Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sunday, December 12, 2010

8 Hours of Dissent

Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Senator who calls himself a Socialist but caucuses with the Democrats, took to the Senate Floor yesterday to speak for 8 hours in opposition to the tax-cut deal President Obama made earlier in the week with congressional Republicans.  It wasn't a serious filibuster--Sanders knew he didn't have the 40 votes needed to stop cloture--but a chance for him to convey just how strongly he opposed the huge cuts in the estate tax that were part of the deal, which Sanders labeled "unconscionable."  "This is not a tax on the rich," Sanders said.  "This is a tax on the very, very, very rich."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is, however, supportive of the deal, and it appears that it will pass the Senate easily.  The potential roadblock is in the House, where the Democratic leadership has said it will not bring the package to the floor without further modification.  But how strong is the the leadership's leverage?  After all, as President Obama pointed out in his press conference, House Democrats will soon be in the minority, and when the Republicans take charge in 2011 they could threaten to modify the deal in ways even more objectionable to Sanders and his outraged colleagues in the House.

Rulemaking Takes Center Stage?

While the fights over tax cuts and Don't Ask Don't Tell in Congress dominate the headlines, another set of titanic political struggles are currently raging in federal agencies. These are battles over rulemaking, and because rulemaking is a much more obscure process than legislating, reporters tend to ignore it. But if you want to understand what's going on in health policy, financial regulation or environmental politics right now, you'd be well advised to forget about major legislation in these realms--unlikely given the Republican victories in the congressional elections--and turn to rulemaking.

For example, environmental groups are furious with the Obama Administration because of its announcement just last week that it would be delaying new rules governing smog and toxic emissions.  The delay has garnered praise from business groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, but has outraged environmental groups, who suspect that this move signals the Obama Administration will also be going slow on greenhouse gas emission rules currently being developed by the Environmental Protection Administration.

Meanwhile regulators working on health care reform and financial regulation are set to issue more than 300 rules over the next three years, attracting massive lobbying by Wall Street and the health care industry.  These regulations, based on the two most significant laws enacted by Congress during the Obama Administration, will decide big money question like how much credit card companies can charge for their services and what kinds of medical procedures will be covered in insurance plans offered as part of the Affordable Care Act.  The House Republican leadership has already signaled that it will be examining these rulemaking processes, and the industries involved have let it be known that they will sue in federal court if they don't like what the agencies have done, so expect this battle to be protected, contentious, consequential--and largely ignored by the media.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Class or No Class?

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the Walmart v. Dukes case that has recently come out of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case handled by the 9th Circuit determined that there was mass discrimination against female employees within the Wal-Mart corporation. However, the Supreme Court is ruling on whether the class action used to bring suit against Wal-Mart is legitimate.

A class action is when a lawsuit is brought by a single member of a group of people on behalf of the entire group. The argument supporting the plaintiff is that that this claim is a common enough occurrence and can plausibly have common ground, regardless of its size and diversity of location. The argument supporting the defendant is that this claim is being made by too diverse a group of people, who have little in common except the fact that they are women.

Class actions give the general population, like the women filing suit, the ability to have a significant chance at taking large corporations Wal-Mart to court and being able to properly challenge them. It allows less wealthy groups to pool their resources and eliminate a large corporation’s ability to tie up litigation in legal fees that prevent the plaintiff from continuing to pursue legal action. People, like the ones suing Wal-Mart, have the ability to protect their own rights, rather than rely upon larger organizations to protect their rights for them.

The idea of a class action is reminiscent of the founder’s desire to protect the minority from being overrun by the elite, or majority. Just as the checks and balances act as barriers to the elite from taking control of the government and oppressing the minority, class actions give the minority the necessary tools to protect their rights from being infringed upon.

Labels: , ,

Party Polarization Decreasing?

In the most recent elections, many New York legislators focused on change and fair elections in their platforms. One of the main aspects they focused on was the issue of drawing district boundaries. In the past, it was politicians who drew these legislative boundaries, which has been contributing to the increasing polarization of the parties. Indeed, the way in which politicians draw these boundaries makes it so that “House districts get redder and redder or bluer and bluer”. Ultimately, this means that in these polarized districts, there is no chance for the opposing candidates, or even more moderate, same-party candidates. Now, however, according to a Times Union article, some New York legislatures have proposed that instead of politicians choosing the boundaries, it should be up to independent commissions to decide.

