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Posts from the Politics Category

Yes, I’m sure you’ve already had enough of the headlines. I just thought it was pertinent to post a few interesting tidbits that have come out of the news of bin Laden’s death.

  1. Pakistan was not informed of the raid or of bin Laden’s killing until after the raid.
  2. This speaks volumes to the amount of trust, or lack thereof, that we have of the Pakistani government. Sure, they were supplying us with phone taps and some other intelligence, but they were clearly unwilling to act upon any of it.

  3. There was intelligence in place as far back as 2007 that lead to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, most importantly, the real name of a courier that was making trips to the compound.
  4. It is not clear where all of this intelligence came from, but there are a number of places stating that it was gathered from prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay facility.

  5. Lastly, the President ordered a daring raid rather than a bombing mission against the compound
  6. My hat is off to President Obama. Rather than taking a risk of having bin Laden miraculously escape a bombing raid he made the tough decision to put American lives at risk by sending them deep into Pakistan. He certainly could have gone the Clinton route and ordered a cruise missile strike but instead made sure that the job was done right. Good job Mr. President. And good job President Bush.

In closing, I do not think that the death of Osama bin Laden will lead to less of a threat for Americans or westerners in general. The United States and other fighting forces had put the clamp on Obama’s ability to effectively wage war in Afghanistan and I think that’s why we have seen a lot of build-up in places such as Yemen. Bin Laden was a figurehead and while it is good that he is gone, we should not be eager to let our guard down.

Good ol’ Krugman,  once again leaving out important facts in order to wiggle his way into finding some Republican fiscal responsibility for any and all messes.

In his usual way, Mr. Krugman gets straight to the point with this:

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

What he fails to point out is that the majority of the Texas budget is spent both on healthcare and education. How do I know this? Texas conveniently publishes a fact book that you can find here (2010). Page 33 is what you are wanting to read, of $77.6 billion in state revenue, 56.3% was spent on education and 22.8% on health and human services. That amounts to around $43.6 billion spent on education (higher education and public education) and $17.7 billion spent on health and human services. The next closest item on the budget is criminal justice and public safety, which received 9.4% of the state’s budget or $7.3 billion.

Krugman is insinuating that we do not spend enough and that budget cuts will have a deep impact across the state. There’s no doubt that there will be a hit on health and human services but I think the problem is how the funds are being spent within their different agencies, not in the amount the agencies have received before. A lot of mid-sized school districts are estimating $14 million to $20 million a year being cut from their budgets if the plan goes through. If 85% of a district’s money is being spent on personnel, I’d like to see who’s earning what. My money is on the admin side making a decent chunk of change. Maybe some cuts can be made in the admin buildings without making a dent in teacher numbers.

The Texas budget crisis is this, they could cut all other department funding completely and would still have to cut some out of education and health and human services. Tax revenue for the state has dropped to around 2006 levels, which begs the question, why can’t we return to 2006 spending levels? Technically we could, but it would still require personnel cuts in education. The real question is, would it have dire consequences on your children if their classroom size jumped to 30? The research says that the jury is still out on class size having anything to do with graduation rate. Krugman is simply echoing what school districts are screaming across the state which is, “Call your representative! Education is going to die in Texas!”. It’s a little extreme isn’t it? Especially since the estimated budgets for the schools would simply return to 2005 numbers. Have our graduation rates really gone up that much since then? No.

On the chopping block for education are a litany of programs, including parts of the TELPAS program, an assessment for English language learners. While I’m sure the motives behind the program were good, the program has grown to be a beast both in terms of money and in time. And it’s what we are doing with the information we glean from the assessment that is so worrisome. Rather than spending extra time specifically with students who are not English proficient, a lot of districts simply slow the entire class down, in order to avoid the student from feeling awkward. Education’s role is not keeping a student’s social life intact, it’s to educate them.

Another item that people keep insisting would help us is dipping into the state’s rainy day fund, which sits around $9.7 billion. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, knock down our deficit to $18 billion with our entire savings account, sounds like a stellar plan. Instead, let’s keep that money for a time when we really, really need it.

