Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Another Scandal. This Time - In Illinois.

If there was an award for a long descent of personal destruction, Democrat Rod Blagojevich gets the award for the decade. The Governor of Illinois today was arrested on charges he was "selling" the U.S. Senate seat formerly occupied by President-elect Obama.
Blago, do you want to further go down your hole of public opinion? This guy is already one of the country's least popular governors and comes from a state where a number of the most recent governors, as recent as his predecessor George Ryan, have served jail time for corruption and/or any other unbecoming activities.
The governor, who was elected in 2002 after serving in Illinois' 5th District in Congress, pledged to clean up what George Ryan had done to the state. Seems like the more you hate something, the more you become it.
I'm fairly familiar with Blagojevich and have been having him on my radar for quite some time, especially before his re-election in 2006.

So you had six potential candidates for that lovely U.S. Senate seat, including Obama friend Valarie Jarrett, state VA director and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, Illinois Senate president Emil Jones Jr., and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Mr. Jackson, son of former perennial presidential candidate Jesse Jackson, has been named as "Senate Candidate 5," the one of most speculation for possible wrong doing.

I'm not a fan of Congressman Jackson. I had seen him on an interview with Don Lemon on CNN and let me tell you, the arrogance of this guy who almost feels like that Senate seat is suppose to his is completely against what today's politics should be about.

So let's say Blago resigns or removed, who should become that U.S. Senator?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Preview of Tonight's Election

Two years ago, as you can read on Facebook - I did an election day prediction which was pretty much on the nose about a number of local, state, and federal elections. This year, being such a major election, I have decided to bring back "ELECTION PANDEMONIUM" (a little overhyped I know).

Before I begin, I want to note that a number of people, notably certain Democrats, railed Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean for his 50-state strategy he pushed forward after being named chair. Those certain Democrats have shut their mouths up due to the prospect of controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House for the first time in 14 years through grassroots organizing as well as pumping up the funds of state parties which haven't seen that much of an effort by the DNC to assist in the past.

It speaks to whose party it is. Obama has basically added to Dean's efforts, organized a massive campaign rooted in the grass, and successfully won the nomination of his party as well as changed procedures of the DNC such as not accepting contributions from lobbyists. Meanwhile, McCain seems to be more or less the grudingly-accepted nominee of a party in shambles. It's similar to what happened to Bob Dole in 1996 - it simply wasn't his party, it was Newt's. This time, it's not McCain's party - it's still pretty much Bush's still. It happened to the Democrats too in 2004 and somewhat in 2000, where it was still Clinton's party and not Gore's.

For President, unless there is some sort of a massive fraud in the polling organizations and people have been lying all this time, I believe your 44th President will be Barack Obama. Poor Johnny Mac couldn't muster enough support (or hate) to stop the Obama train. I would look at an electoral tide of around 363 for Obama/Biden and 185 for McCain/Palin. A massive reputidation of what's been happening in the country for the last eight years. If you want to be cryptic about it, the Pittsburgh Steelers won against the Washington Redskins. Usually the week of election day, if the 'Skins win, the incumbent party wins. If the challenging team wins, usually the party out of power.

For control of the U.S. House and Senate, Democrats should be padding their majority with another 20-22 seats in the House. For the Senate, I'm looking more conservative here and I believe we will see 57, not the magic 60 needed to make it filibuster-proof. Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel's efforts will have paid handsomely this year. I would also add that I would not be surprised if you see the Democrats strip Joe Lieberman of some of his chair posts, sometime in the next Congress.

For New York State, the reign of the Republican Party's control of the State Senate will be officially over tonight. A long time coming, Democrats will control both the Senate and the Assembly as well as the Executive Chamber.

Locally, you'll see Amsterico's (Amsterdam for those of you who don't know the Montgomery County city) own former Assemblyman Paul Tonko beating oil and banking baron Jim Buhrmaster for the 21st Congressional District.

In the more hotly contended 20th Congressional District between Rep. Kirsten Gillbrand and former Pataki-era Secretary of State Sandy Treadwell, Sandy will realize that the millions he put into this race would not be worth it. The race will be very close, but you will be seeing a second term for Gillibrand.

For Albany County District Attorney between Democrat David Soares, the incumbent, against Integrity Party candidate and Soares rival in the 2004 race Roger Cusick, it'll be closer than what people imagine it to be for Albany County as was the case in 2004. Soares should still win, albeit any major problems.

Looking toward 2010 with not only the midterm elections but statewide elections, you'll be starting to hear more names running for Governor, Comptroller, and Attorney General. Likely candidates for the Democratic side of Governor are current Governor David Paterson, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (his second run after 2002). For the Republicans, you could possibly have Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, and U.S. Representative George Winner. For U.S. Senate, should Schumer run, I would believe RFK Jr. would be a top candidate for the Democrats and you would probably see possibly Jeanine Pirro again.

