Monday, April 30, 2012

News of the Day

1. There's been some talk about a particular op-ed from the Washington Post which points a great big finger at the GOP for being the source of many issues plaguing Congress. The opinion piece, written by Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein, has received mixed reviews (as you can imagine), but what they have to say is very encouraging. Even if they felt that the Dems were the issue, their point that we should expect our media to be realistic in its outlook on politics rather than "fair" is well taken. After all, if we say that we have to indulge the beliefs of an extreme fringe group in order to be fair, we can't critique that group effectively anymore. I highly recommend this article for some great reading and insight.

2. Paul Krugman has been making headlines, this time for his continued criticism of Ben Bernanke and the Fed. Krugman points out that Bernanke, instead of following his own good advice in how to help the economy, has lost his way by attempting to preserve the Fed and its solvency. Rather than pass unpopular plans, Bernanke is trying to keep the Fed at the forefront of making financial decisions, even at the expense of the economy.

3. A win for Planned Parenthood today, as a Texas judge ordered that the state could not cut off funds to the provider. The order is meant to be temporary until the judge can hear arguments on the case. While the law was meant to target abortion providers, it also ended up cutting funding to a number of PP clinics that did not perform abortions. The argument in defense of the block is that it violates the rights of the organization to be denied funding at one location because of the actions at another.

4. And finally, in the world of wacky science, global warming is now something that conservatives can get behind. Why? Because it's caused by....wind turbines! That's right; apparently, a new study has found that wind turbines heat the air and ground around them, which is leading to global warming. Unfortunately, this fails to explain how they are contributing to global warming. If all it takes to contribute to global warming is to slightly increase the temperature of the air around you, humans are guilty of contribution simply by the fact that we are alive. Our own body heat causes the air temperature around us to increase, so isn't that a contributing factor? The article is a great attempt to make this sound like a significant problem, but don't be fooled.

Friday, April 27, 2012

News of the Day

1. New numbers out today show that the national GDP grew by just 2.2 percent in the first quarter of 2012. While there will certainly be a lot said about what caused the slowdown, it is mostly attributed to lower spending by the government, and less investment by businesses. Consumer spending was at a year-long high, and some economists believe that things will continue to get better, but at a slow pace. The pace of recovery has been a major punching bag for the GOP over the last several months, who seem to be waiting around for a magic wand to make everything go back together the way it was before the financial collapse.

2. You may remember MF Global, the investment firm that went belly up. At the time, CEO John Corzine said that he could not account for roughly $1.6 billion in customer funds, and many people assumed the money had simply vanished. Well, now they've been able to track down where it went. It appears that MF Global shifted the money to various banks in Europe such as JP Morgan Chase as a way to avoid collapse. John Giddens, who is overseeing the liquidation of MF Global, recently reported that he was able to account for all of that money. It only took about half a year...

3. Republicans and Democrats continue to clash during this heated election year. For starters, and as I've mentioned before, Romney and Obama do agree on one thing: keeping student loan interest rates low. However, that doesn't mean everyone is going to sit in a circle and hold hands together any time soon. Here is a quote from this linked article on Fox News. See if you can spot the ridiculousness:
"congressional Republicans counter-punch with their own debt-relief plan and accuse the president of exploiting the issue for his reelection campaign."
In case you missed it, here it is: The Republicans come up with their own plan to do the same thing that Obama's plan does, most likely so they can score political points by saying they care about student loan interest rates. They then make the hypocritical move of complaining that Obama is "exploiting the issue" to curry favor with voters, the exact same thing Congressional Republicans are doing. And, as an added bonus, the GOP plan would take money from a fund that supports preventative care and wellness programs, including for women's cancer screeings.

4. Following in a similar vein, A new GOP proposal would siphon large amounts of money from programs like food stamps to help keep the military budget at its current level while cutting overall spending. A normal person, when looking at the expenditures for an institution would look at the biggest piece first and try to cut it back. Instead, the GOP is proposing to stop funding food stamp programs that help poor people buy food and instead wants to put that money towards developing weapons and technology to kill people on the other side of the planet.

5. Paul Krugman has another great editorial in the NYT this week, talking about austerity measures and how they are failing the European economy. I would like to draw your attention to the first linked article in this post. According the the quarterly GDP report, the GDP growth slowed by nearly a full percentage point due to...wait for it....decreased spending by the government! Yes, government spending going down was listed as one of the causes for the slower rate of growth, though it's worth mentioning that things still improved. Krugman seems to be hitting the nail on the head once again.

