Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Offshore Drilling Proposal Solves Nothing

Today, President Obama announced a proposal to greatly expand offshore drilling in the United States. He has already received a good deal of flak, with environmentalists attacking him for leaving our oceans open to environmental assault by the oil industry, and conservatives arguing that this doesn’t go far enough to open our waters to reap the benefits of oil wealth.


Why I Don't Feel Bad for Jesse James or Sandra Bullock

Jesse James showing poor judgment
(US Weekly)
Usually I like to keep my posts confined to the realm of politics and hard news, but this whole Jesse James and Sandra Bullock debacle is a) unavoidable if you have internet access and b) so pathetic. Everyone I hear who is talking about this falls into the whole, "OMG, I heart Sandra Bullock and I feel so bad for her, how could Jesse James do that, blah blah blah." So while they go and watch The Blind Side for the twentieth time, I'm here to tell you not to feel bad for either party.

First off there's Jesse James. CNN is reporting (see, I told you it was impossible to avoid) that James has checked himself into a rehab and other sources say it's a place that specializes, among other things, in "sex addiction."  Let's get one thing straight here: Jesse James, or Tiger Woods, or any other guy does not suffer from any type of "sex addiction." What he and the others suffer from is a lack of self-control. If Jesse James has a problem because he wants to have sex with women he finds attractive, then the rest of the male population in the entire world is walking around with an undiagnosed condition. In reality, however, the majority of the male population has this thing called self-control and the ability to think with their proper head.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Lesson in Incompetence: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Harking back on Nate's post from last week about transit cuts and their long-term unsustainability, I want to quickly point out the MTA here in New York and its woefully pathetic state. The drama of heightened subway fares and decreased service continues, as even more cuts are expected this year. What is frustrating is that the additional cuts are a result of state auditors miscalculating how much revenue the new payroll tax would bring in for the mismanaged agency.

To add insult to injury, Mayor Bloomberg had a message for subway riders. He said, "So save your anger for the next round [of cuts]. Just say thank you that it isn't any worse with this one." Translation: Despite your government and public agencies failing you, you should be thankful for us. Here's what Bloomberg is missing: when something costs extra, you expect to get something more from it. When you put the money up to buy a Mercedes, you expect to get certain perks that you would not find in a cheaper Honda. But what the MTA has done has taken that Honda, stripped it down (no A/C, no radio, etc.) and are making the people pay the Mercedes price. It is now more expensive to ride a service cut-laden subway system. And Bloomberg wants us to be thankful?

But it doesn't end with service cuts. A recent stabbing on the 2 train this past weekend has highlighted the gaping security holes in New York's subway system. CCTV cameras, a simple and effective safety measure employed by everyone from the highest federal offices to your local bodega, either are non-existent (as in the case of Christopher Street, where the assailants from this weekend's stabbing fled) or simply don't work (as is the case with almost half of the system's 4,313 security cameras). Why? Depends on who you ask, but there's plenty of blame being thrown around as the MTA is using its time and resources to sue Lockheed Martin, the winner of the $212 million contract to outfit the system with cameras, after the military contractor sued the authority. It's unclear if ongoing security work is continuing through the litigation (an email to the MTA has not been answered yet).

I don't expect the subway to run perfectly, nor do I expect it to be free of crime. I do expect that a raise in fares will correspond to one of two things: better service or, at the very least, the same service. To have fares raised, massive service cuts implemented, and then be told to be thankful it's not worse is insulting. Security-wise, subway systems are vulnerable in general, but to learn of New York's subway system's vulnerabilities specifically is worrisome. It just highlights the misguided priorities of the MTA, which is plagued with incompetence and mismanagement at nearly every level. They can't stand up to the unions, they can't run the system without massive problems, and they can't even get CCTV cameras installed properly. That's not a lot to be thankful for.