One of the things I am actually in agreement with Krugman on is the issue of taxes. Most of the state’s budget comes from sales tax and I would be alright with a 1% increase in the tax, taking the rate up to 9.25% (includes local and county collection). Before you tell me how I’m not conservative, let me just explain why this is an acceptable compromise. By raising the sales tax rate, you are not increasing franchise fees or “punishing” the poor, you are simply making it a little more expensive for people to consume. Since a lot of items are not taxable, people have the ability to avoid the taxes or significantly minimize them. The other plus is that sales tax is easy to roll back, while things like franchise taxes and property taxes have a nasty way of sticking around after being implemented.

In the end, something has to give. Either a slight tax increase, budget cuts, or a little bit of both is necessary to get this thing under control. Go to your school board meetings, look at their budget. If they are spending a lot more on administrators than on teachers, call it in to question. Maybe they can make cuts around your district without actually affecting the class room.

Niall Ferguson, Professor of History at Harvard University and columnist for Newsweek, spoke his mind on the foreign policy decisions by the Obama administration and it seems, took the MSNBC hosts off guard. Professor Ferguson is by no means a conservative so my guess is that the MSNBC personalities were looking at the interview as being easy going. His description of the Obama administration’s attempt at foreign policy is spot on:

As far as I can see, President Obama’s strategic concept is “I’m not George W. Bush. Love me.”

If you can’t see the video, you can visit MSNBC and watch it here.

It should be noted that the one host seems a bit disgusted with the whole interview and you can hear her choke a little after Niall so bluntly states his case.

“Strategery”, “nucular”, and “guesstimate” are words that make people twitch when heard. For me, my head instantly starts pounding when “bipartisanship” starts being thrown around. Both Republicans and Democrats use the word in their attempt to assuage people’s need for civility and goodness. In reality, what either side is saying is “we need to come together as long as our coming together is on our side of the issue”.

Our political disagreements is the actual bipartisanship we should strive for. Disagreement on policy is how policy making works. Having everyone sitting around in a chant circle signing “Kumbaya” and agreeing on every single thing proposed allows crud to flow through with the good stuff. Rather than bipartisanship we need people discussing, disagreeing, and reworking legislation so that it is succinct, serves a purpose, and does the most good.

I am sure tonight’s State of the Union address will have plenty of “we need to come together” lines along with “we are one so we should act like one” ovation getters. These are simply long forms of “bipartisanship”. What I wish the President would say is, “We need to hash out the details on legislation to get the economy moving. We need each side to whittle this legislation down to help as many Americans as possible”.

Agreement is great, I’m just not sure that having a Legislative Branch of yes-men is the best way to go about getting people to agree.

It is difficult to write about this day in history. So, I’ll let the President do the talking. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s speech to Congress, given on December 8, 1941. Let us remember those who fought and died at Pearl Harbor and those who, because of the attack, would go on to fight and die in World War II.

USS Arizona - Pearl Harbor Memorial

To the Congress of the United States:
Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounding determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

A judge in Oklahoma has stopped the certification of a vote that keeps Shariah Law and international law from being used in Oklahoma courtrooms. The text that was presented to voters is as follows:

This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.
International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons.
The law of nations is formed by the general assent of civilized nations. Sources of international law also include international agreements, as well as treaties.
Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.

What interests me about this case is not that Shariah Law may be banned, but that the plaintiff is claiming his 1st Amendment rights would be violated if such a ban was in place. So, Shariah Law, based on religious beliefs, should be allowed to override federal and local law. This must really put people who do not want Judeo-Christian iconography on federal, state, or public land in general into a twist. You basically have someone who wants religious rights upheld while those rights violate the rights of others.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am really looking forward to reading some write-ups by people who are vehemently against religion in the public sector. I have to wonder which way they will swing on this issue. Do they back up a law that prohibits religion from interfering with federal and state law or do they say defend the 1st Amendment.