6. And finally, the NFL draft officially kicked off yesterday evening at 8:30. I know it doesn't have much to do with politics or social issues, but iti's still exciting. Hoping for some new talent for the Oakland Raiders, but they don't get a pick until round three.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fear Factor

One of the most well-known and established psychological phenomenon's is the effect that fear has on the human mind. Normally, our minds are very logical and reasonable machines. We assimilate information in a very ordered way, fit it neatly into our worldview, and use that additional insight to then assimilate the next piece of information. We can make logical arguments, come to reasonable conclusions, and weigh various possibilities when making a decision.

But throw fear into the mix, and suddenly our brains stop working that way. Suddenly, we are all about instant reaction, immediate response, fight-or-flight, and live-or-die. We lose our ability to think critically, to take our time and process the information we receive. If we are afraid, we become more base and animalistic in our tendencies toward things.

Fear is a powerful instrument with which to convince people. It can be difficult to get people to agree to anything if they feel it is not in their own best interests. But, if you can instill fear in a person or group of people, they are much more likely to respond to you in the way you want if you tell them they won't have to be afraid anymore if they do it.

This is the mentality that drives legislation like the Patriot Act under Bush, and subsequent legislation under Obama, that has redefined national security in America. The reason these laws passed was because their backers sparked a fear reaction in lawmakers, whether it be fear of appearing weak on national security or fear of impending doom.

But fear is not used solely as a way to generate votes for bills in Congress. It is also used extensively by members of the media. In particular, some of the less-than-stable personalities on radio and in television use fear to prod their fans into a froth of fear, anger, and spit-fire rhetoric.

Take Glenn Beck for example, whose news website The Blaze recently published these two stories. The first story is about a lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The lawsuit was brought on behalf of four American Muslims who say that they have been racially profiled on multiple occasions when entering the United States from Canada. They claim that they have been harrassed by border agents, who have drawn their guns at them and demanded they answer questions about their religion. The story as it is written does not do much to instill fear, but the comments on the story show you just how reactionary Beck's audience can be. Most commonly, you have people who are saying they should a) leave the US for good, b) be detained or executed, or c) treated like terrorists in general for not being Christian. Logic would dictate that we should at least consider the human impact of being violently detained at the border over and over, and ask ourselves whether that is an appropriate reaction to someone who has done nothing wrong. But no one suggests this, and simply attack the plaintiffs of the lawsuit as dangerous cry-babies.

The second article, however, is much more direct in it's fear-mongering assertions. GBTV, Beck's television station, recently came out with a new documentary called "Rumors of War III" which details the rise of militant Islam in America and around the world. As you can imagine, this is a major fear-producing topic for many people, and Beck's documentary fuels that fire by claiming that Islam is on the rise, and is poised to take over the world.

Again, the target is Islam, and again, you are seeing this story written to fire up a group of people that have been saturated with xenophobic ideology for quite some time. This is a major point about fear tactics. Given enough time, with the human brain scrambling to create a logical structure for all of this information, a person will adopt a set of values and a worldview that reflects this kind of fear-mongering. People will readily accept outrageous claims such as there being a massive conspiracy to destroy America (something else Beck constantly tells his listeners), but will question something such as global warming. This second article talks about a film with the sole purpose of convincing people that they are on the brink of death at the hands of a radical ideology. A person will inevitably feel a measure of fear when presented with this information, and if they are kept in that state long enough they will make decisions based on their fear response. When this happens, you get people who threaten the lives of innocent Muslims, who protest the building of mosques, and who target people of a certain ethnic appearance for assault, and sometimes even murder.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The War Goes On

The media, our political institutions, pundits, and scholars have been debating the merits of the "War on Women" for quite a while now. Those on the Left tend to see this as a real threat to the rights of women all across the nation, and a serious step backward in the struggle for equality, freedom, and a full embrace of our founding principles. On the Right, it is questioned whether there really is a war on women, and the term is twisted around and made into an attack on the Left, by claiming that the "Real War on Women" is something like abortion rates in America.

Recently, this debate has been reaching a fever pitch, as more and more stories come out about women, women's rights, and how they are changing in America. Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of women's health services in the nation, is reporting a string of unusual incidents that lead them to believe they are being targeted and that a group is seeking to discredit them.

