Even in a flailing economy, many Texans in Congress have seen their personal net worth swell - and 17 of the state's 34 representatives on Capitol Hill have emerged from the recession with money in the millions.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat representing a downtown Houston district, boosted her estimated net worth over the four years from $175,505 to $935,005, with investments shifting from insurance to commercial banking.
05 March 2012
02 March 2012
The Senate of today routinely jettisons regular order, as evidenced by the body’s failure to pass a budget for more than 1,000 days; serially legislates by political brinkmanship, as demonstrated by the debt-ceiling debacle of August that should have been addressed the previous January; and habitually eschews full debate and an open amendment process in favor of competing, up-or-down, take-it-or-leave-it proposals.
The great challenge is to create a system that gives our elected officials reasons to look past their differences and find common ground if their initial party positions fail to garner sufficient support. In a politically diverse nation, only by finding that common ground can we achieve results for the common good. That is not happening today and, frankly, I do not see it happening in the near future.
For change to occur, our leaders must understand that there is not only strength in compromise, courage in conciliation and honor in consensus-building — but also a political reward for following these tenets. That reward will be real only if the people demonstrate their desire for politicians to come together after the planks in their respective party platforms do not prevail.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, and reversing the corrosive trend of winner-take-all politics will take time. But as I enter a new chapter in my life, I see a critical need to engender public support for the political center, for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us.
You read about other politicians with the same concerns. Why has our politics become so divided? Is it a generational thing, and because of some mind-set of the baby-boom generation? It is the rise of cable television channels? A shift in our culture?
It is because of the increased centralization of power in the federal government. The federal government has too much power, too much money, too much control. Issues, decisions, and money that used to be distributed to the states and localities has now all been concentrated in Washington. The result is toxic.
With just 545 people (435+100+9+1) lording it over the activities and income of some 300 million plus Americans, gaining access to - or a sense of obligation from - one of these precious empowered few is poisoning our entire political and economic culture. The stakes for those involved are just too high. So every decision point, every angle, every advantage, has to be fought over in a herculean life or death struggle.
As long as decision making is increasingly concentration in the federal government, as long as the federal government intrudes into personal life, and long as business are dependent on federal regulatory whims, then politics will grow ever more fraught with corruption, manufactured partisanship and vitriol. The question is, will the trend towards centralization reverse itself before the system irrevocably breaks down?
If the United States commits to the goal of reaching Mars, it will almost certainly do so in reaction to the progress of other nations -- as was the case with NASA, the Apollo program, and the project that became the International Space Station.
Last December, China released an official strategy paper describing an ambitious five-year plan to advance its space capabilities.When it comes to its space programs, China is not in the habit of proffering grand but empty visions. Far from it: the country has an excellent track record of matching promises with achievements.
The partisanship surrounding space exploration and the retrenching of U.S. space policy are part of a more general trend: the decline of science in the United States. As its interest in science wanes, the country loses ground to the rest of the industrialized world in every measure of technological proficiency.
Clearly defined, goal-oriented support for specific outcomes in specific fields may yield evolutionary advances, but cross-pollination involving a diversity of sciences much more readily encourages revolutionary discoveries. And nothing spurs cross-pollination like space exploration, which draws from the ranks of astrophysicists, biologists, chemists, engineers, planetary geologists, and subspecialists in those fields. Without healthy federal support for the space program, ambitions calcify, and the economy that once thrived on a culture of innovation retreats from the world stage.
Many will ask, “Why are we spending billion of dollars up there in space when we have pressing problems down here on Earth?” That question should be replaced by a more illuminating one: “As a fraction of one of my tax dollars today, what is the total cost of all U.S. spaceborne telescopes and planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the recently terminated space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?” The answer is one-half of one penny. During the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending (in 1965–66) amounted to a bit more than four cents on the tax dollar. If the United States restored funding for NASA to even a quarter of that level -- a penny on the tax dollar -- the country could reclaim its preeminence in a field that shaped its twentieth-century ascendancy.
Even as Republicans wage a bitter, intra-party feud for the right to challenge President Obama a group called Americans Elect is steadily building support — and a 50-state infrastructure — for a bipartisan ticket that could challenge both parties for the White House.
That effort will get a fresh push on Tuesday from David Boren, a former Democratic senator and governor from Oklahoma who backed Mr. Obama in 2008 but says he is now looking for a way to provide “electric shock therapy” to the political system.“The country is going to really be in deep trouble if we don’t act soon,” Mr. Boren, who is now president of the University of Oklahoma, said in an interview with The Caucus. “I think this is really a cry from many of us who are really concerned for the future of the country.”
Mr. Boren is part of a small, but growing cadre of politicians from both sides of the aisle who are expressing displeasure with the political system — and the political gridlock it is producing. Just last week, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, voiced support for a third party, saying that the two-party system was broken.
01 March 2012
28 February 2012
"The path to the future now looks more like a series of very hard engineering problems rather than an uphill fight against physics."
Of all the events that have happened recently, the politics, the economy, Greek debt crisis, what have you, this is the kind of quiet background technological development that is more important than any of that other stuff we discuss.