This idea of having members outside Congress designate the boundaries of legislative districts is not novel. Indeed, according to an article from The San Diego Union-Tribune, other states, like California, have reconsidered how to draw district boundaries as well. Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, supported change in this arena, declaring that it would “take [power] away [from the politicians] and give it back to the people”. While it’s true that changing the way legislative districts are drawn could shift power from politicians to the public, it could have other major effects as well. If the current method by which district boundaries are drawn is a contributing factor to party polarization, what effect could change have on the parties? Would it truly even the playing field? An unbiased, independent commission would allow the possibility for more diversity in terms of the constituency of the districts. Indeed, changing the way these boundaries are drawn so that its not just all the liberals in one district, and all the conservatives in another, but a mixture, could have a large effect on the party status of the district. If these two extremes, liberal and conservative were more evenly dispersed within districts, it could allow moderate politicians, and even opposing party members, a greater chance, decreasing party polarization.

Not His Fault

On Monday, December 6, President Obama announced an agreement with the Republicans to extend all Bush tax cuts for the next two years, as well as inject short-term fiscal steroids into the economy. The new package, worth some $800 billion, could potentially be good news for the economy in the short term (if it passes the parties’ respective caucuses). Yet, it has also been regarded by some as “an abandonment of liberal, Democratic principles on the part of the president;” another presidential failure (CBS News). Some liberals even took the news personally, claiming that “[Obama] betrayed Democrats by cutting a deal with Republicans” (FOX News).

Obama’s announcement does appear to be a dramatic reversal of his long-term stance on the economy. In his 2008 campaign, Obama vowed not to extend the tax cuts for the rich, promising that tax cuts be only extended for those individuals with incomes up to $200,000 and couples with incomes up to $250,000. Later, he compromised and sought to extend the tax cuts for the rich temporarily, while making the rest permanent. The new package announced on Monday is a “retreat” on both counts. However, it is not fair to pin all the blame on the one man, just because he hasn’t been able to realize his vision and fulfill all his obligations.

While it is easy to think that the president has enormous powers on his own to do public policy, he is in fact, limited by Congress, popularity, time in term, and other factors -- especially on the domestic front. One of the problems this time was that Congress leaned toward short term and popular policies, and so the debate was mostly on an all-or-nothing basis with regard to extending the Bush tax cut. Introduction of new sets of tax rates were out of the question. Obama did personally oppose the extending income tax cuts at upper income levels and the more generous deal on estates. However, unlike prime ministers in parliamentary systems, as the president, he was forced negotiate on the mostly all-or-nothing basis. Should he insist on discontinuing tax cuts for the rich and risk the Congress session coming to an end without any conclusion, or should he give in to the Republicans for a temporary solution? In the end, “an agreement with Republicans was more important than a stalemate that would have resulted in higher income taxes at all levels on Jan. 1” (CBS 8).

This new package represents not so much Obama’s betrayal or abandonment of Democratic principles, as much as the complexity and power checks of the American political system -- especially in regard to presidential powers. It will be interesting to see now, how (or if) Obama can persuade his own Democrats that this new package is the best deal for the nation at this moment in time. If the Democrats cannot be persuaded, they may not even allow it onto the floor and then we may be forced back to square one. Hopefully, that will not be the case. In the mean time, it is important for us to remember that the president does not have complete command over our nation and so we should not blame him for everything that doesn't go our way.

Will there be a Great Compromise in 2010?

On December 7, President Obama announced a tax-cut compromise—a combination of Bush era tax-cut extension and 13-month extension of federal unemployment programs—with the Republican Party that rules the House again after 2010 mid-term election. In this harsh time when the national unemployment rate is 9.8%, any kind of unemployment benefit that survived the Republican Renaissance would have expected wide-open and welcoming arms. Instead, the compromise stirs angry and anxious voices, even among Democrats. Why?

