Saturday, March 8, 2008


President Bush vetoed a bill that would ban the CIA from using harsh interrogation methods such as waterboarding to break suspected terrorists. Bush claims he vetoed the bill because it would "take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror." The bill would limit CIA interrogators to 19 techniques allowed for use by military questioners. However, Bush said the CIA must retain the use of "specialized interrogation procedures" that the military doesn't need because military methods are designed for questioning "lawful combatants captured on the battlefield" while the CIA is dealing with "hardened terrorists" who have been trained to resist the techniques in the Army manual.

The manual already prohibits hooding prisoners, putting duct tape across their eyes, stripping them naked, forcing them to perform or mimic sexual acts, subjecting prisoners to hypothermia or mock executions, beating, electrocuting, or otherwise physically hurting prisoners. However, one of the most controversial interrogation methods is waterboarding which involves strapping a person down and pouring water over his/her cloth-covered face to simulate the sensation of drowning. Currently, waterboarding is a valid method of interrogation for the CIA to use, however, its usage must be approved on a case-by-case basis by the President. Furthermore, the CIA says it has not used waterboarding since 2003 (when it was used against three prisoners). Democrats are currently working to overrule Bush's veto, however it will be an uphill battle for Congress to overturn the veto because it takes a 2/3 majority and the House vote was 222-199 and the Senate's was 51-45.

Do you think the "harsh interrogation" methods attribute to the fact that there have been no major terrorist attacks (in the US) since September 11th? Is using "harsh interrogation" methods justified if it keeps Americans safe? Will the use of waterboarding and other methods of interrogation put Americans at greater risk of being tortured when captured? How will Bush's veto of the bill affect US human rights efforts overseas?

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Wonderful World of Economics

In February the economy shed 63,000 jobs; according to the New York Times this is the fastest falloff in five years and the strongest evidence yet that the nation is headed toward (or may already be in) a recession. Despite this staggering loss of jobs, the unemployment rate in February actually fell to 4.8% from 4.9% in January. How could the employment rate AND unemployment rate fall? The answer lies in the government's definition of unemployment: the unemployed includes only those people actively looking for work. Thus, the unemployment rate fell not because more people found jobs, but because more of the jobless gave up looking for work. Another cause for the lower unemployment rate could be that there has been an increase in the number of people who choose not to work purely by their own choice. The growth in the number of nonemployed people may also explain why overall wage growth has remained stagnant. With an increasing pool of people who are not employed but willing to work for the right price, those who DO have jobs find themselves with less bargaining power. Essentially, since the labor pool is growing, employers have less incentive to give their workers raises because there is a large supply of labor that would readily take jobs at a lower price.

So what's the government going to do? The president acknowledges the fact that the economy has slowed but remains confident that the recently enacted "stimulus package" and his "pro-growth, low-tax policies that put faith in the American people" will help stimulate the economy.

The government has announced two actions intended to keep supplying extra money to the economy for at least the next six months. First, the government will increase its lending through the "Term Auction Facility." Starting on Monday, the government will increase the amount available to $100 billion a month. Second, the government will buy about $100 billion in securities ranging from Treasury securities to mortgage-backed securities issued by the Federal Housing Administration.

Do you think the government "stimulus packages" will keep us out of a recession, or is it too late? Do you think there are any other explanations for why both the unemployment and employment rate fell? The employment rate is not the only indicator of the health of the economy, are there any other indicators that you know of that indicate how our economy is doing?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What Happens Now?

In the wake of the latest round of Democratic contests many people are asking, "Now what happens?" Clinton picked up critical wins in Ohio, Texas, and the Rhode Island primaries (the Texas caucuses are still too close to call). Although these wins do not put her ahead in the delegate count, they did make Obama lose some of his momentum. According to Obama has 1,520 delegates and Clinton has 1,424. In order to secure the Democratic nomination a candidate must get 2,025 delegates. So what do all these numbers mean? Because the Democratic delegates are allocated proportionally, the race appears to be headed to the party's convention in August. The next big Democratic primary, Pennsylvania, is seven weeks away on April 22 where 158 delegates are at stake. According to Mary Frances Berry, former chairwoman of the US Civil Rights Commission, "There are not enough votes left among pledged delegates for anybody to win the nomination." If there's not enough votes left then how can anybody win?

