Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Budget Deficit Tops $1 Trillion, but Is Falling, Report Says

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the national deficit will surpass the one trillion dollar mark for the fourth year in a row. While it is projected to be 200 billion dollars less than last year, and predicted to fall in the next few years due to mandatory tax increases and spending cuts, economists say that the last quarter of 2012 until the end of 2013. The unemployment rate is estimated to rise to 9.2% during the last quarter of 2013.

Despite, these dismal job predictions, economists predict a 2 percent increase in GDP this year, followed by a 1.1% increase next year. But as we learned in econ, GDP is not a complete indicator of a country's health.

The Bush tax cuts, which are due to expire at the end of this year, would add 5.4 trillion more dollars to the deficit if continued for ten more years. Another topic is Medicare. Paying for Medicare is part of the federal government's mandatory budget, and many from both parties are urging Congress to prevent cuts that would drive up health care prices even further.

Both parties have been spinning this news to their advantages. Republicans use the bleak projections for this year and next year as proof that president Obama's policies have failed. Democrats have been citing these projections to say that increasing revenue, presumably by taxing wealthy Americans, would strengthen the economy, which they believe in the long run is the best way to fix the economy.

So what do you guys think of the news? Is the small decrease in the deficit a cause for at least some celebration, or do all of the other projections make the next few years seem grim? How should and how can Congress try to solve this problem? What effects will this information have on the ongoing 2012 election campaign?

Romney clinches Florida, focuses back on Obama

As you have probably heard, Mitt Romney is the projected winner for Florida's GOP primary.

1144 delegates are required to win the Republican nomination; after today, Romney will have 80, Gingrich 18, Santorum 13, Paul 3, and Huntsman 2. Looking at these figures, do you think any of the other candidates will begin considering suspending their campaigns?

The Romney team has declared that he will almost certainly win the GOP nomination and that it would take an incredibly dynamic event (or series of events) to reverse this course. It was also stated that Romney is in a comfortable enough position to take his focus off of Gingrich and concentrate his rhetoric on Obama. On the one hand, if Romney really does have the nomination in the bag, I can see why he would want to focus on Obama: to minimize the division within his own party and get a headstart on uniting Republicans against the incumbent president. However, it might also be wise to continue keeping Gingrich at bay so as to shorten the competition and secure the nomination as quickly as possible. What do you guys think?

The Trickery of Freddie Mac

According to a recent investigation, since at least 2010, the mortgage giant Freddie Mac has ironically been betting against homeowners by investing billions of dollars in securities that lose value when homeowners refinance. To state it conversely, Freddie makes money by actually keeping homeowners trapped in higher-interest loans. Considering that Freddie Mac was created to help consumers secure mortgages, there is clearly a conflict of interest between its purpose and its investments.

Due to these newly discovered securities, the enterprise profits as borrowers continue to pay their high-interest payments from their original mortgage. When these individuals refinance into cheaper loans, they pay off their first loan early, causing Freddie to lose this source of revenue (the valuable interest payments). To hinder refinancing, Freddie has implemented a number of new rules and regulations, including "high introduction fees and strict requirements on who qualifies for a Freddie-insured mortgage."

It is definitely not in Freddie's interest (no pun intended) for the borrowers to default on their loans, yet, as briefly aforementioned, it also does not benefit Freddie when borrowers shift to less expensive mortgages.

I think this revelation will cut deeply into the public's trust of such groups, which may translate into increased distrust of the government. It may also be used by the GOP candidates as ammunition against Obama, for not only did this happen under his watch (--> retrospective voting), but he did also promise reform in this area during his SOTU address.

If you'd like to learn more in detail about how Freddie Mac works or its questionable investments, here's the URL upon which I based this post: http://www.thenewamerican.com/economy/sectors-mainmenu-46/10713-freddie-mac-bets-against-homeowners-and-refinancing.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gingrich labels Romney a 'liberal'

As we discussed in AP Gov last week, George H. W. Bush used the word "liberal" to negatively portray his opponent, Michael Dukakis, during the 1988 presidential campaign. Bush Sr. used this label to depict Dukakis as weak, not proactive, and detached from those he would serve. Bush tried to expose these weak qualities by creating the Willie Horton Ad, which detailed the story of this criminal who had been released, only to go and commit more crimes. Bush hoped to employ this example to prove that Dukakis' policies were to lenient and he could not effectively and safely govern America. This attack was detrimental to Dukakis. Dukakis tried to invert the term, and compare himself to the liberals such as JFK and Roosevelt, but by that point it was too late. Bush won that election.

