The Briefing: February 26th, 2014

It’s good to be back. I apologize for my extended absence but Mock Trial is a demanding mistress. Nevertheless, I have an intriguing list for you. Enjoy!

Chirag

The Domestic

  • The Pentagon is planning a series of cuts to the army that would leave it at its smallest size since before World War II. Budget cuts, the winding down in Afghanistan, and the changing nature of warfare are making the justification of a large land army more and more difficult.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/23/pentagon-army_n_4844656.html

  • A newly released survey indicates that the number of American farms has continued to decline. At the same time, the agriculture market, buoyed by government aid and the foreign market, is doing better than ever. The report is certainly not an excuse to ignore the deficiencies in our subsidy policies, import tariffs, or the abysmal state of rural poverty .

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/ag-boom/

  • The Supreme Court has temporarily halted the consideration of further gun-rights cases. While this is a reprieve, it doesn’t hide the fact that the Supreme Court seems very critical of existing gun regulations and that speculation has focused on what they will knock down rather than what they’ll uphold.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/24/supreme-court-guns-public-concealed/5774283/

  • Scott Walker (R), the governor of Wisconsin, has gotten himself in a bit of trouble regarding a treasure-trove of emails that were disclosed by a former deputy. The emails don’t seem to be releasing anything illegal yet though the allegations of racism certainly don’t help him or the Republican party. Is anyone really surprised?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/21/republican-scott-walker-potential-fallout-leaked-emails

  • The Supreme Court is out with a new decision that says if two people disagree over whether to let the police come in and check their home without a warrant, the police may enter and arrest the disagreeing party. 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/supreme-court-police-searches_n_4854440.html

  • Attorney General, Eric Holder, has said in a statement to state AGs that it may be wise for them, after careful review of state gay marriage bans, to disavow defending them in court. It’s the same tactic used by the Obama administration during the legal battle over DOMA but it raises concerns over how far state legal personnel should be able to go if they disagree with the law. My tentative response would be that refusing to defend a law is as much of a policy and legal statement as defending it is, especially when the tide of opinion is shifting so strongly on an issue as it has for gay marriage bans. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/25/us/holder-says-state-attorneys-general-dont-have-to-defend-gay-marriage-bans.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&wpisrc=nl_wonk&_r=1

The International 

  • Tensions have risen in Ukraine since the ousting of President Yanukovych. Presidential elections are set for this May but worries of Russian intervention and the rise of separatist movements are plaguing foreign policy experts in the European Union and the United States. Russia has already denounced the events in Ukraine and has referred to it as a country-wide mutiny. Mutiny against whom though?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/25/ukraine-separatism-threat-crimea-russia-naval-port

  • Just like we say in Egypt, revolutions and uprisings are never good for the economy. The crisis in Ukraine largely started due to different trade  deal options for Ukraine with the EU or a $15 billion gas deal with Russia. Now, the economy desparetly needs aid if the government is to fund expenses past May and if the possibility of Pro-Russian and Pro-Eu sectarian trouble is to be staved off.

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/25/formation-of-newukrainiangovernmentdelayed.html

  • The United States has informed the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, that it will prepare to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan unless the Karzai administration agrees to a bilateral security agreement. The BSA, not unlike the one that was proposed for Iraq two years ago, would grant the U.S. permission to stay in Afghanistan with certain legal privileges for U.S. troops. It was the failure of the Maliki government to sign the Iraqi BSA that allowed the U.S. to follow the original Status of Forces Agreement and pull out of Iraq. If that pattern repeats here, we may finally be out of Afghanistan for good. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-26346115

  • The Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange has failed following a security flaw that allowed for bitcoins to be stolen; indeed, over 700,000 bitcoins did turn up missing. Quartz put out an interesting article detailing that the Mt. Gox firm, which had been one of the largest exchanges for bitcoins, tried to declare itself too big/important to fail. Sound familiar? If bitcoin truly wishes to distinguish itself from the dollar, then perhaps mimicking the behavior of the 2008 financial institutions and pushing aside valid concerns with its stability and security is not the best course of action. 

http://qz.com/181117/mt-gox-bitcoin-exchange-failed-bailout/#/

  • Egypt once again has a new Prime Minister as the crackdown on protesters continue and the upcoming presidential election seems set to be one by the overwhelming favorite, Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, the popular defense minister who helped overthrow the Mubarak government. All this does not change the fact that the situation in Egypt will not improve until the economy is put back on a growth footing. Ironically, that may be why the government seeks to put so much emphasis on stability and order, though it comes at the risk of massive human rights abuse. 