It is largely because the extreme ideological polarization of the political parties. After the breakdown of the New Deal Coalition followed by the party realignment, GOP and Democratic Party came to represent the ends of a liberal-conservative spectrum in the United States. One of the “issue dimensions” in the American politics according to Carmines is economic and social welfare dimension, including tax-cut, budget deficit, and welfare programs.

In the development of this issue, Republicans have consistently rejected welfare package for the unemployed because it increases the federal deficit. But sometimes, their arguments were not so clear other than their partisanship, as in the case of Senator Barrasso blocking the Senate’s unanimous consent agreement process against unemployment benefits last week, who apparently did not understand the details and made a blunder on the number. This particular tax-cut compromise has also raised concerns because of its cost $900 billion. However, even though the federal deficit in the long term is a detriment to the country, the short term effect of economic stimulation estimates about 3.1 million job creation is critical both for the salvation of economy and for the Democratic Party in the coming elections.

When President Obama still needs at least 18 Senate Democrats even with unanimous Republican votes, the Democratic support is unclear due to the concession he has made for extending the Bush era tax-cut that aroused discontent among Democrats. Even though this partisan warfare”, as Mayor Bloomberg criticized this afternoon, is inevitable due to the ideological polarization in the present American politics, hopefully the Congress will reach the decision to save the drowning economy in any manner, in some time soon.

School reform: a call for teachers unions to join

School reform: a call for teachers unions to join

The teachers unions aren't the biggest or the only problem facing our schools, but for many years now, they have been the most consistent, most powerful defenders of the unacceptable status quo.

What happens when interest groups such as teachers unions obstruct reforms which are clearly set out for a common good?

Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of the City of Los Angeles criticizes teachers unions for impeding school reform to go forward. In fact, he claims that when there was a proposal to alter the seniority-based layoff system which only enhanced inequality, the interest group fought back, then when there was an idea to turn around failing schools by bring in outside school operators which had proven records of success, the unions fought back. Finally, now that they are trying to put into practice a way to measure teacher effectiveness in order to reward the best teachers and to replace the ineffective who are not encouraging children to learn, the unions keep fighting back.

All these measures have the common goal to raise the education level in the country. It is necessary that it be increased because these children are tomorrow’s future. If our education system is failing them how are they going to enter college or find a job that will assure them quality of life? Moreover, if the U.S keeps staying behind while other countries keep investing in education we can start saying goodbye to the number one spot in superpowers race. Nevertheless, teachers unions don’t care about this. Don’t get me wrong: they do care about the kids. However, at the end of the day when they come home to their families, how are they going to bring dinner to the table if they got fired because of some ‘test’ that labeled them as ‘ineffective’?

In a democracy it is important that everyone has the opportunity to speak up in order to assure freedom of speech. But, what happens when an interest group speaks up against a common good? To quote Madison, since it is impossible to remove the causes of factions* we should control its effects. Thus, a way to do this would be, instead of confronting each other, to think of policies in a consensual way. In other words, school reform should be thought in order to assure a ‘win-win’ situation and not a ‘winner-loser’ one.

*faction: Madison defines it as a ‘number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community’.


Social Insecurity?

Bill H.R. 5987, the Seniors Protection Act, was voted down earlier today in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The bill was meant to to award $250 checks to Social Security recipients facing a second consecutive year without a cost-of-living increase. Due to the recent changes from the November elections, the bill fell short of the 2/3 majority in the House and was 7 votes away from the 60 necessary votes to advance the bill in the Senate. According to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "the financial aid act was critical to seniors facing rising costs and falling home values and was fiscally responsible". However, notes from the GOP say that seniors "fared statistically better than the rest of the economy... the poverty rate increased for all Americans last year, but fell for people aged 65 and over".

As we learned in lecture, three core things must all line up for a bill to successfully become a law. Public opinion, interest group influence and support, and government personnel. After the November 2010 elections, it is quite clear that newly Republican dominated House and 6 seat swing in the Senate are not conducive to the approval of the Seniors Protection Act. Our economy has certainly not yet fully recovered and the federal budget deficit is enormous, making the idea of spending more money absolutely repulsive to the public. And although the AARP fully supported the bill, it was not enough to make a difference in the vote.

Perhaps when the tide of public opinion changes there can be some success with this motion.

Labels: , , , ,

DADT: to Repeal or not to Repeal? That is the question.

