Thursday, December 8, 2011

Reduce, Reuse, Object!

A recent post by my fellow classmate, the author of Government Watcher, presents the question of whether or not we should fight global climate change. A topic that over the past decade has seen storms of media coverage and has been the topic of controversial political statements, climate change has earned its place as an important public issue along with gay rights, healthcare laws, and foreign wars.

A majority of the public agree that protecting the environment, particularly in preventing man-made air, water, and earth pollution, is important. This aspect of the climate change and environmental protection issue has become a non-issue, especially after looking at the damage caused by China's lack of environmental protection. However, much of the division in this issue comes when we ask, "How should we protect the environment?"

Although this question is not directly addressed in my colleague's post, he mentions several small ways in which the environment can be protected including buying local organic products, reusing things, and reducing energy use.

While all of these ways are feasible and practical on the personal level, we must be aware that in spite of our personal measures, the government is putting in place policies and encouraging businesses and products that are damaging the environment in the name of protecting it.

A prime example of a policy that is lauded for its "environmental benefits," but instead does just the opposite, are the subsidies and regulations for ethanol, a corn or sugar-cane based fuel. Promoted as a "clean fuel," ethanol, when it is burned, releases even more harmful toxins and pollutants than regular gasoline. In fact, E10 (a mix of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline which is now mandated by our government) "increases emissions of total hydrocarbons, nonmethane organic compounds, and air toxics compared to conventional gasoline."* Not only does the fuel the government requires you to use every day release more air pollutants, but in the long term it almost doubles greenhouse gas emissions. As a scientific study says, "We found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years."**

Electric Cars
Another example is the new fad of electric cars that the government promotes as "green." These are merely wolves in sheeps' clothing. Distracted by the "clean" covering of electric  energy, consumers forget that electricity is made by burning coal, which is just as, if not more, polluting than gasoline. We are, in fact, wasting energy by taking energy sources through so many steps before they are used in our cars. When coal is burned to create electricity, energy is lost; when a car battery is charged, energy is lost in transition.

The point here is this: while protecting the environment is important, we must not allow it to blind us toward "solutions" that will in the long run create more damage than they will do good. In addition to taking the small daily steps that my classmate mentions in his post, we must realize that a exponential amount of difference can be made by educating ourselves on environmental and climate change policies as well as speaking out on policies and products that our government supports that actually backtrack in our efforts to protect our environment.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Generation Next

Many Americans envision the future of our country with gloom and despair. They live in a faltering economy that may continue struggling for many years to come. They see a government full of corruption and with trillions of dollars of debt. Most of all, they find the next generation preoccupied with entertainment and disgusted with learning.

This last issue is one that many people think about, but few are willing to discuss. The predominant feelings towards the upcoming generation include despair and hoplessness. However, despite these feelings towards "adolescents," "teenagers," and young people in general, there is still evidence that even though the next generation has some maturing to do, not all is lost.

While facts show much of American education is of mediocre quality and that many of the next generation would rather go to a party than make a good grade in a class, applying these to the whole of the next generation would be a hasty generalization. Not all young people are settling for inadequate education; they are not all so narrow-minded that momentary enjoyment is the focus of all their time. Generation Next has both the opportunity and passion to change their world positively.

Unlike any generation before, the upcoming generation has an unprecedented access to information. While just two centuries ago, a piece of news might take weeks and even months to travel through the world on ships and horses, that same piece of news would take not more than a few seconds to reach the ears of the public via the internet and cell phones.

Not only are the internet and cell phones useful for sharing and learning information, they have created a completely new source of public dialogue: a place where public opinion can be formed, debated, and influenced. Resources such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogging bring together groups of like-minded people from across the nation and even across the world, creating powerful entities that can voice their opinion and influence others.

Opportunities without passionate people to take them are worthless. While a majority of adolescents and young adults may not be motivated, a surprising number of young people have shown enthusiasm to play a part in the political process. These individuals have used their eloquence, passion, and critical thinking to further liberty and encourage thoughtful public debate on important societal issues.

Examples range far and wide of the young firebrands who, instead of sitting around complaining about the government, are running for and winning positions where they can influence policy.

Alex Morse, the youngest mayor of Holyoke, Massechusetts at 22, was elected just this past month against a heavyweight incumbent as an opponent to a local casino and a proponent of investing in promising local businesses.*

Other examples include Ricky Gill, who at 17 was appointed to serve on the California state board of education. He is now running for Congress with his 25th birthday making him eligible for election just a month before primaries.**

Such stories, and the plethora of others, give inspiration and hope that the next generation is taking the opportunities given them with eagerness. The passion that many of them possess is one that is willing to serve and change our country for the better.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Morally Hazardous?

