe that we were kept in the dark because of them.

Secondly, there is a cultural aspect that may explain how bin Laden was able to stay hidden so long. In his book Captive, Jere Van Dyk describes the tribal beliefs that have to do with guests in one's house. In the mountainous regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the people who live there are a very protective and proud people. They believe that any person in their house, even a captive like Van Dyk was, must be protected from harm. Many years ago, when bin Laden was residing in the house of a Pakistani official, that official refused to give him up because he was a guest. In that culture, guests and prisoners are protected to the death as a point of honor. They are fed well, given water and clothes and allowed to keep themselves clean and comfortable.

It is not hard to understand how bin Laden escaped notice. He has been hiding from the world for years. Those he stayed with had a cultural obligation to hide him, no matter his notoriety. It might not make sense to us, living in a country where we would be arrested for aiding a wanted criminal if we were to hide them in our homes, but to the Pakistani people it is a matter of the highest honor.

I would highly recommend the book Captive as a way to gain a new perspective on the Afghan culture and how it connects to the way bin Laden hid himself in plain sight as a guest in a person's home.

Bank Fraud

This just irks me a little bit. Seems a German-based bank is being charged by the U.S. DOJ for defrauding taxpayers. The Deutsche bank has defrauded taxpayers out of millions, dumped faulty mortgages on the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development which then had to pay out millions to those who own the mortgage debt when a third of those 39,000 mortgages defaulted, and made off with huge profits on the sale. Now, the DOJ is bringing charges against them and suing for $1 billion, more than double the HUD department had to pay out to cover the defaults.

The interesting thing in all of this is that, despite the large numbers we're talking about, this is just one bank, a foreign-owned one at that, that is part of the problem. This is a symptom of the "scapegoat mentality" that the DOJ has for Wall St. and the private sector. Consider Bernie Madoff, the man who embezzled billions from Wall St. This is one man who, supposedly on his own, took huge amounts of money without anyone noticing. He was indicted and sent to prison, but only had to pay a fraction of the money he took. How many banks, lenders, and investors are responsible for the economic crisis? How many of those received bailouts and continued wild speculation with taxpayer dollars? How many have been sued by the DOJ?

But the blind eye of the DOJ is nothing new. When the computer security firm HB Gary Federal was nabbed for promoting illegal operations against the hacker group Anonymous for its support of WikiLeaks, the DOJ did nothing because HB Gary is one of their contracted firms. HB provides the department with computer security programs and has been contracted for special jobs with them before. When WikiLeaks posted confidential information that had been leaked from the government, the DOJ was all over it. When HB was caught planning the same thing, there was silence.

The government continues to protect the best interests of big banks and business, and conceals the misdeeds of Wall St. speculators. In industries where the only commodity is wealth, the only thing that holds back the profits are regulations. We have loopholes left and right that allow these banks like Deutsche to cash in on things like mortgage fraud while passing the costs of maintaining those sub-prime mortgages to the government. Yet, despite the fraud and abuse of the system, only a handful of selected firms, and sometimes individuals, are indicted and made public enemies by the government and media. It's as if there are only a few bad apples rather than a broken system. We need to close the loopholes, force Wall St. and banks to assume more realistic practices that don't jeopardize the stability of our entire economy or the livelihood of individual Americans.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden

By now it's reached viral proportions. The news of Osama bin Laden's death has echoed like wildfire around the world. It's worth the media attention, worth the fanfare and demonstrations and all the people who have flocked to the 9/11 site and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The President's words have resonated with many, and have united our country around this incredible moment.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. At times, I feel as though the world has changed once again, that unity of the American People is just around the corner. I feel as though this may be the catalyst that puts the dissension and conspiracies and dividing hatred to rest. I can hope that, with this momentous occasion, America can lay aside its divisions and join together in a way that we haven't seen in nearly a decade.

At other times, I'm not so sure. When things went our way during the early years of the Iraq War, Bush was praised and his polls shot up. In a way, this is appropriate, and the same can be expected for Obama. This will undoubtedly come to be one of the turning points in his presidency, perhaps the act that will secure him a second term. But I fear that the partisan rifts in our politics and our country are too deep to be buried even with this. I fear that opponents of Obama will turn this victory around and use it against him, somehow. They will question why he didn't attack sooner, why he didn't tell people how close they were. They will argue he tried to use this for political gain and neglected the safety of the world. I fear that bin Laden's death will be turned around and used as a weapon against Obama.

And this really isn't fair. This is a man, a president, who has accomplished more than any of the three previous presidential administrations (yes, I include Clinton). Two of those administrations made capturing bin Laden a priority. Both failed. One of those three was nearly assassinated by bin Laden. But Obama did it.

It's ridiculous to think that Obama was directly involved with the bin Laden operation. He gave the order after hearing the evidence that others had gathered, he wasn't in a flanking chopper, he didn't fire the shot that killed the world's most notorious terrorist. But Bush wasn't directly involved in the operations in Iraq. No president has ever been a direct operative in any military operation that they are famous for. Obama is the commander-in-chief. He ordered the attack after months of intelligence gathering. He was careful, purposeful, and didn't jump the gun and endanger innocent lives until he was sure. That's something to be proud of in a president, not something to condemn. He weighed the value of bin Laden's death against that possibility of innocent civilians losing their lives, and waited until he was sure he had his man.

I hesitate to say that this is a historic day. I doubt it will be as long remembered as 9/11, even though May 2nd, 2011 is now linked to that day in the minds of many Americans. I may be wrong. This may turn into books and movies and a whole industry meant to feed off of people's patriotism. It may become marketed like 9/11 has been. But the backlash from this, the possibility of greater terrorist atrocities because of bin Laden's death is already circling at the edge of the country's consciousness. Our intelligence agencies and military are already warning the world against possible attacks.

Let's all take a moment today, consider what has happened in the last ten years, and remind ourselves that we are blessed to be safer today than yesterday, that we have lived through history, and come out the other side. Let's take this opportunity to shake hands with those we thought were our enemies, but are merely American brothers and sisters. We're all winners today, we're all related, we're all proud.

God Bless America.