The Don't Ask Don't Tell policy has been controversial ever since it was enacted almost seventeen years ago. There have been polls and studies released lately pertaining to the repeal of DADT. It is important to note the effects of wording bias. For example, the results of the poll change depending on whether the words "gay" or "homosexual" are used. Needless to say, the polls generally show the repeal as favorable to most Democrats and to some, though not nearly as many, Republicans.

The members of the Republican Party generally favor the policy as it is in place now, at least until the war is over. John McCain is leading the way in the argument for maintaining the status quo. He is open to discussion about the policy but feels strongly that there should be no major changes to the military while there is a war going on.

Party loyalty among voters is extremely high in American culture. However, loyalty to a party is less prevalent among already elected officials. They are generally more concerned with pleasing their constituents (perhaps to win re-election) than pleasing party elites. This is the case with Senator Scott Brown. Brown recently released his opinion on DADT and, surprisingly to some, it does not align with the mainstream Republican Party. The people of Massachusetts tend to be liberal and supportive of the repeal of DADT. Brown mirrors his constituents, at least when it comes to DADT.

Brown's opinion on repealing DADT is also very important because he has an extensive background in military service. He knows what it means to serve the country and he, more than most other senators, can say from first-hand knowledge that repealing the policy would not be detrimental to the effectiveness of the military.

Labels: , ,

Grandstanding, Payoff, or Genuine Concern?

A United Kingdom parliament has the ability to pass environmental legislation on account of its unified nature. On the other hand, the separation of power between states and national government, bicameral legislative branch, and general weakness of the United States government makes it more difficult to make pass and implement important legislation. This weakness in government creates discrepancies between the powers of state and national government.

In Texas, EPA officials have decided to take action against Range Resources Corporations, overstepping state regulators. The national agency believes that the company has contaminated the nearby residents’ water supply. They claim that the state regulators have not done enough to ensure the safety of the residents; thus, the interference of the EPA. While the company and regulators are going back and forth disputing the cause of the water contamination, the issue still remains on who has primary control over regulations of the company- the Texas regulators or the EPA officials? This could be a case for the Interstate Commerce Clause in that air pollution would affect people’s health, which would, in turn, affect the economy by increasing unemployment (because of poor health) and thus affect Interstate Commerce. If that is true, then the EPA would have control over how to help residents nearby drilling sites. In contrast to the weak government of the United States, a stronger government would not have such problems between separations of power in state and national governments.

Having local regulators is useful because, let’s face it, EPA officials cannot do everything on their own. Having help on a state level distributes the power so that the EPA does not have an overwhelming amount of overseeing to do. Unfortunately, while it distributes the power in a helpful way, it also forces the EPA to go through state regulators who can easily be affected by interest groups.

Also, when the local regulators and EPA officials disagree, who REALLY has the residents’ best interests in mind? Perhaps the local regulators are being paid off by the company for paying less attention to safety regulations, similar to inspectors in the Gulf of Mexico. Or maybe this is just the EPA grandstanding, trying to get hype and support while showing off what they can do.

No matter what the underlying intentions of the EPA and the local regulators may have been or may be, the safety of residents is the most important aspect of this dispute. If, in the end of the investigation and work by the EPA and local regulators, the residents have clean water and are healthy and safe, then the EPA has done a fine job of fulfilling their purpose of “protecting human health and safeguarding the environment.”

Pardon Me

Recently, President Barack Obama granted 9 pardons. These were the first of his presidency making him the second slowest president to issue pardons. However, the time the president took to use one of his greatest powers in office was not the point of criticism, but rather, the mere offenses he pardoned were the larger issue. An article in the Huffington Post, states that Obama has granted 9 out of 140 pardon requests and 0 for 1,157 commutation requests. Furthermore, not only has the president been reluctant to use his pardon power, but the 9 times he did use it were only to pardon minor offenses such as drug possession and mutilation of coins. Most of the crimes took place years and decades ago and moreover, 6 of the 9 people pardoned had not even gone to jail and the other 3 served very little time.

