Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Next Election or the Next Generation?

In the past three years, the Obama administration has had huge foreign policy achievements through the START treaty with Russia, bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, officially ending the Iraq War, refocusing of our efforts in Afghanistan, and most recently by helping to end the Gaddafi regime in Libya.

Specifically, the main difference between our Libya operation and the Iraq War was that by leading the NATO operation, we were able to organize the international community, get the UN mandate for the operation, and get Arab countries involved. Because of Obama’s leadership, we not only sent a message to dictators around the world, but we did so without having a single U.S. troop on the ground, ZERO U.S. casualties, and a minimum cost to the American taxpayers.

Despite these foreign policy achievements, however, our domestic policy has recently been stalled.

Although Obama has urged Congress to pass the much needed American Jobs Act, the Republican leadership has voted unanimously to block debate on the bill. When asked why, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell argued that saving the jobs of teachers and fire fighters, or extending payroll tax cuts for middle-class families, is just another unnecessary government “bailout”.

But these are hardworking Americans who have felt victim to the failed economic policies of the GOP leadership. They are not bad actors who acted irresponsibly. Further, McConnell argued that, “we're not going to get this economy going again by growing the government. It's the private sector that's ultimately going to drive this recovery.” His actions, however, have proven otherwise.

By rejecting the American Jobs Act, the Republican Party has also rejected tax cuts for small business owners (who are the biggest job creators) and investments in infrastructure which, according to business leaders in the private sector—like Warren Buffett and companies like GE and Comcast—are crucial to rebuilding this economy.

To bypass the gridlock in this do-nothing Congress, President Obama –whose first stimulus created more net private sector jobs than the previous administration—issued 2 new executive orders last week. The first is to help homeowners refinance their mortgages, and the second is to help college graduates pay back their student loans.

Although these executive orders are helping Americans who are in need of assistance, there is only so much President Obama can do without Congress.

And as Obama said in an interview with Jay Leno last week, we need Republicans to stop “putting party ahead of country or putting the next election ahead of the next generation." We need Congress to act soon.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Constructive Partisanship

Following the 1998 mid-term elections, House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned and was replaced by a more moderate Republican Dennis Hastert. What Hastert lacked in Gingrich’s highly partisan leadership style, he made up for in an attempt to reach across the political aisle.

Instead of advocating simply for policies that were conservative in nature, he made an effort to find compromise with his liberal opponents. Although I may not agree with the specific pieces of legislation he pressed for, I do commend Hastert's strive for bipartisanship. In turn, he actually helped strengthen the Republican Party, becoming the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House in history.

Fast forward to present day, and we have a Republican Party that has stood in steadfast opposition to any policy President Obama has proposed. Whether it was with Obama’s first stimulus package that prevented another Great Depression; or the Auto-Industry bailout that saved the American auto industry; or Wall Street reform that prevented “too big to fail” companies which can hold the economy hostage; or Health-Insurance reform that ensured every American equal opportunity when it comes to healthcare; it seems as though the Republican party has valued party politics greater than policy productivity.

And although President Obama has made a valiant effort to find compromise (even angering some in his base), bipartisanship from the right has faltered. Most recently, this is true with the American Jobs Act, which will expand the payroll tax cuts for middle-class families, extend jobless benefits for millions of Americans, provide new tax cuts for small-businesses, and create long-term jobs by investing in infrastructure and clean energy.

Despite the fact that this bill is FULLY paid for by ending the Iraq War (Obama announced today that the last American troops in Iraq will return home by the end of December); allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent to expire; and asking every American to pay their fair share; Republicans have made little effort to find compromise.

Instead, many on the right have asked that we continue allowing the middle-class to give up much needed benefits than ask the nation’s wealthiest to pay a tax rate that is equivalent to that of an average American worker. They have asked to decrease financial regulations and repeal health care reform. But how do these actions help our economy?

How does asking more from a middle-class that has seen their collective wealth decrease in the last few decades, and nothing from the top 2 percent that has seen the reverse affect, provide equal opportunity to our citizens? How does removing regulations on the financial industry that can prevent another recession help us in the long-term? How does reducing investments on infrastructure, which according to the country’s largest job creators can increase immediate job creation and long-term stability, rebound our economy? How does taking away health care from millions help Americans find jobs and increase consumer demand?

According to business leaders like Warren Buffett, companies like GE and Comcast, and millions of working-class Americans, the answer is that these tactics never help.

Maybe today’s Republican leadership can learn a few lessons from their former Speaker Hastert:

"Solutions to problems cannot be found in a pool of bitterness. They can be found in an environment in which we trust one another's word; where we generate heat and passion, but where we recognize that each member is equally important to our overall mission of improving the life of the American people."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

We Need Demand

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, businesses will only begin hiring when there is a demand for their products. Or as simple economics tells us: demand must meet supply.

The best way to create demand is by providing tax breaks for the middle-class. It is by keeping benefits, like Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment benefits that millions of Americans are dependent on. It is by educating our citizens to ensure they are able to compete with the rest of the world. The American Jobs Act does this. Further, Obama’s jobs act will provide tax cuts for small businesses and provide immediate employment through infrastructure projects.

This past week, President Obama met with his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, made up of almost entirely big businesses that are known by the Republican Party as the “Job Creators.” The Council—including the CEOs and Chairmen of GE, Xerox, American Express, Southwest Airlines, Proctor and Gamble, Boeing, Intel, Citigroup, and Comcast—specifically mentioned the need to spend on infrastructure to create jobs in the short run and provide long-term stability. Once again, the American Jobs Act does this.