The answer comes down to the superdelegates. There are nearly 800 superdelegates who are free to cast their vote for the candidate of their choice. Based on superdelegates who have publicized their preference, Clinton leads Obama 238-199. Although it will take substantial wins in almost all of the remaining contests for either candidate to get the 2,025 delegates, Nancy Pelosi believes, "There are still many voters unheard from yet, and I think that our candidates both have the capacity to inspire, to bring out a big vote that will hold us in good stead in November." She also believes the nominee will be decided before the Democratic convention in August, and that the prolonged campaign is actually good for the party as it offers Democrats a chance "to make a clear distinction" about their differences with Republicans in a variety of issues.

As the contest will unfold in the near future, another question remains: what should Democrats do with Michigan and Florida? Clinton won both states but no delegates were at stake because they were being punished for violating party rules by scheduling their primaries early. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has already paid $18million for the primary in Florida, and if they have another primary that is not paid by the taxpayers the DNC will have to pay another substantial amount.

Do you agree with Pelosi that the prolonged Democratic contest is good for the Democratic party? Do you think a nominee will be decided on before the Democratic convention in August? What do you think should be done with Michigan and Florida? What are your thoughts about the election so far?

Times Square Bombing

Today several members of Congress received letters claiming responsibility for the bombing of a military recruiting station in New York's Times Square. The letters were addressed to "Members of Congress" and contained a picture of a man standing in front of the recruiting station with the statement "We did it." The letters did not contain additional threats, however, it may be linked to two other similar incidents in New York, one in October and one in May (2005). Both times an explosive device was detonated around 3 a.m. and the suspect was riding a bicycle in the area.

No suspects have been detained and there were no police or fire reports of serious damage or injuries. This recruiting office is one of the nation's busiest and has been the site of periodic anti-war protests. As the war continues on many recruiting stations have become sites of anti-war protests. Protesters often try to block entrance to recruiting stations, but bombing is going too far. I think it's disgraceful and insulting to the troops who have chosen to sacrifice their lives to defend our freedom. Sure, most people are against the war and see no point in it, but will bombing a recruiting station really help end the war faster? No, I think there are many better ways to protest the war. Besides, isn't bombing the recruiting station to fight for peace/protest the war a bit hypocritical?

What do you think about these acts to protest the war? What should be done to stop them--or should they be allowed as a guarantee of our freedom of speech?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Obama NAFTA Flap

This Canadian TV News account of the Obama NAFTA flap is superior to all the other reporting I heard on the subject recently.

You might have noticed on the board today a section for campaign myths. I was going to pick out one poor spin job / inconsistency from each candidate to highlight, NAFTA for the Democrats (both) and the Hagee endorsement for McCain. Even before the leaked Canadian memo, Obama's populist trade theme struck me as uncharacteristically bad on policy merits, and I doubted that either Obama or Clinton would really strong-arm Canada like they said they would in the Ohio debate. That doesn't mean there is no room for some negotiated modifications, but I'm sure they'd be modest as Canada and the US are such large trading partners that we are interdependent and gumming up the works on the Rust Belt's behalf is just not in our national interest.

Then again, Bush put tariffs on steel during his first term to help with OH voters in 2004, and took the tariffs off after re-election. "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing (State)."

Anyway, the above clip shows that what appeared in the hothouse of a campaign to be a whiny "BLAME CAN-A-DA!" response from Obama was actually pretty justified. The Canadians called his people weeks ago and leaked their internal analysis after the Debate last week. It was sort of petty on their part IMO. Nonetheless, this was the Obama campaign's worst couple of days in 2008, as they fumbled their parry of this mostly bogus charge on top of the already-blatant pandering about the issue.

Results from Yesterday and Bush's Endorsement

Yesterday Clinton's victories in Texas, Ohio, and Rhode Island ended Obama's winning streak at 12 consecutive contests and rejuvenated Clinton's struggling candidacy. However, Clinton still lags behind in delegates with 1,457 compared to Obama's 1,566. According to Newsweek's Johnathan Alter, "No matter now you cut it, Obama will almost certainly end the primaries with a pledged-delegate lead, courtesy of all those landslides in February." If Hillary doesn't win a lot more landslide victories in the upcoming contests the only way she can win would be to garner the support of superdelegates who may be loyal to her or her husband for whatever political reasons. The next major primary the Clinton campaign is focusing on is Pennsylvania (April 22). Until a clear Democratic nominee turns up, McCain enjoys a head start in fundraising and uniting the Republican party. Furthermore, despite a rocky history between Bush and McCain, Bush has finally come forth to formally endorse McCain.

