July 27, 2011

US Debt Ceiling Crisis Holding the Country Hostage? Congressman Rush Holt Feels Crisis a Result of "Economic Brinksmanship "

I had sent an email to Congressman Rush Holt (Dem) on the current 'Debt Ceiling Crisis" and this was his reply:
(the parts highlighted in red caught my attention)

"Thank you for contacting me about the federal budget. I appreciate hearing from you.

The debate over the budget goes to the heart of how we govern and how we increase economic opportunity and create jobs. On one side are those who believe we need to invest in our workforce and our infrastructure, just as we did with the GI Education Bill, the national highway system, and our science workforce after the Russians beat us into space with Sputnik. On the other side are those who respond that "investment" is a code word for wasteful spending. This debate gets to the basic reason our founders banded together to make a more perfect union. They realized there are things we can do as a nation, as a self-governing people together, to improve opportunities for individuals and their families, to provide fairness in bearing the responsibilities and costs of civilization, and in providing both economic and physical security.

Today Americans find ourselves with more than 15 million people who need to get back to work. That is by far the most important concern we face. To get Americans back to work in jobs where they can thrive is not only the humane thing to do; it is the essential, missing piece of dealing with our lackluster economy and our deficit and debt problems. That is where Congress should be focusing our efforts.

Although the debate over who should be helped by our government and who should pay for it is as old as our country, it has come to a critical point now because Congressional Republicans have said they will not pass a routine extension of the debt limit unless the President and the Senate first cut back on government services. This is not only short-sighted and cruel, it is backwards. The debt is the result of past decisions on spending and taxing. The decision before us today is whether we should pay our debts and let the world know that the U.S. always pays her debts. Of course, we should pay our debts. Not to pay these debts would be dishonorable and very expensive to individuals, to businesses, indeed, to all Americans.

In May I voted in favor of a stand-alone measure to raise the statutory debt limit, which failed to pass the House. This bill would have prevented the United States from defaulting while providing Congress and the President with the time necessary to craft thoughtful policies to improve our economy in the near-term and address the debt and deficit over the long-term. Unfortunately, the vote was the latest example of economic brinksmanship, which is becoming all too familiar in Washington. After bringing the federal government within minutes of a shutdown in April, now Congressional Republicans are once again playing a game of chicken with the national debt, needlessly endangering our financial security. According to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, without Congressional action, the United States will begin defaulting on its debts on August 2, 2011.

In the 1990's Congress balanced the budget. A mere decade ago the United States had a budget surplus. It did not require a Balanced Budget Constitutional Amendment; it required some sensible decisions by Congress and the President to match our taxes and our expenditures. It is worth remembering that Democrats in Congress passed tax increases along with cutting Cold War-era defense spending in the early 1990's, without any Republican votes in support, and put the country on the path for a decade of prosperity. As a result, our families and workers had more after-tax income than they had had in decades. The U.S. would have paid off most of its debt if we had stayed on that course and not pursued the unpaid wars of the Bush years and other poor economic policies.

While the United States must address its long-term budget problems, in the near-term it is more important for Congress and the President to confront directly slow economic growth and persistent unemployment. Higher employment will increase tax revenues and reduce the strain on the social safety net, naturally lowering deficits. As Douglas Elmendorf, Director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, has noted repeatedly "there is no intrinsic contradiction between providing additional fiscal stimulus today, while the unemployment rate is high and many factories and offices are underused, and imposing fiscal restraint several years from now, when output and employment will probably be close to their potential."

There are many worthwhile ideas to help boost our economic vitality. For example, Congress could match federal funding with state and private investment to upgrade our nation's aging infrastructure through the development of national infrastructure development bank. I am a cosponsor of legislation that would establish such a bank. Congress could provide states and localities with money to prevent layoffs of teachers and first responders and provide strong incentives for businesses to hire more workers. I have supported such efforts. Congress also could extend popular renewable energy and energy efficiency tax credits that will expire in December. We could pass my bills that extend the research tax credit, make it valuable even to start-up companies with little profit, and reward investors in those companies.

Congress must promote innovation, improve math and science education, fight for policies that keep jobs in America, make college more affordable, invest in advanced industries such as biotechnology and clean energy, and reform the tax code so that it encourages investment while being fair to middle-class families. In short, economic growth should be our focus, but we will not get it through the voodoo economics of Congressional Republicans that is long on rhetoric and short on historic evidence that it works.

Over the long-term, as we continue to stimulate the economy, Congress must enact fiscal policies that bring down our national debt to its post-World War II historical average of approximately 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product. I support the "pay-as-you-go," budgetary principle to accomplish this goal. This is only one tool, but it is a strong one to return our nation back to fiscal stability. It forces Congress to identify inefficient or ineffective programs whose funding can be cut to fund higher priorities. I am disappointed that Congress forgot this simple lesson last decade.

Of course, we always should be looking to remove wasteful spending and ineffective programs. It is unfortunate; however, that the public debate has focused so singularly on the deficit, rather than more broadly on economic vitality and fiscal policy. Deficit reduction should not be an end in itself; it is the result of wise government actions and economic growth.

I have supported and will continue to support thoughtful budget cuts that eliminate unnecessary spending and costly tax expenditures. Military spending, in particular, could be curbed significantly. At more than $650 billion, the Pentagon's annual budget accounts for nearly as much as all military spending of all other countries in the world, allies and adversaries alike. I am leading a bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives to make defense spending cuts part of any plan for deficit reduction. While we pursue cuts, we also must preserve investments in infrastructure, research and education, along with safety-net programs that assist the most vulnerable among us in obtaining housing, health care, and food – essentials that are necessary for a humane society.

