Sep 16, 2010

Question of the Day 9/16/10: After the end of Don't Ask Don't Tell

A major cultural hurdle is being reached this fall as the government moves to phase out the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. For many reasons this policy, enacted by president Bill Clinton as a compromise to appease liberals, conservatives, and the military establishment, has been a disaster for our military.
My question today is what long-standing cultural/traditional policy should be overturned next? There are many issues to consider, from immigrants rights, right-to-work, school vouchers and busing and government housing to gay marriage and equal-pay-for-equal-work.
If you were a member of the White House staff or a member of Congress with the power to initiate change for the better, what policy would you push?

Sep 15, 2010

Who replaces Nancy Pelosi?

Who should take Nancy Pelosi's place?

I don't mean who should be the next speaker of the house. Presumably, if the Republicans score their election victory this year House Minority Leader John Boehner will recieve the speaker's gavel and become third in line for the presidency.

I mean who should become the leader of the Democratic caucus in the US House of Representatives?

Right now the House majority leader is Steny Hoyer, a veteran congressman from Maryland. If there isn't a total change in the Democratic leadership, he might remain as the Dem's leader. Hoyer, however, is unlikely to escape unscathed should the latest poll numbers hold.

Too many people among both the Democratic base and the moderates will want the heads of the two leaders who lost a massive majority. Like the Republicans in 2006, Democrats will want to start over.

The next most senior personality in the House of Representatives is Michigan Democrat and leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, John Conyers, who currently serves as Majority Whip in the House. However, advancing Conyers to the party leadership would be a significant shift to the left for the Democrats at a time when they dominate the political center.

Rumor has it that representative Conyers is close to retirement as well.

So the next best thing we could do is consider who is most influential among House dems.

My short list, culled from the current committe chairs, is as follows:

James Oberstar has served in the US House of Representatives for 35 years representing Minnesota's 8th district. He is currently the chairman of the House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee. Since Infrastructure issues are going to dominate the appropriations debate in the House for the next 6-12 months, he is an obvious choice to lead the Democrats.

Ike Skelton is an outside choice due to his age (Skelton is in his late 70's) but as the Chairman of the House Armed Services committee, the moderate Democrat from Missouri should get a look from the House Democratic Caucus as a potential leader during their minority years.

John Conyers in addition to the qualifications listed above, Conyers represents Detroit, one of the epicenters of the economic crisis from which we are emerging.

Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is a strong liberal presence with leadership experience in the House. His 35 years of service in the US House are augmented by a six year career in the California State Assembly. Before ascending to the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman chaired the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during the Bush years, vigorously questioning the policies and tactics of the Bush Administration.

Rick Boucher is a long-serving congressman from southwestern Virginia. He is currently running for his 15th term in the House. Not only is he an Appalachian congressman in a swing state, but he also chairs the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, a position of rising influence. Should the Democrats hold the House and one of the committee chairs retire, Boucher would be near the top of the list to move into a chairmanship.

I would be shocked if the next leader of the Democratic caucus does not come from one of these 5.

From the standpoint of electoral strategy, a moderate swing-state representative like Oberstar, Boucher, or Waxman would be best.

However, I like to think that the Democrats should follow the lead of the GOP and play to their base and put a firebrand like Waxman or Conyers in the driver's seat. A truly liberal Speaker of the House would be fun to watch, but such a thing has never happened in my lifetime.

Sep 14, 2010

9/14/10 Question of the Day

Polling shows that the Democrats are poised to lose control of the House of Representatives in the upcoming midterm elections in November.

If this scenario plays out, Nancy Pelosi would no longer be Speaker of the House (that position would go to Rep. John Boehner, (R-OH what a fabulous tan)) and her position among the leadership of House Democrats would likely be up for grabs.

Who should replace Speaker Pelosi as the leader of House Democrats?

Answer: Yes, it is time to end the war in Afghanistan

Yesterday I asked whether it was time for the United States to finally end its conflict in Afghanistan. I believe it is.

On October 7th, 2010 we will mark the 9th anniversary of the beginning of the conflict. Recall that major US combat operations in Vietnam, considered a costly embarassment for the United States, only lasted 8 years (1965-1973).

One problem we now have in Afghanistan is that it is not immediately clear who our soldiers are fighting anymore. Originally the Taliban was an established militia and government that was easy for our allies in the Northern Alliance to target. After toppling the Taliban and establishing a new central quasi-democratic government in Kabul, the enemy became al Qaeda.