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/25/egypt-appoints-newprimeminister.html

  • Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, has signed the extremely controversial anti-gay bill that has been heavily criticized by the West. What with LGBT rights gaining traction in the West, this serves as a depressing reminder of the situation faced by the LGBT community elsewhere in the world. 

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/24/uganda-s-presidentsignsantigaybill.html

  • Smog in China has gotten so bad that a man even decided to sue the government over it. Scientists studying the smog in recent years have noted that it may be starting to reach the point where it affects photosynthesis levels among plants; it already poses a serious threat to Chinese agriculture. What’s more, a recent report by the Chinese research organizations even claimed that the smog made Beijing “barely suitable for life.” Perhaps some environmental legislation is order?

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/25/chinese-man-suesgovtforbadairpollution.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/beijing-smog_n_4777506.html

 

The Briefing: February 18th, 2014

Less on this briefing today than last time’s since I hope to do one more before the week’s out. Enjoy!

Chirag 

The Domestic

  • President Obama unveiled further emissions standards for large delivery trucks, set to take effect by March 2016. Alongside the President’s new fuel efficiency standards for coal plants and private vehicles, this is welcome news for emissions regulation but, like most measures, it does not represent any sort of comprehensive innovation in climate policy. 

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/18/obama-fuel-efficiencycarbonpollutioncoalregulationsepa.html

  • A recent CBO report was released showing that the proposed minimum wage hike to $10.10/hour by 2016 could cost the country nearly 500,000 jobs. At the same time the report indicates that the hike could push nearly a million workers out of poverty and drastically raise wages.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/18/279259505/cbo-minimum-wage-hike-could-boost-paychecks-and-cut-jobs

  • The Arkansas legislature is currently debating whether to continue the state’s Private Option, a unique compromise on the Obamacare Medicaid expansion that allowed Governor Mike Beebe (D) to push it through with some Republican support. However, this model for conservative medicaid expansion may fail should it not receive the necessary votes leaving behind worrying repercussions both for Arkansas and the national discussion on Medicaid expansion. 

http://www.nationaljournal.com/health-care/it-s-the-moment-of-truth-for-one-state-s-grand-obamacare-bargain-20140218

  • The failure of a unionization vote for a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee spells worrying signs for the future of Southern labor. However, concerns are also being raised about statements made by Republican politicians like Senator Bob Corker that may have influenced the vote. 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/18/bob-corker-volkswagen-uaw-vote_n_4810757.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/15/vw-workers-in-tennessee-vote-against-having-union-representation

The International

  • The ongoing protests in Kiev, Ukraine have reached a new level of bloodiness. Some 18 people were killed and a protest encampment went up in flames during renewed clashes between the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and the anti-government protesters. For now at least, no clear conclusion seems visible to this crisis. 

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/18/ukraine-protesters-clash-police-reform

  • Venezuelan protests have escalated even further against President Maduro’s government. Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has surrendered himself while anti-government cries escalate against rising inflation, crime, and food shortages. 

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/18/venezuela-oppositionleadersurrenderstopoliceamidmassprotests.html

  • Protests in Thailand have also escalated since the police seem to be losing their reluctance to use force; at the same time, protesters and police opened negotiations on Tuesday. The protests seem focused on corruption surrounding Prime Minister Yingluck’s government, particularly on the influence of money in the Thai political system.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-26224510

  • China has  rejected the recent United Nations report that accused North Korea of war crimes and warned that the report will do little to advance human rights in the Hermit Kingdom. It’s possible that China’s angst arises from the criticisms it received in the report, particularly surrounding its policy of returning North Korean defectors. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-26242278

Magnet Schools in America

One looming issue in America today is education and the public education system. Options for children now at the high school level are to attend their home school, a charter school, or a magnet school. The intention of Magnet schools was initially to promote desegregation and give marginalized groups an opportunity for a better education. Magnet programs are incorporated into the public school system. Some are specialized programs, such as for the International Baccalaureate diploma.  The federal government has been giving grants to magnet programs, which do have to meet integration goals, but has been granting charter schools four times as many. The goal here is to increase diversity in top notch programs. The proposed ways to do this include informing more parents and youth about their options, and using advertising methods such as commercials and brochures. This article provides details on the plight of magnet schools today. What practical ways can we go about integrating more minority groups into the more advanced programs? The article gives a good basis of what is going on at the urban level of society, specifically Miami Florida. However other parts of America are facing different relative issues. What kinds of perspectives can those of us who have gone through different high-school education systems in different parts of America bring to this issue?

