White House Issues First Formal Apology for HealthCare.gov Website

The White House has issued its first formal apology for the failed HealthCare.gov rollout in a congressional hearing on the topic this Tuesday.

Marilyn Tavenner issued the first formal apology for the failed HealthCare.gov rollout in a congressional hearing this Tuesday.

Marilyn Tavenner, who runs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was the first official to testify in the hearings with the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. In her written testimony, she apologized for the issues with the website and singled out CGI as the only contractor involved that failed to meet expectations. She is the highest-level official to issue such an apology.

“I want to apologize to you that the website is not working as well as it should,” she said. “I want to assure you that HealthCare.gov can be fixed, and we are working around the clock to give you the experience that you deserve.” Continue reading


The GOP and the Government Shutdown

Is the GOP Shutdown from the Shutdown?

With the latest government shutdown now behind us, we are left with everyone giving their take on its impact. Whether it is those who are attempting to hash out the economic impacts, to those discussing the potential damage to the US Government’s image from countries around the world, there is no shortage of people willing to give their opinion.

In our two-party system, both sides have spent a considerable amount of effort blaming each other for the failures that ultimately caused the shutdown. One angle that I have consistently seen crop up in the news is the “damage” done to the image and popularity of the GOP as a result of the shutdown. The perception being communicated is one where much of the blame for the shutdown rests on the GOP, or more specifically, the Tea Party factions within the GOP. The political infighting has certainly damaged Americans’ confidence in Congress, but has it led to a potential implosion of the GOP?

What do you think? 

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Prop 8, DOMA, & the Supreme Court: What’s at Stake? Gay Marriage, Gay Rights & the Constitution

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 30:  Same-sex marriage proponent Kat McGuckin of Oaklyn, New Jersey, holds a gay marriage pride flag while standing in front of the Supreme Court November 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. With the Supreme Court building draped in a photo-realistic sheet during a repair and preservation project, the justices met today to consider hearing several cases dealing with the rights of gay couples who are married, want to get married or are in domestic partnerships.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 30: Same-sex marriage proponent Kat McGuckin of Oaklyn, New Jersey, holds a gay marriage pride flag while standing in front of the Supreme Court November 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. With the Supreme Court building draped in a photo-realistic sheet during a repair and preservation project, the justices met today to consider hearing several cases dealing with the rights of gay couples who are married, want to get married or are in domestic partnerships. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This week, the Supreme Court will hear two landmark cases that have the potential to shape the future of America and LGBTQ rights around the globe. On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, the court will hear a case on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which, when approved by voters in 2008, amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The following day, the court will hear a case challenging part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which, when signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in states where they are legal.

The ongoing and hard-fought debate over gay marriage surfaces a myriad of different issues ranging from human rights and religious freedom to the role of the state and federal governments. This week, the Supreme Court has the power to change the dialogue of this debate for good, potentially altering the course of American history and attitudes towards LGBTQ individuals the world over.

Here, we take a look at exactly what’s at stake in this week’s two historic cases.

Prop 8 & Hollingsworth v. Perry

About Prop 8: As the second state to legalize gay marriage, California presided over the weddings of 18,000 couples before Proposition 8 went on the ballot in 2008. When Prop 8 passed with 52% of the popular vote, the state constitution was amended to ban same-sex marriages. “Only marriage between a man and a woman,” the amendment states, “is valid or recognized in California.”

The case: In 2010, in the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, a federal judge in San Francisco declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional, ruling that it violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling in 2012. Proponents of Proposition 8 then filed a case petitioning the Supreme Court to review the case. On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, the court is scheduled to hear Hollingsworth v. Perry.

What’s at stake: The Supreme Court will ultimately be deciding whether California’s Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which states that “no state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

How the ruling could go [1]:

1.)    The Supreme Court could uphold Proposition 8, meaning that states would be free to allow or ban same-sex marriage.

2.)    The Supreme Court could decide that supporters of Proposition 8 lack standing to appeal, and same-sex marriages in California would resume.

3.)    The Supreme Court could strike down Proposition 8 on grounds that:

  1. All bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution, meaning all laws prohibiting same-sex marriage around the nation fall.
  2. California was not free to provide same-sex couples with all the benefits and burdens of marriage through civil unions but withhold the designation “marriage.” This means that bans on same-sex marriage in the eight states with everything-but-marriage civil unions are unconstitutional (as recommended by President Obama).
  3. California was not entitled to withdraw a right to same-sex marriage once it had been established by the California Supreme Court. This means that California would allow same-sex marriage but bans in other states would survive.

