Monday, October 29, 2012

What We're Learning from Sandy

Hurricane Sandy is barreling into the East Coast right now, and it hasn't even made landfall yet (technically speaking -- try telling that to the folks in lower Manhatten). People all across the east coast, and even as far west as Chicago, are anticipating power outages, destruction, flooding, and a whole lot of mess to clean up.

While I still have power (I happen to be in Sandy's path), I would like to point out something I've noticed about the response so far. In many places, emergency crews are already on the move, working to clear out areas. While some of these are privately owned, many are public. That's the government, now.

Another point. Who's going to pay for the cleanup? In Vermont, they're still negotiating with FEMA over Hurricane Irene damage from a little over a year ago. But FEMA is still going to be providing a lot of financial support to state and local groups to get the recovery underway as soon as possible. Again, that's the government doing that.

The estimated cost for this little storm is stretching well into the billions. While local and state governments will fork over a hefty amount of that, the majority of the cost will fall to the federal government. The same thing happens whenever there is a natural or unnatural disaster in the US.

A great point here is to remember the BP oil spill. In those days, Republicans and fiscal hawks were beside themselves with the thought that the POTUS couldn't plug a stupid hole. Well, that's what happens when you cut funding to emergency programs like FEMA. You can't have a small government and a government that can solve every problem under the sun. It just doesn't work.

So, getting back to Sandy. It's worth pointing out that it will be federal dollars that repair the roads, bridges, power lines, and homes after all this is over, and rightly so. No other group has enough resources to do that without severely crippling its abilities in other areas are severely taxing its citizens. If we want a government that responds when we are down and out, we have to fund it properly.

I hope everyone stays safe, dry, and healthy today and in the days to come. No doubt it will be a bumpy road for many.

UPDATE: Everything fine here. But I did have to post this link.

Which is worse

I promised myself I wouldn't post a piece on the Benghazi attacks, since they're so politically charged and divisive at the moment. However, I did want to post this as a way of demonstrating my view on the issue.

As an additional point, I would like to ask this question: if our response to the attack had led us into a war with Libya, costing billions of dollars and potentially thousands of lives, is that worth saving four people? It may seem harsh, but it's a question that needs to be asked. The President has already stated that he will find those responsible and do what he can to bring them to justice (and we all know he has a good track record on that).


Why Obama

A great video, with audio of a speech given by Obama about the past, present, and future of our nation. He outlines the debate very well.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Content of Character

Yesterday, Colin Powell announced his endorsement of Barack Obama for a second term as President. Powell said he agreed with Obama's direction and plan for the nation, and criticized Romney's tax plan and foreign policy, which Powell called a "moving target."

Of course, Republicans are not too happy that one of their most well-known minority celebreties appears to be breaking with tradition and calling things how he sees it. It's worth noting the Powell voted for Obama in 2008 as well, so he is being consistent, just not in the way the GOP wants him to be.

But despite Powell's clearly stated reasons for supporting Obama, that didn't stop prominent Republicans from drawing their own conclusions. John Sununu, who is a strong advocate for Romney, was the first to suggest that Powell's decision was race related. This is the same suggestion that was made in 2008 by Rush Limbaugh when Colin Powell threw his weight behind Obama. Of course, there is no evidence of this, Powell doesn't mention it, and it's a bit condescending and racially charged. Why make this remark?

Sununu released a statement after the fact, clarifying the context of the remark, but even those comments did nothing to change the fact that he alluded to Powell making a political decision based on race, which Powell himself does not admit to.

This is the equivalent of saying that whites are more likely to vote for a white candidate due to race, which seems to suggest racist overtones to me. While Sununu can say that his intention was merely to remark on a possible reason for Powell's endorsement, even this makes no sense since Powell himself provides plenty of reason for backing the President.

This has become the year of the demographics. Paul Ryan has been skewered, again, for being two-faced towards the poor. Now we have questions about whether race is driving the decision of certain voters and prominent political figures. It strikes me, though, that this kind of thing has become a way of attacking people's personal choices by marginalizing their reasons. If it can be reduced to some kind of self-serving decision, then it makes that decision seem less valid. By painting Colin Powell's decision as being racially motivated, it changes how that decision looks. It's no longer about Powell's stated reasons for support, it's about race.

And the natural response by the Right will be, from my view, the attack Powell for making a race-based decision. They will likely say that such a decision should not be influenced by skin color. And this is a point we all agree on. Let's stop looking at the color of skin and start making decisions based on content of character. Like Colin Powell.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Both Sides

Normally, Washington is all about the partisanship. Neither side can see things from the perspective of the other, and compromise has gotten to the point where both groups throw their ideas in together and pass it off as an agreement, then go back to attacking one another over the deal. It's gotten so bad that the general focus on politicians, political media, and therefore the nation has rounded on the deficit, rather than a whole range of other issues that are rather more important and pressing but that are harder to work out. Grand bargains abound on Capitol Hill as we watch from the sidelines in anticipation of more political pandering.

And why not? After all, it's what we've dealt with in the past. Deregulation and close connections to the business world have been the name of the game in Washington for decades. Starting back in the 80's, and then gaining speed in the 90's, we've seen changes in how our politicians do business, and treat business, in their legislative sessions. And things like this don't make people all that much more confident that the love affair between Legislators and special interests has grown cold with time.

Simon Johnson, in an article for the New York Times, describes this relationship as the dark side of bipartisanship. Johnson makes the assertion that, when politicians of different parties work together on something, it is usually because they have a mutual friend getting rich, or they themselves are benefitting from whatever they're doing, while leaving their constituents out in the cold. And this has been happening for a while now. So, what do we do about it?

Johnson doesn't go much into solutions. Essentially, he sees it as a complete waste at this point, since everyone is in someone's pocket. I suppose we could all simply vote in new representatives, but it seems as though our choices are being made for us. Many challengers to the incumbents also have strong ties to special interest groups. So, what's the alternative? Third party?

The only solution I see is to elect officials, incumbents or otherwise, that appear to take a strong stance against banksters and special interests. Representatives who, like Elizabeth Warren for example, will work to put limits on banks and investment firms, regulate markets in a common-sense way, and will hopefully withstand the lure of money from wealthy and powerful donors.

This is a problem that is manifesting on both sides. It's interesting to note that, despite their major differences, the Leftists and Rightists agree on one thing: the people in power have got too much of it. What they disagree on is who to blame (privateers for the Left, government for the Right). Both sides, it seems, are right, and that's a real bipartisan platform we can work with.

Confusion in the Ranks of the Crazy

Let's put aside the thought that our election is drawing closer. Even without that looming date, we are seeing a lot of the same old, business-as-usual bullshit coming out of the conservative media and the talking heads. They seem to be tasting blood, and are working themselves into a frenzy over the possibility of taking over the White House and both houses of Congress in the coming days. Unfortunately for them, and interestingly for us, this fervor has led them to make some startling decisions, and some startling things. Here's a quick breakdown.

1. Despite evidence to the contrary, Paul Ryan is still claiming that his plan to move Medicaid to a block grant will save money and make the system better at the same time. Studies bt a number of agencies and groups have shown this isn't the case (and it makes little sense), but he's sticking with it. It's worth noting here that Ryan, in addition to cutting support to the states, wants each state to set their own standards and cut the national standards of care. This is important because, as I've noted before, there are many states who only do the bare minimum required by the federal government and its clear based on their history that they have no interest in helping people when they don't have to. At what point does the Republican mind switch and say that it is more ethical to help the people than it is to make people fend for themselves? Does it ever, in the case of Ryan?