Then, you have Rick Scott who recently voted down additional funding for rape crisis centers that was requested after he was told that some victims have to wait weeks if not months to receive help. Scott said that he was not presented with an argument that led him to believe this money was necessary.

Can you blame Scott for this ignorance? After all, he's not the only one who seems woefully uninformed about matters having to do with women's health and safety. How can we expect a person to support something when they don't even know what it is or how important it is?

This sort of gets to the heart of the issue. How can we expect someone to understand where we're coming from when they don't even look at things in the same way. To Rick Scott, the choice to stop funding to a program that clearly is in desperate need is a business decision, even though he is not running a business. For many, women's health has become the defining issue that separates the two extremes of our political spectrum. It will inevitably be a major issue with female voters across the country, and will likely be a major point that decides the election.

Monday, April 23, 2012

News of the Day

1. A new editorial by Paul Krugman contends that Mitt Romney is banking on the collective amnesia of the American People. In particular, Romney has been attacking Obama for lousy job growth, a slow economic recovery, etc, etc. What Romney has not mentioned is that many of the things he is criticizing Obama for are things that were facilitated or that occurred during the Bush administration.

2. A piece by Frank Rich delves into the donors to political campaigns and how the Citizens United ruling has reshaped our election system. When it was passed, the majority opinion of the SC was that limitless money from anonymous donors would have no direct impact on the integrity of our elections and would not even create the appearance of corruption. They may have underestimated humanity with this one...

3. Mitt Romney is making waves all on his own, too. Today, he agreed with President Obama's plan to keep student loan interest rates at their current level. The plan will mean easier rates for new grads to deal with, especially good news since some new numbers show recent grads have a 50/50 shot at being unemployed or underemployed after leaving school.

4. Scott Walker has once again added fuel to the recall fire by repealing Wisconsin's Equal Pay Law which makes it easier for women to sue for discrimination in the workplace. Walker, who has made a number of questionable decisions and has been a major target for the Left, has once again proven that there is no level to low for some politicians to sink.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

News of the Day

1. The GOP likes to think that the vast majority of people in America are entirely self-sufficient and need no help from the government. For the most part, that's true. But stories like this one remind me that it's not so true that we can end all government assistance to people who desperately need it. It's no good pretending we can cut programs, force people to spend money they don't have in the private sector, or close our eyes and make all our poverty problems go away in order to save money. Government has a role in our nation: it's called caring for the people.

2. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer recently signed a bill into law that will allow schools to teach the Bible as a historical document in an elective course. My question is, will they be having electives that cover the other major religious texts from a historical viewpoint? If not, they should. I don't care if it's an elective, since it's then a student's choice to take the course. However, with that comes that caveat that it must be done in a way that's fair to all religions.

3. A sad look at the state of affairs in Europe written here. Europe is showing signs of recovery, but it's slow going. There are those who say they should continue with austerity, while others say they need a more balanced approach. Whatever they do, they need to get back on an even footing. Hopefully, it happens sooner rather than later...

4. Finally, here are seven and a half things you should know. The top one in particular is very interesting. The EPA has finally passed national standards that limit the amount of pollution allowed from fracking. Hopefully, the new standards will make emissions from the drill sites much less dangerous. However, I haven't seen anything new on reports of groundwater contamination due to fracking.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gas Prices

As everyone has probably noticed, gas prices have been on the rise for some time now. Conservatives like to point to this and say it's Obama's fault, which is patently false. The President has very little control over gas prices. However, in the interest of trying to bring down the costs, Obama has decided he needs to act.

As you might expect, his solution to high gas prices is striking a chord with Conservatives, who see it as more red meat to liven up their base. Obama's solution is to increase oversight in the oil markets to reduce possible price gouging. This, of course, is the exact opposite of what conservatives want, which is more freedom in the oil market. Both sides can't be right, so someone has to be wrong. Which is it?

Well, to be sure, there is probably a lot of speculation and price fixing on the markets that could be cleared up with the proper oversight. People are making obscene amounts of money at all levels of the oil and gas business. However, to say that this alone is what is driving prices might be a bit oversimplified. Doesn't demand have something to do with it too?

Yes it does, but the thing is, the Conservatives' only solution so far is to drill for oil in America. I've posted on this before, and why it is not a feasible solution. The only way to bring prices down is to decrease demand domestically, increase supply globally, stop oil futures, and restore stability to the oil producing regions of the world. Outside of that, there is nothing that will bring the cost of gas down. Conservatives need to pick a different tune to dance to, or they're going to trip over their own faulty logic and fall flat on their faces.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pervasive Craziness

Usually, there are one or two stories a week about something truly nuts that somebody has said. This week, we've had two in about 24 hours.