Now, as the 2012 Republican contest has become bitter and brutal, Gingrich is reviving this term, and beginning to use it to characterize Romney. While he formerly referred to Romney as a "Massachusetts Moderate," Gingrich has recently used the term "liberal" to try and invoke the same detachment and weakness that Bush aimed for over twenty years ago.

The most recent polls for tomorrow's Florida primary show Mitt Romney in front of Gingrich 42 percent to 27 percent, a full 15 percentage points. Gingrich was once ahead, and this new label surely is intended to take some of Romney's support and regain his lead.

Another interesting comment from Gingrich is his assertion that he is the "legitimate heir to the Reagan movement," evoking the image of one of our nation's most conservative presidents in the hopes of getting more support from conservatives. Interestingly enough, Rick Santorum has been polling fairly well amongst conservatives. I think Gingrich hopes that if the two of them can hold on to enough votes, they can eliminate Romney's lead.

So, on the eve of the Florida primary, what do you guys think will happen in the next twenty-four hours? Will Gingrich's use of the"liberal" label cost Romney enough votes to lose? Will Romney be able to effectively refute these allegations and assuage voters that he will not be weak? Predictions for tomorrow?

90 Days Without Technology??? INCREDIBLE!

James Reilly, a 24-year-old copywriting student at the Chicago Portfolio school decided to go 90 days, or 3 months without any form of social media communication, such as Facebook, Twitter, Emails, and even Cell phones.

While doing so, James exclaimed, "I would sit in the park a lot, throw the football with my friends, go ice-skating, and all that kind of silly stuff that you take for granted. It's all around you. I think that was the best part and most people really overlook that." Without social media, James really got out and did active things that most people wouldn't even think of doing because they are inside and on the computer all day. This quote, for me, really sums up what Facebook and social media blinds people from seeing, "...silly stuff that you take for granted." Being outside, playing sports, running, are all things that we forget about doing because we spend so much time on our phones or computers.

Reilly, after being asked this question, "Do you think that those who rely so heavily on social media to interact with others are training themselves to communicate only at the most superficial level?" answered, "...it's superficiality on top of superficiality. You never get to see the real parts of people." I think that communicating through social media, although very convenient, does take away the "real parts of people" and is a place for people to be in some ways fake.

I have to say, even though I agree with Reilly and think that life would be so much different, quite possibly in a good way, without Facebook and other social media tools, I would have a difficult time living without my phone or computer. It kind of makes me sad to think that the society we live in is ALL social media based. Facebook is the newest place for artists, celebrities, products, and TV shows to attract and sell their products. People now don't ever need to leave the house to learn about the outside world. My life after school sort of revolves around Facebook and my phone and after reading this, maybe I'll try and change that! What do you think? Could you go 3 months without any contact with friends or family other then hand-written letters and face to face interactions. I haven't written a letter in maybe 10 years, and after reading this maybe I will. Receiving a letter would be cool!

Second Year In, Republican Governors Moderate Tone

According to this New York Times article, many of the governors who were swept into office in the 2010 election cycle have not been as extreme or as aggressive in their policies as they promised to be before they took office. Governors who sought to eliminate collective bargaining rights have become less aggressive and "confrontational" in their pursuits, the product of both the citizens' unhappiness with specific policies and of their re-election hopes in 2012.

Additionally, a handful of the governors have been undoing some of the policies they enacted. The Republican Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, has chosen to add back days he cut from a Pre-K classes, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has urged the state to re-purchase the Capitol building complex. Some of these reversals can be credited to the economic improvements and increase in tax revenue, but I wonder if any of the decisions are driven by political reasons.