2. In a similar vein, you may remember that Ryan also fought as the champion of the poor in other ways. For example, when he wanted to axe food stamps to help shore up defense spending. I'm curious to know how this plan is supposed to help the working class who are unemployed. Ryan also stated that he voted for the sequestration that brought around the defense cuts, but like all the other GOPers in Congress they balked at their own idea when the pain came. So, rather than biting the bullet, as it were, they tried to take all the cuts out of education and social programs. Things like this show just how much they care about the poor, and how long they've been working for them.

3. We're still seeing a writhing mass of insanity over this whole Benghazi tragedy. The newest conspiracy, put together by our very own Delusion Doctor, claims that the whole thing was orchestrated by Obama because we're giving guns to the Syrian and Libyan rebels. While there are some questions about the administration's handling of the situation, it's worth noting a few things. First of all, they were receiving information from who knows how many sources, all of them saying different things. The idea that they could take all of that and process it, tease out the entire truth, and present it within 24 hours is laughable. Second, I would point out that, following the 9/11/01 attacks, no one ever demanded this level of clarity and absolute truth from Bush, at least not as quickly, and any criticism of the POTUS at that time was labeled unpatriotic. So...what's the difference, aside from the party affiliation?

4. It may not seem so bad at first that a new bill in Pennsylvania requires rape victims to prove and report their rape in order to receive benefits for the children who a result of that crime. While the law states that a woman must report the rape, including the person's name if known, to police, it's worth noting that only about 53% of rapes are ever reported to police. You could argue that the point of this provision is to encourage victims to report. You could also argue that a victim who doesn't report has every right not to, but should not be denied support for that very personal decision.

5. Finally, as if we didn't have enough pointless political arguing going on, one poor guy has decided that his next big fight is going to be against having the U.N. in NYC. The reason for this is that a number of groups in the US (NAACP, ACLU among others) have petitioned the U.N. to send delegates to observe the voting on election day to ensure that there is no attempt to manipulate or defraud the system, or manipulate potential voters at the polls. This, of couse, has sparked outrage with Tea Partiers, who already think the U.N. is evil. It strikes me as a tad unstable, though, to attack one of the most prominent forums for world stability and peace that we have and say we should kick them off "American soil". Can't we think of some other things to waste our time and energy on? Really?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Is this what happened last night?

A lot of people I've talked to were surprised by Romney's statements last night, and how much they a) coincided with Obama's, and b) how much they differed from his previous positions. We already know that Romney has no problem with changing his position on any issue to suit the political climate of the day (indeed, the minute if he must). But last night was something altogether different. How? The entire debate seemed to be one long "I agree" from Romney over the administration's policies, after months and months of criticism. He didn't touch on Libya, Syria, Iran, or any of the other hot-button issues that he has criticized Obama for in the past. Why?

Here's the theory that I've come up with. It may not be valid, but it seems to fit his performance. Romney deliberately sided with the POTUS on every major issue as much as he could. That was his strategy. It might seem ridiculous, but consider the following points.

First of all, by doing this, Romney prevented a major blowout win by Obama. Sure, he himself did not "win," but seeing as how foreign policy is Romney's weakest area, the chances of him outdoing the POTUS were minimal to begin with. Romney effectively turned Obama's biggest debate night into a draw, denying his opponent a clear-cut victory and the boost in the polls that likely would have brought. Of course, Obama still looked great, but it was not a shut-out night by any stretch of the imagination.

Secondly, it prevented criticism from Romney's adversaries. How? Since Romney basically agreed with the President on everything, any criticism made against Romney would have been made against Obama, too. The only attack that left for his detractors was to say that he was inconsistent with his record. Unfortunately, that is a line that has been used since day one with Romney (see the link above) and it doesn't seem to work well at convincing voters.

Thirdly, it meant that Romney didn't have to stick his neck out with a new plan, and thus needed no specifics. He argued a bit with the POTUS on the semantics of his policies, and that was all. He produced nothing original, and therefore did not have to claim any ideas from that night.

If this was the intention of the Romney camp, it was well done. If not, it's a happy coincidence. It strikes me, though, that this is the kind of strategy that would work well at this point in the cycle. No new information is good for Romney, since he's not running on a campaign of his own promises anyway. And in an area where he has no experience, it would have been a last-minute disaster for him to go out on a limb with a fresh approach to American foreign policy only to have it fly in his face. And Romney is still riding the support from the first debate. He would have been stupid to risk that support on a bad performance just before the election.

2012 Presidential Debate #3: Review

The third and final presidential debate was a much-anticipated showdown on foreign policy, and struck me as very different in many ways from the previous debates.

Now, a caveat: I will be posting links to stories that incorporate polling, numbers, and fact-checking. I will also be discussing and linking to discussion on "winners and losers" from last night. As I have said in the past, I do not necessarily believe that these are 100% accurate, but they are used for the purposes of showing the mood and overall view taken by media about this debate.

From my perspective, it was an interesting clash, mostly due to its complete lack of major clashes. Obama and Romney largely seemed to agree on most foreign policy issues. There were a few points where it seemed Romney was trying to create distance between himself and the POTUS, as if trying to create a unique platform for himself. Neither advocated hawkish approaches to foreign policy, which was refreshing.

Now to the outcomes. I will say that I saw a tie in this debate. Both candidates held themselves well, stayed on point for the first half at least, and neither was more outstanding in their mannerisms than the other. On substance, because they were so similar, I feel it's hard to peg a winner as well.

That hasn't stopped other from doing that, and it's interesting how wide the spectrum of responses has been. Huffington Post puts it one way, while The Blaze puts it another. Of Course, Huffington Post is making their assertions based on polling, while The Blaze is relying on the opinions of one person. Fox News, for their part, did not come out and endorse a winner, but did do some minor fact-checking following the debate.

Huffington Post, interestingly, points out that because the policy positions are so close, that the outcome should be decided on style. They cite Obama's command of the discussion, and Romney's unwillingness to respond to Obama's criticisms, as evidence of an Obama win. Krauthammer, speaking for The Blaze article, seems to think that Obama was a bully in this debate and that Romney was more presidential, which is an interesting perspective to take. As usual, I recommend reading the comments, who clearly favor Romney (though not all of them), and who also believe Obama was being unfair.

UPDATE: As usual, the hyperpartisan pundits have come out with more trash talk. Ann Coulter, who can't seem to stay out of trouble, posted a tweet that referred to the POTUS as a "retard." Now, I'm no expert, but it seems to me that name-calling is not a very good way to continue political discourse. As usual, there are those willing to defend such a statement, which I'll let you read in the comments.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Is it really that close?

All this week (really since the last debate), we've been hearing from every corner of the media that this has become a horse race. Recall that, a month ago, Obama had a commanding lead; two weeks ago, Romney had a commanding lead; and now we're back to "it's anyones guess." Is it really, though?

A lot of people who really pay attention to what's going on, instead of just feeding into the media hype of the moment, seem to think that there is a less-than-honest backdrop to polls that show the two candidates in a virtual tie for the nation. On the one hand, there are those who argue that these tight races make for better ratings in the media: more people show up to watch a horse race than a landslide. This assertion is very plausible, and is certainly backed up by historical evidence. We've seen, time and time again, how media can change the course of events they choose to cover in how they cover them. They covered the debates, declared winners and focused their attention on very specific details of the exchanges, thereby creating a vision of this race that suits their narrative and their ratings.