McCain debated whether or not to visit the White House the day after securing his GOP nomination because, although he needs Bush's help with the party's conservative base, any ties to Bush could alienate moderate Republicans and independent voters. Compared to the Democratic race, McCain has the luxury of time to raise money, unite the Republican party, and widen his support base. In 2004 McCain campaigned for Bush's reelection, however, two weeks after Bush won the reelection McCain criticized his stance on climate change as "terribly disappointing." Although McCain agrees with some of Bush's stances, on the issue of Iraq, McCain is strongly against the strategy of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, in February 2007 McCain stated, "I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history."
McCain's weak points include key groups of religious and conservative voters who voted for Huckabee.

Do you think Bush's low approval ratings will actually harm McCain's support? How effective will Bush's endorsement be: will it unite Republicans or push moderates more towards the Democratic/liberal side?

As for the Clinton/Obama race do you think Clinton will be able to win more delegates to catch up to Obama, or will she need to depend on swinging some superdelegate votes?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Medicinal Leeches

Heres a post for those of you who want a breath of fresh air from the elections...

We've all heard about the possible medicinal usage of marijuana, but medicinal leeches just sounds plain disgusting. Yes, that's right the use of leeches (blood-sucking parasites) may have the potential to help treat patients with skin or blood circulation problems. One lady, Duck-Im Kim was diagnosed with a rare skin disease called purpura that causes a purple or red discoloration of the skin. Doctors think it is caused by bleeding underneath the skin. After her skin condition began to worsen Kim decided to seek less conventional methods to treat her condition. Enter doctor Dong-Ha Han, nicknamed "Dr. Leech," who has been using leeches to treat patients with vasculitis, skin ulcers, atopic dermatitis, rheumatic arthritis, migraines, and gout. After five sessions (at $220 per session) Kim reports that the leech treatment was "gruesome at first, but I couldn't believe it when I saw the results." According to Dr. Han the theory behind using leeches is that they will bite you and suck clotted blood vessels, allowing fresh oxygenated blood to circulate. The key, he says is in the enzyme Hirudin, a very powerful anti-coagulant in leech saliva. As for the pain, Kim says "It feels like a needle poking, but the pain soon goes away." That's because leeches secrete local anesthetic enzymes naturally to avoid being detected by the host.
According to Dr. Sae-Il Chun, dean of Graduate School of Complimentary Alternative medicine at Pochon CHA University in Korea, "There's no hard data on whether this [medicinal leech usage] works." Currently leeches and maggots for medicinal use are legal. Maggot therapy is useful for burns and bedsores.
Do you think the medicinal use of leeches is acceptable, or is it just a scam? Does the use of leeches and maggots deserve more research from the scientific community or should it be banned?

Obama and the Rezko Trial

Barak Obama's name may come up in the trail of his longtime friend Tony Rezko. Rezko is accused of bribing public officials and taking kickbacks. Obama claims he was "unaware" of the illegal contributions Rezko made to his campaign. Around $150,000 donated to charities by the Obama campaign are connected to Rezko and others involved in the investigation. Many Illinois politicians say the trial will reveal the "cesspool" of Illinois politics from which Obama came from. Although Obama has been known to speak out against corruption in Washington and Kenya, he has been noticeably silent on the issue of corruption in his home state Illinois. Does his advocacy against corruption in places other than his home state make him a hypocrite?
Although Obama's name does not appear on the list of witnesses for the trials, his connections with Rezko are no private matter. In fact, Obama involved Rezko in a land deal that enabled the senator to buy his current home in Chicago.

Is Obama's friendship and relations with Rezko indicative of the type of people he may surround himself with if elected president? Will Obama's connections with Rezko turn out to be his Achilles heel--how much will it effect his support?

Tonight's Analysis Today

This pretty much sums it up, barring an unforeseen swing (which has happened a few times in this cycle).

It has been a little frustrating to have the goalposts moved so often by the Clinton campaign. 2 weeks ago, if they lost Texas, they were out. Now, not so much. I'm not sure they'll really stay in it if she loses the popular vote in TX, but they have to posture things this way to maximize turnout of their voters. So, we'll see what happens later in the week. The only other contests this month are WY and MS which Obama should win handily.

Clinton supporters, check out the math. If she stays in the race to try to draw 3 aces like this, it will probably help McCain. Just saying.

