Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Piracy, Economic Stimulus Spending and Gay Marriage Update

The political news is light (with congress still on break until Monday), so this will be a quick one.

Somali Pirates -- An American Victory
The slaying of 3 Somali pirates holding an American freighter Captain captive this past week represents an American victory against this sort of terrorist economic disruption. The Navy Seals conducting the operation did their job admirably and with precision and deserve the bulk of the credit. The Captain, who sacrificed himself as a hostage to free his crew is a true hero.

The couple of issues that are a subject of much debate are: #1 Does the Obama administration get any credit for his handling of the crisis and #2 What are we going to do about the ongoing problem of Somali pirates?

#1 is sort of a boring issue to me. Frankly, who cares who gets credit at this point? Is anyone even going to remember this in a future election? Doubtful. I think this incident does demonstrate some level-headedness and clear thinking on the part of the Obama administration, not inflaming the situation, giving the order to act decisively, etc. But this certainly wasn't some brilliant strategic maneuvar and as I said, most of the credit should go to the Seals. To the extent that there is judgement about the administration, it should be positive, but let's not get too excited over competence.

So, what are we going to do about Somali pirates? My thought would be to beef up naval presence in the waters around Somalia. Get tough on these guys -- capture a freighter and we will send ships -- and those ships will kill the pirates. Period. This whole problem was created by the still-devastating economic conditions in Somali combined with some big companies who were willing to pay ransoms to these pirates. Pay offs have to stop. Take away the incentive for piracy and create a big, loaded disincentive and this thing will die down.

Economic Stimulus Spending
The tax cuts in the stimulus bill (37% of its spending) took effect April 1st, so I thought it would be a good time to look at what has happened on the spending side of the equation.

Fortunately, the website is finally starting to live up to its advertised functionality and provide some real information on how money is being allocated and spent.

The results are pretty scant to date. So far $11.7 M (that's million not billion) have been spent, or $1 for every $42,000 in the stimulus bill. The press has been mostly about the approval of projects and morehas been allocated, but still only $56.3M or only about $1 in $9,000 in the stimulus bill.

I suppose some patience is in order here -- spending this kind of money in an effective, useful way is no easy task, especially for a new administration, but employment needs a boost right now, so I wish these agencies would get a move on.

I'll keep you posted as numbers come in.

Gay Marriage
Iowa and Vermont have suddenly doubled the number of states the permit gay marriage in the U.S. (joining Connecticut and Massachussets.) Vermont's addition is most significant in that: #1 it became the first state to legalize gay marraige by legislative act (the other 3 where it is legal plus the brief period of time that it was legal in California were accomplished by court order) and #2 the legislative vote was so overwhelming that it overrode the Governor's veto.

So is the tide finally turning on this debate?

Here is the legal breakdown as of now:
Gay Marriage Legal: 4 States (IA, VT, CT, MA)
Civil Unions: 8 States (CA, CO, OR, WA, ME, NH, NJ, MD) plus District of Columbia
States without legal recourse for same-sex couples: 38
Of those 38 states 19 expressly prohibit both civil unions AND gay marriage in their state constitutions.

So, it isn't likely that the majority of Americans will see either legalized civil unions or legalized same sex marriage anytime soon. Keep in mind that Prop 8 passed just last November in liberal California.

But I do think the tide will eventually turn. Maine, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia all have pending action before their respective legislatures to legalize gay marriage. And while no Presidential candidate has yet expressed support for gay marriage, ALL major candidates for the past 12 years have expressed support for Civil Unions (George W. Bush, John McCain, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama all favor Civil Unions.)

And I suspect California voters will eventually reverse Prop 8.

The trend is for gay marriage and civil unions, but we aren't there yet.
Overall (based on a recent Pew poll), Americans opposee gay marriage by a 59% to 32% margin and full-fledged civil unions by a 51% to 42% margin. But those 35 and under are evenly split on gay marriage and strongly supportive of civil unions.

And I have to imagine as more states legalize it and society doesn't suddenly crumble, views will shift further to the left on this issue. Keep in mind Massachussets has been marrying gay couples since 2004 and Boston is still standing. Canada also marries gay couples and Toronto looked okay when I visited (actually really clean and safe compared to American cities.)

Progress takes time, but it is coming.

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