Another, perhaps more conspiratorial view, is that the media is deliberately attempting to make the race look close in order to excite more people into voting. This happens to be a view largely held on the Right, by folks who already believe in left-wing media bias and fabrication of poll numbers and election results. They also happen to harbor the notion that too many people are voting who shouldn't, and so support voter ID laws. The idea that media is trying to make this look like a close race to try and get more people out to vote (and notice they all seem to think it will only excite left-leaning voters? Isn't Fox News and the rest of the conservative media doing the same thing?) fits very well into this view.

Whatever the reason, I wish it would stop. We're not getting straight answers, and it's starting to get ridiculous. For example, Huffington Post has been publishing articles since last Wednesday about how close the race is getting, and how Romney is leading in one poll, but Obama leads in another, all while their on-site poll shows Obama with an 80 point delegate lead over Romney. Even if Huffington Post is part of the liberal media, shouldn't they at least be consistent with their message?

The hard truth is that we can't rely on national polls, stats, and figures. After tonight's debate, the two candidates will have to rely on their rallies, field offices, and millions of donated dollars to reach the few people in America that haven't made up their minds (supposedly).

And that's the other thing, if I may say so. I noticed how conveniently each media outlet seemed to have "undecided voters" on their panels that ended up agreeing with the viewpoint of that station. FOX News was the most blatant example of this, though other stations were certainly culpable.

So, media just needs to lay off at this point. Cover the major events like the debate, cover the issues at hand, and possibly some gaffes and policy stances. But not this 24/7 shit-show. If media outlets continue to insist on covering these things, they should at least have the decency to do them justice. For example, I'm more interested in what one candidate says than how they say it. If you are basing outcomes on the sheer volume of bullshit one can spew, than Romney won the first debate. If you're looking at substance, it was Obama, even with a lackluster public performance. But things like that don't seem to make into our airwaves. Instead, victory is based on who looked nice, who smiled the most, and who got upset. That's not analysis, at least in a sense that matters. Until our media can become part of an adult discussion on the issues that face us, they're about as useless as a Mitt Romney tax return.

He did it again!

You may remember a couple months back when the House Oversight committee was having hearing on the Operation Fast & Furious debacle. You may remember Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of that committee, demanding sensitive documents that he claimed would be used to help the committee better understand the nature of this operation and who to blame. You may then remember that Issa leaked all those documents to the media (specifically, FOX News), a major breach of ethics, discretion, and privacy that caused major backlash. One of the issues was that the documents were never redacted, meaning the names of several individuals who were helping US officials were leaked along with the documents, putting their lives at risk.

Well, he's done it again. During his most recent investigation into the events leading up to and following the attack in Benghazi, Issa demanded and received some 166 pages of documentation about the incident. He promptly handed them all over to the media, once again without having them redacted, and once again exposing Libyan individuals who had helped the US before and after the incident on 9/11/12.

Now, there's plenty of criticism to go around for Benghazi. I would point out, though, that while it is an unfortunate incident that could have been prevented, so was the original 9/11 terrorist attacks, and no one seems to be pointing out that the people who defended Bush in those days are attacking Obama now. In the days and months following the 2001 attacks, anyone who criticized the POTUS for his handling of the situation was blasted from all sides. Now, Obama is presiding over a terrorist attack, and those same people are attacking him for it. Really?

Back to the story at hand. Issa has now given large amounts of sensitive documents to the media on two occassions. He is being skewered for his clear intentions to smear the administration as much as possible. Has no one suggested that he is a national security risk? As I posted earlier this month, he and one of his friends also outed a CIA operation during this hearing as well. It just doesn't seem to stop.

Of course, Issa has not apologized for any of this, and he has his defenders. Many point out that one of the people named in the documents was already known to have been working with the US. Of course, that says nothing of the other names in the documents. They also claim that the timing of this outrage is suspicious, since it is just before a presidential debate on foreign policy. I would argue that Issa's release of documents pertaining to a damaging foreign policy issue so close to a foreign policy debate is also suspicious. So, both sides are playing politics with a mistake made by an incompetent politician.

From this point on, I don't think Issa should be allowed within 10 feet of sensitive documents. He should not be allowed to leak them to the media as a way of trying to attack the administration, and he should not be allowed to use his power as a way of spying on the White House. That's not what he's there for, and not what he should be doing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Listen to the People who know

Fox News has been championing the Republican mindset for a long time. They have a knack for bringing people on their shows who appear credible that will back them up. But when they decided to bring on a very well-known economist to help shore up their ideas about lowering taxes and cutting spending, they were not prepared for the response.

Of course, prominent people go on television all the time, and sometimes they seem to get along well with the hosts. But in this case, it's interesting to see that these television hosts are challenging their economic expert guest on the issue that they brought him onto the show to explain.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Red vs. Blue

Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic has a great article about the different ways that social programs are implemented across the nation. Cohn's overarching premise is that conservative states, such as Texas, follow a social Darwinist approach to social programs by only offering the bare minimum, while more liberal states like Massachusetts follow a more "New Deal" type philosophy by providing a broad range of supports to all different types of people. While Cohn is clearly in favor of the Blue state approach, it's not merely because of personal preference. As the article points out, the blue states are doing better. They spend more, sure, but they have lower poverty rates, better education, less of an income gap, and overall better health and wellness.

Cohn's point is that, while there is no right answer in how to approach social programs, there does seem to be ample evidence that some ways just don't seem to work. As he points out early in the article, it's not just political views, but how one perceives the role of government and personal accountability in our world. In the Blue states (which happen to be largely Democratic), the view is that we all have to work together, that there is a social contract that says we all benefit when we help those who need it most. In the Red states (which happen to be largely Republican), the view is that we all have to work hard for ourselves, and no one deserves a handout.

I know that there are people out there on both sides of this issue, and it speaks to one of the greatest debates of our nation's history. Indeed, this could be the fundamental debate of our entire existance, so long as we extrapolate to all the other issues. As I've stated in previous posts, there's no right answer in an extreme solution. No one side is perfect, and we often have the best results when we compromise. But in this debate, in this argument, it seems there is little to compromise on. Both sides see the other as morally reprehensible. That's a tough divide to bridge.

So, is it possible to come together? I think so, but only if we accept that we must. If we are not convinced of that, we have no hope of common solutions to our common problems.

Can't make this stuff up

I've remarked several times that it does not seem possible to make a mockery of the Right by trying to find a position that is more extreme, because they've already got it covered. This comic reflects that perfectly. After all, many of these assertions have no basis in fact, reality, evidence, or history (all, at some time or another, has been accused of having a liberal bias). Instead, they're "principles," similar to Romney saying that increased spending and big deficits are immoral. The problem with that assertion is that no one can debate you on your personal morals, no matter how crazy they are. This is the result...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Age-Old Issues

One of the consistent issues that Romney and Ryan have been dealing with is their inability to get specific on any of their plans. Romney infamously said that, despite the economists and experts who say otherwise, his tax plan will not come at the expense of the middle class. Why? Because he said so. No other justification. No examples, no explanation, nothing. Just his conviction and promise. In last night's debate, Romney made similar promises, like making North America 100% energy independent in five years. He provided no details on how, no facts to back up his plan, and has yet to produce any credible evidence to show that this is possible.

This vagueness, this assertion that people can have everything for nothing, is not new. Romney and Ryan are perpetuating a trend as old as American politics itself. Having read some of The Federalist Papers, I can tell you that this is a theme even there.

And as if that weren't enough evidence, here's an interesting clip from Jon Stewart, which shows how this particular tactic has been used by the Right for many decades. Enjoy.

