Dec 22, 2009

The Milquetoast Presidency

What makes a man turn neutral ... Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality? -- Zapp Brannigan

If the Obama administration was a color, it would be gray. Far from the socialist revolution feared by the right and still pathetically whined about by the TEAbagging crowd, and far from a paragon of strong liberal policies effectively executed, Obama is no longer the enigma that worried many voters in 2008. We know exactly where he comes from:

The Center.

This may seem a betrayal to liberals who thought they were voting for a more inspirational version of Howard Dean. With his message of hope and significant change, Obama's base thought that transformational policies were going to sweep across this country: better schools, faster and cleaner transportation options, renewable energy , a transparent and ethical government, a peace-oriented foreign policy and single payer health care reform. In fact, Obama's rhetoric throughout the campaign and the earliest days of his presidency implied that he intended to deliver on these promises.

Obama has been far too willing to compromise on all these policies. The brand of health care reform in the process of passing the Senate is a giveaway to major insurance conglomerates that bears little resemblance to the government-managed option most voters wanted to see in 2008. The administration decided to pass an opportunity to cease the Afghanistan war, instead dedicating more troops to the conflict. A weak compromise on climate change revealed the diplomatic weakness of the Obama White House. Thus far he has failed to close the infamous prison at Guatanamo Bay and deal with its inmates. Obama's brand of clean energy initiatives boil down to the same kind of tax incentives that failed to stimulate development during the Bush Administration, just targeted at different industries. And Obama's transportation plans? $8 billion for high speed rail - not enough to build a single rail line.

It isn't that progress hasn't been made on all these promises. $8 billion for high-speed rail is $8 billion more than we have ever had before. The Bush Administration and Republican-controlled Congresses failed to make any progress dealing with detained enemy combatants. Obama simultaneously set a target date for a drawdown when announcing that additional troops would be deployed to Afghanistan. For the first time the United States will participate in a global treaty to reduce human impact on the climate, and the health care reform, while a compromise, is a landmark piece of legislation that will reduce the cost of health care and expand its accessibility.

Obama's willingness to compromise and assume the middle ground makes him an effective leader who has actually had a very productive first year. He is down-right Clintonesque. He occupies the same grey-area as Clinton - in the middle of the political scrum.

Let us not forget that Clinton led the Democrats to disaster in 1994. Count me among those who hope that Obama can deliver in 2010.

Dec 21, 2009

Things Are Moving

As the last week has shown, the end-of-the-year crush is on. As the nation digs itself out from a crippling snow storm and a devastating recession, decisons are being made on the fly. Especially within the U.S. Senate where the race is on to pass health care reform before the week is out. The largely septuagenerian chamber held cloture vote on an amendment at 1 a.m. last night. If the Senate can keep up this pace, it looks like the Democrats will succeed in passing health care reform and President Obama will keep yet another of his campaign promises.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky is heating up, and it is fly-by-night candidate Rand Paul who finds himself in hot water, embroiled by a scandal that has him closely associating with white-nationalist satanic death metal heads. Actually, Dr. Paul might gain votes among some crowds for these shenanigans, but I can't imagine the recent revelations will help him in the Republican primary.

On the world front, the death of Ayatollah Montazeri, a moderate Iranian spiritual leader, has spurred echoes of the Twitter Revolution. Obama is turning out to be quite the statesman, brokering a compromise agreement in Copenhagen after arriving to a summit in complete disarray. There is a good chance that these standards will make it through the Senate next year. The Obama administration is also making progress towards a new disarmament treaty with Russia. If I recall correctly, Mr. Obama wrote an undergraduate thesis on strategies for nuclear disarmament and thus successful negotiation and passage of a new arms treaty would be the culmination of almost 30 years of work.

David Axelrod became the first member of the Obama Administration to acknowledge their slipping poll numbers in the media. In 2010 it will be interesting to see if Obama can dig himself out of the hole - and take his party with him.

Dec 18, 2009

Why High Speed Rail Will Not be Like Amtrak

I have no problem admitting my bias in this situation - I have been an Amtrak traveller often in my life and I have always enjoyed my experiences riding America's rails, even the two times I was victim to 12-plus-hour delays.

Recent criticism of the Obama Administration's relatively modest high speed rail proposal suggests that the new rail lines would be subjected to the same kinds of inefficiencies as the Amtrak system. While it is true that high speed rail would require a significant subsidy to build and operate during its first years, there are a lot of reasons why the Amtrak comparison does not hold water.

For one thing, most of the delays which negatively impact Amtrak's popularity will not impact the new high speed rail system. Amtrak trains are frequently delayed by the private railroad corporations on whose rails they run. The new high speed rail system will have its own dedicated tracks and will not be subject to delays by freight trains on the same rails.

Amtrak can't compete with air and vehicle travel in most areas of the country because it simply isn't fast enough. Outside of the northeast corridor most trains are limited to a maximum speed of 79 mph. In more congested areas that speed can drop to 10 mph. These factors often limit Amtrak trains to an average speed over their schedule of around 40 mph. Even the northeast corridor's vaunted Acela service, currently the US's only high speed rail, has a maximum speed of 150 mph with an average speed of 80 mph. At these speeds Acela successfully competes with airline and automobile traffic along the I-95 megalopolis. The proposals being considered for high speed rail involve trains running at an average of 80 mph in the midwest and at speeds of up to 225 mph in California and Florida. This will make these trains competitive and attractive to business and leisure travellers.

Amtrak is also hurt by its scope - by mandate Amtrak provides a nationwide passenger service, from San Diego, to Seattle, to Portland, Maine, and all the way to Miami, Amtrak stretches from corner-to-corner of the United States. This means that it has to serve many smaller communities like Fulton, Kentucky and Alpine, Texas, where ridership is small and time is lost. On the new high speed rail lines, shorter corridors between large cities will be served. Instead of running a single train from Miami to Chicago, as Amtrak might have done during its better days, the new high speed rail network would run a train from Miami to Orlando, or Miami to Jacksonville. Studies have shown that there will be more frequent ridership along these corridors and that they will be cost competitive with the airlines.

Finally, the claim from opponents of high speed rail is that Americans are simply to connected to their automobiles or the jet-set lifestyle that they have known since the Nixon Administration collaborated with private rail companies to kill passenger rail in the United States. The average joe-sixpack will not want to ride the rails. However, the last decade has shown amazing increases in ridership and public support for Amtrak. Furthermore, municipalities from throughout the country, even in some of its most conservative areas, are lobbying for inclusion on Amtrak routes. It makes sense that this same enthusiasm will carry over to newer, faster and better trains.

Dec 17, 2009

Health Reform Check-up

The Senate debate on health care reform is starting to wind down as we approach the Christmas holiday. This comes after the House of Representatives passed a bill with a public option funded largely by rolling back tax cuts on the rich.

The original Senate proposal involved a public option funded on what amounts to a tax on health benefits, primarily 'cadillac insurance plans' which under a public-option system would be high-cost premium private plans. In other words, both public option plans would have cut the deficit, lowered the cost of health care, and received funding not from new taxes on the working classes, but on restored tax levels on the rich.

Unfortunately, this was not good enough for many conservative and moderate Democrats in the Senate, so a compromise was formed that scrapped the best part of the plan, the public option, and replaced it with a higher threshold for medicaid qualification and an option to buy into the Medicare system at the age of 55. It was hoped that by making this sacrifice, conservative and moderate members of the Democratic caucus would help prevent a filibuster.

Then the most powerful man in the Senate had his say. Connecticut independent Senator Joe Lieberman decided that he could not support a plan with a medicare buy-in option because it amounted, in is eyes, to the same thing as a public option.