Do you guys this this trend could continue once the Republican nominee is selected, and if he eventually takes office? Will the Republicans running in the primaries right now actually enact the policies they promisee, or are they just trying to appeal to as many as they can, regardless of what they have to say to get elected?

Digging into China's Nuclear Tunnels

Since 2008, Georgetown University professor and former top Pentagon official, Phillip A. Karber, has been working diligently with some of his most dedicated undergraduate students in order to uncover what is really going on in the Sichuan province of China. After a massive earthquake struck the Sichuan provice, Karber's committee, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, was intrigued by news reports of a large response of Chinese radiation technicians, who rushed to the areas struck most by the earthquake. But what do earthquakes have to do with radiation technicians? These reports sparked a large amount of curiosity amongst Karber and his committee, leading to the beginning of his extensive research. Since then, he has introduced the scenario to his students and, with the help of their persistent efforts to find the truth, has uncovered a myriad of Chinese military documents which have provided substantial evidence that suggests China has been secretly building up their nuclear arsenal right under our noses.

It is unknown how many nuclear warheads China may currently possess, for the estimate ranges anywhere from 80 to 3,000. Regardless, any amount of nuclear weapons outside the United States is concerning, and the fact that China is covertly increasing their weapon supply is equally alarming. My biggest question regarding this article is why China feels the need to increase their arsenal of nuclear weapons now? Are they preparing for an attack or a war? China's population is over 1.3 million people, roughly four times the population of the U.S. That alone puts America at a huge disadvantage if conflicts with China ever arose. Factor in the mysterious amount of nuclear weapons that may be hidden underground in the Sichuan province of China, which could possibly be as many as 3,000 warheads (the U.S. currently has 5,000), and that seems to pose a highly dangerous potential threat.

So Aragon Hitchhikers, what do you think?

SOPA, ACTA, and now PCIP

PCIP, the Protect Children from Internet Pornography act, basically attacks internet freedom in the one way SOPA doesn't (But ACTA does); it requires internet service providers to record everything you do online. "The firm that sells youInternet access would be required to track all of your Internet activity and save it for 18 months, along with your name, the address where you live, your bank account numbers, your credit card numbers, and IP addresses you've been assigned... (It may even be made available in civil matters like divorce trials or child custody battles.)" - Atlantic Times

The data could then be accessed by government officials - they need only ask to see it.

The bill has been growing in popularity, having 40 congressmen signed on as co-sponsors, and has a similar bill by the same name in the Senate.

"There is an alternative: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been a leader in ensuring an open Internet. Last March, Wyden introduced a bill that would protect children from sex trafficking and support victims of sex crimes. The bill does not, however, require the tracking of individuals' online activity or financial transactions, essentially making it a safer alternative to the Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act.

Known as the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act, it has 12 sponsors but has been tied up for months in the Senate Judiciary Committee."

PCIP was written by Lamar T. Smith, who also drafted SOPA.
Personally, I can't believe the type of BS our government is willing to consider in congress, and I hope there is another wave of progressive reforms once everyone realizes what's going on. It will have to come fast though - once freedoms have been taken away, people can grow used to them being gone.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Democrats' strategy for taking back the House

The Democratic Party has started a campaign to take back the House majority in its "Red to Blue program" targeting Republican held seats that are identified as potential swing districts. The Democrats need 25 more seats to gain control in the House.

The Democratic Party is making use of new candidates for their "Drive to 25." The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is backing or has plans to back Democratic candidates in three dozen swing districts. Most of the candidates currently receiving backing have not held elected office before. The GOP also had a lot of new candidates when the took the House in 2010.

The message the new candidates are trying to convey is not that of a politician but one of a problem solvers who can break partisan gridlock. They are trying to get at independent voters who voted Republican in 2010. A new candidate California and former astronaut Jose Hernandez stated, "I'm an engineer. I'm trained to solve problems, unlike lawyers, which most of our Congress folks are; they're trained to litigate, argue, and I'm trained to solve problems."

