Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Did We Learn Nothing?

After years of disappointment and decline, we have chosen to re-elect the same policies that have left us stuck in the mud and economic malaise these past 4 years. Have voters totally stopped learning from their mistakes, or did they just really not like Mitt Romney? Either way, I am concerned at this outcome since it makes me wonder what our priorities really are in this country. We claim that the economy is our #1 concern, but then we don’t vote for the candidate we also think (by the polls) would be better at fixing the economy. Polls show that we voted based off racial identities and vague feelings of likability or “caring” instead of logic and platforms. We want to blame our politicians for the problems we’re facing, but then weren’t willing to vote for new ones. We voted for negativity instead of change or positivity, a total flip from 2008 election, but ended up with the same result. Regardless of the reasons, we have chosen to re-elect a divisive politician that has shown little ability to reunite our fractured political landscape or manage the problems we face as a nation. As such, anyone expecting big progress or big solutions in the next four years is likely to be disappointed. The political gridlock will continue, and regardless of “efforts” on both sides, the economic difficulties and pending crises in our entitlement programs will continue to be kicked down the road.

I hope that without the political pressure of re-election he was so focused on that the President will be more effective in his leadership. I also hope that the fact almost as many citizens in our country voted against him as for him will be a wake-up call. I hope we see a better four years ahead of us than the last four, but I certainly don’t expect it. Congratulations to President Obama on a hard fought and well played (and unfortunately nasty) campaign, now change the game in D.C. like you promised to 4 years ago and actually try to work with people on the other side of the aisle. Now all your actions will only affect the legacy you leave. Make it one worth leaving.


Did We Learn Nothing?

After years of disappointment and decline, we have chosen to re-elect the same policies that have left us stuck in the mud and economic malaise these past 4 years. Have voters totally stopped learning from their mistakes, or did they just really not like Mitt Romney? Either way, I am concerned at this outcome since it makes me wonder what our priorities really are in this country. We claim that the economy is our #1 concern, but then we don’t vote for the candidate we also think (by the polls) would be better at fixing the economy. Polls show that we voted based off racial identities and vague feelings of likability or “caring” instead of logic and platforms. We want to blame our politicians for the problems we’re facing, but then weren’t willing to vote for new ones. We voted for negativity instead of change or positivity, a total flip from 2008 election, but ended up with the same result. Regardless of the reasons, we have chosen to re-elect a divisive politician that has shown little ability to reunite our fractured political landscape or manage the problems we face as a nation. As such, anyone expecting big progress or big solutions in the next four years is likely to be disappointed. The political gridlock will continue, and regardless of “efforts” on both sides, the economic difficulties and pending crises in our entitlement programs will continue to be kicked down the road.

I hope that without the political pressure of re-election he was so focused on that the President will be more effective in his leadership. I also hope that the fact almost as many citizens in our country voted against him as for him will be a wake-up call. I hope we see a better four years ahead of us than the last four, but I certainly don’t expect it. Congratulations to President Obama on a hard fought and well played (and unfortunately nasty) campaign, now change the game in D.C. like you promised to 4 years ago and actually try to work with people on the other side of the aisle. Now all your actions will only affect the legacy you leave. Make it one worth leaving.


Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I'll Be Voting for Romney

I’m rarely this bold with writing about my political preferences on an individual candidate, but considering there are only two (real) options at this point, I figured there’s no point in pretending to be objective. I’m not going to go into deep detail here, everyone reading this is well informed enough to make their own decisions and vote according to their own priorities, but I have been asked by some of my (less informed) liberal friends “How could you vote for Romney?” as if it were akin to beating a puppy. As such, I decided to make my last minute case for why I’ll be voting for Mitt Romney in hopes that you can at least understand, even if you disagree.
He has the experience we need: Okay, so a lot of people don’t like Romney. There are a variety of reasons, some valid, some silly, but I can understand why he’s not the most popular guy on the block. Regardless, his resume (love it or hate it) reads like the perfect applicant for the job position right now. We have a country that is in bad financial shape and getting worse, and a candidate that has experience at… turning around under-performing or near bankrupt businesses. Sure, they’re not exactly the same thing, but they’re a heck of a lot closer than some people would like to believe. He’s proven that he can balance budgets and spend within his means, a lesson our country desperately needs to learn right now. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be fun, but it needs to be done and Romney is the only candidate right now that has a resume showing he’s willing to get the job done.
He’s a leader: I can already hear the Obama fans starting to type angry replies. “You mean President Obama isn’t?!?!” Well, yes and no. I certainly don’t deny that it takes a great deal of strength and leadership capability to achieve the highest political office in the country. However, once he obtained that position he quit acting like a leader. Leaders don’t make excuses or blame their predecessors. Leaders don’t shift blame and focus away from their own short comings to put it on the people they work with. Leaders don’t base policy off the winds of political convenience. What leaders should do is develop a plan they intend to follow and keep their focus on their goals even when others doubt them. Leaders unite opposing views, they don’t deepen the divide. Leaders fix problems, they don’t push them off on future generations. Romney has shown, as a (moderate) Republican leading a solidly Democratic state, that he can be that kind of leader. Whether some of the President’s loyal followers are willing to realize it or not, we do not have a leader capable of uniting the opposing factions running our country right now, and until we have that kind of leadership, we will not break out of this unproductive political gridlock, and things are only going to get worse.
He’s not interested in expanding the government: This is the one that matters a lot to people regardless of their political affiliation (but I know it’s especially crucial to my libertarian friends). Romney has made it clear that his plan for getting the US economy and day-to-day government functioning back on track is shrinking the government. This is a clear distinction between himself and President Obama. This is not to imply that all Republicans are for small government, President Bush oversaw dramatic increases in government reach, intrusion, and overall size, but it is to explain that this Republican candidate disagrees both with his challenger and his predecessors over the role government should play in our lives. The simple math shows that the government has gotten larger, and most people believe that the government alone is not the answer to our economic problems and expanding it is a redistribution of resources to less productive measures at best. (Most economists flat out say that it’s a band-aid fix, and a dangerous one.) The President has shown that he thinks a government-centered approach to fixing the economy is the best path through his words as well as his actions. Romney’s intent to trim the government down will not please everyone, but history and economic theory suggests we’d be better off in the long run.
And finally, the one people like least:
“He’s not President Obama”: I hate it when people say things like this, so I can imagine what you all think as well, but let me explain what I mean by this. I don’t mean that it’s worth voting for Mitt Romney simply because he’s not Barack Obama, that would imply that Obama is somehow the political devil and anyone is better. I disagree with that view. I would suggest that Obama isn’t the best, or even one of the best, candidates on the ballot, but that’s beside the point. The point is that Romney is new to the job, and comes with a great resume. We know Barack Obama. We know his record. And honestly, it’s not good. His most significant achievement was the healthcare reform bill, a law which has already been shown won’t really fix the problems facing our healthcare system (at all) and was passed through less than kosher means with a whole lot of bureaucratic pork added on along the way. It’s a terrible piece of legislation with seemingly noble intent, and that’s what we’ll remember the first Obama term for. The economy is in a “recovery” that’s so slow many have wondered how we can pretend we’re not still really in a recession. Even though we emerged from that in technical terms, we haven’t shaken off the economic malaise our country has been in the past 5 years, and it’s no longer possible to pretend we can somehow blame everything on Bush. (If you chose to believe that, you’re in denial.) We’ve had four years of failed attempts to address the problems facing us. Four years of blaming others for his own short comings. Four years of slinging mud on national television at the very people he claims he is trying to foster bipartisanship with. Four years of broken promises. Four years of fiscal standoffs and deliberately polarizing budgets. Four years of the leader of the free world behaving like a celebrity instead of a leader. Four years of disappointment, not hope, or change, or progress. I don’t know if another four of the same thing would somehow destroy the US like some seem to believe, but I can promise you this: It isn’t going to put us on a better long-term path. I want an America where people work hard and reap the rewards of their work. A land of opportunity that sets a good example by not spending more than it can afford to or passing debt off to future generations because we don’t have the guts to fix the real problems facing us. The country I want will not come from a second Obama term.
I’ll close with this: If the United States were a business with the taxpayers as its shareholders (and in many ways, it is), CEO Obama would have been fired at least a year ago and a new candidate with the right credentials would have been sought. In 2008 the company was hemorrhaging money and taking a public relations beating. We thought this new leader could turn things around and deliver the prosperity and change he promised the shareholders. He tried some bold, expensive moves, which ultimately were not successful. He kept the company limping along, but now in deeper debt and with even more executives and administrators than before and no strong benefit for the shareholders. Now the projections for the future health of the company have gone from bad to worse and our CEO claims to be able to fix that despite having shown no sign of being capable of doing so in the last few years he has been working here. So the shareholders have to make a tough decision and find a leader with experience at turning around this company that is now facing even bigger problems. Of the applicants, one has emerged that looks like he can pull it off, and that is Mitt Romney. We don’t know that he’ll succeed, but we do know that there’s no point in continuing on a path we can see isn’t working for our company. It’s time to move on.
Now, go vote, or you’ll lose the right to complain about the outcome after the dust settles.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The VP Debate That Taught Us... Nothing?