In my lifetime, I have seen incredible advances in computing. Get quantum computing figured out, then progress will really accelerate.
N.Y Times: I.B.M. Researchers Inch Toward Quantum Computer
“In the past, people have said, maybe it’s 50 years away, it’s a dream, maybe it’ll happen sometime,” said Mark B. Ketchen, manager of the physics of information group at I.B.M.’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. “I used to think it was 50. Now I’m thinking like it’s 15 or a little more. It’s within reach. It’s within our lifetime. It’s going to happen.”
These days, the path to the future now looks more like a series of very hard engineering problems rather than an uphill fight against physics.
For certain problems like searching databases or factoring very large numbers — the basis of today’s encryption techniques — quantum computers could produce an answer in days or maybe even seconds, whereas the fastest conventional computer would take longer than 13.7 billion years.
27 February 2012
When I was a kid, they would give out the Academy award for animated shorts, and of course, there was no way to ever see them.
The Atlantic: Project Icarus: Laying the Plans for Interstellar Travel
To be sure, the bundle of technologies that could conceivably send a spacecraft to another star won't be here within the decade, or even within several, but neither are those technologies mere magical realism -- indeed, planning for their development has begun in earnest.More about Project Icarus can be found here: Icarus Interstellar
Could tiny organisms carried by house cats be creeping into our brains, causing everything from car wrecks to schizophrenia?But if Flegr is right, the “latent” parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents.And that’s not all. He also believes that the organism contributes to car crashes, suicides, and mental disorders such as schizophrenia. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.”
The first question was resolved in the 19th century after numerous court decisions: it does not matter when the vacancy itself was created. The latter question — what constitutes a recess?— is still of much dispute, and is one of the reasons that today’s action by the President is controversial.President Obama is making an appointment during a three-day intra-session recess of the Senate; if allowed to stand, such a precedent would go beyond even the most expansive current reading of the clause, one offered by the Justice Department on behalf of the executive in the past — that the Senate must be in recess for at least three days before a valid intra-session recess appointment can be made. (The President is also apparently arguing that the Senate is not even really in session — insert Whig head explosion here — but we’ll get to that in a minute.)What we don’t want to end up in is a situation in which it has become the norm for the President to use recess appointments as the primary mechanism of filling the judiciary or the Executive Branch with judges/officers.
25 February 2012
The Hill: Santorum: US would lose its 'very essence' if Obama reelected
It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice.
That's the way your hard-core Commie works. I first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love... Yes, a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I — I was able to interpret these feelings correctly.
Loss of essence. I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women, er, women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake...but I do deny them my essence.
24 February 2012
NY Times: Donors With Agendas
Just two dozen or so individuals, couples and companies have given more than 80 percent of the money collected by super PACs, or $54 million, according to disclosure forms released on Monday.
Many are involved in businesses or ideological causes that have clear policy agendas with the federal government. Their huge influence on individual candidates demonstrates the potential for corruption inherent in the super PAC era.
Until a few weeks ago, the president might have credibly campaigned against the undue influence of special interests on his Republican rivals. He can no longer make the case because, after his PAC received only $58,816 last month, Mr. Obama invited donors to give without limits.
And all but the most privileged Americans will pay the price if the nation’s wealthiest can buy elections.
But just as with most businesses in the U.S., debt collectors have been hit with declining margins since 2008 and have been forced to make cuts in their workforce.
While government has a legitimate and valuable role in basic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research, it is a lousy venture capitalist and is largely incapable of picking winning technologies in the market.
Government, like a really bad surgeon, sings the praises of patients it heals and buries those it mangles, quietly when it can, and loudly blaming others when it can’t.
Distorting the economy is not ... an unwanted side effect of Obama's proposals; it is his avowed aim, because he thinks he knows how resources should be distributed better than the market does.
As long as we have leaders with this kind of overblown faith in their own knowledge, wisdom, and competence, we will have "a tax system that's a complex, inefficient, and loophole-riddled mess."
23 February 2012
Courier Mail: Aussie woman scammed Nigerians: court
A Brisbane woman fleeced Nigerian scam artists by stealing more than $30,000 from their internet car sales racket, a court has been told.
What if the law were biased, not toward the oil and gas industry or the cotton farmers, but to the creative, the self-employed, and the entrepreneurs?But since such an approach might threaten a vested interest that has, at great expense, captured the system, it's probably not a good idea to get our hopes up.
This isn't industrial planning. It's not about picking winners. It's making rules that increase the odds that entrepreneurs play the game in the hope that many of them will win.
[W]hat if the law were biased, not toward the oil and gas industry or the cotton farmers, but toward the creative, the self-employed, and the entrepreneurs? What if we combined a liberal approach toward mitigating risk for startups with a conservative approach toward taxing and regulating established corporations?
The result might be more people playing the entrepreneur's game, more entrepreneurs winning the game and ramping up their companies, and more companies to hire more workers.
The media machine that desperately wants Barack Obama re-elected has turned its focus on what it says are good unemployment numbers. The truth, though, is the job climate in America is miserable. While the media and the administration portray the most recent jobs number — 8.3% unemployment — as good economic news, more sober minds understand what's really going on.So how can anyone support another term? Two reasons. First, the Republican candidates are pathetic. Just pathetic. Yet another illustration of the desperate need for additional political parties. But that's another post.