In reality, this law does nothing to prevent people from practicing their freedom of religion. It simply removes the possibility of religious or international law being used in Oklahoma courts. Basically, if you perform an honor killing (which Shariah allows for), you cannot be protected from being prosecuted. This would not be the first time that beliefs and religion have been turned down as adequate defenses.

A very interesting case is unfolding in front of us. It will be very interesting watching this play out over the next few months.

There is no soft spot in my heart for the TSA, in fact, I have posted a lot about my disdain for their methods. After reading Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest piece on The Atlantic, I can’t say I’m holding out hope that things are going to get better any time soon.

Here’s a small excerpt from the article, though the whole thing deserves a read.

The pat-down at BWI was fairly vigorous, by the usual tame standards of the TSA, but it was nothing like the one I received the next day at T.F. Green in Providence. Apparently, I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, “Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.”

The take-away from this single paragraph and really the whole article, is that the new pat-downs have little to do with security and a lot to do with intimidating people into using the backscatter machines. When a traveler opts-out of going through the x-ray machines, they will be subjected to a verbal demoralization as well as a pat-down that can be best described as borderline fondling.

Does any of this really increase security? After last week’s events in which explosive materials were found in ink cartridges being shipped to the United States, I would say it is all show and little substance. From what has been reported, the bomb plot was foiled thanks to information from a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner. That’s right, it wasn’t some TSA agent taking away your bottle of water while you got the frisking of a lifetime, it was information. Imagine that.

It may feel like there is not much we can do but I plan on making the TSA agents as uncomfortable as they make me in these situations. Maybe if their own employees complain enough, we’ll see some changes in these new pat-down procedures. Me, I’ll be opting-out of the backscatter every time I am at an airport that uses one. When they ask me why I opted out (had this happen the last couple of times) I am thinking about replying with an overtly sexual remark. Is that wrong? Probably. What’s worse is being groped so much that you finally submit to the backscatter machine.

In all seriousness, the TSA has the upper hand. You and I have destinations to get to and they are the gatekeepers. I have no problem taking out my laptop or taking off my shoes, but this is bordering on the ridiculous. Wait, it is ridiculous. I am sure we could do a much better job of making air travel safe by actually asking questions when people go through security and analyzing facial expressions, demeanor, etc. rather than taking naked pictures of everyone or worse, shaming them in front of others.

Let’s start sending notes to the men and women who work for us in government and ask that a serious look be taken at the procedures used at airports and oversight of the TSA. If someone in either House wants to make this their pet project, I’ll back them 100%.

For those of you who fly out of IAH, you can technically clear security at any checkpoint so long as your airline does not require you to go through a certain one (some international flights do). A number of the checkpoints do not have the backscatter machines, feel free to use those.

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas. If you have early voting in your state today could also be the last day for it.

I don’t care who you vote for but get out there and vote. Read up on your state’s issues, candidates, and news and head to the polls to do your civic duty. November 2nd is election day and midterm elections are just as important as Presidential elections. Get out there and vote!

A recent study points toward predatory lending practices aimed at minorities as the main reason for the U.S. housing meltdown.

Predatory lending aimed at racially segregated minority neighborhoods led to mass foreclosures that fueled the U.S. housing crisis, according to a new study published in the American Sociological Review.

The financial institutions likely to be found in minority areas tended to be predatory — pawn shops, payday lenders and check cashing services that “charge high fees and usurious rates of interest,” they said in the study.
“By definition, segregation creates minority dominant neighborhoods, which, given the legacy of redlining and institutional discrimination, continue to be underserved by mainstream financial institutions,” the study says.

So it’s those fat cats in their suits that have caused this ruckus.

Sure, I wouldn’t doubt that there is some predatory lending going on out there and it should be severely punished, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had some part in this as well. Either by being passive and not informing buyers about predatory loans or by not insuring that lenders did not carry on with such practices.

A quick thought for Tuesday. A lot of the hubbub over education involves funding, or the lack thereof. The notion that education is underfunded is not supported by fact, instead, the facts point the other direction, that federal education spending has seen enormous growth since the 1960s.

Maybe we should be looking at how money is spent rather than how much money is doled out. Being in the education field I can guarantee that there is a lot to learn.