Any fiscal plan hoping to reduce federal budget deficits will have to generate more revenue and not rely on spending cuts alone. Currently, federal taxes are at their lowest level since 1950 – 14.4 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while federal expenditures equal 25 percent of the GDP. These must be brought more in line with each other. To raise sufficient revenues I support removing the tax subsidies for large and successful companies. How can anyone justify a company like GE paying almost no taxes, or a company like ExxonMobil—the most profitable company in the history of the world—getting billions of dollars in subsidies? I also support getting a fair share of support from the top two percent of taxpayers, returning their taxes to the levels they had during the prosperous 1990's.

Again, thank you for taking the time to contact me. As Congress considers measures concerning the federal budget and national debt, I will keep your thoughts in mind. I look forward to hearing from you again about this and other issues.



Member of Congress"

July 24, 2011

American Educators to "Stand and Deliver" - US Students Poised to Become Globally Competitive?

"...winning the future depends on being able to out-innovate, out-build and—yes—out-educate our competitors" Barack Obama

"President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recently released Prepare and Inspire, a report on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. This report generated relatively little fanfare in the mainstream and online press, but it may someday be seen as a watershed in our nation’s educational history."

Clearly, initiatives like Prepare and Inspire are the need of the hour if the US is to bring forth a work force that is globally competitive and can survive the onslaught of a fast growing Chinese economy with tentacles spread across and into every continent. Public education in the US has to gear itself up not just in Science and Math, but also in Language Arts. We need a workforce that is predominantly bilingual like it is in China and India, or else we start off disadvantaged. Putting in state-of-the-art technology in high schools is not a solution by itself . We need teachers to use that technology in order to enhance learning and critical thinking among our students, and that learning has to be at a level that matches up with what's being learned in other developing and developed countries across the world. We cannot dumb down our academics, neither should we manipulate data to get passing numbers that would insure state and federal funding for our schools. We can no longer afford to teach to a test which is antiquated to begin with, and does not meet the standards of a global learning environment. Academic rigor should be the mantra in our public schools, and this mantra has to be designed and implemented by the 'STEM Force' of Jaime Escalantes; Jaime Escalantes who can overcome the system's built-in inertia . The question is how do we identify these 100,000 Jaime Escalantes for the STEM initiative and then find sufficient funding to support them. Furthermore, how do we ensure that the selection of this STEM Force is kosher and not dependent upon and/or embroiled in bureaucratic and administrative politicking. Finally, how do we distribute this STEM Force of Jaime Escalantes such that it reaches the remotest parts of our country? The aforementioned are some difficult questions that the Obama PCAST has to find answers to before a STEM Force can take charge of our debilitate education system.
As an educator, I strongly support President Obama s Prepare and Inspire initiative that encourages teachers to 'Stand and Deliver', and I would gladly volunteer time and effort to make this initiative a working reality.

July 05, 2011

Visit to India Part II - "An Ode to Fairness".

In India for a fortnight...

Billboards, hoardings, and TV /radio commercials universally shout out- "Fair is Beautiful"! That appears to be the universal mantra in India. Ever since I landed at the T3 Airport in India's capital city New Delhi, the one thing I could not help but notice is India's preoccupation with skin whiteners. 'To whiten' seems to be the eternal pursuit of every Indian complexion, be it male or female, old or young, South Indian or North Indian.

The rich, the powerful, and the beautiful are almost always light skinned. Whiteness automatically gets associated with a higher socio economic status and appears o get preferential treatment in every setting, corporate or personal. Consequently, there is great demand for cosmetics and medications that claim to make faces lighter. I have yet to watch more than 15 minutes of TV without coming across at least one or more commercials for whitening complexions; needless to say almost all models are 'fair'.

The 'whiteness' bug didn't spare the Indian gods too because some of the idols in the temple are light skinned while others are not ; there are the black granite idols and then there are idols where the Hindu 'gods' look more European, only dressed in traditional Indian garb. I wonder if the devotees coming into these temples observe a color code, and have to be 'fair' or 'dark' skinned to pray to their respective gods. Furthermore, I also wonder whether the sun god is in fact doling out punishment to the poor who swelter under his direct rays and consequently have darker skins while the rich can afford to hide and protect themselves from the wrath of 'Ravi' the sun god by using creams and remedies to lighten their sun damaged skin.

Does that mean that the Indian population shuns anyone who is dark skinned? Apparently not because Indians can be seen crooning and swooning over a tall, 'dark' and handsome Bollywood hero, or the tall and 'dark' President Obama. Denzel Washington may be the favorite Hollywood icon for an Indian female who spends most of her waking hours experimenting with face creams such as 'Fair and Lovely'. This same Indian female could also be participating in a protest against racial profiling and color bias even as she is telling her friend about this new 'fairness' cream she has tried out and strongly recommends. On the surface of it, her behavior is clearly contradictory, but here, in India, it is not perceived so. You could be a knee jerk liberal, yet pursue the fetish for a lighter skin.

Strangely enough Indian males are not judged by the whiteness of their skin, but most of them would seek a 'fair' partner if given a choice. An Indian male can be dark skinned and yet be successful and be appreciated in society like the many Bollywood heroes who have unprecedented fan following. The 'darkness' of the male can be overlooked if he is rich and or powerful; however, that is not true for the Indian female who has to pay a price for the color of her skin.

Despite all the corruption and poverty that one sees and experiences in India, 'fairness', and the pursuit of it, is clearly a national obsession, and has been for a while : )