Month: September 2011

Cleaning Our Hands of Dirty Pipelines

  This article was co-written by Marcus Denton, a second year master's candidate at the LBJ School for Public Affairs, studying social and economic policy. President Obama generates controversy with nearly every one of his decisions. But if he gives in on the most important environmental decision in years, we’re all going to feel the heat. By December 31, 2011 the president must decide whether a 1,700-mile pipeline carrying the dirtiest oil on the planet from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas is in the best national interest. This Keystone XL pipeline is not only an environmental disaster waiting to happen, but potentially a political one as well. The strip mining and drilling that will be employed to extract crude oil from the tar sands will have devastating implications for Alberta’s sensitive boreal forests, ecosystems and aquatic life. Furthermore, tar sands crude is mixed with highly volatile natural gas liquids and pumped at high temperatures to flow through the pipelines. This mixture is extremely corrosive. John S. Stansbury, a University of Nebraska professor and environmental engineer, predicts 91 major spills over the 50-year design life of the pipeline. One such leak could spill an estimated 7.9 million gallons of toxic crude into aquifers such as the Ogallala, which supplies drinking water to millions of Americans as well as supports 30 percent of the...

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Re-Election Thanks to a Do-Nothing Congress

  If the president wants to win reelection, he needs to pass his jobs and debt bills. And by that I mean they need to fail. Since his election in 2008, the Republican Party has routinely come out against nearly everything the president has championed through Congress. Even when the president proposes policy ideas that the GOP would normally vote for, they vote against him. For better or for worse, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) best summarized their attitude toward the president when he said his goal was a one-term Obama presidency. So with the knowledge of the last two years, the president should learn that the GOP will vote against anything coming out of the White House. Now that compromise is next to impossible, and cooler heads will not prevail within the Beltway, why not, well, use that against them? In 1948, President Truman was faced with an opposition Congress hell-bent on taking back the White House. They even went so far as to override a presidential veto on a labor-relations bill that was anti-union. In fact, Truman was so far down in the polls that the Republican Convention adopted a platform they felt was advantageous to getting a Republican elected president. Among the policy proposals that year: federal aid to states for slum clearance and low-rental housing, extension of Social Security benefits, anti-lynching legislation, federal civil...

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Not Everyone Moves from South to North

  It is a common misperception that immigration flows come from southern poor countries to rich industrialized nations in the Northern Hemisphere. But immigration patterns are more complex than the outdated notion of a man leaving his family and heading north to seek work. Covering Migration in the Americas was the topic of this year’s Austin Forum, an annual event, hosted by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, where Latin American journalists gather at The University of Texas to discuss the challenges of covering current issues.  At that conference, I learned immigration seems to be more like a circle than a straight line, since most countries are both senders and receivers of people. According to U.S. Census data, the United States is a country of over 38 million immigrants. While America attracts many immigrants, only 2.4 million Americans venture to live overseas, according to World Bank data. Half a million U.S. citizens live in Mexico, the most of any destination abroad, while Mexicans are the largest foreign-born population in the United States. Like migration between Mexico and the U.S, immigration flows occur mostly within the same region. Paraguayans, Bolivians and Peruvians migrate to Argentina. Argentines seek jobs in Chile or Brazil. Nicaraguans go to Costa Rica and Salvadorans to Belize. According to a recent article from The Economist, the same migration happens across continents; 7.5 million people leave Africa for Europe,...

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Learning to Be Critics

  Three years ago, while contemplating applying for graduate school, I asked an LBJ student about the activist climate at the school. His answer – that there weren’t any “bomb-throwing Marxists” – told me all I needed to know: LBJ was not going to be a hotbed for radical organizing. It turns out he was right. To be clear, I’m fine with the lack of bomb-throwing. And I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to grow intellectually and personally among a highly intelligent student body and faculty. Still, for all of its strengths, the LBJ School’s chief weakness is its lack of a community of critical inquiry. My own experience illustrates the meaning and necessity of such an environment. From 2006 to 2010 I worked at a dropout recovery charter high school on Austin’s east side. Our goal was to educate our students the best we could. It was soon painfully apparent, however, that social problems that had for me been mostly abstract concerns to that point – racialized poverty, family instability, food insecurity and the like – did not stop at the classroom door. This meant that what had begun as a relatively simple task soon required asking complex, far-reaching questions about the underlying nature of society. My school’s immediate goals were to raise standardized test scores and boost graduation rates, but to achieve these goals we needed to...

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Consumer Confidence Courtesy of Warren Buffett

  “Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.” This statement stood out to me as I read an op-ed written by Warren Buffett in The New York Times. I’m a poor graduate student whose consumer confidence has sunk – to minus 49.1 percent to be exact (according to Bloomberg). This drastically low number is no surprise to me with an unemployment rate of 9 percent and an unsteady stock market; the question this begs is how does this change? The radical idea that I submit is thinking like Warren Buffett. Have you ever wondered what would happen if Warren Buffet became chairman of the Federal Reserve? He is a man who has beaten the market 20 out of 24 years and whose bullish attitude calls to question the policies currently being undertaken by the Fed. How would fiscal policy be different if “The Oracle of Omaha” were running the show? A recent op-ed he published in The New York Times tells us. He insists the 12 members of Congress who have been assigned to cut the 10 year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion should have a more realistic view of what America can and...

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