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.

Nov 10, 2009

Good news, everyone

During times when loonies from the far reaches of the Democratic caucus in the Senate are threatening to filibuster health reform because it includes or does not include a public option, we'll take any sign of strong, moderate candidates we can get.

Senator Olympia Snowe, the moderate Republican from Maine, may be set to switch parties on the heels of a poll that shows her losing her Republican primary to a generic conservative candidate. It seems that the Republican Party no longer accepts moderates. There is plenty of room under the Democratic tent for a nuanced and reasonable leader like Ms. Snowe.

If Snowe made the move, which her colleague Arlen Specter made earlier this year, she would become the 61st vote in the Democratic caucus and allow the Party to retain a supermajority even if outliers like Lieberman should join the GOP in stonewalling health reform legislation.

Happy Birthday, Big Bird!

Yes, today is Sesame Street's 40th Anniversary. Here are a couple clever parodies.

I still love the Beetles. Public television has clearly been a success in the United States. PBS boasts the best news program (News Hour), the best documentaries (courtesy of Ken Burns) and the best children's programs, all of which appear with no commercial interruption. Those who do not believe government programs can be successful often claim any new endeavor we consider entrusting to the responsibility of our elected officials will be doomed. Libertarians point to vestigial programs like Amtrak and entitlement programs around the country as evidence of government's inability to run anything.

They are pointing the finger at government when they should be pointing the finger at themselves. For 30 years these programs have suffered under the leadership of libertarian elements. PBS, with Sesame Street at the helm, has survived repeated attacks from Republican politicians. We should remember that the hard work of talented individuals who have been reduced to begging their viewers for donations over the air has brought this country some of the best programming that has ever been produced.

The lesson today, on the 40th anniversary of the best early child program on television, is that not every thing the government does is bad or doomed to failure. Some things have value that goes far deeper than their financial costs.

That's enough seriousness. Lets watch another video.

"Here fishy fishy fishy!"

Nov 9, 2009

Everyone Jerk Your Knees Simultaneously

No. Seriously, you want to see what real knee jerking looks like? This week we're honoring the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. In fact, it will turn midnight while I am writing this post and a jewel in the crown that is the United States public broadcasting services will officially be teaching its third generation of American children how to count, to spell, to read, and to express themselves in a broad variety of ways, and how to tolerate how others express themselves. The influence of Sesame Street is undeniable.

The show has come under fire recently for a sketch it did that mentions parodies of news network stations. The clip that started this backlash follows.

Conservatives were outraged over this seemingly innocuous sketch. Missing from the clip that people like uber-conservative 'reporter' Andrew Breitbart have circulated is context in which other news networks (including Oscar's network, GNN) are parodied in a generally grouchy way. As any of us hip to Sesame Street know, things in Oscar's world tend to be trashy, slimy, and gross in a very harmless and non-offensive kind of way. Sesame Street also loves word play and creating a child-safe mimicry of the real world.

Now few people can deny that cable news as a business is trashy. Even stodgy CNN appeals to the lowest common denominator, especially during prime time. Ever watch Nancy Grace? Lou Dobbs? Don't some of the things said on the Ed Show and Keith Olbermann make your skin crawl? Fox News is a trashy news channel. But Oscar doesn't say FOX news. He says POX news - get it?

The episode was originally aired over two years ago but was rebroadcast on Oct 29. Some Republicans link the episode with the White House's stance towards Fox News as an entertainment, and not a true news channel. The White House is reported to have told a Democratic strategist not to appear of Fox News - probably because most people in their right mind attempt to avoid Fox anyway. Despite the large gap of time between the production of the episode and the election and first year of Barack Obama's presidency, they seem to believe that somehow Barack Obama or the Democratic Party has infiltrated the Sesame Street Workshop (which has also produced shows like the Electric Company and 321 Contact).

Republicans have essentially started accusing Sesame Street of political indoctrination. The charge is so serious but the premise of the sketch in question is so ridiculous - it is hard to believe that some on the right jumped on the bait because they were offended by the sketch.Most of the Republicans I know are smarter than that. Why would Andrew Breitbart try to manipulate the not-so-smart people in the Republican Party like this? Isn't that a terribly irresponsible thing for a journalist to do? It is easy to blame the people who have joined the attack, but the provocateur, in this case Breitbart, is far more dangerous. Look, Andrew Breitbart is a great journalist, but his story selection betrays his ideological bent. A man whose objectivity is so compromised would do better as a blogger and commentator. In a way, he is committing the same sin as Fox News.

