Infrastructure and the Falsehood of Bipartisan Blame


America has many problems- that much we know. One of the biggest problems facing us is the enormous shortfall in infrastructure spending, which is a necessity for creating jobs and spurring economic growth. However, the prevailing line in the mainstream media is the concept of “bipartisan blame” for the country’s parties- and you see this in the consistent disparaging remarks against “Washington,” “politicians,” “Congress,” and so on. The media has created a false impression in the mind of the average voter that all politicians, from both parties, are the same, and that they both don’t represent their constituents. In return, this has destroyed confidence in our democracy and caused voter cynicism to skyrocket.

But there isn’t any truth to this myth, with a focus on infrastructure in particular. We have Republicans who are chanting against any new spending or revenues, but instead calling for radical budget cutbacks. When the issue of infrastructure spending is brought up, they give a voodoo math-defying statement that we need to do “more with less”- which borders on impossibility, as infrastructure is already underfunded, and Republicans continue to oppose giving it the funds we need.

Meanwhile, you have Democrats, who understand the need for our economy to grow, and want to invest in our nation’s infrastructure. President Obama’s stimulus was the first real attempt in decades to repair our infrastructure, and as a result, our rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers rose from a D in 2009 to a D+ today. The stimulus provided roughly $80 billion, far below what was needed. Why so little money? A lot had to be diverted from infrastructure spending to satisfy the conservative mantra of tax cuts, which became the lion’s share of the legislation, but even that didn’t stop Republicans from opposing it. In 2011, President Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, which would have given us the infrastructure spending we need. After the bill failed in the Senate, with almost every Democrat voting for it, and every Republican voting against it. Then, Senate Democrats made a push- that was blocked by a Republican minority- to finance $60 billion in infrastructure spending through a slight tax increase on incomes over $500,000. Ultimately, the need for the tax increase was caused by the Republican obsession with the deficit, even as government borrowing rates reached historic lows.

We have three Democratic budgets that were proposed this Spring. House Democrats, Senate Democrats, and President Obama ALL call for $50 billion in immediate infrastructure spending and $10 billion for a public-private infrastructure bank, just like the American Jobs Act did.

What does the Republican budget say about this? Instead of investing in infrastructure, something Americans understand we need, they cut transportation spending by a quarter over the next decade. By next year, transportation funding would be halved from this year. How does this create an environment where we can create jobs and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure?

I hope that one day Americans will recognize that politicians weren’t created equal. I hope that they’ll realize that both parties don’t stand for the same thing, and I hope that then they’ll vote out the Republicans holding our nation’s future hostage. Maybe then we’ll be able to sort out this country’s problems, but until then we might be forced to live with a further deteriorating infrastructure, and a weak economic recovery.

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PA Voter IDs- A Solution in Search of a Problem


As Pennsylvania becomes yet another state to introduce laws requiring photo identification to be presented in order to vote, Republicans sponsoring the bill fail to present any evidence of voter fraud being a problem. The bill passed 26-23 in the state Senate, with all Democrats and three Republicans voting against it.

Quite simply, the bill, by its very nature, makes it harder for people to vote. Although most people already have photo IDs, what about the people who don’t? That’s 11% of the voting-age population. More significantly, it disproportionatly affects seniors, minorities, and the poor. 18% of seniors, 25% of African Americans, and 15% of individuals making under $35,000 don’t have photo IDs necessary to comply with this law. Seniors and the poor are exactly the sort of people who lack the mobility needed to get to the DMV to get the identification they need. They might even lack the documentation needed to get the IDs in the first place, such as birth certificates, which aren’t free to obtain.

However, this law doesn’t just burdon those without photo IDs. It burdons every taxpayer of Pennsylvania. This law could cost over $10 million to put into effect. This is happening at a time when the state faces a large budget deficit, and has had to make numerous painful cuts in areas such as education.

So what does this result to? A bill that makes it harder for people to vote, while at the same time adding to an already-bad budget situation. This isn’t just a solution in search of a problem- this is a creation of many new problems.

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Pakistan Puts Key US Informant on Trial- and yet This Is Our Ally?