Against my better judgement I decided to spend the evening watching the Vice Presidential debate to see how Ryan and Biden compared to each other (and maybe a little bit just because I was hoping Biden would say something profane on national tv). It was an interesting ride and honestly involved a lot more policy discussions than the recent Presidential debate did, but I still felt like at the end of the day we didn't learn anything from it. Why? Well, let me explain (rant) for a little bit...
Well, it appears Joe Biden is a volatile old man who can't allow anyone else to finish their sentence before offering his own loud opinion on an issue. This is not news. What was interesting is that Mr. Biden seemed dead set on making up for President Obama's lukewarm performance last week by making sure he came across as aggressive and passionate this week. He may have overdone it. Mr. Biden interrupted Paul Ryan 82 times (according to the pundits) in a 90 minute debate. I might have guessed an even higher number. He simply couldn't sit there and let Ryan talk, he had to hear his own voice throughout the entire thing. It was obnoxious, and worse, made his complaints at the moderator appear laughable when he complained about getting to talk less than Ryan. The moderator was quick to point out that he wasn't getting less time than Ryan, but when you talk through half of your opponent's time in what appears to be an attempt to drown them out, you're not going to get a lot of sympathy from anyone. That said, the Vice President did relatively well tonight aside from his rambling, loud, and sometimes incorrect statements. He made his attacks on Ryan well, kept him on the defensive the entire time, and made lots of references to the middle class. It wasn't a performance that's likely to sway anyone towards the Obama/Biden ticket, but he didn't curse on national tv and he didn't say something incredibly stupid, so I imagine his campaign team is pretty pleased right now. Note: It will be interesting to see what the other side does with his "I never say anything I don't mean" comment considering his past colorful remarks.

Paul Ryan came across as a numbers-minded, soft-spoken young politician that thinks his opponents are at least a bit dumb. This also surprises no one. Ryan was put on the defensive from the get-go by Biden, but he handled himself well overall. It did handicap his ability to get the Romney/Ryan priorities across at times, but he attempted to compensate for this at the end of the debate (with limited success). He attempted to make human connections with middle class and family references while talking economic policy, but it came across as even more forced than Biden's own awkward pandering. As expected, Ryan focused on economic issues and broken promises as much as possible, and did well at articulating his vision for some of America's best known, and most expensive, programs. He was less specific on the details than many would have liked I'm sure, but he was at least as specific as Biden on the very same issues (this is not a compliment, simply stating that they were equally vague). Ryan's real strength was his demeanor throughout the debate. He managed to appear calm and collected throughout the night, which was a dramatic contrast with the firey frustration that Biden was projecting from across the table. Nothing makes your opponent look more like an angry jabbering mental patient than sitting there smiling calmly while they yell at you. I doubt Ryan succeeded in getting all of his platform's views across during the debate, and at times appeared to stumble in his defensive responses, but it was still a decent night for him overall.

Honestly, no one. The majority of polls are showing that most people think Ryan performed better overall, but I think that's mainly because of how aggressive and rambling Biden came across overall, not because Ryan performed especially well. Don't get me wrong, neither candidate did poorly, and both succeeded in making good points for their respective candidates. By the same token, neither candidate did particularly well. Biden looked like the angry old man compared to Ryan's youthful confidence. Ryan was unable to turn the tables back on Biden and never really had control of the conversation. I personally think this was a wash overall. If it helped anyone at all it might be the Romney ticket, but I doubt we'll see a bump in the polls for either side from this debate. 
As always, your thoughts, questions, and rants are welcome.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Shared from a friend on Facebook. An over-simplified view of the situation of course, but there are a lot of people out there feeling this sentiment (especially in this economy) and I imagine a lot of them will be voting on those views in November.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

First Debate Report: Where was the President?

First Debate 2012

I time my return to the world of political commentary fresh off three months of being trapped in the hospital right as things in the 2012 election get interesting. With the first presidential debate now behind us, I am both surprised and actually a little excited for the rest of the election season. Why? Well, let me grade the candidates and you'll see why.

President Obama: D-
I'm not going to give the President a failing grade as some already are, but this was a very bad night for him. He appeared unprepared to defend his record, he couldn't explain how his new promises were different than the old ones he didn't deliver on, and he couldn't keep eye contact or a straight face for more than a few minutes at a time. His surrogates are hiding after the debate, his spin doctor isn't even pretending the debate was a win, and the President himself appears notable unhappy. My question is: What the hell happened? President Obama has been described as a "great speaker" (a claim I have disagreed with in the past), and charismatic (a claim I agree with). Tonight he was neither. He frowned, grimaced, looked at the podium when being addressed, and was all over the place with his meaningless stories about his grandmother that didn't even address the points he had started talking about. No one learned anything new about the President tonight. No one found a new reason to vote for him. Instead we saw a President that was unable to explain why his policies of the last four years have failed to deliver what he said they would. He was unable to defend his economy. He was unable to counter Romney effectively when attacked, and totally unable to put Romney on the defensive. I can't explain why Obama had such a poor performance tonight, and I was quite surprised by his lack of passion and charisma. When Bill Maher, James Carville, and Chris Matthews are saying the the President lost the debtate, you know things are bad for the Democrats right now. My prediction: Obama's political strategists will unleash a whole new wave of mudslinging against Romney while 
he studies up for the next debate. He won't make this mistake twice.

