While driving home from the store last month on April 24th, I came across a significant traffic jam not too far away from my home. Upon inching closer to the intersection I noticed there were many police officers trying to keep order to what seemed to be about 200 people with signs, shouting through blow horns. While peaceful, the protestors were shouting “Say no to Tar Sands” while their signs not only referenced tar sands, but “Keystone XL.”
After finally arriving home yet still curious as to what I just witnessed, I researched Tar Sands to learn they consist of heavy crude oil mixed with clay and bitumen. The tar sands are located in the Canadian forest near the eastern foothills of the Rocky Mountains.) Tar sands are relevant to certain environmentalist groups opposing oil production. Extracting the crude oil from the tar sands produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil because of the energy required to extract and process the oil (Rainforest Action Network). I further learned that the term “Keystone XL” refers to the Keystone Pipeline. What does all this information have to do with a protest in Dallas on April 24th? Well, It turns out that the opening ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center was scheduled for April 25th. Since the protest site was near Love Field, I can only assume that the protest site was located on the route one or more of the living Presidents may have taken from the airport to their hotel.The Keystone Pipeline is a proposed 1,179 mile crude oil pipeline originating in Alberta Canada and extending through the United States, depending on the final route, from Montana to Texas.From a macroeconomic standpoint, and considering the current state of our economy in the United States, the pros far outweigh the cons. For example, the pipeline will carry 830,000 barrels of oil per day thus reducing our dependence on foreign oil by up to 40 percent. This increase of supply of oil, coupled with the reduction in transportation costs would definitely reduce the cost of goods to consumers. In addition, our country would be less dependent on foreign oil, thus reducing our need to be so involved in the Middle East from a military and economic aid standpoint. From a jobs standpoint, it is estimated that the pipeline would require 9,000 skilled American workers such as welders, mechanics, electricians, pipefitters, laborers, safety coordinators and heavy equipment operators. In addition to the construction jobs, an estimated 7,000 jobs would be created to manufacture the pipe, steel fittings, pump and control devices for the project. Also, the pipeline would generate an estimated $20 billion including $99 million in local government revenues and $486 million in state and government revenues during construction. Finally, an estimated $5 billion is expected in additional property taxes during the life of the pipeline (TransCanada). In other words, the Keystone Pipeline would have a positive effect on many macroeconomic factors in our country including GDP and accelerate economic expansion during the business cycle.
While there are many environmental factors that must be considered with the Keystone Pipeline, the most pressing is the amount of additional greenhouse gasses that the project will produce. In Joe Nocera’s article entitled “An environmentalists case for Keystone”, he writes, “According to a study by IHS Cera, a leading energy research firm, the oil from the tar sands emits only 6 percent more greenhouse gases than other, lighter forms of oil. (Environmental groups have tried to poke holes in the study, but even they don’t come up with the kind of increase that would doom the planet.) What’s more, there is plenty of oil being produced today with the same greenhouse gas consequences as the oil from the tar sands” (Nocera). Given the current state of the economy, our reliance on foreign oil and the positive economic impact, it makes sense for President Obama to support the Keystone Pipeline as a means to fulfill his campaign promise of repairing the United States Economy.
When I think of the recent Fiscal Cliff issue, I picture a sharp jagged mountainous peak that falls away several thousand feet into the flat horizon, like an ocean or desert. This imagery could not be farther from the truth. Why would our National Leaders attempt to comprehensively solve a problem like the Fiscal Cliff so that the American people, businesses, states and cities could softly land on that ocean or desert and begin to plan for the future? I have come to find out the Fiscal Cliff represents a much more involved problem. While a portion of the Fiscal Cliff was averted on January 2, 2013, the next peak on the horizon involved a series of mandatory spending cuts known as the Sequester.
The Sequester was part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. This Act resulted from a negotiation between Democrats and Republicans related to raising the country’s debt ceiling. The Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to raise the debt ceiling unless the President put a plan in place to reduce spending. The thought of the President at that time, was to put in place about $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over a 9 year period that were extremely harsh and would have a negative effect on our military and economy. The cuts were scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013 but were delayed until March 1, 2013 as part of the Fiscal Cliff negotiation. At the time of the passing of the Budget Act, a bi-partisan “Super Committee” was formed to make recommendations to better allocate the spending cuts so as to not have such a negative effect on the military and economy. The Super Committee failed to agree on a re-distribution of cuts and thus another peak in the Fiscal Cliff mountain range was formed (Bipartisan policy).
It has been difficult to watch the news or read the newspaper over the past few weeks without being inundated with reports about the Sequester. As of March 1, 2013, if the Sequester is not reconciled, the mandatory spending cuts will go into effect. What is troubling about the news is the partisan political spin is at such an unhealthy level, it is difficult to believe anyone at this point. The President blames the Republicans for wanting the Sequester to take effect while the Republicans blame the President for coming up with the idea of the Sequester in the first place. The President is using the Sequester as an opportunity to call for additional tax increases on top wage earners and has distanced himself from any connection to developing the Sequester back in 2011. The President’s Cabinet members are blaming Republicans for potentially allowing cuts to the military, airport security, Air Traffic Controllers, school children, police officers, prison guards, meat inspectors, teachers, disabled children….and the list goes on and on.