For both Senate and Governor, Bloomberg would have been a candidate had not NYC voted to repeal the term limits for Mayor.

And that's what's happening today. Going to possibly be a good time.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Issue 2 - Domestic Policy (Economy, Education, Healthcare)

The second issue area I’m going to cover is the economy, education, and healthcare – basically the major facets of domestic policy.

THE ECONOMY

The economy, not only domestically but internationally, has seen better days. A perfect storm of greed, ignorance, and looking the other way – the economy of the United States as a whole has been affected by an oligarchic consortium of industries – financial services, construction, big energy – who through various means teamed up to build on the hopes of people seeking the American dream.

It didn’t matter if you were white, blue collar and had three kids in Ann Arbor, Michigan or a recent Ecuadorian immigrant working at Wal-Mart – you could buy a house, thus fulfill that ideal so many have of living in America.

A little, slight problem – the banks crafted these great things called subprime loans, given to individuals who did not have what would considered a sufficient FICO credit score as well as a heightened risk of default. Basically, think of Bill Gates giving Joe the Plumber money to buy a house, without really caring if Joe could for it or not. Then Joe the Plumber becomes Joe the unemployed guy who fixes pipes. How will Joe pay for his house?

He’ll probably end up selling the house. But what if he lives in such hard hit economic towns such as Stockton, California (foreclosure capital of the country), where everybody else is in the same situation? There lies the macro end of this problem – when you have this major propensity of foreclosures where the banks receive nothing but the building and the land itself, you start seeing this snowballing effect happen where you get the economic crisis of today.

Another incident of who was asleep at the switch. Through government being focused on more pressing matters (Iraq, terrorism) and enacting certain deregulatory legislation, homeowners were left to their own devices in trying to figure out how to solve their finances, now that not only their houses were at risk but their investments, also in the financial services industry, were tanking.

A bad economy does have a few bright spots. For instance, enrollment at colleges, public and private, is up substantially. According to an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/382473_registrations09.html), community colleges in particular are seeing the biggest boost in enrollment. Even here in the Capital Region at Hudson Valley Community College (https://www.hvcc.edu/planning/highlights.pdf) has seen successive years of increasing enrollment, no small part due to the conditions in the region and in the nation.

Congress has passed a significant bailout package, protecting big finance from going under. A socialist idea, the Right will tout no doubt. The government, the friend and foe of “the people”, has undertaken in the past bailout measures to ensure the security of the economy in troubled times. In the late 1970s, Congress guaranteed a billion dollars worth of loans made by Chrysler Corporation to ensure its corporate safety.

Government, besides the whole regulation argument, had a lot invested into the situation as well. Several retirement funds, namely the multi-billion dollar New York State Employees Retirement Fund, is built upon investments made through securities, mutual funds, and other traded equities. This fund, whose sole trustee is State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, is responsible to monitoring such economic activity that could be denigrating to providing retirees their due income. If Mr. DiNapoli, on a purely hypothetical occasion, allowed the fund to deplete due to market capitalization decimation on Wall Street – the political consequences would not only be grave for Tommy Boy, but also his political friends, namely Democrats.

Probably the best case to look at is Argentina at the turn of the 21st century. Just about every issue you can think about that’s happening right now in America happened in Argentina, albeit with a bit less corruption and political discourse. Unemployment skyrocketed, currency defaulted, inflation became an issue, major corporations neared bankruptcy – sound familiar? But the good thing is that it was resolved… after three years. Poverty levels had hit an epidemic 57.5%

So how do we solve it, how do we fix this here to ensure it won’t get this bad again?

Through the education of individuals, to make sure they understand that every time an institution, whether it’s a bank or some governmental agency, you don’t always have to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. This country is plagued by a grave lack of basic legal education which is so critical in a time where society has become more litigious. I’m not saying that we need everyone to either go to law school or become a paralegal, but a basic knowledge of what individuals are capable of during contract negotiations, especially for property as well as certain terms and conditions when it comes to financing that property.

EDUCATION

Segueing now, education is key to any society. Whether its learning to read or obtaining the knowledge to lead, education plays a role at all levels, all ages, and all demographics.

A Japanese friend of mine asked me recently how a state such as New York differs so greatly from the state of Oregon in terms of funding education. Even though this is a larger issue, I brought up the argument that New York State, after years of having a larger population, several issues due to the size and scope of the state, and the fact that state leaders have placed a great emphasis on the quality of learning, would naturally have a higher level of funding than Oregon.

