Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Report: “White House Burning”

Book Report: “White House Burning”  By Simon Johnson and James Kwak

I guess you could say that I have had a rather singular focus in regards to my reading selection in recent months… It’s been all about America’s economy.  I started with Bill Clinton’s “Back to Work” and quickly moved on to Bruce Bartlett’s “The Benefit and the Burden”, and I still have a desire to learn more so now that I have finished “White House Burning” I will be reading at least one more.  Tom Coburn’s new book “The Debt Bomb: A bold plan to stop Washington from bankrupting America”.  But, before I move on to “The Debt Bomb” I want to give you a brief review of “White House Burning.” 

“White House Burning” provides a surprisingly applicable perspective on America’s economic and fiscal history.  Starting as far back as our founding fathers in the 1700’s and leading into the present, authors Simon Johnson and James Kwak provide clear analysis of how sound economic policy helped shape America into the most powerful nation in the world.  From America’s days under the boom and bust “gold standard”, to the move to paper currency, and eventually how the American dollar become the worlds #1 currency. 
Since “White House Burning” takes a more historical approach to our economic and fiscal situation the book can easily be broken down into three sections: The Past, The Present, and The Future.  

The Past:
Mr. Johnson and Mr. Kwak do a great job of highlighting specific moments in our nations history that directly reflect the problems we currently struggle with today.  Whether citing political conflicts of how to fund the War of 1812 or how best to stop an economic “death spiral” after the stock market crash of 1929, “White House Burning”  parallels today’s economic and fiscals problems with stunning success.  This idea that we have been through these struggles before was both ENCOURAGING and DISCOURAGING, allow me to explain.  On one hand, it was absolutely encouraging to read about strikingly similar problems from American history where we were able to work together, find solutions, and overcome overwhelming odds.  On the other hand it was discouraging because when I look at the political landscape today I don’t know if I see an Alexander Hamilton, or a Franklin D. Roosevelt, or a Dwight Eisenhower, who was willing to go against his own party and make the UNPOPULAR decision to raise taxes because it was the right thing to do for the country’s economic future.  I am discouraged because I do not see the same political courage in our current leaders that America has been blessed with in years passed.  There are a few out there but their voices need to be louder in our economic and fiscal debates. 
Before I wrap up “The Past”, there was one more thing that truly stood out to me while reading through the history presented in “White House Burning”…Republicans were not always anti-tax/anti-government zealots, it’s just so happens that the anti-tax/anti-government movement has taken hold in the Republican Party during my lifetime.  Before Reagan, Republicans were much more balanced in their political objectives and the way they governed.  Please do not misunderstand, I am not blaming Reagan for Republicans going insane, I mean if Ronald Reagan were to run for office today he couldn’t win a primary or hold any office under the Republican banner considering how much the anti-tax/anti-government movement has permeated the party.  So going forward I will direct my scorn at the appropriate culprit, those in the anti-tax/anti-government wing of the Republican Party. 
The Present:
I do not want to just repeat similar themes that appeared in this book.  If you have read my other book reviews, or are paying attention to current events, you are already aware of the economic and fiscal problems our nations faces:  A slow economic recovery, income inequality, rising entitlement costs, a very poor tax code, and hyper partisanship to just name a few. However to cut through some of the political rhetoric, here is where we stand today in a very small nut shell…Government spending is up and federal revenues are down.  Simple enough?  As a percentage of GDP, government spending is around 23/24% of GDP however federal revenues have fallen around 15% of GDP.   This gap between government spending and government revenue has increased because of the 2008 economic collapse.  Higher unemployment, more people receiving government assistance, fewer people paying taxes, lower wages, this is why our annual deficits are so large.  However one point that “White House Burning” highlights effectively is “demographics”, especially the “baby boom” generation in America’s population.   This demographic is important to take note of because they are such a vast group.    “White House Burning” correctly points out that regardless of policy, regardless of whether the economic collapse happened or not because of America’s demographics, entitlement and healthcare costs were going to rise.  The “baby boom” generation is at retirement age and while they did help create the surpluses seen during the Clinton years, they are now going to help create some deficits.  The baby boomers are leaving the work force which means fewer taxpayers and lower federal revenues.  It also means more people on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, which creates higher government spending.  This situation could not be avoided unless we were willing to pull the social safety net out from under our seniors.  Now could the budget deficits be smaller?  Sure poor fiscal choices were made in recent years which compounded an already difficult time for America’s economy, but its important to separate the problems which are due to poor choices and those which are just a product of “demographics.”