If this really is a principled stand from Senator Lieberman, then he should be commended for standing up for his principles in the face of unanimous opposition from his caucus. However, Lieberman has gone on record in the past supporting an expansion of Medicare. This reeks of political opportunism at the worst possible time for the president, his party, and the country as a whole. Lieberman is a grinch! If the current private-sector health care system is allowed to continue without substantial reform, the system will go bankrupt and only the large donors to the Republican Party will be able to afford the cost of insuring themselves.

As of right now I have substantial doubts as to whether a bill in any form will pass the Senate before the Christmas holiday. Given the substantial differences at this point between what the Senate is considering and the bill that the House passed, there is no way that Congress will be done conferencing on the bill before the holiday.

Thus, I predict that Obama will not get his Christmas wish of a health care reform bill on his desk, and any reform bill that might make it there will be a huge disappointment -- unless, of course, Joe Lieberman's heart grows three sizes this week.

Dec 16, 2009

No Post Today

Okay, that is a slight lie as this is certainly a post, but finals week has killed me and I am unable to provide my usual insights.

Instead, please enjoy the dramatic chipmunk, Kill Bill edition:

Dec 15, 2009

One Hope Over the Line

Amidst the current 'Great Recession' there have been a number of interesting proposals to stimulate hiring, investment and lending. There have also been calls on both sides of the aisle to control government spending which has racked up record-setting deficits and has expanded the national debt.

One creative solution proposed by everyday Americans like the student in the clip below is the legalization of drugs and vice.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Waive your magical wand to change our laws, reduce the ridiculous prison population levels, and rake in the savings. Let us take a look at the impact of marijuana legalization on our economy.

Marijuana is a good place to start because there is pretty good evidence that any harm from marijuana use is negligible. Many Americans are already growing, selling and using it legally through the blossoming medical cannabis industry. Yet marijuana is also responsible for the vast majority of drug related arrests and citations in this country.

So legalization sounds good - you end the prohibition of a mostly harmless substance and thereby reduce the number of prisoners our taxes support and also reduce the number of legal proceedings necessary to appropriately process the accused, meaning municipalities can use resources that now go to catching, charging and incarcerating cannabis users for other activities.

It also makes sense to tax the sale of marijuana. There is precedent for such a tax, we already place levies on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol. With all the above savings and a new stream of revenue, you might think that legalization would put a big dent in budget deficits.

It won't. At best, legalization of cannabis products would account for $10-$14 billion a year in savings and increased revenue. Since we now measure our debt and our deficits in the trillions of dollars, the economic impact of legalization would be minimal for the country as a whole.

The biggest benefits from legalization would be local and regional in nature. Depressed areas like appalachia and the deep south are also prime areas for the outdoor cultivation of cannabis. Legalized marijuana would bring jobs to communities in these areas and would significantly increase revenues for the small community and county governments in these areas, allowing them to expand services to the part of our population which needs them the most.

The argument that legalizing drugs and vice would solve our economic woes and help end the deficit does not hold water, however we can't ignore the potential good that can come from policy change. Although the benefits of legalization would be minimal for the country as a whole, I believe that ending cannabis prohibition would help the most needy communities in the U.S. This makes marijuana legalization worth it in the long run.

Dec 14, 2009

Climate Balks

Interesting news from Copenhagen this morning. It seems that emerging industrial countries led by India and China have brought the climate change talks to a screeching halt with demands that industrialized countries accept deeper cuts in their emission levels.

At first glance this appears to be punishment by the developing world for the success of the West (and Japan). However, there is a certain justice in their demands. The current global momentum toward cooperative action on climate change would deny developing countries the opportunity to grow their economies as cheaply as the first world did.

Western Europe, Japan and the United States built themselves into world powers by burning fossil fuels. Any serious attempt at climate legislation would force these developing countries to make a jarring switch to renewable energy sources which are more expensive to implement in the short-term.

Furthermore, most of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere up to this point has been put there by Japan and the industrialized West. The West continues to emit more greenhouse gases than China and India, even with the size of their population. It seems only right that the West dedicates itself to more meaningful cuts to its emissions. At the very least such a pledge would get the Copenhagen talks moving again and raise hope for a comprehensive and enforceable climate change agreement.

If the United States and Western Europe expect China, India, and the rest of the world to take the harder road to development, then we should also set the example by accepting these cuts.

Sweet Sounds 12/14/2009

This song was featured prominently in a wedding I was at on Saturday. It has become my 'happy song' for the time being, which of course means that it must be shared. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was a ukulele player, singer, songwriter and activist from Hawai'i. He died in 1997, and it always pains me when I stumble upon such a beautiful voice posthumously.

Dec 11, 2009

GOP Now Polls Neck-and-Neck with Dems

Bad news for the Democratic Party. A CNN poll has the GOP within 1% of the Democratic Party in a poll where respondents were asked whether the country would be better off under the leadership of one party or the other. Congressional job approval has dropped to dismal levels, and this all comes at the threshold of the 2010 primary season.

Recent polling shows widespread dissatisfaction from voters on how the president has dealt with the issues of health care, the economy, and jobs. Though media outlets like MSNBC often attribute this to unrest within the liberal base over Obama's centrist policies, internal Democratic polling suggests this is not the case.

It is clear that time is running out for the Democrats in 2010. The Republicans have the political momentum and an energized and entrenched base. That doesn't mean that the party should sound the retreat, but it does mean that they will have to weather the storm of lost seats in the House and possibly the Senate. Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight keeps a good record of which seats are most vulnerable.

Dec 10, 2009

Who Is The Family?

A powerful and somewhat secretive group has been slowly permeating headlines recently in Washington. They are The Fellowship, also known as The Family, a growing circle of conservative Christian political leaders who seek to put their concept of God directly into our country's governance.

The Family is not new to the Washington scene, they were formed decades ago. They host the national prayer breakfast, an event that every president has attended since its inception. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford were counted among its membership. Watergate conspirators were also involved. The famous Camp David summit between President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Begin, and Egyptian President Sadat was orchestrated in part by The Family.

The group's current membership is a who's who of conservative idealogues in the US Congress, including Senators James Inhofe, Sam Brownback, Jim DeMint and Representative Bart Stupak.

Why should we be concerned? Because this is a non-governmental group which has direct influence on the federal government. Because The Family inserts itself into international diplomacy and often helps to bridge the gap between the US government, defense contractors, foreign dictators and executives of transnational corporations. The members of The Family work closely together in a non-transparent way to propose and pass legislation. Furthermore, The Family has recently been linked to an effort in the country of Uganda to punish homosexuality with death.

Dec 9, 2009

Kentucky and Local Politics Time

Bad signs for Democrats in Kentucky. An attempt by governor Steve Beshear to take the Senate for the Democrats failed as Republican Jimmy Higdon defeated Jodie Haydon for the 14th district state senate seat occupied by Dan Kelly. This loss will make the governor's pro-gambling agenda difficult to pass in next year's session of the General Assembly.

The loss of a long-safe Democratic state house seat in eastern Kentucky's 96th district should also have the party nervous about their chances next year. Not that Kentucky is well known for being a blue state, but after some well fought battles for US Senate seats many Democrats have been optimistic about their chances of winning Jim Bunning's seat in 2010 and adding to their majority in the US Congress.

I like to save the best news for last: Lexington, KY vice mayor Jim Gray is challenging Jim Newberry for the position of mayor of Lexington. Newberry has overseen the failed Centrepointe project and major scandals at Bluegrass Airport and the Lexington Public Libraries. Jim Gray represents a progressive but rational voice in local government. In a shocking twist, Gray counts well known arch-conservative Scott Crosbie among supporters for his mayoral bid, which he announced today.

The Global Government Conspiracy Theory

I have been critical of Kentucky US Senate candidate Rand Paul for his irrational views on the U.N. and the Federal Reserve. Dr. Paul looks at these institutions as parts of a global government conspiracy to subjegate American sovereignty to a global regime.

House Republicans took this paranoid fearmongering a step further and argued that international cooperation on the major issue of climate change is evidence of a global one-government conspiracy at work.