What is probably at work here, in my opinion, is the intense dislike of libertarian conservatives for any successful arm of the government. Remember that the Republican party and the conservative movement have tried numerous times to destroy PBS, and it has remarkably endured. There are other federal agencies that have suffered from intentional neglect from Republican leadership over the past 30 years: Amtrak, the Post Office, port security, immigration, the National Park Service, and the IRS come to mind. It was politically unpopular to kill the programs and the spending lines, so they have simply been squeezing them for all these years. These folks have every incentive to create a conflict here and this reeks of hyperbole. It is another non-story turned into a GOP talking point. Lets get back to debating health care, cap and trade, and infrastructure repair and leave Sesame Street to the kids.

Head-spinning Headline of the Day

GOP says Dems put agenda ahead of country

If passing comprehensive health legislation to protect people's naturally-granted rights to life and liberty is putting agenda ahead of county, then what should we call obstructing health care legislation with amendments about abortion, accusing those trying to pass such legislation of being socialists, and making crooked threats against a member of your own party for voting with his conscience to help the people of his district?

What exactly is the GOP agenda that they feel the need to stonewall important reform legislation and demonize those who support it?

Sesame Street Funk

Awesome. Children's television doesn't have music like this anymore.

It's the Economy... it's always the economy.

Now that the dust from the off-year elections has settled with both sides declaring victory, we can look back at the last year with a little clarity. Let's face it -- this has not been a great year for Barack Obama or the Democratic Party. They made a very gutsy move by tackling the largest and most difficult pieces of the president's agenda, the health care and climate bills that are currently facing a difficult battle in the Senate.

The Democratic supermajority is actually a supermajority in name only. To obtain the 60 votes needed to end debate and bring a bill to an up-or-down vote, the Democrats depend on the votes of people like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, both technically Democrats who are know for their conservative credentials. This means that any bill proposed and passed by the Democrats cannot be a radical, leftist, or socialist piece of legislation, but must be a compromise among a diverse number of viewpoints ranging from socialism (Independent Senator Bernie Sanders) to what is basically a Republican in the Democratic caucus (Lieberman).

The necessity for compromise and coalition building makes it difficult to get meaningful legislation through Congress and to president Obama's desk. It will be difficult to convince conservative Democrats and Democrats from resource-producing states to sign on to Cap-and-Trade legislation, for example. The positive impacts of such sweeping legislation might not be felt for more than a decade. In a political system and media environment where the campaign never stops, the party is in need of some solid legislation and new ideological footing to give in the momentum to win in the 2010 midterms and in 2012.

I think the most hopeful issue for Democrats remains the economy. Bill Clinton built his legacy around the economy and he is still the most popular and revered living former President. Exit polling from the off-year elections revealed the economy to be the most important issues to voters at the polls, both in the districts where Democrats won and in the state-wide election losses. And despite the success of the stimulus and the end of the recession, there is still a lot of work to be done.

For the first time during this downturn the unemployment rate crossed the 10% margin, there are 15.7 million Americans who are looking for jobs and unable to find them. Combine that with the number of people who have fallen off of the unemployment rolls or who are underemployed at part-time jobs when they need full time positions and the unemployment rate balloons to over 17%. We need jobs in this country, and we need them now.

Over the next few days I will begin to talk about the infrastructure in the United States, but I would like to propose this solution now: our infrastructure is the key to putting Americans back to work. If we start to rebuild and repair the trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure that needs to be shored up, rebuilt, and modernized, we can not only put new construction jobs on the market, but we can also create a 21st century infrastructure for the commerce and industry of the coming decades to be founded upon. There is a need in this country for seamless universal broadband wireless access, high-speed rail, safe and sturdy bridges, hurricane-safe levies, more efficient roadways, safer and more secure ports, and a modern, efficient nation-wide energy grid that emphasizes clean energy sources.

