Category Archives: Politics

High-speed train construction gets derailed

It looks like Americans in support of a high-speed rail system will either have to break out their checkbooks or their car keys. Several state governors have cited budgetary issues in their reasoning for turning down the Obama administration’s offer of federal funding for the construction of high-speed rails through their respective states. This argument, at least according to the governors who said “no” to the funding, is based on the fact that federal funding doesn’t foot the entire rail construction bill. In order to attain the money on offer, each state will have to drum up a considerable chunk of dollars from the state budget in order to close the gap on construction costs, not to mention the annual bill that it takes to actually keep the trains running.

Amidst an economic climate in which everyone is facing deep cuts, it’s understandable for states to bristle at the prospect of adding long-term expenditures to the annual budget. Ohio Governor John Kasich has spoken out against the rail project, (which is expected to cost about $17 million per year to operate), declaring “That train is dead. I said it during the campaign. It is dead. Passenger rail is not in Ohio’s future.”

This sentiment has been echoed in the Wisconsin and Florida statehouses as well, with the primary complaint being the high cost of matching the giant wad of cash that the federal government has broken out as a carrot to incentivize state government action.

The logic behind the Obama administration’s requirement that states foot at least some of the railroad bill is rooted in the idea that one values an object more when they pay for at least some of its costs.  While this argument is consistently accepted when dealing with road construction, it simply hasn’t generated as much political juice when applied to trains.

The debate over funding for high-speed rail is an example of people not seeing, or refusing to recognize the larger picture. It’s hard to justify this duplicitous nature, as roads are unending money sinkholes in their own right. It costs a train conductor’s ransom to cover the money lost in traffic congestion and road repair, even while accounting for tolls and other sources of revenue. And that’s not to mention that it’s technically impossible to alleviate traffic by adding more lanes.

As far as high-speed rail’s economic productivity is concerned, one must consider the cost related to both the interstate highway system, as well as the short-haul airplane flights that far outstrip the automobile’s gas consumption. But that isn’t true.

Here’s an excerpt from argument against rail construction in Wisconsin:

“In Wisconsin, for example, a round-trip fare between Madison and Milwaukee would cost roughly $50 per person, even though the cities are less than 80 miles apart along Interstate 94. With a round trip between the two cities by automobile requiring only about six gallons of gasoline, depending on vehicle type, a high-speed rail ticket would cost a solo traveler at least twice as much as what the traveler would pay in gasoline driving between the two cities.” (link)

While the price for rail tickets may be correct, this argument circumvents the “wear and tear” issue almost entirely. Sure, a $50 ticket gets a passenger from point A to point B, but it also includes the cost of maintenance. The aforementioned 80 mile car trip doesn’t factor in any of the indirect wear and wear costs that are incurred both on the highway, but also the car itself. If we choose to go by the IRS’ valuation for wear and tear on automobiles, an 80 mile drive incurs somewhere between $11 and $40 of wear and tear. So a businessman who makes an 80 mile drive in a car that gets about 20 miles to the gallon is likely accruing $52 worth of costs in order to make the same trip that he could have made for $50. And that’s not even factoring in the costs of tolls and parking.

Instead, the issue comes from the fact that it’s hard to view these rails and roads as equal commodities. For one, People like driving their own cars. They are, in many ways, mobile homes. The average American spends an eighth of their lifetime either behind the wheel, or in the passenger seat. When you spend that much time anywhere, it’s understandable for one to grow attached to it. After all, it’s fun to roll down the windows, turn up the volume on the radio, and floor it down the open highway.

But that, like many past times, are little more than a fantasy. Most Americans aren’t cruising down the highway, but harnessed by long lines of gridlocked traffic. It’s an amalgamation of that guy who buys a sports car, only to spend most of his time cruising through 35 miles an hour residential streets.

Additionally, cars are bad for you. 33,000 people died in car crashes last year, and countless more are dying a slow death due to 3 hours a day of sitting in a car seat.

The rejection of high-speed rail funding is also a result of ignoring industry trends. Statistics show that more people are riding the train than ever before. Additionally, it’s not like rejecting the funding means that the money is going back to U.S. citizens, or likely even the federal government. Numerous states have moved in to snatch up the cash that Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin have so quickly rejected. Maryland, one of the states who has some in to pick over the leftovers, is sandwiched in a stretch of some of the highest traffic density in the western world. A fleshed out rail system across the Mid-Atlantic would help to provide a sample of what a developed high-speed rail system can provide to a region.

