Monday, January 28, 2008

Economic Leadership

What America needs are level headed leaders employing a more pragmatic business approach in addition to an embrace of ethics on policy. A balance of opportunity that favors the worker versus the imaginary rights of businesses and corporations. Not an endeavor to place owners at a disadvantage but an excursion focused on stability, growth and longevity for the worker and ethical business practices towards the consumer.

Recently aggressive legal alterations in the tax code, bankruptcy laws, and courts allowing corporations to renege on many employee agreements such as earned pensions have empowered greed to suck the blood out of the United States' economy.The monetary bowl within the United Sates is finite, especially today as our economy has not seen a major expansion in over 6 Years. As static financial sectors specifically oil, lenders, and housing artificially inflate their pricing; money is siphoned from other industries. This act of being ‘ripped off’ mixed with corruption renders normal economic checks useless in being able to keep our economy in balance. No wonder Former FED Chair Allan Green Span has retired.

In other words as one Industry increases its profit margins by artificially raising its prices, added fees, and variable rate increases it is tantamount to their actually cost of production decreasing. Specific industries engaging in these acts are: the Oil Industry, Health Care, Pharmaceuticals, Energy, and Military & Securities Companies. These practices lead to profits being taking from another industry either through direct business loss or indirectly thru increased cost of production (Ex: the Automobile Industry, Airlines). In essence causing a devastating negative economic prosperity busting domino down effect. A question for you? Has the U.S. economy expanded at a rate greater than prices in gas and housing? If your answer is no then I predict as of January 28, 2008 the United States is currently in recession.

Vouchers/Grants for Private Education

After extensive research the position of Checks & Balances blog in regards to vouchers and or Pell grants generously handed out to families for the purposes of sending children to private schools is in opposition to all such programs. The conclusion is simple; public funds ought to be efficiently used to elevate an education received in public secondary schools to the standards and results seen in private schools. Private institutions inherently create an exclusive infrastructure for creating inequality in the type of students admitted, furthermore certain lower socio economic classes may be priced out while more well to do families would unethically use vouchers on top of personal resources, thirdly using tax payer dollars to fund religious private schools is against the spirit of our Constitution.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Romney Most Disliked Republican

"Romney Leads in Ill Will Among Rivals

TAMPA, Fla. (Jan. 24) — At the end of the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire this month, when the Democrats joined the candidates on stage, Mitt Romney found himself momentarily alone as his counterparts mingled, looking around a bit stiffly for a companion.

Mitt Romney talks to supporters Tuesday in Coral Springs, Fla. While Romney is surrounded by friendly faces at his campaign events, it's a different story when he's with his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. They seem to have a deeply felt scorn for him.

The moment was emblematic of a broader reality that has helped shape the Republican contest and could take center stage again on Thursday at a debate in Florida. Within the small circle of contenders, Mr. Romney has become the most disliked.

With so much attention recently on the sniping between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, the almost visceral scorn directed at Mr. Romney by his rivals has been overshadowed.“Never get into a wrestling match with a pig,” Senator John McCain said in New Hampshire this month after reporters asked him about Mr. Romney. “You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”Mike Huckabee’s pugilistic campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, appeared to stop just short of threatening

Mr. Romney with physical violence at one point.“What I have to do is make sure that my anger with a guy like Romney, whose teeth I want to knock out, doesn’t get in the way of my thought process,” Mr. Rollins said.Campaign insiders and outside strategists point to several factors driving the ill will, most notably, Mr. Romney’s attacks on opponents in television commercials, the perception of him as an ideological panderer and resentment about his seemingly unlimited resources as others have struggled to raise cash.Mr. Romney’s campaign contends that the hostility is driven by the fact that he has aggressively sought to win the early primaries, setting himself up as the chief antagonist, first, to Mr. Huckabee in Iowa and then to Mr. McCain in New Hampshire.

Mr. Romney continues to be a mountain in the paths of both men, as well as Rudolph W. Giuliani, to the nomination."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Toyota Prius sales pass SUV's

Who says there is no market for low cost fuel efficient cars?

