All posts by Ben Tan

Emerson College alum. Musician and member of Moon Tower (facebook.com/moontowersband). Co-creator of KLYAM.com. Former WERS news director and host. Advanced video editor and media producer.

Cash For Clunkers Helps Idaho Dealer

LEWISTON – You could say it was running on empty. After taking off this month, the popular Cash for Clunker trade-in program ran out of federal funding.

Friday the House passed $2 billion in emergency funds to keep it driving on.

Some Valley residents have already taken advantage of the first $1billion.

At Rogers Toyota, Sales Manager David Stockwell said the program has helped business.

I feel like Cash for Clunkers and all the other recent government interference in the private sector is a good idea…in the short term. Long term, we’ll see if it sets a bad precedent for America’s economic system.

“Cash For Clunkers” Increases Ford Sales

By Ben Tan — August 3, 2009

Ford’s July auto sales were up 2.3 percent, juiced by the government’s “cash for clunkers” $4,500 credit, the automaker reported.

“Cash for clunkers put us over the top,” said George Pipas, sales analyst for Ford on CNBC.

The short-term government spending program designated $1 billion to pay consumers up to $4,500 for trading in old cars for energy efficient vehicles. Money for the program ran out months earlier than expected, forcing the House to vote for $2 billion more on Friday. The Senate has yet to take up the additional funding request. Obama’s backers say the program proves that the president’s economic plan is correct.

“The so-called cash for clunkers program has actually been far more successful than people expected,” said National Economic Council President Larry Summers, “both in terms of the number of car sales it’s generated, and, I should say, in terms of the environmental benefit.”

Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, gave a thumbs-up to the cash for clunkers program but said yesterday it is popular because the economy is on its way back up, and not because it is stimulative. The program has worked to get people to buy cars and move stock, he said, but Greenspan did not necessarily recommend it as an economic fix.

“It’s an interesting issue,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“I mean, I have qualms about the concept, but there is no doubt that that very extraordinary response is a very important indicator that the state of confidence in the economy is beginning to pick up. If we had been — the clunker program had been put in place six months ago, it would have probably been a dud.”

Ford’s monthly increase marks their first since November 2007. Ford is the first major automaker to report July sales. The automaker believed it would “fall short” of last year’s July sales until the government stimulus kicked in, Pipas said. Sales of Ford’s core brands, Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury, rose by 9 percent according to the report. Diminished fleet sales and other poor-performing brands dragged the overall number down to 2.3 percent.

House Committee Rejects Limiting Abortion Coverage

By Ben Tan — August 3, 2009

A House committee rejected an anti-abortion amendment to President Barack Obama’s sweeping healthcare overhaul bill late Thursday. The reversal came hours after the measure was approved. The amendment said healthcare overhaul legislation may not impose requirements for coverage of abortion except when a woman’s life is in danger, or her pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

It was approved in the Energy and Commerce Committee by Republicans and conservative Democrats. But hours later committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman invoked House rules that allow him to bring up the amendment for a second vote, despite Republican objections. Conservative Democrat Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee changed his vote to no. A second conservative Democrat who hadn’t voted the first time, Rep. Zack Space of Ohio, voted no. It was enough to take down the amendment on a 30-29 vote.

The committee approved a Democrat-written measure specifying that abortions would not be required as part of basic gtovernment-approved insurance benefit packages. The measure, which passed 30-28, says health plans in a new purchasing exchange aren’t required to cover abortion, but each region of the country should have at least one plan that does so. The amendment also limits the use of federal funding for abortions. Democrats cast the measure as a compromise, though Republicans mostly opposed it.

The committee voted on various amendments late into the night and will resume today, when it is expected to vote on the full bill. The House Democrats have been pushing for a compromise health overhaul over liberals’ complaints, intent on success on Obama’s top domestic priority before a monthlong summer recess.

“We’ve got to pass the bill,” Waxman said.

“Not only do we have to, but we’re going to.”

His Energy and Commerce Committee was the last of three House committees to act on the sweeping legislation.

Holy Crap, Banks Suck, Kill Me

This news makes me sick. I hate banks. I recommend you instead store your money under your mattress.

NEW YORK — The New York Attorney General’s office says Citigroup, one of the biggest recipients of government bailout money, paid out $5.33 billion in employee bonuses for 2008.

The attorney general has issued a report Thursday that outlines 2008 bonuses paid to the initial nine banks that received loans under the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Bank of America, which also received $45 billion in TARP money, paid $3.3 billion in bonuses.

U.N. Extends Darfur Peacekeeping Mission Mandate

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously extended the mandate for the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission which has been slowly deploying in Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region.