Mitt Romney: B-
This wasn't the same Mitt Romney I watched (and complained loudly) about in the GOP debates. He's been practicing, preparing, and apparently reading a lot. He came in with clear priorities, he knew exactly how to hit Obama on his policies and platform, and he even managed to keep his cool overall. This was a good night for Mitt Romney. I was surprised to see him able to put (and keep) the President on the defensive for the length of the debate. I was surprised at how well he knew the President's budget and proposals and how he was able to compare them to his own. He didn't do that during the GOP debates, but maybe he had been preparing for this the whole time. So why does he only deserve a B-? Well, he's still Mitt Romney. He still spoke of relatively vague "plans" that will apparently fix all of our problems. He still appeared to want to light the President on fire with his glare at times. He still looks like your boss. However, let me be clear: Mitt Romney appeared more confident, more comfortable, and dare I say, more presidential than President Obama did tonight. If he can keep this up for the next month, it will be a very close election.

Big Bird: A+
In an election he chose not to run in, Big Bird has risen in national popularity in a matter of hours. His poll numbers would be up if we had polls on Big Bird to start with, and the twittersphere and tumblrverse are chock full of his picture. If I were Big Bird's strategist, I couldn't be happier tonight.

The Winner:
Mitt Romney. There's simply no way to spin that debate to claim that President Obama won. Even the best Democratic spin doctors are calling it "a wash" or blaming poor moderation (they're not incorrect about that, sorry Jim). This one's a "L" in the Obama column, and they had better bring their A game next time if they want to stay ahead.

The Problem:
It's a debate and I'm not sure that any shift it causes will be significant or lasting. We watched the GOP debates produce massive swings in the poll numbers for individual candidates, but the effects were fleeting. I have no doubt that this debate will cause a bump in Romney's numbers in the short term, but will it actually change anyone's mind in the grand scheme of things? The cynic in me says probably not.

That's my take. Comment, question, or rant away.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Health Reform Ruling: A Mixed Bag

I know I've been absent from posting for a while now and you may have thought I was dead. Actually it was much worse, I was studying for Step 1, but that's behind me now and what good timing that my first post back is about health reform. This is a complex issue, so this post may be a bit long and a bit rambling, but I'll do my best to remain coherent.

As anyone who isn't living totally off the grid knows, the Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate of the PPACA (or as the media calls it, Obamacare) yesterday. Before I dive into what that really means, it's worth considering there were only three ways this ruling could have really gone. They could have: 1) Thrown out the entire PPACA after determining that it could not stand alone without the individual mandate and was too flawed to remain as law. 2) Thrown out the individual mandate but allowed the rest of the PPACA to stand independently. 3) Upheld the whole thing.

Most people with strong knowledge on the subject and the court I talked to were expecting option 2, but instead we got option 3 (for the most part). To be honest, I'm a little surprised. I never expected them to throw out the whole thing, but considering the piss-poor job the defense did of explaining how the mandate and the penalty for violating it was constitutional (hint: they never explained how it was constitutional, argued it wasn't a tax but later called it a tax, etc.) and the pointed questions and dissatisfaction with the answers coming from the bench... Well, I was in the group expecting them to throw out the mandate due to its potential infringement on the constitution and lack of good explanations as to why it wouldn't be an infringement. For whatever reasons, the court saw things in a different way than they appeared to during the arguments and yesterday's decision could have some pretty serious implications for the future when it comes to allowing the government to force its citizens to buy a commercial product for some broader purpose. I won't even touch any of that now because honestly, what's done is done and it's silly to even try and predict what kind of effects this could have so early in the game. What I will do is try to mention what today's ruling really means to you.

Since the bill is being upheld almost completely intact, the time table for implementation will remain. So the good things, the things the administration actually likes to talk about, are still on track. The pre-existing consideration exclusion, the expansion of medicaid, the ability to stay on family insurance until 26, and the individual mandate are all still here. The problems are all still here too, namely that a huge chunk (possibly the majority) of cost savings from the law that were supposed to lower our deficit and reduce healthcare costs is all smoke and mirrors and won't be allowed to happen. Make no mistake, the Medicare savings that the President said would cover half the cost of this legislation will not, and should not, occur, and as a result this will not be the quick fix to healthcare costs or Medicare spending that they have tried to lead you to believe it is. One problem has changed though, and that is the expansion of Medicaid. For those unaware of the issue, the law required a massive expansion of Medicaid, which means a massive increase in Medicaid costs. Half of that money comes from the federal government (I'll say it again, this is an expensive law) and the other portion is the responsibility of individual states. This is a large part of why states were suing to overturn the law. The federal government was forcing the states to spend billions more, billions they clearly do not have, on an expansion of a program they didn't agree to expand and can't really afford at its current size, let alone larger. The Supreme Court apparently agreed that this was a bit off, and they stripped that requirement of its punishment power. As it stands now, the requirement is still there but the states would not be punished for disobeying it, which is a problem for the current administration as well as Medicaid itself, and I won't be surprised if a lot of states running on shoestring budgets tell the feds they simply can't afford the expansion.

On the individual level, there isn't a lot that is going to change... yet. If you have insurance, great, but expect wait times at doctors' offices to increase gradually over the next several years. With increased coverage comes increased utilization, and millions more people will likely be seeing the doctor that weren't before. This is great for the health of the people, but potentially bad for healthcare costs and bad for how long it may take to get in to see your doctor considering the existing physician shortage. If you don't have insurance, the government is going to require you to get some. The promises of affordable insurance for all are completely hollow; health insurance is an expensive product and this one law did very little to fix the intrinsic problems in health spending, so don't expect insurance prices to plummet. There may be a temporary slide as the risk pool on private plans grows a bit, but if you couldn't afford it before, you're still going to have trouble affording it now. Hospitals love the ruling because it means they should have less uncompensated care, and really no other reason. Their passionate support for this mandate was due to their finances, not altruism or politics. For doctors it's a mixed bag. More insured patients could be a good thing and reduce the cost and stress of dealing with uninsured patients, and for primary care doctors it could even mean a small salary bump since people are more willing to see the doctor if they have insurance. However, the potential downsides are currently pretty big. If President Obama gets his way and the huge Medicare payment cuts to doctors are allowed to hit, many of them will be faced with a grave choice: Continue accepting elderly patients and risk your livelihood and business, or opt out of Medicare and hope the insurance companies don't try to follow Medicare's example and aim your business towards bankruptcy too. It really can come down to that, and recent CNN articles have cited specific examples of private practice docs that couldn't afford to keep their doors open anymore. If the cuts hit, it will be much worse, and the patients will ultimately pay the price. If the cuts that the president promised to help pay for this law happen, make no mistake, Medicare patients will be in serious trouble and many doctors will stand up and tell people what is really going on. I don't know what the outcome of that showdown would be, but given the current political climate and the ease with which our voting public gives up rights and blames others for our bad choices, I have to think it would be a negative one for doctors and as a result a negative one for their patients (AKA everyone).

The bottom line of all of this is quite simple: You have to have health insurance. The government can make you pay a penalty if you don't. Beyond those two statements, it's very difficult to predict where this all is headed. There are very valid reasons to be concerned, and there are some reasons to be optimistic, but it is all going to come down to how this mandate and this law are implemented and which ridiculously bad ideas proposed to pay for this law will be allowed to occur. We can't afford the law right now, regardless of what the administration has promised. We can't afford a lot of what we were doing before adding this to the stack, so there is going to be a breaking point, probably soon, where we have to figure out how to really pay for things we need and cut things we don't. I tend to be cynical so I have grave concerns over what faces our elderly, our healthcare providers, and our spending in the next few years. I hope I'm wrong, but if I'm not the idealistic notion of a United States with appropriately compensated professionals, cheap insurance, and good quality healthcare for all won't last long and the "I told you so"s won't even want to say it.