In a government where the President’s power is very limited on the domestic level to powers such as vetoes, executive orders, pardons, etc., shouldn’t President Obama be flexing his muscles a bit more while in office by using these powers more often. As a law school graduate from Harvard and the President of the Harvard Law Review, many would think that Obama would use his pardoning power to make a strong statement about some of the problems in the criminal justice system today.

Why did he wait so long to make a move? Well, after taking office with a bag of Former President Bush’s economic problems, his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the health care problem, President Obama had a lot more on his plate. Because the pardoning power is one Obama can exercise at anytime without having to deal with other branches or agencies in the government, he made sure to put health care, the economy, and the wars first on his agenda. This was the platform he ran on when Americans voted retrospectively in the election following their experiences with a republican President for 8 years. The people proved they wanted change on these particular issues. Furthermore, to have legislation passed on these major issues would be easier with the Democratic Party in control of both houses in congress. Obama has been in a race against time, and he managed to pass major legislation such as the Health Care Bill with the Democratic congress knowing that a republican takeover somewhere in congress was inevitable. However, he managed to beat the clock then, and he managed to beat the clock with his pardons by not being the slowest President to issue them. President George W. Bush wins that trophy.

By making sure to make safe selections and to pardon those who had only committed small crimes, Obama avoided a rather bold move which would attract more attention. Although, it seems this strategy to please the crowd may have backfired as he continues to get hammered with the criticism for being too timid to take a stand. C’mon people! Give the man a break. He pardoned four possibly very dangerous and high level criminals in addition to these 9 pardons… his Thanksgiving turkeys...

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Arizona Organizations Fight To Pass Prop 203

On Monday November 15, almost 2 weeks after Arizona’s polls closed, constituents voted yes on the hotly debated medical-marijuana law. Although, Arizona is the fifteenth law to pass a law legalizing medical-marijuana use, it's the first state to pass such a law since 1996. Prop 203 (as it was presented on the November ballot) was intensely advocated for by the Medical Marijuana Project , an advocacy group which seeks to “Increase public support for non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies, identify and activate supporters of non-punitive, non-coercive marijuana policies, change state laws to reduce or eliminate penalties for the medical and non-medical use of marijuana”. Another group, which worked actively to get Proposition 203 passed, is the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP) a grassroots organization based in the state. Last April the group submitted more than 250,000 signatures to the State’s office and in June the Arizona Secretary agreed to put it on the November ballot after finding all inscriptions valid.

But the proposition was not without many opponents, including “Keep AZ Drug-Free” . As to be expected Drug-Free America, S.T.A.N.D. (Students Taking Drugs Not Drugs) and the National Drug-Free Workplace Alliance were on this list as well. However, many other groups including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Arizona Association of Counties and Industry, and Arizona Manufacturers Council also came out against the measure. The < href =" http://www.azchamber.com/news/view_article.cfm?ID="> Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry which is committed to advancing economic growth and the state’s competitive position in the global market “cited concerns over workplace, and employer burdens” due to the fact that the law makes it illegal for an employer to discipline an employee enrolled in the states program regardless of the amount that is in his or her system. “The potential safety impacts on marijuana users’ co-workers, the customers they interact with or the general public cannot be overlooked”.

The debate over Prop 203, which ensued for months, demonstrated the immense and ever-growing prowess and influence of interest groups on American policy. According to CBS News Health Blog, Carolyn Short , chairwoman of Keep AZ Drug Free, believes that the law will “increase crime around dispensary locations, lead to more people driving and eventually lead to legalized pot for everyone”. But the list of groups in opposition to Prop 203 represent a wide array of interests which all differ from each other. In a system that is at least partially pluralist in nature, groups like Drug-Free America and the Arizona Manufacturers Council, which represent different interests, have coalesced towards the same position to oppose a policy which contradict the respective principles upon which they each stand. Keep AZ Drug Free has listed all of these groups on their webpage in a way that suggests a strong alliance of these associations on the Prop 203 issue.

Stop stalling and get STARTed, Republicans.

Aftermath of the 2010 election: lame-duck Congress.