2012 Presidential Debate, Round 2 Review

Last night, Obama and Romney met once again to debate each other on their plans and outlook for America in the next four years. There were a number of stark contrasts compared to the first debate, the most obvious being the President's performance. Here, now, is my assessment of the debate, as I saw it.

First and foremost, I would like to point out that I don't like having winners and losers in debates. It makes things too black-and-white. But even more importantly, last night's debate was very evenly matched between the two candidates. Obama was much more aggressive, well-spoken, and direct in his explanations and criticisms. Romney continued his policy push and critique of the economy. Overall, both candidates came away looking good, and only because his performance was so poor last time, it appeared as though Obama may have had the upper hand.

There were some seriously contentious moments during the debate, one of which came when Mitt criticized Obama for not labeling the Benghazi attack an act of terrorism. Obama said he did, Mitt said he didn't, and Ms. Crowley fact-checked Romney right then and there and sided with Obama (though she later went back and clarified a more middle-of-the-road position. Romney supporters are still mad).

The other major point of contention was not immediately seen on stage, but has resounded through the internet with a whole slew of memes and websites devoted to Romney's discussion on women's rights that led to him using the phrase "binders full of women." At best, the phrase has been used to poke fun at Romney. At worst, it's been seen as evidence that Romney is out of touch, sexist, and doesn't understand women's issues.

So, how did the candidates do when talking policy? Obama, for his part, was much more animated, engaged, and appeared more willing to attack Romney, which was a good sign for his supporters after his last appearance on stage with the governor. Obama not only kept on Mitt's ass about his stated policies, but also found time to explain and expand on his record and his plans moving forward. He was clear, concise, and stuck to the point most of the time. He also did something that should have been a trigger for Romney, but for some reason was passed up by the former governor: he took responsibility for the Libyan attack on the embassy, and expressed regret over how it was handled.

Romney also did fairly well, at least until the very end. Once Obama attacked Romney for his politicization of the attack in Benghazi (which received applause from the audience, the only remarks to do so), Romney looked a little more reserved and seem to have lost some of his gusto. Prior to that however, he and Obama were largely neck and neck in terms of performance. While he was still light on specifics, and spent more time complaining about the President than presenting his plan, Romney was at least consistent with his previous debate.

However, Romney had one other moment that I felt was disrespectful. All of you people who thought Biden was disrespectful last week, do you think it was disrespectful of Romney to cut across Obama three times when asking to explain the oil licenses on public lands? And what about when Obama tried to ask him a question, and Romney cut him off with a dismissive "I'm speaking!" To me, it showed a lack of tact and respect for the President. I was also not impressed when Romney refused to answer a particular question so that he could get his two cents in on a completely different topic (this happened at least twice).  To be fair, Obama had similar moments, but they were not as numerous, and not as dickish, as Romney's.

Overall, I felt it was an informative debate, and I look forward to the next one (foreign policy). As always, it will likely be that final debate that has the most impact on the election. As people on all sides gear up for this final push, and we start seeing the dirty tactics that rear their ugly head at this time each election cycle, it's clear we're in the home stretch and will soon be given some relief from the campaigns, political ads, and punditry. We're almost there.

Monday, October 15, 2012

New Levels of Insanity

Not sure what people's thoughts are on the Tea Party. I know some people hold them in high esteem, others think they're nuts, and still others don't really notice them. Despite their own claims to the contrary, most people who pay attention believe that the Tea Party has quietly fizzled out of the political spectrum, having failed in their initial push to drive the Republican party to the hard right.

One of the things that really turned me off from the Tea Party initially, aside from their crazy-ass views, was the strange way they had of adopting vast conspiracies to explain their positions. Never, in all the history of logic and reasoning, has it been a good sign when a person must adopt multiple platforms that are individually shaky and collectively ridiculous, just to make their worldview realistic. For example, the Tea Partiers believe that our own government and elected leaders are part of some secret cabal of Communists who want to overtake our nation and turn us all into 1984-esque zombies (apparently, they never grew out of the 1950's). They also happen to believe that, only by electing their officials to government, do we stand a chance of stopping this demise of our freedoms. The irony, of course being that their officials tend to be the most closed-minded, bigoted idiots around.

For a long time, I thought that the Tea Party was a great big joke played on the religious poor by the plutocratic rich. But then, I saw that it wasn't so easy as that. In fact, there was something coming close to insanity brewing in the ranks. Something like a collective case of paranoid schizophrenia, where all the victims are having the same delusions, seeing themselves as the only sane ones while the rest of the world is bent on their destruction.

And apparently, that view is not too far from the truth. As it turns out, the Tea Party sees conspiracies everywhere, even at (or I should say, especially at) the United Nations. The conspiracy I'm referring to is a little-known, non-binding agreement passed by the U.N. in '92, and signed by then-Presiden H.W. Bush, which was meant to tackle the issue of sustainable development as the world population grows larger.

According to the plan, which is called "Agenda 21", there is an agreement among the nations of the U.N. to look for ways to create more sustainable living arrangements. Of course, never a group to let a good ol' ambiguous agreement go to waste, the Tea Party has turned a strange idea into a weapon against liberty. Just like bike paths, toll roads, and apartment buildings, Agenda 21 is meant to lower your property values over time so that you end up taking up more physical space, and therefore make more room for the growing population. Insidious! Also, downright CRAZY!!

But of course, it's not just a conspiracy. No, no. It's a liberal conspiracy! After all, it wouldn't be a conspiracy if it didn't come from the Left, right? And like all good conspiracies, it does very well in the echo chamber of the Internet. After all, the more outrageous the claim, the more popular it becomes.

Now, here's the thing about Agenda 21. It was not meant to be subjected to Americans, whose own private ownership laws and property rights supercede any precedent set forth by the U.N. Rather, it is meant to help developing nations, where land ownership is used as a weapon of oppression, keeping people poor because the wealthy have purchased all the available land. The Agenda 21 agreement is designed to help form sustainable, reasonable limits on land use in places where land is unattainable or otherwise short-handed. That's not the case in America, and likely never will be.

The funny thing about this, in my opinion, is how much can be tied to Agenda 21 by the conspiracy theorists. Again, it's the hallmark of a good conspiracy that you can attach everything you dislike or mistrust to it in some way. So, those who believe this is undermining America believe that things like bike paths are ruining their property values, that toll roads and high gas prices are meant to push them out of certain areas and into cities where they have less land of their own, and that apartment buildings are part of this as well. After all, those who rent an apartment rather than own a house have no land of their own to speak of. Conspiracy!

The lunacy of things like this really shocks me, and for a while I thought that maybe the Tea Party did this as a sort of litmus test: if you agreed with their most extreme views, they could tell you were just playing along. That's not really the case as I've seen it, though. You can't make a joke by trying to come up with a view that is more extreme than theirs because you will find people who believe it!

While I don't believe that all Tea Partiers believe this crap, I see that a fair amount do. I also see that those that don't are just as hung up about other things that are equally insane. What bothers me most, I think, is that these are people who use this information to not only define their world view, but also to decide on who to vote for. They form their opinions on this information, and don't seem to question it at all.

That's the final trait that I want to touch on, and it's one that I observe with every party and affiliation, including my own. We tend to accept information that fits into our worldview with minimal criticism, while treating information that does not with suspicion or outright refusal. This is a poor tendency to have, since it leaves us open to logical impairments (like with the conspiracy outlined above). Personally, I try to look at everyone and everything equally, and make a choice that is hopefully coming after moderate consideration of all views and positions. But it seems to me that, the more extreme a person becomes in their views, the more willingly they embrace any insane piece of information that supports their worldview, and the more vehemently they reject any and all other information, no matter how factually sound.