As always, your thoughts, comments, rants, and questions are welcome.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Rise of Mitt (AKA The Fall of Newt)

First, I am fully aware the postings have been much less frequent lately, despite the action in politics being as active as ever. I'll tell you what I tell my parents: I'm not dead, I'm just in med school. Sorry about that.

This week's big news is the inevitable nominee, Mitt Romney, and his sweep of the primaries on Tuesday. Yes, I'm aware I've ranted against the use of the word inevitable when describing Mitt Romney in the past. That is back when there were still some scenarios where he wouldn't be the nominee. Those variables did not play out favorably for anyone else though, so now the show is all Romney. So how exactly did this happen? I really think the whole thing boils down to two things: The Rise of Mitt, and the Fall of Newt. 

The Rise of Mitt: Mitt Romney has been proclaimed the inevitable (or by those that don't jump to conclusions, the probable) nominee since the beginning, largely since he's been running for the spot since 2008, but that doesn't mean that his nomination was a sure thing. At any number or times, he was trailing in the polls by double digits behind his challengers. The challenger he was trailing changed somewhat frequently, but the point remains: he was there, but he wasn't in the lead for quite some time. So how does a "moderate" Republican in a relatively hostile political environment with mediocre polling and a lack of overall enthusiasm end up on top? It's pretty simple, they power through and wait until the more enthusiastic candidates fade due for a number of issues and eventually they're the only one left. Name recognition, image, and money were critical to this ability to power through the fog, and it ended up working beautifully. This only worked so well because there were so many challengers. Had it just been one major challenger by the time major primaries were rolling around, Romney may have actually been in danger. Luckily for the Mitt camp, he had at least two real challengers (more early on) that were also competing with each other for votes, and the most pragmatic voters probably ignored them. Others just got tired of the endless noise and debates and started ignoring the flavor of the month. Whatever their reasons, that group of voters likely stayed out of it or aligned with Romney as the "strongest" overall candidate. That left the others with only about half to two thirds of the GOP voter pie to fight over, and no one ever succeeded in solidifying that chunk of the pie and taking down Romney. Romney, ever the adaptive politician, was able to learn from the attacks levied at him and was the most effective at spin. I don't care for spin, hollow words that redirect conversation to allow you to avoid answering questions or attacks and make you look good is often compensation for a lack of substance, but regardless of that, I had to respect how well things rolled off Romney. He has been the Teflon man of the GOP primary season, and that, plus the previously mentioned factors, allowed him to adapt, survive, and prevail. 

The Fall of Newt: Whatever you may say about Gingrich, he's also a survivor. He had the most political baggage of the group and the most negative initial perceptions. Yet he ended up as the front-runner in the race... more than once. Yes, I am aware that Rick Santorum also ended up as the front-runner towards the "end". That doesn't mean that I think Santorum was ever as likely a candidate as Gingrich. The reasons for that are a post unto themselves, but logically speaking, Gingrich was the phoenix of the Republican party and if he could rise from the ashes despite his image and run a socially conservative (without being so extreme as to render him unelectable overall... Santorum) campaign and bring some "big ideas" to the table, he was too strong to be ignored. In fact, after South Carolina and a disappointing run for Romney early on, it looked like Gingrich was the man to beat. So what happened? Also pretty simple: money and strategy were against him. Gingrich, according to the press, polls, and online ramblings from people like me, came across as the most competent, intelligent, and composed candidate during debates. He had some compelling ideas and was managing to turn some perceptions around. However, he didn't ever have the organization or the money that the Romney campaign machine did, and when that machine set their target on Gingrich, it was only a matter of time before they drug him under the water and held him there until the bubbles stopped unless Gingrich found a way to hit back just as hard. Iowa was the test run for this, and the Romney machine accidentally ended up delivering that contest to Santorum by killing off Newt there. When he came back in South Carolina, they went for a full scorched earth campaign and crushed him in Florida to the point he could never recover. The Southern strategy gamble was one he didn't have the established support network or funds to pull off, and with Santorum rising (thanks to the fall of Newt, in my opinion) and no more debates to "win", Newt was in real trouble. As polls later showed, Newt's supporters were more likely to bail for Romney than Santorum, and when they started bailing they didn't come back. Without the funds to crush his opponents in negative ads or the organization to build momentum well ahead of primaries, Newt stuck it out hoping for the cracks in Romney's facade to spread and give him enough staying power to make it to Tampa. When Santorum bailed though, Newt was already too injured to rise again and as Tuesday demonstrated, Romney profited in a big way. Whether it was ego, poor management, or the end of the debate season, Newt declined and the circus of a brokered convention has been avoided... for better or worse.

That's all for now. Congratulations to the Mitt camp for proving that running a campaign like a business is a winning strategy. I'm still not thrilled by him as a candidate (as my previous posts no doubt illustrate), but I'll certainly be paying attention to how the Romney/Obama dynamic plays out for the next few months before the heavy hitting of the election season starts.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Newt’s Bankrupt and Romney’s Going to Profit

I've been quiet lately, and not because there isn't a lot going on: The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the healthcare law ("Obamacare" to some), the story of the shooting in Florida continues to evolve and grow as a movement, and the Republican Primary is still grinding on, albeit with a couple new bumps in the road. Since I don't want to talk about the healthcare law and I can't do the Martin case justice right now, I'll stick to my comfort zone and hash out the latest Republican Nomination craziness. 

So, what has happened?

Newt's "Southern Revival" has become a Southern Foreclosure. The Gingrich campaign is underwater on its mortgage. It's not that it hasn't had its ups and downs, and it's not even that it hasn't been worse off before, but now that it is crunch time they simply didn't deliver when they needed to in the southern states. With Santorum taking Louisiana and no potentially Gingrich friendly states until May, there's good reason for even his most ardent supporters to be cynical. I think there is one main reason behind Newt's decline, and I'd be surprised if his campaign staff didn't agree: No full debates since February and no new ones on the calendar. Newt's strength is in his verbal performance, and when he can't show that off and doesn't have the money to beat back negative ads or campaign as effectively as the others, his campaign loses steam. Now that they're laying off a third of their campaign staff and losing his campaign manager to "refocus" the campaign, it is difficult to impossible to see a scenario where Newt will have the funds, let alone the momentum or delegates, to make another splash before Tampa. 

Santorum shouldn't want Gingrich out after all. Santorum has said for weeks that if Newt Gingrich dropped out of the race he could beat Mitt Romney in the primaries. Gingrich said similar things about Santorum back when momentum was on his side. What is proving really interesting is that likely neither are correct, but Santorum is almost certainly wrong. Yes, Santorum has won a fair number of states and he did win Louisiana recently, but he has gone from leading Romney nationally to trailing him by 10 points. I know, these things seem to change every week in this election cycle and this may be a fluke, but I don't think it is. In addition to slipping poll numbers, recent polls show that more Gingrich supporters back Romney as their second choice than Rick Santorum. If Gingrich was out of the race and the numbers were run again, Romney's lead over Santorum actually expands to 15 points. Apparently, despite what Rick has been saying lately, he and Gingrich don't have the same base of support and his numbers against Romney actually look worse in a more head-to-head situation. What does that mean for Santorum? There's trouble on the horizon, and any Tampa strategy against Romney is looking less and less feasible as time goes on.

