Debt Ceiling: The Debate

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Ongoing debates in Washington over how to remedy the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling are getting closer and closer to the August 2nd deadline. If both Democratic and Republican party members cannot come to an agreement by the deadline, the United States will have exceeded its legal borrowing limit and will not be able to satisfy its financial obligations.

Normally, the nation responds to reaching its borrowing limit by raising the debt ceiling and going about business as usual. Republicans are calling for a hike in the debt ceiling to be offset by trillions in spending cuts. On the other side, the Democrats say that the Republicans need to accept some tax increases to support the spending cuts. In keeping with their usual stance on the issue, Republicans refuse to support tax increases.

Washington is looking for changes in the tax code affecting hedge funds, private equity firms, and real estate partnerships as a way to make new revenue. If these changes were made, it’s estimated that $20 billion could be raised over 10 years.

House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor has earned some of his own celebrity on this subject. He has been very vocal about his opposition to the changes in the tax code affecting the financial industries. He also is staunchly against any tax increases.  This anti-tax sentiment is blamed on the tea party movements but some Democrats say that the long standing relationship between managers in the financial sector and House Republicans is where the sentiment actually comes from.

People against Cantor’s viewpoint are quick to point out where his campaign funds originate from. Cantor has been supported greatly by real estate, securities and investment sectors; their support has doubled within 2 years to over $1.8 million.

With the deadline looming and the debate growing increasingly partisan, the debate has been heating up. Majority Leader Cantor and President Obama have exchanged spats during debates.

Timing of the plans, beside the looming deadline, is also affecting the negotiations because the timing of the plans are very different.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, proposes a plan that would raise the debt ceiling enough so that it wouldn’t have to be considered again until 2013. Not having to reconsider it until 2013 is beyond the elections of 2012 and demanded to be so by President Obama.

Reid’s plan will include over $1 trillion in spending cuts of governmental agencies operating budget and another $1 trillion in savings from minimizing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

House Speaker John Boehner, with the support of Majority Leader Cantor, proposes a Republican plan enough to get through the August 2nd deadline, but would only last about six months. The White House has already vowed to veto this plan if it makes it to President Obama.

With both parties in a headlock over plans to fix the debt ceiling, it is unknown yet if they will reach a bi-partisan agreement by their deadline.

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On the Contrary… my dear Watson! Or is it?

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Much of the country tuned in to Jeopardy this week and were surprised to find a twist in the game. Two of the game’s biggest winner’s, each earning six figure’s in cash prizes throughout their appearances on the show, were back in the spotlight competing head-to-head. To challenge the top two contestants in Jeopardy history, a third competitor, Watson, was brought to the stage to upend them. The unexpected twist – Watson is an IBM supercomputer with the ability to search through massive amounts of data at unprecedented speeds. In a test of human vs. artificial intelligence, IBM had sent a robot to do the dirty work that countless other human competitors failed to do so many times previously.

In a two day event designed to showcase the advances in IBM technology, IBM hoped to display just how smart Watson was by attempting to defeat the “smartest of the smartest” while the whole world watched it all go down. True to their word, IBM delivered an incredibly smart computer that dominated the game in nearly every aspect. Or did it?

Watson managed to chime in on almost every clue, delivering near perfect success. It certainly demonstrated just how much data Watson had access to, how complex the algorithms must have been to sort through it all, and how fast it was able to process it all by returning correct answers at the bat of an eye. However, there were a variety of questions that Watson remained silent on and a few answers that he gave that were completely illogical (i.e. Toronto, for an answer – a final jeopardy answer no less – as a response to a clue that specifically asked for a U.S. city).