I think it is important that we stop here and acknowledge that it is true that the United States often gives up a piece of its sovereignty. Every time we sign a treaty with another international power or cede a piece of authority to a state government, we chip away at the sovereignty of our supreme national government. What Republicans are objecting to is not a conspiracy, but the way power politics functions. As it turns out, the government has decided to cede out some of its sovereignty to over 10,000 active treaty agreements. These treaties govern activity on subjects as diverse as ocean navigation, weapons proliferation and the conservation of albatrosses.

For a bunch of people supposedly working to take over the entire world in some kind of Dr. Evil/Ernst Stavro Blofeld-esque coup, the Copenghagen summit attendees sure seem to have issues coming to a consensus. Conspiracy indeed.

Democrats Fiddle as Obama's Approval Burns

The latest Quinnipiac poll puts Obama's approval rating at a new low of 37%. While people's support for the president is in a free-fall, that does not necessarily equate to a rebuke of his agenda. Instead, it appears to be frustration that he cannot implement his policies even with a supermajority in the Senate.

It is beyond popular comprehension why the Democrats in congress have been unable to pass more of the president's proposals and actually enact the 'change' that Obama ran on. The simple answer is that getting a unanimous decision from a group of Democrats is no easy task.

For one thing, Democrats are not a united party under one central set of policy positions, as the GOP makes every effort to be. Democrats are not forced to vote a certain way or required to believe in specific issues. There is no large media or propaganda tool to foster more unity and homogeneity in the Democrats. While the Republicans effectively create party unity and squash party dissent through talk radio and political pressure, the Democrats do not regularly engage in such behavior.

Democrats, in general, do not believe in ideological purity tests for their candidates or membership. Instead, the Democratic polity is made up of compromise. They compromise because only a coalition of interests can counteract the dangerous and monolithic Republican party. While Harry Reid struggles to get individuals as different as Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Chuck Schumer of New York to agree on the president's policy proposals, Obama is a sitting duck for the GOP criticism which portrays him as a do-little president with no sense of urgency.

If and when the Senate finally finds their compromise and starts passing this legislation, Obama's numbers should rise.

Dec 8, 2009

Obama Lays Out Jobs Initiative

Using much foresight, President Barack Obama laid out a plan to use the unspent money from TARP (the much maligned financial sector assistance program) on an initiative to spur job creation. In a speech earlier today the president focused on small business and infrastructure. Through tax incentives and lending assistance for small business growth and creation Obama hopes to stimulate a growth in jobs from the bottom up. At the same time an investment in roads, aviation and energy efficiency will help bigger business put more people to work by reducing overhead.

I only have one question: Where is the funding on high speed rail in all of this? By writing high speed rail into the first round of stimulus the government got an amazing response - over $100 billion in state applications for federal funds from a pool of $13 billion over five years. States clearly have an interest in hiring private companies to build high speed rail lines connecting the mega-regions in our country. Many of these jobs are shovel ready. If we spent more of this money on high speed rail, we could put tens of thousands of Americans to work in a matter of months.

Fun in Kentucky!

If you live in Kentucky's 14th Senate district, today is special election day! Go out and vote to dismantle David Williams obstructionist republican bloc in the state Senate. Or, if you are like most of us and you do not live in the 14th district, you can always help phone bank to stop the bloc!

A Compromise Too Far

There are reports that a group of 10 conservative and progressive Democratic senators charged with finding a compromise to get health care past a GOP filibuster have tentatively come to an agreement. They would scrap the public option as we know it and replace it with two fixes.

One would be a government sponsored national insurance plan which would compete on the open market. This plan would be similar to the insurance offered to members of Congress. The other would be opening up the current social health insurance options, Medicare and Medicaid, to more people. Americans over the age of 55 could buy into Medicare early and pay to be covered by Medicare before their retirement age. Medicaid would be expanded to cover those at 150% of the poverty level.

The plan is being hailed as a potentially great deal which would give conservative Democrats political cover to vote for health care reform without going on record as supporting a public option controversial with non-liberal non-moderate voters. However, it expands two government programs that do not exactly have the greatest track records.

Medicare and Medicaid, while they do successfully insure the elderly, young, and disabled on both the state and federal level, often do not pay out the full cost of care to the hospitals with which they are contracted. In other words, public health facilities take a hit to their bottom line every time they treat one of these patients due to the discounted care they are required to provide. It is true that these 'losses' may be on paper only due to the ridiculously inflated cost for treatment and services pushed by the private health care industry, forcing this compromise on our health care providers will cause much more urgent growing pains than establishing a true, vigorous public option to ensure Americans health coverage.

The good news is it appears that should health care reform in any form pass the Senate, there are procedural plans to avoid yet another heated partisan battle in the conference committees between the two chambers of Congress, leaving open the possibility that a bill could be on President Barack Obama's desk to sign before the primaries begin early next year.

Dec 7, 2009

Is It Hot In Here, or Is It Just Me?

Today President Obama meets with other world leaders in Copenhagen, Denmark for a meeting on climate change. This meeting come on the heels of the discovery of hacked e-mails at the University of East Anglia which bring a part of the research on the effects and causes of global warming into question. While asking such questions is always important in good science, there is no reason to doubt such a tremendous area of research because of the intellectual laziness and dishonesty of three scientists.

This morning 56 papers in 45 countries publish a joint editorial which declares climate change a profound emergency. Low lying countries like the Maldives look warily to the tides. When home is an island just a few feet above sea level, taking action on climate change is more than a moral issue - it is survival. The Maldives are not alone, most of the world's population lives close to coastlines and near sea level. After the now famous images from Hurricane Katrina, it shouldn't be hard to imagine meters of water covering the streets of New York, Norfolk, Houston, and Boston.

The president's participation in Copenhagen presents the possibility for real international action on climate change. In 1997 the United States chose to opt out of the Kyoto protocols which set targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2012. Many onlookers doubt that any real policy change will come out of the Copenhagen meeting. However, the world's largest emitters are all participating. Even more hopeful is that two of the highest profile polluters not involved with Kyoto, The US and China, are coming to Copenhagen with significant proposals in hand to reduce and regulate their own emissions. This suggests that there may be real cooperative action taken across international and ideological lines to stop the human contribution to global warming.

Dec 4, 2009

Stimulate This!

Yesterday was president's big jobs summit and today comes with good news. Unemployment is down for the time being and it appears that there have been fewer lay-offs over the last month. The economy is moving again. Before we get out the confetti and noisemakers, remember that this is the time of year when a lot of people are hired for the holidays by companies like

Why are we having a jobs summit now? Shouldn't we have had one ten months ago when Obama first took office? Better yet, why didn't the Bush administration show such interest in boosting the economy and helping American workers? The Republicans were in control of this country for almost a decade and didn't show a shred of interest in helping the American economy, and now here we are today with another Democratic president left to pick up the pieces of our shattered economy.

There is a solid blueprint available for putting Americans back to work and restoring this country to prosperity. In the 1930s the Roosevelt administration put thousands of people to work modernizing infrastructure around the country. Approximately 70 years later, much of that infrastructure remains unimproved and poorly maintained. A 21st century New Deal is necessary to not only restore Americans to the labor force, but also to restore our national pride.

As for unemployment posting its largest decline since the beginning of December, I think that's great. Obama and his economic team deserve all the credit for getting us out of the George W. Bush recession. But there is sparse evidence that the jobs we're adding right now are the kind that will stick around. And it is very cold outside.

Dec 3, 2009

Would Be Senator Doesn't Understand the Senate

Rand Paul is now on record as saying that troop levels in Afghanistan are not the concern of Congress. As a Senator, Dr. Paul would be directly responsible for providing oversight and advice to the office of the president over military matters. This demonstrates that he may not completely understand the position he is campaigning for. Maybe he at least slept in a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Reductio ad Absurdum

Anyone who follows politics has heard the label. It is applied often on the campaign trail, on talk radio, and on the cable news networks. It applies to every state and county in the nation, and everyone from municipal councils to the President of the United States.