Romney, despite his best efforts, is gaining momentum. The man who brought you the trees are the right height, the $10,000 off the cuff bet, and some less than believable southern pandering about grits continues to be the Teflon warrior. I don't doubt the man's intelligence, but he has a knack for saying things that the media loves to replay non-stop and would give most campaign managers a heart attack. That said, his numbers are improving nationally, his financial situation is rebounding, and it looks like he can actually wrap up the nomination before Tampa if things go well. So why all the "good" news for Romney? Personally, I think the voters are tired. We all liked the idea of being involved and many of us liked the idea of the 2012 primaries lasting long enough for our states to make a difference, but after three full months of this mess and its unpredictability, people are getting weary of trying to stay informed about each week's gaffes, polls, and primaries and are looking for something stable. That something is Romney, and the chaos that threatened to take him down may actually propel him to the nomination. And now that polls show that Gingrich supporters are more likely to support Romney than Santorum, bad news for Newt is good news for Mitt, and it looks like there's going to be quite a bit of bad news for Newt in the next month. Romney may not have it wrapped up yet, but Santorum is slipping (not surprising given his own unpredictable and polarizing nature) and Gingrich never bounced back, so it's his to lose right now.

Ron Paul... You know what, I just don't know anymore. I get mail and emails from all the campaigns, and Ron Paul's comes across as the most angry and self-deluded. Despite the delegate math, the inability to win a single state's primary or caucus (remember the Paul's campaign strategy to win the caucus states?), and no momentum of any sort in the polls to indicate things will change, Ron Paul's campaign continues to proclaim that victory is within their grasp and they'd be doing better if things weren't stacked against them, and so on. That would be a lot more believable if they hadn't been saying the same thing in these emails for months and that victory was actually even within their field of vision much less grasp, but it's a campaign line they haven't tired of. Apparently his supporters haven't either, since money bomb after money bomb raises millions to pour back into the campaign. I don't understand this, to be honest. I like a lot of things about Paul but also have big reservations, which I've discussed previously. But at this point in the game, who in their right mind thinks he can somehow pull off a convention strategy and overthrow not just Romney, but the other two as well? It just doesn't add up. Polls show that Paul's supporters are very loyal, but he's barely a blip on the radar as a second choice candidate from the others. If any one of them drops out, it strengthens one of the others, not Paul. It's not the media, or the establishment, or whoever that is "against" Paul or somehow keeping him down, it's reality. The reality is that despite all the excitement, the seemingly endless supply of grassroots money and vocal support, and the unique ideas, the overwhelming majority of people are not willing to vote for him in the primaries. Potential national election match up polls are pointless when no one will vote to make you a national candidate. If Paul supporters are still donating millions to make a statement or express dissatisfaction, that I can at least respect. Otherwise, I can dig a pit in my back yard if they're looking for a place to dump money.

Well, that's all for now. For things coming up, I think that Romney will sweep the upcoming April 3rd primaries and strengthen his delegate count further, Santorum will continue to fight to get a stronger foothold in the Romney-friendly April contests, Gingrich will likely conserve what resources he has left and stay visible but low-key until May when the calendar looks friendlier, and Ron Paul will continue on.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It’s Not That Simple: MS and AL Don’t Clarify Things.

Well, the results are (mostly) in, and Santorum will win both Mississippi and Alabama. I’m a little surprised he pulled it off since his numbers had been slipping, but there are some important take away points from tonight.
1.      Tonight changes nothing from the perspective of the race. Think about it. How are we in a different place than we were last night? Mitt Romney still isn’t pulling the “conservative” crowd over to his side, but still has a substantial delegate lead. Rick Santorum is still riding his momentum with the conservative base and winning states, but he didn’t expand his lead over Gingrich tonight in any significant way due to the narrow margin of his victories. Gingrich is still behind and not catching up any. He is treading water in third place, no better or worse than he was before. Ron Paul still exists. At the end of the day, nothing actually changed.
2.      There’s no reason to expect Gingrich to drop out after not winning MS and AL, particularly since he almost pulled it off. He’ll point out that he beat Mitt Romney in both states and came very close to catching Santorum as well. He’ll point to the dissatisfaction of the conservative voter with Romney and the strength of his showing. As mentioned in point 1, since little has changed, there’s no new reason for Gingrich to drop, and arguably less since he will pick up almost as many delegates as Santorum tonight. I know Santorum’s supporters will be ruffled by this, but let’s face it- people wanted Santorum out after he fell flat in South Carolina and not listening to them when his campaign was on life support turned out to be a good decision. Santorum might be able to beat Romney without Gingrich in the race, but the flip side of that applies too. Other than the marginal delegate lead over Gingrich (substantially less than Romney’s lead over him) there’s just no reason for him to say Gingrich should drop. It’s not that Newt is spoiling it for him, it’s that they’re spoiling it for each other. Either of them could feel much more justified in asking Paul to drop and try to support them in taking down Romney, but they know they wouldn’t gain any significant support by doing that so they’re leaving that issue alone since Paul’s supporters are much more candidate-loyal.
3.      At the end of the night, no one is happy. Sure, Santorum gets to claim “victory”, but it’s not significant enough to help him chip away at Romney’s lead or expand the lead over Gingrich. He’ll essentially tread water despite the victories. The delegate math is still bad for him and he knows it. Romney gets to claim that he performed better than expected, but his pandering in the South didn’t deliver him any wins and only provided more material for media jokes about the odd things he says in states when he’s working a little too hard to “fit in”. He’s still in the best delegate position, but every big delegate take where he doesn’t expand his lead is one step closer to a brokered convention. Gingrich gets to point out that his campaign came from behind to snag almost as many delegates as the winner, but in reality it is clear his Southern strategy is  not working. He needed wins tonight for visual momentum if nothing else and he didn’t get it. The delegate math is also ugly for him and despite picking up the 2nd place in both contests tonight, it’s also not going to change the balance for him significantly.
4.      Santorum and Gingrich should be watched. As mentioned above, there’s no more reason for Newt to drop now than before, so Rick isn’t going to get that lucky. What is odd are the comments Newt made at an event about teaming up against Romney in the ad war and the compliments he sent Santorum’s way tonight at his concession speech, all the while blasting Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Even if it is forged out of desperation, some sort of arrangement between Gingrich and Santorum could be in the works.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Everyone seems a little annoyed (no matter which side you’re on) tonight, and I think that’s the atmosphere we’re going to be running with all the way to Tampa.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Free Speech Isn’t Just for People That Don’t Tick You Off

Today’s CNN Poll demonstrating that 45% of respondents don’t value the First Amendment.

It never ceases to amaze me how selective some people can be when they talk about free speech. For some, it means that it’s acceptable to stand on a street corner telling people they’re going to hell for consuming alcohol, but not acceptable to protest outside a government building that the wealthy have too much influence. For others it may mean that it’s fine to camp as a form of protest in public parks and deprive others the use of that land, but not okay to protest to express your religious views on abortion. The latest target of the anti-free speech crowd (a label I have given them for the sake of argument) is Rush Limbaugh. As anyone with a TV, radio, newspaper, or computer knows, Limbaugh has taken a lot of heat and lost a lot of advertisers for referring to women like Sandra Fluke a “slut” or “prostitute” because in his opinion, demanding that insurers or employers pay for contraception amounts to being paid for sex. Now don’t get me wrong, Rush Limbaugh is not a classy guy. If I were to use a list of words to describe him, tasteful, logical, and appropriate wouldn’t appear anywhere on the list. But that’s not the point is it? The point is he called, whether directly or indirectly, this woman a “slut”, and now some liberals and feminists are calling for his head. Gloria Allred, another well known public figure with a penchant for drama, has called for legal action against Rush. I have no doubt that she’d love to be selected for that lawsuit. Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem want the FCC to take action against Rush. CNN’s homepage had a poll today asking if Rush Limbaugh should be kicked off the air, and so far over 40,000 people have voted “Yes”. Let me say that I think, in no uncertain terms, all of these people are wrong.