I hope that we can start to steer away from crazy conspiracies and return to a place where we can speak rationally to one another without fear that the other side will attack us for our positions. I think it is worth adopting a good dose of logic when we read certain things, and to think critically about it as well. Only when we do that will we be able to reject the insanity that this conspiracy theory represents, and come back to the table to work together on our problems.

Duality

Last week, Romney came out with a brand spanking new position on abortion and women's rights. In the past, he had been an outspoken pro-life candidate, and openly discussed the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

But that new position didn't seem to stick, because not 24 hours later, Romney said the exact opposite. Now, he's going to be the pro-life hero the Right has been waiting for. So, which is it?

I challenge anyone...anyone...to describe a plan of Romney's that he has been consistent and clear about. I can't think of a one. Does anyone know what his plans are if elected? Does anyone know what he believes in, aside from blaming the president for issues that took decades to create? And does anyone really think that Romney's many positions on the issues represent a clear, let alone decent, way forward?

Friday, October 12, 2012

VP Debate Analysis

The debate last night has already been claimed as a victory on both sides. Biden was in top form, Ryan did reasonably well, and they both did what they needed for their campaigns. At least, that's how the pundits are calling it. In my view, it was a clear win for Biden, if for no other reason than that Ryan failed to give a single straight answer all night, and used the very same tactics that he complained about from the Obama campaign.

First, to Biden. A lot of people are complaining that he was disrespectful towards Ryan, due to his chuckling, head shaking, and occasional interruptions. Let's put that in perspective, though, shall we? Looking at Biden's track record, he was rather subdued, don't you think? And, not to point out they hypocrisy in this, but Ryan got his own chuckles, punchlines, and interruptions in. It wasn't just one-way. Secondly, the debate went very smoothly. There wasn't a lot of back-and-forth arguing by either gentleman, and they both seemed to be very aware of their time constraints. I though Biden did a great job pointing out the successes of the Obama administration, being very clear and consistent in their plans moving forward, and I commend him for sticking to his views, and to the facts, for most of the night.

Now, Ryan. Maybe it was just me, but I didn't feel as though Ryan really answered any questions. He was also a bit hypocritical in denouncing the Obama campaign for going negative and attacking the Romney camp instead of clarifying their positions. Note that, this is exactly what Ryan did last night, Romney did last week, and what their campaign has been doing for months. They've not produced any real specifics on their tax plan, foreign policy ideas, health care reforms, or any other issue. Last night, Ryan went for platitudes and talking points. When asked for specifics on his plan, he criticized the President. I will say, though, that Ryan was respectful and showed a real commitment to letting Biden speak. He engaged with the VP, and was consistent in his statements, wrong and misguided though they were.

It was a breath of fresh air to have a good moderator, too, who appeared to be able to control the speakers without too much effort.

Again, I feel that Biden did a fantastic job, and did everything he needed to do. He was likable, he was forthright, he was well-spoken, honest, and blunt. He didn't try to mince words, he didn't toss out red meat for his base, and he didn't simply sit back and spit out platitudes. He was great.

Of course, the upcoming Presidential debate will likely be even more heavily analyzed, and will probably carry more weight in the minds of Americans. But I feel as though this was yet another turning point in the election, and that we have a real, honest horse race on our hands.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Even the IMF gets it

The IMF recently advised the Eurozone to give more slack to Spain and Greece, and stop imposing harsh austerity demands on two of Europe's most debt-ridden countries. For well over a year now, Greece and Spain have been the thorns in the side of Europe's recovery, stumbling time and again over its mounted debt while trying to cut deep enough to take the edge off.

The interesting thing about this is that it highlights a growing advocacy for European powers to move away from harsh austerity, and adopt a more balanced approach to deal with heavy debt held by smaller nations. Those who have been calling for harsher cuts have little evidence to show that it's been helpful, even among those nations that have embraced it to the fullest. So, when the IMF says that austerity measures need to be scaled back, it would probably be in everyone's best interest to at least consider what they have to say.

Now, even if Europe somehow manages to pull itself out of this debacle, there's still questions to answer. Such as, how do they prevent such an issue in the future (short of breaking up the euro, of course)? How do larger, more prosperous nations like Germany and the UK balance against smaller countries like Greece with standard of living and productivity when they're all tied up with the same currency?

To me, the answer has never been austerity, and I honestly believe that the euro can be saved. While I'm by no means an expert on economics, especially European economics, I do happen to think that there are solutions that may be unconventional that can still be successful.

One problem is that Greece is small, remote, largely rural, and has no major industries aside from tourism. It has little to offer in the way of international trade. Yet its citizens benefit from some of the best retirement packages in the world, and have one of the highest standards of living in Europe, all on borrowed money. How does Greece maintain that, pay back its debt, and keep itself from being so deeply entrenched again? It has to change how it interacts with other nations, especially other nations on the euro.

One solution is to turn Greece into a trade nation. Make Greece the China of Europe: low/no tariffs for imports/exports and free trade through Greece for all European nations,and any goods coming from without the Euro would have taxes/tariffs placed on it through the Greek markets. That money would go 50% to the debt-holders of Greece, 50% to the Greek government. This solution would mean that Greece has a valuable asset to give to all of Europe. While the larger nations may not take advantage of this, other smaller countries probably would. This would give Greece some authority over the European markets, and make them a player in the European economy, rather than a consumer.

Another is to reinvigorate Greece to be a more lucrative or attractive place to conduct business. Lowering taxes for businesses, encouraging growth, and turning Greece into a locus of private-sector activity in Europe would help it to jump start its domestic economy.

Finally, Greece could be reinvented as a tourist destination. Recreation programs and travelers incentives could be used to make Greece an affordable, attractive place to vacation. Again, lower excise taxes and so on could encourage people to visit.

What do all these solutions have in common? They cost money and take time, and won't work if there's further austerity. Instead of slashing spending in the hopes of digging out of a debt hole larger than the countries GDP, why  not work to raise that GDP and use the new-found productivity to pay back that debt? It would make the euro stronger, Greece stronger, and stabilize the European economy for years to come.

Playing Both Sides

Republicans in Congress have been screaming for a hearing over the administration's handling of the investigation into what happened at the US embassy in Libya on 9/11/12, and were granted that hearing yesterday. They claim that the administration ignored warnings from the embassy that an attack was coming, that they failed to take the threat seriously and gutted security when they should have strengthened it, and that they are now trying to cover their tracks by being less-than-forthright about what actually happened. All of that sounds pretty damning, and at least part of it is fair criticism.

For one thing, the administration has not been publicly clear about what it believes happen in the attack that killed four Americans, including our Ambassador. It has also been very defensive of the officials who have reported information and who are running the administration's investigation. They have also been quick to try and steer any blame away from Clinton, and other top officials, which has certainly raised some questions among conservatives about why the President is so protective of these people if they did nothing wrong.

Well, as it turns out, Republicans are just as culpable in the failure of security in Libya, and even contributed directly to the debacle. How? Well, since they gained power in 2010, House Republicans have repeatedly cut funding to foreign embassies, and have reduced security personnel in those locations. While the folks in those foreign embassies expressed concerns about the lack of security, and those concerns were largely ignored, it should be noted (again) that it is the responsibility of Congress, not the President himself, to set fiscal policy, and give more funding to different agencies. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), admitted to slashing the funding for security at foreign embassies and then, in the same breath, accused Obama of ignoring the warnings from those same foreign diplomats about the lack of safety.

