The Essence of Politics

Monday, August 31, 2009

George Will calls for pull-out--By Mike Allen

George F. Will, the elite conservative commentator, will call in his next column for U.S. ground troops to leave Afghanistan, according to publishing sources.

“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters,” Will writes in the column, scheduled for publication later this week.

Obama ordered a total of 21,000 more U.S. troops into Afghanistan in February and March, and casualties have mounted as the forces began confronting the Taliban more aggressively. August saw the highest monthly death toll for the U.S. since the invasion in 2001, the second record month in a row.

Will’s prescription – in which he urges Obama to remember Bismarck’s decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870 - seems certain to split Republicans. He is a favorite of fiscal conservatives. The more hawkish right can be expected to attack his conclusion as foolhardy, short-sighted and naïve, potentially making the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

The columnist’s startling recommendation surfaced on the same day that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sent an assessment up his chain of command recommending what he called “a revised implementation strategy.” In a statement, McChrystal also called for “commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

In the column, Will warns that any nation-building strategy could be impossible to execute given the Taliban’s ability to seemingly disappear into the rugged mountain terrain and the lack of economic development in the war-plagued nation.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked Monday by Peter Cook of Bloomberg TV: “Are we winning in Afghanistan?”

“I think it's a mixed picture in Afghanistan,” Gates replied. “I think that there aren’t too many people with too rosy a view of what's going on in Afghanistan. I think there are many challenges. But I think some of the gloom and doom is somewhat overdrawn as well. … I think that there are some positive developments. But there is no question our casualties are up and there's no question we have a very tough fight in front of us, a lot of challenges.”

Americans more confident on healthcare costs: poll

Fewer Americans are afraid that they will be unable to pay for healthcare services and fewer expect to postpone medical treatments due to costs, according to a Thomson Reuters survey published on Monday.

Researchers found a steady increase in people's confidence about their ability to pay for healthcare services -- it rose 12 percent between March and July this year.

The survey of 3,000 households showed, unsurprisingly, that people who made more money were more confident they could pay for medical care, and people who had insurance were far more confident about paying than those who lacked insurance.

"These findings are consistent with data we've been seeing for everything from hospital discharge trends to opinions about healthcare reform," said Gary Pickens, chief research officer for the Healthcare & Science business of Thomson Reuters.

"There is growing optimism among many healthcare consumers, but (there) also is a clear disparity in outlook between those with higher income levels who have insurance coverage and those who are uninsured. This gap needs to be an area of focus for healthcare professionals and policymakers," Pickens added in a statement.

Healthcare reform is the signature policy goal of President Barack Obama, and Congress is working on several bills, most concentrating on changes in the health insurance industry.

Thomson Reuters, the parent company of Reuters News, telephoned 3,000 people to ask whether they expected to have difficulty paying for healthcare services, delay or cancel a routine doctor's visit, diagnostic test, elective surgery, a visit for a minor illness or injury or therapy over the next three months.

"Consumers in the lowest income groups are approximately 20 percent less confident than average, while those in the highest income group are approximately 40 percent more confident than average," according to the report, published online at

"In July 2009 those consumers with college degrees or more education had confidence levels 25 percent greater than average, while those with high school education or less were approximately 10 percent less confident than average at the same point in time," it adds.

"Those with insurance have overall confidence levels approximately 10 percent higher than average, while those with no insurance have overall confidence levels more than 80 percent lower than average. Improvements in confidence occurred in both groups."

(Editing by Paul Simao)

Massachusetts governor backs naming Kennedy successor--By Ross Kerber

Massachusetts' Democratic governor on Monday backed a proposal to appoint an interim successor to the late Edward Kennedy's U.S. Senate seat, a move that could help Democrats retain a critical margin in the chamber.

Governor Deval Patrick also set a January 19 special election to fill Kennedy's term that ends in 2012.

Kennedy made a plea before he died last week that state law be changed so a replacement could be named to fill his seat for the five months before a special election could be held.

Kennedy's death deprives Democrats of the 60th vote in the 100-seat U.S. Senate, which if they remain united allows them to overcome Republican procedural blocks to legislation.

Massachusetts lawmakers said on Monday they will hold a public hearing next month to discuss changing the state law so the governor could fill the seat.

"I will continue to work with the legislature on legislation authorizing an interim appointment to the U.S. Senate," Patrick said at a news conference.

"This is the only way to ensure Massachusetts is fully represented until voters elect our next senator in January, " he added.

He also said it was too soon to discuss the potential temporary successor.

Possible contenders included the state's attorney general, Martha Coakley, several members of Congress and Kennedy's nephew, Joseph Kennedy II, a former U.S. representative from Massachusetts.

Kennedy's widow, Victoria, had also been mentioned for the temporary seat but Patrick said she was not interested.

Kennedy, a liberal champion of the U.S. Senate, was buried on Saturday. He died Tuesday of brain cancer at age 77, having spent 47 years in the Senate, where he became one of the most powerful U.S. lawmakers and an avid supporter of healthcare reform.

Not filling his seat would leave Massachusetts with only one U.S. senator for five months at a time when President Barack Obama is attempting to overhaul the $2.5 trillion U.S. healthcare system.

"On the merits, the proposal seems to me to be reasonable and wise," Patrick said of Kennedy's request for an appointed successor. "I hope members of the legislature, regardless of party, will think so too."

Patrick said Massachusetts must not have only one voice representing the state at a time Congress is debating bills of historic proportions, including healthcare reform
Republican officials in Massachusetts have opposed changing the law, but they are greatly outnumbered in both chambers.

"We don't want the Democrats to rob the voters of the right to choose the next senator," said Tarah Donoghue, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Republican Party.

In the special election, Democrats seem almost certain to retain Kennedy's seat, analysts said, noting Massachusetts' liberal leaning and the emotional tide created by the senator's death.
Obama, with Kennedy's backing, won Massachusetts in the 2008 presidential election with 62 percent of the vote.

The last time Massachusetts elected a Republican to the Senate was 1972, when it gave Edward Brooke a second term.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro in Washington, Ross Kerber and Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Boston; writing by Ellen Wulfhorst in New York; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

‘Brilliant’ Kennedy Widow Would Be Good Appointee, Hatch Says

The widow of the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy should be considered as an interim appointee to represent Massachusetts in his place, two U.S. senators said.

Senators Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and Christopher Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” they could support Kennedy’s widow Victoria Reggie Kennedy as an interim senator if Massachusetts allows a temporary appointment before a special election.

“Vicki ought to be considered,” Hatch said. “She’s a very brilliant lawyer. She’s a very solid individual. I have nothing but great respect for her.”

Massachusetts law requires a special election be held within five months to fill a seat that comes open before the end of a term. The issue has taken on urgency for Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who are struggling to pass health-care legislation before the end of the year.

Victoria Kennedy, 55, has said she is reluctant to serve, but she may change her mind after talking with her children and others, Dodd said. The people of Massachusetts would welcome filling the seat, he said.

“If she did, I’m for it,” Dodd said. “I think she’d be great. We could certainly use her in the Senate. Whatever she thinks is best, I’m for.”

‘Soul of Democratic Party’
Kennedy was buried Aug. 29 at Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington. At a funeral Mass earlier in the day in Kennedy’s hometown of Boston, President Barack Obama described him as “a champion for those who had none, the soul of the Democratic Party, the lion of the United States Senate.”

Kennedy married Victoria Reggie, the daughter of a family active in Louisiana politics, in 1992. She was recently divorced and had two small children from her previous marriage.

The soonest Massachusetts law could be changed and an interim senator picked is Sept. 24, state Representative Michael Moran, a Boston Democrat and co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, said Aug. 27. He added that there wasn’t yet an agreement to do so.

The week before his death, Kennedy sent a letter to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a Democrat, and top lawmakers in the state urging them to change the law so that someone could fill in before the special election. Kennedy argued in the letter that Massachusetts should have a mechanism to allow for the full complement of two senators as soon as possible after a resignation or death. The late senator was not up for re-election until 2012.

Democrats Dominate
Democrats outnumber Republicans in the Massachusetts House 114 to 16, and 35 to 5 in the Senate. Democrats changed the law during the 2004 election cycle to prevent then-Governor Mitt Romney, a Republican, from replacing U.S. Senator John Kerry in the event he was elected president. Kerry lost to President George W. Bush and remained in the Senate.

Possible candidates in the special election include Democratic U.S. Representatives Stephen Lynch, Michael Capuano, Edward Markey, James McGovern and William Delahunt.

State Attorney General Martha Coakley and former Representative Martin Meehan, both Democrats, may also contend as well as former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, a Republican.

Dodd, who is serving as acting chairman of Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said the Massachusetts senator would expect lawmakers to continue to fight for their priorities on issues like health care.

Kennedy’s death should remind senators that civility is an important part of the process, Dodd said in a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The best way to honor Kennedy’s legacy is “to start acting like senators,” he said.

“You respect each other. There are differences, you bring partisanship to the table,” Dodd said. “But you work out your differences. That’s what we were elected to do.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at .

Experts see double-digit Dem losses--By Josh Kraushaar

After an August recess marked by raucous town halls, troubling polling data and widespread anecdotal evidence of a volatile electorate, the small universe of political analysts who closely follow House races is predicting moderate to heavy Democratic losses in 2010.

Some of the most prominent and respected handicappers can now envision an election in which Democrats suffer double-digit losses in the House — not enough to provide the 40 seats necessary to return the GOP to power but enough to put them within striking distance.

Top political analyst Charlie Cook, in a special August 20 update to subscribers, wrote that “the situation this summer has slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.”

"Many veteran congressional election watchers, including Democratic ones, report an eerie sense of déjà vu, with a consensus forming that the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats,” he wrote.

At the mid-August Netroots Nation convention, Nate Silver, a Democratic analyst whose uncannily accurate, stat-driven predictions have made his website a must read among political junkies, predicted that Republicans will win between 20 and 50 seats next year. He further alarmed an audience of progressive activists by arguing that the GOP has between a 25 and 33 percent chance of winning back control of the House.

“A lot of Democratic freshmen and sophomores will be running in a much tougher environment than in 2006 and 2008 and some will adapt to it, but a lot of others will inevitably freak out and end up losing,” Silver told POLITICO. “Complacency is another factor: We have volunteers who worked really hard in 2006 and in 2008 for Obama but it’s less compelling [for them] to preserve the majority.”

Historic trends point to Republican House gains in the midterm election, particularly after facing two brutal election cycles where the party lost seats in every region and even in some of the most conservative states in the nation. Over the last five decades, the party out of power has picked up seats in 10 of the 12 midterm elections.

Turnout levels may also work in the GOP’s favor: House Democrats who narrowly won election in 2008 on the strength of high turnout among African-Americans and young voters probably won’t be able to count on that same level of enthusiasm next year in a nonpresidential election.