The Future:
Honestly I wasn’t sure about the author’s political leanings until I got the “solutions” part of “White House Burning.”  However the authors do put forward a rather “democratic” solution package for getting American back on track economically.   From allowing ALL the “Bush tax cuts” to expire, raising the social security payroll tax cap (a great idea), support for The Affordable Care Act (Obama-care) insurance mandate, repeal of employer health plan exclusion over time, more open biding process for DoD contracts, eliminating redundant operations and agencies in the Defense Budget, establish a “carbon tax”, remove all but a hand full of tax expenditures, and finally establish a small “consumption tax” (also called a VAT –value added tax).   Now I am sure many of you read all that and see a lot of increased or new taxes…well yes… “White House Burning” does propose increasing revenues in a variety of ways.  However Mr. Johnson and Mr. Kwak recommend that up to 50% of the NEW revenues created be redistributed to poor and low-income families in the form of tax rebates or modified tax rates.  These modified income tax rates or tax rebates will ensure that increased federal revenues will not be financed on the backs of the least advantaged in our society.  Are these proposals likely to be adopted as law? Um…no, but increased revenues are necessary to any serious plan which hopes to balance the budget.   Perhaps a bit more balance with spending cuts to these proposed revenue increases would get us on the right path. 

What do you think about spending cuts vs. increased revenues?  Should the ratio be 1:1, 2:1, 10:1?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Republicans v. The "Violence Against Women Act"

On April 26th, 2012 the Senate voted on S. 1925: Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (also referred to as the “Violence Against Women Act” or “VAWA”), and not surprisingly it passed.  However as I reviewed the vote count I was a bit surprised to see the number of “nay” votes, 31 votes against.  So I went over to my favorite congressional tracking site, and after a quick search, I found a very obvious trend to ALL the NAY votes on the “VAWA” legislation. See if you can pick it out.
List of “NAY” votes on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): :
(R) Senator Jeff Sessions – AL
(R) Senator Richard Shelby – AL
(R) Senator John Boozman – AR
(R) Senator Jon Kyl – AZ
*(R) Senator Marco Rubio – FL
(R) Senator Saxby Chambliss – GA
(R) Senator John Isakson – GA
(R) Senator Charles Grassley – IA
(R) Senator James Risch – ID
(R) Senator Richard Lugar – IN
(R) Senator Jerry Moran – KS
(R) Senator Pat Roberts – KS
*(R) Senator Mitch McConnell – KY
(R) Senator Rand Paul – KY
(R) Senator Roy Blunt – MO
(R) Senator Thad Cochran – MS
(R) Senator Roger Wicker – MS
(R) Senator Richard Burr – NC
(R) Senator Mike Johanns – NE
(R) Senator Thomas Coburn – OK
(R) Senator James Inhofe – OK
(R) Senator Patrick Toomey – PA
(R) Senator Jim Demint – SC
(R) Senator Lindsey Graham – SC
(R) Senator John Thune - SD
(R) Senator John Coryn – TX
(R) Senator Orrin Hatch – UT
(R) Senator Mike Lee – UT
(R) Senator Ron Johnson – WI
(R) Senator John Barrasso – WY
(R) Senator Michael Enzi – WY