The force’s mandate has been extended until the end of July 2010.

It’s a little surprising and sad that this War in Darfur is shaping up to last longer than the Iraq War. But there’s a little bit of good news.

Sawers said there have been some encouraging developments in Darfur. He welcomed the improved cooperation between the U.N. secretariat and Khartoum in deploying UNAMID, which is currently at just over two-thirds of its planned strength of 26,000 troops and police.

New Teacher Program Creates Jobs, Controversy

In 2007, fresh out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Chris Turk snagged a coveted spot with the elite Teach For America program, landing here at Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School in a blue-collar neighborhood at the city’s southern tip. For the past two years, he has taught middle-school social studies.

One recent afternoon, during a five-week “life skills” summer-school course, Turk tells his five students that their final project, a movie about what they’ve learned, has a blockbuster budget: $70.

“We can go big here,” he says. “We can go grand.”

He might as well be talking about the high-profile program that brought him here.

Despite a lingering recession, state budget crises and widespread teacher hiring slowdowns, Teach For America (TFA) has grown steadily, delighting supporters and giving critics a bad case of heartburn as it expands to new cities and builds a formidable alumni base of young people willing to teach for two years in some of the USA’s toughest public schools.

Baltimore Superintendent Andres Alonso — who says he has seen “fewer retirements, fewer resignations and just greater stability in terms of our teaching ranks,” much of it because of a reluctance to leave a secure job in a recession — has doubled the number of TFA teachers, known as “corps members,” in city schools over the past two years.

Next week, more than 160 new TFAers arrive in Baltimore, up from 80 in 2007. They’ll make up about one in four new hires.

Nationwide, about 7,300 young people are expected to teach under TFA’s banner, up from 6,200 last year. TFA is expanding from 29 regions to 35, including Dallas, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

But critics say the growth in many cities is coming at the expense of experienced teachers who are losing their jobs — in some cases, they say, to make room for TFA, which brings in teachers at beginners’ salary levels and underwrites training.

I have mixed feelings about this program. Those experienced teachers are eventually going to retire anyway, right? But then again, “underwrites training”? Really? If that’s the case, schools are screwed.

Obama Pitches Health Reform Near D.C.

President Obama on Wednesday highlighted a host of “consumer protections” he said will be a part of health care legislation, casting the government’s overhaul as a bid to provide financial security and peace of mind to the majority of people who already have health insurance.

“The reforms we seek will bring stability and security that you don’t have today,” he told a mostly supportive audience at Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C. Later he went to Bristol, Va., to make the same pitch.

And what exactly ARE the proposed reforms? According to this “USA Today” piece

• Prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions or dropping those who become seriously ill.
• Require insurance companies to fully cover regular checkups and preventive tests such as mammograms.
• Guarantee that insurance companies renew policies as long as premiums are paid in full.
• Cut costs to “help get our exploding deficits under control.”
• Cost less than the Iraq war.

Never mind that these are great ideas to prevent misconduct from private, for-profit health insurers. OMG OBAMA’S A SOCIALIST WHO HATES CAPITALISM AND WANTS 2 RULE DA WORLD[/Glen, Chris, Ron Paul, Chomsky, and all the other “cool” guys] But then again…

• Guarantee that insurance companies renew policies as long as premiums are paid in full.

Edmund Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation, a think tank, said Congress already passed legislation with that requirement. “That problem got fixed about 15 years ago,” he said.

I’ll give the Nobama – sorry to digress, but how can you possibly say that with a straight face? Sorry. I’ll give the Nobama camp this: the guy can be pretty damn redundant.

Palin Steps Down As Alaska Governor

By Ben Tan — July 27, 2009

Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska governor yesterday, in front of thousands of cheering supporters.

Palin pledged to continue fighting for independence from Washington and for Americans’ personal freedoms “as that grizzly guards her cubs.”

The attendees vowed to keep Palin’s feisty, down-home political legacy alive.  The hand-over to Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell at a family-style picnic marked an unexpected end to a brief but notable governorship.  The 45-year-old hockey mom shook the Republican Party and propelled Alaska’s frontier-style, moose-meat-picnic politics into the national spotlight.

She famously described herself as a “pit bull with lipstick” last year, when she accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination.

“Let’s not start believing that government is the answer,” said Palin before a crowd of about 5,000 at Pioneer Park.

“It can’t help make you healthy or wealthy or wise. What can? It is the wisdom of the people. . . . It is God’s grace, helping those who help themselves.”