These people, some of which are well known for their own inflammatory remarks, seem to have lost their understanding of what free speech means. What Rush said was not hate speech. It may be hateful speech, it may be offensive speech, but it in no way posed an immediate threat to Ms. Fluke through instigating violent action or hate crimes, which is what hate speech is typically defined as in the United States. If Ms. Fluke wished to pursue it as a slander case that may be possible depending on the state laws involved, but federally speaking, what Rush said was legal and well within the protection of the first amendment. Even the ACLU, an organization I don’t often love, has specific articles relating to instances of offensive speech and why we must protect the rights of those saying these things. In fact, here’s a quote from that article I find particularly applicable: “How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied.” You may hate what he says, and you may hate this comment of his specifically, but if you value our Constitution and your own right to free speech, you are obligated to protect his right to say it.

It is simply stunning to me that so many fringe elements of our political system want to be able to say or do whatever they want under the label “free speech” but the second someone offends them, they demand legal actions, regulations, or the removal of that person from their position. To all of you I say this: Free speech is not just for people that agree with you or you simply don’t care about. Free speech ensures that you are going to hear people say things you find offensive and distasteful from time to time, just as they may find your speech offensive and distasteful. What protects your rights protects all our rights. The way to beat Rush Limbaugh and those like him (don’t kid yourself, they exist on both sides of the political spectrum) isn’t to try to infringe on the rights of all Americans, but rather to speak out yourself. Use your right to free speech and tell people why you think he’s wrong. Tell people why they shouldn’t listen to him. Just don’t tell the government that he shouldn’t be allowed to say it and then get mad when they turn around and take your rights away too.


The Newt Gingrich/Rick Perry Illusion

Many of you have probably seen the tweets, facebook posts, and blurbs claiming that Gingrich’s campaign has talks in the works about the possibility of a Gingrich-Perry ticket. This has excited some and caused groans from others. My personal opinion? Talks about the “possibility” probably are in the works, and that’s as far as they’ll ever get. Gingrich and his campaign staff are not dumb. Floating speculation that you’re considering a formerly popular Southern Christian conservative as your running mate just before a couple of Southern Christian states go to the polls is a smart political move. Gingrich knows he needs to win those states. He knows that even if he does win those states it is going to be an uphill battle, but he’s taking it one step at a time and the Alabama and Mississippi primaries are the next step. In order to draw voters away from Santorum, who occasionally treats the podium like a pulpit and has attracted the voters that like that, Perry is great ammunition. They both appeal to conservative Christians who apparently aren’t really listening to what the candidates say. Better yet, saying (or even better, having a random source leak) that you’re “considering” someone as a running mate means nothing. I can say I’m considering eating at Chili’s tonight to bring out some of my Chili’s-loving friends and then decide I’d rather eat at Olive Garden. They might be annoyed for a little bit, but they’re already out so they’re probably not going to bother going back home. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gingrich is playing that exact game. I don’t know if Rick Perry would actually consider a VP nod from Gingrich if things played out that way, but I don’t think he’d actually get the nod anyway. Gingrich’s political past shows he does know how the game is played, even if he seems to go off course from time to time, and I think he’ll pick someone more likely to draw in the precious independent and centrist voters needed to win the election if it comes down to that.  For now, Perry’s name is probably just part of the political game, nothing more.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kansas REALLY Likes Rick Santorum

I expected Santorum to win Kansas, and I assumed internal polls must be showing him with an insurmountable advantage for Newt Gingrich to cancel his trip there when he so badly needs a strong showing in conservative states. What I didn’t expect was for him to beat Mitt Romney by 30%. Rick Santorum’s campaign will now have more legitimate ammunition to throw at Mitt Romney that conservatives don’t want him as their candidate, and I think you’re going to see an all out ad war between those two campaigns and their Super PACs when the winner-take-all states become more common. I hope those seatbelts are still fastened, GOP voters.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Darker Side of Invisible Children and Stop Kony

First off, I'd like to thank those of you that viewed and commented on my recent post and reshare of TheDailyWhat's views on the Kony video from Invisible Children. The response to that post and my short comment on it was much, much larger than I could have anticipated and with that attention came a lot of scrutiny into both sides. So, as promised, here is my take on the Kony campaign and Invisible Children. It's long, and it took quite some time to research and write, so I hope it's worthwhile.
In order to be as fair as I can, I'd like you to have access to the Invisible Children Inc.'s response to some of the major critiques raised against them since the Kony 2012 campaign went viral. I also urge you at some point to take a look one of the main articles, from 2011, that has been mentioned in regard to the situation in the region around Uganda and the U.S. military's involvement. The Foreign Affairs article is a much more realistic take on the situation facing South Central and Eastern Africa than most blog posts I've read with concerns about this movement out there, so I think it's a good place to start a discussion. I don't want to overload you right away, so whether you read those now or read them afterwards isn't important, but I wanted you to have those resources. I will also cite my sources as efficiently as I can as I go along (should you want to check the facts and the articles I'm talking about). For now though, let's get started.
Why do I take issue with Invisible Children and their Kony 2012 Campaign?
1.       Financials: As you'll see in the response to recent criticism, Invisible Children is trying to make the way they spend their donations a lot clearer after being blasted by blogs and editorials for the relatively small percentage of their funds that actually make it to Africa. Some articles have reported that figure as 31%, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and go with the 37.14% figure they quote on their website. So what don't I like about this? A few things. First and foremost, less than 40% of the nearly $14 million they raised last year went to Central Africa programs. The second problem with that 37.14% figure is that all that money isn't actually spent on programs. You see, the financial transparency in their statements goes pitch black once the money hits Africa. This is not a unique problem with international charities that work with partner organizations, but it brings up two big problems. 1- Any money you donate will have a cut taken here for administration and expenses before any percentage of it actually goes to directly help citizens of Uganda, Sudan, or other Central African countries. And 2- Another cut for administration and expenses will be taken by Invisible Children's organization in Africa to cover their expenses there before it is ever put into a program as well, and we have no idea what the size of that cut is. I made a little chart here to show you how the money flows, at least as far as we can track it, at Invisible Children (this was made using their financial figures from their most recent annual report and their website): Breakdown of Invisible Children Funding Flow