Then the Taliban began an insurgency, and Americans began to fight a resurgent Taliban operating from Pakistan and al Qaeda, also operating from Afghanistan.

The goal all along was to desstroy the operating and training bases of al Qaeda and to capture its leadership, goals that have only partially been accomplished due to the mobility of al Qaeda as an organization. Having no particular geographic base and no centralized leadership, it is impossible to use a large scale military operation to stop al Qaeda.

What then, is our purpose in staying in Afghanistan? To establish a stable Afghani state? It has never been done! Afghanistan is so balkanized with different ethnicities and languages that it becomes difficult to decide who exactly should run the country. This is why traditionally Afghanistan has been under the control of different tribal warlords who each controlled their own portion of the geography. The only unifying element in Afghanistan is Islam, and that is why the Taliban with their potent Islamist thought was able to exercise some control over the country.

I would posit that a non-Islamist government cannot stabilize and control Afghanistan. There are no unifying institution upon which to base such a government.

Historically, Afghanistan is where empires and military campaigns go to die. Alexander, the Raj, the Safavids, and the USSR all failed within Afghanistan.

There just aren't enough institutions in Afghanistan to repeat the successes we had in Iraq there. It is time to cut our losses and end combat operations there.

Sep 13, 2010

Answer to 9/11 Question - We Can't Move On

On Saturday, the 9th anniversary of 9/11 I asked whether Americans would ever be able to let the shared national experience of 9/11 go.

I don't think we're ready yet, and I'm not sure we'll ever be ready. To give some historical perspective, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened December, 2 1941 and it is an event mourned and commemorated to this day, 59 years later. Maybe in 50 years the memory of September 11, 2001 will begin to fade and life will return to normal, but even the Pearl Harbor attacks were not as traumatic to our national character as 9/11.

For one thing, 9/11 happened live before our eyes. Millions of Americans were tuned into networks like CNN and NBC when the reports of a third plane crashing in Washington, DC hit the airwaves. Many more watched as the towers fell into torrents of dust and debris. Pearl Harbor was something Americans heard about on the radio after the event happened. On 9/11 Americans watched thousands of their countrymen die in an instant. We suffer from a kind of national post-traumatic stress disorder, and our responses to the attack bear that out.

After 9/11 the United States embarked on two ill-concieved military operations in the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. The rights of habeus corpus and due process were suspended for Americans and foreigners alike. The largest expansion of federal power in decades occurred at the hands of a government that had just two years earlier run on conservative credentials. Prisoners of war, deemed 'enemy combatants' had their rights under the Geneva Conventions stripped and were subjected to imprisonment without term, renditioning to countries that would not protect them and torture of every degree in prisons.

A prison camp was established at the military base on Guantanamo Bay, a kind of 'ultra-max' facility for suspected terrorists.

Airplanes became harder to board. Air travel now requires a time consuming boarding process that strips airplanes of some of their efficiency and most of their convenience.

Our phones are being tapped without a judge's permission. Our homes can be searched without a warrant, we can be stopped and interrogated.

Our police and security personnel are racially profiling our fellow Americans. There are those among us that are burning Qurans and mosques.

At least we've gotten to the point where people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin can exploit 9/11's anniversary to boost their popularity.

I guess that is some progress.

Question of the day 9/13

The United States has been fighting a war in Afghanistan for 9 years now with little to show for it. Originally started to take the Taliban out of power and capture al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, it is now a conflict with an unknown purpose and cloudy endgame.

Is it finally time for the US to get out of Afghanistan?

Sep 11, 2010

9/11 Question of the Day

Here we are on the 9th Anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

Our televisions are packed with tributes, memorials, documentaries and commentaries on terrorism, the attacks and the security apparatus in the US. Memorial services are being held in New York, DC, and Shanksville, PA where flight 93 crashed.

There is still a war being fought in Afghanistan.

There is still a hole in the ground in New York.

My question for anyone who cares is this: When will we finally let 9/11 go and rebuild?

Answer to 9/10 Question: The Tea Party Cannot Stand Alone

Yesterday I asked whether the Tea Party could be a viable third party for the United States to break us out of our two-party political system.

I don't believe it can stand alone as the Tea Party suffers from divisiveness and decentralization that make in unsustainable as a national political movement. In other words, at some point in the coming months (likely after the election) the Tea Party will simply die.