Rather than getting caught up in the politics, I thought I would view the Sequester from a more objective standpoint. Given that our country has over a $16 trillion debt, the Sequester, as horrible as it has been portrayed, must at least change the direction of our country and put us on a path to debit reduction. However, this is not the case.
The facts show that if the sequester cuts were to take effect, our National Debt would still equal our country’s gross domestic product only a few years later than if the Sequester had not taken effect at all. This fact is very troubling because one would think that if our Politicians in Washington spent as much time and energy working on putting in place a positive plan for the long term future of our country as they do blaming and spinning, we would have “The Grand Bargain” that every Politician aspires to be a part of (Nelson). Furthermore, the Sequester only accounts for slightly over a 2% cut to our Federal Budget.
It would seem to me that reasonable adults, sworn to represent the people, uphold the Constitution and protect our country would find a way to at least cut 2 cents of every dollar we spend. This exercise is routinely practiced in most American households and a regular basis.
I have learned in our Government and Economics class that the American Constitution and our election process are designed to work in synchronization to enable a country that is full of opportunity and designed to allow generations of Americans to prosper. I would like to see this belief carried out in our present day politics and believe our Congress and the President have the ability to work on this “Grand Bargain” to promote fiscal stability in our country and to allow for generations of prosperity. Solving the problem of the Fiscal Cliff was a missed opportunity. The Sequestration will pass but, until our Leaders solve problems for the long term, we will have no soft desert or body of water to land on from the next cliff.
Gun violence, and the movement for gun control and how it relates to the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution has been a simmering issue in our country for decades. It was not until the tragic school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut that this issue received an emotional burst and was thrust back into the national debate. There is no doubt our country’s divided political ideology prevents most from taking an objective approach to the complicated problem of gun violence. I believe our Nation’s culture needs to change in order to solve this problem and, from what I have learned in our Government and Economics class; sometimes it takes a true leader to break through the national political scene to make positive changes for the future of our country.
The mere fact that the Newtown shootings sparked the gun control debate, enflamed gun rights and 2nd Amendment advocates as they believe the more liberal gun control advocates politicized this tragedy. As a means to push for tighter gun restrictions, the American public may be more vulnerable and quick to get behind a so-called solution that would only cause people to “feel better” but yield no meaningful results.
Parties from both side of the gun control debate cite compelling statistics often times taken out of context to bolster their respective arguments. According to factcheck.org gun murders are at their lowest rate since 1981, gun aggravated assault are at the lowest rate since 2004, gun robbery is at the lowest rate since 2004, non-fatal gun injuries are at the highest rate since 2008 and gun suicides are at the highest rate since 1998. What do these figures mean? How does gun violence in our country related to other countries? Regardless of what statistics are used or how they used, it seems evident that both sides of the debate refuse to think more broadly in an effort to make our country less violent while protecting our Constitution. Does gun violence alone account for the violent crimes in our society? Is anyone interested in how we care for the mentally disabled, how we embrace the violent nature of our movies and video games, how parents have lost control of their children? Are our problems related to broken families, poverty, ethnicity, and people unwilling to be held accountable for their own actions, people who do not value human life. Where is our leader?
Great leaders present a vision and develop a compelling reason to change the culture of a Nation. Our President had the opportunity to show the Nation and world he has the characteristics of a great leader during his recent State of the Union Address. He had the opportunity to begin to change our Nation’s culture by outlining his vision for widespread change with regard to violence in our country. He had the opportunity to compel people to collectively begin answering the many questions posed above. He had the opportunity to transform the gun violence issue from that of a purely political matter to a problem that only Americans could solve, not a single political party. Unfortunately our President missed that opportunity and chose to take the easy way out: to be a politician. When President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, “gun violence will be center stage, both literally and politically” (Bresnahan and Gibson). He invited several victims of gun violence to be his guest during his speech. He then framed the portion of his speech that addressed gun violence by saying “Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children. “ He then went on to use the victims of gun violence to call for a vote from Congress to pass certain measures related to gun control. He named certain victims and events, then, in a campaign chant meant to evoke applause from his political party, repeated that each victim “deserved a vote”. The obvious ploy was to gain popularity for his gun control plan (his party’s gun control plan). As usual, “Obama’s remarks were short on evidence that his gun control proposals would work.” His evidence mainly was “sorely lacking” (Carlson).
One of the cornerstones of the success of our country is based on the debate of differing opinions, in an effort to compromise, gain consensus and develop laws and policies that are best suited for most Americans. How we act as a people, our culture and values cannot be negotiated in the political process. We need to be inspired to act better, do better, live better and treat each other with more respect. Our President missed an opportunity to be impactful and the American people will most likely be the victims of such inaction.