The office of John Boehner (R-OH) recently announced that the House Speaker-to-be plans to install the first-ever ladies' room next to the floor of the House of Representatives. But while Boehner has an agenda for remodeling Capitol Hill next year, he and his party members have been slow to act on more imminent issues that are currently on the floor. The new START treaty (for Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), for example, has come to a screeching halt in the Senate as Republicans refuse to ratify the treaty. New START is a continuation of the 1991 START agreement that expired at the end of 2009. The treaty aims to ensure that the U.S. and Russia have a stable and transparent strategic nuclear arsenal.

Excuses, excuses.

Signed between President Obama and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, the new START treaty is an important step in shaping U.S. foreign policy as well as in protecting national security. Yet, Republican senators such as Jon Kyl (R-AZ) have claimed that Senate does not have time to discuss the new START treaty amidst other legislation on the floor. With so much on his plate, Sen. Kyl is unable to prioritize. Or so it seems. He just might be waiting for the strong Republican minority to flow in next session before making any moves.

There’s no escaping party loyalty.

Although Senate is the only house that may ratify a treaty, a similar “stall” attitude is also rooted in House Republicans. Just take a look at the newly passed bill that will extend Bush tax-cuts to middle-income taxpayers. Rep. Boehner is enraged, but his buddy Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) says rest assured -- “It’s not going anywhere”.

This phenomenon is a reflection of fundamental Republican Party ideology. According to the Gallup Poll, conservatives dominate the GOP. While the poll shows religion and age as key factors, it nonetheless demonstrates that Republicans are closely connected through over-lapping beliefs. Liberal Democrats are accustomed to compromise – such was Obama’s rhetoric when he introduced healthcare. Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, tend to come to a standstill when a progressive agenda is on the table.
Secondly, the tax-cut bill simply brings us back to the Madisonian system of government. How difficult is it for bills to pass in Congress? Much harder than expected when it come down to two houses.

Back to the START: there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Among a mass of ideological-driven and uncompromising representatives is a knight (or politician) in shining armor. With the nation’s national security foremost in his mind, Richard Lugar (R-IN) has stood out against his own party, urging them to vote on this time-sensitive issue. Lugar has gone so far off the party line as to support a Democratic force vote in the Senate.

For the meantime…

One thing’s for sure, at least future Wellesley women in Washington will have a place to powder their noses. Thank you, Rep. Boehner, for that very thoughtful gesture.

Does food equal bipartisanship?

In the United States, over 76 million individuals get food poisoning every year, and as a result, 5,000 people die each year. And with the recent E.Coli and salmonella outbreaks, there has been much discussion about how food is monitored within this country.

Earlier this week, Tuesday to be exact, the Senate passed a bill that will increase the power of the Food and Drug Administration in terms of seeing how food is produced and distributed. The Senate bill, referred to as Senate Bill 510, is the Senate version of the House of Representatives' Food and Modernization Act. The bill was enacted during 2009, and is considered to be very strict. But in order to maintain Republican support, Democrats had to compromise parts of the bill. For example, amendments were constructed in order to to avoid a $500 annual registration for farms. The Democrats compromises did work out though: 73 yeas against 25 nays. Some may consider this as bipartisanship.

If the House chooses to pass the bill, then the bill will be the first time the FDA's food regulation policy has been updated since 1938. It will cost $1.4 billion over the next four years, but will require the FDA to establish a minimum number of inspection of food processing facilities.

Even though the House created a earlier, different bill, it is very likely that the House will vote on the bill within the next few weeks, before the new Congress comes in in January. If the House chooses this route, then they will pass the contents of the Senate bill as a House measure and then send it back to the Senate. After the senate confirms, the bill should be ready for the president's desk.

But there is the possibility that debates may continue throughout the "lame duck" session and will have to face the new congress. Also, recently, Republican senators have signed a pledge stating that they will not agree to consider any legislation until Democrats agree to extend Bush era tax cuts.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The United States' Defining Deficit