Photo - An overpriced piece of plastic (The Village Voice Blog)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Transit Cuts Are Bad Public Policy

Recently, Washington, DC increased its Metro and bus fares by 10 cents per ride, and more drastic fare hikes (or cuts in service) are expected in July. The New York MTA board just voted on a package of severe cuts, eliminating entire subway lines and substantially slashing bus service. I understand that these cities are dealing with budget shortfalls to the tune of $189 million and $400 million, respectively, but these issues should be dealt with on the city level, not on the Metropolitan Authority level, since all the authorities can do are increase fares and decrease service.

Instead, these cities, and all other cities facing similar budget woes, should look at transportation not as a luxury but as a priority. Here are the problems with attacking public transportation when fiscal times are tough:
  1. Poor people will be disproportionately affected. Public transportation is usually an inelastic good for the poor, and increasing fares will only create greater economic burdens for them. Many cities have good subsidization programs for the poorest riders, but many people who cannot easily afford increased fares will have no choice but to absorb the increased costs.
  2. Ridership will decrease. People who are on the fence between using public transport because it's cheap and good for the planet but aren't enthralled with its crowdedness, slowness, and sometimes inconvenience will likely err on the side of personal vehicles to avoid increased prices and worse service. This will only further decrease revenue for the transit authorities, exacerbating budgetary problems. Similarly, those who may have been on the fence about switching to public transportation will now have less incentive to do so.
  3. Traffic congestion will increase. As more people eschew public transportation, more cars will be used, increasing traffic problems in cities.
  4. Pollution will increase. As personal vehicle ridership increases, so will greenhouse gases, criteria pollutants, and other emissions. In an era where cities and states have begun to understand the desperate need to address environmental problems, this would be a huge setback to good environmental policy. And this is to say nothing of the increased dependence on foreign oil.
So what should cities do?

I've already made the case for a gas tax. Assuming these transit cuts in service and hikes in price are temporary, why not instead increase the gasoline tax, also ostensibly temporarily? This would put more of the burden on wealthy people who can afford to drive to work, increase public transportation usage, increase transit authority revenue, decrease congestion, and decrease pollution. This seems like a win-win-win-win to me. The only disadvantage is pissing people off who drive cars. But when they are contributing to so many social, economic, and environmental problems by doing so, isn't it a sacrifice worth making? Raise gas prices the same amount you would raise transit rides.

Alternatively, increase tolls. This will have many of the same benefits as a gas tax, though in cities other than DC it will more specifically affect those entering the cities in question, as opposed to everyone in the state (gas taxes are implemented on a state level; however, DC has the authority to instate its own gas taxes).

I realize none of these measures is politically popular, and no one wants to make anyone pay more for something so vital as transportation. But when push comes to shove, it shouldn't be public transit users who suffer increased burdens. People should be incentivized to use more public transportation so that transit systems can grow stronger, gain people's trust, and become the widespread, efficient, fast, clean, dominant means of human movement that they should be.

Images: DC Metro (American Architecture)

Biden's F Bomb Not a Big Deal

As I was scrolling through Huffington Post yesterday (the political equivalent of US Weekly, in my opinion) I came across a headline about Joe Biden dropping an F bomb on live television. Naturally I was interested, as the latest drama in Kim Kardashian's life just wasn't grabbing my attention. I watched it a few times, heard the F bomb, had a small chuckle, and moved on. [Warning: The video's audio is LOUD]



So you can imagine my surprise when I picked up amNewYork and it's front page was a picture of Biden and his colorful language. It's also front-page fodder for the New York tabloids. It's just odd to me that the day after an historic health care bill is officially signed into law by the president the biggest news maker is the fact that a grown adult said "fuck" in what he thought was a private-enough manner. The fact that the mics picked up what he whispered into Obama's ear speaks more to microphone technology than anything else.