Yes ALL 31 “NAY” votes were from Republicans.  So...why? What is in this version of the Violence Against Women Act/VAWA” that Republicans are objecting to?  For the answer to that question we need to look at the version Republicans will put forward, and see which “objectionable” provisions have been striped out.  Now, since the final Republican bill has not been released yet I can not say for certain, however multiple media outlets are reporting three provisions which led to Republican opposition to the current "VAWA" legislation: 
·         Increased number of temporary visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, that number would rise from 10,000 to 15,000. 
·         New language which extends protections specifically to members of the LGBT community
·         New provision which allows for the prosecution of NON-Indian individuals who abuse women on tribal reservations. 
Now for those who are unaware of the size and scope of the problem we face in violence against women, let me drop some statistics on you.  In the United States during 2010 there were an estimated 84,767 forcible rapes according to FBI statistics ( ). That is 232 forcible rapes per day, and those numbers only reflected the REPORTED rapes.  Research shows numbers as high as 75-95 percent of rape crimes never get reported (   So in reality you can easily double those rape totals.  Furthermore those are just the rape totals, those numbers do not include other sexual assaults or domestic violence incidents.  Want another eye opening statistic? Domestic violence, statistically, is the NUMBER ONE reason why women go the emergency room.  Yeah America has a problem. 
Ok so the problem is big, but how does the Violence Against Women Act” help?  The Violence Against Women Act provides programs and services such as:
  • Community violence prevention programs
  • Protections for victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking
  • Funding for victim assistance services, like rape crisis centers and hotlines
  • Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
  • Programs and services for victims with disabilities
  • Legal aid for survivors of violence
I am disappointed in the Senate Republicans who voted against this legislation but thankful there were some Senate Republicans who vote “aye”.   As far as politics goes, this vote is not going help Republicans reach out to women voters.  The same women voters who may already be wary of a Republican party which has sought repeated legislation aimed at repealing individual reproductive rights. 

Do you think this vote will hurt Republicans who are trying to win back women voters? 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bite Size Post - Fox News and the "war on women"

WARNING: Rant incoming…..

Oh Fox News how I loath you! Watch the clip....

The clip shows Fox News attempting to redefine the recent “war on women” away from issues like access to birth control, abortion, and forced transvaginal ultrasounds and towards issues like jobs, salaries and education.  This could be in response to a recent poll which had President Obama with an 18 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney among independent women in swing states (There is no way for me to be sure about the motives).  But the recent “war of women” is NOT about jobs, salaries, or education it is about Republican law makers’ fetish with limiting, reducing, and eliminating women’s LEGAL right to make healthcare choices for themselves without pressure or influence from the government.  Regardless of how anyone feels about access to birth control, abortion, or forced transvaginal ultrasounds THAT is what the “war of women” is centered around. 

Additionally Democrats did not create this "war on women" theme out of thin air, it was not "contrived" or "ginned up" as Ms. Ingraham stated.  It was dubbed a "war on women" because of Republican positions and a deliberate effort by Republicans on both the state level and federal level to introduce bills which significantly affect women in our country.  Yes democrats are playing politics to fully capitalize on those Republican positions but that doesn't make the "war on women" fake or imaginary. 

Now to the issues Ms. Ingraham did address (and incorrectly related to the “war on women”) jobs, salaries and education.  President Obama HAS impacted those issues directly, in the form of legislation, enacted under his administration.  Give credit where credit is due Ms. Ingraham.  For example President Obama signed The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, a law which helps to ensure that women are paid equal to men for equal work.  A law which by the way Republicans OPPOSED, arguing it had the possibility to allow frivolous law suits.  A law which only THREE Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for (Ed Whitfield- KY, Don Young –AK  Chris Smith- NJ, good job fellas). 

I guess you could argue that there is not a “war on woman” in a literal sense, but Republicans have vigorously sought changes to the law in areas that affect women more directly and very intimately.  Given the actions of REPUBLICANS, the phrase “war on women” does NOT come across as out of bounds to me.  Especially in light of how often Republicans claim a "war on religion" coming from the left. 

What do you think? Is there a “war on women” in America?  Is it too much hyperbole? 

UPDATED: 4/11/12
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is also taking up the cause of reframing the “war on women”.  Mitt Romney is attempting to paint President Obama’s policies as harmful to women in the economy.  Republicans KNOW they have a HUGE problem with women voters and they are trying to establish a narrative that President Obama is bad on women’s issues. 