The national political environment, of course, could look significantly different next year. It wasn’t until the final month before the 1994 GOP landslide that political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, anticipated GOP gains large enough to win back control of the House.

This year, Rothenberg cautioned that despite signs of a Republican resurgence, there are many factors working against huge numbers of GOP pickups. If Democrats are able to pass a health care bill without the controversial public option, the party could get credit for passing legislation without jeopardizing their most vulnerable members, he noted. And if the economy perks up in the third quarter of next year, Rothenberg argued, all bets are off.

“To have another wholesale sea change bigger than last year’s and almost as big as the two years combined is asking a lot. It’s not impossible, but you have to think that’s quite a challenge for the Republicans,” said Rothenberg. “If [House Republicans] won 12 to 15 seats, … they should be very happy about that. Could I see them winning more than that? If there are gale force winds, I could see them winning 20 to 25, … but 40 seats is a really big number.”

Cook Political Report House analyst David Wasserman, who expects Republicans to pick up between nine and 26 seats, said that even if the national environment approximates the 1994 atmosphere, there are significant structural differences about the political landscape that will limit Republican gains.

Back in 1994, Democrats had held the majority for 42 years. Many veteran members, predominantly from conservative districts, decided to retire after sensing the changing political winds. Of the 31 open seats they created, Republicans picked up 23 of them — about 40 percent of the GOP’s total pickups that year.

Only seven House Democrats to date have announced they’re not running for reelection — with all but three of them representing safe Democratic districts.

“I don’t think that Democrats’ chances of losing the House are anywhere near one-in-four right now,” said Wasserman. “For Democrats to lose 40 seats, they would have to be facing absolutely catastrophic circumstances, and even if the health care debate turns sour, it’s hard to imagine that Democrats will be losing a ton of ground.”

Silver also pointed to the role of health care legislation, which he said is increasingly looking like a no-win situation for House Democrats.

In his view, if a compromise bill is passed without a public option, the liberal base will become upset and may not be enthusiastic heading into the 2010 midterm elections, where their support will be critical. But if Democrats pass legislation without any assistance from Republicans, the party risks incurring the wrath of independent voters looking for a bipartisan solution. And if no health care reform at all gets passed, the administration and vulnerable members will have spent political capital without getting any results on the administration’s signature issue.

“If you pass a health care bill it doesn’t make you popular, but if you don’t sign any legislation it makes things even worse,” Silver said. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I don’t see what the exit strategy is for the White House. Once they went down this path, they’re going all in here, and you can’t take that bet back.”

Democratic officials privately expect to lose around 10 House seats even under politically stable conditions, and acknowledge that President Obama’s standing in the run up to November 2010 will play a pivotal role in how well they can weather the historical trend.

“When you have big waves like 2006 and 1994, you felt it early and you felt it build. I am not sure we are seeing that. While healthcare is causing some heartburn, it is still an issue that two-thirds of all voters say needs reforming,” said Democratic pollster John Anzalone, who represents many clients in conservative Southern districts.

“It is clearly too early to tell if the Republicans have a chance [to regain control of the House], but at this point I still think it is more like a 10 or 15 percent chance. That may certainly grow. But there are some big battles yet to fight.”

Indeed, those upcoming battles — on health care reform, energy legislation and economic regulation — will be crucial to the fortunes of targeted House Democrats. Wasserman noted that of the 16 House Democrats who voted against former President Clinton on the controversial budget and assault weapons ban, every single one of them won reelection. If this year’s crop of targeted Democrats resists pressure from leadership and votes in line with their constituencies, Wasserman predicted they can overcome a Republican wave.

Already, many Democrats representing conservative-minded districts have distanced themselves from the national party’s leadership on the most controversial measures. Forty-four Democrats split from their leadership to oppose the cap-and-trade energy legislation — most of them falling in line with the economic interests of their districts.

“It goes to show that voting behavior in Congress matters at the end of the day.” Wasserman said. “Right now, we’re looking at a wave cycle, but the question is will it be a small wave or a major wave. And it matters how these freshman and sophomore members vote to determine how big a wave it will be.”

Wall Street slips on China sell-off; energy, banks slide--By Angela Moon

U.S. stocks fell on Monday as concerns about the global economy's health weighed on Wall Street following a sell-off in Chinese equities.

Energy shares led the decline after the sharp drop in China's main stock index, while oil slipped below $70 a barrel on increased worries about global energy demand.

Shares of Chevron Corp (CVX.N) tumbled 1.1 percent to $69.94 and Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) dropped 1.4 percent to $69.15. The S&P Energy index (.GSPE) was down 1.8 percent.

The Shanghai Composite index (.SSEC) fell nearly 7 percent to a three-month low on fears that China's government is trying to moderate economic growth and choke off speculation in its stock market by tightening bank lending.

"China is a very important engine of growth to the rest of the world," said Craig Hester, chief executive of Hester Capital Management in Austin, Texas.

"People need to see China continue its growth, and a slowdown in the stock market there will slow us down, too."

Heading into a traditionally soft period of the year for stocks, investors are increasingly becoming more worried about a pullback after a 50 percent rally from multi-year closing lows in March.

Despite the day's lackluster performance, the Dow ended August up 3.5 percent, while the S&P 500 advanced 3.4 percent and Nasdaq gained 1.5 percent.

In Monday's session, the Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) fell 47.92 points, or 0.50 percent, to end at 9,496.28. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (.SPX) shed 8.31 points, or 0.81 percent, to 1,020.62. The Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC)
declined 19.71 points, or 0.97 percent, to close at 2,009.06.

Financial stocks, which enjoyed a strong rally last week, changed their course after a number of bearish notes from analysts.

Rochdale Securities analyst Richard Bove wrote that in the short term, "a reaction to the recent move up in the stocks may develop."

In addition, Barron's recommended profit-taking in Citigroup (C.N) and said American International Group (AIG.N) shares were overpriced after gaining more than 50 percent last week.
Citi was down 4.4 percent at $5.00 while AIG dropped 9.8 percent to $45.33.

The weakness in energy and financial stocks overshadowed the news of two large mergers on Monday.

Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment (MVL.N) for $4 billion, while Baker Hughes Inc (BHI.N) said it would buy BJ Services Co (BJS.N) for $5.5 billion.
Marvel shares soared 25.2 percent to $48.37, while BJ Services' stock was up 4.1 percent at $16.06.

Also on Monday, the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago's business barometer rose to 50.0 in August. The level was higher than expected, and was on the dividing line between growth and contraction in the sector.

Volume was light on the New York Stock Exchange, with 1.38 billion shares changing hands, below last year's estimated daily average of 1.49 billion.

On the Nasdaq, about 2.33 billion shares traded, above last year's daily average of 2.28 billion.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a ratio of 11 to 4. On the Nasdaq, about 19 stocks fell for every seven that rose.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)

Federal Reserve made $14 billion on turmoil loans: report

The Federal Reserve has made $14 billion in profits on loans made in the last two years, The Financial Times reported on Monday, citing officials close to the matter.

The U.S. central bank also earned about $19 billion from interest and fees charged to institutions that tapped liquidity facilities during the global financial crisis, the report said.

If the Fed had invested the same amounted loaned out in three-month Treasury bills since August 2007, it would have earned $5 billion in interest, the FT said.

This estimate excludes company bailouts and purchases of long-term assets as well as unrealized gains or losses on the Fed's portfolio of mortgage-backed securities and Treasuries purchased as part of the $1.75 trillion asset purchase program.

The Fed was not immediately available for comment on the report.

Report: US makes $4 billion from bailout banks

The U.S. government has hauled in about $4 billion in profits from large banks that have repaid their obligations from last year's federal bailout, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Last September, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson pressed congressional leaders for legislation authorizing a $700 billion financial bailout of some of the nation's largest financial institutions, which were in danger of collapsing. The bill was signed into law in October.

Critics of the bailout were concerned that the Treasury Department would never see a return on its investment. But the government has already claimed profits from eight of the biggest banks.

The Times cited government profits of $1.4 billion from Goldman Sachs, $1.3 billion from Morgan Stanley and $414 million from American Express. It also listed five other banks — Northern Trust, Bank of New York Mellon, State Street, U.S. Bancorp and BB&T — that each returned profits between $100 million and $334 million.

The government has also collected about $35 million in profits from 14 smaller banks, the Times reported.

Federal investments in some other banks, including Citigroup and Bank of America, are still in question, and the government could still lose much of the money it spent to bail out insurance company American International Group, mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and automakers General Motors and Chrysler.

Obama reduces 2010 pay increases to 2 percent

President Barack Obama notified Congress on Monday he is reducing pay increases for federal workers from 2.4 percent to 2 percent.

Using powers employed by his two most recent predecessors, the president cited the national unemployment rate and the budget busting federal payroll.

Obama also said that he would decide by Nov. 30 on the need to take action on "locality pay," wages over and above the base federal rates that are determined according to geographic living costs and comparable private-sector pay.

The locality pay set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2010, would have added an average of 16.5 percent to the wages of federal workers, meaning that the pay increase as outlined by statute would have totaled 18.9 percent throughout the federal system.

In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden, who serves as president of the Senate, Obama said he was taking action because the 2.4 percent increase mandated by statute would cost $22.6 billion in 2010. He said he had budgeted only for a 2 percent across-the-board increase at a cost of $19.9 billion.

Obama said he was invoking powers to put in place his own pay plan in times of a national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the nation. Former President George W. Bush used the authority previously, as did President Bill Clinton before him.

"With unemployment at 9.5 percent in June to cite just one economic indicator, few would disagree that our country is facing serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare," Obama's letter said.

Obama said he did not believe his order would affect the government's ability to attract or keep employees.

"To the contrary," his letter said, "since any pay raise above the amount proposed in this alternative plan would likely be unfunded, agencies would have to absorb the additional cost and could have to reduce hiring to pay the higher rates."

Bush used similar language and arguments when he intervened in federal salaries in November 2007.

Analysis: Obama keeps Bush nominees in top posts--By Tom Raum, Associated Press Writer

For all the GOP howling about Barack Obama radically steering the government to the left and leading the nation toward socialism, some of his major appointments are Republican men and women of the middle.

In what may be the top two national posts in light of today's crises at home and abroad, Obama stuck with the picks of former President George W. Bush in reappointing Fed chief Ben Bernanke and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Bernanke last week was given another four-year term to preside over nothing less than saving the U.S. economy and then keeping it strong. He was appointed by Bush in 2006 after a short stint as chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. Gates was kept in his Pentagon post to wind down the war in Iraq and build up the one in Afghanistan.

The loss of Sen. Ted Kennedy to brain cancer led to a chorus of laments about the dearth of politicians these days able to reach across party lines. While Obama hasn't had much luck with the highly polarized Congress in building bipartisan support on legislation, he's reached out often to Republicans in filling key jobs.