Monday, March 3, 2008

New Iran Sanctions

The UN Security Council approved a third round of sanctions against Iran in an effort to show disapproval to Tehran that its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment is unacceptable. The resolution bans trade with Iran in both civilian and military goods and authorizes inspections of shipments to and from Iran that are suspected of carrying banned items. It also bans travel by five individuals linked to Iran's nuclear effort and freezes the assets of 12 companies and 13 individuals with links to Iran's nuclear ballistic missile programs. Among supporters for the resolution are the US, Britain, and France. Lybia, Indonesia, South Africa and Vietnam were concerned with voting for the resolution because the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported suspicions that most past Iranian nuclear activities have decreased.
This is not the first time the council has imposed sanctions. The council first imposed sanctions in December 2006, ordering all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs.
Iran's UN Ambassador told the Council that the government would not comply with the "unlawful action" against its "peaceful nuclear program." He also claimed that "History tells us that no amount of pressure, intimidation and threat will be able to coerce our nation to give up its basic and legal rights."
The resolution was passed on Monday.

Does Iran have the right to continue their "peaceful nuclear program?" Every nation can probably attest to wanting to build up their weapons for the sake of feeling secure, does Iran have this right to build up their weapons? Will the new sanction be more successful than the previous two sanctions? What should the UN do if Iran ignores the sanctions?

Bank Failures

Last week the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) that backs bank deposits identified 76 banks as "in trouble." These 76 banks are likely only a small part of the impending economic problems looming over the banking sector. Within the upcoming year experts are expecting about 200 bank failures, this is almost as much as the record 206 bank failures that occurred in 1989. So far this year only one bank has failed (the Douglass National Bank in Kansas City, MO). Thankfully, the banks at highest risk for failure are generally smaller ones.

Why are these banks at risk for failure? According to financial services analyst Jeret Seiberg, "Many of these banks are highly dependent on construction lending, and that's the area of lending that is likely to come under the most stress." In the past 6 months the number of construction loans that are 30 days or more delinquent has spiked to 7.5% (up from 3.1%). However, the nation's major banks aren't exempt from economic threat. Seiberg says, "Tighter capital among the nation's major banks poses an even greater economic threat than hundreds of small bank failures."

Of greatest concern to economists is that banks will pull back and not make new loans which provide the "life blood of the economy." Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernake summed up the impending problem nicely: "This economy lives and dies on credit. If the megabanks are stuck with billions of leveraged loans eating up precious space on their balance sheet, they won't be able to originate new loans. That's bad for everybody."

Do you think we're headed towards a recession? What do you think the government should do to prevent a recession? How much do you think it will effect the economy if only smaller banks close down? What are your thoughts on the national state of the economy?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Clinton and Obama Fighting for Votes in Ohio

This Tuesday (March 4) Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont will have their primaries. Ohio and Texas -- with a combined lode of nearly 400 delegates -- could determine the 2008 Democratic and Republican nominees. In Ohio, Clinton and Obama have been focusing largely on the economy and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which many Ohioans blame for the loss of manufacturing jobs. This year it looks like the economy is a major issue that will influence who voters choose to vote for. According to a Gallup poll, the economy was rated as the top issue of importance to voters (followed by the situation in Iraq and education). With recession fears dampening consumer confidence, it is important to be aware of each candidate's plan to stimulate the economy. Heres a short summary of each candidate's plan:

Clinton: would establish a $30 billion emergency housing fund to assist states and cities mitigate the effects of mounting foreclosures. Would also include a 90-day moratorium on subprime foreclosures and an automatic rate freeze on subprime mortgagesof at least five years. Would provide $25 billion in emergency energy assistance for families facing skyrocketing heating bills. Would invest $10 billion in extending and broadening unemployment insurance for those who are struggling to find work. Would accelerate $5 billion in energy efficiency and alternative energy investments to jump-start green-collar job growth.

Obama: Would pump $75 billion into the economy via tax cuts and direct spending targeted to working families, seniors, homeowners and the unemployed. The plan also includes $45 billion in reserves that can be injected into the economy quickly in the future if the economy continues to deteriorate. Would provide an immediate $250 tax cut for workers and their families and an immediate, temporary $250 bonus to seniors in their Social Security checks. Would provide an additional $250 tax cut to workers and an additional $250 to seniors if the economy continues to worsen. Would extend and expand unemployment insurance.

Huckabee: plans to make tax cuts permanent and NOT raise taxes. He says he would try to cut rates on both corporate income tax and individual income tax. However, he says its not enough just to cut taxes, he would also "look at some serious spending cuts." He would eliminate all federal income and payroll taxes and would replace them with the Fair Tax (a simple tax based on wealth).

McCain: would lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%. Would allow first-year deduction of equipment and technology investments and establish a permanent research and development tax credit equal to 10% of wages

Whose plan would you support? What do you think will be the most important thing to do in trying to stimulate the economy? Are we headed towards a recession?