What do you think, will the Republican party be successfully in reframing the "war on women"?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Report: “The Benefit and the Burden” by Bruce Bartlett

“The Benefit and the Burden"by Bruce Bartlett

There are few ideas in Washington DC that are fundamentally agreed to by all sides of the political spectrum, however whether its (R)Ron Paul, (D) Nancy Pelosi, Lobbyist Grover Norquist, (R) John Boehner, or (D) President Obama just about everyone agrees that TAX REFORM is desperately needed.  Now the devils is always in details but with an understanding on all sides that tax reform is needed, it may make forging a deal after the 2012 elections more possible than ever before. 

Before I discuss the book itself, here is a quick history on the author Bruce Bartlett; I hope you see a trend emerge here.  In the 1970’s Mr. Bartlett worked on the staffs of (R) Congressman Ron Paul, (R) Congressman Jack Kemp and (R) Senator Roger Jepsen.  In the 1980 Mr. Bartlett continued to work for (R) Senator Roger Jepsen till 1984 when he briefly a Vice President of a Polyconomics, a consulting company. However Mr. Bartlett left Polyconomics in 1985 to become a senior member of the Heritage Foundation where he focused on the 1986 tax reform debate.  In 1987 Mr. Bartlett worked in the (R) President Reagan’s White House as a senior policy analyst, In 1988 became deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department where he served until the end of (R) George H. W. Bush’s administration ended. From 1993-2005 Mr. Bartlett was affiliated with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), a free market think tank.  However Mr. Bartlett was fired by the NCPA in 2005 for his outspoken criticism of the (R) President George W. Bush administration.   Since 2005 Mr. Bartlett has gotten attention for repeated criticisms of President G.W. Bush and his policies:
Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect. They can start building some by admitting to themselves that Bush caused many of the problems they are protesting."
Thanks again Wikipedia! So, this book was not written by some liberal, quasi socialist lefty.  Bruce Bartlett is a Republican from the “old school”, and like many “old school” Republicans Mr. Bartlett is worried about the direction in which this new “tea party” Republican ideal is leading America. 

So you know a bit about the man…but what about the book?  I know this sounds crazy but despite being a book about tax reform (…zzz…zzz….zzz) the book is an OUTSTANDING read.  Mr. Bartlett does an great job of following a linear thought process, which makes understanding complex economic issues much more palatable to those (me) who aren’t economic gurus.  The book is broken down into 3 basic sections: The Basics, Some Problems, and The Future.  What I said in my last book review holds true to this book as well, there is simply too much information in this little book to unpack on my blog but I will give you some highlights from each section two wet your appetite a bit.   

The Basics:
Mr. Bartlett starts all the way back in the 1700’s and provides the history of why and how our tax system came into law.  From tariffs and income taxes, to Supreme Court rulings and constitutional amendments, I think you would be surprised just how we got the system we currently have.  In this opening section, Mr. Bartlett also explains the process by which tax law was “traditionally” created, introduced, and eventually passed.  A process which included not just the House Ways and Means Committee but also testimony from tax experts, input from the Office of Tax Policy, and the Joint Committee on Taxation.   Now of this may sound very dull…tax committees and tax experts testimony… but it served as a critical piece to the legislative process to ensure our proposed tax law was created on sound economic theory.  Unfortunately that “traditional” process is contrasted in the book with the current process which I can only describe as a bastardization.  The current process does not listen to expert testimony, does not allow “mark ups” (debates, amendments, rewrites) on bills, and leads to many votes on tax law in which Congress people have not read the bill they are voting on. 

Mr. Bartlett continues in “the basics” to explain the differences between marginal tax rates and effective tax rates, dynamic scoring and static scoring, and finally how our tax system compares with other countries… Not just in regards to how much to tax, but also WHAT we tax.  Should we tax income or tax consumption?  In this first section Mr. Bartlett tackles much more as well as: tax progressivity, growth, and healthcare all this just the give you the basics!