There’s plenty to like about a high-speed rail system. A 200 mph train ride is far faster than a car, and the prospect of circumventing the slow and degrading search methods employed at airports make it a viable alternative. Critics can point to the high initial and maintenance costs, but it’s not as if roads are cheap by any means. So opponents of a high-speed rail system can cite the high cost amidst a crummy economic period, but any other argument made is rooted in delusional, misinformed bias.

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DC has a disproportionate amount of jerks

I’m a firm believer in the “bad apple” theory. If one person in 100 is bitter, angry and selfish, everyone else is bound to be negatively affected simply by standing within their range. Consider that one jerk at the office. When he eats half your lunch from the fridge and then farts in front of your desk when returning to work, it’s natural to feel affected.

Life in Washington, DC can often resemble that gassy coworker. It’s hands-down the angriest, most divisive major city in the United States. For no singular origin, it’s easy to find yourself standing next to someone who doesn’t like you, doesn’t want to know anything about you, and if no one’s looking, might even lean over to step on your hand as you tie your shoe.

Fighting Words

Fortunately for the average fan of cities, much of the anger amongst Washington’s citizens can’t be recreated anywhere else. For starters, DC is ground zero for that endless war between Democrats and Republicans. When averaged out, the metropolitan area is almost exactly a 50/50 red-blue split, with the standard deviation resting on what party is presently in power. And in case you’ve never seen a political ad, speech, or poster before, these two sides hate each other. Elections, and government in general, are almost exclusively reactionary, and political change is usually trailed by a constituency that is motivated enough to make their voices heard. Some famous person once said that “Change is the result of a bunch of angry idiots”. I think that’s how the quote goes.

Job Turnover

The variance in ideologies also dictates the next major problem with a city that hinges on administration changes. Over 250,000 federal and government jobs are filled at any point in DC, but there is little job security because the new team in charge always wants to bring in their own people. This resonates throughout the city via massive turnover rates in almost every field. New lawyers at the Department of Justice, new economists at the Treasury Department, new Capitol Hill staffers and legislators. You see where this is going.

Critics of DC’s job environment will cite the influx of jobs being created every time a new administration takes office. Yes, there are still plenty of jobs to be had in DC, but this current recession aside, consider that most people in most cities expect their jobs to exist in four years. In DC, you’re rarely afforded that luxury.

This isn’t my house

When one feels a sense of disconnect, they’re less likely to react with the same regard for their environment. DC is a city of transplants. People come here from every corner of the country, but less than half of its residents are born in the district’s metropolitan area. If the average DC resident isn’t from here, it’s unreasonable to expect him or her to have a sizable connection to the area. It’s like a guest dropping a glass at a party. They may claim responsibility, even ask for a broom to sweep it up, but you know they’re not doing as thorough of a job, sweeping the corners, mopping the floor, as if it were their own house. “After all”, they might say to themselves, “There’s a bunch of other people here, and the host is going to have to clean up anyway”. Unfortunately, the host is from Texas, and didn’t have to put down a security deposit.

I’ve got a long drive ahead

The DC area is hard to clearly define, since people commute from humongous distances. According to Forbes magazine, DC area drivers spend about 60 hours a year stuck in traffic, and 15% of residents spend over an hour each day driving into work. Sure, other cities such as Los Angeles and New York experience traffic problems, but DC is a fraction of the size of New York and LA, so when you factor in another hour for the return commute, it’s easy to see why so many people have a frown on their face.

The “nod”

When I make inadvertent eye contact with strangers, I give them a nod, as if to say “I realize that we just made eye contact by accident, but I acknowledge your existence”. In the course of a day in a city, it’s easy to occasionally make inadvertent eye contact with strangers. And before I got to the DC area, I considered this gesture to be a good show of manners, especially because there was a 99.9% success chance that the same gesture would be returned.

But I urge you to walk around Washington, DC and test this gesture out. People will look at you with expressions ranging from “who is this person? what do they want? why did they nod at me?” to “I will absolutely try to murder you if you look in my direction again.”