Once again, Pakistan, a country that we give over $1.6 billion in aid to annually and supposedly one of our allies in the Middle East, has shown that they’re anything but friendly to us. We bombard many of our enemies with sanctions or worse, whether they be Iraq, Cuba, Iran, or Syria. This time, they’ve started a trial for treason against a Pakistani doctor who provided important information that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. That’s right, the same Osama bin Laden that they probably knew about anyway. But Pakistan- which, despite not being listed by the US as a state sponser of terrorism, meets every definition of the word. Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), has been supporting terrorist attacks, ranging from the July 2005 attacks in London, the assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in June 2008, or the July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy. The military helicopter that was downed in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, instead of being returned to the United States as a good ally would do, was “donated” to our good friends the Chinese.

Quite simply, Pakistan does not view the United States as a long-term force in the Middle East. It has its own ambitions, and by supporting militant organizations within both itself and Afghanistan, it is securing allies to prop up its government and gaining influence in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan also views those militant groups as ones that it can use to keep Indian influence out of what it considers to be “its” sphere of influence as well.

Yet we still give them aid. Aid that, given our deficit, we can’t really afford. And that aid isn’t spent on what it should be spent- officials claim that 70% of it was misspent from 2002-2007. Although we currently depend on them to wage a war in Afghanistan, we should recognize that Pakistan is one of the main reasons for why we’re not winning that war. It’s time to put an end to throwing money at a lost cause, and instead work on countries in that region who actually are our allies, such as India. If Pakistan decides to get its act together, stop supporting militant organizations, and actually helps its supposed allies, then we’ll talk.

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Obama’s Path to Victory in 2012


2012 will be a close election. By now, even though Newt Gingrich is surging in the polls, gaining momentum, and is even leading in Florida by some accounts, Mitt Romney is still the likely nominee of the Republican Party. That means that in November, it’ll be a choice between Romney and Obama- a choice, not a referendum as some may claim.

Although all groups are important, there are 4 in particular that are crucial to this election: Hispanics, blue-collar whites, African Americans, and seniors. The first three are especially critical in keeping certain parts of the map blue, while seniors can play a role in putting Obama over the top in some borderline cases.

Crucialvotingbloc2012

In this map, I’ve divided the area into three regions. The blue “Rust Belt” states are where blue-collar workers will play the deciding role. The purple areas are where Hispanics can put Obama over the top. The red areas are places where turnout will be key for Obama, particularly among African Americans.

Blue-collar workers have never loved Obama. In Pennsylvania, an important swing state, he lost them by 15% last election. Luckily for him, they don’t love Romney. Both Obama and Romney are millionaires and have been criticized as being elitist. Given the choice between the two of them, I’d say that they’d be more likely to choose Obama over Romney, especially when his record on Bain Capital becomes more and more publicized in those Rust Belt states- which is something that the Obama campaign will be doing. If Obama can keep his margin of defeat among blue-collar whites down in those states, or even match Romney’s performance among them, he should be able to keep Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin in his column, while writing off Indiana as a probable loss. Democrats saw revived energy in Wisconsin when they recalled two state senators in the summer, in Ohio when they beat an anti-union Senate Bill 5 by popular referendum with a vote of 61.33% against it, and once again in Wisconsin when they turned in one million signatures to recall Governor Scott Walker this month. If that energy keeps up until November, it will only help Obama win those states, but also help senators in those areas struggling for re-election. Scott Walker’s recall election in the upcoming summer will be an important gauge of this Democratic energy.

Hispanics are a traditional Democratic voting bloc. Although they don’t usually line up with them on social issues, they do support Democrats on economic issues and immigration. Hispanics aren’t crazy about Obama anymore, but a majority still support him according to a Gallop tracking poll. However, they absolutely hate Romney. Immigration is an important issue for Hispanics, 85% of Latinos supported the Dream Act, Obama supports the Dream Act- Romney said that he’d veto it if it were passed. He’s had similar hardliner policies across the board on immigration. Although Obama has record numbers for deportations of illegal immigrants in his term, he has recently been making more pro-Hispanic comments to woo their vote, such as promoting the Dream Act and other immigration reform, visiting swing states with many Hispanics, and appearing on the Spanish language network Univision. Obama shouldn’t have difficulty winning Nevada (where Reid narrowly won an unlikely re-election thanks to the Hispanic vote) and New Mexico, and should also win Colorado. He’s polling about evenly with Romney in Florida, but that could change if he starts actively pumping money in there and connecting Romney with the disastrous Governor Rick Scott. Finally, Arizona is competitive this year. It wasn’t competitive last time because it was John McCain’s home state, but this time, with its growing Hispanic population, I can see it going over to the Democratic column, which is important for long-term politics. Hispanics can also provide the necessary votes to win victories in states like Pennsylvania or Ohio, if they’re close.