For those who argue that we need less government involvement, it was the Bush administration’s lack of government regulation and oversight that caused us the economic crisis we are currently in. Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only a small percentage of employers have reported regulation as a reason for laying off workers. Instead, the data shows that the main issues were tied to insufficient demand.

We need the American Jobs Act.

Earlier this week, however, Senate Republicans—while offering no plan of their own—unanimously filibustered, and thus killed, the bill. With over 14 million people out of work, low wages, rising poverty, and insufficient demand, the American Jobs Act was not even allowed to be debated on.

It seems as though the fate of our economy now rests on the seriousness of the Republican leadership.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Largest Tax Cuts Under Obama

The Labor Department just released a report showing that the U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs last month, more than expected, with the private sector adding 137,000. Although the unemployment rate is stuck at 9.1 percent and growth is still slow, the economy has still added private sector jobs for 19 straight months, for a total of 2.6 million jobs.

This is in very large part due to President Obama’s first stimulus package (the American Recovery Act) which passed in February of 2009 (see chart below).

Under the Recovery Act, Obama passed the largest tax cuts in history—larger than the tax cuts of Reagan, JFK, and George W. Bush (Wall Street Journal). The previous record, held by President Bush’s 2001 $174 billion and 2004 $231 billion tax cuts, was surpassed by Obama’s $282 billion tax cuts.

The difference: The Bush tax cuts were targeted at the wealthiest Americans. The Obama tax cuts were targeted at the middle-class and small businesses.

After the success of the first stimulus, we need another stimulus to continue growing this economy and putting more Americans back to work. This is exactly why Congress needs to pass the American Jobs Act:
1. To put more money in the pockets of working and middle-class families
2. To keep teachers in the classrooms
3. To provide immediate employment by improving our infrastructure
4. To make it easier for small businesses to hire workers

Small businesses–which employ more than 50 percent of all private sector employees, pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll, and generate 64 percent of net new jobs in America—will not increase hiring unless demand picks up. Obama’s new jobs bill will help increase business and consumer confidence, increasing demand and, ultimately, increase business hiring.

Most importantly, the Jobs Act will NOT add a dime to our deficit –by saving trillions of dollars in ending the Iraq War and asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.

“Some see this as class warfare. I see it as a simple choice: Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? Right now, we can’t afford to do both,” (President Obama).

Republicans, on the other hand, have argued that asking the wealthiest two percent to pay the same tax rate as a middle-class American will hurt our fragile economy.

But how does asking a middle-class family to give up much needed services (like unemployment benefits, aid for student loans, Social Security, or Medicare) as part of a shared sacrifice, while asking nothing from the rich, any better?

The answer: it’s not.

Watch the nation’s second richest man—Warren Buffett—explain this concept:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Saturday Mornings

How do you spend your Saturday mornings? For me, I usually sleep in and watch episodes of Tom and Jerry. But on occasion, I will get up early and do something meaningful with my life.

Today was one of those mornings. Today, I spoke on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the Lake Forest Mall's Macy for their Thanks for Sharing campaign.

Although I only recently began volunteering for the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a Wish Ambassador and Wish Granter, I have had a deep connection with its charitable work.

When I was younger, I didn’t know too much about the foundation. I was 13 years old and was in the middle of the 8th grade. Like most boys, I thought I was the invincible! I teased my younger sister, gave my parents a hard time, and ran around the house with my underwear on my head pretending to be superman. Who doesn’t? But that all changed when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.


That’s something you never want to hear. But I realized that I wasn’t the only one that my cancer had hurt. My family went through the same pain that I did, spent the same countless hours in the hospital, and heard the same bad news from the doctor.

My sister and I in Hawaii, one month after I finished chemotherapy

After four months of extensive chemotherapy, I finally heard about Make-A-Wish, and they gave me a trip of a lifetime. It was early morning, and the foundation sent a limo to pick my family and me up. It was the first time I ever rode one. In fact, I didn’t really understand what to do, so I actually rode in the passenger’s seat in front. For those of you who don’t know, you never ride a limo that like.

We then boarded a train to New York City, where we were greeted by a Wish staff member, who gave us a tour of the city and tickets to the Broadway show: Julius Caesar.

After the show, they took us back stage, where we met the cast and crew. Then something happened that made my heart drop. I got a tap on my shoulder and when I turned around, it was none other than the man I had wished to meet: Denzel Washington! Needless to say I was awe-struck. He took us to his dressing room, where he spoke with us for about 15 minutes. And for those 15 minutes, cancer was just another word in the dictionary. It was a thing of the past that we had forgotten. All we were able to focus on was that very moment, and how my dream was coming true. Nothing else mattered. No pain, no treatment, nothing.

Whether you’re another cancer survivor, had a relative with cancer, or know someone with cancer, we are all affected by this horrible disease. Now, imagine if we can provide the amount of joy that I had to all children suffering from these types of life-threatening medical conditions. If we can do that, then there is nothing that these kids cannot overcome.

That is why I volunteer for Make-A-Wish. In addition to speaking at events such as the one today, I also perform charity magic shows for the Foundation, as well as for the American Cancer Society, the Children's Hospital, and the NIH Children's Inn.

The point: if you are passionate about something, go out and do something about it.

For me, it is politics, social welfare, and cancer awareness. Every single day, I make sure to act on what I believe is the best way to improve these three areas. But regardless of your own passions, I urge you to act on them and make a difference.

As Winston Churchill once said, "We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give."