"The icon of America's SUV passion falls victim to stubbornly high gas prices and an increasingly stringent regulatory climate.
Latest Market Update
January 23, 2008 -- 16:25 ET

[BRIEFING.COM] There are volatile markets and then there are volatile markets. Wednesday's session was the latter variety, which is to say it was truly volatile.
Americans bought more Toyota Prius hybrid gas-electric hatchbacks last year than Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles, the top-selling SUV for more than a decade.
The change of fortune, buried in U.S. vehicle-sales data for 2007 and unthinkable a few years ago, will find an echo at this year's Detroit auto show, which starts Sunday.
While Americans' love for powerful gas guzzlers remains strong, a slowing economy and high gasoline prices are forcing buyers to lower their sights."

Former Bush official: Waterboarding is torture

"‘No doubt,’ says Tom Ridge, first Homeland Security secretary"

"WASHINGTON - The first secretary of the Homeland Security Department says waterboarding is torture.

"There's just no doubt in my mind — under any set of rules — waterboarding is torture," Tom Ridge said Friday in an interview. Ridge had offered the same opinion earlier in the day to members of the American Bar Association at a homeland security conference.
"One of America's greatest strengths is the soft power of our value system and how we treat prisoners of war, and we don't torture," Ridge said in the interview. Ridge was secretary of the Homeland Security Department between 2003 and 2005. "And I believe, unlike others in the administration, that waterboarding was, is — and will always be — torture. That's a simple statement.""

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

White House urged to be less secret

President can start by declassifying daily briefings, advisory group says

"WASHINGTON - The government is lagging far behind in declassifying its secrets and the problem is getting worse as agencies create billions more electronic records containing classified information.

In a report released Wednesday, a joint presidential-congressional advisory group urged greater openness, a sore subject for a White House roundly criticized for secrecy.
The Public Interest Declassification Board said President Bush can take immediate steps to address the issue."

Key figure in CIA tapes case demands immunity

"WASHINGTON - Attorneys for Jose Rodriguez told Congress the former CIA official won't testify about the destruction of CIA videotapes without a promise of immunity, two people close to the tapes inquiry said Wednesday.

Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's National Clandestine Service, ordered that the tapes, which show harsh CIA interrogation of two al-Qaida suspects, be destroyed in 2005. Rodriguez is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Jan. 16.
Defense attorney Robert Bennett told lawmakers, however, that he would not let Rodriguez testify because of the criminal investigation into the case. Without a promise of immunity, anything Rodriguez said at the hearing could be used against him in court. "

White House reused e-mail tapes

"WASHINGTON - The White House has acknowledged recycling its backup computer tapes of e-mail before October 2003, raising the possibility that many electronic messages - including those pertaining to the CIA leak case - have been taped over and are gone forever.
The disclosure came minutes before midnight Tuesday under a court-ordered deadline that forced the White House to reveal information it has previously refused to provide.
Among the e-mails that could be lost are messages swapped by any White House officials involved in discussions about leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame."

Grandmother, 75, Gets Cuffs, Not Fries

"Tampa Bay Online
updated 8:40 a.m. ET, Sun., Jan. 20, 2008

By Carlos Moncada of The Tampa Tribune
CLEARWATER - If anyone was "lovin' it!" at the McDonald's that Jean Merola visited Thursday evening, it certainly wasn't her.
The 75-year-old grandmother of eight was arrested for disorderly conduct after she refused a police officer's orders to move her car while she waited for the coffee and fries she ordered at the drive-through window."

Sen. Fred Thompson dropps out of the race

Former Sen. Fred Thompson is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Role of Corporate Regulation

Democratic governments are responsible for ensuring the lives, liberties and well-being of all their citizens. To meet this responsibility, democratic governments have to regulate commerce. It’s no surprise that corporations disapprove of such regulation. It’s an infringement on their freedom, and a responsibility they don’t share. As they see it, the government’s chief responsibility is to ensure that their needs are met. “The business of government is business,” they might say.*

That’s why the current President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, has declared war against policies proposed by democratically-inclined politicians. Mr. Donohue has proclaimed that

“…the chamber will seek to punish candidates who target business interests with their rhetoric or policy proposals, including congressional and state-level candidates.

"I'm concerned about anti-corporate and populist rhetoric from candidates for the presidency, members of Congress and the media," he said. "It suggests to us that we have to demonstrate who it is in this society that creates jobs, wealth and benefits -- and who it is that eats them."

