Politics/Current Events

Tired of Political Posts?

You’re sitting at your computer, or glued to your smart phone, just scrollin’ through your newsfeed, trying to see what your Facebook Friends have been up to since you last checked four minutes ago.  And then you see it: your tree huggin’ hippy friend has posted another God-damn Gosh darn Obama ad.  Or, your right wing nutjob co-worker has posted yet another graph that shows that Obama’s plan for the economy just isn’t working.  How fucking annoying is that, right?!  Why can’t we just go about our business, liking Justin Bieber, uploading another picture of ourselves (maybe in the reflection of a mirror to be cool), or talking about the mundane facets of our lives?  Instead, these politically active sons-a-bitches have to keep shoving their political views down my throat via Facebook.

Or at least that’s how it seems lately, according to some folks in my Facebook friends circle.  I’ve read quite a few statuses declaring to the cyber world that they were blocking or at least hiding any of their “friends” who keep trying to influence their own views on the upcoming election.  I mean, how dare people voice their own opinions!

Well, I’ll tell you what:  THAT is on my damn nerves! I thought electing the next President of the United States was kind of a big deal, big enough, in fact, for people to express their opinions on the candidates and parties that are running.  And sure, there has been debate, and quarreling, and shallow name calling in politics ever since…well, politics existed.  But the difference is that all of that “political stuff” used to be relegated to TV, newspapers, and magazines.  And now, politics has infiltrated Facebook.  That’s why all of you people are so annoyed: Because in the past, you could just turn off the TV, or not pick up a newspaper, and presto! you don’t have to be ‘annoyed’ by all of these petty debates about who the leader of our country should be.

Now that Facebook has crept into every crevice of our social lives, of course it was going to be a perfect tool for trading political ideas.  I say Thank God! Facebook provides a medium to share information further and quicker than any other medium in the past.  What better way to use it than to share knowledge and ideas?  And I’m not talking about the knowledge that you checked in at the fucking Denny’s bathroom to make another stupid ass kissy-face picture.

But by all means, get annoyed that someone’s bashing the opposing political candidate in your news feed.  Sure, you’ll act like you’re “above” the fray, and it’s people on both sides who are annoying you, and what really annoys you is just the fact that politics has just gotten so darn mean.  Just name callin from both sides of the aisle.  Gosh, how horrible.  Right – so that’s why you end up attacking and deleting the person who has ideas that are different from your own.

I’m a politically active individual, and I’m going to post articles that express my beliefs.  Well, let me be more accurate:  I’m a politically aware individual.  Earning my PhD takes up all of my time, so I don’t really have much left to be very active.  I’m not stupid enough to think that my Facebook posts (which actually are just articles that I share) are going to ‘convert’ anyone to ‘my side’ (probably because most of my friends are of my “silly, ideal” political persuasion, anyway), but I would hope that some of the information I share at least makes people stop and think.

I have a lot riding on November 6th.  And I’m not the only one.  While the economy is looming large on everyone’s mind (for a very good reason), I’m referring to something more specific.  As a gay man, this presidential election will have very big repercussions for my life.  On the one hand, we have a candidate who has repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, stopped enforcing the discriminatory Defense Of Marriage Act, and became the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality for all Americans.  On the other hand, you have a candidate who believes that homosexuality is not only a “lifestyle” but an abomination, and as such, would roll back all of the legislation that activists have worked so hard to achieve.

I’m not really a supporter of voting for a president based on one particular issue.  And let’s be real, this isn’t the only reason I’m voting for Obama, but you can bet your sweet ass it’s on top of the list.  Because, if Obama wins, that means that there are four more years in which I could possibly see marriage equality recognized on a national levelIf Obama wins, then MAYBE my partner and I wouldn’t have to worry about his status in this country.  Yeah, that’s right, I’m not worried about “gay marriage” simply because I want to have something with the name “marriage” on it (versus a civil union or whatever the fuck you want to call it).  I’m talking about legal benefits that straight couples now get…and that I’m unfairly denied.

