Saturday, March 17, 2007

Two Things I Don't Really Like

The Supporting Our Troops and Veterans' Health Care Act seems like a pretty straightforward bill. The name is in fact so explicit that the image of stubbornly-precise Congressmen crafting trite names for bills rushes to mind. The bill, however, had attached to it a number of additional provisions, including:

- $140 million in aid for farmers and ranchers affected by Hurricane Katrina.
- $450 million in food assistance to Sudan, Afghanistan, and Southern Africa
- $1 billion to purchase pandemic flu vaccines
- $140 million for security aid to Liberia and Jordan
- $3.7 billion for agricultural disaster assistance

While many of the extra additions to this bill address important issues that are very much in need of funding, the reality is that over $12.4 billion in the Act do not focus on "Supporting Our Troops" or addressing "Veterans' Health Care." This way of doing business is commonplace in Washington, DC, but it still surprises. If a friend were to ask me for money for a taxi, but they used a large part of the money to also buy a "Stop the Genocide" t-shit, I certainly wouldn't be angry, but I would have expected them to let me know what they were doing with my money. As well-intentioned as these actions might be, American taxpayers deserve to know that supplemental aid is being provided to Gulf Coast fisherman when a "Support Our Troops" bill is passed.

The whole culture of under-the-table changes to bills and laws is widespread, but you don't need to only look at money appropriations to see people taking advantage of certain circumstances in order to further individual agendas. Recently, in light of both the Alberto Gonzales scandal and the comments by Ann Coulter at CPAC, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards have both attempted to capitalize on these events in order to raise money for their campaigns. Clinton's website is currently running the advertisement above, conveniently located near the donate button on the page. Perhaps Clinton really cares the most about getting people to her site in order to sign the petition, but you can tell that she loves the potential for publicity and increased contributions that the current scandal offters her. John Edwards also ran a advertisement online last week; his making the connection between being angry at Ann Coulter and donating money.

I worry that politicians now, instead of looking straight in the eyes of the problems that face them instead turn around and plead for support and funds to advance their causes. New York and North Carolina voters elected Clinton and Edwards to use the connections they have to pass meaningful reforms and get things done, not to try and get caught up in the exploitation of headline news stories. Similarly, let's make sure that voters know what exactly is getting passed by their leaders.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The BB&N POV: The Massachusetts Student Perspective

This month, a magazine that I co-founded at my high school, published its first issue. The POV is a publication created by, designed by, and written by high school students.

Our first issue includes a revealing interview with Massachusetts Congressman Mike Capuano and Libertarian political pundit Larry Elder.

We're working on the second issue now, which is slated for publication in May, but the first issue is still hot off the press and downloadable at the link below!'

UPDATE: If the above link is not functioning, please email luke . vargas @ mac . com for a PDF of any issue of the POV Magazine.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

March Madness vs. Presidential Primaries

The NCAA March Madness tournament officially tipped off this afternoon, and like every year, 65 teams from around the country are given the chance to take home the the biggest prize in college basketball. Fans realize the odds are stacked against Jackson State when they face off with Florida, but the upset is still technically possible. Imagine for a second that the NCAA were to change the rules of the tourney and:

-gave all 1-4 seeds a first round bye
-allowed the wealthiest sports programs to chose where and who they played, and gave them the opportunity to chose which primetime TV spot they'd prefer to be broadcast during

ESPN, along with the rest of "sportsnation" (which often times seems like more of a nation than the actual United States) would react with anger and protest until the rules were changed back. Teams would withdraw themselves from the tourney, and even the big school coaches would speak out against the new changes.

Now, there's no need to imagine, but understand for a moment the new trends that are defining the American primaries:

-frontrunner candidates benefit from earlier primaries as their initial reputation has less time to be challenged by lesser known individuals
-top-tier candidates will soon begin to pick and chose only the highest-grossing events to attend in the most revenue-producing states such as California, replacing the traditional election starting spots New Hampshire and Iowa.

The implications of such change don't ring with the same kind of fear as the NCAA changes do to many, but the new trend is very damaging to the way America choses its leaders. As it stands now, candidates such as Rudy Giuliani must make the tough choice between suring up support in the big states at the expense of facing an uphill battle in New Hampshire. If fifteen states move to "super Tuesday" primary day this election, Rudy and other big name candidatse could simply follow the money and media to California each and every day of the campaign and come out on top.

I'm hopeful that the next few months will still yield the kind of primary showdown that keeps the dark horse candidate in the race until the finish, but I fear for the future of the American electoral process. I don't believe that Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul will ever win the presidency, but I like to think that at any given time, in a small town in the mountains of New Hampshire, that Ron Paul can speak to a town hall of people and win over their support while Rudy Giuliani tours a factory in Los Angeles or makes a televised speech.

No #16 seed has ever upset a #1. But the underdogs still score their points and they still put up a fight. Let's make sure that fighting underdog spirit is never taken away.