The notion that he's moving the government to the left "is laughable, it's utterly laughable," said Thomas E. Mann, a government scholar at the Brookings Institution. Mann said the decision to keep Bernanke and Gates "doesn't buy him a thing with Republicans but was a sign of good judgment in both cases" because Bernanke and Gates were doing good jobs.

Obama's larger problem is that he still does not have his own people in a majority of the government's top policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation. But those he has put in top positions include a number of Republicans or nontraditional Democrats.

Along with Gates and Bernanke, they include:
--Sheila Bair as holdover chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. She has played a major role in the management of the financial crisis. A one-time unsuccessful candidate for a Kansas House seat, Bair was first appointed by Bush in June 2006. Forbes Magazine ranks her as the second most powerful woman in the world behind German chancellor Angela Merkel.

--Ray LaHood, a former congressman from Illinois, as transportation secretary. He was elected as part of the "Gingrich Revolution" of 1994 and was so trusted by both Republicans and Democrats that he was selected to preside over the House during the impeachment vote against President Bill Clinton.

--Former Rep. John McHugh from upstate New York, as Army secretary. McHugh was known by his House colleagues for an even temperament and willingness to work with Democrats.

--Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was a Mormon missionary in China in his youth, as ambassador to China.

--Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, as director of the National Institutes of Health.
Unlike the others on the list, Collins is not a Republican and worked in the Obama presidential campaign. But he doesn't fit the usual mold of liberal Democrat as portrayed by many Republicans.

Collins discussed his religious views in a 2006 book. Although some questions have been raised about whether he could keep his religious views separate from his work, the physician-geneticist is well respected in his field for landmark discoveries of disease genes and as head of the Human Genome Project.

Meanwhile, Obama has been contending with an angry left upset at him for not insisting more forcefully on a government-run health insurance option and for his decisions to retain some Bush-era counterterrorism policies.

"The effort to portray Obama as dangerously leftist just doesn't have any traction," said Stephen Cimbala, a political science professor at Penn State. "I think if they want to pick up seats in 2010 and get back up off the floor where Bush left them, they're going to have to find a way to go beyond the very narrow core Republican base and reach out to moderates. The case they have to make against Obama is a case about competency and performance. Not about ideology."

Republicans are going all out on the war path, especially on health care overhaul and budget issues.

"Obama and his liberal congressional allies want to saddle taxpayers with even more debt through their government-run health care experiment that will cost trillions of dollars," said Republican party chief Michael Steele. House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, accused Obama of a management style that's "not leadership, it's negligence." Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said in Saturday's GOP video and Internet address that Obama's Democrats favor "cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from the elderly to create new government programs."

In asking Bernanke to stay on, Bush praised the former Princeton economist for "his calm and wisdom" in steering the economy through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

At the time he announced he was sticking with Gates at the Pentagon, Obama said he didn't ask the member of the Bush war cabinet to remain because of his party affiliation but because he felt he could best "serve the interests of the American people." Obama said he was "going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House."

Meanwhile, Obama returned from his vacation in Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard and, after a few days at Camp David, will redouble his efforts toward getting a bipartisan health care overhaul and wants to work with both Democrats and Republicans, White House officials said.

"I think that it's unfortunate, again, it's tremendously unfortunately that it looks like Republicans are stepping away from seeking a bipartisan solution," presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Monday. "I think ... it's bad for this town, but it's much worse for this country."

EDITOR'S NOTE — Tom Raum covers politics and economics for The Associated Press.

Gates: Report details highs, lows of Afghan fight--By ANNE GEARAN, AP National Security Writer

The United States and NATO need a new strategy to defeat the Taliban, the top commander in Afghanistan said Monday as he delivered a classified assessment that is widely seen as the groundwork for a fresh request to add more American forces next year.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the nearly 8-year-old war is winnable, but his report is expected to be a blunt appraisal of the Taliban's increasing tactical prowess and diminishing popular support in Afghanistan for both the foreign-led war effort and the fragile, corruption-riddled central government.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious," McChrystal said, and success "demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort."

McChrystal did not ask for more troops but is expected to do so in a separate request in a couple weeks, two NATO officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the matter. NATO nations have repeatedly declined U.S. requests to send larger numbers of new troops or to lift restrictions on many of those now fighting in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that the Obama administration will look closely at the "resources requests" expected to flow from McChrystal's assessment. Gates said the review's hard look at the U.S. military's performance contains bright spots amid "gloom and doom."

"We have been very explicit that General McChrystal should be forthright in telling us what he needs," Gates said following a tour of the Texas factory where next-generation F-35 fighter jets are built and tested.

U.S. officials are bracing for a troop request above the 21,000 new American forces President Barack Obama committed to Afghanistan this year. That would force an unpleasant choice on Obama: Add more troops to Afghanistan just as the strain of the huge force commitments to the Iraq war begins to diminish, or risk losing the war he had argued the United States neglected in favor of Iraq.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president has not seen McChrystal's review yet. Gibbs described the review as "an assessment of where we are and what in his assessment needs to change."

"Any resource — specific resource recommendations, I'm told, will be made in the coming weeks, but are not a part of this report," he said.

There is little appetite at the White House and in Congress for further expansion of a war that is backsliding despite nearly eight years of fighting and millions in development money.

U.S. and NATO commanders have said they do not have sufficient troops and support to expand the fight against a resilient and well-organized Taliban insurgency. But Gates noted his oft-repeated worry about placing too many forces in Afghanistan, a strategy that failed for the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

"I think there are larger issues," Gates said. "We will have to look at the availability of forces; we will have to look at costs. There are a lot of different things we will have to look at."

McChrystal's recommendations were being sent up through U.S. Central Command commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who would add their comments to it. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not say whether Gates had seen it yet, but said the report would not be made public.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said the report would also be examined by NATO's political and military leadership. He stressed it was an assessment by the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, "not a change of strategy."

McChrystal's report recommends focusing the U.S. and NATO counterinsurgency efforts on the Afghan population and less on militants, one of the NATO officials in Afghanistan said.

Last week, McChrystal said troops "must change the way that we think, act and operate" in newly released counterinsurgency guidance. McChrystal hopes to instill a new approach in troops to make the safety of villagers the top priority.

McChrystal said the supply of fighters in the Afghan insurgency is "essentially endless," the reason violence continues to rise. He called on troops to think of how they would expect a foreign army to operate in their home countries, "among your families and your children, and act accordingly," to try to win over the Afghan population.

Gates requested the report as a gut check following Obama's announcement of a pared-down counterinsurgency strategy and the rare wartime firing of a top general this spring. McChrystal was sent to Afghanistan this summer to oversee the addition of 17,000 U.S. combat forces, part of a record U.S. commitment of 68,000 by the end of this year.

"While there is a lot of gloom and doom going around, I think that General McChrystal's assessment will be a realistic one, and set forth the challenges we have in front of us," Gates said. "At the same time, I think we have some assets in place and some developments that hold promise."

The allied strategy in Afghanistan hinges on increasing the number of Afghan soldiers and police so U.S. forces can one day withdraw. Some 134,000 Afghan troops are to be trained by late 2011, but U.S. officials say that number will need to be greatly increased, an expansion that the U.S. will finance.

The deaths of two U.S. service members Monday in the south — raising the record death toll to 47 in August, the deadliest month of the eight-year war — underscored the escalating violence.
Concerned about the growing use of roadside bombs or "improvised explosive devices," Gates said he wants to send additional armored vehicles and more surveillance equipment.

In Texas, Gates got a first look at the MC-12 Liberty, a relatively low-tech answer to the problem of airborne surveillance that is already flying in Iraq and will soon be sent to Afghanistan.
Associated Press writers Jason Straziuso in Kabul, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Lara Jakes in Washington contributed to this report.

The War on Our Youth—Lowering the Drinking Age from 21 to 18

In this country, it is considered a citizen's duty to register for the draft upon turning 18. This means that if war were declared tomorrow anyone who is 18 would have to go to war. If the country says that, when a person turns the age of 18, he/she has the responsibility to go and protect America while risking their own life if they were called. Thus it is understandable why some feel that a person at the age of 18 should also have the right to be able to sit down and have a drink with some friends. The United States of America feels that once a person turns 18 they have certain responsibilities, and yet they don't feel that your average 18 year old is responsible enough to drink alcohol. Personally I have a problem with that but I do understand both the pros and cons about it. In some countries there is no drinking age. This is because it is not abused as much in those countries. The laws have been that way for so long that everyone has just gotten used to the idea and is now a part of everyday life. In countries like France or Rome, whenever a family sits down to a meal they drink wine with it. This is just the way they were raised. Drinking has become a part of their day to day being.

Then on the other side a lot of people say that if the drinking age were lowered to 18 then people would abuse it. Us as Americans aren't used to the idea of drinking casually. I feel this is true in many aspects. Drinking in this country has become a recreational activity that some people cannot control. However, if children were taught to drink casually or at least not exceedingly, then possibly those children would grow up to respect alcohol and not abuse it like other countries. As a tradition in this country a newlywed couple makes a toast of Champaign at their wedding. A lot of people getting married before there twenty first birthday can't even drink Champaign at their own weddings. Like with the story of Adam and Eve, both of them were enticed by the "forbidden fruit." I feel that this is the same way now. If you tell a teenager that he can't drink alcohol what's he going to do? Probably, go drink alcohol. More than likely the teenager is going to go drink irresponsibly too, right? Well instead of telling he or she don't drink and then him or her finding a way to drink illegally, just legalize it. Give the teenager a place to drink responsibly like in bars or with their parents where they can be monitored. Teach them the right way to drink instead of letting them figure it out on their own.

In my opinion society thinks that once you have reached the age of 18 then you are an adult and should start living like one. Then let those who are 18 be adults. The Law says, one being 18 is an adult, but for some reason they still are treated like a child. The debate of lowering the drinking age started in the 1970s and it has heated up again. At what age is the average person sufficiently responsible and trustworthy to drink alcohol safely? Should states lower the legal drinking age to 18? Various legislators and organizations are voicing strong opinions on both sides. The phrase "legal drinking age" wrongly suggests there is a federal law dictating the age limit country-wide. In reality, states are free to set their own age limit - well, free in theory at least. Every state has agreed to set the legal age at 21 because Congress passed a law in 1984 that withholds 10 percent of highway funds from states that set a lower limit. With that threat looming, 49 states had complied by 1988, with Louisiana joining after years of court battles.

In recent months, supporters in a number of states have pushed ballot initiatives to lower the drinking age. Legislation introduced in Kentucky, Wisconsin, and South Carolina would lower the drinking age for military personnel only. An initiative in Missouri would apply to everyone 18 and older, while an initiative in South Dakota would allow all 19- and 20-year-olds to buy low-alcohol beer. A Minnesota bill would allow anyone 18 or older to buy alcohol in bars or restaurants, but not in liquor stores. With states considering all of these options, what are the arguments for and against lowering the drinking age?