"Tax and spend government:"

This has become a pejorative term, an accusation by conservatives to portray government as some kind of thief that takes peoples money away - the act of taxation is equated with the act of stealing. The redistributive properties of the act of appropriation is equated with embezzlement. The libertarian argument suggests that individuals acting alone make more efficient decisions on how to spend and distribute their money. The constitution is brought up as evidence in these arguments that the government does not have the power to tax and spend.

History, especially American history, suggests this argument is senseless. For one thing, would a government even exist without the power to raise revenue and then spend it for the good of all its constituents? It is absurd.

How do these people criticizing 'tax and spend' government think roads are built? Our soldiers fed and transported?

If we so weakened our federal government, if we drastically reduced the power to raise and spend money, how would we pay off our debt?

What would countries like Russia and China think of us?

How many of their constituents would lose jobs that exist because of government money?

Taxation and appropriation are the core powers of our government, the foundation upon which our institutions have been built and the lifeblood by which they exist. Furthermore, in the United States the government is representative of the people - at least, the people who vote. When our democracy is truly participatory, our legislators and congressmen choose what is going to be taxed and where our money is going to be spent. We elect these men and women to very short terms from smaller districts - they most closely represent we the people, and they are the ones who decide how our money is going to be spent. If voters object to how taxes are being raised and appropriated, they have the power to change who is in office. Therefore, government absolutely does have the right to tax and spend money because it is representative of the needs and the will of the people.

When the Constitution was written the U.S. had been operating under the Articles of Confederation, a congress with no power of taxation was the entire federal government. The year before the constitutional convention a Massachusetts farm hand and former continental army soldier named Daniel Shays led a rebellion over imprisonment and confiscation due to war debt and lack of payment. The government was helpless to put down the rebellion or pay its soldiers. The rebels inflicted massive amounts of damage on the Massachusetts country side until their fury finally subsided.

Eight years later, during the presidency of George Washington, another rebellion occurred in western Pennsylvania over the taxation of whiskey. Using the governments powers to raise and spend revenue and field an army, Washington was able to use power to put down the rebellion and restore peace to the region.

The difference in these two situations was the United States Constitution. Not only does the Constitution expressly give the government broad powers to tax its constituents and to spend that revenue to provide infrastructure, safety and security to the country. To keep the people safe from internal rebellion or foreign security threats. To give us schools, roads, police officers, firefighters, to ensure a basic standard of living for everyone in common. That power was clearly intended by the Constitution's authors.

There is nothing wrong with "tax and spend" government and the people who make that argument clearly don't know what they are talking about. The whole concept of a representative government without the power to tax and spend is absurd. Without the power to raise and spend revenue, government will cease to exist and we will devolve into anarchy. Those in the TEA bagger movement should be criticizing their fellow Americans for making democratic choices that led to revenue and appropriation patterns that they disagree with. It is still our government, after all. Their arguments are absurd.

Dec 2, 2009

A Few Lemmings Stop Before the Cliff

It is very tempting to portray Republicans and the conservative movement in general as a monolithic mass of irrational, ignorant, selfish and dishonest individuals fighting for policies that do not better Americans as a society. It is, in fact, too easy to do so.

In reality there are a lot of rational voices on the right. Two of these rational voices recently broke with the right wing as a whole citing the backwards policies, anti-intellectualism and bigotry of the current conservative movement. Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic and Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs officially rebuked the movement that has been hijacked by individuals like Michelle Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin.

This is some great reading that comes from individuals who are capable of a much more honest and comprehensive view of the right than any liberal or moderate blogger. It looks like some within the party of Goldwater have finally woken up and realized what the fruitcakes are doing to this country.

Dec 1, 2009

Apocalypse Afghanistan

Never enter a land war in Asia...

Obama has decided to plot a course in the now 8-year-old Afghanistan war that involves more troops, more guns, and more money. In a time where every penny is being pinched and our domestic infrastructure is in crisis, this decision will require a great deal of explanation from our commander-in-chief.

An invasion against Afghanistan was a fool's mission in the first place. If not for the passionate feelings coursing through the American populace in the months following the Sept 11 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, no one in their right mind would have advocated an invasion into the most divided, chaotic, and violent region on the planet. Afghanistan is such a mess that it makes Palestine look like Walt Disney World.

That Obama has apparently decided to dump more money down this festering hole of a mission is evidence that the political pressure from the right has finally compromised the White House. The President and his advisors are so eager to claim the middle ground in order to be well-positioned for the 2012 elections that they have extracted their own backbones. Furthermore, their decisionmaking alienates the Democratic base at a time when they should be trying to lure more liberal voters into the party to shore up support in Congress for the ongoing debates on far more important issues, like infrastructure repair, health care and climate change.

Nov 30, 2009

Of Course They're Calling it a Purity Test

Good morning, everyone. Now that the dust is settling from the holiday weekend, let's look at some old business. Last week a debate erupted within the Republican Party on whether or not to make their candidates take an ideological purity test to prove their conservative credentials.

The test would make sure Republican candidates oppose economic stimulus, health care reform, climate change legislation, increased troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq, and pro-gun legislation. Basically it makes sure any candidate that the GOP runs is fully committed to stonewalling the president's ambitious policies.

Funding from the Republican National Committee would then depend on whether or not the candidate meets the standards of the test. No doubt this issue boils down to the GOP considering whether to weed out the moderate elements within the party.

Republicans like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine could find themselves in hot water should the RNC decide to require purity tests. Furthermore, Republicans in certain districts could be forced to make promised politically unpopular to their constituents simply to prove their conservatism.

This policy would be a disaster for the GOP - furthermore, its very proposal solidifies the GOP as a party without any true ideology. Republicans simply act to oppose the Democrats, culling votes with public discontent instead of proposing any effective policy changes on the federal level.

Nov 24, 2009

I'm Fed Up

Is there any Republican out there interested in a trade? I'll give you Joe Lieberman for Olympia Snowe.

Even though they aren't that far apart on the ideological scale, at least Snowe can reasonably claim that she is representing her consituents.

Libertarians Live in Fairy Land

Earlier this month I profiled Dr. Rand Paul. Now let us consider his political philosophy. Rand Paul has not been shy about flashing his libertarian credentials wherever he goes.

Libertarianism is a movement that is growing in influence in the United States as people's unease with federal debt and proposals for vigorous federal programs bring out the worst of the anti-government element in this country. A very loud minority is calling not just for budget cuts and lower taxes, but the utter emasculation of the government. These feelings have crescendoed to utter hatred for any of the activities or agents of the federal government. The discovery of the body of a census worker hanged by the neck in eastern Kentucky with the word 'FED' scrawled across his chest is a culmination of this anti-government sentiment.

These ideas and the passion with which they are progressed are not at all new. During the revolutionary period through the ratification of the Constitution in this country, a minority contingent of our founding fathers made the same arguments, fighting against the U.S. Constitution because they feared a federal government with the power to tax, spend, raise a military and regulate congress. Men like Patrick Henry claimed the new government was tyrannical: that it would curtail individual liberties and usurp power from the states. Their opponents, men like James Madison, George Washington, John Marshall, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson successfully argued that the Constitutional government electorally derived its power from the populace and therefore could never be a tyranny. Libertarians ultimately lost their battle against the majority that saw the need of a vigorous government to defend and unify the several states.

The war between these ideologies still rages on today. Though most of the anti-government conservative view point have moderated their views in public and have found a home in the Republican Party, there is a very strong anti-Constitutional point of view within that party led by the likes of Ron and Rand Paul.