Rich , Motoko. “Magnet Schools Find a Renwed Embrace in Cities .” New York Times [New Yokr] 16 2 2014, n. pag. Web. 16 Feb. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/us/magnet-schools-find-a-renewed-embrace-in-cities.html?_r=0&gt;.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/17/us/magnet-schools-find-a-renewed-embrace-in-cities.html?_r=0 

Natalie

The Briefing: February 16th, 2014

Welcome to The Briefing. This is Roosevelt Talk’s newest means of communicating what we feel you should pay attention to both here and abroad. I’ll usually be the one writing for it but my colleagues are also along for the ride. So without further ado, let’s begin. 

Chirag

P.S. I’ve taken the liberty of linking articles beneath each respective bullet should any of you need the full details.

The International

  • The Italian Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, has stepped down following divisions in his party. The likely successor is thought to be Matteo Renzi, the charismatic Mayor of Florence. Regardless of the situation’s politics, if Renzi hopes to succeed he’ll need to address electoral reform in Italy along with the economic fears ravaging the debt-mired nation. One wonders whether he’ll change anything about Italy’s austerity policy?

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/14/italian-pm-pyrrhic-victory-matteo-renzi

  •  Unsurprisingly, a United Nations Committee of Inquiry Panel found reasonable grounds to accuse North Korea of Crimes Against Humanity. It seems to be the first step toward the usual international legal action but I wouldn’t suspect this to change things at the border in any meaningful way. 

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/14/un-panel-finds-crimesagainsthumanityinnorthkorea.html

  • The French are boosting their presence in the Central African Republic by 400 troops to a total of 2000. The violence against Muslims by Christian tribes is to the point where Ban Ki-Moon has mentioned the possible necessity of an even larger peace keeping force. All the while, worries of genocide and ethnic cleansing abound. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-26195583

  • The Germans are pushing the possibility of a European Communications Network to bypass American servers. What effect this will have on the ongoing NSA-reform debate in the United States is up for grabs. 

http://preview.reuters.com/2014/2/15/merkel-hollande-to-discuss-possible-european

  • A United Nations mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, has issued an apology for the lack of progress in ongoing Syrian Peace Talks. Though we must hold out hope, there is absolutely no indication that Syria is any closer to seeing an end to the violence. 

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/UN-mediator-apologizes-to-Syrians-for-lack-of-peace-progress/articleshow/30502075.cms

The Domestic

  • The number of American soldiers being outed for illegal conduct is rising; particular focus should be given to those outed for sexual assault. It seems that, now that the wars are slowly winding down, the military is finally paying closer attention to the behavior and quality of its recruits. 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/15/us-soldiers-misconduct_n_4794685.html?utm_hp_ref=politics

  • I have two links on this one. Banks have been given careful and tentative permission to do business with Marijuana providers in states that would allow it. However, banks appear wary if only for the lack of more specific legal guidance. Regardless, it’s a first step to securing marijuana as a legitimate industry and can only help in the fight for full legalization. 

http://qz.com/177508/marijuana-is-now-legal-for-us-banks-too/

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/02/14/3296871/feds-marijuana-banking/

  • There are huge concerns regarding the possible merger of Time Warner and Comcast. Given our nation’s past experiences with telecommunication monopolies, it’s worrying why there isn’t a more significant chance that the government will block the merger on anti-trust grounds. 

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/monoposony-begets-monopoly-and-vice-versa/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

  • Companies as a whole are scaling back matching contributions to 401(K) plans. Those in retirement policy should take note considering that Washington seems to have a particular fixation on entitlement reform; there’s only so much more that the remnants of the three-legged stool can take. 

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/companies-scaling-back-matching-401k-contributions/

  • The scale of the GOP’s weakness in urban areas is captured by the following statistic. The two largest cities with Republican mayors are San Diego and Indianapolis respectively. Democrats should tap into that weakness and reenergize their urban policies and platforms should they wish to increase their chances at the state and national levels.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/itsallpolitics/2014/02/15/275939519/gop-struggles-to-sell-message-in-big-cities

Cobras + House of Cards = Unintended Consequences

Good morning everyone! Now I know it’s a tad early but I’m in the middle of my House of Cards binge (I’m on episode 5) and I suddenly felt the need to opine on one of the many random tales that comes out of the Hendrix Econ Department since it vaguely reminded me of House of Cards. It’s a story that illustrates what one of my professors called the Law of Unintended Consequences. It goes like this.

In order to deal with a cobra infestation, the Indian government put a bounty on cobras; if people killed cobras,  they could bring the dangerous little suckers in for a a decent prize. On the surface at least, this seems like a fairly efficient way to deal with a problem right? Nope. People caught on to the government’s plan and actually began to breed cobras so that they’d have a steady way to earn income. That is, until the government found out it was being cheated. The government immediately ended the policy and that was the end of that…at least I wish it was. Once the breeders realized the cobras were no longer up for sale, they immediately released them into the wild. See the problem?