Now I’m sure Oregon has its own issues relating with education, but when we’re talking about a relatively young state of 4 million compared to a beast such as New York at 19 million, it’s pretty clear cut.

My friend also asked me another question relating with education, but this time on a worldwide basis. I’m somewhat paraphrasing this, but the question was about how you solve the world’s current and future crisis situations and conflicts. Their reasoning was education. My response: education is in the eye of the beholder. What can be construed as education in one society can be considered brainwashing in another. There is no level standard, no set guidelines in several scenarios.

All across the country, the level and quality of education varies greatly, as the example of the New York State-Oregon question brought up. Education is a game affected greatly by politics. In certain parts of this country, you may have more conservative politicians pushing forward an agenda of teaching a creationist-based curriculum or on the other side, you could have neoliberals pushing forward an agenda of complete and utter tolerance for everybody and everything without taking into account individual beliefs of what they want to believe, whether each group likes it or not.

A number of people, taxpayers and elected officials in this state, made an issue of K-12 education in New York State. Whether it’s the cost or the quality, always somebody has a problem with it. According to the Public Policy Institute of NYS, in the 2005-2006 school year, New York State ranked number one in cost per pupil for K-12, spending $14,884 in total as well as ranked number one in salary and wages as well as employee benefits. Problems arise due to the complexity of conditions and factors within the state. A child from the South Bronx will not receive the same education as one in Spencerport outside of Rochester.

For higher education, the argument of public college tuition is always an issue. It’s obscenely archaic to have a system, particularly the State University of New York, that updates the cost of tuition each few years, and since its compounded over a number of years – the cost rises in the double digits, infuriating students, staff, and anyone who has a vested interest in the future of a system for all.

The only equalization of education, that you could make it even on some sort of playing ground with all people and all walks of life without disavowing their own personal beliefs on certain issues, is some sort of basic list of truths. Facts – fair, clear, and with no alternative interpretation of what it is, is the basis of this. You may have your own idea of how to construe it, but the fact (no pun intended) remains – it is what it is.

HEALTHCARE

The third beast of domestic policy, healthcare has predominately become a major issue since the first Clinton Healthcare Plan was introduced in 1993. Politically devastating to Democrats in the early 1990s, healthcare reform has become a bipartisan issue… somewhat.

Formation of an urge by government to support its citizens in the medical realm was conceived during the days of FDR with the Social Security Act of 1935. Roughly 30 years later, Lyndon Johnson, as part of his “Great Society” set of policies, amended the act to include what is now known as Medicare and Medicaid.

However, the United States never had a system of where all citizens, regardless of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, would be guaranteed healthcare. Countries such as Great Britain have for years had a public healthcare system to the country’s overall benefit, especially post World War II. For a country of 60 million, the cost of the National Health Service (NHS) is $155 billion dollars. Compare that to the 300 million people in the United States (without revising so much based upon preferences) and you have a $775 billion dollar system. Big money, no doubt.

Under those figures, that would equate the entire Department of Defense ($515.40 billion) budget and spending for interest payments ($260 billion). In these uncertain times, a major program such as that may not be what the country wants, but something it may need.

So how do you effectively “fix” healthcare in America?

There is a prevailing fear in America that “socialized” healthcare would not have the same benefits as a successfully executed private health insurance plan. However, and I know you’ve heard more than a number of private healthcare horror stories, if you can partner private insurance carriers with a system run as a efficiently as the Internal Revenue Service, you may have something there.

Obviously Big Healthcare will not want to be beholden to any group or organization, especially the U.S. government. You still give the same authorities and rights they had before, but you run it like you would the airline industry: freedom to make choices for business interests, but through a system of checks and balances that promote competition and research. Probably what they wouldn’t want is for companies such as Kaiser Permanente, Cigna, among others to turn into a healthcare-version of Amtrak.

As everything in this country, healthcare won’t be fixed until it is completely and irrevocably broken – just like with Social Security. Only a quasi-governmental authority with private and public interests for the advancement of research in health and the standards citizens expect from the government will be the solution for the healthcare issue in this country.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Issue 1 - Poverty - Being Swept Under the Economic Rug

The first of five issue areas I will cover, in no particular order of priority, is poverty.

You’re probably going to start things when you read this: Joe Bonilla is going to use a bunch of clich├ęs, blah… and so on. But the fact of the matter remains: poverty is a major problem in this country and in the world.

How does poverty begin? Does it begin from ignorance, laziness, or doing all you can and still not getting by? There are several methods of how poverty begins, but what’s important to realize is that no matter who you are, what you believe, how you walk, where you live – poverty can strike you.