Some Problems:
Mr. Bartlett titled this section appropriately…”some problems”.  Mr. Bartlett is not trying to point out every problem that he sees in the tax code but rather some big problems or obstacles he sees to getting tax reform accomplished.  The items Mr. Bartlett points out in the book are not minor speed bumps on the way to tax reform but rather massive brick walls which may take some pain to break through.  Problems like healthcare, tax deductions, housing, and capital gains. The rhetoric and hyperbole around all these issues is so heated that it almost drowns out any pragmatic debate that might led to a real solution. Unfortunately in today’s political landscape, rigid idealism and unwillingness to compromise is actually seen as a virtue, in some circles.  For tax reform to have any real chance, “compromise” can not be seen as a dirty word anymore.  Mr. Bartlett address even more than I laid out here from corporations, abuse of the charitable deduction, to the IRS and the effectiveness of tax collections.  If you want to know what is standing in the way of true tax reform pick up this book and start reading. 

The Future:
Mr. Bartlett finally gives the reader some solutions to the all the problems we have read up until this point.  He addresses how tax reform has been done in the past and how that should be used as a blueprint for reform going forward. He also address plans for reform that have already been put out whether it be a “flat tax” (which he explains is NOT really flat) the “Fair tax” which would eliminate the income tax altogether, and there was even talk of Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan.  However the underlying theme which continues throughout this entire last section of the book is INCREASING REVENUE! Mr. Bartlett is crystal clear on this point to have any chance at balancing the budget the federal government will have to increase its revenues.  Whether the federal government increases revenues through the adoption of a VAT (Value Added Tax) or simply the expiration of the Bush Tax cuts he is insistent that you can not responsibly cut spending enough to reach a balanced budget. 

Lastly to my great personal satisfaction Mr. Bartlett takes Grover Norquist (a tax lobbyist and head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), by name, to task in this final section of the book.  I have seen Grover Norquist speak in television interviews on multiple occasions spouting his devout belief that taxes should NEVER EVER be raised UNDER ANY circumstances.  I always end up disappointed that no one successfully challenges his position.  Well, Mr. Bartlett takes care of that and then some in this book, successfully refuting many of Mr. Norquist popular “talking points.” I took great pleasure reading this particular section:

“One would think that an organization allegedly dedicated to tax reform, such as Americans for Tax Reform, would be vigilant about opposing the inclusion of new tax loopholes in the tax codes.  But ATR NEVER opposes any tax reduction measure, no matter how narrowly focused the benefits are, not matter how closely it resembles pure spending.  When I asked ATR’s Ryan Ellis if he could name ONE loophole that ATR had ever opposed, he could not. “

With tax reform battles on the horizon, why not grab a book that will give you the foundations needed to make an informed decision on what is best for you and your country? 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fact check of political "talking points"

Fact check of political "talking points"
Definition: “Talking point” - A talking point in debate or discourse is a succinct statement designed to persuasively support one side taken on an issue.
In politics “talking points” are used strategically to emphasize one side’s perceived strength or weakness on a particular issue.  Republicans and Democrats both use “talking points” ad nauseum  as a way to gain support from voters.  Unfortunately “talking points” rarely provide an accurate representation of the facts.  The “talking point” I am hearing of late, that is driving me nuts, and the “talking point” I will examine in this post is….
“When President Obama came into office gas prices were $1.84 per gallon.”
“Gas prices have more than doubled since the day President Obama took office.”
This “talking point” from Republicans highlights what they see as a weakness in President Obama…his energy policy. Now the obvious implication of this "talking point" is that President Obama's energy policy is so bad that it has caused gas prices to double since his inauguration. I am not going to debate the opinion of whether President Obama is weak on energy policy (in my opinion EVERY president is weak on energy policy), but what I am going to do is provide some context, some perspective on the rise of oil/gas prices since 2009.    
So first, is the statement itself accurate?  In January of 2009 were gas prices really around $1.84/gallon?  YES! Strictly looking at the dates and the prices of gas the “talking point” is accurate.  Well, case closed thanks for visiting my blog, come back again soon…right? No, not really.  See this is the tricky thing about “talking points” whether they are coming from the Republican side or Democratic side, at first glance they seem to be a true and accurate statement.  But what happens when you put those facts in perspective? What happens when you get some context?  That is where things start to unravel, if you could, please think back to January of 2009... what was the economy like?
When President Obama took office in January 2009 our own American economy was in freefall from the economic collapse (no finger pointing just saying the economy did collapse).  Nationally, Americans were losing 500,000+ jobs per month, and globally the economic picture wasn’t much better, entire countries were going bankrupt.  In response to this national and global economic disaster, the oil/gas markets reacted and prices dropped dramatically as demand evaporated. 

