Joseph J. Skarzenski

The U.S. Economy: A New “Hope”

In Government, Politics on April 11, 2009 at 1:21 am

After making promises to millions of Americans, what else would President Obama say? Surely he would not conform to the hard numbers and explain that we have yet to see solid progress made. Fed Chairman Bernanke is working hard, Secretary of the Treasury Geithner is basically keeping the status quo of Paulson’s plan, and President Obama is stating there are new “glimmers of hope” for the economy.

For those who do not know, the President’s initial plan to fix the current crisis was to establish some kind of stability. From that point, we can start rebuilding and come out of our reached trough. This goal included the repeated tasks we have heard since the time of Paulson, including the re-establishment of banks by removing toxic assets, unfreezing the credit market, and addressing the mortgage crisis with refinancing plans. As of the late, there has been a drastic increase in number Americans who are refinancing their homes. Perhaps this has something to do with a growing number of Americans who are in more debt with home payments than what the house is actually worth? The President explains that this surge of refinancing will aid the economy since there will be a new wave of money entering the market. While I do not agree that this trend is necessarily a good sign for our future, there is one hopeful sign with more Americans refinancing. To refinance a mortgage, a home owner must meet certain requirements. Many Americans do not demonstrate the said qualifications. Since more people are refinancing, at least there is a sign showing a fair number of Americans who can refinance (if that makes any sense).

There are a few concerns I have with the supposed “hope” and “upturn” we should eagerly expect. The President and his advisors are explaining all these favourable conditions and potential in the market while numbers on paper say otherwise. Let’s take a look at some of the numbers released by the Department of Labor for March 2009 “Economic Situation Summary”:

  • Unemployment rose from 8.1 to 8.5 percent
  • Specifically, a 694,000 job loss increase totaling 13.2 million
  • Drastic increases in unemployment rates for states including California (now 10.5 percent), Michigan (12.0 percent), South Carolina (11.0 percent) and a few others now in double-digit percentage rates

Meanwhile GDP shrank almost 5 percent in the first annual quarter of 2009. So at this point, I am wondering, where is all this potential hope that the President is seeing? Will mortgage rates at an all-time low since the early 70s be enough to get us out of the crisis, or at least start a reaction to do so? The only thing I see happening right now in the market that we can justify optimism with is small-business spending. The U.S Small Business Administration stated in its monthly report that loans being taken out in the past month have increased drastically. Besides that, I don’t see us emerging from (what I hope to be) the current trough.


Negotiations with Somali pirates

In Politics on April 9, 2009 at 11:00 am

According to State Department spokesman Robert Wood, “Piracy is a growing problem for the international community.” Just recently, a US cargo ship going to Kenya to provide humanitarian aid was seized and taken over by, you guessed it, pirates. The ship was taken over by these force while traveling on the coast of Somalia. So far the crew has been successful in regaining control; there is still one problem though, the captain of the ship was kidnapped by the pirates.

These pirates are definitely well-equipped and ready to sack an entire U.S. naval ship.

These pirates are definitely well-equipped and ready to sack an entire U.S. naval ship.

The US government is not treating the issue lightly. They issued a deployment order to the USS Bainbridge which was stationed in Crete, Greece at the time of the pirate attack. The FBI has stated they have made contact with the pirates, and are now negotiating. The details of the attack are still unknown. There has been no revealed information as to how the pirates boarded, gained control, and retreated taking the captain with them. What we do know is that the captain is safe, according to the pirates, and that peaceful resolution should be reached.

Surprisingly, pirate attacks have become more and more frequent (from Somali pirates specifically). Just last week a group of them was arrested by the EU anti-piracy force after they began open fire with guns on a German ship. A week before that there were numerous attacks made on a Japanese vessel. The International Maritime Bureau even reported that the majority successful  pirate hijackings (approximately 40) occurred off of Somalia’s coast in 2008.

It’s absurd to think about how successful some of these pirates have been in their numerous attempts. There is definitely a major concern, as spokesman Wood said, when the world’s largest navies are having their ships sacked by renegades of a third-world country. It is important that the U.S. takes a very aggressive and strong stance in this issue. While peace negotiations should be encouraged, our forces should not subjugate themselves and remain unresponsive to future pirate attacks. We should look back to previous practices used in such circumstances. Since we have all of these naval forces, why aren’t cargo ships being escorted by convoys? Destroyers could annihilate any of these pirates within a moment, serving as an ultimate deterrence to the problem. Because this is a growing threat, the U.S. and other nations should respond appropriately.

Another state (Vermont) for same-sex marriage

In Laws on April 8, 2009 at 2:07 pm

It’s been almost 6 months since the controversial passage of Proposition 8 in California. Many eagerly await the state Supreme Court to reevaluate the issue in the upcoming month of May. The heated tension has spread throughout the country with its extensive coverage, and states of New England are now taking their stances.

A few weeks ago, the Vermont Senate passed a bill with a 26 to 4 vote supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage. The bill was recently vetoed by the state’s governor, and returned to the state Congress. Today, it was passed with the closest margin possible of 100 to 49 votes in the state representative chamber. Democrats celebrated along with many interest groups.

The optimism does not end in Vermont though. Many are expecting a similar bill to rise in the New Hampshire legislature within weeks.  The executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocate & Defenders expressed much hope, expecting the legalization of same-sex marriage to occur in all New England states by 2012. With Massachusetts, Connecticut, and now Vermont all behind this issue, other states are soon to follow, including Maine before the end of the year.

For social conservatives, who scramble to obtain support against this growing issue, the best thing they can do is keep it at a state-level. Many who are in favour of same-sex marriages are just itching to get this issue to be addressed in a federal court (although I am sure such an attempt has already been made). For those against this practice, it is important that the states retain their identity of being “laboratories” for “social and economic experiments” as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once stated in the dissenting opinion of Gonzales v. Raich. This is really the only legal justification for those who support Proposition 8 and other attempts at banning the practice. Taking the issue to a federal court will lead to one of two outcomes. Strict-constructionists might see the issue of gay-marriage as having no bearing to the Constitution, leaving the decision to the states by the 10th Amendment. However, the more probable outcome I see happening is the Court finding state bans on same-sex marriage as a violation of the 14th Amendment (equal protection clause) and Article 4 (full faith and credit clause) of the Constitution. It is a much easier argument to prove since those in favour of same-sex marriages are the victims in such a case.

The latter argument that liberals could provide should be a growing concern for conservatives. As more states extend marriage rights to homosexuals, there will be more and more division within the country. What is to happen when a homosexual, married couple that lives in Massachusetts moves to California? Are their marriage documents now null and void? Are they not be protected under the “full faith and credit” clause of the Constitution? With growing divisiveness in the country, this issue will have to be addressed on a national level. And what is the Court suppose to do? It would not be very hard to prove that such a law banning the practice is a constitutional violation, especially with the presence of the interstate argument. By the supremacy clause, the Court would be forced to strike down any law banning the practice.

The news from Vermont definitely dampers the hope social conservatives may hold. Their chances at stopping homosexual rights were much higher on a state level. With the increased opposition at this stage, the only chance at stopping same-sex marriage is failing. As stated, arguments against the practice will definitely hold less validity on a national level.