Being the geek I am, I googled the story and it turns out it actually has a name: The Cobra Effect. It’s essentially a way to refer to a situation of unintended consequences where the final result of a problem-solving venture actually worsens the situation instead. To those of us interested in policy writing, it’s a nifty little tale to remember for when we spot a solution that may seem just a little too convenient.

Now, how does this relate to House of Cards? Well the fan base of House of Cards has any number of things it loves about the show: Kevin Spacey, the drama, the shock effect, etc. As for myself, I’m partial to the rather fluid plot details; everything connects, everything is related to everything else, and decision-making is on display for the world to marvel (or abhor). Somewhere in there, the cobra effect has to be there and I have a new (and very geeky) determination to find it. Now technically, I do not condone thirteen hour binge watching sessions in my official capacity as a Roosevelt Blogger. However, seeing as I’ve identified something policy-related to look for in the show, we can say it has education value and therefore I’m going to continue regardless.

Look at that! A nice story, policy advice, and an excuse to use thirteen of hours of your life on House of Cards Season 2: there’s my productivity quota for the morning. I promise I’ll have more substantive posts on this and many other things later today. Enjoy the show!

Chirag

UPDATE: Debt Ceiling Passes in the Senate

I said you’d hear from me again on the debt ceiling and I wasn’t wrong! The Senate just passed the clean debt ceiling increase which the House passed earlier yesterday. The measure staves off a debt default at least until March 2015 and was passed with absolutely no strings attached in terms of spending or tax policy. At least for the next twelve and a half months, we can put this issue aside. Though considering that speculation about the 2016 Presidential election will turn into an outright maelstrom next year, having another debt brawl in Congress is not something to look forward to. 

I’ve linked to the New York Times Article if anyone wants to read further!

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/13/us/politics/senate-debt-ceiling-increase.html?hp&_r=0

Chirag 

House Passes A Clean Increase – Some Debt Ceiling Ramblings

Good morning, Roosevelters! I have some commentary on the recent debt ceiling hike along with, what I hope is, a refutation of one of the most common arguments against raising the debt ceiling: that it is a blank check for new spending (hint….it isn’t). I hope it provides some insight!

Chirag

The Debt Ceiling Hike

Numerous news sources put this story out, but one of my favorites is The Guardian. It seems House Republicans finally pushed through a clean debt ceiling hike. On second thought, no they didn’t. If you look at the 221-201 vote, only 21 votes came from Republicans. The article aptly mentions that there is still the potential for disgruntled Republicans (can anyone say Ted Cruz?) to use stalling tactics in the Senate. I’m normally not one to worry about vote counts but on this issue, every vote matters. For those of us who are new to the economics of the debt ceiling, I’ll do my best to explain it as I understand it.

Ok, so we all know that the United States Congress is responsible for appropriating money for whatever it wants to spend on: Medicare, Medicaid, Defense, Discretionary, Interest Payments, etc. However, the United States is special in that our funding mechanism doesn’t end there. In other countries, when spending is appropriated, it is usually legally assumed that authority has been given to the Executive arm of government (in this case the Treasury) to use all appropriate means to spend the money. If the government is running a deficit, that means borrowing. As evidenced by our debt ceiling, the process is separated in the United States. Congress appropriates money, then it must raise the debt ceiling to grant borrowing authority. If it doesn’t raise the ceiling, the United States will have authorized spending (spent money) but would not be able to pay for it. In economic language, the government would go into default.

One of the most common arguments used against raising the debt ceiling is that we are encouraging profligate spending. As evidenced by the process, the debt ceiling’s sole purpose is to allow the government to make payments on items already spent. There is no new spending implied solely by a debt ceiling hike, a mere budgetary mechanism. How then is this budgetary mechanism exploited to such a dangerous degree? That’s politics. The only other democratic nation in the world with a debt ceiling is Denmark (which keeps it at a level almost impossible to hit) and other countries don’t even have a separation between spending and borrowing authority. Why do we even have a debt ceiling then? That’s a question for another time but its clear, to me at least, that if we are to avoid having the debt ceiling as a political weapon based on false observations of our budget process, we may just need to scrap it all together.

I’ve included some interesting articles, including to the recent Guardian story, below. Rest assured, this isn’t the last you’ve heard from me on the debt ceiling. Have a good one!

The Guardian link: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/11/debt-bill-passes-house-republicans-boehner

The Treasury’s Debt Ceiling Description: http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/pages/debtlimit.aspx

Economic Policy Institute’s Reasons to Scrap the Debt Ceiling: http://www.epi.org/blog/6-reasons-debt-ceiling-scrapped/

Denmark’s Debt Ceiling: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/10/11/why-do-only-us-and-denmark-have-a-debt-ceiling