Simple economics…High supply +Low demand = Low price of goods.  Look closely at the dates in this chart.  As you can see, President Obama took office at the same time oil/gas prices bottomed out in response to the economic collapse (closest date on the chart is 1/12/2009).  So while on its face the Republican “talking point” about gas prices may be technically true, it certainly does NOT tell the whole story.   Are gas prices on the rise?  Yes they are but as I addressed in my previous post ( oil/gas prices are set by GLOBAL MARKETS not by the President, Congress or anyone else.  The “talking point” might be a good line for rallying the Republican base, but the narrative it tries to create just doesn’t hold up, even under the simplest of scrutiny. 

Does this post make you wonder about the validity of other "talking points"? If so, which ones?  

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why are gas prices on the rise?

Why are gas prices on the rise...AGAIN
Well because it’s that time of year...again.  Winter is starting to thaw and we are all looking forward to spring and summer, unfortunately the oil industry is looking forward to spring and summer as well.  During the warmer months oil demand and oil consumption rises leading to higher prices, but it’s not that simple.  In fact when it comes to any GLOBAL market nothing is ever simple.  So, why exactly are gas prices going up this year?  There are numerous factors which go into creating our gas prices, but a few weigh more heavily on the market than others.   

What IS behind the rise of gas/oil prices:
The Arab Spring/Tensions with Iran: "Whether is Libya, Egypt or Iran, which is locked in a bitter dispute with the West over its nuclear program, Iran exports 2.2 million barrels of oil a day, mostly to Asia…More importantly, Iran sits astride the Narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which one fifth of all the world's oil production passes."
Growing demand: "Chinese growth is particularly important as it is driving its oil consumption growth...Chinese growth, along with growth from other developing counties, means the world is expected to use more oil in 2012 than it ever has -- over 90 million barrels a day, according to EIA."

Speculators: "Gasoline investor interest is even greater, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. Kloza said there is now $12 billion in fund money -- the most ever -- betting on a higher price for the benchmark U.S. gasoline contract."
Refineries: "Several refineries along the U.S. East Coast have recently closed. The refineries closed because, ironically, they weren't making any money...They were older refineries that could only process the type of light, sweet crude currently being imported from Europe -- the type of oil that is very expensive."
What IS NOT behind the rise of gas/oil prices:

OPEC production decisions: "The cartel is actually producing more oil than is required to meet demand."
Non-OPEC production: "A rise in oil output from the Untied States, Brazil and elsewhere is balancing out production declines in Mexico, Russia and other countries. "
Weather: "A warm winter in the United States balanced out a particularly cold one in Europe."
Inventories: "This is oil stored in tank farms at refineries and other places. The amount of oil here is generally at average or above average levels."
The dollar: "A falling dollar tends to boost oil prices, but the dollar has actually gained against the euro in the last two months."(Sorry Sen. Rand Paul the experts say otherwise...

Listen you are going to hear a lot of things in the coming weeks and months about rising gas prices from politicians seeking nominations (cough...Newt Gingrich) or reelection in 2012.  However be cautious, as “House” my favorite TV doctor says…“everybody lies”...  It is an election year those involved will be looking to score cheap political points by assigning blame or making promises…even if the blame is unwarranted or they can’t deliver on those promises later. 
If you want a fact that might make your head explode here you go…America’s #1 EXPORT IS GAS.  Yep, that’s right the same country who IMPORTS more gas/oil than any other country on planet earth also EXPORTS gas/oil more than anything else. How can this possibly make sense?  Well when you mix in the weak economy and lowering demand from Americans having more fuel efficient cars/trucks domestic oil companies have shipped more oil from our domestic refineries overseas into the global market. Why do oil companies do this?  Why! In the global market oil companies can make more money selling gas/oil to countries with increasing demand and increasing consumption.  Basically this time the "free market" is biting us in the  However its not all bad (to find the silver lining) any gas/oil shipped from America into the global market will lower the price of gas/oil overall, it just wont help us out AS MUCH AS if it were kept here at home.  
The bottom line is this….The oil market is GLOBAL and while there are some things we can do, there are a number of factors that are simply out of America’s control.  So given the reality of global economics and its impact on gas/oil prices, what do you think America should be doing to lower gas prices? 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Obama-care, birth control and Catholics…Oh My!