'Two Days Until McCain!!' or 'Is This Guy Going to be Any Good?'

John McCain is visiting Milford, NH this upcoming Saturday morning, and I have made plans to attend one of these now imfamously incorrectly-named "town hall meetings" at an elementary school. I'm prepared for an experience entirely different from that of meeting Mike Huckabee at a restaurant in Manchester this February in which getting face-to-face time with the candidate simply invovled waiting ten or fifteen minutes after the speech before it was your turn to say some words.

Like the rest of the frontrunners in this 2008 scramble, McCain will undoubtedly be swamped by an army of reporters, and I am curious to see to which level, if any, the personality of such an event declines under these circumstances.

From a candidate such as Huckabee, I was not looking so much for creative agendas and practical solutions for the problems that this nation faces, but instead for a capable and inspiring leader whose personality and vision for the future could justify my thinking of him as a serious candidate. McCain, however, has been one of the biggest figures in American politics in past years, and my expctations are sky-high.

A quick visit to McCain's website worried me, but still leaves me curious to see what he can pull off on saturday. A video hosted on the campaign website entitled "Iraq" speaks of nothing more than of the importance of winning the conflict and why we cannot afford to lose. From such an experienced politician I count on McCain for being able to give voters more of an answer than that. If this way of skirting an issue and coughing up a patriotic answer to such an important problem is the way that McCain likes to do things, than I'm sure this town hall meeting won't be very enjoyable. I hope I'm wrong.

Ps. Depending on your notes isn't a big plus for me either. Huckabee went for nearly half an hour without any script at all, and he covered everything from weight loss to terrorism...I guess it pays to have twelve years of ministry experience under your belt before getting involved in politics after all...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Importance of a (Completely) Clean Slate

As evidenced by the Republican party's not so subtle rejection of Chuck Hagel, it seems as if a break on one issue from the party lines is enough to doom a campaign or career. Hagel's comments in which he suggested that Iraq was gradually becoming another Vietnam have put his name high on the hitlist for many conservatives who see his comments as representing a supreme level of disrespect for the President and the party. It is unfortunate that maintaining a voting record 100% down party lines is necessary to keep one's support. Hagel is now loathed by Republicans and has little hope of winning back a seat in the Senate, but what is most surprising is that Hagel is not, on a whole, a middle of the road Republican. Among other agendas, Hagel believes in:

-banning abortion
-prohibiting gay marriage
-the privitization of Social Security
-the reduction of taxes for the wealthy

So, what does this mean for the 2008 on a whole? Well, for one, good luck at becoming the Republican nominee with a view on a key issue such as Iraq, abortion, or gay marriage that breaks too much with the party's general set of beliefs. With each passing week I am continually amazed that so many conservatives are voicing support for Rudy Giuliani when in fact his record paints a picture of an entirely different man than we see today. If the Republicans can separate themselves from Giuliani like they did Hagel, watch out Mr. Mayor, 9/11 won't be able to carry you to an election vicory.

The Democratic side may seem more compromising, but a similar pattern as the Republicans arises in a more suble manner. Despite the public's lack of knowledge of his platform, Barack Obama remains one of the frontrunners in the 2008 election. The idea of Obama is one of change and a fresh approach to politics, but he can only ride the unknown/underdog candidate wave for so long before he must step up with some big ideas and cast aside the 24/7 barage of "red, white, and blue America" slogans which have defined his public image since 2004. We have yet to see whether Obama can deliver on this, so for now let's say that he might be in a tougher spot than we think he is.

In Trouble: Hagel, Giuliani, Romney, Obama

What's All This About 'Dividing'?

Hillary Clinton has been slapped with the label of "a divider" and "too partisan" in recent months, mainly because she is among the most vocal critics of the current administration. Hillary may not be the best candidate out there, but her frontrunner status naturally draws her criticism. I have no doubt that Edwards, Obama, or Richardson would receive similar treatment if they were sitting atop the polls.

As soon as Hillary's name began to gain press a few years back, it became clear to me that conservatives would love to have Hillary around as a Democratic nominee so they could unload anti-Clinton rhetoric on her with ease. Us moderates and conservatives initially believed that by stamping such a label on Hillary we would be able to debase her stock before the election even moved on to a contest of issues and policy. Now, however, the criticism that Hil has been receiving is actually dividing us more than we realize. Let's cut the crap and listen to what she has to say; and, after all that I still think she's a 'divider,' than I'll let you know.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Who Are the 17%?

A CNN/Opinion Research Corportation poll released today shows why, contrary to what the media is making it appear, the primaries are still eleven months away--

Rudy Giuliani - 34
John McCain - 18
Newt Gingrich - 9
Mitt Romney - 9
George Pataki - 3
Jim Gilmore - 2
Sam Brownback - 2
Chuck Hagel - 2
Ron Paul - 2
Mike Huckabee - 1
Tom Tancredo - 1
Tommy Thompson - 1
Duncan Hunter -

Rudy still holds a commanding lead over McCain and the rest of the pack despite a poor showing in the CPAC straw poll and a virtual disappearance from the public spotlight and campaign trail. Gingrich, although still not an official candidate, also steals a respectable sampling of the vote. Once again, nothing new here.