The fact of the matter is that adults use salty language. George W. Bush called a New York Times reporter a "major league asshole" during his 2000 presidential bid. Dick Cheney told Senator Patrick Leahy to "go fuck himself" when Leahy was probing the veep's ties with Halliburton during a Senate photo session (the nicety was returned to Cheney a few years later while touring Katrina devastation in the Gulf). As long as politicians aren't using it in open Congress, in any official capacity, or all the time, it's really not that big of a fucking deal.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Romney Lashes Out at Obama for Lack of Bipartisanship

I discussed the utter failure of partisanship in an earlier post, and what I said there still stands. I just wanted to add another loon to the mix. Mitt Romney today put out a statement from his PAC stating that,
"America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation - rather than bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics, and rising above raw partisanship, he has succumbed to the lowest denominator of incumbent power: justifying the means by extolling the ends."
I agree that Obama did not get this bill passed with broad, or even tangible, bipartisan support. But it certainly is not from a lack of trying. Obama was praising Chuck Grassley last summer, hoping to get the influential Iowa senator's support for a bipartisan healthcare bill. How did Grassley return the favor? He told his constituents that the healthcare bill would "pull the plug on Grandma." Other significant acts indicating that the Republicans did not want to play ball? They wouldn't shut up about Obama's birthplace and they interrupted the State of the Union to berate the president (incorrectly). Even RNC head Michael Steele described his role in the health debate this way: "Well, I'm the cow on the tracks, and you're going to have to stop that train to get this cow off the tracks and move forward." More recently, however, the Republicans have shown a disdain for working with Democrats on bills and have resorted to yelling like toddlers not getting their way in the halls of Congress (baby killer, really?).


I understand Romney's got books to sell. I understand he sees himself as the front-runner in 2012. I get that a lot of Republicans hate him because they think he's fake or his Morminism is foreign, and thus something to fear, to them. But there's no reason to grandstand like this on a non-issue. Obama tried (too long in my opinion) to play nice with the Republicans, knowing full well he could ram this much-needed legislation down the throats of the right if he wanted to. The Republican response was anything but productive, so Obama worked within his own party and got done what he needed to get done. It's not that Obama abused his power, it's that his opposition didn't show up to play the game.

Photo - The RNC's willingness to work in a bipartisan manner on display (GOP.com)

Politico's 'Unbiased' Coverage of Health Care

In case anyone still thought Politico was an unbiased journalistic publication, note that they put up an article last night titled "Some Dems walk the plank with 'yes' vote." Sure, it may turn out to be a politically risky move for many vulnerable Democrats who ultimately voted for the health reform bill, but Politico doesn't have the credentials in the realm of clairvoyance to be able to make that assessment just yet.

In fact, the conventional wisdom in many circles is that Democrats who don't vote for the bill will simply be lumped in with Obama in the nasty world of opponent rhetoric anyway, and will simply lose out on the opportunity to tout the fact that they just ended decades of irresponsible practices by health insurance companies and provided insurance to tens of millions of uninsured Americans. But I guess that's just as good as walking the plank.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What Happened to Raising Kane and Kaufman's Cogitations?

Those three of you who regularly read this blog may have noticed something a bit different going on. What was formerly Raising Kane and Kaufman's Cogitations has been combined into a massive super blog called The Second Age. What's The Second Age? It's our blog. Beyond that, it's whatever you want it to be. We had William Butler Yeats' poem "The Four Ages of Man" in mind.

The content will remain the same.  For those of you coming from Raising Kane, Nate will be the new blogger.  For those coming from Kaufman's Cogitations, Kane is the new writer.  We'll be having posts introducing the authors later in the week.  Until then, check out The Second Age on Facebook and become a fan; it's the easiest way to get updates on when news posts are up.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Conservative Politicization of Teaching

In a horrifying follow-up to my last post, evangelical conservatives in positions of power have once again breached the barrier between government and education. According to the Times, seven fundamentalist right-wingers on the Texas Board of Education have added a slew of changes to the state's textbook curriculum, including amendments to pedagogy on government, history, and sociology.

