Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Infidelity and Politics: Does it Matter?

The blog article “Presidential Morality” discusses a prevalent issue regarding presidential hopefuls. Is marital infidelity relevant when choosing a president? The blog recognizes presidents are role models and in that sense, held more accountable than the average Joe. In contrast, the blog also proposes marital fidelity and leadership abilities are not integrally related. Thus, a president can be a philanderer and a successful public servant. I see both sides of the argument, however, image is a critical component to becoming an elected officially and remaining a successful one.

The majority of Americans have a minimal working knowledge of presidential candidates’ political track record. Considering this, most Americans vote in part, based on the presupposed character of a presidential candidate. This brings us to what qualities are important in a leader. Two that particularly relevant are character and integrity. A person of character is marked by moral excellence. Integrity is defined as “the integration of outward actions and inner values.” Someone’s character and integrity are integral components of his personality and not indistinguishable from his actions. Yes, someone may be able to hide her true nature for a time but a fa├žade cannot be maintained indefinitely. For this reason, a public official’s character and outward expression of his character do matter. Granted, the issue is not as black and white as the latter indicates. Other factors, such as the length of infidelity and how recent are important as well. Nonetheless, the fact still remains, Americans want to be able to trust those who represent us and act on our behalf. Thus, a pristine record and character are important. I would also argue Americans do not hold presidents or other public officials to higher standards than other leaders, such as bosses, or the average employee. All employees are expected to conduct themselves morally and ethically (as depicted in employee contracts, procedures, policies and employee handbooks). Yes, there is a greater distinction between private and public for the average American; however, we aren’t making monumental decisions that impact the whole Nation as is the case with public officials. Thus, it is fair for public officials and hopefuls to be evaluated more critically than most Americans. With power comes great responsibility.    

Friday, November 25, 2011

Has Government Sold Out?

The Occupy Wall Street protests illustrate the public’s outrage that the government is in bed with big businesses. The escalating costs of campaigns and the influence of interest groups illustrates the power of money. For this reason, government should significantly limit the amount of money any candidates running for public office can raise and spend for campaign purposes. This would prevent the escalating greed in Washington among career politicians who are more concerned with increased power than the needs of U.S. citizens.

Ninety-three to ninety-four percent of congressional seats are won by the candidates who spend the most money campaigning. This can in part by explained by the iron triangle concept. This concept states that interest groups, congressional committees and executive agency personnel make political deals that are mutually beneficial. Thus, Congress passes bills that benefit business interest groups in exchange for campaign contributions. Business interest groups are one of the largest financial contributors to government candidates and political action committees (PACs). Moreover, business interest groups are one of the most influential interests groups. Can anyone say conflict of interest? In any other setting this kind of relationship would be considered unethical and grounds for job termination (e.g. in most cases, acceptance of a gift more than $20).

Reducing the cost of campaigns would also allow more individuals to enter the political arena, individuals who may have more appropriate expertise. This would also create a more relatable governing body. Most politicians make considerably more than the average American. How then, can politicians realistically relate to the plight of the average-Joe?  Politics should be about the greater good and opportunities for all. How can this be obtained when politicians have their hands in the pockets of big businesses, and greed and corruption is pervasive? 

Monday, November 7, 2011

College Debt: Institutional Greed or Misguided Student Choices?

College education and costs are a hot-topic as the country’s economy continues to struggle. The American Dream is in part synonymous with the belief education spawns prosperity. However, as the cost of college continues to rise—a 5% increase from 2009 to 2010—the American Dream seems less and less tangible. The blog article “Creating a Brighter Future” highlights this topic. The article emphasizes students’ struggle for prosperity by means of a college education, which results in anything but success. Instead, college graduates average $25,000 in debt and they struggle to find jobs. While the blog article accurately illustrates the struggle for a better future weighed down by college debt, as confirmed by Huffington Post and CNN articles, there is more to the story than meets the eye.

While the cost of college, and consequently students’ debt, continues to climb, there is sophisticated investment and half-hazard investment. Three factors come into play when considering college investment: 1) the school of choice, 2) the form or source of student loans and 3) the chosen career path. According to USA Today, twenty percent of college-bound high school graduates attend out-of-state schools, which significantly increases the cost of college. Moreover, half of those out-of-state college-bound students attend private institutions, which naturally result in increased college costs and debt.

Besides the initial cost of college, the form of borrowing to pay for college matters. Lauren Asher, the TICAS president, eloquently emphasizes smart borrowing in her quote “How you borrow, not just how much you borrow, really matters (Huffington Post).” Twenty-two percent of 2010 college graduates’ debt is in the form of private loans, which are notorious for “higher interest rates and fewer borrower protections (Huffington Post).” Students are encouraged to utilize federal government loans before seeking private loans; however, evidence indicates many students do not heed this advice.

