Marco Rubio Offers No Solution on Syria

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, my own Senator, penned an article for ForeignPolicy.com today titled “How America Must Respond to the Massacre in Syria,” yet does nothing to seriously answer the question. Before addressing the actual article, it’s important to note that the GOP’s tactics are to oppose this administration on every front regardless of what action is taken. If you have any doubt see the below quote by Rubio on Libya:

At an early point in the Libyan struggle, when a clear U.S. policy could have achieved significant successes at lower costs, the president failed to act.

So to paraphrase Rubio, now the GOP screed is that Obama didn’t intervene early enough and therefore was weak on Libya as well. Assuming that Obama took every word of advice that Rubio proffers in this short article, I have no doubt that the GOP would still criticize him for not acting quickly enough.

So, though it’s evident that this is the usual anti-administration barrage, does Rubio have any credible alternatives? Clearly not. Rubio offers the following advice:

Revoke the U.S. Ambassador to Syria.
Expand Sanctions to “include persons identified as authorizing, planning, or participating in deplorable human rights violations against unarmed civilians.”
Yet Rubio fails to explain how those actions will improve the situation in Syria or help further American interests. The reason that Rubio fails to give a credible solution is because the U.S. lacks any leverage over Syria. They’re already under heavy U.S. sanctions, as Rubio notes, and the threat of entering our 4th Middle East war is not politically viable, nor in our own security interests.

Toss aside the question of whether “America has an obligation to weigh in strongly about the situation in Syria,” as Rubio states in the article, and instead ask: What is America capable of doing in Syria? Until Rubio offer a credible alternative to the administration’s current course of action, his opinion is nothing but typical GOP anti-administration pulp.

Florida Takes Step to Reintegrate Felons

Here’s the quote of the day (via ACLU of FL):

“The United States military grants waivers to ex-offenders, trains them, arms them and sends them overseas to defend us but the state of Florida won’t let any get a license to kill termites,” Hamilton Henry said.

As it stands now, there are hundreds of thousands of Floridians that are unable to obtain occupational licenses through the State of Florida because of previous convictions. Ignore the fact that most licensing mandates are unnecessary and serve as barriers to entry for the already established, for that read Yglesias (here are two examples: link and link). Even assuming that licensing is desirable, excluding ex-felons is fraught with undesirable effects.

While we obviously don’t want dangerous sex offenders to serve in a child welfare office, there’s no reason that some guy who stole a car at 19, served his sentence, and has stayed out of trouble should be prohibited from spraying my house for termites. Barring ex-convicts from finding work is the worst possible action we as a society can take, as gainful employment is one of the sharpest tools against recidivism.

SB 146 will now proceed to the full Senate for a vote. SB 146 takes a dramatic step of decoupling occupational licensing from past convictions and is a great step forward for the reintegration of felons into the work place and into society.

However, what’s most important is that with the Stake taking the lead, the private sector will be more apt to follow. It’s crucial that ex-convicts have a full spectrum of equal employment opportunity including the private sector jobs. Restrictive employment policies hurt both the employer and prospective employees by narrowing the pool of candidates needlessly. This Craigslist job wanted ad would be hilarious if it weren’t actually for real:

Cemetery Maintenance (North Lauderdale)

via craigslist | general labor jobs in south florida on 11/21/10

Accepting applications for immediate opening for a cemetery maintenance position. You MUST have experience in landscape/irrigation/tractor operation. Backhoe experience is preferred. This is required to be considered. Applicants should have solid employment history, must possess a VALID driver’s license, and have a clean criminal background. In-depth driver’s license and criminalbackground checks will be performed. Job duties include but are not limited to opening/closing graves for funeral services, placing memorials, general grounds upkeep, and limited irrigation/equipment maintenance, lifting up to 50 pounds on a regular basis. Guaranteed 40 hours per week and your schedule must be flexible to include weekends. If you would like to be considered to become part of our team, please respond with resume, or complete employment history. Inquiries not containing a resume or complete employment history will not be considered. We are an EOE.
Anything else necessary to dig graves? Perhaps a Harvard Masters Degree? I don’t want to diminish the job of cemetery maintenance, in fact, any honest working person should be proud of any job they hold. Yet, it still strikes me as silly to have so many restrictive conditions, including a criminal background check, for what I assume to be a basic labor job with no real possibility of public endangerment by a person in that position. As the State loosens its hiring policies, ideally the private employers will follow suit. Unfortunately, the issue of hiring policies will be somewhat moot if steps are not taken to create more jobs.