With such initiatives under way, it should be understood that there many arguments in favor of lowering the drinking age. The United States has the highest legal drinking age in the world. Most countries allow people to drink at 16 or 18 years of age. Others, like China, Portugal, and Vietnam, have no minimum drinking age at all. Legislators argue that men and women who are old enough to vote, get married, adopt children, purchase firearms, and defend our country can be trusted to drink responsibly. Libertarian groups and some conservative economic foundations have long advocated for lowering the drinking age, and in recent years many academics and non-partisan policy groups have joined the cause.

Proponents of the idea argue that the current law has forced youths to hide and sneak alcohol, which means lawmakers and responsible adults have no control over underage drinking. These groups argue the law doesn't actually reduce drinking among people under 21 years of age, which renders the law ineffective. In support of their position, they point to the federal government's 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which found that 85 percent of 20-year-old Americans had used alcohol. Two out of five said they had binged (on five or more drinks at one time) within the previous month. By offering better education and taking away the appeal of doing something "forbidden," some groups believe a lower drinking age will actually keep people safer. Nonprofit group Choose Responsibility proposes lowering the drinking age to 18, but only in conjunction with "drinking licenses" and mandatory alcohol education. The group believes this change would educate young people about how to drink responsibly with the oversight and guidance of older adults.

Still there are also arguments against lowering the drinking age as well. During the Vietnam War era, 29 states lowered the drinking age to 18, reasoning that thousands of men and women were dying for their country without even having the right to drink legally. Within a short time, the lower drinking age resulted in a significant increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Those who oppose the lower drinking age argue the law saves lives. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's review of nearly 50 peer-reviewed studies, it found that lowering the minimum drinking age to 18 increases fatalities by 10 percent. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says laws setting the drinking age at 21 have cut traffic fatalities involving drivers ages 18-20 by 13 percent and have saved an estimated 19,121 lives since 1975. When Vermont voted to increase the age in 1985, alcohol-related traffic fatalities reportedly dropped by 40 percent, according to Vermont State Police. Since alcohol is still the leading cause of death among teenagers in highway crashes, activist groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving argue the law is serving a valuable purpose.

Since states would pay a high price - 10 percent of their federal highway funds - to lower the drinking age, it is unlikely the movement will gain any ground. In most states, the legislative efforts have died without much support. Some organizations are hoping to reopen the issue for the 2010 election. So with the United States being one of the only developed nations whose drinking age is greater than the age of 18. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, China, France, and Singapore hold their drinking age at or lower than 18. Even our neighbors to the north, Canada, have a drinking age of 18 proving that this is not a regional phenomenon. Seventy-eight percent of Americans oppose lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. In the United States one is legally an adult at the age of 18. This entitles privileges such as buying cigarettes and possessing a weapon. Also at the age of 18 one is subject to being drafted for war, full income tax and jail time instead of going to a juvenile detention center. Thus it is absurd for one to be permitted these civil liberties but denied the right to consume alcohol.

As stated many oppose lowering the legal drinking age because they fear that it will endanger the lives of young adults. However, this argument has no basis. At the age of 18, men can be drafted for war, forcing them to be put in grave circumstances and potentially to kill another human being. Generally those who are underage tend to want to rebel and do things that they aren't allowed to. From a personal standpoint, I have witnessed many underage people drive home after a night of drinking in order to hide it from their parents. If the drinking age was lowered young adults would feel less pressure to notify their parents that they have been drinking. Ultimately, the greatest threat to people's safety comes when young adults drive home under the influence. Evidently, other nations have proven that it is possible to have a low drinking age and little influence on the well being of their young adults. If the drinking age is lowered from 21 to 18 than teaching personal responsibility about drinking is the key. Most parents don’t get a chance to teach their child about the hardships and dangers of drinking because by the time most of them are of age to drink; they are living on their own or own college campuses.

However if the drinking age is lowered, parents can have more of a direct responsibility in teaching their child how to deal with drinking responsibly before they turn 18 so it is more engraved in their personal psyche. Think about it, teaching a child about the dangers of drinking and being responsible about drinking three or four years before they are of age to drink goes in one ear and out there other by the time they turn of age. Still if parents and adults in general are teaching youth constantly about alcohol consumption and the need to responsible than perhaps America can be like other nations and see that 18 year olds are just as responsible adults as someone who is 21 when it comes to drinking. For now though, the debate continues on with more voices in support of lowering the drinking age.

The War on Our Youth: Lowering the Drinking Age to 18

There’s a debate brewing in many states in America as to whether or not the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18. Ever since the drinking age was set at 21, there has been controversy. Many Americans believe that if a young adult is old enough to risk their life defending their country at age 18, then they are mature enough to drink alcohol. People who are against ever lowering the drinking age, point out the fact that fatal automobile accidents have been on a decline ever since the drinking age was set to 21. There are perceived pros and cons to lowering the drinking age. Americans who believe that an 18 year old adult can be responsible when drinking might advocate a drinking age of 18. It is possible that lowering the drinking age could send a message to young Americans that they can be trusted to show a level of maturity. This in turn might result in more responsible adults and college students.

A lower drinking age could potentially lead to less dangerous decisions made by people under the age of 21 who decide to drink. Sometimes young adults who have not yet reached the age of 21, experiment with alcohol primarily because it is illegal. They are curious as to what it is about drinking that makes it forbidden until 21. If the drinking age was lowered to 18 a potential pro would be that less men and women under 21 would drink. In addition, lowering the drinking age would make it more likely that college students and other young adults would call for help if they were drunk. Since the drinking age is currently 21, some minors drive under the influence of alcohol because they are afraid to tell their parents they are drinking. Minors do not ask for help if they are having difficulty staying safe while drinking because it is illegal. A lower drinking age might decrease some risky behavior by minors who would otherwise be afraid to admit they were drinking.

Of course, there are many cons to lowering the drinking age. Many 18 year olds just are not ready to drink responsibly. Young adults find themselves away from home for the first time during college. Although many minors do drink even knowing it is against the law, there are some who wait until they are 21. Less young adults drinking on campuses across the country can cut down on crimes and deaths related to alcohol. If the drinking age was lowered to 18 (for instance), there would be many high school students who would be able to legally drink. Students could fall behind on their studies if they started to drink. Most high school students are not mature enough to handle drinking alcohol. They could make poor choices such as sneaking alcohol to school, driving under the influence or binge drinking. These possibilities are another reason many people do not advocate a lower drinking age.

Federal highway statistics reflect that there were at least 25,000 less fatal car accidents involving minors under the influence with the legal drinking age of 21. This is one of the biggest pros to leaving the drinking age as is. It seems as if the American youth is much safer with a drinking age three years past first reaching adulthood. However when Chris Konschak attended the University of Richmond in 1983, school policy allowed him to keep a keg in his room. Today, freshmen who roll kegs into Dennis Hall could face expulsion. Until it was changed to 21 in 1984, the legal drinking age was 18. And Chris Konschak no longer does keg stands. He is now the executive director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Virginia and the District of Columbia. Since the Amethyst Initiative started last July, Konschak has had to work extra hard to keep alcohol out of freshmen dorms.

The Amethyst Initiative is a nationwide petition to return the legal drinking age to 18. So far, 135 college and university presidents have signed. Presidents of Virginia Tech, Randolph-Macon College and Washington & Lee University are among those who have signed the petition, but Richmond’s President Edward Ayers, who was unavailable for comment, is not. Some students and faculty at Richmond are starting to wonder what he is waiting for. Tracy Cassalia, the health educator at Richmond’s Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness, said she had no idea why the president hadn’t signed the petition. She said lowering the drinking age on campus would definitely decrease binge drinking and pre-gaming. “When students turn 21, it takes the mystique away from drinking,” Cassalia said. “Once it becomes legal it loses something.” Dan Fabian, the chemical health coordinator at Richmond and associate dean of Richmond College, said lowering the drinking age would be a good idea. But, he didn’t think there would be a change anytime soon.

“It doesn’t matter if President Ayers signs the Amethyst Initiative or not,” he said. “MADD is too strong a lobbying group – politicians won’t stand up against them.” The debate between members of the Amethyst Initiative and MADD has reached national and individual campus levels. Konschak said the MADD chapter in the City of Richmond had worked to educate the leaders of Virginia colleges and universities in a history lesson. “Look at the number of lives saved when the drinking age was changed to 21,” he said. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the increase in the minimum legal drinking age has saved 21,887 lives nationwide. “Many school leaders today were legal to drink when they were in college,” Konschak said. “They buy into the myth that lowering the drinking age will stop binge drinking, but they haven’t done the research to see if any of the data is true.”

Dawn Watkins, the vice president of student affairs at Washington & Lee University, said that laws and regulations for drunk driving had changed significantly since MADD first started. Since the drinking age has been raised, increases in binge drinking had actually created a higher risk on college campuses, she said. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18- to 20-year-olds had the steepest increase in binge drinking rates – 56 percent – between 1993 and 2001. “Richmond is not that dissimilar to Washington & Lee,” Watkins said. “I believe that 75 percent of students are already using alcohol before coming to a college campus – that in and of itself makes the drinking age disjointed with reality.” But at Richmond, students aren’t drinking as much as we think they are, Cassalia said. “Here, there are 17 percent that don’t.” Cassalia said a small portion of students at Richmond binge drank, which created problems for the rest of the people on campus.

Other Virginia schools see binge drinking as a greater problem. Larry Hincker, the associate vice president of university relations at Virginia Tech, said that President Charles W. Steger signed the Amethyst Initiative to show that he acknowledged there was a problem of underage drinking on college campuses. “The national binge drinking rate for time and number of drinks for males and females is 42 percent,” Hincker said. “In Virginia it is higher than the national average – 54 percent. And at Virginia Tech it is even higher than that – 58 percent.” Hincker said that Virginia Tech had suffered the consequences from underage drinking and welcomed dialogue on the law. Richmond is starting to welcome it, too. Cassalia said that the university was sending her to the American College Health Association Conference at the end of May. She said that John McCardell, the Amethyst Initiative’s founder, and Robert Saltz of the Prevention Research Center would lead a day-long debate on the pros and cons of lowering the drinking age. Fabian said he still thought the Amethyst Initiative would just “fizzle out.” “But, hey, maybe I’ll be wrong,” Fabian said. He paused, taking a moment to laugh. “Maybe that would be a good thing.”

Still there are others who say that the drinking age is not working and should be lowered to 18. Dr. Morris E. Chafetz, a Doctor of Psychiatry, has played a pivotal role on important social issues including drugs and alcoholism. He founded the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse in 1970. He gained national recognition as a member of the Presidential Commission on Drink Driving, and Director and Executive Member of the National Commission against Drink Driving. Finally he was the Presidential appointee at The White House Conference for a Drug-Free America. His career has culminated in the foundation of The Health Education Foundation in Washington. Nonetheless in 1982 Dr. Chafetz accepted an appointment to the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving and agreed to chair its Education and Prevention Committee. The Commission met over the next 18 months and ultimately advanced 39 recommendations to President Reagan, in December 1983. All 39 received unanimous Commission approval.