For one thing the Tea Party is not a single movement, it is a coalition of national and regional organizations, often funded and run by conservative political action committees. Among these groups are the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, the Tea Party Express, the Tea Party Nation, The Tea Party Patriots and the National Tea Party Federation. Though these groups often share events they don't always share opinions and leadership. Clicking on their links will show you that they lack good Web site designers and copy writers.

Another issue with the Tea Party is that because of its essential disunity, it doesn't have any clear leaders. Certainly media personalities like Glenn Beck and tabloid queen Sarah Palin hold a great amount of influence in the movement, but in reality it was born out of popular discontent and that is one of it's problems. If an angry and less rational segment of society coalesces into a potent socio-political movement, they can have strong regional political influence, hence the smattering of right-wing fringe Tea Party candidates in some congressional, gubernatorial and senatorial elections this fall.

That is another problem with the Tea Party in the long term. Its membership exists to the right of most Republicans politically. The Republican Party will not win elections if it abandons the political middle and so it has good reason to jettison the Tea Party movement. On the other hand, the Tea Party is made up of the traditional Republican base, so every effort will be made to pull these people back under the GOP tent. In the long run, the Tea Party will shrivel up like the human appendix.

The final problem that the Tea Party faces in trying to become a viable political party is disunity on issues. Tea Party protestors originally echoes their namesakes in colonial America arguing against taxation by a government (nevermind that the Boston Tea Partiers were fighting taxation by a non-representative government, while today's Tea Party is taxed by officials WE THE PEOPLE elected). Now the Tea Party is fighting Ear Marks, Cap and Trade, Health Care Reform, Immigration and wants to usurp the power of the Supreme Court and determine the constitutionality of laws from the Oval Office and the floor of Congress.

The Tea Party in essence exists as an anti-American government movement. It would be hypocritical for them to operate as members of the government they oppose.

Sep 10, 2010

Question of the Day 10/10

In the spirit of the 'Real Americans' who call themselves the Tea Party, I would like to ask everyone if they think the Tea Party could be a real independent 3rd party should it ever be jettisoned from the GOP.

What do you think? Can the Tea Party stand on its own as a political institution?

Answer to 9/9 Question: We are better off

In the spirit of Ronald Reagan I challenged everyone yesterday to consider whether the country was better off today than we were two years ago.

I think the answer is undeniably yes. There is less economic uncertainty today than there was 2 years ago. The economy is adding more jobs than it is shedding. Thanks to the Health Care Reform passed by Congress more Americans than ever before will have access to quality health care from the best doctors and hospitals in the world.

The Obama administration has suceeded in ending combat operations in Iraq. It is moving forward on civilian and military tribunals for the enemy combatants imprisoned in Guatanamo Bay and focusing our military's efforts on establishing conditions for cessation of hostilities in Afghanistan. Most significantly, Israelis and Palestinians have returned to the bargaining table.

Despite one of the loudest and angriest opposition movements in American history, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama have suceeded time and again in passing strong compromise legislation that will raise the quality of life for the majority of Americans. We are safer from terrorist attacks than ever before and a concerted effort is finally being made to improve our infrastructure so we are more safe on our highways, in our airspace and on our rails.

I'm not completely sure where the criticisms of the Obama Administration have come from. He has been a textbook moderate president reaching for compromise solutions to our most heated controversies, and he has for the most part been successful at implementing his agenda.

When you look past the noise, the country is indeed a better place since Barack Obama became president. Could we do better? Of course. As Bill Clinton once said, we must always strive for a more perfect union.

Not this again

In the past few days there have been rumblings in the GOP ranks about forcing another government shut down.

Attentive readers will remember that Gingrich and the GOP congress forced a shutdown in 1995 during the successful administration of Bill Clinton. It ended up being a disaster for our country and a humiliation for the Republican Party.

I guess they didn't learn their lesson. Grim days ahead.

The Enthusiasm Gap

One reason that the Democratic Party is going to be taken behind the woodshed in November is the lack of enthusiasm of Democratic voters.

It is difficult to get fired up when your party controls the White House and both chambers of Congress. It is even more difficult to get fired up when your party has not offered many concrete plans for what it would do with another two years of power. Traditionally the party that hold the presidency experiences losses of seats in congressional election. This year should be no different.