And another interesting point. Chaffetz, along with Darrell Issa (R-California) were among the loudest voices calling for an investigation into the failed security and causes of the Libyan attack. Do they really believe themselves absolved of any responsibility, or do they think that people won't notice they stripped funding for these embassies and their security details.

And as if all this hypocrisy weren't enough for Issa and Chaffetz, they also decided to oust our very own CIA in a publicly viewed, media-covered event. The level of incompetence and straight-out insanity shown by these two is astounding. Chaffetz, on multiple occasions, pointed out a nondescript building that was being shown on a map of the compound where the attack occurred, and made reference to it being a classified location by saying “I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today.” Really? Apparently it didn't occur to him that no one else would realize what they were seeing in the photo. Of course, they do now.

So, all in all, there's a lot of blame to go around, but most of the issues seem to stem from stupidity and hypocrisy. Again, I'm not blaming the conservatives alone, and not simply by virtue of the fact that I don't agree with them. I'm blaming them because they genuinely had a hand in causing the lack of security they are complaining about, and have botched their investigation into the incident by ousting our intelligence community. Issa and his ilk are turning yet another national tragedy into a political circus with his committee, and is using his public soapbox to try and nail the administration with all the blame, while he and other members of his party are equally to blame. I would love to see Issa and the committee fulfill its duties, which is to be an oversight on waste, fraud, and abuse in government finances rather than a hyper-partisan watchdog attempting to disrupt the administration it disagrees with..


UPDATE: Darrell Issa is also going after the September jobs numbers, which seemed very good and hence have come under a lot of scrutiny. Again, such an investigation falls outside the general scope of the committee, but that doesn't seem to be stopping him.



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ohio Voting

Finally found a story that didn't have to do with the debates. It has to do with early voting in Ohio. You may remember a while back when Republicans in the state were attempting to limit the hours that polling places were open for early voting statewide. That decision was challenged in court by the Obama administration, and two judges have now ruled it unconstitutional.

Here's the funny part. Republicans in the state a re complaining that the ruling puts the federal government in control of Ohio early voting practices. That's a lie. In fact, the ruling puts the authority to decide voting hours back into the hands of local governments. See, before the GOP tried to make statewide standards, the decision of how long a polling place remained open was left up to that polling place. So Republicans were trying to overrule local governments to prevent an estimated 93,000 people from voting.

Anyone got anything?

You know what I really hate about this time of year? Not the colder weather, not the frost on my windshield, and certainly not the political coverage. Oh, wait, that is something I hate about this time of year. And not just that it's so prominent, but that it's so focused on little things.

Take, for example, the coverage of the one and only presidential debate we've had so far. Since then, it's all anyone in politics has been talking about. It's been analyzed a thousand different ways, conclusions have been drawn from like nobody's business, and nothing else is getting done. There are no other stories in politics, save for the election. And now that the debate has been fading from people's minds, things are starting to shift...towards the next debate.

The problem with this time of year is that it is the perfect moment to get people involved in politics. The election is around the corner, everyone is suddenly interested to know something about their choices, the undecided voters are waking up from their four-year stupor and are trying to make a decision, and what does our media system do? Goes bat-shit insane over the tiniest thing that happened a week ago in a debate! That's all we've heard about for a week! Aren't there more important things to discuss? Shouldn't we be having a national conversation about the issues, instead of a national debate about who "won" the debate last week? Really?

But news agencies know that this is what people will tune into. They know that these debates will convince people to vote for a candidate based less on what the candidate said than on how they said it. So, all the analysis, and all the energy of our media, is devoted to a dissection of the style of each candidate, rather than the substance. And for all those people who are only just joining us in the political sphere for their once-every-four-years inclusion into the debate, it's a disservice.

So, no, I don't have anything else to talk about, because no one else is talking about anything. So, instead of talking about the same thing, I'm going to talk about their lack of talking about anything....Okay, I need to take a break. Seriously, though, this is getting out of hand. If we survived on information, we'd all be starving in the streets right now. Just when politics is getting to be interesting, and just as more people start paying attention, we start losing any semblance of interesting discussion or policy debate. Why aren't we focusing on getting people interested in politics long-term? Wouldn't that be more beneficial?

Monday, October 8, 2012

What the Debate should have been like

Jon Stewart and Bill O'Reilly square off in a debate that should be as popular, if not more so, than the Presidential debate we recently endured. In fact, it should be a template for all future debates. Why? Because they tell it like it is, they answer questions, and they aren't afraid to yell at each other. Oh, and it's hilarious. Enjoy!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Tax Shelters

We hear a lot of discussion about tax shelters, tax havens, and so on. This is one of those topics that sends people into fits of hyperbole, overgeneralization, and usually hypocrisy. That's because a) most people don't really get how they work, b) don't know if they should like them or not, and c) don't know if their preferred candidate likes them or not.

The thing with tax havens is that they completely bypass American tax policy. We've tried repatriation under Bush II, who cut the repatriation rate to 5%. That resulted in a net job gain of 0. During the Republican primaries, candidate Rick Santorum suggested a repatriation program with a 0% tax rate, which makes no sense whatsoever (the next logical step would be to pay companies and individuals for bringing their money back; think we'll hear that in 2016?).

The general consensus, at least among Democrats and moderates, is that tax havens are bad. They allow wealthy individuals and companies to send vast amounts of money overseas where US taxes won't be imposed. NPR recently conducted a study where they set up a shell company, essentially just a PO Box in the Caimans, to prove just how easy it is. Romney himself is known to have used tax shelters in the Caiman Islands, as well as in Switzerland, though to what extent we don't know. Suspicions abound that Romney may have moved money out of a Swiss bank account when the bank started naming Americans who used their services to bypass US tax laws, which is illegal.

However, despite the fact that tax havens let the wealthy pay no taxes on certain income, they are tolerated, if not celebrated, by some conservatives. After all, if you believe that wealth is the ultimate goal of business, doesn't it make sense that you would support a system of global back doors that allow for wealth to be stashed away from the hands of government? If you don't believe in taxation, wouldn't you support ways of bypassing it? It makes sense. While most prominent politicians don't come right out and support tax havens, they at least staunchly ignore the issue.

Then there's Paul Ryan. Rather than simply embracing the idea of tax havens, Ryan suggests that we cut tax rates in America to the point where we become a tax haven for other nations. His idea, of course, is that individuals and businesses here in the states would keep our money here, and that other wealthy people would move theirs here as well, providing us with the chance to tax it. But here's the thing: we would have to essentially gut our entire government, slash tax rates by about 90%, and give banks complete anonymity in order for that to work. We would have to turn ourselves into a 3rd World country that is owned by the wealthy, because that's exactly the place where these people stash their money.We would have to loosen the laws and oversight we have on banks to the point where there is no regulation whatsoever. Is that really the price we want to pay so that the wealthy will be happy?

September Jobs Report

For the first time in nearly four years, the official unemployment rate has fallen below 8% to 7.8%. The economy added 114,000 jobs in September, up from estimates, and numbers from the previous two months were also adjusted upwards by nearly 100,000 each, giving a sizable boost to the outlook of our economy.

What's even better about these numbers is that the unemployment rate fell for the right reasons. In the August report, released a month ago, the unemployment rate dropped because more people gave up looking for work. In this new set of data, the unemployment dropped because more people found work, and more people reentered the workforce and were hired. That's huge. Combined with slight gains in housing, investments, and some slow loosening on borrowing by the banks, things are starting to pick up again.

Of course, this is only one month of data, and taken in context, it's still a slow recovery. But here's the point: we're in recovery. It might be slow. Congress isn't helping by being unable to come to an agreement on anything, but we're growing in spite of that. This is good news.