It seemed as though Watson was more adept at returning correct responses for clues that had specific dates, times, names, and/or places within the answer than he was at delivering responses for the questions that IBM had led us all to believe he was capable of – the clues that were complex and required analytical thinking. Furthermore, Watson would reveal a variety of options that he thought could be the correct response and show the percentage of how confident he was in that answer. In some cases, he would reveal the correct response associated with the least amount of confidence in its truth. Regardless of answering he demonstrated that sometimes his inability to come up with the correct response was not due to the lack of information available to him, but that he was unable to determine which information was the most relevant and which was not. In other words, the answer was out there for him to retrieve it, he was just unable to fully comprehend the question and decipher the information it came across to associate and return the correct response.

One of the most significant aspects of the game that stood out to anyone “hoping” for a human to beat Watson, was that Ken tried buzzing in on almost every answer that Watson did. Unfortunately Watson almost always beat him to it. In terms of fairness, I think the final scores were not reflective of how much “smarter” Watson was than the two human competitors. Without reaction time factored in, I believe the margin between the final scores would’ve been a lot less. For Ken to determine the right answer and react fast enough to push the button before Watson would mean his reaction time would have to be faster than the speed at which Watson can send an electronic signal which triggers the buzzer. It would be interesting to know what that time lapse was and if the game had gotten to the point where the two human competitors had to buzz in immediately on every clue as soon as they were allowed (regardless of whether or not they already knew the correct response) just to stand a chance at buzzing in before Watson

As a last concern, the arbitrary “wagering” that Watson made during daily double attempts and in final jeopardy rounds was off-putting. If IBM can design a supercomputer that is capable of sorting through million’s of pages of content in a split second and determining an answer based upon a complex set of algorithms wouldn’t you think that they could develop an algorithm that didn’t just wager “arbitrary” amounts of money somewhere in the range of zero dollars and whatever total Watson had at the moment? Perhaps a simple addition to the algorithm which allowed him to compare the current cash totals of his opponents and wager an amount to keep him within a couple thousand dollars in the event that he got the answer wrong? Instead, with a lead of several thousand dollars over his opponents and no possibility of losing the lead going into final jeopardy on day 1, we got a wager of a couple hundred dollars. The selling point of the robot was his ability to analyze information as it would be disseminated to a human yet IBM didn’t allow Watson to be proactive in his wagering strategy, basing his decision on his answer accuracy or the scores of his opponents.

Watson the supercomputer? On the contrary my fellow readers! Watson was merely fast at sorting through data and buzzing in. Although, all skepticism aside, I am impressed with his ability to do just that and can see a very practical use for him in the real world with the example that IBM gave us… perhaps in the medical industry looking up any and all symptoms associated with a patient and sorting through previous cases documented online and giving suggestions for treatment. There is just no doubt in my mind that I want a human doctor making the final decision.

Haiti – Consistency Amidst Disarray

January 5, 2011 1 comment

Haitian citizens are in a heated and violent debate related to the presidential election.  The first round of voting was controversial with no clear outcome decided.  Protests followed which were violent but also awakening as accounts of fraud were made public.  Originally, the first round votes were supposed to be announced three weeks ago on the 20th of December.  Since a decision has not been made, the runoff vote scheduled for Jan 16th will also have to be pushed back.  It’ll likely be at least a month after the original results are finally tallied before a second round of votes can be held.  The Organization of American States is handling the review of results from the first round.  The political chaos is just one of many issues that continue to weigh on Haitian citizens.  Recurring problems still remain from the earthquakes and the more recent Cholera outbreaks.  The death toll continues to rise but despite all that some citizens amazingly maintain relatively positive spirits – finding comfort in the “consistency” of all of the political debates throughout a nation of disarray.  The overwhelming sentiment for many Haitians is that the matter is in God’s hands, their only true incorruptible leader, keeping their faith that things will be okay.

DOW CEO, Andrew Liveris, Tackles Olympic Footprint

December 18, 2010 Leave a comment

With Dow Chemical now serving as the new Olympic sponsor, Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, has been given a rare opportunity to help reduce the carbon footprint that the games produce.  Read more about the Dow Chemical Olympic Sponsorship.