What are his concerns? If you read his speech at the website of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, you see that his concerns are

  • unions
  • trial lawyers
  • taxes
  • health, pension, and entitlement costs
  • rules and mandates
  • government regulators
  • government-sponsored health insurance
  • Social Security….. [without] more realistic cost-of-living benefit increases and the inclusion of a personal investment component.

In brief, Mr. Donohue is calling “anti-corporate” anything that represents a restraint or obligation for corporations.

But restraints and obligations have to be imposed, for the common good of all members of the community. While it's true that corporations create jobs, wealth and benefits, they also present challenges to democratic governments. For example, corporations are powerful sources of political money and influence. Also, when restraints and obligations have not been imposed upon them, corporations have too often endangered the lives, liberties, and well-being of citizens. The intention of regulating corporations is not to be “anti-corporate”. The intention is to be “pro-community”, whether at the local, state, national or international level. For, just as there must be “checks and balances” in the political system to maintain a democracy, there must also be “checks and balances” in the economic system to maintain a democracy.

Alex Budarin, Jefferson's Parlor

*This quotation is often attributed to President Calvin Coolidge, but several resources indicate that this is not exactly what he said.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

America The Bankrupt

GAO Head Warns Of Fiscal Troubles.

It is clearly evident the USA is headed towards economic bankruptcy. “The comptroller general of the United States says the nation is on the path to financial ruin unless the American public tells Washington to change its ways (NewsTarget). David M. Walker, head of the General Accountability Office, or GAO, is the nation's top federal accountant. With the voting season now in full swing as November approaches, candidates from both major political parties are talking up the standard issues that energize the public and encourage discussions, but no candidate appears to be talking about the state of the nation's fiscal prospects.

"This is about the future of our country, our kids and grandkids … we the people have to rise up to make sure things get changed," says Walker.” Walker is a non-partisan appointed civil servant. He was first appointed by republican president Ronal Regan. His remarks stress the need for broad changes to U.S. financial institutions and systems. I strongly believe that capitalism and the power of markets are not the solution. America needs more economic diversity implementing certain socialist elements to our broad profit driven economy specifically in healthcare in addition to establishing regulations in the energy (oil) and corporate sectors.
Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warns “that the American economy might slip into recession by year's end.”

If we stop excessive spending now the nation’s economic stability can be salvaged ensuring continued growth. It is fact a Democratic president would more likely put the nation back on this track removing budgetary priority away from defense/military placing a greater than presently priority into domestic programs will create jobs, increase access and household income. How to destroy an economy? Rising gas prices, government borrowing for war, aggressive variable housing loan rates that always go up, and profit driven healthcare. Is there any successful country that has a completely capitalistic social and economic system? As of 01/09/08 $58 Trillion Dollars is the U.S. National debt.


Clinton Wins New Hampshire

"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, defying pre-election polls, defeated Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois in Tuesday's Democratic primary in New Hampshire.
Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire revives a campaign badly shaken after a third-place finish in Iowa. And Republican John McCain, whose campaign was left for dead a few months ago, wins with a push from independent voters. "

50 Cars Crash in Florida Fog; 3 Die

"LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — About 50 cars crashed on a highway blanketed by fog and brush fire smoke in central Florida on Wednesday, killing at least three people, authorities said.
Visibility hampered rescue efforts, forcing officials responding to the scene to walk about 14 miles of Interstate 4 that were closed between Tampa and Orlando, checking individual vehicles for injuries, Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Larry Coggins said.

There were numerous accidents, including the 50-car pileup. He declined to confirm that three people were dead, a figure released by Polk County officials.
"No one has been able to see this thing in its entirety yet," Coggins said.
Aerial footage showed next to no visibility for miles, with a soupy mix of fog and smoke giving the skies an eerie golden color.

Firefighters on Tuesday battled a controlled burn that charred 250 acres and reduced visibility on the interstate. Smoke from the fire and fog combined for dangerous conditions during morning commutes Wednesday.

"It's been very difficult to see out there," county spokeswoman Cindy Rodriguez said.
Polk County officials said a tanker overturned on the roadway, but it was unclear if the truck was part of the pileup.