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Gun Ownership and Crime: Honest Stats Reveal No Connection

Note: The following is a post written by Debate.org member Ore_Ele.

Over the past few years, numerous high-profile shootings have brought gun control back to the forefront of our national discussion, right up there with immigration, national debt, and even the economy. Of course, some individuals on each political side have already laid their foundations and anchored their beliefs, from the NRA saying that we should arm schools [1] and make guns easier to access, to state legislators wanting to ban nearly all guns [2].

However, it seems that every side takes root in their ideological turf rather than digging through the real-world numbers to see exactly what needs to be done Each side will throw out arguments with a few cherry-picked stats to back them up, or, even more rational, make comic strips that attack the opposing sides [3]. But if we want to stop and look at what gun ownership, or lack thereof, really means for safety and crime, as well as other factors, we must shed away such political biases and find ways that actually improve our nation and society for everyone, not just our political allies.

Before spending too much more time, let’s jump right into it. All sources used for the data in the Excel spreadsheet are listed on the sheet itself [4]. We can, if we wish, take a look at several different crimes in all 50 states; however, this particular comparison simply focuses on violent crimes, murder, assault, and burglary. It compares these crimes to gun ownership rates, average income, GINI, poverty rates, high school graduation rates, college graduations rates, and population density. For accuracy and honesty, I’ve also included minority rates by state.

The first thing that becomes apparent is that gun ownership does not have any correlation with crime. Neither increased nor decreased gun ownership lowers levels of crime. We can see that apart from population density, all other factors are significantly more important than gun ownership. The most significant factors are economics (in general) and high school graduation rates. What may be surprising, however, is that while high school graduation holds a strong correlation with crime, college graduation has a very weak one.

Another correlation which might prove modestly shocking: While poverty rates were as important as or more important than average income for all crimes, GINI was as important as or more important than income for violent crimes (including murder and assault), yet for burglary, income was more important. While income was more significant than GINI for burglary, the GINI still had a modest correlation.

Therefore, if we want to improve our nation and society by improving our lives and reducing crime and violence, our focus needs to be directed towards economics, chiefly poverty, as well as high school graduation. This should be something that is easily rallied behind, as education, economics, and poverty are all connected. Improving base education of high school graduation will improve the poverty rate and lower crime (and we can also trace that to lowering the debt through increased tax revenues and reduced social spending needs, but that’s for another article).

Of course, these statistics are provided so that you can examine everything yourself and reach your own conclusions. (Why read through all this but not look through the data yourselves?) The links provided also allow you to view other types of crime correlations.

Many of you are probably thinking, “Sure, but correlation does not automatically equal causation.” That is true, but it can reveal logical and reasonable connections. For example, the link between cigarettes and lung cancer is based on extremely strong correlations and a logical connection. While we can’t say with absolute certainty that smoking causes lung cancer, due to the statistics we have, we can assume that it is a safe enough bet to make.

[1] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/12/21/us-usa-shooting-connecticut-idUSBRE8BI1BV20121221

[2] http://dailycaller.com/2013/01/09/iowa-lawmaker-calls-for-retroactive-gun-bans-confiscations-of-semi-automatic-weapons/

[3] https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/427269_477974718918077_508899879_n.jpg

[4] http://d.pr/f/mjRN

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Job Growth Will Increase Regardless of the President Elect

Whether you support Romney, Obama, or another candidate, job growth in the U.S. is destined to increase, even without drastic administrative changes.  Over the past several months, the number of jobs added to the private sector has not been that spectacular. We have seen over 4.7 million private sector jobs created since Feb 2010 [1].   However, it turns out that there may be a reason beyond Obama’s policies that is causing this marginal growth. In other words, there is good reason for the U.S. to expect new job numbers to show better growth in the coming months, regardless of who is elected.

Statistics suggest that job growth will continue to increase regardless of administrative changes

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has only recorded the average hours worked per person since 2006 [2], so we don’t have a deep history to refer to, like we do with the total number of jobs.  But this data does encompass the current collapse, as well as the few years prior.  From this we can see that before the collapse, we averaged about 34.6 hours per week per person.  Once businesses started to collapse under Bush, however, owners had two choices.  Demand for products was dropping, so businesses needed less work.  They could either cut jobs or cut hours.  All in all, they found a middle ground, and 8.87 million private jobs were lost while the average work week dropped from 34.6 hours per person to 33.8 hours per person.