My second complaint about their financials is how they get you to donate that money. The Kony film is very well made, and is a fantastic example of good marketing and achieving an emotional response. They try to turn that emotional response into the action of supporting them financially by getting you to either buy their $30 Action Kit, their $10 Kony Bracelet, or begin making donations to them on a monthly basis. They tell you that donating will "help fund our lifesaving programs" and that their donors "put their money toward their belief in all human life". Neither statement is false, but mainly because they're so vague that this short movie, filmed at great cost, may be considered one of their "lifesaving" programs. There may be some merit to that, but considering they talk about the programs to rebuild schools and put radios in Uganda for a rebel warning network before they start hitting you up for a donation, it is clearly not what they hope you're thinking about when you get out your credit card. Any organization that pulls at my heartstrings and tells me I'm donating to improve schools in Africa and give them radios to communicate, but then makes you work to discover that somewhere under 37% of whatever they receive in donations will actually make it to Africa is going to get a little skepticism from me. Another thing that should make everyone a bit skeptical is that their financials are anything but totally transparent, as they claim they are. Yes, they are a non-profit and non-profits have to report a lot of data about how they spend their money. So, sure, they show you what they're spending money on, but the titles of what they're spending money "on" really doesn't tell you what they're spending money on. Got it? There's also the murkiness of some lack of oversight concerns, a lot of concern about why exactly you spend about a million dollars on travel in one year making a movie that is 30 minutes long, and a heck of a lot of concern over why that 30 minute movie cost over two million dollars this past year alone to create. Invisible Children can correct this omission in their video by more clearly explaining their role in Uganda and what your money really goes to before they ask you to donate, and that would settle it for me. I don't agree with the way their funds are divided up where "awareness" becomes a continuously growing cycle as they spend more to create awareness and then take in even more in donations from that awareness to fund their awareness programs, while actual ground work is a tertiary priority, but being clear about that at least lets their donors know up front where their money is really going. That's all.
2.       They're short sighted: Please read this before you jump to conclusions. Killing Kony (capturing him at this point is highly unlikely, especially considering the parties involved, but I'll touch on that in a second) will not stop the problems in Central Africa. I firmly believe that Invisible Children knows this and I am not suggesting that they think all the problems in that region will disappear if Kony is brought to justice. However, as their use of funds clearly shows, they are not investing as heavily in the long term stabilization and improvement of Uganda as they are in capturing or killing a single man. Yes, Joseph Kony is a very bad man who has done horrible things. Yes, the world would probably be a better place if he were no longer free to run his rebel army in it. But removing Kony will likely not stop the LRA, whose members are more likely to join an allied or related rebel force, or appoint a new leader, than assimilate back into society. Even worse than the fact that stopping this one man won't stop the movement he has been instrumental in driving are the methods that Invisible Children has supported, either directly or indirectly through omission of facts, in an effort to stop Kony. Make no mistake about it, through Invisible Children's silence and selective outrage, they aren't just allowing a new war to start, they're promoting it. They tell you that by supporting them you will join their "army for peace", but when you get down to it, Invisible Children is directly advocating for further and expanded military action in a region that is actually far more stable now than it has been in over 20 years. That's not to say things are good or that we shouldn't be striving to improve them, but I definitely don't think starting a new war or expanding a shrinking one in the region you claim to be helping is the best path towards stability and safety. It certainly hasn't worked for the US in the last 11 years, and I am highly skeptical we can coach African armies to do better than we did. Why not? That's next.
3.       Their solutions are almost as bad as the existing problem: There are two huge problems here that should shock you as much as the Kony video did. The first is that Invisible Children has tried to help fix this before, and the involvement of groups like them, with good intentions, made things even worse. In 2008, Invisible Children was present in Juba to promote and document the peace talks with Kony, representing the LRA, and Uganda. They can be seen at that event peacefully posing for a "joke" photo with the Sudan People's Liberation Army, whose atrocity list rivals that of Kony himself here: Invisible Children Founders pose with weapons from the SPLA
But other than being indirectly involved with another army with a laundry list of mass killings and rape, what's wrong with the peace talks the Invisible Children founders wanted to be involved with? They made things a lot worse. The peace talks didn't go well and ended up just giving Kony time to kidnap more than a thousand new children under the cover of a cease fire and expand and re-equip his army. This was even mentioned in their film, but their presence and interest in it wasn't. Worse yet, the Ugandan government, which remember from the film is who we're supposed to be helping to put a stop to Kony's atrocities, tried to convince the International Criminal Court (who plays a key part in the movie) to withdraw its indictments against Kony and other LRA leaders and let them take care of things themselves. You might think, sure, local justice seems reasonable, but guarantees and conditions were being made to reduce the punishments Kony might face as part of the peace process! Invisible Children failed to mention their presence at this process or what happened with the "peace" process in their film, instead leading you to believe that capturing Kony has been impossible so far and that we can only now bring a peaceful resolution to this. That is an omission of truth at best and deliberate twisting of the past at worst. Unfortunately when these peace talks fell apart, Kony and his now much larger army attacked the SPLA and killed dozens before going on a bloody rampage of attacks at the end of 2008 that left hundreds more dead. So although they won't come out and say it, Invisible Children knows that a peaceful solution won't work and they were there when it didn't work before. Obviously affected by this, in 2009 they and one of their favorite senators, Russell Feingold, were instrumental in the passage of a bill through Congress that authorized the US to plan for military action of its own in the region and work with these local "elements" against the LRA. They know how much worse the peace talks with a madman actually made things but they chose to only tell you a part of the story in their video, leading you to believe that we can bring this conflict to a peaceful end.

Another big piece of evidence that shows their interest in "peace" actually involves more war is that Invisible Children proudly claims to have been instrumental in getting Congress to send elite US soldiers to Uganda to help train the Ugandan army (the UPDF) with better tactics to combat the LRA. They advertise this as their biggest victory so far in their video. I'll ignore that the US was actually already quietly involved in the region before Invisible Children got involved and focus on what matters here. The US, validated by the support of Invisible Children, the Enough Project, and others, decided they could publicly send elite soldiers to Uganda to train their army. That would probably be fine if the Ugandan army could be trusted to use those tactics for good, but as objective news sources have repeatedly reported, that is not the case. In fact the Ugandan army, the army that Invisible Children is trying to support and use to stop Kony, has numerous child soldiers of their own. They do draw the line at the age of 13, something Kony doesn't do, and they promised in 2006 to stop using child soldiers, but the UNHuman Rights Watch, and the BBC have reported that child soldier recruitment, child and other civilian abuse, rape, arbitrary arrests, torture, and murders of civilians and children by the UPDF is still ongoing and is a particular problem against the North Ugandan civilians. So did you catch all that? Invisible Children, according to their video, wants us to support our government sending more soldiers or resources to Uganda to help the Ugandan army receive better training and equipment so they can "stop" Joseph Kony. We need to stop Kony, as you know, because he is an evil man who kidnaps children and forces them to fight in his rebel army and do all kinds of unspeakable things. He is the bad guy. The UPDF, the good guys that we're told to support and send after him, also use children soldiers that have been threatened or intimidated into joining their ranks, and they also have a very recent history of human rights violations including raping women and children, imprisoning, torturing, and killing the residents of the Northern part of Uganda. This may be one of those "lesser of two evils" situations, but that is certainly not how it is explained in the video, and is exactly the reason that some Ugandan leaders and columnists have been loudly calling for restraint and research into the anti-Kony campaign before it makes things worse for northern Uganda, especially since Kony isn't even in Uganda anymore and their citizens are trying to get back to some sense of normalcy with him gone.
Conclusions: Invisible Children's heart might be in the right place, but I can't support their charity, which functions as a marketing firm first and a supporter of Ugandan citizens second, and its Kony campaign. Stopping people like Kony is of course an important and worthwhile endeavor, and I do applaud them for bringing the issue of child soldiers and African violence into the global spotlight in a big way. They've reached tens of millions of people and obviously it's having a huge response. Seeing that make me hope that they've done some good and made our citizens more aware of the injustices in other parts of the world. That said, being aware of a problem and actually fixing it are two different things. With the way they want to "fix" things, I can't offer any support to them financially or morally beyond just applauding them for bringing the issue up. If I wanted to support long-term stability and reform in the region, I would donate to any number of Ugandan charities that put my money directly to work for Ugandans. I am also having a hard time trusting Invisible Children. Their video omits too many inconvenient facts about themselves, the groups they've chosen to ally with as their instruments of change, and the situation in the region for me to believe they want us to know the whole truth. As such, I find it difficult to trust their movement, no matter how good its intentions may seem on the surface, when I now know its past. There is no doubt in my mind that Invisible Children's Stop Kony movement would have us trade one oppressor and violator of human rights in the Uganda region for another, and that's just not a solution I can support in good conscience.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lottery Winners Still Deserve Welfare?