No further information was immediately available."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Walking a Fine Line

With power comes great responsibility. At least that’s what we have all been led to believe in society today. When it comes to taxes many argue that the rich should bear the burden and all tax cuts should be directly given to those who are less fortunate. I mean it is easy to understand why this belief is prominent. Let’s let those who don’t make as much money, keep more of their paycheck. It is an easy concept to understand. Those who can, should pay more to allow for those less fortunate to get back on their feet.

There is a quote from the movie Brave Heart when William Wallace counters the Scottish Nobles. He makes the following statement: “You believe that the people of this country exist to provide you with possessions. I think your possessions exist to provide these people with freedom.” In this brief statement William Wallace acknowledges what our founding fathers did when our great nation was born. He acknowledges that freedom most notably: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are God given unalienable rights that all men and women are entitled to upon their birth. He believes as many will agree with, that it is the responsibility of the rich and or powerful to ensure that freedom is brought to every man woman and child.

We still believe this today and it is evident in our country through the existence of such social programs as welfare as well as state and federal health insurance for children of single mothers. Our constitution allots specific rights to all persons within our borders and ensures their freedom and this freedom is not biased by race, gender, or sexuality. We provide our citizens with many freedoms that other countries laugh at. We do this because we know that it is right and because we are in a position to do so.

This position that I mention brings up the question of responsibility. What responsibilities do we have as the lone World Super Power to rest of the world? Should we take on the role of the World Police as the movie Team America mocks or are we currently over stepping our bounds? President John F Kennedy once said that the success or failure of Democracy in the United States is directly related to our support and promotion of Democracy over seas. In the last century we have brought some form of Democracy to more than half the world.

That success has defined how the world has viewed us as Americans and us as a country. Those views have been both good and bad. Some have seen us as a power of good and a defender of freedom yet some have seen us as bullies. Back in the 1940s we took an isolationist view on world politics as the world allowed a tyrant dictator to take over large parts of the world by force and execute its citizens for their religious beliefs. It wasn’t until we were attacked that we stepped in and stopped Hitler in his tracks. We were liberators of not only countries but full continents.

That victory put America on its diplomatic head. We realized from that moment that we could no longer sit back and let the rest of the world secure itself and most definitely could not allow our security to be decided by countries that would rather be conquered and ruled than fight and resist.

The United States has been forced to defend its freedom or promote Democracy in every decade since WWII. We have been bogged down in campaigns in Vietnam and a war in Korea that has never officially ended. Our soldiers have sacrificed their lives to see that millions of people in the United States and around the world could live in peace and under a government they voted for. We have done all this yet what thanks have we received? Not a one as far as I can tell. The only true allies the United States has right now in the world is the United Kingdom and Israel.

Much of the anti-American sentiment in the world comes from people who believe our country is young bullish and acting its age. They believe that because their country/government has lasted as long as it did we should follow suit and survive. I have learned the old adage of survival of the fittest but I do not believe that just because you are a survivor you right. I truly believe that it is the responsibility of the United States to promote Democracy overseas in any nation that wants to adopt its practices and defend all democratic nations from any form of aggression both economic and military.

We may be a young nation but what I have learned as an American and a student of world history is that it is always better to die on the side of the righteous than to survive and be partnered with evil.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Obama beats Clinton in Iowa

Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses sets a historic milestone in American history. This is the first time an African American has won a state primary. Barrack’s viability as a contender on the national stage has been validated; if he can win in a state made up of 98 % whites the race issue may not be a handicap especially in certain southern states that consist of large African American populations. If Obama can carry Illinois, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. New York and California are Democratic strong holds. Folk we may have the next President of the United States. On January 30th Checks & Balances will officially declare its endorsement, stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Of Campaigns and Big Ideas

Here’s a thought for political campaigns in 2008.

At the end of The Argument [Penguin Press, 2007], Matt Bai summarizes a speech made by Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, concerning successful election campaigns. Governor Cuomo reportedly observed that campaign issues are “too myriad and complex for voters to sort through and weigh.” The answer “was not that you build the best voter turnout machine you can afford, or that you bring in a linguist to calibrate your message,” but rather that “You seize the biggest idea that you can, the biggest idea that you can understand,” because “this is what moves elections.” Examples of big campaign ideas given by Governor Cuomo reportedly included “Holiness and Cleanliness in Government” [Carter], “Supply-side Economics” [Reagan], “Cold War Showdown” [Reagan], “The Upheaval in the Economy” [Clinton], and “War on Terror” [Bush II].