I think that it is possible that the new-elects, if successful, will be used primarily as padding for the Democratic Party to get its items through while the districts of the new representatives get effectively less representation than their representative should in theory provide since the new representatives may not be able to hold the floor as skillfully when trying to direct funds to their districts. What are your thoughts, AP Gov folks?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Libya tortures pro-Ghadaffi prisoners

In case anyone was harboring idealistic notions that the Libyan revolution would be the end of trouble in Libya, such a belief should be reconsidered, as many prisoners in Libya have recently accused Libyan officials of torture.

It seems like many revolutions follow this path - they have a great revolutionary spirit, but have trouble putting it away and accepting differences once they've won the war, as happened in the French revolution and ensuing Reign of Terror.

Still, given the international aid that the Libyan rebel movement received, I was hoping for something a little better than this. But then again - who're we to talk. The US has plenty of its own torture on record.

Obama on rising tuition

A point Obama made in his SOTU speech and again in a speech at the University of Michigan was to put pressure on colleges to keep tuition from rising by threatening to remove federal subsidies. University of Washington President Mike Young said that Obama doesn't understand public university budgets and dismissed Obama's plan as "political theater."

Obama's plan is focused on increasing campus-based aid and will not affect the vast bulk of federal grants and loans. Since there is no central authority for higher education, the federal government has a very limited control over the real costs and significant gridlock in Congress.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said that tuition increases are needed to make up for drops in state funding. Obama wants state governments to be more helpful, which Coleman agrees with.

Young said that the cost of educating students has actually gone down and that the state authorized tuition increases are only to make up for the state cutting their subsidies.

Obama's speech at the University of Michigan was part of a campaign to promote his SOTU agenda in competitive states.

I did not understand what University of Washington President Young meant about university costs. Were his university's state subsidy cuts greater or less than decreases in the cost to educate? And if they were lesser, what was the point of the tuition increase?

This does seem like a pre-campaign season campaign targeted at younger (college age) voters who are a growing demographic among registered voters. And young people were more likely to vote for Obama in 2008.

I am doubtful that any federal plan to keep tuition from rising can make it through the gridlock of Congress, but I have my fingers crossed for an effective plan to be enacted within the next several months. What are your thoughts, AP Gov folk?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hillary Clinton announces that she will leave job at end of term

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced at a town hall forum with State Department employees that she will leave her job at the end of President Obama's current term, regardless of whether he wins re-election or not. She described her decision as stepping off "the high wire of American politics" after 20 years.

She stated that she plans to work as hard as she possibly can until the last minute.

Her announcement was a response to a question at the forum, which was held to mark the anniversary of the Department's "Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review" which Clinton considers to be one of her major accomplishments while Secretary of State. She has said that she had planned on only serving one term in her current position.

However, it has been noted that she is one of the most popular politicians there is a lot of speculations regarding her plans.

I think that this may have some effect on Obama's campaign when the time comes. Clinton is a popular figure around the world, and unless he announces a new replacement with similar acclaim, he may be looked at negatively.

What are your thoughts AP Gov folks?

Afghanistan makes agreement with France while still arguing with US

France has made an agreement with Afghanistan where French troops will continue training Afghan troops beyond the end of combat operations in 2014. Similar agreements have been made with Britain and Italy. The US has been able to make a similar agreement after a year of negotiations.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that he does not want to make such an agreement with the US unless "NATO-led night raids" are stopped. He holds the US responsible for the civilian casualties such operations cause, despite being NATO-led. Karzai also wants a handover of US detention facilities.

"The U.S. is our largest and most important ally. What’s important for Afghanistan is the quality of the document, not how fast we can rush the signature," said Janan Musazai, a spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry.

Blaming the US for civilian casualties of NATO operations seems like an attempt to appear strong and sovereign on Karzai's part while still leaving other means of support open. Kabul needs foreign aid to be able keep its influence in the country.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Republican Debate Occurs in Florida

This Thursday, 4 republican presidential candidates entered a debate in Florida in which they talked about investments, health (specifically Ron Paul's), investing in health, and moon colonies, among other things.

The debate turned out well for everyone besides Gingrich, who had been losing the momentum gained by his South Carolina win.