Furthermore, certain career paths are bound to encounter more roadblocks to success than others. Engineering and health care majors tend to be the most lucrative college degrees, while the social science, fine arts and education degrees tend to be the least profitable college degrees (CBS News). While enjoying what you do professionally is invaluable and tends to lead to success in that given field, it does not guarantee a job out of college or financial stability and success. Consequently, choosing a college major is an art and must be bound by the reality of the job market. 

Thus, while the blog article highlights an important and relevant current issue, it is not as simple as depicted. Yes, college debt is escalating but is outrageous college debt a product of poor personal investments and decisions or organizational factors of the education institution? Granted, it is a combination of the two but people can take an active role in minimizing their college debt and jump-starting their path to success. Moreover, while additional opportunities to minimize college debt are bound to be successful and helpful, there are already an array of tools in place to help people tackle their college debt as detailed in the CNN article, “Student loan debt—how to get relief.” 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mortgage Refinancing: The Solution or Addition to the Problem

Recently the federal administration proposed a mortgage-refinancing plan. This plan would allow people whose loans exceed the value of their homes to refinance, which they are currently ineligible for. At present, 20% equity and exceptional credit are required to refinance loans. While the plan does have its benefits nonetheless, there are limitations (e.g. limited impact considering the housing market and economy as a whole) and criticisms of the plan (e.g. not radical enough). However, the mortgage refinancing proposal does attempt to minimize the effects of the failing housing market while preventing taxpayers from financing the industry’s failings.
This blogger agree with the proposed mortgage-refinancing plan. Lower monthly payments would go a long way towards minimizing the strain and stress of borrowers’ financial woes on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, people would only be eligible if they were consistently paying their loans. Therefore, there is a level of accountability. Additionally, the plan is a good median between full-fledged housing bailout and doing nothing. However, this blogger questions the long-term benefits of the plan. Evidence indicates even people who have not been financial impacted by today's economy are still tightening their purse strings. One only has to look at big business and corporations which continue to make profits but limit investments (e.g. job development). Therefore, while this plan will be directly beneficial to borrowers, this blogger is unsure it will have a significant impact on the overall economy and finances of the nation as a whole, as discussed in the article “Opposing view: Let the mortgage market heal itself.” This also brings into question to what extent people are financial responsible for their neighbors and what many consider their bad investment decisions.  

For more information on this topic refer to the following:

The USA Today's editorial “Mortgage refinancings could boost the economy.”  

The New York Times' article "On the Road to Relief."

The USA Today's article "Opposing view: Let the mortgage market heal itself" (referred to above).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Protests: Clear or Misinformed Message?

            In the blog article “A message that ‘should be obvious,’” Steve Benen mirrors the New York Times editorial claim that the Occupy Wall Street protesters’ message is obvious. The protesters are characterized as demanding improved economic conditions and proclaiming outrage for bank bailouts. Benen goes on to pit the Republican Party against the Democrat Party claiming the former is against the protests while the latter is in support. The blog concludes by summarizing the response of Washington—restoration of the middle class versus maintenance of the status quo—and proposes the 2012 presidential election will be the deciding factor on which vision for the economy prevails.
            Benen’s blog is an arm of the Washington Monthly, which is left-leaning. Additionally, Benen refers to the New York Times, another left-leaning media source. Thus, it’s safe to say the blog’s audience, are liberals. Moreover, mainstream media strives to inform the masses, therefore, the audience tends to be the general population. However, the blog assails politicians, spurring them to take action. Therefore, the blog reaches out to the masses as well as those in Washington.
            Generally speaking the New York Times is considered a credible news source. One would then assume Benen’s blog article, which predominantly draws its content from a New York Times article, is reasonably reliable as well. Additionally, Benen has an extensive biography legitimizing his journalism as cataloged by the Huffington Post.
            In some ways Benen’s message is accurate, it is essentially impossible to deny the protesters’ disgust with the economy, banks and essentially, big business. However, as Ann Coulter points out, the protesters support Obama, who bailed out the banks, yet hate Wall Street, who donated to Obama’s campaign. Despite this, Benen’s claims and evidence is in some ways self-evident. It’s uncontested that unemployment continues to average 9%. Thus, the root of the Oppose Wall Street protests—anger at the failing economy—is accurately highlighted. However, the quote “the economy is not working for most Americans” seems an exaggeration considering the statistics—approximately 91% of Americans are employed. Granted, this does not address whether or not they are underemployed.
Furthermore, Benen quotes the New York Times’ attack on regulators, elected officials and the rich in the name of the protesters. The blog’s source and its focus (the protesters) all smack of liberalism, which by definition favors government intervention to promote equality, including economic equality. However, as previously mentioned, the left-leaning protesters are attacking industries that financially support the Democratic Party, which passed legislature bailing out the same industries. Thus, it sounds like the pot is calling the kettle black. Moreover, the protesters are attacking the rich. However, empirical evidence “demonstrates that wealthier and better-educated citizens show a greater commitment to values such as fair play, diversity, and respect for civil liberties,” which contradicts the attacks of the protesters (Losco & Baker, 2011).
Also, Benen highlights the youthfulness of the protesters. Evidence indicates today’s youth lacks political knowledge, which is crucial to political consistency. This seems to be the general concern with the Oppose Wall Street protests, no unified, consistent message. Thus, some protesters appear to be rationalizing their political stances without consistent, supportive information as illustrated about.
Therefore, while there is some merit and supportive evidence for Benen’s blog article, it remains riddled with contradictions. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Texas Border: Dire or Overstated?