Finally, there’s the African American group. They have been solidly Democratic- and support him with a 90%+ approval rating. Enthusiasm, however, is the key to his victory. That enthusiasm in 2008 provided the turnout that won him Virginia and North Carolina. Quite simply, turnout is key here. If he can energize them and get them to the polls, he wins.

These are just three of the many groups that Obama will probably be trying to appeal to as he continues in the 2012 campaign. At the moment, I’m predicting fairly reliable victories for him in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Pennsylania, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan- all currently considered swing states. After that, he’ll have 268 electoral votes, which means that he’ll only need one of the following states- Arizona, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, or Florida- to win the election.

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2012 – Senate Democrats in Trouble


There are 33 senate seats up in 2012. Currently Democrats have a narrow majority of 53 (that’s including two independents). However, out of those 33 seats that will be contested in 2012 are 23 Democratic seats and only 10 Republican seats. This map shows the states that will have Senate elections in 2012, with red being seats currently held by Republicans, and blue being seats currently held by Democrats:

Now here’s a map of overall political leanings by state. Red means solid Republican, orange means leans Republican, light blue means leans Democrat, and dark blue means solid Democrat.

See the problem? In the first map, you notice a bunch of states that are blue, and not so many that are red. If you compare the first map to the second map, you’ll notice that quite a number of those blue states on the first map are red or orange on the second. How can this be? They were the aftermath of the sweeping results of the 2006 election, which brought Democrats to power in many traditionally Republican areas. With the public angry over the economic situation in the country, and the Democratic majority being so slim in the Senate, losing the Senate is a very likely possibility.

There are only a handful of states that Democrats can possibly take from Republicans, which could help ease their losses. These are Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada. In Maine, Olympia Snowe is running for re-election. After her colleague Susan Collins’ strong victory in 2008, it seems as though the only thing that could unseat this moderate Republican would be a primary defeat to a Tea Party member, as close to 60% of Maine Republicans are saying they would rather support a more conservative challenger. However, such a challenger has not yet appeared, and unless one does this seat will remain Republican (although some may call it “Republican in name only”).

Massachusetts is a different story. This has been a solidly Democratic state for years, and Scott Brown only took office in 2010 after a special election following the death of popular Senator Ted Kennedy. Scott Brown still has strong support, and will only be unseated if a strong Democratic candidate emergees. It is possible, and it’s too early to predict anything for this seat.

Nevada is where Democrats have the highest hopes of winning at least one new seat. Democrats held on to Reid’s Nevada seat last year, when many other Democrats were unseated. The resignation of former Senator John Ensign vacated the seat temporarily and creates more hopes for Democrats. Dean Heller, who took over Ensign’s vacated seat, is running for re-election against Representative Shelley Berkley. Although Heller started off well, his support has dwindled since the start of the year and the odds are now favoring Berkley.

What of the Democratic seats? Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Missouri, Florida, Virginia and Ohio are all vulnerable. Nebraska and North Dakota losses are almost certain at this time. Montana is a true tossup, as incumbent Jon Tester is somehow still keeping on to the narrow plurality that he won by in 2006. Tim Kaine, who is leading the Democratic primary polls in Virginia, also has a slight lead in general election polls. Missouri is yet another close race, as incumbent Claire McCaskill will likely lose his lead in the polls as Republicans group behind a single candidate. Ohio and Florida, although swing states, are probably going to remain Democratic unless the political climate gets much worse for Democrats soon.

As for the other seats, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are all possibly weak Democratic seats, but they’re probably going to hold. Senator Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania has been comfortably leading every poll, despite a (narrow) Republican senate pickup in that state last year. In Wisconsin, incumbent Senator Herb Kohl’s retirement is making this more competitive, although all likely Democratic nominees are still polling very strongly in the state. West Virginia depends on the nominee, but it’s also likely that Democrat Joe Manchin will stay in office.