My partner is a foreign worker in this country, and he’s here to do the IT jobs that Americans just simply aren’t qualified to do (why that’s the case will have to wait for another post).  He pays all of his taxes, contributes to a growing sector, and makes sure that millions of people get their healthcare without a glitch.  However, he’s reached the highest visa possible now, and it’s only valid for a maximum of six more years.  That means that if his legal status in the US does not change by the year 2018, he’ll have to leave the country forever.  Now this isn’t normally a big problem for most ‘normal’ people, because there are two ways to achieve the next status, which is permanent residency (aka, green card holder):  #1, your employer can sponsor you, but this is expensive on their part, and right now the processing time for his particular employer-sponsored green card is 11 years.  #2, you can get married.  This is obviously not an option for my partner and millions more like him.

So, this is what’s at stake for us:  We know we want to spend the rest of our lives together.  But because of a fucking technicality we may not be able to do that here, in the supposed land of the free?

That’s why I post political statuses on Facebook.  Because it fucking matters.  I passionately believe that everybody deserves at least basic health care as a human right.  I believe in placing rules on the game called economics so that it’s a little more fair and one or two people don’t end up buying all the good spots on the Monopoly board and watch from their penthouses as the rest of us fight over scraps.  And, I believe that every single American deserves the right to get married and reap all of the same legal and financial benefits (including green card status for your spouse).  So, I post about these things, hoping that people out there will understand that these issues are real, and they matter.  Politics isn’t just old men in suits talking bad about each other.  It’s not just an interruption in your Facebook Newsfeed! 

So, by all means:  Block me and others like me, but please block yourself from the voting booth, too.  Or do us all a favor and delete your Facebook account until after the elections.  Because maybe your political apathy is annoying the shit out of us.  Or how about at least refrain from mocking those who care enough to actually engage in debate.  I don’t block people just because they tell me every detail of their day, because they check in at every bar they hang out at and tag all of their BFFs and drankin’ buddies, because they tell me constantly what music they’re listening to.  It shows all of the different sides of people out there, sides that I wouldn’t be able to see without Facebook.  Plus, I like sharing what I made for supper too!

Or, how about instead of getting your panties in a wad, you actually engage those people in a debate.  Show them where you think they’re wrong…and then present your own answer to the problem.  But of course, to do that, you’d actually have to do some homework. And like, LOL omg, who has time for that?!  Plus, the iPhone 5 is out, right? And that’s way more damn important than the election and all those Facebook political posts.

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47 Days Left…

We’ve still got 47 days until the Presidential Elections.  Here are some fun political pics to mull over until November 6th.







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Five Obamacare Myths

Published: July 15, 2012 (original article here.)

ON the subject of the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare, to reclaim the name critics have made into a slur — a number of fallacies seem to be congealing into accepted wisdom. Much of this is the result of unrelenting Republican propaganda and right-wing punditry, but it has gone largely unchallenged by gun-shy Democrats. The result is that voters are confronted with slogans and side issues — “It’s a tax!” “No, it’s a penalty!” — rather than a reality-based discussion. Let’s unpack a few of the most persistent myths.

OBAMACARE IS A JOB-KILLER.The House Republican majority was at it again last week, staging the 33rd theatrical vote to roll back the Affordable Care Act. And once again the cliché of the day was “job-killer.” After years of trying out various alarmist falsehoods the Republicans have found one that seems, judging from the polls, to have connected with the fears of voters.

Some of the job-killer scare stories are based on a deliberate misreading of a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the law would “reduce the amount of labor used in the economy” by about 800,000 jobs. Sounds like a job-killer, right? Not if you read what the C.B.O. actually wrote. While some low-wage jobs might be lost, the C.B.O. number mainly refers to workers who — being no longer so dependent on employers for their health-care safety net — may choose to retire earlier or work part time. Those jobs would then be open for others who need them.

The impartial truth squad FactCheck.org has debunked the job-killer claim so many times that in its latest update you can hear a groan of weary frustration: words like “whopper” and “bogus” and “hooey.” The job-killer claim is also discredited by the experience under the Massachusetts law on which Obamacare was modeled.