Obama-care, birth control and Catholics…Oh My!
Before we get into the HHS ruling itself let’s understand first that President Obama’s proposal is NOT new, groundbreaking, or radical.  Despite how Republican Presidential candidates (cough...Rick Santorum) or Fox News want to spin it, this regulation is nothing new.  To back up that claim let’s get some perceptive on how exactly this rule fits in with other similar laws from around the United States.  A majority of states,28 states to be exact, already have similar laws that require contraceptives to be included in prescription drug insurance coverage.  Eight states have laws which do NOT have ANY exceptions for churches or other PRIMARILY religious institutions. 

The government calls these organizations which are primarily religious institutions “religious employers”.  So what is a “religious employer”?  Actually, the law has four criteria for what constitutes a “religious employer", if an organization does not meet ALL of these criteria, that are listed below,  it is not classified as a "religious employer."
-          Is a nonprofit organization
-          Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose
-          Primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets 
-          Primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets
Now, President Obama’s proposal would exempt churches and some parochial schools from having to provide contraception coverage because LEGALLY they meet all four criteria and are viewed “religious employers”.  Unfortunately some hospitals and some universities will not be exempt because they do not meet the LEGAL standard for a “religious employer", this is where the debate is currently focused.  However Catholic institutions such as DePaul University and Georgetown along with numerous others around the nation are already required to include contraception with their insurance coverage, remember as I stated before there are 8 states which provide NO exemptions at all.
Furthermore the organizations that do not meet the criteria for a “religious employer” are not being required to DO anything themselves, besides providing  the insurance coverage to their employees which then enables the employee to make the choice for themselves on contraception.  No one is being forced to prescribe contraception or take contraceptives.  The hospitals are NOT required to provide the contraceptives themselves, and they are NOT being told they have to administer these contraceptives that they morally disagree with.  The federal government is simply saying that if they, as the employer, are offering  a prescription drug insurance package that they must cover contraceptive care.  Women do have a legal right to contraception coverage IF the provided health plan covers prescription drugs and devices. 
…“In 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that employers may not discriminate against women in their health insurance plans by denying benefits for prescription contraceptives, if they provide benefits for drugs, devices and services used to prevent other medical conditions. This decision was reinforced by a federal court decision, Erickson v. The Bartell Company, in June 2001…The EEOC decision was issued in response to complaints filed by two women who claimed that their employers discriminated against them by not providing health insurance coverage for prescription contraceptives. The EEOC held that these plans discriminated on the basis of sex and pregnancy, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.”

Also, lets keep in mind that 2012 is an election year.  Republicans and Democrats are searching for anything they can twist, use, or manipulate into an issue so they can gin-up support.  Republicans are trying to use this issue,they are trying to frame it around the idea that religious freedom is being attacked in hopes it will ramp up the socially conservative base.  Think I am nuts? Remember those 28 states that already have similar contraception coverage rules, some of those had strong bi-partisan support and were signed into law by Republican Governors. In 2006, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney (now Republican Presidential Candidate) signed a healthcare overhaul that kept in place a contraceptive mandate signed by his Republican predecessor. Did that create a media firestorm?  In 2005, then Republican Gov. of Arkansas Mike Huckabee (who would later go on to run for President himself) signed a contraception coverage law which did exempt “religious employers”.  Where was the Fox News outrage then?  In 2000, when Iowa became one of the first states to enact a contraceptive coverage mandate, the Republican legislature overwhelmingly backed the bill, which has no exemption for “religious employers” of any kind.  My point is contraception insurance coverage was not a “hot button” issue until election year politics falsely framed the debate around the 1st Amendment, and then tried to make the Catholic Church a victim of an Obama war on religion.  (Check out the link for more examples of Republicans supporting contraception mandates.)