I'm not going to summarize the linked article and video, but here's some additional information:

In one instance, Gingrich mentioned his belief that it is critical that the US invest in a colony on the moon. In response, Romney said "I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, 'You're fired.'" Though Romney and Santorum both agreed that the private sector needs to be more explored in space, Santorum agreed with Romney that it is not a good time for the government to be paying for such an endeavor. He also called the proposal an attempt to get local votes from Florida's space-related constituency, and argued that they candidates should be focused on larger issues than arguing for local votes. Ron Paul did not believe that space exploration should be government funded for anything more than possible defense opportunities.

In response to an episode where Gingrich called Romney the most "anti-immigrant" candidate, Romney responded saying that he found the charge repulsive and that such over-the top-statements have characterized politics for too long. Santorum and Romney then agreed that blocking immigrants form jobs would get them to "self-deport," while Ron Paul though a better economy would keep out illegal immigrants (Though this seems counter-intuitive), but that we should patrol the borders more anyway.

I think that, as recent GOP debates go, this debate was more legitimate than some of the other ones, likely due to the lack of less-popular candidates. I also liked the fact that the candidates were open and willing to criticize the appeals to local votes and extreme statements that have made national political debates and campaigns less... intellectual... than they should be.

Also, I particularly liked Ron Paul's defense of his health status.

Budget cuts to the Pentagon

After consistently growing since 1998, the US military budget for 2013 will be about one percent smaller--about $525 billion. This is significant in that the military has been receiving large budget increases after the 9/11 attacks. The proposed budget involves cutting the size of the Army and Marines (though they will still be bigger than they were before US involvement in Afganistan and Iraq), reducing the amount of Air Force tactical squadrons, the Navy retiring seven old cruisers earlier than expected and cutting back production on other ships, and spending more on unmanned vehicles and Special Operations forces.

Still, the military budget cuts have been called a "rounding error" compared to total government spending. There will need to be further cuts as the Pentagon is trying to cut projected spending by $487 billion. The cuts can possibly be expanded by $600 billion depending on how things work out between the White House and Congress.

A defense analyst Thomas Donnelly said regarding relations between the President and Congress, "Either it will get worse for the Department of Defense if Obama gets reelected or Newt Gingrich gets elected, or it will get better for the Pentagon if Mitt Romney gets elected."

Defense Secretary Panetta said he will ask Congress to reduce retirement benefits and pay increases. President Obama has asked for less money to fund the military actions in the Middle East this year as the Iraq War closes.

I think that these budget cuts are a step in the right direction. The large budget of the US military is a vestige of the Cold War, and it is no longer necessary to be responsible for 45% of the world's military spending. As the US finally pulls out of Iraq, there are less excuses to keep spending up (unless the government comes up with evidence/"evidence" to get involved in other countries or the South China Sea). What are your ideas on this matter, AP folks?

Poland signs ACTA - That's all of them

Poland was the last European Union member state to announce its decision to sign ACTA, but has now decided to do so, much to the chagrin of many protesters.

For those of you that don't know, ACTA is an anti-piracy treaty similar to the US's SOPA which has been debated since 2008. The treaty will be signed by the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and as of now, every country in the EU.

In some ways, ACTA is even harsher than SOPA, as it requires internet service providers to monitor the packages sent and received by their users to check for copyrighted information.

All that's left is for the British parliament to pass the final decision on the treaty.

You probably haven't heard as much about this in the US due to the more well-known SOPA and PIPA, but ACTA is every bit as powerful/dangerous

Increasing US military presence in Asia-Pacific

Officials from the US and the Philippines are undergoing talks to expand US military presence in its ally and former colony. This is in addition to agreements to station 2500 Marines in Australia, which was discussed on this blog last November, as well stationing warships in Singapore.

The reason? China. And probably oil.

The US is increasing its military presence in Asia to counter China's increasing ability to assert itself (rightfully or not) in the international affairs of the region. This is also a move at supporting the claims of US allies to oil rich parts of the South China Sea. The Philippines is currently in a dispute over the oil-rich Spratly Islands with several other countries. The ability of the the US to assert itself (rightfully or not) in the region is gaining importance as the US military presence in oil-rich Iraq decreases.