Ultimately the Affordable Care Act could be a tonic for the economy. It aims to slow the raging growth of health care costs by, among other things, using the government’s Medicare leverage to move doctors away from exorbitant fee-for-service medicine, with its incentive to pile on unnecessary procedures. Two veteran health economists, David Cutler of Harvard and Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, have calculated that over the first decade of Obamacare total spending on health care, in part by employers, will be half a trillion dollars lower than under the status quo.

OBAMACARE IS A FEDERAL TAKEOVER OF HEALTH INSURANCE. Let’s be blunt. The word for that is “lie.” The main thing the law does is deliver 30 million new customers to the private insurance industry. Indeed, a significant portion of the unhappiness with Obamacare comes from liberals who believe it is not nearly federal enough: that the menu of insurance choices should have included a robust public option, or that Medicare should have been expanded into a form of universal coverage.

Under the law, to be sure, insurance will be governed by new regulations, and supported by new subsidies. This is not the law Ayn Rand would have written. But the share of health care spending that comes from the federal government is expected to rise only modestly, to nearly 50 percent in 2021, and much of that is due not to Obamacare but to baby boomers joining Medicare.

This is a “federal takeover” only in the crazy world where Barack Obama is a “socialist.”

THE UNFETTERED MARKETPLACE IS A BETTER SOLUTION. To the extent there is a profound difference of principle anywhere in this debate, it lies here. Conservatives contend that if you give consumers a voucher or a tax credit and set them loose in the marketplace they will do a better job than government at finding the services — schools, retirement portfolios, or in this case health insurance policies — that fit their needs.

I’m a pretty devout capitalist, and I see that in some cases individual responsibility helps contain wasteful spending on health care. If you have to share the cost of that extra M.R.I. or elective surgery, you’ll think hard about whether you really need it. But I’m deeply suspicious of the claim that a health care system dominated by powerful vested interests and mystifying in its complexity can be tamed by consumers who are strapped for time, often poor, sometimes uneducated, confused and afraid.

“Ten percent of the population accounts for 60 percent of the health outlays,” said Davis. “They are the very sick, and they are not really in a position to make cost-conscious choices.”

LEAVE IT TO THE STATES. THEY’LL FIX IT. The Republican alternative to Obamacare consists in large part of letting each state do its own thing. Presumably the best ideas will go viral.

States do have a long history of pioneering new ideas, sometimes enlightened (Oregon’s vote-by-mail comes to mind) and sometimes less benign (see Florida’s loopy gun laws). Obamacare actually underwrites pilot programs to reduce costs, and gives states freedom — some would argue too much freedom — in designing insurance-buying exchanges. But the best ideas don’t spread spontaneously. Some states are too poor to adopt worthwhile reforms. Some are intransigent, or held captive by lobbies.

You’ve heard a lot about the Massachusetts law. You may not have heard about the seven other states that passed laws requiring insurers to offer coverage to all. They were dismal failures because they failed to mandate that everyone, including the young and healthy, buy in. Massachusetts — fairly progressive, relatively affluent, with an abundance of health providers — included a mandate and became the successful exception. To expand that program beyond Massachusetts required … Barack Obama.

OBAMACARE IS A LOSER. RUN AGAINST IT, RUN FROM IT, BUT FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE DON’T RUN ON IT. When Mitt Romney signed that Massachusetts law in 2006, the coverage kicked in almost immediately. Robert Blendon, a Harvard expert on health and public opinion, recalls the profusion of heartwarming stories about people who had depended on emergency rooms and charity but now, at last, had a regular relationship with a doctor. Romneycare was instantly popular in the state, and remains so, though it seems to have been disowned by its creator.

Unfortunately, the benefits of Obamacare do not go wide until 2014, so there are not yet testimonials from enthusiastic, family-next-door beneficiaries. This helps explain why the bill has not won more popular affection. (It also explains why the Republicans are so desperate to kill it now, before Americans feel the abundant rewards.)

