Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Roadblocks to national health

So America can afford to approve many billions of unnecessary spending and discretionary military excess, but when it comes to providing health care reform — namely for those who lack it — the Senate (i.e. millionaire's club) remains a roadblock?

$1 trillion over 10 years, merely a fraction of yearly GDP, will be spent and will save the nation as a whole money on health-care, and hopefully drive down the power insurance companies have in the current system. The key, however, is providing available, affordable health coverage for all. I don't understand how something as essential and urgent as health-care reform can be treated by much of Congress like it's just another box to tick — and they can't even seem to accomplish that! And how do Republican excuses of the need for "conservative" spending stand up in the face of a multi-trillion-dollar, needless war abroad?

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Golden State's empty purse

Man am I glad I'm not in charge of dealing with California's current budget deficit. The state's roughly $24 billion in the hole. I tinkered around with the LA Times' budget balancing tool, and while I was able to slash the deficit to a mere fraction of the original, that involved throwing in some tax increases (high income, oil, alcohol, tobacco).

I hope the politicians don't dig a deeper economic hole for themselves by cutting funding for education, a proposal other lawmakers have made. At a time in American history when the country is loosing it's advantage in the collective mind-power category, it's hard to think of something stupider than cutting aid for students, school funding, etc. In addition, since the national economy is shifting from mixed-services and manufacturing based more towards a services economy — thus relying on an educated workforce — I'd be appalled, though not altogether surprised, by a lawmaker who favored demolishing public education instead of taxing the wealthy a bit more, or cutting down on senseless bureaucratic spending.

Well the June 15 deadline has already passed, California has a wonderful social model in some respects — decent government funding for education, medical and welfare, medical marijuana (I wonder why taxing cannabis hasn't come up as a budget-saving option...). It'd be a shame to see the all state's governmental services collapse. Republicans, including the state's body-builder governor, equate raising any taxes with shaking hands with the devil; and yet no truly viable alternative has been proposed.

This is all-the-more interesting when you consider that if California were an interdependent country, it would be the sixth largest global economy, which makes the prospect of economic failure and the collapse of the state-wide welfare system have even wider national implications. Well, the folks in Sacramento have until July 1 to settle all this...

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Recession's over!

Hah, you wish. That mutual fund tanks more and more every month, doesn't it. At any rate, I'm back!

Oh the economy...
I wish Paul Krugman would've taken Larry Summers' job. Obama really screwed us over with his stupid Clintonian economic team, with still plenty of bush hold-outs. Oh I'm far from being an expert on these matters, but I do know that feeding the rich, greedy fatcats who got us into this mess — think sub-prime loans, short-selling stocks to undercut active companies, etc. — more money sure as hell isn't gonna solve this. Obama also isn't realizing that it's a systematic problem — time for a re-haul... you know, that CHANGE he had promised a few months ago.

Ben Bernanke has to be sacked; I know neither an intelligent conservative or liberal who is happy with his performance leading up to and now into this recession. We must not be afraid to shake things up a bit, especially since we're already so far downhill — and this may only be the start of our descent. Joseph Stiglitz really needs to be brought in to do some damage control. This is a must-read from Harper's I've been meaning to post for a while now. Quite important to see how much the Bush administration directly fucked up this country (except for the rich) during their eight years, and how we cannot just shove the knowledge of such greed and mismanagement under the rug. It's time to face our demons.

There's also a very good video to understand this whole financial mess (and it's easy to connect the dots from where the video leaves off, i.e. international downturn caused my America's own woes). Oh and to top all this off, Europe's making a fool of itself by not doing what it does best: public sector spending! C'mon, learn some lessons from previous recessions!

And is anyone else annoyed at how much attention the rich are getting in the media? You'd think the people who will easily weather the storm when many are losing their livelihoods. Oh, one more thing though, where's the bailout money going? I hope to see more stimulus bills though for job creation, education, infrastructure, etc. It worries me how amazingly shortsighted politicians are about cutting spending in such vital areas with long-term effects.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The war on international law

BBC News:

Anti-terror measures worldwide have seriously undermined international human rights law, a report by legal experts says.