Even worse for an administration straining to make the case that it deserves to be around for another four years is the real unemployment rate. It's not 8.3%, but closer to 15%, a figure that reflects those who "would like to work but have not searched for a job in the past four weeks as well as those who are working part time but would prefer full-time work," says the CBO.
Another White House problem comes from this in the CBO report: "The share of unemployed people looking for work for more than six months — referred to as the long-term unemployed — topped 40% in December 2009 for the first time since 1948, when such data began to be collected; it has remained above that level ever since."
The CBO data aren't isolated. Gallup reports that its unemployment rate based on weekly surveys stands at 9%, while underemployment is at a hefty 19%.
Also threatening Obama's re-election offensive is the nation's shrinking labor force (see chart). Many laid-off workers, frustrated by grim prospects, have stopped looking for jobs and are no longer in the labor pool.
That makes the jobless rate look better, as that number is a percentage of the labor force, not the overall national population. But those jobless Americans are real people who will cast real votes in November.
The trouble is fixing these facts in voters' minds. They need to know the full truth, not the half-truth the media and the White House feed them.
The other would be increased dependency on the government, and a desire to get even more benefits. The trend of recent government policies is to reward the irresponsible while punishing the productive and responsible. If we haven't already reached a "tipping point" we are well on our way.
Two trends worth noting:
From the Social Security Administration: Trends in the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Disability Programs
The total cost of cash benefits for the Social Security disability program has increased dramatically since its inception. Since 1990 the total cost of disability has risen 93 percent in real terms (160 percent in nominal terms).Mail Online: HALF of Americans don't pay income tax despite crippling government debt
Much of the increase in costs for Social Security disability benefits is due to increases in the number of beneficiaries.
Since 1990, the number of disabled-worker beneficiaries has increased 84 percent; disabled 105 percent; and disabled adult children, 24 percent.
Only half of U.S. citizens pay federal income tax, according to the latest available figures.
Another finding by the Heritage Foundation shows that 21.8 per cent of U.S. citizens receive financial assistance from the federal government.
This means that 67.3million people - a record high - are 'dependent on the federal government', excluding government employees who rely on the public sector for their salaries.
The conjunction of fewer taxpayers with higher welfare payments has led to intense pressure on the public purse, with the national deficit running at $1.3trillion per year.
The Heritage Foundation argues that the reduction in the number of taxpayers will create an electorate dominated by non-taxpayers, who will always support higher taxes and spending because their own money is not at stake.
Time to Attack Iran: Why a Strike Is the Least Bad Option
Fearing the costs of a bombing campaign, most critics maintain that if these other tactics fail to impede Tehran’s progress, the United States should simply learn to live with a nuclear Iran.The article linked to above prompted a response, also worth reading, The Case For Regime Change in Iran: Go Big -- Then Go Home
But skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease -- that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption.
The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.
[A] limited military strike would only be a temporary fix, and it could actually do the opposite of what it intends -- drive the program further underground and allow Iran to retain the ability to threaten the United States and its allies.Wow. So the argument against hitting Iran nuclear sites is that it doesn't go far enough? Maybe. At the link are other articles arguing we shouldn't strike at all, and that sanctions will change the Iranian regime's course. The problem is that time and time again, brutal regimes are capable of inflicting much misery and suffering on the people, and still stay in power for prolonged periods. There just doesn't seem to be any good options in dealing with Iran.
If the United States seriously considers military action, it would be better to plan an operation that not only strikes the nuclear program but aims to destabilize the regime, potentially resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis once and for all.
22 February 2012
Because the whole issue is a twisty turny maze which at times seems to consist of nothing but false moves, I am presenting it in the form of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.
The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age.
The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in.
Millions of Americans are conservatives and even reactionaries but think of themselves as “liberals”; at the same time, millions of genuine liberals and even radicals call themselves conservative. It’s an unholy mess that calls desperately for a language intervention.
Liberalism insists that an open, dynamic society will lead to a better life for all, and that promoting ordered liberty is the morally obligatory as well as the pragmatically desirable thing to do.
Nobody has a real answer for the restructuring of manufacturing and the loss of jobs to automation and outsourcing. As long as we are stuck with the current structures, nobody can provide the growing levels of medical and educational services we want without bankrupting the country.
Neither “liberals” nor “conservatives” can end the generation-long stagnation in the wage level of ordinary American families. Neither can stop the accelerating erosion of the fiscal strength of our governments at all levels without disastrous reductions in the benefits and services on which many Americans depend.This should be a time of adventure, innovation and creativity in the building of liberalism 5.0. America is ready for an upgrade to a new and higher level; indeed, we are overdue for a project that can capture the best energies of our rising generations, those who will lead the United States and the world to new and richer ways of living that will make the “advanced” societies of the 20th century look primitive, backward and unfulfilled.We’ve wasted too many years arguing over how to retrieve the irretrievable; can we please now get on with the actual business of this great, liberal, unapologetically forward-looking nation?