It’s obvious that not everyone in Washington DC is a bad apple. There are thousands of people working in underpaid and stressful jobs for the single goal of helping others. But like a child who just found out the truth about Santa Claus, there are many jaded people who are marching to a downbeat.

One day, while waiting for a Metro train, I bent over to tie my shoe, just as a passing woman stuck the heel of her shoe into my hand. I looked up and asked why she just tried to punch a hole through my second favorite hand. She turned and looked up at me. “I didn’t see you down there” before continuing on. I boarded the train and pushed a man aside, as I made my way towards a seat. It’s hard to maintain a warm disposition when surrounded by frigid bodies.

Homeland Security

dr-strangelove

The first undeniable role of the federal government is to protect its citizens from harm. After all, what is a government if it’s not seeking to guard its citizens? But while many lawmakers are eager to stress homeland security as part of their agendas, they often overlook the versatility of vulnerability.

The prevention of an attack on our country is certainly grounds to mobilize a coordinated military presence, but we are also susceptible to attacks on the weak points in our public health and education systems.

Consider heart disease. It has killed more Americans over the last 5 years than every military campaign in US history combined. The same can be said for cancer and strokes, and relatively, we take these epidemics lightly.

If consistent clinical and preventative medical treatment was guaranteed to every American, if we’re more aware of what chemicals are in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink, would we not be safer? The same concern over safety can be argued for the merits our education system, which despite being an issue that George W. Bush emphasized during his presidential campaign, ended up being dwarfed by an interest in increasing military spending.

And as the world becomes smaller, an education system that is only universally funded through high school is at risk of getting overtaken in the tide of globalization. If a master’s degree from a school in India is interchangeable from a master’s degree in the United States, but only 26% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher, then the remaining 74% of Americans are going to be inevitably locked out of entire sectors of employment.

By viewing education and health care through the lens of homeland security, it becomes clearer that wars are being fought outside of the traditional military battlefield. And if the United States wishes to remain a world leader, there must be a collective realization among legislators and their constituents that any country turning out unhealthy, undereducated citizens will never be able to sustain a high level of innovation.

The Lynchpin of Racism

Barack Obama has already brought change

Whether he admits it or not, Barack Obama has already brought change

When President-elect Barack Obama gets sworn in next Tuesday, one day after Martin Luther King Day, will the world be a different place?

After raising more money than anyone in history, and beating John McCain in what amounts to a modern day landslide, this is a reasonable question to ask. But the color of Mr. Obama’s skin has been an ingrown hair on the face of the political world ever since he declared his candidacy for the Oval Office. The issue never exactly revealed itself, but instead remained below the surface while Americans argued around the issue instead of addressing it directly.

Moderate critics of Barry-O have preferred to cite his lack of political management experience, which is a reasonable argument, considering the dearth of legislative issues that Barry-O actually weighed in on while in the US Senate. But the extremists, as Peter Beinart argued in a piece for Time magazine, have preferred to tap dance around the race issue in favor of questioning Mr. Barack Hussein Obama’s citizenship and whether he was actually born in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, Obama supporters have preferred to cling to the broad concept of “change”, which historically is a fantastic way to decapitate regimes. But identifying what sort of change an ivy league-educated, millionaire attorney with no executive experience is capable of bringing, is still difficult to quantify.

That’s not to say that our 44th President will do a worse job than #43. In many ways, the tenure of George W. Bush has been unprecedented in terms of failed opportunity, cronyism, and indifference to the views of the American public. And whether he deserves it or not, George W. Bush’s legacy will be based on the historical crises that occurred under his watch;  the worst terrorist attack on American soil in US history (9/11), the worst financial collapse in 75 years, the destruction of a major US city (New Orleans), and two separate wars that have lasted six and eight years, respectively. Additionally, six of Mr. Bush’s eight years in office were accompanied by GOP control of the legislative branch.

So it’s safe to say that even a comatose Barack Obama will likely outshine the departing Bush administration. But the promise of change carries more responsibility than merely doing better than the previous guy. Mr. Obama has assured supporters that his ascention to the oval office is the first step to restoring the average american’s faith in the political system. But by surrounding himself with ex-Clinton administration employees, where are these new  ideas supposed to come from?