Even if these numbers are slightly off the mark, optimism is a commodity we have had little of recently. Official unemployment numbers, while they may be suspect in their accuracy, still manage to inspire people, and that inspiration is going to help with confidence in the marketplace. The more people that start working, the more money they have to spend, and the cycle just goes from there. And, as an aside, we still haven't seen an increase in hiring for the holiday season. Many retail places hire extra staff starting in mid-November, and keep those jobs right through to the new year. That boost has resulted in big gains for the economy in the past few years, and this year will hopefully be no different.

Fingers crossed (again) that we continue to see growth and gains in the economy!


UPDATE: As you might expect, there are a lot of people questioning these numbers. For example, if there were 114K jobs created, why does a separate government report claim that over 800,000 people found work last month? Some people, like the folks at the Blaze, are trying to make hay out of this by insisting the the administration altered the numbers.

In reality, it's very easy to have more new workers than jobs created. And, it's a great trend. The reason for this is that there are literally millions of vacant job openings all over the country. This shows that, not only are jobs being created, but more than that number are being filled. In addition, this trend seems to indicate that more people are looking for work and finding it, another good trend. So, don't think that these numbers don't make sense. They do, and they are positive.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

2012 Presidential Debate Review

Last night, Obama and Romney joined in Denver for the first of their presidential debates. The debate was hosted and moderated by PBS, and lasted for about an hour and a half. Initial thoughts, and polling following the debate, have shown that most people thought Romney did very well.

In my view, that's pretty accurate. Romney appeared more comfortable, he was very aggressive with the President's record, and he was well-spoken. The President, by contrast, seemed out of practice, stiff, and didn't really engage Romney on his own policies, or call out the candidate on the gaffes he's made recently.

But that initial view of the debate really only covers mannerisms. What about content?

Neither candidate went very specific, though they seemed to try. Both presented multi-point plans on various issues, but their points were vague and more like statements of position rather than actual plans. This was particularly prevalent with Romney, who struggled to not only remain vague but also maintain consistency with his earlier statements. Romney, it must be remembered, is used to addressing supporters and not all Americans at once. He had to be more moderate and more appealing, and therefore had to walk back some of his policy positions to appear more likable. The President did not have that issue.

The topics were the economy, jobs, regulation, health care, and the roll of government. What struck me is that both candidates tried to make sweeping statements that covered a lot of ground, while trying to attack their opponent for doing the same thing.

The one thing that really swayed my opinion about the debate, though, was Romney's statements. First of all, he had many that were untrue, such as the $716 Billion from medicare, the raising of taxes, and the numbers of his own tax and economic plan. These were issues that he harped on over and over, engaged with the President over, and that he clearly was not ready to discuss. Many of those points were wrong, and he continued to give them. In one case, involving taxes and his economic plan, Romney stated that he would reduce rates while keeping this from raising the deficit and without raising taxes on the middle class. Yet Romney never explained this. Instead, he made several other statments throughout the night about his plan being better for middle income Americans without explaining how, even when Obama pointed out that running the numbers meant huge cuts to programs for middle income Americans or a higher tax rate on them. This remark went unchallenged.

Some analysts have pointed out that Obama failed to target Romney aggressively over Romney's recent statements, particularly that 47% of the country were dependent on government. While they saw this as being cowardly or somehow less than reasonable by the President, I happen to think that it was a mark of respect for the other candidate. Obama stuck to policy, to the issues at hand, and did not engage in character assassination or personal attacks. Romney, to his credit, seemed to do the same thing. While I'm sure many people felt Obama should have attacked Romney for his previous statements, I'm happy with Obama's decision to stick to the topic at hand, and debate those issues with Romney.

And speaking of topics, this night was really geared to Romney's strengths of the economy and jobs. He's a big name for taxation, regulation, and business. It will be interesting to see how he fares on issues such as foreign policy and social issues in the coming debates.

In the end, my feeling is that there were no "winners" during this debate, and that we will have to wait for the next one, on October 19th, to see who does well. In the mean time, I don't think much will change. There may be some shifts in the polls as more people make a final decision about a candidate. But again, we've got more debates coming, and they will likely tell us more about who would be a better commander-in-chief.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Proof of voter fraud

Well, here it is. Proof of voter fraud. It has been found in numerous counties in Florida and at least five other states. And not just a little fraud, either, but totaling thousands of cases on Florida alone. And this isn't some rogue "bad apple" either. This is tied to the national committee itself! Conspiracy!

Before any Red-meat Republicans get carried away, I would love to point out that this fraud was committed by a group contracted and paid for by Republicans, and who perpetuated fraud in order to help elect Republicans. Unlike ACORN, there is actual fraud, backed up by evidence, and being investigated by state officials. Read about it here, or just watch the news. They're mostly picking this story up now. Unless you watch Fox News, in which case you'll never hear about it.

Voter ID Win

A judge has just ordered that the voter ID law passed in Pennsylvania be kept from being enforced for the coming election. There is still the chance for an appeal, maybe even before the election, but the ruling is groundbreaking in the ongoing debate over the constitutionality of voter ID laws.

As I've posted many times before, the argument for voter ID laws is that they will prevent voter fraud, which advocates say is a big problem. The argument against voter ID laws is that voter fraud is not a problem in the US, that the laws unfairly target certain groups that are more like to vote democratic, and that the laws are designed specifically to disenfranchise those groups (the poor, minorities, the elderly, and students). For the most part, voter ID laws have gone unchallenged in states where they've been passed (nearly all by Republican legislatures and governors). The Pennsylvania ruling is only the second of its kind (after Florida) that has stopped the implementation of this law.

There have been a number of studies that show that these laws have an adverse effect on groups who tend to lack photo IDs. In some states, a firearm permit is acceptable but a veteran's photo ID isn't because the Vet ID doesn't have an address on it (even though it has a picture). The poor don't tend to have photo ID either, because many of them don't own cars and so don't really need to spend money on a driver's license. And if you live in Mississippi, forget about it if you don't already have a photo ID, you may as well just stay home.

Maybe I'm biased, but it seems to me that, if we don't have a problem, maybe we shouldn't be disenfranchising 11 Million Americans from their free, anonymous civil right and responsibility in the name of fixing said non-existant problem. Nothing like throwing the baby out with the bath water, eh?

Oh, and before you say that these laws don't disenfranchise voters, do the research like I have. I've posted links on this post, as well as others that have a lot of information. Type in "voter ID laws" in Google, and just read. That's all you have to do. And one more thing: voter ID laws will do nothing to prevent in-person voter fraud, when it does occur. Why? Because photo ID is notoriously easy to fake. Just ask any kid with a fake ID that shows they're 21. Come on. And furthermore, there's is more voter fraud than the kind committed by voters. Again, studies have been conducted to show that it's barely a problem at all, and that most of the cases of "fraud" were made in error and corrected.

Seeing it Different Ways

Poll after poll, study after study have all showed that Obama is pulling ahead of Romney, both nationally and in swing states. Florida is still close, but Romney is slipping in Ohio, and losing ground in other places too. Overall, it's not looking good for Romney.

Well, apparently, that depends on how you look at it. An op-ed written by Chris Stirewalt for Fox News, makes the argument that the polls are being skewed by the mainstream media to favor Obama. The argument is that this is being done to bolster democrats and dishearten republicans to try and push the election towards the incumbents victory.

And this isn't the first time this has come up, either. Republicans have been complaining about polling for ages, even when their own polls are showing the same trends. So....what's the issue? The issue, of course, is that their candidate seems to be sliding, and they don't want to believe it, so they're making up an alternative reality in which it's not the case.