The stated priority of the Philippine officials is to strengthen maritme defense, especially along the South China Sea. A Philippine official mentioned increased US military presence in Australia, Singapore, and Japan. He stated “We’re not the only one doing this, and for good reason. We all want to see a peaceful and stable region. Nobody wants to have to face China or confront China.”

Robert Scher, a deputy assistant secretary of defense said that the US is focused on developing stronger ties with allies over developing bases for US use only.

The plan is for the Philippines to host periodic rotations or temporary assignments of US troops and battleships. The wording regarding temporary assignments can elastic though. Since 2002, there have been 600 US Special Operations troops assisting the fight against al-Qaeda sympathising rebels in the southern islands. The Philippine government has also been working to aquire US military equipment such as 16 fighter jets.

I think that as China expands its power, other countries in the region feel the need to do the same. There is already a bit of tension regarding claims in the energy rich South China Sea. We may be looking at an arms race. The US now has a greater ability to participate in this as more resources are removed from Iraq. What do you think, AP Gov people?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

GOP response to SOTU 2012

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels delivered the Republican Party response to the president's Syaye of the Union speech Tuesday evening. He mirrored Obama's opening, saluting him for taking down Osama bin Ladden and other Al-Qaeda officers and talked about other political things before denying the positive messages of Obama's speech. Daniels said Obama was not responsible for the economic problems the US has faced, but he did allege that Obama has done nothing that improved economic conditions durring his three years in office. Daniels also announced opposition to the growing gap between the top and bottom of the income ladder before saying the US was likely to follow the economic path of Greece and Spain if no new action is taken.

A notable political point Daniels made regarding helping his state: "First, make money. Be successful. If you make a profit, you'll have something left to hire someone else, and some to donate to the good causes we love."

Daniels talked about opposition to "extremism" regarding energy policies and called for greater private sector activity to create jobs and a simplied tax code to minimize loophole abuse and be less favorable to the rich. He called for Medicare and Social Security reform. He also blamed the Democrats of the Senate for all the gridlock in Congress and said that the Republicans were responsible for anything Congress managed to accomplish.

He ended his speech saying that Republicans can restore America from the damage done and make "our 'city on a hill' shine once again."

I was bothered that there were no details regarding Social Security and Medicare reform. I also feel that he was too extreme in saying the US could follow in the footsteps of Greece and Spain. Both this spreech and Obama's seriously bothered me as they both projected American exceptionalism.
So AP Gov folks, what do you think of the GOP response?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Campaign Contributions Gone Wild

We learned about the court case Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed for SuperPACs to donate unlimited amounts of money in undisclosed fashions, potentially allowing for all sorts of corruption and crony capitalism shenanigans to take place.

Given the option for anonymity, it seems strange that Chris Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, has decided to openly threaten cutting funding for congressmen should they fail to pass the MPAA's favorite laws, SOPA and PIPA.

This seems to be pretty strong evidence that something shady is going on in our congress. But it also makes me wonder: if he felt this sort of thing was acceptable to talk about on national TV, does that mean that crony capitalism goes on enough to delude him into thinking it is well accepted as the norm?
What do you enlightened scholars think?

State of the Union 2012

This year's State of the Union speech was particularly important for President Obama as it is an election year, and he was bound to portray the state of the country as improving. He opened the speech talking mainly about political things like the end of the Iraq War and the death of Osama bin Ladden before talking about the military as a bridge to talking about national unity and what the country previously accomplished before neatly segueing into talking about policies. The first policy related things Obama brought up regarded the deficit and Wall Street regulations, both of which would be recurring themes through the speech. He also mentioned throughout that he wanted manufacturing and clean energy to be major economic focuses and talked about related goals like providing job training and discouraging outsourcong. All of his policy talk was punctuated with political things like both parties coming together to get legislature through in a timely manner and equal opportunity.

What bothered me about the speech was its lack of depth, but details of so many issues can't be discussed in only an hour. I was left wondering if such plans were possible and could survive Congress, and, if they do, how effectively they can be executed. A specific detail that bothered me was what Obama said the Iraq War money would now be headed: half to infrastucture and half to paying off debt. Since the government is sustaining heavily on borrowed money, doesn't that mean that the government would just be borrowing half the cost of the war less per year? And that the rate of debt increase only slows, not reverses?