As it so happens, our surface transportation act is on an extended life right now, being continued by temporary reauthorizations from congress from time-to-time, and a new, current bill is needed to fund the maintenance and repair our infrastructure needs to make it safe for us. Every day school buses cross bridges that are deficient. Every day bicyclists have to ride shoulder-to-sideview mirror with speeding rush-hour traffic. Every day business is impeded because commuters cannot access wireless internet on their Amtrak or commuter train ride to work. These are all problems that an investment of public money should be repairing now.

By solving these problems we'll also be taking a big step to fueling a new period of economic growth and American prosperity. And the exit polls from the recent elections suggests that there is plenty of political will in the minds of the electorate to make it happen now.

Two Moon Songs for You

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street. Here's yet another Ernie classic and just a beautiful song as well.

And to continue with the lunar theme, as an added bonus here is one of my favorite Jerry Garcia songs.

Nov 8, 2009

Divided We Fall

The passage of health care legislation has sent tremors down the political spine of the United States. It is understandable that the conservative element in this country fears a strong public option. If the public option finally passed and actually worked, conservatives would have a very difficult time convincing people to believe in their philosophy.

More concerning to me is the outcry from the left, which has taken two different forms. Some of the left voted against the current health care legislation in the House because it didn’t go far enough, and some of the left objects to their congressperson voting for a piece of compromise legislation.

Others on the left are now mobilizing against their moderate and/or conservative Democratic congresspersons because of their vote against the health legislation.

There is currently a list circulating on the internet of the Democratic no-votes on health care reform. My Congressman, Ben Chandler, voted against it. Chandler is a moderate Democrat from a moderate district in Kentucky, a very red state.

Chandler has voted against health reform not based on a principled stand, but based on political survival. For doing so he faces a revolt from the base of his own party. The left-wing blog Barefoot and Progressive has published a scathing rebuke for Chandler’s votes in the health care debate. Chandler’s vote for the Stupak amendment, essentially ending private health coverage of elective abortion procedures, also raised the ire of progressives. There is also now a group on Facebook, “KY Democrats who will never vote for Ben Chandler again

Ben Chandler is not an anti-health reform, pro-life politician - but he is a politician from a pro-life, anti-health reform state and his district is full of constituents who would gladly abandon him for a more representative congressman should he take positions that are oriented to the left.

This is the kind of behavior that will hand Congress and possibly the White House right back to the Republican Party. If we chase moderate Democrats like Ben Chandler out of the party then the Democrats lose the middle, and the war-mongering, torturous, exploitative and greedy Republican Party marches right back into power.

Remember that the Democratic majority in Congress and this country is a lose coalition of many different interests. What it means to be a Democrat often depends on the district that you are in. Democrats can be as conservative as Max Baucus and Harry Reid, or as liberal as Dennis Kucinich and John Kerry. If we shrink the size of the Democratic tent to only include liberals, even just the social liberals, we can no longer legislate in Washington.

Republicans have destroyed their party by chasing away moderates. They just lost what was once a solidly Republican district in New York because they divided their party over social issues. This should serve as a warning to those who would chase the Ben Chandlers of the world out of the Democratic Party.

Think carefully before you bite the hand that feeds you. Would you really give up your party’s majority in Congress over an issue as inconsequential as abortion?

Ernie Reveals His True Love

And as we all know it certainly isn't Bert. Ernie serenades his favorite bath toy.

This may have been early enough to be the voice of Jim Henson, too. One of those clips that you really never forget, even if you haven't seen it in 24 years.

Health Care Reform Passes House, and the Peasants Rejoice!


(more on the ins-and-outs of the issue will come in the near future)

Nov 7, 2009

Universities are Neighborhood Eating Machines

“It was a relatively quiet little neighborhood,” said Bob Kelly, the president of the Elizabeth Street North Neighborhood Association. Ten years ago Kelly noticed a large addition being built on a house near his.

“I said to myself ‘That thing is huge, I see it above the house,’” said Kelly. “’Surely this can’t be allowed.’ I called the city and they said there’s no limit on additions.”

On Thursday, Oct 15 the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council passed a resolution declaring a 6-month moratorium on constructing additions larger than 25 percent of the original structure in the neighborhoods surrounding UK in response to outcry from residents that their areas are being overrun by students.

“We’re talking about additions, many of them over 100% larger than original structure,” said third district councilwoman Diane Lawless, who proposed the moratorium. “These are older neighborhoods that don’t have the infrastructure to support them.”