The most conspicuous of those recommendations, and arguably the most controversial, called for rising the minimum legal drinking age to 21 nationwide. Dr. Chafetz admitted to having had serious reservations about this particular proposal. But in the interest of maintaining unanimity, Dr. Chafetz reluctantly voted yes. It is the single most regrettable decision of my entire professional career. Legal Age 21 has not worked according to Dr. Chafetz. To be sure, drunk driving fatalities are lower now than they were in 1982. But they are lower in all age groups. And they have declined just as much in Canada, where the age is 18 or 19, as they have in the United States. It has been argued that "science" convincingly shows a cause-and-effect relationship between the law and the reduction in fatalities. Complicated mathematical formulas, which include subjective estimations (called "imputation") have been devised to demonstrate "proof." But correlation is not cause. We must neither confuse numbers with science nor interpret a lack of numbers as implying an absence of science.

But even if we concede that the law has had some effect on our highways, we cannot overlook its collateral, off-road damage. The National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, which I founded in 1970, estimates that 5,000 lives are lost to alcohol each year by those under 21. More than 3,000 of those fatalities occur off our roadways. If we are seriously to measure the effects of this law, we cannot limit our focus. And if we broaden our look, we see a serious problem of reckless, goal-oriented, drinking to get drunk. Those at whom the law is directed disobey it routinely. Enforcement is frustratingly difficult and usually forces the behavior deeper underground, into places where life and health are put at ever greater risk. The 600,000 assaults reported annually, the date rapes, the property damage, the emergency room calls do not in general occur in places visible to the public. They are the inevitable result of what happens when laws do not reflect social or cultural reality.

The reality is that at age 18 in this country, one is a legal adult. Young people view 21 as utterly arbitrary -- which it is. And because the explanation given them is so condescending -- that they lack maturity and judgment, these same people who can serve on juries and sign contracts and who turned out in overwhelming numbers to elect our first black president -- well, they don't buy it. And neither does Dr. Chafetz. And neither should the American public according to Dr. Chafetz. Whether we like it or not, alcohol is woven into the fabric of our world, most of which has determined that the legal drinking age should be 18 -- or lower. And so far as Dr. Chafetz can tell, there is no evidence of massive brain impairment, alcohol dependency, or underage alcohol abuse, which the "experts" tell us will be the inevitable result of lowering the age in the United States. “It is time to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of "experts," who invoke "science" in order to advance a prohibitionist agenda,” said Dr. Chafetz. Prohibition does not work. It has never worked. It is not working among 18-20 year-olds now.

Dr. Chafetz says, “The cult of expertise has made parents feel incapable of raising their children. In many states parents are disenfranchised from helping their sons or daughters learn about responsible alcohol consumption. But as a parent and psychiatrist I trust the instinct of parents more than I do the hubris of "experts.” Despite what these latter-day prohibitionists may think, the problem is not the drink -- it is the drinker. There should be more emphasis on the person and the surroundings in which alcohol is consumed and less emphasis on alcohol itself. Personal and social responsibility, not the substance, is the real issue. But so long as the age remains a one-size-fits-all, federally-mandated 21, and so long as any state that may want to try something different, in hopes of reversing the dismal trend of binge-drinking that (maybe or maybe not coincidentally) has become more serious in the years since the drinking age was raised, forfeits 10% of its federal highway funds, nothing is likely to change for the better. Dr. Chafetz does not believe that any state should be forced to adjust its drinking age. But Dr. Chafetz does believe that the genius of federalism should be allowed to work its will unimpeded, and from that genius, not only better practices, but also safer environments and more responsible consumption, are likely to emerge.

So should the legal drinking age be reduced to 18 is the question? The debate has stirred up again lately over the last two years because the movement is being championed by John McCardell, the president emeritus of Middlebury College in Vermont. McCardell's efforts are based upon the fact the epidemic that is underage and or binge drinking is proof that the current approach is not effective or working. For these reasons, McCardell feels it is time for the United States to bring back the 18-year old drinking age. What caught my particular attention about McCardell's reasoning is that he proposes a system that issues drinking "licenses" that would only be issued after someone under the age of 21 would have completed mandatory education about alcohol consumption and its risks, which is pretty much and many people who do such teaching believe he is definitely on the right track, but they would take it one step further, and that is too keep the mandatory education from being too "preachy" or filled with "scare tactics" or statistics. Simply put, if presented properly, and these young adults are indeed treated like adults they will respond as adults accordingly, as one expert told me who trains the University specific program of the TIPS Alcohol Awareness program across the nation.

The University specific program is almost always taught to leaders on their campuses from the various Greek organizations and Student Orientation Committees. Although statistics show, according to Federal highway crash data from the country, that the raising of the legal drinking age to 21 has saved nearly 25,000 lives over the last 30 years, some still feel that by having a "gap" in the ages of when the law classifies someone as an adult and when the law says that that adult can consume alcohol drives illegal drinking activities "behind closed doors" where it most certainly has no chance of being responsibly as the person doing the consumption knows they are already doing something illegal in the first place. So while it is encouraged to look further into John McCardell's efforts on your own, but here are some suggestions to ensure that if the legal drinking age is ever reduced to 18 from 21, the likelihood that it would be successful would be greater if some simple steps are followed. First, the mandatory education that McCardell suggest for under 21 drinking license must come from a credible source such as the TIPS program that is based upon proper serving and selling practices, information about how alcohol affects individuals, and most importantly how to effectively intervene when someone has over consumed to prevent them from harming themselves or others. Simply putting forth information without support on how to apply it will fail miserably as programs of this kind are only as effective as their implementation.

Second, it is important to invite into the training sessions those within the surrounding college community that offer alcohol to be part of the training session so that they feel less like part of the problem, and more part of the solution. This will also ensure a "sameness" in presentation and understanding of the material. Third, invite local law enforcement and media representatives into the class to not only participate in the class itself but to help spread the word about the responsibility initiatives that will be in place going forward. If law enforcement is involved from the start they are much more likely to respond to situations to help, as opposed to enforce, and media sources exposed to prevention practices are very likely to champion those causes which is goodwill within the community. Lastly, as said earlier, it is worth wrapping up with, "Teach, don't Preach." Young adults treated like adults will surprise you with how much they really do want to do the right thing, they just have to be told what and why about the right thing, and "each will respond according to their own gifts", which if you're a Star Trek fan you will recognize that quote from Star Trek II spoken by Spock to Kirk about the trainees on the Enterprise when put under fire. Therefore, let the debate continue and let’s see what comes of it.

State of Michigan Must Fix Budget

The State of Michigan faces another budget doomsday similar to the one it faced in 2007. Some are even predicting that maybe there has to be blood on the floor before anything can change in the state of Michigan that will make the state budgetary solvent. That certainly seems where Michigan is headed, as the clock ticks down toward the beginning of a new budget year October 1. Two years ago, recalcitrant lawmakers allowed the state to shut down before they came to terms with their budget differences. A disaster at least as big looms again. With just 30 days left before a new budget must be in place, only the Republican-led state Senate has passed a balanced budget that accepts the fact that broad, deep cuts must be made throughout state government.

Governor Jennifer Granholm's plan, which combined cuts with some small tax increases when she presented it in February, is outdated, because state revenues have dropped more than had been estimated at that point. In fact, revenues have continued to drop since the last official estimate, which was made in May. The Democratic-majority House has passed all the appropriate budget bills largely by scarfing up every cent of stimulus money to maintain state programs -- and the House won't even say how much it will cost to keep the departments of Human Services and State Police running. So going forward, the Senate plan -- which relies on dreadful cuts but is the most intellectually honest option on the table -- represents the only public blueprint for a fiscally responsible budget.

That's not good news for cities, college students, preschoolers, doctors and nursing homes with Medicaid patients, or anyone whose economic difficulties have left them reliant on the state's welfare system. But it reflects reality, given the state's terrible financial situation, the need to avoid blowing all the remaining federal stimulus money to balance one year's budget, and the likelihood that the state's revenue picture will get worse next year. If Granholm and the House want to do something other than what the Senate is proposing -- which is highly likely, considering how harsh the Senate plan is -- now's the time to come forward with real plans that protect both the state's citizens and its longer-term financial outlook.

Therefore Granholm and the House must find a way to keep its promise to Michigan students across the state who are pursuing higher education degrees. With school funding providing the clearest example of how the Senate budgeted with an eye to the future. Without use of stimulus money, the $7,316 per-pupil foundation grant for schools would have to be cut about $510 (or 7%), according to calculations from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan. Granholm recommended a $59 cut per pupil in February; the Senate passed a cut of $110 per pupil, combined with $238-million worth of cuts in other school-related budget categories. Using all of the remaining stimulus money allocated for education might allow the grant to be kept nearly steady next year, but that means school districts could face the full $510 cut -- or more, if tax revenues continue to decline -- all at once a year from now.

It makes far more sense to ease into cutbacks, while saving a little to cushion the blow in the following year. Similar calculations should hold for most other state operations. Unfortunately, Michigan has no major programs that it can simply drop. Universities, prisons, health care and services for the poor make up almost the entirety of the general fund budget. The School Aid Fund, which is even bigger, supports K-12 education. Two of the newest major program expansions, both of which are Granholm initiatives that the Senate budget kills, are Michigan Promise grants to help high school graduates cover the first two years of higher education and expanded preschool. Agree or disagree with Granholm's priorities -- and she has the right instincts on education -- it is dishonorable to abandon the commitment made to college students. Lawmakers should look elsewhere for cuts, in order to sustain the Promise "promise." Changes in the program, if deemed essential to Michigan's long-term solvency, should be done with enough lead time so that the state isn't breaking its word to students. But to survive and thrive in the 21st Century, the state needs to maintain this kind of investment in human capital -- the rising generations on whose continuing education the state depends for economic progress. Abandoning preschoolers will just as surely jeopardize the drive to make this a smarter, better-off state.

Still nickels and dimes won’t do in trying to fix Michigan’s budgetary problems. There's no doubt most other government services will have to take cuts, whether it's paring welfare benefits, hacking at revenue sharing with cities and townships, continuing to downsize the state's overbuilt prisons and pruning rates paid to anyone who treats Medicaid patients, as Granholm did in May with an executive order that sliced payments to doctors and nursing homes by 4%. Some cuts, however, do fall into the penny-ante category and will do more harm than good. Returning wetlands regulation to the federal government and scattering the state archives, as part of the breakup of the Department of History, Arts and Libraries, for example, each get the state less than 0.1% closer to closing the budget gap. Yet diminishing the state's history and ignoring Michigan's singularly keen need to protect wetlands will cause indisputable harm and inconvenience for years to come.