However, more influential and mainstream elements in the GOP clearly hold this point of view as well. Grover Norquist, an influential GOP activist, once stated that he wanted to shrink the government down to the point where one could "drown it in the bathtub." Now the TEA Party movement, which argues that the government has overstepped its expressed power of direct taxation, enjoys the support of Rep. Michelle Bachman, Rep. Peter King, and the Fox News Network. A related contingent, often labeled the 'Tenthers', marches behind the banner of the 10th Amendment which delegates to the states powers that are not directed to the federal government.

These folks ignore not only the express powers of congress and the federal government, but also the important implied powers of the government. Notes from the debates following the constitutional convention in 1787 make it clear that the framers of that document did not intend for the powers of congress to be simply limited to those directly expressed within. The whole constitutional argument for libertarianism fails when one realizes the context that the framers were operating in: one government, based upon a small national government wholly reliant on the states for revenue and defense, was facing total collapse and a new, stronger central government was needed.

The libertarian element in the Republican Party wants to go back to that failed, flaccid central government that this country suffered under before the Constitution was written. They have forgotten the lessons of the Constitution and the very reason it was written.

Libertarians and their allies often point to programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Post Office, and Amtrak as modern day examples of why we don't want government running programs at all. They never mention that each of these programs has had trouble due to modern pressures their organizers could not have imagined. They never mention that Amtrak was designed to fail by a libertarian element within the Nixon administration. They never mention the success of the National Park System. They never mention our public schools which provide every student in our land with education more precious than the portion of our incomes spent on taxes. They neglect to mention the student aid programs that give middle to lower income students access to higher levels of education, allowing them social mobility. They ignore the need for centralized planning for infrastructure and defense. There are myriad federal agencies like NASA and the EPA that are paragons of success.

Limiting government is a good thing that ultimately does protect 'we the people' from tyranny. There are limits to where the argument can be taken. It is clear that protecting individuals from government led attempts to restrict civil liberties is a good thing. People should have physical freedom over their own bodies and intellectual freedom over their conscience and voice. I think even the most vigorous defenders of a strong central government stop far short of endowing that government with absolute power to control the economy or determine the destinies of the governed.

Electing libertarians to hold office is like putting atheists in the pulpit. It is like letting John Wayne Gacy and Michael Jackson open up a preschool. When it comes to operating in a modern world full of threat and famine, ecological disaster and ideological extremism, first world countries can ill-afford to have folks who don't believe in governance or who want to destroy the federal government to electoral positions within the federal government. For this reason, I believe Kentucky should reject Rand Paul's bid for the U.S. Senate.

Nov 23, 2009

A Sobering Thought

A report from the World Wildlife Foundation done in conjunction with the insurance industry estimates the costs of a half-meter rise in sea-level by 2050 at $28 trillion. This cost was based on estimated damages to port cities at or below sea level around the globe. We could provide the U.S. population health insurance 35-times over at that cost.

So why does it make sense to oppose health care reform due to worry over the costs, then turn around and ignore climate change in utter ignorance of the costs?

I would suggest that organizations concerned about pollution, climate change, and the state of the environment begin making appeals based on economic and security factors. The least it could do is expose the hypocrisy of opponents to environmental policy.

Recent polling suggests Americans are ready to accept major changes to environmental and economic policies to make our industries and utilities more eco-friendly. Americans also overwhelmingly support cap-and-trade. If the Obama Administration wants to make their pledge of action on climate change and environmental a reality, the political will is undeniably there.

Nov 21, 2009

Health Care Bill will Get Its time in the Senate

The Democrats show solidarity between liberals and moderates, progressives and conservatives, showing that a big-tent party built on compromise can work. Now let's get it on the president's desk!

Time to Get Involved Again

The great debate on health care reform has begun in the Senate, pitting Harry Reid and his innovative legislation against Mitch McConnell and the desperate Republican opposition. The bill will almost certainly have enough votes to pass, a majority of at least 51, but not enough yet to defeat a filibuster (60 votes needed). This means that this country's best opportunity for health care reform depends on individual citizens' ability to lobby their senators to allow an up-or-down vote on this reform and break the filibuster.

The arguments against this bill are two-fold. One is that it is too expensive given the country's current deficits and debt. However, an audit by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office shows that this bill will actually reduce the deficit over the next 10 years. The argument that this bill is too expensive falls flat on its face and is based on deception and ignorance.

Another argument against this bill is that it expands the power of the federal government to unprecedented levels. In fact, this bill does not add anything new to the powers of the federal government. Washington already has numerous systems through which it tracks Americans, from the census, to the IRS, to the Social Security Administration. Furthermore, the government already provides health care to a large portion of the population by managing Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and Tricare, the military insurance system. Evidence points to the proposed reform increasing the benefit and efficiency of these already existing government programs in a way that will reduce their costs without compromising the valuable services they provide.

Health care reform needs the help of those who believe it is the right thing to do. Write, call, and e-mail your senators demanding that they not support any filibuster of this legislation. The world's wealthiest nation cannot afford to let its populace suffer from a lack of access to health care. The folks that we've spent the last years pushing to elect to congress are finally delivering for us, and we owe it to ourselves to return the favor.

Sweet Sounds

Hip hop gets a lot of play in my life. I would say one in three days it is what is playing on the iPod as I pedal to work or class. For me it was an acquired taste, mom and dad did not like post-modern music for the most part, and my brother and I didn't really get exposed to a lot of hip-hop and rap until we were in middle school.

Here is one of the songs that made me fall in love with hip-hop, a love that continues to grow today. Here is Pharcyde with "Passin' me by"

Nov 20, 2009

Glenn Beck's Bad JuJu Taking Hold

A recent Public Policy Polling blog reports an alarming poll result. A majority of Republicans believe that the 2008 Presidential elections were rigged by ACORN.

This sentiment echoes Doug Hoffman's insistence that his defeat in New York's 23rd Congressional district was due to interference by ACORN. Despite evidence that he trails significantly enough that even a sizable lead in absentee ballots could not make up the difference, Hoffman seems to be in denial over his loss.

ACORN, for those who don't know, is a citizen's action organization committed to registering under-served, under-represented intercity communities to vote and providing them financial advice. It has been the focal point of a few partisan investigations and has suffered from scandal due to unscrupulous employees. However, ACORN represents the very essence of America's democratic principles: A more perfect union forged through increased and diversified participation. If anything, we should all be standing up for ACORN and helping to correct its problems.

While the focus of commentators like Glenn Beck has been on ACORN's scandals, the organization continues to do volumes of legitimate work helping the unprivileged. In fact, the conservative movement's obsession with ACORN is largely built out of a desire to purge minority, intercity, and lower-to-middle class voters from the rolls in order to guarantee electoral success. Beck in particular seems to take his paranoia over ACORN to unimagined heights by insinuating that me might be a target of assassination for his criticism.

If the outrage over ACORN was genuine we would hear these same individuals devoting as much time to the contractors in Iraq that have bilked the taxpayers out of billions of dollars and committed acts of debauchery and abuse on camera.

Nov 19, 2009

Obama Approval Rating Takes Another Lurch Downward

A Fox News poll puts Obama's approval rating at 46%.

The President better have something good up his sleeve, especially if his big goal of health care legislation passing this year falls through. The 2010 elections are looming very close and the potential to get anything done in Congress after the winter recess is quite slim.

On the slighly brighter side, the Real Clear Politics approval average for President Obama still holds above 50%. Barely.

Obama would be helped if those hoards of supporters who gave vitality to his campaign over the internet to reinvolve themselves through the website.

Fox News is an Entertainment Channel

I have tried to be respectful of Fox News and its large viewer base in the past. I have even tried watching Fox News to give it the benefit of the doubt, tuning in to Brit Hume, Neil Cavuto, Shepard Smith, and Bret Baier. While Hume and Smith in particular have been notable for their abilities as anchors, the reporting on the Fox News channel can hardly be called objective.