Political gridlock has also created some malaise among Democratic voters. The base was disappointed with the compromises made in passing health care reform. Liberals wanted a public option and more strong progressive legislation. Many moderate and conservative Democrats, on the other hand, would have preferred that reform not pass at all.

Democrats don't even agree on the New York City mosque issue.

The media allows the GOP to dominate the rhetoric describing Democrats. Upon close examination most congressional Dems don't appear liberal at all. They destroy the stereotype of big government, big spending, tax-raising atheists that the Republicans perpetuate.

There is no easy way to define what a Democrat looks like or what he or she believes in.

That, indeed, is the difficulty of motivating the diversity of groups and interests withing the Democratic big tent. Candidates will always make someone unhappy with their statements and decisions. The only way to truly unite Democrats is against a common enemy, whether it be Bush-era policies or the specter of the Christian Right.

At this point Obama and congress have wasted too much time doing damage control and not spent enough time formulating policy and uniting the party against Republican opposition. November will be painful indeed.

Sep 9, 2010

Question of the Day 9/9: Are We Better Off?

In 1980 during a presidential debate, Ronald Reagan had a wonderful moment and asked a question that should define every election in our flawed 2-party system from now until we break free and open up to competition from other parties.

So the question I put to everyone today, 8 weeks before yet another key election, is are we better now than we were two years ago?

Answer to last question of the day: Rap versus Hip-hop

Well, I'm back. After a very long, laborious Labor Day weekend and a day-or-two under the weather, it is time to pick up right where we left off.

I asked what the difference between hip-hop and rap was, a deviation from the normally political tone of this blog only tangentally related due to the tendency of many rappers to evoke political thought in their rhymes.

My dear friend Nick and I were discussing what this difference could be. There are acts that we associate with the term "rap" - Eminem, Jay Z, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nas, 50 Cent, Beastie Boys, Ludacris. There are other acts that we deem "hip-hop" - Brother Ali, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious, Atmosphere, Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan.

What is the difference between these groups of artists? Both include white and black acts. Both include lyrical styles that run the spectrum from dark and violent to concious and educated, and often blur the two. Both use a mixture of complex and minimalist production styles.

The reality is that there is no difference between rap and hip-hop as far as the musical style is concerned. We call underground rappers hip-hop artists because they are more closely tied to the hip-hop cultural movement. Rap is just one element of that movement.

The 4 original elements of hip-hop were DJing (mixing both live and in the studio), breakdancing, MCing, and graffiti. With mainstream rap, record producers strip MCing away from it's base culture and package it for mass consumption.

Underground rap feels like hip-hop because it still has a stronger connection to its urban roots, when the youth involved in the subculture still breakdanced, beatboxed and tagged graffiti.

Sep 4, 2010

More on Stimulus part 2

So it is official, more economic stimulus is on the way but it is still unclear what exactly that will entail. The folks at The Daily Beast have a small outline and suggest that it might include tax breaks and rebates and possibly more infrastructure spending.

Tax cuts have never been shown to effectively stimulate the economy, but the Obama Administration may have specific targets in mind that would make it more beneficial than it would otherwise.

If we really want stimulus, it has to be infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.

Answer to 9/3 Question of the Day

Yesterday, in response to arguments that a double-dip recession is imminent and a tepid jobs report, I asked:

What metric should we use to determine whether the economy is recovering?

Over the last few weeks the 24-hour news mavens have quoted all sorts of statistics to engender debate over the health of the economy. An alphabet of acronyms and abbreviations dominates every news show: GDP, CPI, CCI, RoI, BoT, GNP. A viewer is bombarded with quotes of the unemployment rate, exchange rate, consumer spending, home sales, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ, The S&P 500, and on, and on, and on.

In reality there is only one true measure of economic output: The gross domestic product (GDP).

The GDP is the sum of the market value for all the products and services created by an economy over a period of time. The word recession actually refers to two or more consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. When we hear the word recession bandied about in the media it is more often than not misused.

I do not think that word means what you think it means!

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the government agency that measures GDP, the economy is still growing. We are no longer in a recession and the recovery is working. Anyone who says otherwise is either 'wishcasting' or making noise ahead of the November election. We won't even know if a second recession occurs until we have two more negative quarters - in other words it will be late February 2011 before we'd know if we were in a recession.

Remember also that the jobs we shed aren't going to be jobs that we get back. Like I've said before, cars and manufactured goods are not going to be where the American people butter their bread in the future. If we don't start educating ourselves and retasking to meet the demands of the new economic realities, we will be out of work, out of our homes and hungry.