Some of the most fragmenting issues in American society today revolve around ideological differences. Should abortion be legal? Should homosexuals be able to marry? What role do Muslims play in our culture? It is no surprise that people, as individuals, have differing ideas about these issues and that these ideas creep into our political system.

In a recent blog post, one of my fellow government classmates argues that such ideologies, specifically Christian ones, should be kept out of our government and laws. But even more than ideologies, he writes that Christian morals should be abolished from politics. While many can agree that separation of church and state is necessary for a country that promotes freedom of religion and that ideologies without facts should be kept out of politics as much as possible, we must be careful that we are not, "throwing the baby out with the bath water." Are 'Christian' morals really such a bad thing to have in government?

Before this issue can be fully understood, we must be careful that we are not equating the terms "ideology", "morals", and "religion". Ideology and religion are both things derived from moral standards and it is generally agreed that both should be kept from law-making; however, morals are different in that they are the basic standards by which we as humans decide what is right and wrong. They are even more basic than those proposed by my classmate as, "life, liberty, and security." Is it right for a human to murder another human? Is it right to do nothing when you see evil happening towards another human being? Morality in this sense is not something that "varies wildly from person to person."

While morals are often labelled as "Christian", they are usually basic to all religions and value sets. The golden rule, "do to others as you would have them do to you" may be of Christian origin, but is quoted and personally desired by those of all sorts of beliefs, including Atheists. Is this sort of morality system such a problem in government? What if our political system was free from morality?

An amoral system of government is in reality impossible. All human-made governments are going to act off of some sort of moral system. Whether it is a communist regime acting off of the principal that equality matters more than individual rights, or a religious state, every government must have some set of basic principals upon which to set their laws. A government without morals leads to anarchy and chaos, and ultimately tyranny.

As can be attested throughout history, not all moral systems acknowledge the dignity of humans equally. Millions have been killed under communist, atheistic governments as well as under theocratic governments. We can find examples of America's misuse of power, but our government, based on Christian morals yet not a Christian theocracy, has created more freedom, equality, and dignity for humans than any other government in history.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fannie, Freddie, and Failed Economies

While there has been a recent uprising of frustration against Wall Street, big companies, and the wealthy in our society, many people are ignoring or forgetting the fact that the U.S. government has done nothing to fix one of the main underlying causes of our economic downturn: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The huge government-run corporations began in 1938 during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal under Roosevelt. Their purpose was to back up banks in their mortgage loans by taking on 80% of the risk. In other words, the sibling corporations would take 80% of the loss on any unpaid loans that the banks wanted to make.

Prior to the 1990's, banks had a standard that must be met for people to receive a loan; namely, a job and an appropriate amount of income for the amount that they were borrowing. However, the government decided that anyone should be able to get a loan, including those without jobs or an income. Through Fannie and Freddie, the government forced banks to make unwise loans and backed these loans that were sure to fail with taxpayer money.

With this sort of history, it is not surprising when we saw the housing bubble of the '90s and early 2000's burst. The loans were obviously left unpaid. And who was left with the bill? The taxpayers! In 2008, the banks began declaring bankruptcy because of the number of toxic loans they were forced to sustain. The rest can be clearly seen today's poor economy.

These government agencies had a great purpose: help everyone achieve the American Dream. But their method of achieving this goal failed miserably. Instead of helping decrease the gap between the poor and the rich in America, they made it wider. Instead of seeing an increase in the number of families in homes, the increase has been in families without homes due to the large amounts of foreclosure. If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have done us and the American economy such damage, why are they still around?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Much Ado About...the Wrong Thing?

The recent Occupy Wall Street movement has made headlines and polarized mainstream media. Some view it as disorganized and purposeless, while others champion it as a powerful, democratic movement against greedy capitalists. The most common questions the media are asking follow the lines of "what will the outcome be?" or "should they be protesting?". However, Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, has a unique take on the OWS movement.

In his article, Heed the 99 Percent, Lowry asks the question, "Is OWS protesting the right thing?" He agrees that the people a part of  Occupy Wall Street are rightly upset, but he thinks their anger and frustration are directed towards the wrong people.

The first place this article looks is to the population makeup of the movement. A vast majority of the protesters are college students and recent graduates. This generation began or graduated college during the Great Recession. After college they were left with sky-high debt and no job. The article gives the example of the "guy with the master’s from Harvard who owes $60,000 and lives off temp jobs."

Reading into the comments on the "We are the 99 Percent" webpage, Lowry points out that the other vein of frustration is healthcare. With jobs paying less and less, healthcare and other basic needs are higher than ever. The misery wrought by the recession is clear.

Lowry's punchline, however, is a stroke of genius. "Goldman Sachs could be dissolved tomorrow and the wealth of the 1 percent confiscated, and it wouldn’t make college or health care cheaper, or create one new job." Plain and simple, the Occupy Wall Street movement won't accomplish anything productive to benefit those hurt by the recession (or themselves) with their anger directed towards the financial kingpins on Wall Street. They can complain and protests as much as they like about the greedy, inconsiderate financial industry, but they won't see an improvement until there are, as the article states, "bold economic reforms and a rethinking of health care and higher education."