The first is thanks to Allen West, who made the erroneous assertion that there were up to 80 Democrats in the House that were members of the Communist Party. West said that these Democrats were part of the Progressive Caucus, which has been publicly endorsed by the Communist Party. What West fails to understand is that, just because people are part of a group does not mean that they are party to every group that endorses it. If that were the case, every person in Germany would be considered a Nazi. The reason they're not is because we understand that the German government and the people who are German citizens are separted ideologically from the Nazi party that was once strongly affiliated with the government. But West's comments show just how oblivious some leading conservatives are about their fellow lawmakers. It shows a major disconnect with reality to suggest that 80 Democrats are Communists. As Barney Frank said, Joseph McCarthy himself would not have suggested that.

The second statement comes courtesy of Mr. Glenn Beck. During yesterday's radio program, Beck had a tough time with the bowing out of Rick Santorum. Beck, who was a strong Santorum supporter, had to backtrack and throw his support behind Romney, and made a joke about it by saying he had always supported Romney and had just been kidding when he criticized him. The craziness, however, came when Beck suggested (more than once) that there may not be a 2016 election if Obama is re-elected. In fact, there may not be a country anymore. Beck seemed to think that it was highly unlikely that there would be a country if Obama is reelected. The insanity of this, and the fervor with which Beck believes it, just reminds me of how utterly crazy the man is. Here is a guy who believes absolutely that America will be dissolved in four years, that Obama is the linchpin in a decades-long conspiracy to destroy America, and that we are a single election away from losing our freedom. I've heard a lot of crap that was meant to drum up support for one politician or another, but to invoke fear about the end of America if Obama is reelected is just a little bit way over the top.

Overall, it's been an interesting week for crazy shit that people say. At this rate, I'll have a lot of stuff to chat about for a while.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

News of the Day

1. Housing Chief Edward DeMarco has said in the past that he is unwilling to allow homeowners to forgive their debt to mortgage companies, even after those same companies have asked him to allow this. It turns out that forgiving the debt of those with mortgages actually means the company will get more money, since they don't have to worry about their customer going into bankruptcy. DeMarco's stance is especially contentious as many economists say that the housing market is a major drive of our economy. If that's the case, this position is a direct drain on said economy.

2. Insanity rolls on in Arizona, this time over abortion rights. A new bill passed by Arizona defines life as beginning before conception. I don't even want to think about the legal and ethical ramifications of this legislation. It means a woman can be considered pregnant at any given time. A woman can be considered pregnant, even when she is not trying to conceive and has no plans to do so. What could this mean for women's rights? How does a woman advocate for herself when the law states that she is in a constant state of pregnancy?

3. There was a sign today that there may be some brain cells in The Donald's hairdo today. Unfortunately, it was a false alarm. Donald Trump expressed yesterday morning that the Paul Ryan budget plan is "catastrophic". When I heard about it, I thought that we'd finally seen a break in the lock-step of the GOP and their affiliates. Sadly, it was for nought. It turns out that Trump has no problem with the content of the plan, but was very upset with how the plan was unveiled. Trump believes it will be political kryptonite to GOPers for some time, but funnily enough claims its more because of when it was produced than what it contains. Not sure how that works...

Friday, April 6, 2012

News of the Day

1. There has been a lot of news recently about the epidemic of bullying in schools and among the younger generations. In response, especially to the bullying that targets sexual orientation, several state and local governments have passed laws that are targeted at preventing and mediating bullying. While this should be a step in the right direction, there are of course those who would disagree. Specifically, Christian groups are complaining that the laws violate their rights of religious freedom. That's right, a Christian group is saying that their religious freedom relies on being able to bully other people. What about other people's freedom to feel secure and safe in their communities, or to be able to express themselves openly without being ridiculed? This argument by these Christian organizations is astounding in its hypocrisy, since they say they are being unfairly targeted by laws that are meant to keep them from targeting others unfairly.

2. Paul Krugman makes a case for increased inflation which, if you read the comments, doesn't sit well with many people. Krugman asserts that the Federal Reserve is being intimidated by the Right into not pursuing policies that would be more beneficial to the economy. While the argument can be made in either direction, there are concerns with artificially raising inflation. For one thing, is there a way for the Fed to stop it once it gets going? For another, how would it affect people who are on fixed incomes, or those who don't make a lot of money to begin with. In a macroeconomic sense, inflation may be a smart solution. On the microeconomic side, it could be a disaster.