Blendon believes that because of the delayed benefits and the general economic anxiety, “It will be very hard for the Democrats to move the needle” on the issue this election year.

He may be right, but shame on the Democrats if they don’t try. There’s no reason except cowardice for failing to mount a full-throated defense of the law. It is not perfect, but it is humane, it is (thanks to the Supreme Court) fiscally viable, and it comes with some reasonable hopes of reforming the cockeyed way we pay health care providers.

Even before the law takes full effect, it has a natural constituency, starting with every cancer victim, every H.I.V. sufferer, everyone with a condition that now would keep them from getting affordable coverage. Any family that has passed through the purgatory of cancer — as mine did this year, with decent insurance — can imagine the hell of doing it without insurance.

Against this, Mitt Romney offers some vague free-market principles and one unambiguous promise: to dash the hopes of 30 million uninsured, and add a few million to their ranks by slashing Medicaid.

If the Obama campaign needs a snappy one-liner, it could borrow this one from David Cutler: “Never before in history has a candidate run for president with the idea that too many people have insurance coverage.”

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 16, 2012, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: Five Obamacare Myths.
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Petition the White House

A friend forwarded me this petition.  And since I get too many emails that say: 

I signed the petition and thought I’d pass it along to any of you good folks to sign and pass on to all of your family and friends to sign.  Please!  When you’re surviving on a grad-student income, every bit of aid helps!  

In an effort to promote higher education, we propose the Obama administration reinstate the federal tax exemption for graduate student and post-doctoral stipends. These stipends, traditionally tax exempt, will incentivize countless students to pursue higher educational goals, resulting in broader positive economic impacts. A highly educated population leads to increased research, bolstering America’s status as global leader in innovation. This policy will provide our best and brightest with an important financial resource; a tax exemption which would allow for greater quality of life and freedom to contribute significantly to the pursuit of excellence.

Please restore the federal tax exemption for graduate and post-doctoral stipends and bring higher education into the 21st century.

Click HERE to sign the petition!

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KONY 2012

I woke up this morning, went down stairs to get my coffee, and then – of course – logged on to Facebook.  I had 4 or 5 stories in my newsfeed claiming “KONY 2012.”  Of course, I thought some new Republican nut-job (or even better, perhaps a sane one) had entered the US presidential race.

But, I clicked on the YouTube video and quickly became aware that it wasn’t talking about US politics. Instead, it’s calling for action against Joseph Kony, the leader of a guerilla fighting group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  Kony is trying to establish his bloody and violent rule, based on the Ten Commandments, in Uganda and other neighboring central African countries (according to the Independent).  One of the ways he’s trying to do this is by capturing young children, indoctrinating them, and forcing the girls into sex slavery, while the boys are given guns and machetes and forced to be child soldiers.

I won’t say any more here; the video has all of the information.  The “KONY 2012” campaign (homepage:  www.kony2012.com) is led by the group Invisible Children, and they’re hoping that if more people know about his crimes (he is the #1 criminal on the International Criminal Court’s list), there will be more pressure on the world’s governments to help arrest him (he was already indicted by the ICC in 2005 for 12 counts of crimes against humanity, plus 21 counts of war crimes).

It’s a great campaign.  And, it looks like they already got some results:  Last October, President Obama sent a small number of US Army advisors to Uganda to help the Ugandan army hunt down Kony.

So, it’s an excellent cause.  I can’t help but be a little skeptical that it will work though.  I’ve seen people get all excited about a cause before, and then Facebook releases a new layout, and we all have something new to complain about.

However, I’m going to be optimistic on this one, and hope that some change will come from it.  I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with being idealistic.  So, I’m going to share the video, and ask that you do the same.

The video actually makes me think of an autobiography that I read probably about four years ago:  A Long Way Gone – Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (homepage for the book: here.)  It tells a similar story, but it doesn’t take place in Uganda.  Beah was forced to murder people in a savage army in Sierra Leone in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The book tells the story of his time as a boy soldier, but also of how he escaped that life.