The answer this question may end up only being skin deep. US Presidents, like most world leaders, live mostly ceremonial lives. They can pressure people to adhere to an agenda, but there are simply too many tasks and issues for a commander in chief to properly micromanage. Instead, it’s the broad brushstrokes that shape how 300 million people live their lives, and one undeniable brushstroke is that Americans can look at their President for the first time, and not see a white man staring back at them. The democrats and republicans may attempt to look beyond this fact, but skin color is absolutely the political issue of the 2008 presidential election. The majority of people in this country are not white males, and the sight of one white man after another ascend to the presidency is bound to demoralize substantial portions of this country.

So even though we refuse to directly talk about it, race belongs in any conversation about Barack Obama’s presidency. Every day after Mr. Obama takes office will become a day that African Americans can look to the highest levels of leadership and see the spot where a glass ceiling once rested. That’s not to say that skin color will define Barry-O’s legacy, but it’s naive to say that we never noticed it in the first place.

Laws for Sale

Since it’s no secret that American companies are clamoring for a life preserver to buoy them from the whirlpool of economic recession, there is a need for policymakers to expand their thought process beyond the concept of billion dollar loans and extensive borrowing.

While it is important to consider the consequences of an industrial collapse, the idea of floating loans now will result in an exponentially greater financial setback down the road. Neither on a macro or microeconomic level have we as Americans grasped the idea of spending within our means, so if we’re transferring the balance on our massive federal debt, it’s unreasonable to assume that the next generation will have learned to do anything except attempt to pass the debt onto their children and grandchildren.

If automakers are in need of over $25 billion in loans, the financial markets require a $700 billion cash injection, and countless other groups are lining up on the Capitol steps with their hats in hand, it’s apparent that more drastic measures should be considered.

One such concept to consider is the open sale of nonviolent, borderline ethical laws by private citizens. What if Bill Gates and Warren Buffet pooled together $30 billion of their own money in exchange for fewer restrictions on stem cell research? Or maybe a team of casino owners could team up to write a $25 billion check that allows for relaxed gambling laws nationwide. Certainly there could be a number that Coors, Anheuser Busch, and Miller Brewing Company would be willing to pay in order to drop the minimum drinking age to 20, and maybe an even greater number to lower it to 19.

Whether you agree or not on the aforementioned issues, tough economic times can lead to a reconsideration of our morals. After all, how many people would be willing to ban abortion if they were offered $1000 in cash on the spot? How many people would be willing to allow abortions if they were offered the same amount of cash? Remember that many of our laws are already for sale with lobbying groups as the salesmen, so why not consider the same idea on a different scale?

Barack Obama is a US Citizen

Barry-O versus the Volcano...of ignorance!

Barry-O versus the volcano...of ignorance!

Watch out USA, because despite the “facts” and “information”, Barack Obama is actually a Muslim Kenyan Jew who was really born in Indonesia.

I talk to a lot of people who refer to Obama as “Osama Obama”, and make the claim that the Illinois Senator needs to provide proof that he is actually a US citizen. These calls would be a lot more humorous if I knew that these woefully ignorant individuals weren’t dragging themselves out of their caves every November in order to vote. Note: those I refer to come from people outside of Georgia’s 10th district.

You see, it’s not the Democrats, the Republicans, or even the candidate that deserves blame for being able to win over the mush of pork scraps and trimmings that calls itself a constituency. Disparaging a political party for accepting votes from ill-informed beings would be like blaming someone for finding free money on the ground. Instead, the blame rests on the shoulders of the voters.

Any number of people could open an actual newspaper, be it the Washington Post or the Washington Times, and see no reference towards the allegations that Barack Hussein Obama is not a US citizen. Even the AM radio folks, who love a good argument, keep these allegations at arms length, asking only for the truth. So it’s impossibly difficult to tell me that the media moves and steps in such unison as to suppress a goldmine of a story such as the possibility of an impostor making it this close to the presidency. Breaking information like that would be a career piece. Not just a career “I just got my own office” piece, but a Bob Woodward “every word that leaves my mouth turns into a best-selling book” career. Considering the decline of the print news industry, it would be impossible to keep an aspiring journalist from breaking rank on this.

It’s worth an admission that there is a sliver of truth to these allegations, simply because I wasn’t there to see little Barry Obama bursting out of his mother’s womb onto Hawaiian soil, but Factcheck.org, the same group to dispel allegations against John McCain’s lack of US citizenship, released photos of Barry-O’s birth certificate, as well as his birth announcement that had been published in the Honolulu Advertiser on Sunday, Aug. 13, 1961.