After a three-year global study, the International Commission of Jurists said many states used the public's fear of terrorism to introduce measures.

These included detention without trial, illegal disappearance and torture.

It also said that the UK and the US have "actively undermined" international law by their actions.

It concluded that many measures introduced to fight terrorism were illegal and counter-productive.
The panel of eminent lawyers and judges concluded that the framework of international law that existed before the 9/11 attacks on the US was robust and effective.

It's dangerous for countries to put reactionary anti-terror measures in place without considering their legal and ethical implications; the belief that their national security measures are outside the realm of international law is ignorant. The America's rash actions on this front in the past seven or so years have finally come to a close thanks to the arrival of the Obama administration, leaving us all to breathe a collective sigh of relief. However damage has been done and the United States and the countries that cooperated with such programs as 'extraordinary rendition' must do their best to reverse their actions. Sadly, however, justice will almost certainly evade the victims of the illegal post-9/11 anti-terror programs.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Welcome President Obama

President Obama. Gonna have to get used to writing that.

A bitter farewell to one of the most destructive presidents in American history, and a warm hello to the new commander-in-chief, Barack Obama. I watched much of the inauguration today; Obama's inaugural address (transcript here) was the first presidental speech I have ever witnessed that did not leave me feeling like my president was not only competent, but surrounded by radical ideologues. (Keep in mind I wasn't old enough to analyze Clinton's speeches during his time in office.)

That being said, it was a very fine speech, covering everything from climate change issues to the flawed economic system to keeping the nation safe to helping those in need abroad. For once in my politically-active life I feel confident in the executive office, and this brings me a feeling of great satisfaction. At last, a man who works for the people instead of representing the interests of those on top. After eight long years, at last a president who can do some good for this fine country.

When the clock struck 12 today, my heart leapt with excitement. Let us see if President Obama can or will bring us the new era he's promised. Even if things fall though, it would be very difficult for Obama to perform worse than his predecessor. I wish the new 'leader of the free world' good luck.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Ready for a new president?

Tomorrow Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. CBS News' political blog has all the day-before details...

Obama has been pushing for the release of the second half of the $700bn bailout, and this time he promises oversight — a new concept, it seems, for today's federal bureaucracy. Not even the feds know where the first (roughly) $350bn truly went. Another reassuring Obama move is the promise to close Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Bush is expected to pardon Republican cronies, corrupt businessmen, etc. (the usual Bush supporters) at the last minute. Politico lists 10 potential pardons here. Political pardons like these are yet another reason the American justice system lacks fairness, especially if a super-corrupt felon like Ted Stevens gets off... (Remember what happened with Scooter Libby?)

I'm looking very much forward to a new political era, though certainly not one without challenges like the current economic downturn and the state of the environment.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Israel attacks Gaza, hundreds parish, with no end in sight...

I have been greatly disturbed by Israel's attacks on Gaza these past couple of weeks. (As always, Hamas' and other terrorist organizations' rocket-fire on Israel is also greatly troubling, though the destruction from those attacks are minuscule compared to the havoc Israel has managed to wreak even in a day.) Elections are coming up in Israel, and many analysts are saying there are political motives behind Israel's offensive streak.

This has to stop. Israel has no right to punish all of Gaza for the crimes of a few. In fact by attacking innocent civilians it just provides Hamas and other extremist organizations with a populist rallying cry against Israel. The air raids lead to indiscriminant killing; the ground offensive has only escalated the bloodshed.

BBC News:

Thirteen days of fighting between Israel and Hamas have left an estimated 765 Palestinians and 14 Israelis dead.

Israeli warplanes appeared to be making new air strikes on Gaza after dark.

The sound of circling planes and car horns hung in the air over Gaza City and several explosions from apparent airstrikes lit up the night-time sky, an Associated Press reporter says.