What does this mean? It means that Democrats will probably pick up one new Senate seat, and maybe a second. However, they’re certainly going to lose at least two (North Dakota and Nebraska), and I’d also say that they’re going to lose Missouri and Montana, and possibly Virginia. Virginia I’m still writing as a Democratic hold, so my final say is that it’s looking like a 50-50 Senate split at the moment, although with odds being stronger for a Republican majority than a Democratic one.

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A Responsible Way to Fix the Budget Without Destroying the Future


As I mentioned in my last blog post, our budget needs fixing. Revenues have decreased since 2000, thanks both to this recession and the massive tax cuts that both the Obama and the Bush administrations have been making. Spending, however, on just about everything imaginable has increased. That’s not a recipe for a healthy budget or a healthy country, but here is my proposal for a budget that will be balanced in 2015. At the end of every item I am including the savings for the 2015 budget in parenthesis. I am using the CBO estimate of a $500 billion budget deficit in 2015, which is noticeably smaller than it is today because it takes into account increased post-recession tax revenue.

Spending Cuts:

-Cut foreign aid in half. People are angry about supporting Pakistan, and people are also angry about Israel refusing to listen to America. Take that and aid to some other countries and spend it here invest- spend it to fix our deficit problem! ($10 billion)

-Eliminate farming, oil and gas subsidies. ($21 billion)

-Cut federal employee pay by 5%. It’s better than firing them, and they’re lucky that they survived this recession intact anyway. ($14 billion)

-Cut nuclear arsenal down to 1,050 warheads, reduce Minuteman missile amounts, cut funding for nuclear, missile and space warfare R&D. The Soviet Union isn’t an enemy anymore, and Russia is cutting its nuclear arsenal too. Besides, 1,000 warheads is still more than enough to destroy the world if we feel like it. ($19 billion)

-Cut the military down to pre-2003 levels, and limit the deployment in Europe and Asia to 100,000. ($25 billion)

-Remove all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan by 2014. ($60 billion)

-Cap Medicare growth to 1% + GDP growth starting in 2013. This will crack down on hospitals and doctors who are spending too much at the expense of government Medicare money. ($29 billion)

-Cap Social Security benefit increase to the rate of inflation for people with high incomes. ($6 billion)

-Reduce military compensation for veterans who were not wounded in combat ($23 billion)

-Raise Medicare retirement age to 67 and increase premiums for the wealthy. This follows a plan recently proposed in the Senate for fixing Medicare. ($60 billion)

-Add a public option for “Obamacare”. It’s a valuable cost saving tool that will prevent health care costs from spiraling out of control. ($15 billion)

Increased Revenue:

Return to Clinton-era taxes:

-Estate tax exemption of $1 million. Rate starts at 18% and increases to 55% starting at $3 million. Currently the exemption is at $5 million with a top rate of 35%. ($38 billion)

-Tax dividends as ordinary income and tax capital gains at 10% for low-income households and 20% for everyone else. ($32 billion)

-End all Bush income tax cuts, equal to about a 2% increase for everyone. ($172 billion)

Other increased revenue:

-Readjust the payroll tax for Medicare and Social Security ceiling to cover 90% of all income, as it was intended to. Currently it covers about 80%. ($50 billion)

-Add a new tax bracket for millionaires, giving them a 5.4% surtax. ($50 billion)

-Overhaul tax system under the Bowles-Simpson Plan, eliminating many loopholes and tax breaks while also cutting tax rates. ($100 billion)

-Add a carbon tax of $23 per ton of CO2, increasing annually by 5.8% ($40 billion)

New Investments:

-Invest $10 billion to the Department of Energy for energy efficiency and clean energy research and development. This is almost double the budget of the DOE, and will not just create savings on energy, but will create new high-tech jobs and promote energy independence. This would be paid for by eliminating the tax breaks for oil and gas.

-$250 billion in infrastructure investment. You might have seen the infrastructure report card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers back a few years ago- the average grade was a D. America’s infrastructure has long lacked solid and dedicated investment, and it’s time for that to change. Infrastructure creates jobs, both to create it and by the use that it serves the country. It can’t be neglected, even when trimming the budget. Here is where some of the money would go:
 -$11 billion for replacing aged drinking water treatment facilities.
 -$15 billion for replacing aged wastewater treatment and sewage facilities.
 -$20 billion for road expansion and repairs, which will cut down on excessive wear and tear on vehicles, improve road quality and improve driver safety.
 -$50 billion for dam repairs, of which $16 billion will go to high-hazard dams.
 -$18 billion for improving transit safety and conditions.