There is also a sliver of truth to the Kenyan citizenship allegations. Because Obama’s dad was Kenyan, Obama had dual citizenship as an American (because that’s where he was born) and citizenship of the UK, because Britain had control of Kenya. This changed after Kenya recieved its independence from the UK, but because Kenyan law dictates that people over the age of 21 cannot hold dual citizenship in Kenya and any other country. Obama would have had to swear his allegiance to Kenya, and renounce his citizenship to the US, which he possibly could have done, but you’d need some hard evidence, such as witnesses for that. Here’s a good link to explain all of this.

But seeing as web surfers could have viewed Obama’s birth certificate on his campaign website at any point, I’m inclined to suspect that there will consistently be people who will remain skeptical of Obama’s citizenship no matter what. And compounding their skepticism is a complete lack of evidence on their part. There isn’t a single person who has come forward with any evidence of any kind, other than the “fact” that the Obama campaign hasn’t bent over backwards to appease their concerns.

It stinks that people are devoting so much of their lives towards the spread of misinformation. Imagine if all the skeptics on both sides focused their energy on helping out at soup kitchens, building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or even spending more time with their kids. Wouldn’t that improve America far more than what they’re doing now?

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees citizenship at birth to almost all individuals born in the United States or in U.S. jurisdictions, according to the principle of jus soli. Certain individuals born in the United States, such as children of foreign heads of state or children of foreign diplomats, do not obtain U.S. citizenship under jus soli. Certain individuals born outside of the United States are born citizens because of their parents, according to the principle of jus sanguinis (which holds that the country of citizenship of a child is the same as that of his / her parents)

Hot Gay Sex

Does this honestly affect you negatively in any way?

Does this honestly affect you negatively in any way?

When considering a political candidate, I am often compelled to assess his or her stance on gay marriage. Regardless of whether one views homosexuality as a choice or something you’re born with, there is a simple fact that a politician (in this example being a male) either would like to have sex with a man or he would not like to have sex with a man. So he’s being asked to view this issue without a full comprehension of both sides.

In general, there seems to be three mainstream ways of looking at gay rights. One, homosexuality is a choice made by confused and misled individuals, whose demand for equal rights is the by-product of a mental ailment, so efforts should be made to help reform their choices.

The second argument is that homosexuality is a characteristic that has endured so much persecution over the course of time, that no one in their right mind would ever make that choice, so we have to accommodate them.

The third argument is that homosexuality may have its place in society, but allowing homosexuals to marry is infringing on the beliefs of other groups of people who hold the idea of “marriage” to a standard of high spiritual significance. By this viewpoint, awarding the middle ground to one side is a sign of denying rights to the other.

So if the word “marriage” is the problem, why not call gay marriages something else? “Civil union” is a term being tossed around, and if the term awards the same rights to a gay couple as “marriage” does to a straight couple, then it’s a step in the right direction. If we toss out the term “marriage” altogether, and “civil union” becomes the federal definition of awarding spousal benefits to any couple, gay or straight, then we can at least pry the door open wide enough to let every consenting couple through.

But the problem with designating “marriage” as a religious term is that no one religion can stake a claim to it. Islamists, Christians, Catholics, Unitarians, Jews, and Pagans have “married” couples in their respective congregations, but there is a vastly different viewpoint on allowing gays to marry, as well as the general definition of marriage across these different spiritual beliefs. In other words, the Pagans can’t just claim their definition of marriage should be the one final definition.

This boils down to a number of groups who fear their own beliefs will be tread on by people whose lifestyles are illegitimate when placed into a room with their own. But if every couple is civilly unionized under the eyes of the federal government, then we can at least localize the quibbling to what goes on inside your homes and places of worship.

So whenever I hear a politician make a reference to the “morality” of homosexuality, or prophetizing the collapse of the “institution of marriage”, I fear that person is unqualified to make a level-headed decision when it comes to domestic policy. There are plenty of decisions to be made that fall outside of one’s upbringing. And enforcing a mindset on the way things should be, without factoring in the different paths that Americans sometimes walk, is indicative of a shepherd who cannot lead his flock.