And the Stirewalt op-ed brings up another point. He writes a brief paragraph that criticizes the president for not labeling the attack in Libya a terrorist attack, and calling it weakness. Stirewalt tries to use this as a way of claiming that Obama is playing it safe, letting the poll numbers speak for themselves, and is not going to do anything that will cause a debate. The interesting thing is, this is exactly what Romney should have done. Instead, he was loud and got himself in trouble. Romney made all kinds of statements, trying to generate a discussion that would skewer the president, and then ended up shooting himself in the foot, repeatedly.

None of that seems to matter, though. If you believe the polls are wrong, and believe that the nation favors Romney (the only evidence being that you personally favor him), then Romney is closing in on a decisive victory. If he loses, then it will be more evidence of voter fraud, bias, or something in our system, right? Like I said, It all depends on how you look at it.

When Dimwits Attack!

The biggest new thing to happen in the political world is not political at all. It has nothing to do with legislation, the elections, and is tenuously related to foreign policy (at best). The story that has started to seep into the internet news cycle is that the White House was hacked by a group of spear-phishing Chinese computer geeks sometime last month. While the network that was hacked was unclassified, and there are no reports of the hackers actually stealing any data, many people are up in arms over this story.

You would think that a story like this would generate discussion on things like our computer safety, the growing problems with storing data electronically, and perhaps even the strained relationship between the US and China that will probably get worse as a result of this little incident.

But none of that is on the minds of Americans it seems. You know why? Because conservatives are too busy blaming Obama.

This is getting incredibly tiresome, but this particular story perfectly exemplifies the issue I have with the recent attacks on our President. How in the hell is this Obama's fault? Did he hack the white house? Did he tell them what to do? Did he allow it? Could he, personally, have stopped it? Ridiculousness runs unchecked through the ranks of the GOP electorate, as they pin a foreign cyber attack on their sitting President.

The Dimwits are attacking, people! They are coming out in droves to try and make a loose, patently illogical and incorrect link between Obama and the group that hacked the White House network. When I first read this story, I commented that Republicans would blame Obama, sort of as a tongue-in-cheek joke about the fact that they seem to blame everything on Obama (including hurricanes). What I hadn't counted on was that this would actually be the case. I feel as though I should have learned my lesson by now, and stopped underestimating the antics of the brainless conservative ideologue.

And you know what's even better? Crazies are making even more outrageous claims. I'm pretty sure at least one person suggested that Obama gave full access of the White House network to the Muslim Brotherhood. Another claimed that Obama was a chinese hacker! I cannot make this crap up, I'm sorry.

Do people really think this is constructive? Really? I mean, how does it reflect on our nation when roughly half the people are blaming Obama for something he clearly had not part of? Is this what they will say when a conservative gets back into office? If there's a conservative president, and their computer network gets hacked by the Chinese, will they say its the sitting president's fault? Will they? Did they (I couldn't find the actual news article, but the timeline is more comprehensive anyway)? This is not the first time we've been hacked, and probably won't be the last.

the larger point, of course, is that we really shouldn't be blaming the president for things beyond his control. Do people blame Clinton for the Oklahoma City Bombing, or for Columbine? Do people blame Bush for the computer hacks that occurred under his presidency? Not that I know of, nor should they. So why blame Obama? To me, it seems like people are just trying to find all the reasons they can to hate the President, no matter how far-fetchd or insane.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Luckiest Dude on the Planet

John Stewart ran a great bit on why it seems that Obama is pulling ahead in national and statewide polls, despite a poor economy and international struggle. The reason, says Stewart, is Romney. Romney has been making so many gaffes, walking back so many statements, and changing his policy positions so many times, he's basically winning the election for the President. All Obama will have to do in the upcoming debate is sit there and let Romney debate himself.

Illogical Arguments

The first Presidential debate is coming up on Wednesday, and we're five weeks from the general election. I think I speak for many Americans when I say...THANK GOD!

This has been a truly aggravating election cycle. There's been a lot of lying, mud-slinging, in-your-face campaigning, and a headache-inducing amount of money spent on ads and rallies. While that money spent has undoubtedly helped local media outlets stay afloat in these tough economic times, it also means more crazy people have more time on the air to spout their insanity directly to the American People. Here are a few examples.

1. Senate Republicans have blocked another jobs bill, this one designed to put veterans back to work. Veterans, who suffer from an 11% unemployment rate, are not only national heroes, but also struggling in the job market. The bill would have devoted $1 Billion to establishing a program based on FDRs CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) of the 1930's and 40's. This bill, as with the CCC, would have given vets the opportunity to build and maintain national parks, highways, infrastructure projects, and more. It would have meant good pay for a lot of people, jobs, and a boost to the economy by giving consumers more jobs, more money, and more buying power. Republicans killed it in the Senate, claiming it was flawed, that we already have programs to give vets job training, and that the price-tag was too much and would place a greater burden on our children and grandchildren. I would like to point out here that these are the same lawmakers who refused to cut an amount 600 times that from the defense budget, even after the DOD told them they didn't need all that cash. What the GOP are doing here is the same kind of shell game they've been playing, that all politicians play at some point, with our national issues. They complain about jobs until someone comes up with a plan for job growth, and then they switch and complain about the cost of that plan and start complaining about the debt. When that becomes the focus, they switch back. It's a very nifty little trick that works well for stopping legislation, but not too well when attempting to govern.

2. A new report by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics confirms that Obama's first term in office has resulted in a net job gain, essentially throwing a wrench in the gears of a GOP talking point about losing jobs. As the article points out, Obama's job growth numbers are not fantastic, but that's because he started with an economy that was gushing jobs at the rate of hundreds of thousands a month. Not only did he stop that within a year, but since then the economy has added jobs every month. Granted, the rate has been slow, and there are a lot more factors besides the President. But, if the Republicans are going to put responsibility for the economy squarely on Obama's shoulders when the economy is bad, they can't very well say he's not responsible when it turns out to be getting better. But this probably won't change the narrative of the Right, who will continue pressing that Obama has caused huge job losses in four years. It's funny to me that people don't seem to recall the state of the economy in 2008/09. As has been pointed out in the past, it was pretty abysmal. But it's not anymore. Slow? Yes. Depressing? Sure. A failure? Not at all.

3. This is why organized religion gets a bad rap. It's also why religion and politics should not mix, why we're NOT a Christian nation, never should be, and why Theocracy never works and should never be attempted. That being said, this is humorous. As I hope you know, I don't believe in attacking politicians on who they are as a person. Romney can have his faith; that doesn't bother me. I believe in critiquing our leaders and prospective leaders based solely on their policies. Social policies are part of that, but I believe we can have a grown-up discussion about social policy without getting into personal attacks. So when bishop Thomas John Paprocki released this video claiming that Dems are "placing the eternal salvation of their own souls in serious jeopardy" by voting for Obama, it struck me as deranged in a silly kind of way. What really gets me about this is that Paprocki is making a political decision into a moral issue, which seems weird to me. After all, if you tie morality to politics, you end up with dictatorship (in my opinion). It also bothers me that people are making political decisions based on moral beliefs because, when it comes to morality, I don't believe you can debate someone. You have to let people believe what they will, but it's difficult to have a diplomatic and democratic debate with someone over policy when their political views are completely dependent on moral issues. As I said above, I don't believe in criticizing people for their personal beliefs, but I believe we need to be able to talk back and forth on political issues without people becoming personally offended by it. Videos like this do not help us get there.