Do not be a prisoner of the moment.  Issues that come up are rarely the best, worst, most, least, or unprecedented.  Hyperbole has run amuck in American society for a long time and our political scene is no exception.  I know there are aspects of this debate I didn’t highlight, like the cost savings that contraception can help with, but I wasn’t trying to evaluate every possible angle of this saga I just wanted to bring some context to the debate.  

So now that you have SOME perspective on the “Contraception Controversy” have your views changed at all? What do you think...comment below


Updated 4/28/12:
(Watch link)
Emily Herx, a 32 year old woman from Fort Wayne, is suing the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for discrimination.  Mrs. Herx is claiming that her termination from St. Vincent de Paul School is due to her receiving in vitro fertilization treatments, a procedure which the Catholic Church believes is an “intrinsic evil.”  The school denies the claim of discrimination and has stated it “has clear policies requiring that teachers in its schools must, as a condition of employment, have a knowledge and respect for the Catholic faith and abide by the tenets of the Catholic Church.” That doesn't exactly sound like a denial of the facts to me but ok......

Unless the facts of this case change this law suit may ultimately whined up in the Supreme Court.  Because despite recent court rulings on SIMILAIR cases, there is not a defined legal precedent for a case such as this as the attorney explain in the video link. 

This one may be a case we are all watching… 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bite Size Post – The path forward for Jon Huntsman

The path forward for Jon Huntsman

Well the Iowa caucus has ended, and like much of the Republican race to this point it ended with a new front runner emerging, candidate Rick Santorum. However that is not the only headline to come out of the Iowa caucus.  A very upset Newt Gingrich, who was victimized in Iowa by attack ads coming from Mitt Romney’s SuperPac, has indicated that moving forward he will have a singular focus…going after Mitt Romney.  Speaking of Mitt Romney, he barely inched out of victory over Rick Santorum by a slim margin of only 8 votes.  It seems that Rick Santorum will be the next candidate to get his 15 minutes in the spotlight.  It is also possible that the Republican field may be getting smaller after the Iowa caucus, with Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann finishing at the bottom of pack both candidates will be forced to make tough choices of whether to proceed on or get out of the race now, either way though it seems neither will be winning the Republican nomination in 2012. 

So what does all that have to do with Jon Huntsman?  Why do these circumstances create a “path forward” for Jon Huntsman?  In my opinion all these events are playing out perfectly for Jon Huntsman to make a big push in New Hampshire as his campaign has planned. Rick Santorum will NOT be the Republican Nominee for President; he will get his time in the spotlight but in a few weeks his numbers will fall as his record and statements on social issues are evaluated and played out in the media.   Like the other “flash in the pan” candidates before him  (Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin)Rick Santorum will rise and eventually fall leaving Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. 

Yes, but what about Mitt Romney and Ron Paul? They aren’t exactly going to step aside for Jon Huntsman.  No they won’t step aside for Jon Huntsman, however if Newt Gingrich follows through with his plan to focus solely on Mitt Romney going forward, Mitt Romney’s poll numbers will be affected.  Newt Gingrich is a savvy veteran politician, if he wants to make life difficult for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, he can.  So that leaves Ron Paul. Ron Paul has a passionate and committed base of supporters however his policy positions place a ceiling on how high his poll numbers can go due to a lack of crossover appeal.  For example a recent problem for Ron Paul is his “Charmin Ultra” soft position regarding a nuclear Iran.  Ron Paul does not support sanctions, he views sanctions as “acts of war” and has also stated he would NOT use military force to ensure Iran does not become a nuclear power.  For a majority of Americans and especially Republicans this weak position on Iran makes Ron Paul unelectable as the Republican Nominee. 

With Mitt Romney being target by Newt Gingrich, with Ron Paul shooting himself in the foot regarding Iran which is a relevant new story now, with Rick Santorum currently rising but like those “flash in the pan” candidates before him Rick Santorum will also fall, and other candidates like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann falling out of the race, it is Jon Huntsman with limited name recognition and resources who has positioned himself perfectly to maximize his chances of making a big splash in the New Hampshire primary and the Republican Primary Race.  

What do you think? Are things unfolding for Jon Huntsman or is it too late for Jon Huntsman to make a surge and win the nomination?