That is where the 'Fair and Balanced' slogan for Fox News falls on its face. I don't care what kind of commentators appear during a channel's prime-time lineup, I can avoid the commentators I don't care for with my remote control. I don't even care whether a politically neutral person sits behind the anchor desk versus a red-or-blue-blooded idealogue. I expect the reporting that I see to be reasonably neutral, or if politically charged, equally exemplary of both sides of a controversy. Traditional broadcasts on the major networks and PBS have always struck this balance by featuring a diversity of sources and allowing strong, intelligent voices from every position to comment.

Fox's reporting, on the other hand, is sharply slanted towards the right. Liberals and Democrats are not only demonized, but they are also ignored and underplayed. When Fox News deigns to represent a liberal view point, their producers often find the most inarticulate and irrational liberal available to do so - I'm looking at you, Alan Colmes. Reports often focus around remote anchor desks that are placed in such non-partisan atmospheres as TEA parties.

Now a Fox News viewer reading this blog entry might think: What about MSNBC? MSNBC has a trio of liberal commentators (Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz, and Rachel Maddow) and the network has taken a notable turn to the left over the past few years. While these commentators and many of their statements are not above the deceptive tactics and outright lies spun by Fox News over the past few years, the reporting on MSNBC, shared with parent network NBC, is excellent. Reporters like Chuck Todd, Andrea Mitchell, Jim Miklaszewski, and David Gregory meet a much higher professional standard than the low-brow reporting on Fox News.

Furthermore, networks like MSNBC and CNN have never had such a close relationship to a major political party, a single ideology, and the movements within that ideology. Fox News hosts have appeared on camera rallying anti-government TEA Party protests. Sean Hannity camped out in front of the hospital Terri Schiavo died in after her feeding tube was removed. Fox News anchors and commentators received talking points from the Bush Administration.

There is evidence that Fox News executives strictly control the content on the station through a daily memo. These memos instruct reporters to find news damaging to the Democratic Party and mandate hosts to spin issues in a positive manner for Republican politicians.

Finally, and least influential in my feelings about Fox News, is the infamous line-up of prime-time commentators featuring viewpoints as diverse as a klan rally. Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity need no introduction from me. They are well known for their extreme conservative view points and their ability to say anything, even in direct contradiction to their own previous statements, to protect and upheld the Republican politicians they are told by their bosses to support. Furthermore they have been caught falsely identifying video footage to inflate the apparent popularity of the extreme right-wing TEA Parties. The fact is that the only actual 'news' programs in Fox's daily line-up occur between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Most Fox News viewers aren't even actually exposed to news as the rest of the planet understands it - they get the editorial propaganda handed down from politicians to the Fox News management, who then dishes it out to their commentators and reporters in the form of memos.

When you combine the unbalanced reporting, questionable production decisions and clearly biased management tactics with the Fox News commentator line-up, you have solid evidence that Fox News isn't really a news channel at all: It is conservative television entertainment. It is also, as a White House aide recently put it, the propaganda wing of the Republican Party. It is a deceitful farce that Fox continues to call itself a "News" channel.

On Smoking

The University of Kentucky initiates a campus-wide smoking ban today. From this point forward tobacco use is prohibited anywhere on campus property, even the UK-owned streets and sidewalks.

Good for them.

I do not hate smokers or smoking. I used to be a pack-a-day smoker - I preferred Camel Lights, but have smoked everything from Virginia Slim SuperSlims (my wife's cigarette of choice) to Newport 100s to Lucky Strikes. Many members of my family either are now or at one time were regular smokers. Almost all of my friends still smoke cigarettes. Every now and then I have been known to smoke a cigar in the evening over a good beer or glass of whiskey.

Now that I am on the other end of the smoke, however, I find the habit disgusting. I know how caustic smoking is - as an asthmatic, I did untold damage to my own respiratory system when I was a regular smoker, but failed repeatedly to quit for my own good due to my addiction. Most cigarette smokers are so addicted to the act of smoking that they don't recognize their yellow-stained skin and teeth, chronic cough, or the spreading wrinkles on their skin. They don't notice that the way cigarette smoke hangs on their clothes makes them smell like a stale ashtray, and they don't recognize that the byproducts of their habit are unhealthy. Nicotine makes you feel good - even if the average smoker was capable of recognizing these facts, they wouldn't care. Nicotine makes you feel great.

However, there are significant public health risks that come from cigarette smoking. The acetate filters generally thrown on the ground after smoking are toxic, flammable, aesthetically unpleasing and costly to clean up. Most smokers use ashtrays, but there are a large number of exceptions to the rule, especially when smokers are forced outdoors or off campus into areas where there are no available ashtrays.

Second hand smoke is a proven killer, despite a small minority of deniers whose outcry is reminiscent of the global-warming-disbeliever movement. Any time someone has to be in a room with smokers or has to walk through a herd of smokers to get into a bar or onto campus they are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals that have been shown to cause cancer and cardiovascular disease. Imagine being forced to involuntarily walk through a cyanide-carbon monoxide cloud to go get a beer or an education. That is precisely what is happening when a non-smoker is being exposed to a herd of smokers.

Therefore, when an institution like the University of Kentucky bans smoking on its property it is doing a great service to its employees, faculty, students and visitors. The unfortunate effect is that the measure will force smokers into surrounding neighborhoods and onto the sidewalks of city streets, where a bike-riding asthmatic like me will be exposed to a toxic cloud of smoke and clots of smokers loitering around. I'd rather be stuck behind a diesel bus exhaust for my 20-minute commute. Their butts will litter the ground on and around these streets and they will become a serious public nuisance.

The Lexington-Fayette government has every right to forbid smoking on public sidewalks - they have already banned smoking in private businesses throughout the area. Taking the smokers off of our sidewalks and into their own yards, cars, and homes keeps their habit out of other people's lungs. Doing so would be politically dangerous, however, especially with the current anti-government conservative movement that fails to distinguish the margins of freedom at public health and safety. It is reasonable that life is before liberty and the pursuit of property in Locke's list of natural rights.

It seems that an individual who has greater concern for the public good than they do their own freedom to pollute and destroy their health should concur.

I would like to take UK to issue about one thing, however. The smoking ban has been presented as a public health issue, but the university continues to burn tons of coal in its two physical plants, emitting an even higher quantity of toxic gases into the air over campus than all of the smokers there combined. If UK thinks it is okay to go ahead and ban smoking while releasing the noxious byproducts of coal into the atmosphere, that is the very essence of hypocrisy.

Nov 18, 2009

Sarah Palin gets a boost from Fox News

Last week Jon Stewart caught Sean Hannity inflating the apparent popularity of Michelle Bachmann and the TEA Party movement by showing months-old protest footage and playing it off as if it were current.

Today the always observant Faiz Shakir found another Fox News gem: Host Gregg Jarrett describing the huge lines at Palin book signings today - which is fine, except for the footage shown behind him was from the campaign in 2008.

Kind of makes the 'news' in Fox News oxymoronic, doesn't it?

The Republican Ostrich Effect

As a concession to all of my good friends on the right, I have to say that conservative values are not all about lies and deception and that most conservatives hold their beliefs out of a desire to do what they feel is best for their country. However, time after time, on important issue after important issue, conservatives avoid solid data calling for organized and united action via the government in order to protect their philosophy. Many on both sides are so driven by their ideals that they not only refuse to act in their families' own interests, but they also dispute repeatedly proven empirical facts. They change the nature of truth.

Issues on which Republicans routinely exhibit this behavior vary greatly, whether it be the effect of Affirmative Action programs, Amtrak, the benefits of having single-payer health care, or the critique of the United States defense budget, there is an awful lot of denial in effect in the American right. Nowhere, however, is their fear of compromise more damaging than on the issue of climate change.

The world is warming. With no regard to the stories that Matt Drudge links to about anomalous cold spells late or early in the season or snowfall in unusual places the global average temperature is rising and our species will be significantly impacted from the effects of global warming. These effects include the recession of glaciers in equatorial regions and of polar ice caps, a rise in sea levels, a potential ice age in some regions of the northern hemisphere, shifts in precipitation causing deluge in some areas and drought in others, and the disappearance of species dependent on alpine and sub-alpine environments.