For once I’m practically speechless that someone can be this disconnected with reality. Here is the article describing a Michigan woman who won $1 million in the lottery, but still received $200 a month in food assistance and is now arguing she still needs public aid. Here are a few snippets if you just want the quick view:
After taking a lump sum and paying taxes, the unemployed woman said she ended up with just more than $500,000. … Like many winners, she used her $1 million prize to buy a new house. … resident is receiving money in another form — $200 a month in state food assistance … “I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn’t, I thought, maybe, it was OK because I’m not working,” Clayton, 24, told WDIV … Asked if she had the right to the public assistance money, Clayton answered, “I kind of do. I have no income, and I have bills to pay. I have two houses.” … Clayton told WDIV she would continue using the food-assistance card until it is cut off. “It’s hard. I am struggling.

This is absolutely ridiculous. $500,000 after taxes is the equivalent of 24.83 years of the Lincoln Park, MI per capita income. Apparently Ms. Clayton couldn’t manage to budget that $500,000 well enough to be able to afford food for even a year (she won the prize in September). She bought a house, apparently now owning two houses, and bought a new car, but food? No, she’s still unemployed and can’t afford that. Are you kidding me? This is the single most excessive example of what is wrong with the entitlement mentality and irresponsibility in the US I may have ever heard about. 
Do the math here. This woman walked away with half a million dollars after taxes. She was unemployed, but instead of thinking “I am unemployed and I just won a huge amount of money, I should budget this money to provide for myself at least until I get a job” she bought a house and a car that apparently wiped out that money. She could have taken the annuity payments and had a steady income for years to come, but she chose the get rich quick option. Okay, fine. That’s probably not the smart move if you’re an unemployed 24 year old that (I hope) is searching for work unsuccessfully, but if you spent sensibly, set yourself up comfortably but sustainable, and continued the job search the lump sum option can work. Instead, less than 6 months after winning that money, you “are struggling”. To consider how ridiculous this is, keep in mind this woman isn’t living in a nice neighborhood in California. She’s living in Lincoln Park, Michigan, where the average home price is about $114,000. If she’d purchased an average home for $114,000 or hey, let’s be generous and say she bought a nice place (which I find hard to justify as an unemployed person) for $200,000, she’d still have 60% of her winnings sitting there in cash. Say this unemployed woman decided she wanted to but the fancy Lexus or Mercedes she always wanted for another $100,000. Let’s say she did these things, and spent her winnings that irresponsibly with so little thought of her future. Even doing those irresponsible things, she’d still have $200,000 left over, 5 years of the average household income in Lincoln Park, to budget with. But she’s telling us she still needs food stamps? Let’s get real people. If you can’t manage to make half a million dollars last you 6 months and you think that the state of Michigan, which took an especially hard beating during the recession, still owes you support for food stamps you need to have your head examined. Michigan should cut this woman off and send her a clear message: You were given a rare gift, a unique opportunity, and you squandered it. You could have immediately jumped up the quality of life scale by buying a nice home and car lived as well or even better than the average family in Michigan (who normally doesn’t have the luxury of paying for those things upfront, by the way) and still had plenty of money left over to cover your living expenses for years to come. We don’t owe you anything. 
How can anyone think this is reasonable? That they can waste a huge amount of money and still deserve the government to pay for their food? This is a disheartening example of just how broken our support systems really are, and evidence of how badly we need our citizens to take responsibility for their actions. That’s just my point of view, but if I were a Michigan taxpayer, I’d be really furious right now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beware Throwing Your Support Behind Invisible Children and Their Kony Bandwagon

Absolutely a must read. Please educate yourselves before allowing yourself to support a charity with questionable mechanisms of achieving their goals and inefficient use of your precious charity dollars. Stopping human trafficking is a very noble cause. Supporting the methods of Invisible Children, which involves even more bloodshed and allying yourself with a different group of unscrupulous “liberators”, and their opaque use of your money is not as noble. If you’re going to donate, at least read the articles out there and make sure your money is going to the right place. If you think that’s Invisible Children after reading all this, that’s your decision. Just make sure it’s an informed one.
On Kony 2012: I honestly wanted to stay as far away as possible from KONY 2012, the latest fauxtivist fad sweeping the web (remember “change your Facebook profile pic to stop child abuse”?), but you clearly won’t stop sending me that damn video until I say something about it, so here goes:
Stop sending me that video.
The organization behind Kony 2012 — Invisible Children Inc. — is an extremely shady nonprofit that has been called ”misleading,” “naive,” and “dangerous” by a Yale political science professor, and has been accused by Foreign Affairs of “manipulat[ing] facts for strategic purposes.” They have also been criticized by the Better Business Bureau for refusing to provide information necessary to determine if IC meets the Bureau’s standards.
Additionally, IC has a low two-star rating in accountability from Charity Navigator because they won’t let their financials be independently audited. That’s not a good thing. In fact, it’s a very bad thing, and should make you immediately pause and reflect on where the money you’re sending them is going.
By IC’s own admission, only 31% of all the funds they receive go toward actually helping anyone [pdf]. The rest go to line the pockets of the three people in charge of the organization, to pay for their travel expenses (over $1 million in the last year alone) and to fund their filmmaking business (also over a million) — which is quite an effective way to make more money, as clearly illustrated by the fact that so many can’t seem to stop forwarding their well-engineered emotional blackmail to everyone they’ve ever known.
The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces. Here’s a photo of the founders of Invisible Children posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.
Let’s not get our lines crossed: The Lord’s Resistance Army is bad news. And Joseph Kony is a very bad man, and needs to be stopped. But propping up Uganda’s decades-old dictatorship and its military arm, which has been accused by the UN of committing unspeakable atrocities and itselffacilitated the recruitment of child soldiers, is not the way to go about it.
The United States is already plenty involved in helping rout Kony and his band of psycho sycophants. Kony is on the run, having been pushed out of Uganda, and it’s likely he will soon be caught, if he isn’t already dead. But killing Kony won’t fix anything, just as killing Osama bin Laden didn’t end terrorism. The LRA might collapse, but, as Foreign Affairs points out, it is “a relatively small player in all of this — as much a symptom as a cause of the endemic violence.”
Myopically placing the blame for all of central Africa’s woes on Kony — even as a starting point — will only imperil many more people than are already in danger.
Sending money to a nonprofit that wants to muck things up by dousing the flames with fuel is not helping. Want to help? Really want to help? Send your money to nonprofits that are putting more than 31% toward rebuilding the region’s medical and educational infrastructure, so that former child soldiers have something worth coming home to.
Here are just a few of those charities. They all have a sparkling four-star rating from Charity Navigator, and, more importantly, no interest in airdropping American troops armed to the teeth into the middle of a multi-nation tribal war to help one madman catch another.
The bottom line is, research your causes thoroughly. Don’t just forward a random video to a stranger because a mass murderer makes a five-year-old “sad.” Learn a little bit about the complexities of the region’s ongoing strife before advocating for direct military intervention.
There is no black and white in the world. And going about solving important problems like there is just serves to make all those equally troubling shades of gray invisible.
Source: thedailywhat