I would also like to note how this speech seemed to be partly a rebuttal to any negative predictions the Republican candidates were saying about policies made durring the Obama administration, as Obama kept saying positive predictions about the future and stressed any accomplishments in the present.

Romney and the flat rate investment income tax

Thanks to a flat invesment tax rate, Republican candidate Mitt Romney paid 13.9% of his 2010 income in taxes. His income for that year weighed in at about $21.6 milion and he paid $3 milion in taxes. His estimated figures for 2011 have his income at $20.9 milion and a tax rate of 15.4%. His average weekly income is equal to the yearly income of those near the bottom of the top 1%.

Possibly acknowledging the contrast in income tax proportion, Romney has "gone pretty light on his deductions,” according to tax attorney Ken Breir. It seems that Romney does not want to bring any attention to his tax record.

Romney has paid $7.5 milion less in taxes for 2010 and 2011 than what he would have if President Obama's tax plans had been enacted. Paying $7.5 million more in taxes over two years would double his tax rate.

How should investments be taxed? Is it fair that the rich can pay a much lower proportion of their income in taxes?

Would They Call Adam Smith A Socialist Today?

By this point in the year, all my students have been assigned chapter 3 of Heilbroner's _The Worldly Philosophers_ regarding Adam Smith, and I introduced it by asserting that Smith's actual beliefs have been oversimplified and misrepresented over the years. In case you weren't convinced, follow this link to additional context and supporting quotes. It's always nice to see my analysis replicated by a professional...

Also of note, the previous post on that blog questions the role the State of the Union speech has, especially during an election year. Well, I've assigned it every year regardless of who happens to be president, but if you agree with the critique, I imagine you will place your notes in the "politics" rather than the "policy" column.Link

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Slavery + Chocolate

Chocolate in the United States is something that is enjoyed by many as a reward, a dessert, and a hobby but no one would ever guess that it is produced through the child trafficking, labor and slavery. Recently, a group of CNN reporters went to the Ivory Coast to investigate the cocoa industry following several reports of the exploitation back in 2001. Ever since, lawmakers have been trying to get it to change. After a lot of pushing, the Harkin-Engel protocol was developed and signed by major companies in the cocoa industry committing to bring an immediate end to child labor within the chocolate industry. UNICEF, a major non-profit organization, estimates that half million children within the Ivory Coast are within the ruthless cycle of child labor of the cocoa industry, many of who have tasted chocolate. Many of the children stuck in child labor are there due to family needs, having to help provide for their siblings. Others just know to work. Without schooling, many of these children find that life is just this way. They don't know about regulations, protocols, or even the idea of how to escape. The cocoa industry is just one of the many industries that exploit child labor in order to maximize profits. Now with this story out there and the protocol in place, hopefully change will happen. What are your thoughts on this? How does this affect the economy of the Ivory Coast and our own economy?

Anonymous Web Attacks Recruited Unwitting Participants

In protest of SOPA and the shutdown of Megaupload, a file-sharing site, "hacktivist" group Anonymous launched a series of DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks last Thursday on government and entertainment sites, including those of the Department of Justice and the Motion Picture Association of America. While this may have been a justifiable demonstration, technology consultants have found that many participants unknowingly joined by simply clicking a link.

Through links on sites such as Twitter and Facebook, Anonymous distributed a method that, using JavaScript, automatically targeted sites with an application dubbed the "Low Orbit Ion Cannon". This method not only allowed some 5,600 users to join the web assault, but made it difficult to trace their origins.

Many of the links, however, did not even mention attacks on anti-piracy organizations. Thus, accidental or curious clickers may have unwittingly and innocently participated in an illegal attack. Even if their message was justified, is it right for Anonymous to take advantage of Internet users to further their campaign?