Lesser known candidates such as Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee currently fall into the polling no man's land with low single-digit figures. Between the two, a 3% representation in polls raises an intriguing question; where is the evangelical vote going?

The answer rests quietly at the bottom of the poll. Assuming that a small percentage of evangelicals shove aside their religious inclinations and chose to support Rudy, McCain, or Romney, the 17% of voters who are unsure matches up quite closely with the 23% of voters in the 2004 Presidential Election who identified themselves as evangelicals.

What kind of impact will this demographic have in the coming months? A huge one. Though Huckabee and Brownback may have to fight it out, my bets are on Mike Huckabee grabbing the support of the religious right and having his new support from social conservatives throw him into the front tier of candidates. It may seem unlikely now, but there will be a time when the Republican base will realize Giuliani and Co. don't agree with core conservative social values as much as would be desired.

Focusing the Frenzy: What's Best for the Troops

Let's be honest, there is no excuse for what has been exposed at Walter Reed these past few weeks, and there should be no tolerance for less than perfect services to be provided for America's servicemen and women. To that end, our soldiers in Iraq should receive all the necessary (and additional) equipment, armor, and vehicles necessary to ensure their safety. Hearing politicians argue that calls for increased funding of troop equipment are distracting us from the goal of the mission in the GWOT is one of the most misleading claims being tossed around Washington these days. It is our responsibility to react with anger whenever a soldier's death could have prevented with a hundred dollar flak jacket or a Hummer with reinforced armor. The key to continued success in the GWOT is keeping our soldiers alive and in allowing the focus of Baghdad patrols to conern the maintaining or order and security instead of searching for IEDs whose shrapnel could seriously injure or kill an unprotected soldier.

While America's leaders have been ignoring such issues, the Democratic Congress is doing America an almost equally appaling disservice in not getting their act together. The military is a world of composure, resolve, and responsibility. Not being a soldier, I can't tell you what the current political mess appears like, but I can tell you that the Democrats are having some serious trouble getting their act together. It is misleading to exploit the story of Speaker Pelosi's confusing at a recent press conference regarding the specific date of withdrawal for US troops this coming July, but there's a nagging disagreement among Democratic leadership that is hard to look around. A positive discourse in the discussion of plans to correct the situation in Iraq is one thing, but after two months the Democrats have done little but divide up and run to separate corners of the room. Whether you believe in the potential for success in the Iraq war or you believe in an immediate pullout, President Bush is an easy target for criticism or praise, but the Democrats' current strategy (or lack of you) allows for them to work aroung accepting any sort of responsibility.

I'm guessing that in the military, if your name is called and you're asked to step forth, you do. Well, Democrats in Congress, I'd like to talk to you about what your party's position is. Would you mind stepping forward?

Nothing Beats a Meet and Greet

So much of the public's perception of a candidate is shaped by commentary fed to us by the media. Television stations such as CBS or CNN attempt to supply us with the information we need to know about an individual, but often times what the candidate would want you to know about them would be entirely different. Since New Hampshire is only a quick drive from Massachusetts, I decided to make a quick trip over the border this past February to meet Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee spoke at the Merrimack Grill for a half hour and worked the crowd of around 60 for close to an hour as well. Student representatives spoke with Mike about his commitment to maintaining New Hampshire's first in the nation status, a woman slapped a "I'm a Health Care Voter" sticker on Huckabee's jacket, and I spoke with the Governor for around five minutes about everything from rock and roll to the media's impact on politics.

Instead of having FOX or MSNBC tell me that the Club For Growth gave Huckabee a 0% approval rating, I was glad to have the opportunity to erase my memory of a candidate clean and start to build up my knowledge of him or her based on information I picked up in person.

While candidates seem to only be visiting a handful of states these days, if anyone from Hilary to Brownback happens to stop by a town near you, make sure to give them a look and a listen. It is surprising how refreshing some politicians are when you run into them outside of the spotlight...

Welcome to the Big Show

The papers have been filed (in my room), the speeches have been written (on my hand), and the debates are about to begin (with my parents). Yes, the 2040 Presidential election cycle has begun! It is with great privilege that I present to you myself, candidate for the President of the United States.

Since a 17 year old high school student can in no way afford a professionally-designed website such as the ones maintained by the like of John McCain or Barack Obama, this blog will have to suffice for, probably, the next 33 years. Over the coming months and years I plan on bringing you content and opinion relating to the politics and news that contribute to the shaping of my political brain. If a politician, either Democrat or Republican, is leading this country in the right direction I will let you know and commit to memory part of what they did right. Likewise, should the country be led down the wrong path I will make sure to learn from their mistake.

This blog is about developing the next generation of political thought by learning from the decades preceding my presidency...aka now.