This 0.8 hour may not seem like much, but this is merely an average.  The total number of worked hours in the U.S. was just over 4.004 billion hours a week prior to the crash. By the time we hit rock bottom, however, we were just above 3.609 billion hours per week.  Had they only cut jobs and no hours, we would have seen 11.4 million jobs lost, rather than only 8.8 million.  Yes, 2.6 million jobs were saved by people taking cuts in hours. A large reason companies did this is because they knew that the recession would be temporary. They did not want to lose good employees only to have to re-train new ones when the collapse was over.

Now, this can have the reverse effect.  By giving hours back to old employees, rather than new ones, it slows the recovery (but since we are trying to recover 8.8 million, rather than 11.4 million, we’ll give a pass).  To run the numbers, last month, we had just under 3.847 billion hours worked.  If no new hours were given to existing employees, and it was all given to new employees, we’d have an additional 2.41 million jobs.

Let’s consider what happened, and what moving forward will look like.  We have recovered 236,876,000 work hours since the bottom of the economic collapse (59.9% of all the work hours lost), which translates into 4.7 million jobs.  Assuming the same course (all changes are unknown variables regarding different policies from different candidates), we can expect to recover another 236,876,000 hours. We can expect the weekly average to return to the pre-crash standard of 34.6 hours per job.  What we find, then, is that while the first 236,876,000 hours created 4.7 million jobs, the next 236,876,000 hours will create 6.5 million jobs.

That is a 38% improvement in efficiency, and if this growth remains level, we’ll see a significant jump in job growth.

[1] http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/surveymost?ce

[2] http://www.bls.gov/webapps/legacy/cesbtab2.htm

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Causes of Middle Eastern Protests Misidentified and Misconstrued

Recently, an obscure YouTube film has been tied to numerous and wide-ranging violent protests throughout the Middle East. Lebanon and Pakistan are merely a few of the centers of protest. The real story, however, isn’t what the protesters are doing, but rather their motivations for doing it. The general theory is that the film caused these protests by virtue of having generally anti-Islamic content. This raises two separate though intertwined points: (1) Whether the film really has as large a causal influence as generally thought, and (2) Whether the emphasis ought to be on the film’s causal influence as opposed to the reasons for the growing Islamic fundamentalist disposition in the region.

Recent anti-American protests are a sign of faltering U.S. foreign policy

The general problem in the mainstream analysis of this issue is that people tend to forget that there has been a growing and increasingly hostile fundamentalist population in Middle Eastern nations for some time. By ignoring this important point and placing the emphasis on what caused the reaction as opposed to what caused the predisposition to such a reaction, commentators are both hindering analysis of possible solutions and allowing the real culprits to escape blame.

Fundamentalism of this sort has an explanation, and it has nothing to do with a film. Rather, it is about the U.S. (in conjunction with the U.N. and perhaps to a lesser extent Israel) taking general militaristic actions against innocent civilians in the region (ex., drone killing of innocents in Yemen and Somalia). It also has to do with the U.S.’s history of supporting fundamentalist, authoritarian governments (Saudi Arabia), while deposing democratically-elected ones (as in the CIA-orchestrated Iranian coup d’etat in 1953).

When Western powers are killing civilians and overthrowing arguably legitimate governments, and the main antagonists to those Western powers are Islamic fundamentalists, ordinary Middle Easterners who are angered by U.S. military action are basically funneled into the camps of groups like Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. Moreover, the actions by Western powers also serve to create a generally hostile attitude to all things Western, whether it be our governments or our culture. These people aren’t necessarily naturally attracted to these movements and hostilities. Of course, there are a core of them who are, but most have legitimate reasons to be angry. Just chalking everything  up to “Islamic extremism” or “fringe radicalism” both misidentifies the cause and destroys any chance of actually putting an end to this harmful sentiment.

What we should be doing is taking a sober and rational look at the foreign policy of the U.S. and other Western powers, and take into account the effects these policies have had on the region in regards to anti-U.S. sentiment. Blaming everything on radical Islam and a YouTube video is both two-dimensional and harmful.

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The 1% vs. 47% on Welfare

Mitt Romney: Against welfare for people who actually need it

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has made (even more) headlines recently after a video surfaced showing him making rather interesting remarks at a fundraiser last May. His statement said something to the effect of how 47% of Americans are not paying an income tax, and that these people believe they’re entitled to all the luxuries of life. This 47%, he said, would vote for the current President in the next election no matter what.

While just a bit offensive to nearly half of the country, Romney’s statement was clearly disingenuous. Is he really against people depending on government, people asking for handouts whenever things aren’t going their way? Of course not. The Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Romney supported (stating in an interview with Niel Cavuto: “TARP got paid back and it kept the financial system from collapsing”[1]), pretty much did exactly that.