Granholm, in particular, seems to prefer such minor actions -- including tax increases in many nearly invisible areas -- to sweeping change. Some are reasonable, such as her proposal to increase liquor license fees and to end some tax exemptions. But Michigan's overall problems are beyond most nickel-and-dime remedies. Somehow, the governor and the legislative leaders must patch together a budget for the coming year. Yes, there will be blood. And maybe that's what it will take for everyone to realize that what the state most needs is a long-term restructuring -- in taxes, in health care, in incarceration policy, and more -- if the state is to have a long-term future. The choices for long-term state solvency are not easy but it must be done.

The state's miserable economy has caused state revenues to drop, but over the long term, the state's budget is permanently unbalanced. Estimated revenues, which are generally flat, will not keep pace with estimated expenses, even if and when Michigan's economy recovers. The solutions include continuing to bring down the number of prisoners, through sentencing reform and other measures, could save as much as $500 million more a year if Michigan's incarceration rate were brought down to match the average of neighboring states. Also restructuring and greater pooling of health care benefits for public employees would help control costs. House Speaker Andy Dillon, who has proposed putting all local, school and state government workers in one system, says his plan ultimately would save $900 million a year. That includes paring back some benefit levels and using evidence-based medicine, as well as savings in administration and competitive bids for bigger employee pools. Lastly, Michigan's outdated tax structure does not reflect the current economy. Taxing services (combined with a drop in the sales tax rate on hard goods) or a graduated income tax, or both, would generate more growth in state revenue going forward, even if the initial rates were pegged to raise exactly the same amount as the state raises now.

The state must fix the budget now to avoid another government shutdown similar to the one experience in 2007. However all of Michigan employees need to sacrifice—legislators & staffers included. However nickel and diming will not solve the budgetary problems of Michigan for the long term so while cutting employees work days and taking pay cuts seems like great solutions, they are only band aid solutions. The state of Michigan has to look long and hard at the state’s future and must find a way to keep education striving while diversifying the state’s economic base and making sure public safety stays intact. These are some of the things that need to be done but let’s be clear that Michigan won’t see better days until it makes tough decisions that might spill blood into the streets of Michigan as well as blood in the halls of capitol in Lansing. This is what Michigan faces and has to deal with it.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Detroit’s Budget Woes Need Fixing Now

The City of Detroit’s budget woes is not anything new but it is a part of a long history of budgetary problems that the city has been putting off for years. Detroit’s budget woes are the result of procrastination to cut the city’s spending in previous years as well as a result of the city’s leadership and stakeholders not willing to right a government that needed to be righted. What caused Detroit's financial mess should be the question but all are at fault. There is enough blame to go around for every including politicians, unions, business leaders, suburban knights and us the residents. We are all to blame for the current conditions of Detroit but the blame game won’t solve the budgetary problems we have now.

Detroit's current financial situation developed over years and nearly two decades. Late audits, credit rating and spending taxes are all actions and activities that have added to the current crisis. As early as 2005, the city has been chronically months behind in submitting its required annual financial audits to the state. Each time the city misses a deadline, the state withholds millions of dollars in revenue sharing payments. Without this money, the city has been forced to borrow to cover immediate expenditures. The late audits also affect the city's credit rating, which makes borrowing more expensive. In January, Standard & Poor's downgraded the city's rating to junk-bond status. It said it dropped the city's ratings from BBB and BBB- to BB for two kinds of debt because the city had failed to meet promises to eliminate its deficit and turn in its annual audit on time, because of the local economy and because of perceived instability in the city with multiple mayoral elections this year. Later that month, Moody's and Fitch's Ratings lowered the city's rating to junk-bond as well. Then the Free Press reported in July that the city has been collecting property tax dollars on behalf of Detroit Public Schools, the Detroit Public Library and several county-wide entities and using those dollars to pay current city expenses. The city then reimburses those taxing entities when it gets the cash to do so. Financial experts say such practice is a sign that the city is on the financial brink.

So with Detroit on brink of financial ruin as the budget balloons and some fear the city can't stay afloat. Detroit has fallen so far into debt that the only way out is through bankruptcy or mass layoffs, according to a former city auditor who is familiar with the city's financial structure. Mayor Dave Bing is trying to plug a $60-million to $80-million cash shortfall and deal with a ballooning $300-million deficit. He is being hampered, though, with falling revenue from property and income taxes and state revenue sharing. "I don't see the city getting out of this financial mess short of a bankruptcy," said Joe Harris, a former auditor general who was chief financial officer in late 2008 and early 2009. Bing took the first step last week in addressing the cash crunch by laying off 205 workers, but Harris calls the move a stopgap. The city is bleeding at least $5 million a month, Harris said. Adding to the cash woes, on Monday the state will again withhold about $1 million in revenue sharing because the city is late with its required audit.

"An $80-million cash flow shortfall sounds terrible," said Jan Lazar, a municipal finance and management consultant, "but it doesn't mean the city can't manage it." On July 1, Detroit began its fiscal year with less than $20 million in the bank -- not even enough of a surplus to pay the roughly 13,000 employees who cost the city $50 million a month in salaries and benefits. Now, as the budget continues to balloon -- Detroit Mayor Dave Bing estimates at least a $300-million accumulated deficit and a $60-million to $80-million immediate cash shortfall -- there's concern that the city will not be able to limp its way through the end of the year. Bing has warned that the city could run out of cash by October and that at least 1,000 workers must be laid off if bankruptcy or an emergency financial manager is to be avoided. Experts say the city must prioritize its bills and pay the most important ones first. Missing a bond payment would be the worst move because it would make borrowing much harder and more expensive, said Jan Lazar, a municipal finance and management consultant with Lansing-based Mercer Group.

"Missing payroll is the next-to-worst thing," said Lazar, who assisted with management of Highland Park when the city was under an emergency financial manager. "You can't lay people off by not paying them today. They are going to file a grievance and they are going to win, and then you'll end up paying them for not going to work, with interest." Detroit borrowed $85 million in tax anticipation notes last month to add some cushion to the city coffers, said Joe Harris, a former city auditor general who served as the city's chief financial officer in late 2008 and early 2009. That money likely will help the city get through the fall, but must be repaid within a year. "I think the mayor is right, and the city is probably in good shape through October," said Harris, who helped craft this year's budget. "The question is can they get through December." Come Monday, Detroit again will miss out on money it desperately needs. The state is already withholding $13.2 million in revenue sharing -- $12 million from April and $1.2 million from June -- because the city's 2008 fiscal year audit report is eight months late. Terry Stanton, Department of Treasury spokesman, said the city on Monday likely will miss out on about $1 million for its August revenue sharing payment because the audits are still outstanding.

The Bing administration officials laid off 205 workers last week, netting a savings of about $10 million. Harris said the move was a good first step and agrees with Bing's assessment that at least 1,000 workers must lose their jobs. Harris explains it this way: The city worker with the lowest seniority would be the first to go, according to most union contracts. Those workers average between $30,000 and $50,000 in salary; add in benefits and the city is spending about $80,000 per year to pay one employee. With the city facing about an $80-million shortfall this year, that's 1,000 employees on the chopping block. "There's only one way out of this mess, and that's layoffs," Harris said. "The unions have steadfastly said, 'We will not accept concessions.' The public needs to understand that the mayor has no alternative but to do layoffs." Harris said it's a difficult and disadvantaged time for Bing, who is running for re-election in November, to pull the trigger on the necessary job reductions, but if he doesn't, the city will be bankrupt.

Charles Beckham, Bing's chief administrative officer, said the city subsidizes about $80 million annually to run the Detroit Department of Transportation -- something no other major city does. The city spends most of its money in four departments, according to the 2009-10 budget: Police, Fire, Transportation and the Department of Public Works. This year's price tag for all four: nearly $950 million. Bing already has experienced the public outcry that came when he tried to eliminate some bus services, and likely would face similar opposition if he cut garbage pickup or public safety services. "What's important to one person may not be important to another," Beckham told the City Council last week. "These are not easy solutions. ... There's only so much money." Union leaders, though, are pushing back. "You can't lay us off and then privatize the work," said Leamon Wilson, chairman of the presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees locals, which represent city employees, including transportation workers. "He's doing it with an attitude and not giving a damn," Wilson said of Bing. Lazar said one way the city can raise cash is to sell some of its empty property and underused assets. Such talk has surfaced in regards to the future of the lighting department. But, Lazar cautioned that any effort to sell the city's water department would be a horrible idea. "Then you not only lose control of your water system, but you eventually lose control of your water rates," she said.

Detroit's structural deficit has many causes, but revenue from several key sources, including income and property taxes, was in a tailspin even before last year's economic collapse. The numbers are startling: Property tax revenue peaked in 2004 at $254 million but decreased by $13 million by 2007. It's expected to fall much more in the next two years as foreclosures drive down property values. City income tax revenue peaked in 2003 at more than $311 million. By 2007, it had fallen $33 million, and it's expected that the state's rising unemployment rate will make the 2008 and 2009 figures even worse. In 2003, the city received $319 million in state shared revenue. By 2007, that had fallen more than $47 million, to $272 million. One bright spot in the city's budget in recent years has been casino tax revenue, which grew steadily from 2003 through 2007. In addition to the wagering tax, the city also collects other fees from the casinos.

That revenue peaked in 2007 at more than $179 million, according to city financial reports. The 2008 figures aren't yet available, but state figures on casino revenue show the casino business slowed last year as the economy cooled. The wagering portion of the revenue collected by the state in 2008 was down $36 million from 2007, according to the state Gaming Control Board. Harris said the city lived high-on-the-hog for the past 10 years thanks to casino revenue, even as health care benefits were rising and income tax revenue was disappearing. Now casino revenues can no longer offset those costs. "The mayor has absolutely no control over some of the decisions that were made by his predecessors," Harris said. "But he doesn't have time to rethink how the city is run. He's going to run out of money before he has time to implement any efficiencies."

Still the blame game in Detroit is emerging as the city faces perhaps it biggest budgetary problem to date. Critics blast Bing for passing blame in Detroit's financial mess. An opinion piece by Mayor David Bing blasting council members, union leadership and even residents on key issues facing the city was met with sharp criticism Sunday. Bing's commentary, which ran on the opinion page of Sunday's Detroit News, carried the headline "Detroit must redefine leadership." Bing said a combination of the city's broadening financial crisis -- and elected officials refusal to deal with it in the past -- has pushed him to make unpopular decisions, such as cutting services and employee layoffs. Bing accused officials of failing to "clean up the mess" and said the "time for pseudo leadership has passed. He noted Detroit is faced with "one of the worst financial, educational and social crises of the past century," far beyond recent scandals.