If we continue to convict and incarcerate a large part of our population it’s imperative that we find solutions for reintegrating those convicted of crimes. Taking a hard line by barring convicts from employment is counter productive as both society and the ex-convict are best served by legitimate employment.

Senate Nomination Morass

The amazing statement of the day from this New York Times article:

“Eighteen months into the Obama administration, 25 percent of his nominees were still unconfirmed,” Mr. Lieberman said. “This is not an aberration.”

That’s correct, one quarter of Obama’s nominees have not been able to go and work for the administration because of the bureaucratic process of Senate confirmation. It would seem that a general consensus of people would not disagree with the statement that the President should be able to choose the people to work under him and agree that it’s absolutely necessary to govern effectively. Comparing the government to the business world is an oft used tactic by conservatives, yet no one would expect a CEO to be able to run a company without being able to put the personnel in below him. So it’s mind boggling to see how inane the process has become.

It’s important to note though, that this is not an idea that Republicans are obstructing. In fact, this will be one of the very few times that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell agree with each other. Also, staunch conservative Donald Rumsfeld, in his new memoir Known and Unknown, frequently mentions that the confirmation process is a hindrance to running the Department of Defense. Page 292-293:

It took months and months — almost a full year — to have many of the President’s nominees confirmed by the Senate. “The process is outrageous,” I lamented to the Joint Chiefs. We suffered from the absences of secretaries of the Army, Navy, Air Force, the undersecretary for defense for policy, and the asisstant and deputy assistant secretaries. These were people needed to carry out the work of the Department.

Yet, ironically, Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff is leading the charge against the reform, calling it unconstitutional. It’s hard to think that the opposition to this reform is for any reason but to be obstructionist to the current administration. The type of obstructionism that is dangerous and harmful to our entire country. If the Department of Defense cannot function correctly without it’s staff, then our security is threatened unnecessarily.

Furthermore, the nomination process is becoming antiquated. In our current times, information is cheap and fast and we have an engaged press and society to police problematic nominations. Obviously, when the Constitution was drafted it was important to prevent against spurious nominations but that’s no longer an issue. Also, let’s be clear too, that a large number of these held up nominations are for positions that are not highly sensitive. A bi-partisan effort to clear this process up will be a small legislative victory but will have a large impact , not only on this administration but future Presidents as well.

I-95 Express Lane Pricing

This post by Matt Yglesias on toll roads reminded me of an interesting article in the Sun Sentinel a couple of months ago about the I-95 express lanes in Miami. Yglesias states:

But as “everyone” tries to crowd onto it traffic moves slowly and some people will want to exchange money for time by taking the toll road. And at any given time of day, there’s got to be some price at which the tolled road will be uncongested.

I wholly agree with that, yet it doesn’t work if the driver is making confused decisions like in the case with the I-95 express lanes. The express lane price varies depending on the congestion in the express lanes, however, drivers are assuming the price is instead based on the free lanes. Therefore, headaches ensue when drivers pay the max price of $7.25 only to become stuck and watch free traffic whiz by. Possible solutions:

Remove the max price of $7.25. Obviously if the lane is becoming congested at this price, it’s not high enough and consumers are willing to pay more. There will be a price where confusion about whether the price signals congestion in the free lane or express lane is irrelevant. It will become solely a decision of “if I want to drive faster than I have to pay this price” and without a low cap congestion should disappear.
Perhaps there are barriers to removing the $7.25 cap or for whatever reason it doesn’t fly with the decision makers. The next possible solution would be to reverse the couterintuitive pricing. Drivers are naturally going to assume the express lane is faster and that pricing is based on congestion in the free lanes and that’s a reasonable assumption. Hell, they don’t call the lane “express” for no reason. Put sensors in the free lanes and base pricing on the congestion in the free lanes which is the intuitive assumption most drivers make.
As it stands now the tolls essentially give the driver the decision of paying $5-6 to drive on a congested express lane or pay $0 and take a random chance on congestion. Assuming the driver is not confused about the pricing basis, it seems to me that this decision will do little to alleviate congestion as drivers will invariably pick $0 and the free lanes will congest quickly. Meanwhile, the prices will drop in the express lanes as congestion clears up, only to be quickly filled again. It seems that congestion would occur in a back and forth manner between the express and free lanes. If you insist on basing pricing on the congestion of the express lane and insist on keeping a cap, then at least randomize the prices for each car. Make the decision for the driver to be: 1) Pay $0 and have a random guess at congestion in the free lane or, 2) Pay a random price between $0.25 – $7.25 to drive in the express lane. This system will work itself out through time since most of the drivers are daily commuters. If it burns your craw to be hit with a random $6 toll when the free lane is moving at the same pace or faster than you’re not going to be apt to take many chances with the express lane. However, if price is not a big factor for you and you’ll pay for speed then the express lane is going to work out for you in the long run because you are not price conscious. Those are the drivers that would naturally be in the express lane without a price cap. Random pricing is the simplest tool to improve congestion in both lanes.
I don’t pretend to be a traffic expert by any means and I realize that there are a lot of variables to congestion. However, the system that the state currently has set up seems counterintuitive and ineffective, which leads to frustration among the users of I-95 like myself. The article is almost a year old and it’s been a while since I’ve taken I-95 during any type of peak time, so hopefully there has been changes for the better but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Florida Charter Schools

Jodie Tillman of Naked Politics documents the passage of a Charter School Bill in the Florida House education committee here. The key point in the article:

“It now opens us up to having to rationalize every year what the purpose of the public school is,” said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami.

Exactly. This appears to be yet another move by the Republicans of Florida to continue on their warpath of privatization and complete dismissal of the underprivileged.

As noted in the article, the effect that an expansion of charter schools will have is to relegate a large class of already under served students to becoming wholly uneducated by any school. As charter schools open up to more and more students, it will inevitably drain the public schools of their performing students. The decision to attend a charter school is voluntary and usually made with the expectation of a better education. So the charter school reaps the benefit of having their population being entirely made up of students that desire education or students with parents who recognize the importance of education and push their children. This leaves the public schools with the “rest.”

The public schools are left to deal with the rest of the student population, yet unfortunately are graded by the same standards as the charter schools. In the State of Florida every school is graded on an A-F scale much like a student’s report card. That grade “determines” the success of that school and all that goes along with success. This incentivizes the public schools to severely pare their own non-producing students, quickly shipping them out to alternative schools, encouraging them to drop out, or straight up kicking students out. The public schools must compete with the charters, and even more so if the charter schools will be allowed to continually expand.

An expansion of charter schools results in a gradual weakening of the public school system, as the pool of motivated students are culled away from the unmotivated or underprivileged. Yet our educational mission, as a country, has always been to serve all students and to provide all students with an opportunity to succeed. Environment matters. If all performing students are separated from the underperforming (it’s important to stress that underperforming does not necessarily mean lack of desire) the effect will be to undermine the education of a large portion of our populace.

If charter schools are a success because of autonomy and standards then let us try to implement that in the public schools. However, if charter schools are a success because they pool only the motivated and willing, then that is a failure on our mission to educate ALL. The answer is not to open up the schools to a larger pool of desirable students and further relegate the lost to an uneducated future.

Welcome

Here’s the mandatory first post welcome. This site has been scrambled together in a short period of time and still needs a lot of refinement so bear with us on that. However, there was an urgency to post and to get things rolling, even if it meant starting with a barebones frame and this sorry excuse for a welcome.

There, now we can start posting about real matters.