Not only is the world getting warmer, but there is clear evidence that the greenhouse effect is causing warming. The lower atmosphere is warming faster than the upper atmosphere. The other major element that forces warming, solar output, has been disproved as a cause of the current warming trend. The increase in greenhouse warming directly correlates with an increase in industrial and transportation emissions over the past 150 years. Among greenhouse effect contributors, carbon dioxide as seen the most significant increase over this time period. Humans are indeed contributing to global warming.

Moreover, not only do we know that human beings are contributing to the greenhouse effect, but we have reason to believe that there is a limited amount of time to control the impact we have on our environment. That is the whole idea behind cap-and-trade legislation. Clearly the ultimate solution to halting man-made global warming is one that both science and enterprise must forge together - we both need cleaner energy sources and more efficient ways of using energy. For the time being, though, it does not look like science and human behavior unrestrained will solve this problem. The closest thing to a market-based solution is cap-and-trade, where the right to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases is limited and traded on a market.

Why then is the party of the free-market so unwilling to accept scientific fact and a pro-capitalist solution to the problem? How does refusing to accept carefully measured data uphold their ideas, and how does ignoring the carbon problem help our society as a whole?

It is heartbreaking to see global warming called a 'myth' by people who should be smart enough to know better. It was enraging to see good science effectively censored by the Bush Administration. Cap-and-trade is not about taxing industry for bad behavior, it is about providing incentive for good behavior. An enterprising small business could do very well by reducing or eliminating its carbon output and then buying carbon credits to hoard or sell to industry at a price it could name. American business could thrive by 'going green' before the competition in other regions followed suit, benefiting from avoiding the inevitable sting of rising energy prices.

We can't afford for anyone in power to bury their heads in the sand over this issue.

Nov 17, 2009

Sarah L Palin, Will You Please Go Now?

John McCain probably didn't know the horrors he was unleashing when he made his running mate selection in the 2008 presidential race. He couldn't predict that his mistake would cost him an election and a lot of respect in the eyes of his peers and the American electorate. McCain also didn't know that he would have to make countless media appearances to defend his choice even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was a flop.

McCain also couldn't have predicted that the nobody from Wasilla, Alaska that he thought should be vice president of this country would become one of the most toxic elements to is own Republican Party.

I don't think the presence of Sarah Palin on the national political scene has done anyone any sort of good. To her credit, she seems to have drawn her own loud and outspoken contingent of devoted fans, but so has pro-wrestling and Vanilla Ice. Palin seems to equate her noisy fan base with political clout, evident in the fact that she still weighs in to make political endorsements in districts far from her Alaska home (NY - 23, anyone? Fine, how 'bout Kentucky?) despite the fact that she has left public office far behind.

Her welcome in her Republican Party should have worn thin on Nov 5, 2008, the day after the election. Public reports from those who have been close to her suggest that she present a poor representation of the values the party claims to represent. Furthermore, from her own public statements it is clear that she lacks the intellectual fortitude to effectively argue for Republican positions. There is no evidence that she has the capability to make good decisions and follow up on them with good executive policy. She can't even keep her own stories straight.

Instead, Palin seems to be a talking-point generator with a multi-million dollar smile. Her newly published bestseller and continued presence in the news are examples of her fame. The large contingent of conservatives continue to support her is caused by two types of American political behavior: Major party players that seek to exploit what they see as the lowest common denominator and those from the left side of the bell curve, the exploited lowest-common denominator. The idea is that if you put a carefully constructed aesthetically pleasing facade in front of the electorate, they will vote against their own interests. Idiocracy at work.

That is what Palin represents. Idiocracy: The dumbing down of America. Not only does she appeal to the lowest common denominator of the electorate through her background, but her message is one that attacks the intellectual, critical mind and upholds simplicity and apathy. She is a dark product of this epoch of the information age - where people like Newt Gingrich and Al Franken use media and technology to appeal to voter's reason, Sarah Palin goes for the gonads. If the rest of the political arena is "Inside the Actor's Guild", Sarah Palin is a Jerry Springer re-run.

The media, liberal, conservative, and otherwise does nothing to help the situation. The sooner we let the spotlight fade on the political Paris Hilton, the sooner we can leave this sideshow behind and focus on rebuilding the economy. Unfortunately, it looks like the thrilla from Wasilla intends to stick around for a while.

Nov 14, 2009

Sweet Sounds

Here's a blast from the past. This is a Roy Orbison cut from a special that was broadcast on NPR. Take a close look at the band backing him up and just spot the stars, it is really quite incredible... and beautiful.

Nov 13, 2009

Just Fix It

The state of America’s infrastructure is going from bad to worse. Every time a levee breaks or a bridge collapses that is just a symptom of a larger problem that affects every part of the country, rural and urban, liberal and conservative. As I type this our children are being taught in dangerously sub-standard school buildings and their buses are driving over obsolete roadways with structurally deficient bridges.

It is hard to forget the sight of water 14 feet deep in New Orleans after the failure of the levees there. The sight of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis was also horrific to behold. Failing infrastructure can be as deadly and heart-wrenching as a terrorist attack. It can also be as disruptive. Earlier this year the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge had to be closed indefinitely due to structural failure. This key link across the San Francisco Bay extended commutes by hours and overcrowded trains and buses.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our infrastructure a ‘D’ grade. Leaky water pipes waste billions of gallons of precious fresh water. Dams are broken, degrading, and at risk of collapse. Near where I write this blog runs the Kentucky River, which has 14 locks and dams on it, many of which are inoperable due to age. This makes the river unnavigable depriving the people of Kentucky a resource that they should have every right to access. The locks and dams on our navigable rivers date back as far as 150 years ago and many are now inactive making these waterways unusable to commercial traffic. The ASCE estimates that 50% of these locks are functionally obsolete. In 10 years that number will rise to 80%.

The Secretary of Transportation is warning us of the insolvency of the highway trust fund that pays for our current infrastructure upkeep and construction. For the second year in a row it has run out of money and has had to receive an emergency authorization and appropriation from Congress.

Though our recession is over the economy is still bleeding jobs. The unemployment rate is currently 10.2%, and some economists believe it will continue to grow to over 12%. before the recovery is actually felt. Rising unemployment could extend the recession even further. Certainly with this large a segment of the population willing to work but unable to find jobs, the manpower is there to reassemble our infrastructure.

Fine then, there are people to hire to shore up our levies and dams, lay down railroad track, hang new electrical wire, and pave new roads. How do we pay for all of this? The solution on the right seems to be to privatize the electrical grid and some roadways to help pay for them. However it is unclear whether there will be an will on the part of the private sector to upgrade these utilities if they were to own them.

Take the railroads for example, which were built and grown as a private industry. Many of our large class-A railroads have left their rights-of-way in abhorrent condition with warped rail, decades-old signaling systems, and centuries-old electrification systems. Their motivation for doing so is obvious: if they can still run the same amount of freight without having to pay the upkeep on their assets, they make more money and appease their shareholders.

Is this profit-driven model really what is best for our roads and electrical grids? I think not. Therefore the money has to come out of the United States treasury and new revenue streams must be opened up to fund infrastructure projects on a massive scale. This naturally means more taxes. Unless we end the war in Afghanistan and drastically reduce our defense budget, a tax hike is inevitable.

Maybe not a tax hike, actually, but a tax restoration. If we repeal the Bush tax cut, which vastly went to a small percentage of high earners in this country, we could fund this kind of infrastructure repair over a decade. Studies showed that Bush tax cuts have cost us over $2.4 trillion since 2001. In fact, if we raised the national gas tax a few percent, we could fund both health care reform with a public option and a restoration and upgrade of our national infrastructure simultaneously in a deficit-neutral manner.