Question of the Day

Today I am going to buck all of my intentions and ask a new question before I've answered yesterday's question. Sue me.

One of my best friends in the history of my short life and in the expanse of the world was listening to good music with me tonight. We heard Pharcyde, Lyrics Born, Blackalicious, Eyedea and Eminem.

We engaged in the old debate of rap versus hip-hop. We all know that there are types of music that some people call RAP and other types of music that other people call HIP-HOP.

A nice conversation was had about whether rap and hip-hop, as forms of music, were actually able to be discerned from each-other. What do you think?

What is the difference between rap and hip-hop?

Sep 3, 2010

Yes, Glenn Beck is a liar

That should be obvious to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex.

But Keith Olbermann is a turd.

And we're no less in debt, at peace or happy than we were before Glenn Beck lied and Keith Olbermann pointed it out.
The more we let the Becks and Olbermanns set the tone of the political discourse in this country, the harder it will be to get anything done.

Question of the Day 9/3

As I noted yesterday, the Obama White House seems to be considering another round of economic stimulus. While yesterday I had hoped it might come in the form of infrastructure spending and investment, it appears that if it comes to fruition it would be largely made up of tax-cuts for business owners. There are legitimate doubts if this form of stimulus will create any economic benefit.

Regardless of who you want to blame for the US's current economic misfortunes, there is a rational debate going on behind the scenes on two fronts - one, whether we are really as bad off as the media wants us to think, and two, what we can do to improve our fortunes. Whether the second dilemma is at issue depends on our answer to the first.

Today's question, then, has to do with the recovery:

What metric should we use to determine whether the economy is recovering? Jobs? GDP? The misery index? Consumer confidence?

Answer to 9/2's Question of the Day

Asked Yesterday:
Can we as a population, using elementary-school economic principles, imagine a scenario in the future where renewable energy sources may be more cost effective than fossil fuel?

We should absolutely be able to fathom that for a number of good reasons, all of which revolve around the law of supply and demand.

For those of us who don't know, the law of supply and demand states that for every product there is an equilibrium price that balances supply and demand, and this equilibrium is found at the intersection of the demand curve and the supply curve.

As supply increases, the price equilibrium will decrease. As supple decreases, the price will increase. The follow illustration shows this effect:

The current argument for fossil fuels is based on supply. There is currently a plentiful (though limited) supply of fossil fuels, especially in the United States. There isn't a compelling reason to abandon them unless we imagine our supply of fossil fuels dwindling. There is also a limited supply in renewable energy right now, driving up the costs. Simply stated, it is easy to see how in the near future the cost of the decreasing supply of using fossil fuels could exceed the cost of an increasing supply of efficient renewable energy resources.

The supply of resources like coal and oil could dry up because we run out of them. We also m,ay face a peak oil or coal situation, our ability to extract and refine non-renewable resources may no longer be able to keep pace with demand. Both would increase the cost of using fossil fuels.

As time goes on human beings will discover more efficient methods of harvesting the energy potential of the sun, the wind and other forces. This will drive down the cost of using renewable energy, increasing demand for it over fossil fuels.

Taking this into consideration, even without the efforts of environmental activists, the days of the coal and oil companies are already numbered.

It is also important that we not forget the other costs of using coal and oil combustion to fuel our vehicles and our power plants. Coal and oil are very labor intensive - renewable resources are not. Fossil fuels come with major infrastructural, environmental and health liabilities that solar, wind and hydroelectric electricity generation do not share.

Sep 2, 2010

Someone up there must be listening

I am convinced that somehow my little whinings must be making their way up the political echelons through osmosis, because after weeks of ranting about the need for a second stimulus based on economic and transportation infrastructure adjustments and research and development of new technological economic sectors, it seems like the Obama Administration got the same idea. I know exactly where they can spend it, too.

They should hire me to think of this stuff.

Question of the Day

The explosion of another oil rig in the gulf made me think about the monetary cost versus the actual cost of fossil fuel production. When compared to renewable energy resources, the fossil fuel industry argues for its survival by touting the cost effectiveness of burning coal, oil and natural gas.
Today's question is an easy one:

Can we as a population, using elementary-school economic principles, imagine a scenario in the future where renewable energy sources may be more cost effective than fossil fuel?