It is, of course, a heart wrenching story.  But not only because of the horrible things this child was forced to go through.  It’s also because, in the end, Beah says that he would go through it all again – the confusion, the fear, the migraines, and the soul-destroying guilt – if it would save even one other boy from having to go through that.

So, let’s pass along the information, and see what happens.  Social Media sites played a large role in the Arab Spring recently, so maybe they can help catch a criminal.  But first, we have to make him infamous, make him known. 

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Education Gap Grows between Rich & Poor

By , NY TIMES, February 9, 2011, original article

WASHINGTON — Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

In another study, by researchers from the University of Michigan, the imbalance between rich and poor children in college completion — the single most important predictor of success in the work force — has grown by about 50 percent since the late 1980s.

The changes are tectonic, a result of social and economic processes unfolding over many decades. The data from most of these studies end in 2007 and 2008, before the recession’s full impact was felt. Researchers said that based on experiences during past recessions, the recent downturn was likely to have aggravated the trend.

“With income declines more severe in the lower brackets, there’s a good chance the recession may have widened the gap,” Professor Reardon said. In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income — the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted — and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.

Both studies were first published last fall in a book of research, “Whither Opportunity?” compiled by the Russell Sage Foundation, a research center for social sciences, and the Spencer Foundation, which focuses on education. Their conclusions, while familiar to a small core of social sciences scholars, are now catching the attention of a broader audience, in part because income inequality has been a central theme this election season.

The connection between income inequality among parents and the social mobility of their children has been a focus of President Obama as well as some of the Republican presidential candidates.

One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources. This has been particularly true as more parents try to position their children for college, which has become ever more essential for success in today’s economy.

A study by Sabino Kornrich, a researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies at the Juan March Institute in Madrid, and Frank F. Furstenberg, scheduled to appear in the journal Demography this year, found that in 1972, Americans at the upper end of the income spectrum were spending five times as much per child as low-income families. By 2007 that gap had grown to nine to one; spending by upper-income families more than doubled, while spending by low-income families grew by 20 percent.

“The pattern of privileged families today is intensive cultivation,” said Dr. Furstenberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The gap is also growing in college. The University of Michigan study, by Susan M. Dynarski and Martha J. Bailey, looked at two generations of students, those born from 1961 to 1964 and those born from 1979 to 1982. By 1989, about one-third of the high-income students in the first generation had finished college; by 2007, more than half of the second generation had done so. By contrast, only 9 percent of the low-income students in the second generation had completed college by 2007, up only slightly from a 5 percent college completion rate by the first generation in 1989.

James J. Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, argues that parenting matters as much as, if not more than, income in forming a child’s cognitive ability and personality, particularly in the years before children start school.

“Early life conditions and how children are stimulated play a very important role,” he said. “The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it’s a mistake.”

Meredith Phillips, an associate professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, used survey data to show that affluent children spend 1,300 more hours than low-income children before age 6 in places other than their homes, their day care centers, or schools (anywhere from museums to shopping malls). By the time high-income children start school, they have spent about 400 hours more than poor children in literacy activities, she found.

Charles Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” was published Jan. 31, described income inequality as “more of a symptom than a cause.”

The growing gap between the better educated and the less educated, he argued, has formed a kind of cultural divide that has its roots in natural social forces, like the tendency of educated people to marry other educated people, as well as in the social policies of the 1960s, like welfare and other government programs, which he contended provided incentives for staying single.

“When the economy recovers, you’ll still see all these problems persisting for reasons that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with culture,” he said.

There are no easy answers, in part because the problem is so complex, said Douglas J. Besharov, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. Blaming the problem on the richest of the rich ignores an equally important driver, he said: two-earner household wealth, which has lifted the upper middle class ever further from less educated Americans, who tend to be single parents.

The problem is a puzzle, he said. “No one has the slightest idea what will work. The cupboard is bare.”

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Don’t Pick a Fight with Clint Eastwood

By Ruben Navarrette, Jr., CNN Contributor

updated 7:53 AM EST, Wed February 8, 2012

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist.