There is clearly some bipartisan political will in Washington to get something done on a national level. I think funding will be the sticking point. President Obama has called for a ‘jobs summit’ in December. One of the topics which will be discussed is how to use the need for infrastructure repair and upgrade in this country to create new jobs.

However, there is already a bill in congress that will go a long way to funding infrastructure repair and modernization.It will put hundreds of billion of dollars into our roads and rails, and it will give good, permanent jobs to many of those currently seeking work. In future blogs I will be discussing the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 and why it is so important to the future of this country.

Nov 12, 2009

CNN gets something right

CNN has made what I think is its best decision in a long time. Veteran correspondent John King will be taking Lou Dobbs's time slot behind the anchor desk for CNN for a program focused on politics. This makes an already politics-heavy prime time cable news line-up even more chock full of political news and commentary, and John King will join Campbell Brown's show as the second purely political program in CNN's evening lineup.

CNN and Lou Dobbs have slipped to fourth place in the 7 p.m. time slot. Lou Dobbs was ranked behind Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC, the Fox Report with Shepard Smith and Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell on Headline News. There has been some suggestion that Lou Dobbs controversial views on immigration and the president's citizenship could have had something to do with his plummeting ratings.

King has said that his show will focus on straight news and not commentary, setting itself apart from the shows on MSNBC and Fox News.

Higdon pulls out the big guns

In an effort to narrow the fundraising gap between himself and his opponent, Democrat Jodie Haydon, Republican state Senate candidate Jimmy Higdon is having a joint fundraiser with Bowling Green opthalmologist and US Senate candidate Rand Paul.

This is surprising since Rand Paul has never held national office and his only political experience to date is campaigning on behalf of his father. Nevertheless, he has shown his fundraising prowess and will likely at least even the fundraising odds in this important state Senate special election, which could go a long way to shifting the balance in the KY General Assembly towards the Democratic Party.

Nov 11, 2009

Ky Senate Special Election Race Heats Up

The money is already rolling in for the special election to Kentucky's 14th district Senate seat. Two advertisements are hitting the airwaves for Democratic candidate Jodie Haydon. One ad is paid for by the Haydon campaign and runs as a rough introductory bio for the candidate:

The other was paid for by Keep Our Jobs in Kentucky, Inc, a poltical 527 group affiliated with the horse industry. It is largely a record ad. Both of these ads are in keeping with the candidates pledges to run clean campaigns.

Haydon has outraised his opponent, Republican Jimmie Higdon, by an almost 2-to-1 margin.

Haydon and Higdon are running for former Senator Dan Kelly's seat after Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear nominated Kelly to an open judgeship. Most observers agree that the nomination was a political move as Governor Beshear hopes to win back the Senate for the Democrats in order to get an expanded gambling measure passed through the chamber.

Glenn Beck program Jumps the Shark

Without the Lord of Delusions there to make it happen. It seems that Judge Andrew Napolitano wants to party like it's 1832.

Elsewhere in talking-head news, xenophobic birther idealogue Lou Dobbs has announced his resignation from CNN effective immediately.

And it seems that Jon Stewart is making a good living portraying Sean Hannity and his ilk as the lying Republican propaganda group that they really are.

FiveThirtyEight handicaps the House

One thing I've warned about is coming true - the Democratic coalition is beginning to fracture, and traditional southern Democratic districts are turning red faster than before. Though the major schism is years old, it seems that there are two wedge issues driving southerners away from Democratic party these days: Barack Obama and cap and trade.

The resistance to cap-and-trade is due to the dependence of many traditionally democratic districts in the southern and central appalachian mountains on the revenue produced from coal production and the popularity of the coal lobby there. Democratic Representatives from these districts were under a lot of political pressure to vote for that issue from northeastern and west-coast Democrats, and many of them succumbed to that pressure. This alienated part of the moderate-to-conservative base that supports Democrats in these areas.

The Barack Obama issue is yet another example of conservative racial and regional politics rearing their ugly heads. That isn't to say that the growing opposition is racist at heart, but racial politics has certainly helped to swell its numbers among rabidly conservative southerners who can't help but be influenced by the prejudices and intolerances of generations past. A black man in a position of power intimidates conservatives and thus they find fault more easily with him and his supporters.

There is also a regional political element to the opposition. Barack Obama and his Administration are largely centered around a core of Chicago, Ill politicians. Conservatives harbor a deep mistrust of the urban politics that emmanate from large cities. Urban politicians are identified with corruption and waste.

As the Republican Party has become more of a suburban and rural Party, the principles that foster compromises to provide services to large and dense populations have fallen away. Rural districts that were once solidly Democratic may now identify better with Republican values.

The question is not one of how Democrats keep or win-back these districts. The question is one of whether these districts are worth keeping in the first place.

As of today, though, it does not appear that the Democratic Party is in any danger of losing control of the US House of Representatives. Of concern, however, is the latest Rasmussen tracking poll in which Democrats have fallen behind by 6% on a generic congressional ballot, and the latest Gallup tracking poll which has them behind by 4.

Who Is Rand Paul?

Primary season is right around the corner, and in Kentucky competition is already under way for Jim Bunning's soon to be vacated Senate seat. Though there are many candidates, it seems that the race is narrowing down between Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo and Atty General Jack Conway for the Democratic nomination, and between Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Bowling Green opthalmologist Rand Paul for the Republican nomination.

Three of these candidates are well known to Kentuckians - we have voted for (or against) them before in primaries and state-wide elections, they have been public servants for years, and have established strong track records to run on or against.

One of these candidates is not like the others: Who is Rand Paul, and what rock did he crawl out from under?

Rand Paul is the child of former presidential candidate and US Representative Ron Paul of Texas. He has been a practicing opthalmologist in Kentucky for 18 years, but has never held public office. Dr. Paul has never been a US Representative, a state representative, a state senator, a mayor, an alderman, or even a dog catcher.

However, Dr Paul has done plenty of campaigning, both for Republican candidates and for his father. It is difficult to classify Paul's beliefs. It seems he shares his father's positions in almost every way, a strict libertarian point of view that he claims is constitutional but is clearly at odds with the Constitution. It seems that Rand is libertarian except when it comes to national defense and abortion. He seems to support extending the Republican Party's welfare program for inefficient defense contractors but does not support government funding for national parks. He can't support government funding and organization of public schools but he can support government interference and abrigement of women's reproductive rights. This conflicted point-of-view is probably not a desirable trait in a Senator who will be voting on nominees to the Supreme Court of the United States.

I am concerned that when his website lists his issue stances, there is a link for 'home schooling' but none for actual education. Tell me again: what is the hardline libertarian point-of-view on public schools?

Rand Paul also clearly believes in the one-government conspiracy theory that is continually raised by his firebrand father. His disposition towards agencies like the UN, the IMF, and the Federal Reserve and his belief that these organizations threaten the general territorial sovereignty of the United States betrays his paranoia about global aid and conflict resolution forums. Is this the kind of individual that Kentucky voters want advising the President on foreign policy?

Apparently it is. Paul has surged ahead of Trey Grayson in the polls. He is also raising money hand-over-fist. At this rate, unless Mongiardo or Conway emerge as viable candidates to serve in the US Senate, Kentucky is going to elect an extremist to represent them in the Senate. Rand Paul can do far more damage and field far more influence in the Senate than his influential father has from the house. Keep in mind that Dr. Paul would vote to deny our children adequate public schooling and to remove the United States from the global political arena. Did I mention that he supports the TEA Party movement?

This is not a zero-sum, status-quo election if the Republicans do end up nominating Rand Paul. Jim Bunning is a rational moderate compared to the hardline stances of Dr. Paul. Let us hope that the GOP is not really ready to take this lurch to the far right, because Kentucky is a state volatile enough to accidentally elect an eccentric hardliner to the most prestigious legislative body on the planet.