The point here is clear: Wall Street can do little to help the sufferings of those damaged by the recession. The OWS movement has caught the wrong culprit. Their energy would be much better used if channeled towards the industries that are spiraling high out of control with inflation, rubbing salt in the wounds of those already hurt by the recession.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Palestine's UN Bid: a Win-Win situation?

The recent move by Palestine to fight for a vote in the U.N. has caused much speculation on who will win in this politically-messy situation. Will Palestine be accepted in the U.N.? What is their underlying strategy and will this strategy work? What should the U.S. do about this? A recent article in the Los Angeles Times attempts to answer these questions, but fails to correctly do so because of several underlying assumptions the authors make.

Written by Barbara Walter and Andrew Kydd, both professors of political science, this article begins by stating that Palestine's attempt to be recognized by the U.N. will fail. Yet, they argue, this bid is merely the beginning of a deeper strategy: a little diplomatic arm-twisting that will bring justice to Palestine in a peaceful manner.

The strategy is to gain world-wide support and eventually pressure the U.S. and Israel to give way. They even go so far as to say that, "if the U.S. were more concerned with peace in the Middle East (and in protecting its interests) than with domestic politics, it would support the Palestinian bid for statehood." Clearly stated, this article wants its readers to believe that Palestine is offering a legitimate and peaceful solution to a long-unsolved problem, while the U.S. and Israel are standing in the way blocking something that will happen eventually anyways.

Unfortunately, as tempting as this view might be, it is unsubstantiated by facts and based rather on two key assumptions.

Assumption #1- Israel's only goal is to keep the land and push Palestinians out.
While this assumption may on the surface seem plausible, a brief history of Israel and Palestine's relations shows the opposite. By 1947, thousands of Jewish refugees from Russia and Eastern Europe had fled to Palestine, then under England's guidance, and begun to buy and cultivate land from the Arab residents. That year, the U.N. offered the Arabs statehood. Instead the Arabs chose war in an attempt to annihilate the Jews. Of course the Jews, tired of attempted annihilation, won the war and all the land except for Gaza and the West Bank. Palestine, with the help of other Arab nations, tried yet again to defeat Israel in the Six Day War of 1967 only to have the territories they had before occupied. In the years leading up till now, multiple negotiation attempts have been made by Israel and the U.S. In many instances, Israel has asked for peace in order for the return of the land only to be refused.

Assumption #2- Israel will eventually succumb to political pressure and give up the land.
Once again, this assumption is unfounded in light of Israel's history. Time and time again from its beginning, Israel has withstood external pressure. Just this past week we have seen Israel defy political pressure by allowing 1000 more houses to be built in occupied territory. With this sort of political independence, is Israel likely to suddenly begin giving in?

Without these two assumptions, this article has no way to validate its arguments. While it makes a good attempt to address a particularly complex and controversial issue, it unfortunately leaves much to be sought after in terms of background and facts. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Flawless or Futile? Two Views On Obama's New Jobs Plan

While it's easy to ignore the negatives and embrace the positives of an issue (or vice versa), it is important that we understand both sides before we express an opinion. This especially applies to the new jobs plan that President Obama has just proposed. Is his plan flawless or futile?

According to The Entrepreneur, the President's new plan will be extremely successful in growing jobs in the small business sector. Tax cuts for business owners and workers as well as incentives for small businesses to hire are the primary plans for small business job growth.

Meanwhile, The Heritage Foundation says the new plan has trouble in store for charity organizations. Because of the high cost of the bill ($447 billion), Obama plans to raise taxes on the wealthy (those making at least $200,000 annually) by lowering the rate at which taxes can be deducted from charitable gifts from 35 percent to 28 percent.* 

What does this mean for the nonprofits? As the wealthy taxpayers are being taxed for the donations, they will be less and less likely to give, which will result in a significant drop in the nonprofit sector's money supply. In addition to this problem, the article quotes that nonprofits hire almost 10 percent of the national workforce. With nonprofits in financial trouble, many of those jobs will disappear.

The President's jobs plan has the potential to both create and destroy jobs. Should we put the jobs of 10 percent of the population at risk for the possibility of creating more jobs? 

Read these articles and decide for yourself. Don't forget to leave your thoughts in the comments!

*For example: "American citizens in the highest marginal personal income tax bracket are taxed at a rate of 35 percent. If they donate to a charitable organization, they can receive a tax deduction at the same 35 percent rate. For example, if a couple in this marginal bracket gives $10,000 to a hospital, they can write off $3,500 when filing their taxes." (Heritage Foundation)