Then, says Matt, Governor Cuomo asked what Democrats would offer as the “big idea” for the 2008 election. Governor Cuomo believed that “Iraq” was the “big idea” in 2006, but he didn’t believe it would stick around, and he called issues like minimum wage and prescription drug prices “very timid proposals”. Apparently he came closest to proposing “big ideas” when he lamented that Democrats had not cared to use “healthcare” or “the economy” as their “big idea” in 2004.

I don’t believe that big ideas about “healthcare” or “the economy” would have won the Presidency for John Kerry in 2004, but I think that Governor Cuomo’s observation about the campaign value of a “big idea” is sound. Considering the 2000 Presidential election, I was frankly shocked to hear friends state that they were voting for Bush because Gore was part of the “immoral” Clinton administration. I mean, Gore wasn’t unfaithful to his wife. Gore didn’t get a bj in the Oval Office and lie about it. But what was the “big idea” repeated by the Bush 2000 campaign in stump speeches? That George W. Bush would restore “Honor and Dignity” to the White House.

That leads me to a corollary observation: the Big Idea of a campaign has to respond to The Big Problem currently on the minds of the voters. What will be the Big Problem on the minds of voters in October 2008? It could be “The Economy”, as we slide into a recession. It could be “Healthcare”, as substantially more Americans can’t afford it. But I think what voters see as the Big Problem is “The Incompetence” of the faith-based Bush administration. So here’s my “Big Idea” suggestion for Democratic campaigns in 2008: “Competent, Real-World Management”.

A Progressive “Vision”

One of Matt Bai’s observations in his book, The Argument [Penguin Press, 2007], is the seeming lack of an overall progressive vision that we can hold up as the reason for fellow Americans to support our movement. As I see it, the progressive vision is rooted in the vision of democracy stated in the Declaration of Independence:

"WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Menare created equal, that they are endowed by theirCreator with certain unalienable Rights, that amongthese are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness --That to secure these Rights, Governments areinstituted among Men, deriving their just Powers fromthe Consent of the Governed, ...."

These represent the core values of democracy:
  • Social equality. Where one person is regarded as "inferior" or "superior" to another, these are social constructs. Absent invidious social constructs, people are social equals. One may contrast this with the value on social inequality which is inherent to authoritarianism. Authoritarianism presumes that people are inherently unequal, with one group or person inherently superior to others by virtue of such things as their race, gender, religious beliefs, ethnicity, heredity or wealth.
  • People have inherent rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Authoritarian political philosophy recognizes no inherent rights for all persons. Such rights as may exist in an authoritarian system exist at the discretion of the "superior" group or person.
  • The role of government is to guarantee the existence of these rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness among the people who are subject to it. That means it is responsible for recognizing our social equality and ensuring our equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Authoritarians believe otherwise. They see the role of government as being limited to ensuring that the "superior" group or person enjoys life, liberty and pursuit of happiness to the fullest. The rest are on their own.
But if the purpose of government is to ensure socially equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, it follows that a democratic government must involve itself actively in matters affecting the national economy, the civil rights of citizens, the environment, health standards, etc. If it didn’t involve itself and intervene to meet these responsibilities, it would not be democratic.This is not to suggest that the government should directly operate every institution and enterprise to meet its responsibilities. Nor is there any suggestion that a democratic government shouldn’t be concerned about matters of budgets and costs. A government that fails to live within its means creates insecurity for all. What I suggest is that democratic governments meet their responsibilities through the application of “pragmatism”.

"Pragmatism" asserts among other things that questions of social, economic and political policy should be approached in the same way that we approach questions of physics, i.e., by use of the scientific method, not blind reference to dogma, ideology or doctrine.What I’m proposing, therefore, is a “progressive vision” founded on the combination of democratic political philosophy and pragmatism. Specifically, the vision of a government responsible for ensuring socially equal rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness by means of social, economic and political policies which have stood the test of experience, reflect the current insights of scientific inquiry, and take current realities into account.

[based on essays posted at my personal blog, - Alex Budarin]