Palin, Alaska’s first female governor, stood at the podium in a conservative black pantsuit, joined by husband Todd and two of their daughters, Piper and Willow.

Palin chastised those who question why she stepped down 18 months before her term ends, showing no sadness or second thoughts.

“It should be so obvious to you,” she said.

“It is because I love Alaska this much, sir, that I feel that it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical politics-as-usual lame-duck session in one’s last year in office. . . . I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right. And I have never felt that you need a title to do that.”

She took an opportunity to criticize the media, which she claims distorted her statements and fueled controversies surrounding her.

“You represent what could and should be a respected and honest profession,” she said, “that could and should be a cornerstone of our democracy.”

“Democracy depends on you, and that is why our troops are willing to die for you. So how about in honor of the American soldier you quit making things up?

These moments of the speech drew the loudest applause.

“Our new governor has a very nice family too,” she added, “so leave his kids alone.”

Bernanke Holds Town Hall-Style Forum

By Ben Tan — July 27, 2009

Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, participated in a town hall-style forum in Kansas City, Mo. yesterday.  The forum was organized and moderated by Jim Lehrer of “The NewsHour” on PBS.  It is the latest stop in a publicity campaign with a message: the central bank is here to help, and is not as mysterious or menacing as people may think.  Bernanke took questions from local residents and disputed charges that the Fed was conspiring with big banks or stifling free-market capitalism.  

A small-business owner asked Bernanke why the Fed helped rescue big banks while “short-changing” small companies.

Bernanke replied that he had decided to “hold my nose” because he feared the entire financial system would collapse.

“I’m as disgusted by it as you are,” said Bernanke before an audience of 190.

“Nothing made me more angry than having to intervene, particularly in a few cases where companies took wild bets.”

The forum resembled that of a political candidate, and indeed Bernanke’s four-year term expires in January.  Bernanke has put himself in the public spotlight to an extent far beyond that of his predecessors, departing from the bank’s tradition as an aloof, secretive temple of economic policy.  The bank has already become more open in the decade before Bernanke took charge, and his predecessor Alan Greenspan achieved fame during his long tenure.  But Fed officials still distanced themselves from partisan politics and day-to-day business life.  

Bernanke, on the other hand, has given a television interview to “60 Minutes” on CBS, including a tour of his hometown, Dillon, S.C.  He held essentially a televised news conference and has written newspaper commentaries to explain the Fed’s efforts to fight the financial crisis.  Last week Bernanke published a lengthy commentary in “The Wall Street Journal” and testified before three separate Congressional committees.

Sunday Morning Sermon

Greetings, fellow “Kids” and other readers.

For those who don’t know me, I’ve been blogging on various topics…news, politics, humor, music, stuff like that…for many years now. And I’m 19, so I’ve spent a good fraction of my life rambling like this. I’ve been taking a break from blogging after some personal trauma/drama, but this morning I finally got the inspiration to hop on the old soapbox.

I was talking to one of my best friends, the captain of this here website, Glen Maganzini. As we often do, we talked about the Catholic church we both grew up in, St. Florence in Wakefield, MA. Funny thing is, while he still goes there regularly, as I did for most of my life, I stopped about a year ago because one morning the preacher said some things about moral relativism…sympathizing with the moral standards of other religions or beliefs…that I highly disagreed with.  Namely, that moral relativism is wrong, and that the Catholic system is the only proper way to think in moral and political matters.

To me, this idea emphasized the worst aspect of any religion: the divisive nature.  After all, according to the dictionary, “Catholic” means “universal”.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Ironically enough I still consider myself a Catholic despite not having gone to a Mass since the fall.  I still love what my religion is at heart, a well-intentioned set of beliefs that encourages all the people of the world to love each other, to treat other people the way you’d want to be treated.  But would any Catholic priest want…let’s say a Hindu, just because that’s arguably the one of the five major religions least compatible with Catholicism…would any Catholic priest want a devout Hindu to point his or her finger at the priest and tell him that his lifestyle, his beliefs, everything he stands for is immoral?

I absolutely support moral relativism because it promotes an understanding of all the different beliefs out there.  It promotes empathy, but not necessarily sympathy.  I had a great Social Studies teacher who is a devout Catholic, but never got preachy about his beliefs in a public school.  And he stressed the importance of understanding other people’s beliefs and cultures, though not necessarily subscribing to all these ideologies.  By nature, political and religious beliefs are divisive, but understanding, logic, science, practicality…those are universal, objective values.  And as much as I love my politics and my religion, I have my limits, and I know that these subjective beliefs can…and must…coexist with the truly universal ideas.

Ben Tan