Liveris currently serves on the Board of Directors for IBM, in addition to the President’s Export Council, participating in an effort where he believes, “we now have the opportunity to fuel a new era of sustainable economic growth for America. By creating pragmatic and purposeful trade policies, we will ensure we deploy the vast resources of this nation towards advanced manufacturing programs in high-growth sectors that will make America more competitive at a global level.”

Democrats Push Spending Bill

December 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Democrats sitting on the U.S. Senate have introduced a trillion dollar spending bill aimed to take the federal government through the next fiscal year.  Republicans have voiced their opposition to the bill and are gearing up to defeat it. Some Senate republicans, like Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), are already working to defeat it.  With the political affiliation changes in the house and senate, it appears that no matter what bill is introduced by either party, strong opposition will be met.

The Democrats believe that the spending bill is a better option than any improvised spending that is approved as necessary throughout the year.  Having a planned budget will allow government officials to spend more efficiently while still having a supply of funds readily available should an unexpected situation arise.  Although, many of the funds proposed in the bill would be earmarked for specific projects.

Republicans will likely scuttle progress on this bill as long as possible with intentions of pushing temporary spending budgets until they hold the majority of seats in the House and several additional seats in the Senate at the early part of next year.  That way they will have more power to turn down the bill and deter any earmarked spending that they oppose and intend to ban for the next 2 years.

Clinton Global Initiative Conference Huge Success

September 24, 2010 2 comments

This week Bill Clinton and chief advisor, Doug Band, hosted the 6th annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) conference.  CGI was started in 2005 from an idea generated by Band to “turn ideas into action”.  The mission was to bring world leaders in politics, business, and non-profits together to tackle world problems.  Instead of just talking about what should be done, CGI actually requires participants to generate actual plans of action and to submit donations to fund projects.  After day 1 of the 6th annual CGI meeting, former President Clinton tweeted that CGI members have made 1950 commitments totaling $63 million that will improve 300 million lives.  Clinton has reiterated that most of his post Presidency success is largely in part due to Doug’s help and dedicated work ethic.  Politico has done a great job of recapping just exactly what Doug Band has done to promote Clinton to his level of success.  Additionally, the success of CGI would not have been possible without Band’s ingenuity and around-the-clock work and organizational masterminding.

Several months ago you might recall the special ops trip that Bill Clinton and Doug Band took to free two U.S. journalist from a prison in S. Korea.  Recently, the U.S. is looking to the infamous duo again to see if they can help free U.S. hikers that have been taken prisoner in Iran.

One of the most recent endeavors taken on by Bill Clinton and Doug Band is the push to bring the World Cup Soccer Tournament to the United States in 2018 or 2022 by joining the Board of Directors of the U.S. World Cup Committee.

WikiLeaks Leaks Important Reports On War In Afghanistan

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

In the age of the Internet, it’s easy for any type of information (from movie spoilers to news stories) to seep through security cracks and get leaked to the world. Some of this information is important for the world to see while some other pieces are confidential for a reason. Up until now there weren’t many stories that leaked on the Internet that shook up the establishment, but now the website WikiLeaks has demonstrated the effect that leaking a very substantial and politically charged story on the Internet can have on the entire world.

The website, WikiLeaks published over 90,000 pages of secret war documents on the War in Afghanistan which went over secret deals, conflicts, strategies, and intelligence that the U.S was using in the war from 2004-2010. For the first time in the war, a clear view of what could actually be going on in Afghanistan is visible to millions of readers. Many argue that this leak hurts the troops and their mission there while others argue that the leak serves the same purpose as the Pentagon Papers in showing truths behind an unpopular war. However, the Pentagon Papers pale in comparison by sheer size to this WikiLeaks war diary and is arguably the biggest intelligence leak in the history of the United States of America.

By taking submissions from all across the world, WikiLeaks serves as a website for whistleblowers and others trying to get the truth out in the world. As stated, some said that this leak did more harm than good, but no matter what side of the argument you fall on there is no debating that this is a huge development regarding security, freedom of speech and the internet which will surely warrant some heated political discussion.