"I find it interesting that he (Bing) criticizes a council that after 100 days in office, he won't even sit down with and talk about what our challenges are and how to overcome them," said Detroit City councilman Kwame Kenyatta. "And some of the decisions he has made seem to be lockstep with the very legacy of mis-leadership he is criticizing. He didn't veto the budget when he came in and we asked him then if there were any changes to make before it was approved. We knew there might be areas where funding would be problematic but approved it. "The council decides to defund an office of administrative hearing and he turns around and refunds it. He fires a police chief with excellent credentials and goes and hires a sheriff and pays him even more money."

He also criticized Bing for hiring administrators long associated with previous administrations, including Chief Financial Officer Norm White and Chief Administrative Officer Charlie Beckham, both of whom worked for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. "Anyone coming in as mayor in Detroit right now is going to have to make these same decisions. And all of them are going to be tough." Gary Amezquita, a city radio maintenance technician for 22 years who was notified he was being laid off last week, said he believes Bing is talking tough because "he is scared of not being re-elected." "I think he's a big union buster and he's trying to scare the unions into taking big (contract) concessions," said Amezquita, a member of AFSME Local No. 1023. "There has been funny stuff, corruption going on in city for years yet now they are trying to lay it off on the workers? It's not fair."

It is clear that both leadership and common sense is needed in these tough times in Detroit. Layoffs must happen but not always to the least of us when the most of us are getting paid grade “A” top dollar for services that aren’t even delivered great. Anyone who conducts business in the city of Detroit knows that city services at times is average at best on a good day but on any other day, it is terrible for all. Detroit’s budget woes need fixing but a practical yet realist approach needs to be. All the scare tactics need to stop and all the finger pointing needs to end because no one wins in this fight. In fact, our city’s books can’t be balanced until we bring in a batch of people who have no ties to previous administrations that will do what it is necessary to keep the city of Detroit afloat and not just their own city jobs. Detroit needs a dose of reality but that goes for our city’s leadership as well as unions but most of all us the residents.

What we are seeing in this city is a long history of procrastination when it comes righting our government? For years, our city’s leadership has lacked common sense when it comes to addressing our budgetary issues as well as our public safety, education and other city services. Now that we are faced with the fact problems over and over again, it is clear that our budgetary woes won’t be solved unless we accept the fact that we can’t continue to pay top dollar to city employees those unionized and non-unionized. We can’t continue to pay our elected officials top dollar or provide them with city perks such as vehicles, gas refills and other things. We can’t continue to do that if we are to be a stronger and viable as well as inclusive city for all residents. Detroit can’t continue to see our tax base crumble while our city services get worse and worse, all the way the lack of real common sense leadership is nowhere to be found.

Detroit doesn’t need the status quo when it comes to leadership but it needs people who care, people who understand and people who are willing to call the city home while working to solve the city’s nagging problems. Detroit has faced these budgetary problems before and it seems as if for far too long, no matter who is the mayor, they are unwilling to make decisions that are in the best interest of us the residents of Detroit. With Detroit’s unemployment being the highest it has ever been since 1970, it is all the more reason why the city needs real life solutions that will make the city solvent not just in the short term but in the long term as well. Detroit needs to privatize certain city services but at the same time, Detroit must try to recruit young innovative talent form within the city to rebuild a new and better Detroit. Detroit needs young leaders who are willing to work for a little less than $100,000 that many of the mayoral appointees are getting but are willing to work toward improving the city in order to create a city that is inclusive of all races and ethnicities. Detroit must fix its budgetary problems now and it must fix it with being real about what is plaguing this city. Detroit needs action now and it needs all sides involved in this debate to understand the issues and face reality when solving these problems.

Mayor Dave Bing can’t continue to blame everyone else for what the city is facing because he is now mayor so he needs to lead the way but by blaming everyone else for the city’s problems and not place any of the blame on himself, is just ill-willed and ill advised. Mayor Bing, this is your city now and that is why, to show us the residents of Detroit real leadership, you must first begin by sitting down to talk with city council on your own, not sending political operatives or staffers. Lastly Bing needs to show us the residents he cares and feels our pain by downgrading his security detail and give back his company car and using his own car or take the bus to work and around the city like many of Detroiters do. In fact all city leaders and workers should do that especially if they are using city vehicles to get around. If we are all Detroit than everyone needs to chip in fix the budget so many perks and freebies as well as luxuries need to be given back in order to help fix the city’s budget. There is no sense of entitlement anymore as Mayor Bing said so he as well as other city leaders and employees need to give back the cars, free gas perks and other incentives that are paid for by us the residents.

Detroit’s budget must get fixed now and it must get fixed with everyone except for us the residents sacrificing because we have sacrificed too much already and have not gotten anything for our sacrifice except for terrible services and a growing unemployment base right along with city sprawl.

Additional Facts: Possible remedies
Detroit's financial options remain limited, experts say. Two options are bankruptcy with a receiver being in charge, and having the state appoint an emergency financial manager.

Option 1--Emergency financial manager:
 Appointed by the governor.
 Acts under state law.
 Tasked with resolving financial emergency.
 Can renegotiate labor contracts, but not abrogate them.
 Can, with state approval, file bankruptcy for the city.

Option 2--Bankruptcy:
 A judge typically appoints a receiver who:
 Acts under federal bankruptcy law.
 Is tasked with preserving property in a bankruptcy.
 Can, with court approval, abrogate contracts.

Source: Michigan Department of Treasury

Jay-Z - History

(Jay-Z - History)Jay-Z - History with Lyrics

LYRICS : [Chorus: Cee-lo]
Now that all the smoke is gone
And the battle's finally won
(Gimme a lighter)
Victory (Lighters up) is finally ours
(Lighters up)
History, so long, so long
So long, so long

[Verse 1: Jay-Z]
In search of victory, she keeps eluding me
If only we could be together momentarily
We can make love and make history
Why won't you visit me? until she visit me
I'll be stuck with her sister, her name is defeat
She gives me agony, so much agony
She brings me so much pain, so much misery
Like missing your last shot and falling to your knees
As the crowd screams for the other team
I practice so hard for this moment, victory don't leave
I know what this means, I'm stuck in this routine
Whole new different day, same old thing
All I got is dreams, nobody else can see
Nobody else believes, nobody else but me
Where are you victory? I need you desperately
Not just for the moment, to make history

[Chorus: Cee-lo]
Now that all the smoke is gone
And the battle's finally won
Victory is finally ours
History (yeah), so long, so long
So long, so long

[Verse 2: Jay-Z]
So now I'm flirting with death, hustling like a G
While victory wasn't watching took chances repeatedly
As a teenage boy before acne, before I got proactiv I couldn't face she
I just threw on my hoodie and headed to the street
That's where I met success, we'd live together shortly
Now success is like lust, she's good to the touch
She's good for the moment but she's never enough
Everybody's had her, she's nothing like V
But success is all I got unfortunately
But I'm burning down the block hoppin' in and out of V
But something tells me that there's much more to see
Before I get killed because I can't get robbed
So before me success and death ménage
I gotta get lost, I gotta find V
We gotta be together to make history

[Chorus: Cee-lo]
Now that all the smoke is gone
(Lighters. Up.)
And the battle's finally won
(Lighter. Up.)
Victory is finally ours
(Lighters. Up.)
History, so long, so long
So long, so long

[Verse 3: Jay-Z]
Now victory is mine, it tastes so sweet
She's my trophy wife, you're coming with me
We'll have a baby who stutters repeatedly
We'll name him history, he'll repeat after me
He's my legacy, son of my hard work
Future of my past, he'll explain who I be
Rank me amongst the greats, either 1, 2, or 3
If I ain't number one then I failed you victory
Ain't in it for the fame that dies within weeks
Ain't in it for the money, can't take it when you leave
I wanna be remembered long after you grieve
Long after I'm gone, long after I breathe
I leave all I am in the hands of history
That's my last will and testimony
This is much more than a song, it's a baby shower
I've been waiting for this hour, history you ours

[Chorus: Cee-lo (2x)]
Now that all the smoke is gone
And the battle's finally won
Victory is finally ours
History, so long, so long
So long, so long

Man in the Mirror--By Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson - Man in the mirror

I'm gonna make a change,
for once im my life
It's gonna feel real good,
gonna make a diference
Gonna make it right...

As I, turn up the collar on
my favorite winter coat
This wind is blowing my mind
I see the kids in the streets,
with not enought to eat
Who am I to be blind?
Pretending not to see their needs

A summer disregard,a broken bottle top
And a one man soul
They follow each other on the wind ya' know
'Cause they got nowhere to go
That's why I want you to know

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)
(Na na na, na na na, na na, na nah)

I've been a victim of a selfish kind of love
It's time that I realize
That there are some with no home, not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me, pretending that they're not alone?

A willow deeply scarred, somebody's broken heart
And a washed-out dream
(Washed-out dream)
They follow the pattern of the wind ya' see
'Cause they got no place to be
That's why I'm starting with me
(Starting with me!)

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
(If you wanna make the world a better place)
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change
(Take a look at yourself, and then make a change)

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
(Change his ways - ooh!)
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make that..
(Take a look at yourself and then make that..)

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
(Man in the mirror - Oh yeah!)
I'm asking him to change his ways
(Better change!)
No message could have been any clearer
(If you wanna make the world a better place)

Michael Jackson - Man in the mirror

A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cook

It's been a long time coming but a change is surely going to come in America and the World! I am the Future of America and the World and that is the message that each of us must carry with us each and every day that we wake up on Earth! I am the Future! You are the Future! We are the Future of America and the World! That is way every election is important--primaries, special elections and general! So vote every year and hold our politicians accountable. Hold our political officials accountable by writing them, calling them and making sure they attend meetings that we the people have. "The Time for Change is not Now but Right Now!"

"EmPOWERment By Any Means Necessary" should be our anthem and should be our creed as we make the positive differences in America and the world that so many people beg for and hungry for year after year! A Change is Gonna Come, A Change is Gonna Come, that's what we must say as we say "God grants us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, Courge to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference" each morning before we go about the task of making a positive change in America and the world a reality.

Born In The U.S.A. - Bruce Springsteen

“When will people realize that we are Americans first and foremost, not Democrats or Liberals, not Republicans or Conservatives, not Independents or moderates. We are Americans. Stop putting a political party above America and stop putting any politican above America. America succeeds because of us the people holding our government responsible no matter the political party because the main two political parties are to blame for the condition America is in."—Hodari P.T. Brown

America with its flaws and all is a country I am proud to have been born in. America is not perfect but my love for it is perfect. That’s why all Americans must realize that we are all Americans. In fact we are Americans first and foremost. We are not Democrats or Republicans. We are Americans.

We are not Muslims, Christians or Jews. We are Americans. Too many times we recognize our differences with others rather than appreciating our similarities which are, we are Americans. We are Americans first and foremost, no matter if we were born here or moved here legally. We are all Americans, here in this country to make not only our lives better but the lives of other Americans better so future Americans can enjoy the rights and freedoms that make us all Americans.