“I think there are some things we can do to mitigate what comes with the density issue,” said councilwoman at-large Linda Gorton, who lived on Westwood Court for 4 years. The ordinance is in response to the rapid proliferation of large vinyl additions to the small one-family homes that fill the neighborhoods surrounding UK.

Neighborhood leaders stressed that their concerns didn’t amount to a desire to rid their streets of student renters.

“I think diversity in the neighborhood is great, everyone is welcome as long as they obey the regulations of the student housing task force,” said Kelly, a 21-year resident of the neighborhood and architecture professor at UK.

“I was disappointed that I could only get it passed in the third district,” said Lawless. “That was the only way I could get enough votes to get it passed. This is not about student housing, it doesn’t matter who is living in it.”

Students have cause for concern with what happens in the neighborhoods around campus.

On Oct. 9 Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry announced that an inspection found 13 of the homes converted for student housing near UK’s campus have significant life safety issues. According to residents these student houses don’t only pose a life safety threat to the students who rent them, but adversely affect the neighborhood they are built in. The inspection also found 6 violations of fire codes.

“I a lot of times, the additions will have rooms listed something other than a bedroom,” said Lawless, “and therefore it won’t have to have the proper egress as far as fire codes are concerned.”

“Nobody wants to wake up one morning open a paper and find out that a house with too many people in it and without the proper fire code safety issues has burned up with 12-13 students inside.”

On Oct. 16, Councilwoman Gorton accompanied neighborhood leaders and members of the UK Administration on a tour of the areas surrounding campus.

“I had heard so many people from the neighborhood stand up at the microphone and say where is UK, UK does nothing,” said Gorton. “I wondered if any one had ever asked the president to go tour the neighborhood.”

The increasing density of these two neighborhoods, adjacent to the University of Kentucky campus to the southwest and along the busy Limestone Street corridor, has pushed homeowners to approach the city with their concerns.

“I have heard are lots of complaints about parking,” said Gorton. “When we toured with Dr. Todd one of the things we saw was lots of space on properties made into parking lots, some of which clearly were against the law.”

Traffic and trash accompany parking atop neighbors’ lists of complaints.

“It is scary trying to get out of my driveway,” said Molly Davis, President of the Elizabeth Street Neighborhood Association.“There’s more trash, there are students who don’t know how to use their recycling bins, and students who don’t remember to bring their trash cans in.”

”It starts to degrade the neighborhood,” said Kelly

“That isn’t students’ fault,” said Davis. “That is the landlords for trying to cram as many people as possible on a lot.”

The neighborhood is filled with one-to-two story bungalows, intended to be occupied by small families of around four people. Traditionally the area has housed both students and professionals who seek living space near UK campus. Both Kelly and Davis fear the impact that the increasing density will have on their quality of life.

“We worry about our infrastructure,” said Davis. “Can our power lines, sewers, gas mains, and water mains handle the load now that we have 8-10 students on a plot?”

Neighborhood leaders note the differences between life in a residential neighborhood versus dorm and student apartment life.

“In a neighborhood there is no resident manager,” said Bob Kelly. “These landlords aren’t making sure students are taking care of their property.”

One problem is that there are many absentee landlords. Research for this article found properties owned by businessmen in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Not all rental properties are so separated from their owners.

“I grew up in that neighborhood,” said Steve Olshewsky, an area landlord. “After I grew up I bought and rented property there.”

Olchewsky reasons that no group of people holds blame for the changes in the neighborhood.

“The economic forces are what are at work,” said Olchewsky. “Landlords want to make money. They bought rental real estate. they want to make money with that investment. it is all normal stuff that hasn’t been managed very well by UK and the city.”

“Normally when someone increases the density on their property like that they have to get a zone change to medium or higher density,” said Gorton. However, the large add-ons in the Elizabeth Street neighborhood have not gotten a change in zoning. Another complaint is that the appearances of the add-ons do match the original character of the neighborhood.

“There is a fascination with new, brand new housing.” said Olshewsky, who believes students base their housing preferences on the external appearance of the dwelling. “Older-looking houses don’t have the same appeal.”

Complicating matters are students motivated by economics and seek higher density housing with lower prices.