3. Republicans have a good feeling about the Health Care Reform bill being overturned by the Supreme Court. This has prompted them to be uncharacteristically supportive of the court in the last week or so. While this newfound respect for the judiciary is almost certainly short-lived, it does show just how willing politicians on both sides are to defend and promote an institution that serves their needs. In the past, Republicans have complained about rogue judges, activist court rulings, etc. and have expressed deep concern over the validity of the courts. That is not the tone now, though I expect it will be the next time the court hands down a decision the Republicans don't like.

4. Now that Romney has some distance between himself and the other nominees for the GOP spot on the ticket, he's starting to look around for a VP. Recently, he has been campaigning closely with Paul Ryan, who showed up at several Wisconsin rallies with Mitt. Other names that have been dropped include Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, and Allen West, but Ryan seems to be the most likely candidate. It would make sense, too, since Ryan is especially popular with the conservative crowd these days. His budget proposals are seen as the second coming of Reagan by many on the Right and, even better, the Left despises him and his policies. He'd be a good match to Romney and would help tie up the party, but it still remains to be seen if Ryan will make onto the eventual ticket.

Ending Democracy

This is a story that I'd heard about a few months ago out of Michigan, but it didn't get much play on the national media. Now, Rachel Maddow has a great explanation and warning about what's been going on in the State and local governments.

Imagine if the government appointed a grand overseer that had complete control over your town. Despite the fact that you voted and elected representatives and state officials to the office of mayor, treasurer, secretary, and school board, this state-appointed person had the authority to fire all of those people and make all decisions for your town, even though you had no say in their filling this position. Well, that is what has been happening.

A few months ago, the Michigan state legislature passed a law (under dubious circumstances as the video explains) that allowed the governor to appoint an "emergency manager" to any town or municipality. The emergency manager has the authority to fire any democratically elected official including mayor, school board members, town officers, treasurers, etc. In addition, the emergency manager has the power to make any and all decisions for the township in terms of spending, cuts, funding or closing schools and facilities, and generally anything the local governmental body would have authority to do. In other words, the emergency manager position bypasses democracy by allowing the state government to take over any town regardless of who was elected by the people.

Maddow's rant also covers another disturbing trend in Michigan, which is that GOP lawmakers have been using a fast-paced version of lawmaking that requires a 2/3 majority vote in both houses of the state legislature. Currently, the GOP does not have a 2/3 majority, but they've passed over 560 bills using this faster version of legislative process. As the video shows, the way they have been doing this is by ignoring the law and refusing to count the people who are asking for a quick implementation of the law. A judge recently ordered the legislature to follow the law (ironic, eh?), but the GOP legislators have countered this with a statement, saying they feel the judicial branch does not have authority to mandate the actions of the legislature.

So, what does all this mean? Well, Maddow explaines the situation in much greater detail and much better than I can, but the basic point is that democracy is all but dead in Michigan. Peoples' voices have been made silent as their democratically elected leaders are circumvented by state-appointed leaders. As the video shows, not only has this power been abused, but it has also come into being under dubious and probably illegal means.

We hear a lot about how the government is the problem, not the solution. We hear a lot of conservatives talking about government takeovers and government mandates, about losing our voice in Washington, and having to live under a dictatorial government. Well, look no further than Michigan. The concern that Maddow expresses is that other states are currently controlled by the GOP as well, and that they could simply adopt similar measures in their own governments. Imagine if we all had to live under these provisions. We would lose our voice at the state level. We would have no power to sway our local governments or to protect our communities. It's a scary reality, but it is real nonetheless.

To conclude, here is a quote from one of our former Presidents, Mr. Ronald Reagan. Perhaps his most famous and oft-quoted remarks, this exemplifies why the laws such as those in Michigan pose a great threat to America:

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."


Thursday, April 5, 2012

POTUS vs. SCOTUS

Last week, we watched the Supreme Court debate over Obama's Affordable Care Act. Both sides came away with different views, but the general consensus is pretty grim for the ACA.

Shortly after the Supreme Court adjourned, Obama made comments that some have taken to be a slap in the face of the judicial branch of government. The President has gone back to say that he respects the Judicial branch and was not trying to criticize the high court directly, but simply wanted to voice his belief that the ACA should remain lawful.