Unsurprisingly, as we find ourselves in a hyperpartisan political atmosphere countrywide, government officials have actually summoned the audacity to make changes to educational standards that shine capitalism, small government, conservative values, and the conflation of government and religion, in a more positive light. They hide their reprehensible political agenda behind the often repeated (by right-wingers with a political agenda) notion that American education is "skewed toward the left."



In a similar vein, Tucker Carlson recently attacked American colleges and universities on Fox News as bastions of biased liberal thought. His analysis of the report to which the segment refers is fallacious, and the entire clip is essentially just conservatives feeding off each other's contempt for liberalism. These strategies of claiming bias in places where bias does not exist in order to bolster one's own political agenda are sinister, but they are also clever and will likely prove effective in the long run.

The "tea party" movement is not only a backlash against hyperbolic visions of big government takeovers; ironically, it has manifested itself as a big government takeover of its own, trying to use political power to instill certain political values in Americans from an early age. When party-line democratic votes like the one in Texas are able to fundamentally change the way children view history, we must take a step back and question the efficacy of our system of government and our intellectual freedoms. Once government begins to tweak the way history is taught, where do we draw the line between our free democracy and propaganda-riddled, freedom-constrained governments such as China's?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Paterson on a Mission from God

As if the shitstorm brewing over New York Governor David Paterson is not raining down upon him hard enough, recent comments made by the embattled politician are sure to keep his critics hounding him. Speaking to what the New York Times calls a "sympathetic crowd," Paterson stated that "I will keep governing to the end of the year, in the spirit of making the tough decisions and trying as hard as I can to fulfill the mission in which God placed me."

Where to begin? Primarily, God did not place David Paterson in the position of governor of New York. There was no Sermon on the Catskills decrying Paterson's rise to the governorship. In reality, David Paterson is governor of this state because of Article IV, §5 of the New York state constitution. That, and his predecessor liked to diddle prostitutes.

What makes Paterson's statement even more incredible is the fact that Paterson was a last-ditch pick as lieutenant governor from Spitzer's gubernatorial campaign that was so inept, they thought when warned that Paterson was a "hard partier," that it meant he liked to work out a lot. Paterson's own father wanted someone else in the spot, and the Harlem powerbrokers pushing the elder Paterson's candidate for lieutenant governor were "wildly pissed off" when it became public that the younger Paterson would be Spitzer's second-in-command.

But let's just pretend that God was in the business of manipulating state politics to let accidental governors rule in Albany. Would he really choose someone who cheats on his wife and dabbles in coke and the occasional witness tampering? I would hope not. Politicians in general need to follow Thomas Jefferson's advice and realize, "religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god," not man, his god, and the people of the state you find yourself governing.

Photo - Paterson leaving church after explaining the mission God has sent him on (NY Times)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Teaching Climate Skepticism in Schools?

Separation of church and state is one of the most important—albeit overly neglected—aspects of the United States Constitution. However, a large faction of usually conservative Christians over the past 200 years has fought hard to back religious rituals, practices, organizations, and even teaching with public policy. (This is especially ironic because of the same group's professed interest in keeping government from 'overstepping its bounds.')


Science and religion, of course, do not always align. It is harmful enough to public policy when lawmakers ignore scientific findings for their own political benefit. But according to the New York Times today, many Republican state legislators are extending the push for religiously motivated teaching in schools to extend from anti-Darwinism to anti-climate science, under the false pretense of providing 'balance to science education.' If this isn't government overstepping its bounds, I don't know what is.

These lawmakers are correct that scientific theories are not proof of anything; in fact, theories can be disproved, but never proved. However, this does not mean that our schools should expressly teach impressionable children about theories and concepts that have been thoroughly rejected by sound science and are motivated by religion, and even worse, politics.

The theory of gravity, of course, is also only a theory. The theory that the earth revolves around the sun, just a theory. Does this mean we should back off teaching them in our schools? Tell kids that the sun may in fact revolve around the earth, and that objects may fall because God doesn't want anything to reach the heavens without His permission?