            Today, the Dow saw its highest one-day gain in over two months.  After ending on a fairly depressing note last month, this surge in the markets seems to point towards a brighter December.  A weak dollar has been good news for exports, and the manufacturing sector has been riding a 16-month high.  This comes as a welcome for the U.S. automobile industry which has been making a strong push toward increasing its competitiveness in the international market.  For example, Ford announced that it will be opening 100 additional dealerships in China, as emerging markets provide an opportunity to make up for profit losses in the U.S. 
These small steps, like a weaker dollar and increasing our presence in emerging markets is essential to improving the U.S. trade deficit, which stands at a daunting $447 billion for 2010, and only increasing by the minute.  World trade was up 19% in the third quarter of 2010 compared to Q3 2009, but the United States only recorded a 1% increase in exports from Q2 to Q3, while countries like China boasted an increase of 11% in exports in the same time frame.  The United States is clearly struggling with the dilemma of exporting much, but importing much more.
Ever since the U.S. began running a trade deficit in 1975, Democrats have harped on the dangers of running a high deficit.  Republicans have argued that a trade deficit isn’t necessarily harmful, as it could be a sign of robust economic activity. Regardless of the fundamentals, both sides agree that the recent records set by the U.S. trade deficit are unacceptable.  Our dependence on low-priced Chinese goods has led to an astounding 19.3% of our $1.575 trillion in imports to be from China.  Another troubling number is the import of crude oil, which accounted for 8.2% of our total imports in 2009.  We import as much oil as Japan, South Korea, and China combined.  Certainly the recent news of increasing exports and our narrowing deficit comes at an opportune time.  Perhaps with a continued increase in exports and a sincere effort to decrease our dependence on China and foreign oil, someday, we may be able to achieve the seemingly impossible:  a trade surplus.

Will slow and steady win the race?

The Pentagon finally released a long awaited report on its year-long study of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, first enacted under the Clinton administration in 1993. The findings revealed that a repeal of DADT would not have long term detrimental effects on the military. Of those who answered the survey, seventy percent said that an openly gay member serving in their unit would have a “positive, mixed or no effect.”

Advocates of the repeal are relying on the decision being made before the lame-duck session’s end; when the 112th Congress meets on January 3, 2011, Republicans will gain majority in the House and will gain 6 seats in Senate. Since the report’s release on Tuesday, President Obama has been pleading to have the repeal enacted as soon as possible. The House has already approved of the repeal, so the decision now lies in Senate, where a 60 vote majority is necessary to pass it.

However, Obama’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who ordered the Pentagon’s review earlier this year, admitted that a rushed decision could result in a backlash. Senator Lieberman (I-CT), a strong supporter of the repeal, argued that this process should be given sufficient time to pass, rather than coming to a rushed decision. “I’m convinced we have more than the necessary 60 votes,” stated Sen. Lieberman, ensuring that Republicans would break the party line to repeal the law, but only if “we take the time to have the debate, not just on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" but on the underlining Defense Authorization bill”. Among these senators are Silvestre Reyes (R-TX) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

Complicating the issue, however, was a recent decision by the Senate GOP conference to block all legislation until tax cuts are worked out. This was signed by all 42 Republican senators, including those who have indicated support for an amendment on the defense bill.

Hearings on the report will be held on December 2 and December 3, but regardless, it seems that little action will be taken before January unless other issues are cleared first.

Wikileaks, the ultimate democratic tool?

If, as Jefferson once said, "Information is the currency of Democracy", wikileaks is the ultimate tool for a democratic regime. However, everyone is not so thrilled about it.

The web and even more the web 2.0 is the perfect way to broadcast alternative --as opposed to mainstream-- media: it is cheap and easy to use; amateurs can do journalists' job and release information free from any kind of censorship, giving a whole new dimension to information and journalism. And, in addition to that, it even creates a space for citizens to debate, allowing them to comment on the information they were given. All in all, the internet is the room a new public sphere in which people can shape a public opinion. The web sounds like the perfect tool to improve any type of democracy, for example, by bringing more representation in the Democracy as a Trusteeship model, or by allowing small interest groups to be heard in a pluralist democracy.

So why is the latest release of information by wikileaks raising so many indignations? Maybe because most of what was released is pointless for the public to know and therefore appears just as a provocation towards the US government, showing that it is not almighty, especially within the world wide web.

In the US, the Freedom of Information Act, allow people to gain access to classified documents and get their way. That’s even how websites such as Cryptome or Secrecy News work. It seems like a normal repercussion of the Freedom of Speech shared by the American Creed. The internet and wikileaks are evidence of that, and just made it really easier to spread news of anykind.

Maybe the cablegate proved that some things are better left unsaid.