There we go, $764 billion in decreased spending or increased revenue, combined with $260 billion in increased expenses. That’s roughly enough to solve the deficit problem and at the same time providing necessary investment for the future. You might notice that the amount of spending cuts that I proposed is almost equal to the amount of spending increases I’ve proposed. That is correct, but the infrastructure expenses would only need to be that higher for maybe a decade, after which most of that money could be cut and we’d have an infrastructure system to be proud of.

Other nice spending cuts that I’d suggest considering are cutting the size of the federal workforce, decreasing the amount of government contractors, cutting aid to states, cutting additional unnecessary projects from the DoD, freezing all discretionary spending, enacting a gas tax and more. However, given the fragile state of the economy, those actions have the strong potential of hurting economic recovery too much, and is best left for a later time.

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A Look at Our Debt and How We Got Here


Rumor has it that the federal government has a bit of a money problem. For the fiscal year 2010, only 62.6% of the spending in the government budget was paid by taxes. Take away Social Security from the picture, since including that in the overall budget is just another form of borrowing, and you get 47.1%. That’s about $1.5 trillion that isn’t paid for by anything that the government takes in, other than borrowed money. About $200 billion of that is interest, and at the rate we’re borrowing money, that interest expense is going to keep on rising. I’m not a deficit hawk, far from it, but I can see a problem when it’s staring me right in the face, jumping up and down and flailing its arms around.

What does the government receive in revenue? There are, of course, corporate taxes. This brings in about $200 billion at a tax rate of 15-35%, depending on the taxable income of the corporation. That’s a typical corporate tax rate for industrialized countries (35%, however, is among the highest in the world), although many have ones at around 25%. What makes America special is that is has plenty of loopholes and tax exemptions so that some large corporations don’t have to pay any taxes, which clearly hurts government revenue. We used to get 32% of our income from corporate taxes back in 1952, but now that’s down to 9%. Corporate tax reform is needed to make sure that companies pay their fair share of taxes, although, for the sake of jobs, the corporate tax rate could be lowered to make America more competitive worldwide.

Moving on to the mysterious phenonemon that causes your paycheck to appear much lighter than you think it should be, otherwise known as the personal income tax. This accounts for about 70% of government revenue when social security is taken out of the picture (and social security income also comes from its own income tax). Americans in general are not taxed very highly. According to the Tax Policy Center, in 2006 U.S. taxes (all levels) accounted for 28% of its GDP, while the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average, which includes most developed countries, was 36%, with most European countries being over 40%. Although most OECD countries rely more on consumption than income taxes, it still stands that Americans are not “over-taxed”.  Breaking down the amount that the government receives- it received 21% of its GDP in taxes in 2000 (note that in 2006 the 28% I mentioned earlier counted taxes on all levels of government). As a result of the Bush tax cuts, this fell to 16% in 2004 and got to below 15% by 2009/2010.

Since I brought up the Bush tax cuts, I’ll discuss them more. In 2000, when we had a decent budget surplus following the Clinton administration, individual income taxes were 10.3% of the GDP, yet this fell by 3.3% following the Bush tax cuts, which was accompanied by a 0.5% of GDP drop in corporate taxes and 0.4% of GDP drop in payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. We should have had a surplus of $5.6 trillion from 2002-2011, but needless to say that never happened. Tax rates changed after Bush took office, going from 39.6% for the wealthiest (15% for the poorest) to 35% and 10%, respectively. This resulted in lost revenues totalling about $2 trillion, or about 14% of our total national debt. Then we can add $1.2 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $800 billion for the stimulus package (yay, more tax cuts), $50 billion annually for Medicare Part D, a few hundred billion annually in interest payments, and that’s how we got from a $5.6 trillion debt and a budget surplus to where we are today. Tomorrow I’ll write about a possible solution for the debt problem, but it won’t be pretty and it’ll involve things that both Democrats and Republicans would love and hate. It’ll involve tax increases, tax reform, spending increases, very large spending decreases, and in the end it’ll be something that will be painful to look at. However, a debt this big is too big too be political- it’s an issue of national security and stability.

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