Well, as you can imagine, these comments have been taken to fuel the partisan fires on the right. Criticism came swiftly, with some conservatives complaining that Obama is trying to psych out the Supreme Court. In further statements, Obama seems to target Chief Justice Roberts, who was a likely supporter of ACA going into the hearing but seemed much more suspicious of it during the proceedings.

One of the more interesting consequences of this, however, comes from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The three-panel court, which is looking at a different piece of the ACA, demanded on Tuesday that the Justice Department submit an explanation of the administrations position on the jurisdiction of the courts. They demand that the administration say whether or not Obama defers to judicial authority or not. It's a funny situation, since Obama gave no indication that he was against the courts in general, merely that he supported his own bill. Furthermore, these demand of a 3-page explanation of the position of the administration on judicial authority is a huge political stunt, one that is made all the more outrageous because it comes from a court of law, a place where politics and personal opinion are supposed to carry no weight.

While I'm not surprised that a politically charged topic like health care is being debated in the media, I was hoping for a little judicial objectivity. Of course, the Supreme Court is just as bad. Going into any case, no one should know how a judge will vote, but we were made aware of the positions of nearly every justice on the SC before they ever heard the case. Political positions of various judges are supposed to stay outside the courtroom. In a perfect world, the decision on health reform would be up in the air. I hope that the political leanings hold less sway in the SCOTUS than they seem to in other courts. I'm not holding my breath.

Focusing on Romney

Now that we have a presumptive candidate in Romney, it's worth noting what an interesting choice this is. Romney is the quintessential politician. He doesn't stick to his guns, but fashions his message based on who he's talking to. He is consistent only in his inconsistency.

The funny thing about Romney is that he is a pretty poor choice to go up against Obama. Why? Because with Romney, conservatives won't be able to use their most damning evidence of Obama failure: health care. Also, any mention of Obama being a closet Muslim would be seen as hypocritical, since members of the GOP have already complained that the Obama administration may, sometime in the future, attack Romney for being a Mormon.

Then, you've got the die-hard conservatives out there who simply don't like Romney. It used to be that a political party would be able to encourage its fringe to rally around the inevitable candidate. However, many in the super-conservative base have said that they will simply not vote if it comes down to a choice between Romney and Obama. Even Santorum, who most closely represents that demographic in terms of values, has said that Obama would be a better choice than Romney. The logic of this statement escapes me (and Santorum as well), but it's a telling statement. Some in the conservative base would rather wait four more years when they have a better shot at the White House than stain their reputations now.

Romney is going to have a fight ahead of him, and it's probably going to be more difficult than he realizes. Not only is he going to have to fight Obama's engaged and committed fans, he's also going to have to play a delicate balancing game between moderates and ultra-conservatives, both of whom he will need in order to win. He's going to have to explain why he supports the middle class but not the health care reform that helps them. He's going to have to justify spending at the federal level while simultaneously decrying public spending. I think it will be difficult for him.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Economic History Lesson

I know that it's been debated and discussed to death, but I found this to be a very comprehensive and well done explanation of the financial crisis, European Debt crisis, and our recovery.

News of the Day

1. The future is now, although it's coming slowly. With Green Energy being the wave of future energy investment and marketing, this article looks at the top ten states where green energy is making a splash. At the top of the list if Vermont, which boasts a total of 4.4% of its workforce in green jobs. This, of course, does not account for the agricultural jobs that are found in Vermont, and the article doesn't explain the green intitiatives in the state. However, it's nice to know that my home state is at the forefront of green jobs. I will say that I've noticed an increase in solar farms and wind turbines across the area. They seem to be building in popularity. The wind turbines in particular are very popular for schools and other large buildings to cut down on electricity. One turbine can provide 1/3 of a school's electricity.

2. The FDA is proposing that tobacco companies must provide information on 20 different chemicals that can be found in tobacco products. While there have been over 90 chemicals linked to tobacco, companies up until this point have not been required to list what they are and how much are in them. This new move by the FDA would make that information more public. While most people think that, at this point, the dangers of tobacco use are well-known, it's important not to forget that there is always a new generation coming up that will inevitably have smokers in it. To reduce those numbers, this kind of information is important.