San Diego, California (CNN) — Karl Rove is obviously a smart guy. And yet, recently, the political strategist and former senior adviser in the George W. Bush administration did something that wasn’t very smart. He picked a fight with Clint Eastwood.

I tell you, this story made my day.

Rove essentially threw down a penalty flag over, of all things, a Chrysler ad featuring the actor that aired during the Super Bowl. In the ad — titled “Halftime in America” — Eastwood praises the strength of the American spirit and the resilience of the American people in bouncing back from adversity. The symbol of that resilience: the U.S. auto industry.

The idea of the ad is to sell cars, of course. And maybe it’s also intended to give Americans a much-needed pep talk as they continue to wrestle with economic uncertainty.

But Rove thinks there is something more sinister at work here, and that the real purpose of the ad is to put in a plug for President Obama’s re-election.

The ad starts with Eastwood saying: “It’s halftime. Both teams are in their locker rooms discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.”

“It’s halftime in America, too,” he continues. “People are out of work, and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re gonna do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared because this isn’t a game. The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again.”

“That’s what we do,” Eastwood concludes. “We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, we’ll make one. Yea, it’s halftime in America. And our second half is about to begin.”

It’s a good, strong ad. But did you hear the political message? No? Me neither. All I heard was an upbeat message slickly produced and expertly delivered. Which raises the question: Even in a presidential election year, does every single thing have to be about politics?

For Rove, the answer seems to be “yes.” He told Fox News that he was “offended” by the ad, which he said was an example of “what happens when you have Chicago-style politics.”

Give me a break. It’s OK to not be impressed with the resurrection of the Motor City. But do you then have to respond by attacking the Windy City?

Rove thinks the ad is calling for Obama’s re-election, so we can start the “second half.”

But the political strategist does raise one legitimate concern. He is worried that Obama and his team are scheming to use “our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best-wishes of the management which is benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they’ll never pay back.”

Chrysler received, from the U.S. government, a bailout of about $12.5 billion; it has since repaid much of the money, leading the Treasury to estimate that taxpayers will take a loss of $1.3 billion.

Now, Rove suggests, as a kind of interest, Chrysler might feel obligated to also repay Obama for helping push through the bailout.

For his part, Eastwood denied there was any political motivation behind the ad.

Speaking to Ron Mitchell, a producer at Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” Eastwood insisted, “I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message … just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it.”

But, he added, if Obama or other elected officials “want to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it.”

It would be great if our leaders went for it. We need more optimism in American politics. There is too much doom and gloom, and too many people preaching that America’s best days are behind it. Everyone feels entitled to one thing or another, and everyone is a victim. People adopt the view that there is always a scam, a hidden message, or an ulterior motive. Someone is always trying to convince you of something or con you out of your life savings.

Rove has succumbed to that trend. He jumped to the wrong conclusion with no evidence to back up his claims, and he made himself look foolish. It’s OK to have politics on the brain, but there should be room for other things.

Sometimes, a Super Bowl ad is really just a Super Bowl ad. And the message behind this one is bigger than any one political figure.

After all, America may be headed into the second half. But no one says we can’t change quarterbacks.

Watch Chrysler’s SuperBowl ad: 


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Colbert v. the Court

Why, in the battle over Citizens United, the Supreme Court never had a chance.

By , Slate.com


The Supreme Court has always had its critics.  Chief Justice John Marshall had to contend with the temper of President Andrew Jackson (“John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it!”). And Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes went toe-to-toe with FDR, who wouldn’t let up with the court-packing. But in the history of the Supreme Court, nothing has ever prepared the justices for the public opinion wrecking ball that is Stephen Colbert. The comedian/presidential candidate/super PAC founder has probably done more to undermine public confidence in the court’s 2010 Citizens United opinion than anyone, including the dissenters. In this contest, the high court is supremely outmatched.