So basically, as long as the recipient of government welfare is a multinational bank, then it’s justified. Regardless of one’s own stance on welfare, it’s clear that Mr. Romney is either outright pandering to supporters, genuinely believes in welfare for the rich but not for the poor, or is just too ignorant to be aware of his own cognitive dissonance. Either way, the general point of analysis (that Romney is somehow this anti-welfare bigshot) is misleading. Romney isn’t against welfare. He’s just against welfare for people who might actually need it. Which is worse?

Of course, when on the topic of the poor and redistribution of wealth in general, something ought to be said of the government’s own structural institutions. These institutions, such as regulatory barriers to entering the market, intellectual property rights, etc., make inequality a necessary fact of life. But that’s neither here nor there as far as Romney’s statement is concerned.

[1] http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/may/18/mitt-romney/did-mitt-romney-flip-flop-tarp/


Romney’s ’47 Percent’ Comment Proves He’s Out of Touch With the American Middle Class

Mitt Romney proves himself out of touch with the American people

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney is scrambling to make amends with the American public Tuesday, just hours after nonprofit investigative news magazine “Mother Jones” leaked a video of him at a private Florida fundraiser last May openly expressing his resentment for the lower and middle classes.

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Throughout his campaign, Mitt Romney has worked hard to negate accusations of “spoiled rich kid syndrome” and of being out of touch with the American people. If the above comments aren’t proof enough of his overwhelming ignorance and apathy with regards to the American public, a recent comment made on ABC news offers even greater insight.

In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Romney attempted to define the American middle class. “Middle income,” he said, “is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.” In all actuality, however, a yearly salary of $200,000-$250,000 is in the top 2% to 3% of American incomes. “Middle income,” at present, is really somewhere between $30,000 and $100,000 [1], a long way off from Romney’s $250K. Continue reading

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The DNC and the RNC: More Obsolete Now Than Ever Before

This week, we find ourselves on the far side of the National Conventions sponsored by the Republicans, then later the Democrats.  Perhaps you had the opportunity to sit down and listen to a few speeches.  Perhaps you only heard reviews of it on the news.  Or perhaps you only heard the ranting from the talk shock shows.  However you choose to follow the conventions, there is one question that many voters are scratching their heads about: What does any of it mean as far as the election is concerned?

Last week's Republican and Democratic conventions

The short answer is that neither convention made any real difference.  We can look at various speeches and say how people viewed each speech and how such speeches may influence various voters.  Or we can look at all the Democrats that say how much the Republicans lie, and all the Republicans that say how much the Democrats lie.  But if we simply look at what voters say in the polls, we can see that after the RNC, Romney received a few points boost, then after the DNC, Obama got that same boost back [1].  If we look at Obama’s approval ratings, they are still hovering around even, bouncing up and down a few points (he’s been +/- 2 for the last eight months) [2].  And to be really accurate, we should look at the Electoral College polls, which show Obama still sitting at 332, where he has pretty much been since late June [3]. Continue reading

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Rape/Abortion Issue Distracts From Important Similarities Between Obama and Romney

As everyone has probably heard by now, Missouri Representative Todd Akin recently gave Democracts and Obama supporters something to talk about besides Obama’s economic and foreign policy disasters. In an interview with a Missouri TV station, Akin was asked about his views regarding termination of pregnancies as a result of rape. Akin responded:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors, [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

Social issues have successfully distracted voters from key similarities between this year's Presidential candidates

Not only was the comment incredibly offensive to victims of rape, but it has also been proven to be simply false [1]. So I suppose we can chalk this up to another pro-life conservative failing to understand the female reproductive system. Unfortunately, however, it’s an election year, and while Akin’s statement isn’t acceptable, Democrats are sure to use it as an opportunity to distract from the actual issues in need of rational discussion this election season.

What a successful distraction it turned out to be. President Obama jumped on the wagon and chimed in with an official statement, and Akin’s comment and abortion rights in general became a popular topic of discussion at the Democratic National Convention (Akin being named specifically during Cecile Richard’s speech). All while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Commitee is attempting to tie various GOP candidates to Akin’s views [2] in order to get themselves ahead in future Congressional elections.

I’m in agreement with the pro-choice position, that if we really do own our body then the choice to have an abortion becomes a necessitated right. But this being said, Todd Akin’s statement has been blown completely out of proportion. And it makes sense too. Barack Obama’s Presidency thusfar has been almost a replica of George W. Bush’s, so separation between the two parties needs to be emphasized. Abortion and women’s reproductive rights are just a happy scapegoat. Continue reading

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