“I still think you can occupy a single family dwelling on a single family lot with 4-5 students,” said Kelly. “Now you have 8-10 students. When you start to make a single family zoned area that dense you have a lot of problems”

Olshewsky states he has not built vinyl additions to his properties. He isn’t the only landlord who has maintained the character of his properties.

“I’ve never done any of it,” said landlord Paul Taylor. Taylor has owned and rented houses around campus for 28 years. He is selling his properties and leaving the business.

“I was satisfied with what I had,” said Taylor. “I didn’t care about the expansions. all mine are as they were when they were built, with the exception of one or two with small additions.”

The neighborhood association presidents don’t object to living with students or next to rental housing. They argue that a landlord can make plenty of money from renting out a property in their neighborhoods in its original, unaltered state and still make plenty of money.

“Yes, I made a living and bought and paid for my houses. Its been good for me,” agreed Taylor

Lawmakers are eager to bring landlords, the neighborhoods, and UK to the table to forge a compromise agreeable to all parties.

“I hope we can move quickly,” said Lawless. “There are ordinances on the books that I think can be tweeked and better enforced.”

Linda Gorton agreed that the city should use ordinances to bring the increasing neighborhood density under control, but not everyone feels that the solution to the problem lies in city ordinances. Some landlords say they are being unfairly targeted.

“The city has many code enforcers and all they have to do is drive up and down the street. They have had sweeps and have specifically targeted and cited the owners. It is a message from the city that they think landlords have gotten greedy.” Said Olchewsky. “The city doesn’t want to increase their outlay of money, so instead they send bad messages to landlords which are misinterpreted.”


The legendary Cab Calloway, who left this world in 1994, brings a little happiness to the felt folks in that famous New York City brownstone block. Calloway was always best when backed by muppets. Or the Blues Brothers. Same difference, basically.

Sweet Sounds

A worthy entry this week: Phish in Portland, Maine on Dec 7, 2009 performing First Tube.

Nov 6, 2009

Stand and Be Counted

House Democrats are saying that they may not have the votes tomorrow to bring health care reform to question on the floor of the house. If you support health care reform and want to see a vigorous public option included, now is the time to stand up for what you believe.

Call your congressman here.

President Obama has said he wants this bill on his desk. Health care reform with a public option is one of the big-ticket issues he has pushed as part of his agenda to make the United States a true 21st century superpower, and it is a cause worthy of our support regardless of our political party preference.

We can make it happen. Let's do it.

Election Round-up Part Two: Eclectic Boogaloo

Ah, politics. It seems that we have gotten so political lately that we can’t even give the time of day without spinning it. But as they say, spin makes the world go ‘round.

If we ever find our equilibrium, we would be able to see that the off-year elections on Tuesday, while a big win for Republicans, were not necessarily a big loss for Democrats. It is easy to forget that while pundits are telling us that the GOP is making a big comeback, the Democratic Party just got two more votes in the House of Representatives.

Especially worthy of note is the election of Democrat Bill Owens to represent the 23rd district in New York. The Republican candidate in the district, Dierdre Scozzafava, became a target for ruthless and defamatory attacks from the far right wing of the party for some of her moderate social positions, in particular her stances on abortion and gay rights.

National figures on the right put their support behind Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman, who embraced far right positions against freedom of choice for women over their bodies and equality of rights for gay people. Hoffman enjoyed prominent endorsements from Sarah Palin and right-wing radio commentators, support from the tea-bagging movement, and the backing of the conservative Club for Growth.

Faced with the betrayal of her own party, Scozzafava dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat, who ended up winning and increasing the Democratic majority in Congress. He is the first Democrat to represent the district in over a century.

It is absolutely true that the governorships won by the GOP this year are far more prestigious than a House seat. Governors serve as state leaders for their respective parties and provide local, state, and national candidates another figure to campaign and raise funds with.

It is also true that statewide elections serve as better harbingers for senatorial and presidential elections, which also take place on a state-by-state basis. If Virginia is now a red state then Obama’s potential margin in 2012 becomes thinner. There is no denying or downplaying the importance of the Republican Party’s victories.