Citizens United, with an assist from a 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo, has led to the farce of unlimited corporate election spending, “uncoordinated” super PACs that coordinate with candidates, and a noxious round of attack ads, all of which is protected in the name of free speech. Colbert has been educating Americans about the resulting insanity for months now. His broadside against the court raises important questions about satire and the court, about protecting the dignity of the institution, and the role of modern media in public discourse. Also: The fight between Colbert and the court is so full of ironies, it can make your molars hurt.

When President Obama criticized Citizens United two years ago in his State of the Union address, at least three justices came back at him with pitchforks and shovels. In the end, most court watchers scored it a draw. But when a comedian with a huge national platform started ridiculing the court last summer, the stakes changed completely. This is no pointy-headed deconstruction unspooling on the legal blogs. Colbert has spent the past few months making every part of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Citizen United look utterly ridiculous. And the court, which has no access to cameras (by its own choosing), no press arm, and no discernible comedic powers, has had to stand by and take it on the chin.

It all started when Colbert announced that, as permitted by Citizens United, he planned to form a super PAC (“Making a better tomorrow, tomorrow”). As he explained to his viewers, his hope was that “Colbert Nation could have a voice, in the form of my voice, shouted through a megaphone made of cash … the American dream. And that dream is simple. That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they could grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections.”

Then last June, like a winking, eyebrow-wagging Mr. Smith, Colbert went to Washington and testified before the FEC, which granted him permission to launch his super PAC (over the objections of his parent company Viacom) and accept unlimited contributions from his fans so he might sway elections. (He tweeted before his FEC appearance that PAC stands for “Plastic And/Or Cash.”) In recent weeks, Colbert has run several truly insane attack ads (including oneaccusing Mitt Romney of being a serial killer). Then, with perfect comedic pitch, Colbert handed off control of his super PAC to Jon Stewart (lampooning the FEC rules about coordination between “independent PACS” and candidates with a one-page legal document and a Vulcan mind meld). Colbert then managed to throw his support to non-candidate Herman Cain in the South Carolina primary, placing higher on the ballot than Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman, and Michele Bachmann.

 The line between entertainment and the court blurred even further late last month when Colbert had former Justice John Paul Stevens on his show to discuss his dissent in Citizens United. When a 91-year-old former justice is patiently explaining to a comedian that corporations are not people, it’s clear that everything about the majority opinion has been reduced to a punch line.

Colbert took the mainstream by storm in interview after interview that schooled Americans about the insanity of Citizens United and garnered blowback from NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd, who complained that Colbert is “making a mockery of the system” and questioned whether the real agenda was to “educate the public about the dangers of money and politics … or simply to marginalize the Republican Party?” Then came the un-ironic defenses of the irony of Colbert and the obligatory navel-gazing about whether Colbert is in fact effecting real change or in peril of succumbing to “irony fatigue.”

At one level, this is all just comedy, and it’s hard to measure whether Colbert’s sustained attacks on the court’s campaign finance decisions are having any real impact, beyond making us laugh. On the other hand, when the New York Times declares that Colbert’s project is deadly serious, and it’s just the rest of politics that’s preposterous, something more than just theater is happening. I spoke to Trevor Potter, former chairman of the FEC and adviser to John McCain, and the man Colbert has designated his “personal lawyer,” about the consequences of Colbert’s assault on the campaign finance regime. Potter is very careful not to ascribe an end game to Colbert’s efforts but says that he has seen Colbert’s campaign finance crusade as an “opportunity to open up to the rest of the world what we lawyers already know: that the whole area of campaign finance is a mess.” He adds that Colbert’s antics are “having a real effect in terms of public understanding about how the system works” and getting people to start to think about how to fix it.

Potter is also emphatic that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision is not the sole cause of the problems he sees. (You can thank the media for its bang-up job of suggesting that the court singlehandedly designed super PACs with its decision in CU). Potter says Kennedy’s majority opinion is not so much disconnected from reality but, rather, “assumed that the world would work in the way he thought it would.” (In Kennedy’s fantasy, there would be no chance of corruption, no coordination between PACs and candidates, and full disclosure of corporate contributions.) And had the FEC done its job, had Congress passed better disclosure rules, had shareholders been better able to control corporate activity, the Kennedy decision would have been less monumental. (Potter is quick to point out that the court needn’t reverse itself completely for the country to fix the worst problems in the post-CU system.) Still he adds thatCitizens United “epitomizes the problem of having a court where no justice has ever run for any office, including dogcatcher.”