It's frightening enough to have evangelical government officials trying to counteract—or even eliminate—the teaching of evolution in public schools, but trying to do the same with climate science, motivated strictly by political ideology, is morally shameful. The scariest quote in the Times article comes from Kentucky State Representative Tim Moore:
“Our kids are being presented theories as though they are facts,” he said. “And with global warming especially, there has become a politically correct viewpoint among educational elites that is very different from sound science.”
I admire his use of the term "educational elites" as a substitute for "people who are experts in their field and know a hell of a lot more than I do on these subjects." Clearly this USAF Admissions Liaison Officer, NRA member, and Sunday school teacher is the perfect person to be making assertions about "sound science." Sadly, attacking scientific education at its most inchoate level may be the perfect way for Tim Moore and other anti-intellectual ideologues to undermine solutions to important problems in the long run by making reckless political maneuvers in the short run.

Images: Church and state cartoon (OklaScience.org)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Really Harold Ford?

Let me start this post off by saying that both Senator Gillibrand and Harold Ford are, in my mind, less-than-ideal candidates. Forced to choose, however, I would have gone with Ford. Despite his socially conservative voting record when he was a Tennessee congressman, his about-face in terms of gay marriage and abortion, even if insincere, would be something he would have had to stay true to if he wanted a second term because of the attention it garnered. I see Gillibrand as a rookie thrown into the major leagues before being fully prepared, essentially following Chuck Schumer around like a lost puppy trying to find her bearings. I was looking forward to a primary in which Gillibrand's lackluster and un-noteworthy performance in the Senate was challenged.

Obviously that will not be happening because Ford has, surprisingly in my opinion, dropped out of the race for the Democratic primary before even entering it. Despite his tough talk about taking on party bosses and the change rhetoric, Ford has, in the end, turned out to be just like any other politician, hedging his bets while trying to come out on top. Essentially, it all comes down to money, as there is no way he would be able to catch up to Gillibrand's coffers, even with all of his rich friends.

But what I found most disingenuous about the way Ford handled this whole thing is the way he's leaving it. He states that he left because he does not want to damage the party in a rough-and-tumble primary, stating, "I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republicans."

His actions, however, speak differently. In phone calls with supporters and those who had urged him to run, he said that while he would have won the primary, he's not going to try. The same way I could beat Lebron James 1-on-1, but I feel I don't have to prove it.

Ford also has allowed advisers of his to trash Gillibrand, stating that privately several upstate mayors question her ability, and he even stated himself that voters cannot "name a single positive outcome from her." This is not really talk that weakens the yet-unnamed Republican opponent.

Ford would have faced a tough primary with Gillibrand, and he knows it, hence why he is not running. If he truly felt he could win, you think he'd be sitting on the sidelines? He just does not want to go into it and come out a loser. So he thinks talking trash from the stands is a better move for his image.

So Gillibrand seems to be in smooth waters for the Democratic nomination (New York is not exactly breeding winners at the moment). So unless she kicks back and allows some Republican hunk with a cool jacket and a pickup truck from a failed car company to out-campaign her, it looks like Gillibrand will become an elected senator.

Photo - Harold Ford looking pensive (MediaBistro)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Changes Coming Down the Pipeline

I apologize for not posting in a while, but the past week has been filled by transatlantic flights, a short stint in an old Soviet bloc country, and a funeral. I have also been working on an expansion of the blog, but don't want to divulge any details at the current moment.

Some stories I have been following, just to try to keep things fresh and current:

New York Governor Paterson really is like most people think: incompetent and easily manipulated. (NY Post, Washington Post)

Toyota's been raked over the coals for their acceleration problem, bringing flashbacks of the Ford/Firestone controversy. (Washington Post, NY Times)

Gridlock in Washington continues. (Washington Post)