And how do you define impoverished areas? Do you describe rural America, through towns in the Mississippi delta where you have some of the least educated, least earning Americans or through such formerly prosperous cities such as Detroit or Buffalo, where industry has come and gone and what’s left is what made industry – the people.

The U.S. government defines the poverty line, as of 2007, to be $10,787 if you’re single and under 65. And for a family of four (including two kids) – it’s a whopping $21,027. Think about those figures, especially if you’re around my age. A number of us, since we’re in school, make $10 grand or less – but are we considered to be impoverished? A family of four, however, is an entirely different case. These figures, especially national figures, do not display what regional income levels nor do they express the focused needs of each family per census-designated location.

On top of that, inequality of income has reached epidemic levels. You have the top 1 percent of the country holding 20 percent of the wealth, whereas the bottom 20 percent of the income bracket makes up a little less than 3.5 percent. In New York State alone, 13.7% of residents live below the poverty line as well as, according to information provided by Catholic Charities USA through their campaign to cut poverty, over 800,000 residents utilized services by the organization in some way shape of form. Out of nearly 19 million New Yorkers, 1/19th of us had to use the services of Catholic Charities to provide some sort of service that could not be provided by typical means.

The poverty line is an instrument of years past. Elected (and unelected) officials use it as a measure of progress that they use for either campaign points or a strategy – the decline of poverty has many parents, but an increase of poverty is an orphan.

For instance, the events of Hurricane Katrina to the Gulf Coast exploded into the mental realm how grossly government had thrown poverty under the rug. In a speech given in New Orleans some 17 days after Katrina hit, President Bush stated, “All of us saw on television, there's . . . some deep, persistent poverty in this region. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action."

Read again those first six words – “all of us saw on television.” And there lies part of the problem, is that “leaders” (yes, I use this term in quotes to represent those individuals who claim to lead but just say things people are suppose to blindly believe) have no grasp upon the issue of poverty. A few do, only because they lived. Fewer, however, remember their impoverished time and actually try to do something about it. Yale political science professor Jacob Hacker estimated that 58.5% of Americans (25 to 75) will spend at least one year in poverty. Going back to the second paragraph, where I stated does poverty perhaps begin at ignorance – in some ways, yes it does. The ignorance of those who could do something about it, but choose not to.

Poverty’s one of those words that conjures a number of images – homelessness, the ghetto, steel mill towns, Sally Struthers and the guy from Catholic Charities. All of those images convalesce into a broader image – where people are not thriving but just surviving. Nobody said life would be easy, but they certainly didn’t want this either.

So how do we fix this national crisis?

There is no right or wrong answer on this one, but it’s an analysis of what would be cost-beneficial to the individuals and organizations that have the ways and means to fix these problems. Some will be downright opposed to such action, mainly on the libertarian front. Some will be emphatic over the situation, say a few words with “backbone”, and go about their day as if it was something that was on TV.

Another argument could be that poverty is part of a deeper, more troubling problem – social and civic inaction. The action of doing nothing, both by the government and by individuals – happens too much. Not my problem, they say. Doesn’t affect me, others say. Here’s the catch – it does, and it affects what you may hold dear to you… your wallet. Only when it’s based upon government reaction does anything get done, but that’s with any pressing issue.

Poverty-reduction activities conducted by all forms of government, whether it’s municipal, state, or federal, costs big money. Unless you’re a fervent supporter of deficit spending in all cases, this big money comes out of the pockets of the taxpayers. In addition to government, non-profits and religious groups engage in these activities as well. I’m probably one of the biggest supporters of a complete separation of church and state, but when it comes to fighting a common ideological enemy such as poverty – I guess it’s somewhat okay.

A group called the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based out of D.C., proposed 12 steps to cut poverty in half (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/04/poverty_report.html). Their steps line out a plan such as increasing minimum wage, provide more government-backed educational grants, connect youth with work, increase access to financial services, among other decent and practical areas. They plan on presenting with full force this plan to the next Congress and the next occupier of the White House next year.

Poverty program implementation is not a Democrat, Republican, or independent thing – it’s an American thing. We all need to do our part to fix this crisis.

You may not realize it, but every day, you will encounter one of those 58.5% of Americans who has had to live below the poverty line. Whether you are one of those Americans who had to face tough times or know someone who has, we all have the opportunity to make change, to make the country and the world a better place because you’re seen in it person.

If you don’t, well – I just hope you don’t get swept under the rug.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Five Issue Areas for America

Prior to this Tuesday's election, I will be examining five broad policy areas which I will dissect and examine for your enjoyment.

They are:

Climate Change/Energy
Ethics Reform
Economy/Education/Healthcare
Foreign Policy/Defense/National Security
Poverty

Why I'm doing this - to educate, learn, you know - fun stuff.

Starts tomorrow.