3. As you can imagine, when a highly partisan bill comes up for a vote in Congress, it faces some serious criticism from the opposition. Now, imagine that this bill were a budget bill that cut taxes for the wealthy, cut social programs for the poor, and did absolutely nothing to balance the budget, get rid of deficit, or pay down the debt. Do you think there'd be a little backlash? Well, you'd be right. Of course, media groups aren't the only ones going after Ryan. Paul Krugman has done a great job blasting the budget plan and decrying its underlying principle of privilege before compassion. And as Krugman points out, Ryan's budget is another clear indication that the GOP leadership is being overtaken by ultra-conservative forces within their party. The neo-cons are not interested in compromise, they just want things their way. Ryan's budget is a perfect blueprint for the kind of America they want to see created.

4. The U.S. corporate tax rate is now the highest in the industrialized world. Japan recently lowered their tax rate, meaning we are now the most expensive place to business. Well, not really. The fact is, very few businesses if any pay 39% of their income to taxes. The majority of that is cut down by loopholes, tax credits, and other bonuses. The result is one of the lowest effective tax rates in the world, with some companies able to pay nothing or even get money back from the government after posting massive profits. While this will likely become a major talking point, it really shouldn't. Cherry-picking this information ignores the fact that our tax system is designed so that the wealthy and big businesses don't feel the pressure of taxation.

5. The US, along with other allies, have agreed to fund the Syrian rebels in their fight against the government. This is a change in the US position, which was a more "armchair cheerleader" position for some time. However, it's clear now that, without intervention, the rebellion will be stopped. SOS Clinton promised millions to the rebel cause as a way to prevent continued bloodshed...ironically. Clinton also denounced the government forces that have been bombing towns held by the rebels and killing civilians.

6. Congress has been operating under an earmark ban for a while now. It's led to some testy situations, as one of the most promising tools to garner support for a bill is now off the table. The ban was part of a plan put in place by TP-backed freshman GOPers who see earmarks as being clear evidence of out-of-control spending and special interests in Washington. However, the earmark ban came under fire recently as one Republican stood up early last month and suggested earmarks be allowed back in. While earmarks have been given a bad name in our political discourse, they are also a fundamental way for states to get funding for their projects. It's how local projects get federal funding. While earmarks can go overboard, and some are downright ridiculous, they do serve a useful purpose.

7. Finally, not so much a news story as pointing out a little piece of information. As it turns out, government mandates on health care are not unprecedented or even uncommon.

Game Change

Over this past weekend, I finally sat down and watched Game Change, the movie about Sarah Palin's rise to fame in American Politics. I wasn't all that interested in it at first, and thought it was going to be an over-dramatized film that had little basis in reality. Prior to watching the movie, I'd heard many Palin supporters were not happy with her portrayal in the film, and felt that it showed her in a negative light.

Well, I will say that Game Change certainly did that. While Julianne Moore, who played Palin, did an outstanding job, the film was not a glowing tribute to the contentious woman. In fact, it portrayed her as being an attention-seeking, emotionally and mentally unstable person who clashed strongly with the people around her. It showed her as being completely uninformed about even basic topics of national and international importance. Beyond that, the movie portrayed Palin as being dedicated to her family, her career, her state, and her country. That much can't be denied.

Despite the naysayers claiming that this was a biased view of Palin, I have to say that I think it's pretty accurate. Considering the things that Palin said, the way she acted (and continues to act) all point to a person who is attention-hungry, manipulative, and mildly unstable. I know a lot of people revere her and think she is an amazing person. In many ways, her story is the true American story. She came into national politics as an unknown and has become a symbol of the conservative movement. She's loved by the Tea Party, and is credited by some for laying the ideological groundwork for that movement.

But only the most ardent supporters can ignore the fact that Palin is woefully misinformed about particular issues. As the movie suggests, she is simply reciting lines, not actually making logical arguments on her own. She is the perfect puppet because she wants to be a leader, but doesn't have anything in her own mind that will get her there. This is why I will never support Palin. She is a mouthpiece for the ultra-conservative mantra of our country. She is the bastion of rational ignorance, and does nothing to help herself. In fact, her supporters have tried changing the facts of history to suit her rendition of the truth in order to legitimize her; this, rather than demanding she know what she is talking about.

Overall, I felt the movie was very well done, very well acted, and probably very close to the truth of how things went. I remember watching Palin on television and thinking that she was simply a smiling face to put before the camera. But she has become an entity all her own, and the things that define her as a terrible politician (in my opinion) are the same things that resonate with her supporters.