The Austin American Statesman commentary article  “Staples: Texans want action on border security” discusses the growing threat Mexican cartels impose to Texans, specifically those along the Texas-Mexico border. The Mexican cartels are accused of killing, kidnapping, human trafficking, drug and arms smuggling, and more. The Texas Department of Agriculture and Texas Department of Public Safety commissioned retired General Barry R. McCaffrey and Major General Robert H. Scales to employ their vast military expertise with securing borders and hostile territories to evaluate the risks along the Texas-Mexico border. General McCaffrey and Major General Scales conclude there is a real serious threat and incite local, state and federal governments to work collaboratively to improve Texas and national security. The commentary discusses the human threat of the Mexican cartels as well as the economic threat. Mexico is Texas’ primary trading partner and the U.S’s number two exporter, yet $19 billion to $39 billion in illegal trade travels into Mexico occurs annually.
This article’s audience is primarily the federal government, which is seen as lax and negligent in their estimation of Mexican cartels’ threat to Texans specifically, and Americans generally. The article is also a means to persuade citizens to insight their government representatives to act to secure their homes, lives and future. In fact, Staples refers to the federal government’s constitutional responsibility of securing the country from “foreign invaders.”
The source of the article and the experts sited in the article lend it credibility. The Austin American Statesman maintains strict adherence to ethical guidelines “intended to preserve impartiality.” Additionally, the author, Todd Staples’ evidence, as concluded by General McCaffrey and Major General Scales in Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment, seems credible as exhibited by the men's extensive professional biographies. Additionally, General McCaffrey was the former U.S. drug czar under President Bill Clinton, a democrat, which indicates the findings are unbiased and not generated by a certain party’s agenda.  However, Staples has a vested interest in border security because it predominantly impacts farmers, ranchers and rural Texans all of whom are Staples’ constituents.
Overall, Staples’ argument seems credible. While the number of murders (25), assaults (24), shootings (15) and kidnappings (5) in Texas contributed to the cartel are minimal compared to the total rates, evidence indicates the increase in illegal activity will continue to grow if it is not curbed. Without increased support, resources, leadership and competent staff, Mexican cartel crime will proliferate and further infiltrate the U.S. with dire consequences to its citizens directly (e.g. increased murders, assaults and kidnappings) and economically (e.g. millions of dollars are allocated to border security related efforts, but unless executed sufficiently, as it is currently, it is a waste of tax payers’ money).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Are Current Political Elections a Warning for the 2012 Presidential Election?

The New York Times’ article “G.O.P. Gains House Seat Vacated by Weiner” by Thomas Kaplan, reports the results of the Ninth Congressional District special election. Bob Turner, a Republican businessman with little political experience defeated Democrat Assemblyman David I. Weprin. In the article Kaplan discusses Turner and Weprin’s strategies, their supporters and the general mood of the district’s population.
            The primary theme of the article and of Turner’s campaign, as depicted by Kaplan, was the perceived incompetence of President Obama is spurring the economy and creating jobs. Kaplan emphasized this by exclusively quoting citizens’ who are traditionally left-leaning but voted for Turner to “send a message to the president that he’s not doing a very good job.” This is further evidenced by the fact the Ninth Congressional District hasn’t been represented by a Republican in 91 years.
            The message of the article as exemplified by Kaplan is critical because it illustrates a national trend: American citizens are not content with the status quo. Some would contend the November mid-term elections, the Ninth Congressional District election and Nevada’s Second District election are evidence not just Republicans are dissatisfaction but Democrats as well. The article warns of the challenge politicians and Washington face amongst a sea of frustrated, scared and in some cases, desperate citizens.