We are all Americans. We are one party united under God. We are Americans and this is the only political party that matters. We are Americans and this is our country so let’s make sure that we make America better than how we found it so future Americans can live prosperous and joyous lives. We are Americans and must not ever forget that.

America will prosper as long we make sure we are doing our part to make it prosper and that means we can’t put any political party or politician above America. Long live America forever and long live America’s service to the world. Together, America and the world will prosper for future generations to enjoy America and the world we live in.

Lift Every Voice and Sing

This video of the ' Negro National Anthem' was originally screened at the historic African-American Church Inaugural Ball in Washington, DC on January 18th, 2009. Many of the esteemed individuals featured in this video in attendance and we presented with the ' Keepers of the Flame' award for the monumental contributions to social justice.

This version of the song was performed by the Grace Baptist Church Cathedral Choir, conducted by Derrick James. The video was produced and donated by Ascender Communications, LLC ( at the request of The Balm In Gilead, Inc.

If I Was President--Wyclef Jean

If I was President that is the people's anthem. We all have ideas of what we can do as President and through this website, we will fulfill our deam as a people!

Somethings Gotta Give--Big Boi ft Mary J Blige

Somethings Gotta Give people and it begins today for all us to make sure that something is us. We the people are sick and tired of suffering. Where is our piece of the Dream that so many people dead for so that we all could see today. This is our time people to change America and the world so that the Next Generation has a better future than the past we inherited.

This is our call to service. This isn't about one political candidate or one political figure. This is about us as people coming together to finally leave up to our potential and achieving the great feats that those before us have achieved. This is our moment to lead our nation and our world to greater heights.

Somethings gotta give people and it starts with us the people making it happen. We have to improve our education system in America. We have to rid the world of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. We have to go to the streets and lift a hand to another in order to decrease poverty in this world. We have to take a stand today and make sure that the future of America and the world is brighter than it has ever been.

Somethings Gotta Give and that is why we must "Remember Each One, Reach One and Teach One so America's future and the World's future continues to prosper."

John Legend - "If You're Out There"

If you're out there than you need to get started in helping to change America and the world. The world and America won't change until you get involved in making the changes you want to see in this world. If you're out there, than you must know that tomorrow started now and today started yesterday so you are behind in helping to the change. If you are tired of hatred, racism, poverty, war, and violence than the time to change it is now. If you want universal health care, world peace, democracy for every nation, equal rights, and happiness for all than you must get involved now to help the save world.

You must believe in the change that you want to see and you must act on making that change a reality. If you're out there than say it aloud and show the rest of America and the world that you're out here to make a real positive change in the communities we stay in. If you're out there than get involved now. I'm calling every women and men to join me as we take back our country right here, right now. If you're out there than the future started yersterday and we are already late so we have lots of work to do but I know we can do it together as one.


Yes We Can accomplish anything that we set out to do! We don't need charismatic or inspirational leaders to believe in ourselves and to take responsiblity for our own faith, we just need each other. Yes We Can build a new America and a new world if each of us would take action now to make the changes that we want to see in the world. Yes We Can control government by holding our political officials accountable for their actions by calling them out when they don't pass legislation that supports the common good of all man and by voting in every election to ensure that we have people representing the people locally, state wide, nationally and in the world.

Yes We Can be great! Yes We Can be what we want to be! Yes We Can be glorious in not only America but the world! Yes We can put action behind our worlds and change the world starting right here, right now! Yes We Can as Republicans, Democrats and Independents become one as we freely think about our fellow men and women and make decisions that will be in the best interest of all people and not one single group.

Yes We Can be the change that we want to see in the world! Yes We Can show the world that the youth are ready to lead! Yes We Can put our egos, our social economic statuses, our religions, our educational statuses and our skin color to the side for the better good of the world! Yes We Can be Greater than we have ever been and help others be Greater than they have ever be!

YES WE CAN and YES WE WILL BE VICTORIOUS IN ALL THAT WE DO! YES WE CAN, no matter what others may say, we will be glorious! YES WE WILL and YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!

YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN is what will be sung from every mountaintop, every riverbank, every household, every school yard, every factory, every sporting event, every college campus and even every place you can imagine in the world is where YES WE CAN, will be said and heard!


Keep On Pushing - Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions

Wake Up People! No matter who is elected to any public office, we have to “Keep On Pushing” as a people to make sure they don’t leave us in a worst state than what they inherited. We as a people have to “Keep On Pushing” to make a difference in the lives of others. We have to have an “EmPOWERment By Any Means Necessary” attitude as we continue to push our agenda that we the people deserve and want better. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to bring about change in a positive way that will benefit all Americans no matter their age, their religion or skin color. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to bring about change that will improve our education system, improve our military, improve our national security, improve our healthcare system and improve our economy. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to bring about change that will leave America’s future in a better than how we found it and that will leave the world’s future in a better state than we imagined we could live it. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to make life better for our neighborhoods, our families and even our quote on quote enemies. We have to “Keep On Pushing” to inspire, to uplift and to guide those who need help spiritually, physically and mentally. We have to “Keep On Pushing ” so that our lives, our future generation’s lives and the lives of those who came before us does not die in vein.

“Keep on Pushing”

A War For Your Soul

A War For Your Soul-regular version from Erisai Films on Vimeo.

The moment has come for us as a nation of people to finally wake up and realize that our destiny and fate in society has rests on our shoulders. We cannot allow the forces of evil and darkness to drain us out. We have to continue to overcome all odds in order to make the future of our nation better and the future of future generations of Americans better. We have to continue to pray to our Lord and we have to continue to uplift each other in prayer as well as take action against those things that are trying to destroy us. We have to stand up once and for all and be the future that we want to be. Now is our time and we shall do together by any means necessary.

This video was created to inspire young African-Americans not to fall prey to some of the problems they face in society. The use of the voice "Master of Darkness" represents evil, which is where the blame of all problems should be placed, and not on any one group of people. This video should not to be used to divide people (Black & White), there are images of heroes that are white in this video, and there are images of Black & White coming together with the words of Dr. King in the background. Some of the images from the past can be unsettling, but they are used to show all Americans how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. This film is being strategically placed in school systems, churches and youth orgs around the country, in hope of helping a lost generation of kids that we as Americans have forgotten. As fellow Americans we must continue to love each other, and take that love and spread it to the rest of the world. **THIS VIDEO IS NOT FOR SALE & I AM NOT ACCEPTING DONATIONS FOR THE FILM, I ONLY WANT THE MESSAGE TO REACH AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE WITHOUT ANY HIDDEN POLITICAL OR FINANCIAL AGENDA.

Sitting On the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding

"The time for sitting is over! The time for action is now! The time for hope without action is hopeless! The time for change without a positive attitude is a change that we can't believe in! We need change that is positive of helping all people! Our time for action is now, our time for hope is now, our time for change is now and our time to believe that we can do whatever we set our minds to is not now but right now!"


The Star-Spangled Banner by Francis Scott Key

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming;
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;
'Tis the star-spangled banner; O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight and the gloom of the grave;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave!

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land,
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just.
And this be our motto— "In God is our trust; "
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

Black President

Our Time is not now but Right Now! Our Time has finally come to change the world not now but Right Now! If you don't believe that we can change the world than watch as we do it by changing your mind into believing in us and what we can do! This is OUR TIME RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!


We got to FIGHT THE POWER! We can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch injustices take place. We can no longer sit by and allow our right to vote to become unexercised. We must FIGHT THE POWER for our past, present and future! We can no longer allow our rights to be oppressed and our voice to become drained by the powers at be. We must FIGHT THE POWER and show that we have a lot to say that needs to be heard by the mainstream media. We must FIGHT THE POWER and live up to our potential as dynamic, unbelievable and phenomenal people.

We must not believe the hype but we must become the hype. We are not Harriett Tubman, Marcus Garvey, MLK, Malcolm X, Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, the Black Panther Party, SNCC, or any other activists but we are the fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunties, and relatives of those who came before us to pave the way for us to FIGHT THE POWER! We are not next Generation of leaders who will not be honored and praised until they die but that’s the fight we accept. We are not fighting the power for glory or fame but we are fighting the power for just causes that most men and women will not understand until years or decades later.

We are fighting for our sisters and brothers in Darfur, Georgia, Iraq, Iran, China and Mexico. We are speaking for those who are poor and have no food or water. We are fighting for those who are sick and dying. We are fighting for universal healthcare across the world and human rights for all people. We are fighting for rich and poor! We must FIGHT THE POWER no matter how hard and tough the road may be. We must FIGHT THE POWER for a better today and an even greater tomorrow!



“People Get Ready” our time is coming! We have come too far to turn back now. Our train is coming and it is coming in waves. “People Get Ready”, we don’t need a ticket but we need faith and the Lord will help guide us as we take back America and the world. “People Get Ready” our moment is now and we are ready to see the change we want in America and the world. All we got to do is have faith, hope and prosperity. “People Get Ready” to face your fears. “People Get Ready” to face your demons and the challenges of yesterday because today and tomorrow we will conquer & be victorious. “People Get Ready” a change is coming and our actions will make sure that change is a real positive change that lasts forever.

“People Get Ready” because we have had enough of just talking but now is our time to show action. “People Get Ready” to take back America and the world. “People Get Ready” to take back our communities and to make our streets safer and schools better. “People Get Ready” to make all our dreams come true. “People Get Ready” to see a better present for everyone and a better future for future generations. “People Get Ready” to live up to your potential and to help others live up to their own potential. “People Get Ready” to move past hatred, bigotry, racism and sexism. “People Get Ready” to fulfill the dreams of those who came before us and those who will come after us.

“People Get Ready” as we make our actions speak louder than our words. “People Get Ready” to make words mean something again as we put action to back up our rhetoric. “People Get Ready” as we embark on a new journey that will re-write America’s history as well as the world’s history. “People Get Ready” as we make the lives of others better and the lives of future generations better. “People Get Ready” because all we need is faith, hope and action to make this world a better place. “People Get Ready” to make a difference. “People Get Ready” to fulfill the American dream. “People Get Ready" to live out the American Dream as our founding fathers wanted us to live it. “People Get Ready” because our time is now, our moment is now and our moment in time to change America & the world is not now but right now. “People Get Ready” because a change is coming!

(Let me tell you now)
People get ready, there's a train comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
You don't need no ticket, you just thank the lord

People get ready, for a train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board them
There's hope for all among those loved the most

There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all man kind just to save his own (believe me now)
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there's no hiding place against the kingdoms throne

[Alicia & Lyfe]
So people get ready there's a train coming
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming,
You don't need no ticket, you just thank the lord


God Bless the U.S.A. by Lee Greenwood

Lee Greenwood-god bless the U.S.A