A UN agency has halted aid operations in Gaza citing danger to its workers.

The suspension would continue "until the Israeli authorities can guarantee our safety and security", the UN's relief agency Unrwa said.

Among the dead are tens of children. Gaza's infrastructure has been all but wiped out, meaning its economy will continue to hurt even after the attacks cease (Israel cutting off supplies, etc. even when it's not attacking certainly doesn't help either).

On an international level, the United States has proven to be an obstacle a UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire, and Egypt — cooperating with Israel — refuses to open up the Rafah border in the south of Gaza.

Israel has behaved inhumanely these past couple weeks (no departure from its usual policy regarding the Palestinian territories, of course). It has prevented media from reporting the happenings in Gaza despite an Israeli supreme court order ruling such actions are not allowed. Furthermore, the prevention of the UN from sending aid into Gaza just means more suffering for the people of Gaza, most of whom pose no security threat to Israel. Meanwhile the International Red Cross has also been prevented from reaching civilian victims of Israel's air offensive:
The international Red Cross accused Israel on Thursday of "unacceptable" delays in letting rescue workers reach three Gaza City homes hit by shelling where they eventually found 15 dead and 18 wounded, including young children too weak to stand.

The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, said the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach the site in the Zeitoun neighborhood for four days. Ambulances could not get to the neighborhood because the Israeli army had erected large earthen barriers that blocked access.
The ICRC normally conducts confidential negotiations with warring parties, and its accusation against Israel was a rare public criticism of one party in a conflict over a specific incident.

Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but this is a horrible and impractical way to go about doing so. Hamas is to blame at the core of this, but Israel's response to the terrorist group's rocket attacks is wholly disproportionate. Hamas must, for the sake of the people of the Gaza strip, budge on its stubborn, extremist positions; and Israel must stop going about defending itself the wrong way. Send in special ops to try to raid strategic Hamas strongholds; don't risk bombing schools full of children, children who will remember seeing the dismembered remains of their peers and vow revenge on the perpetrators of the attack, dragging out this conflict for generations (as if it hasn't been going on long enough). We must learn from the past.

Update: The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Nearly a trillion dollars, and where is it going?

First of all, a happy new year to all my readers. This is In Perspective's first post of 2009; too bad we aren't starting the year on a better note.

The $700bn bailout is just one big mess, benefiting the institutions that brought the financial system into this crisis mode in the first place. We need government spending to stimulate the faltering economy, but this is the wrong way to go about it. There is little to no oversight where billions of taxpayer dollars are going. This is a disgrace, plain and simple. Worse yet, while there were articles about the initial GAO report (albeit pushed to the back of the news section, incredibly enough), the media has once against failed to challenge the Bush administration to make sure these flaws in the bailout are fixed in time; the White House has dodged the spotlight, and thus the pressure. Congress also deserves its great share of blame, handing out the money without figuring out an endgame first. The financial institutions who received this generous (worth somewhere in between the nominal GDPs of Turkey and the Netherlands), practically no-strings-attached handout remain silent on where the money's even going.

I'm legitimately angry because it's my generation that will be paying for the effects of all this insane government spending. The interest on the trillions of dollars of loans taken out from Japan, China, Britain, and other countries adds up year by year, we dig ourselves deeper and deeper into this deficit of trillions.

I'm hoping the upcoming Obama administration will bring enhanced oversight of Wall Street and beyond — such a shadowy area of the American economy. While I think this rushed bail-out was the wrong way to go about things, government-sponsored programs helped pull America out of its last major economic funk: the Great Depression of the '30s. However, despite what one might read in the news rags these days, that was an economic crisis many times more severe than the current recession. Amidst all this financial downturn, one hopes people will learn the lesson of reaching for gold that just isn't there; perhaps our system free-wheeling free-marketism that was born in the 1980s will begin to be scaled back, but people can only learn so much...