However, in 2010 the Democrats are going to need a list of accomplishments to run with in order to maintain or extend their majorities in both houses of Congress. Having two more members in the House of Representatives to get legislation through certainly won’t hurt their prospects, and in the short term could render more positive political results than the governors’ mansions in Virginia and New Jersey.

Democrats shouldn't be celebrating.

The split vote in NY-23 does suggest a deepening rift in the Republican Party, and that the more radically conservative wing might cause the party to shed more moderate and independent voters. However, the Democratic congressional wins on Tuesday occurred in New York and California, hardly states where the party needs to rely on moderate independents for electoral votes - and the Democratic losses in Virginia and New Jersey suggest that some moderates and independents have changed their allegiances towards Republicans over the past year.


Jim Henson is clearly doing the voice of the blue alien. This is still funny after all these years, yip-yip uh-huh!

Nov 5, 2009

November in Kentucky is Boring - Time to Manufacture Some OUTRAGE!

Yesterday, Kentucky's illustrious governor Steve Beshear put an end to an ongoing debate over whether the christmas tree erected at the state Capitol should be called a 'holiday tree'.

Right-wing groups like the Catholic League and the always sane and reasonable contingent at Lexington's Clays Mill Road Baptist Church started jerking their knees last week when the governor's office sent out a release asking for state citizens to donate a 'holiday tree' for the state capital.

Yesterday the governor's spokesperson made it abundantly clear that the governor had not started calling the tree a 'holiday tree' and that the release was actually referring to the giant christmas tree that appeared each year during the holiday season in Frankfort.

By assuming that such a seemingly innocuous statement would go unnoticed suggests that the government underestimates the anger and bitterness of some members of the right - there is such a tremendous persecution complex that has been built up by the talking heads on conservative talk radio and cable news that delusions like these have become more common. The scary thing is that these people have developed a considerable influence over a very large minority of the American population. One only has to look at the maniacs populating 'tea parties' these days to get a sense of profound unease.

Childhood in the 1980s ROCKED

It is true, those of us who grew up in the 1980's were spoiled by the massive expansion of popular culture and its embrace of new forms of communication. One thing that made our childhood so great was Sesame Street, which officially turns 40 years old on Nov 10.

In honor of how awesome Sesame Street really was, I will present to you some of the best segments I can remember from my childhood over the next couple of days.

Here is the always great Cookie Monster singing one of his classics

Election Round-up: Its Not What You Think

On Tuesday the GOP got a little wind back into its sails by winning two important governorships in New Jersey and Virginia. In New Jersey former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie beat incumbent governor John Corzine by a four percent margin to become the first Republican elected to statewide office there in 12 years. In Virginia Republican Bob McDonnell defeated R. Creigh Deeds 59-39 to restore his party to the governorship after 7 years of Democratic control.

The GOP is pointing to these victories as proof that the election of 2008 was a fluke and that Republicans are now the ascendent party in this country... or something like that. On the other side, Democrats are shoveling the blame for these losses on local political issues that do not reflect upon the party as a whole. The media, especially the cable news mavens, have had party operatives on both sides speak on their programs to make both arguments over and over. Both arguments are disingenuous, wrong, and wishful thinking.

This election was not a major rejection of the results of the 2008 presidential election. Though Barack Obama might not have the coattails state and local Democratic groups hoped he had, his support remains strong even in the states where Republicans won governorships. A clear majority of the US population still approves of the job he is doing. Any attempt to spin the results of this election to portray Obama in an intensely negative light is simply an attempt by Republicans to continue their hatefest against the Democratic president. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Democratic argument, however, that these losses solely reflect local political issues is also easily disproved by exit polling. Exit polls showed that the overwhelmingly dominant issue for these elections was the economy. People are more worried about the state of the economy than they are about climate change, health care, or Afghanistan. The economy is a national issue which is 'trickling down' to have a major effect on these local elections.

Economic influence in the decisions of American voters doesn't necessarily play against Barack Obama and the Democratic party. In fact, over the past few weeks the Democrats have scored major victories on the economic front that could serve to radically shift the momentum back in their favor. New jobless claims have reached their lowest point since Obama's inauguration. Furthermore, Obama and the party leadership have successfully led this country out of the recession far faster than most anticipated.

Throughout the next week we'll look at how the parties can seize the moment on the economy and develop successful electoral strategies for 2010 and 2012.