How Gingrich Won the Evangelical Vote

How did a candidate, with a reputation of infidelity, garner the votes of so many religious conservatives in South Carolina?  About two thirds of the electorate in South Carolina were Evangelicals, and Gingrich took an impressive 44% percent of that (CNN Polls) while Mitt Romney only garnered 27%.  This is surprising given Romney's strong faith and family values.  Gingrich, on the other hand, has converted to Catholicism only a few years ago in 2009.  So to get to the bottom of this issue, lets take a look at the modern Evangelical.

Evangelical is sort of a blanket term used for Christians who believe that faith plays a very important factor in their lives.  They can be liberal or conservative (they tend to largely lean towards the latter), but the defining factor is their belief in the importance of religion.  Moreover, Evangelicals have a strong belief in redemption and forgiveness, which partially explains Gingrich overwhelming victory in the aforementioned demographic. In an Evangelical gathering of 3,000 in Iowa during Thanksgiving, Gingrich had this to say about his past and his reform: "all of that has required a great deal of pain, some of which I have caused others, which I regret deeply," Gingrich said, "all of those required having to go to God to seek both reconciliation, but also to seek God's acceptance, that I had to recognize how limited I was."  Another factor that gave Gingrich the edge over Mitt Romney is "'One of the things that Newt Gingrich has going for him is that he's not Romney,' says pollster Robert Jones".  According to the article listed below, there is a discrepancy between Evangelicals about Mitt Romney's Mormon faith.  It states that "half of white evangelicals don't believe that Mormons are Christians" and that many are dubious about Romney's inconsistent position on "social issues like gay rights and abortion". In light of this information, it is interesting to see how Gingrich and the other candidates will fare in the upcoming primaries where Evangelicals play a large role.  It seems as if the GOP race has been blown wide open... again!

Special thanks to: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/08/143361304/why-some-evangelicals-back-thrice-wed-gingrich

Romney Agrees to Release Tax Returns

After a clear defeat by Gingrich in South Carolina's primary, Mitt Romney agreed release his tax returns this upcoming week.
He considers his delay in release "a mistake" and "a distraction." Romney is one of the most affluent presidential candidates in history, and of his pledge to release his tax returns, Gingrich comments "I think that's a very good thing he's doing," and "we can go on and talk about other bigger and more important things."
The two candidates now face the Florida primary on January 31st.

Record Highs for Gas Prices

Although there is "ample" supply and decreasing demand for gasoline, gas prices are at "their highest levels ever for this time of year." Gas prices are predicted to remain high until tensions in the Persian Gulf are relieved, where Iran has threatened to "close the Strait of Hormuz if the U.S. and other countries impose more sanctions on its nuclear program." Although Iran provides 2.2 million barrels per day to other parts of the world, Iran imports are prohibited in the United States, and such stress has left crude oil prices at about $100 per barrel.
National gas averages are up approximately $0.17 from last month, and locations such as California pay the highest prices while portions of the Midwest boast the lowest prices.
Due to such increased prices, demand for gasoline and oil has declined. This week, Hovensa LLC "announced plans to close a major refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands next month that produced about 350,000 barrels per day" due to losses of "$1.3 billion over the past three years" and predicted continual losses.
Although paying more and more at pumps is not something people enjoy, perhaps increased gas prices harbor a little good news as well. Because the cost of driving is becoming more expensive, people are finding ways to consume less gas, whether it be by switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle, carpooling with others, taking public transportation, or the likes. These all have positive impacts on the environment and our pollution emissions. Also, because of decreased demand, the closing of refineries, such as the one in the Virgin Islands, holds positive impacts for the environment as well.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The South Carolina Primary Results

RESULTS: South Carolina


President Barack Obama is running unopposed in the South Carolina Democratic primaries and will likely receive all delegates.


Open primary: 25 total delegates* (reduced from 50 delegates due to RNC penalty)
All 25 tied to January 21 primary
Delegate total
Awarded all delegates
Democratic candidate President Barack Obama is running uncontested in this race, and is expected to receive all delegates.**
Vote %
Est. % In
South Carolina
Updated 8:58 p.m. EST, Jan 21, 2012

Table | Map

MenWomen18-2930-4445-6465 and Older
Republican Results by County