Of course that’s precisely the problem: The institutional aloofness that allowed the Roberts court to pen such a politically naive decision is the same blind spot that precludes them from even understanding, much less responding to, the media criticism. And as professor Lyrissa Lidsky, who teaches law at the University of Florida College of Law, reminded me last weekend, there is amazing language in Justice Kennedy’s majority in Citizens United about the need to elevate corporate speech to the same protected status as that enjoyed by the cable news shows. As Kennedy observed, “Speakers have become adept at presenting citizens with sound bites, talking points, and scripted messages that dominate the 24-hour news cycle. Corporations, like individuals, do not have monolithic views.”

In other words, (if you can stand the irony) in Citizens United, the Supreme Court empowered Colbert to create a super PAC so he could answer back to, well, folks like Stephen Colbert. The opinion even notes that “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington may be fiction and caricature; but fiction and caricature can be a powerful force.” Now, courtesy of Mr. Colbert, no one knows that better than the court itself.

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TED Talks

Here’s a link to a website that I love :  TED Talks.  It’s a simply awesome collection of speeches, talks, and conversations that last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes – perfect for our culture whose attention span has diminished since the onslaught of Twitter, Facebook statuses and 2-minute sound bites.

The topics of the talks run the gamut – from technology, to religion, to business, to adventure and compassion.  You click on the topic and TED.com will bring up all videos related to that theme.  And then you sit back and absorb some wisdom from some of the planet’s most brilliant, creative (and perhaps idealistic, but then again, what’s wrong with being idealistic) minds.  I’m hoping I can find one or two that fit into my class this semester and I can share them with my students.

The website began with offering just the twenty minute clips, but now they have TED Conventions, TED Conversations, and even TED grants and fellowships.  TED.com also offers iTunes Podcasts for free:  Here.

From the About TED webpage:

“TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.”


Here are a couple of TED Talks that I found interesting this morning while drinking my tea:

Lakshmi Pratury on Letter Writing: 

For any of you out there who still cling to the idea that Islam is only a religion of violence, please educate yourself. Also, these 16 and a half minutes may shed some light on just how central a role Jesus plays in Islam. As Imam Rauf implies, it’s time to let go of our egos and practice Compassion…


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Harder for Americans to Rise from Lower Rungs


NY Times:  January 4, 2012

WASHINGTON — Benjamin Franklin did it. Henry Ford did it. And American life is built on the faith that others can do it, too: rise from humble origins to economic heights. “Movin’ on up,” George Jefferson-style, is not only a sitcom song but a civil religion.

But many researchers have reached a conclusion that turns conventional wisdom on its head: Americans enjoy less economic mobility than their peers in Canada and much of Western Europe. The mobility gap has been widely discussed in academic circles, but a sour season of mass unemployment and street protests has moved the discussion toward center stage.

Former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a Republican candidate for president, warned this fall that movement “up into the middle income is actually greater, the mobility in Europe, than it is in America.” National Review, a conservative thought leader, wrote that “most Western European and English-speaking nations have higher rates of mobility.” Even Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who argues that overall mobility remains high, recently wrote that “mobility from the very bottom up” is “where the United States lags behind.”

Liberal commentators have long emphasized class, but the attention on the right is largely new.

“It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.”

One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.

At least five large studies in recent years have found the United States to be less mobile than comparable nations. A project led by Markus Jantti, an economist at a Swedish university, found that 42 percent of American men raised in the bottom fifth of incomes stay there as adults. That shows a level of persistent disadvantage much higher than in Denmark (25 percent) and Britain (30 percent) — a country famous for its class constraints.

Meanwhile, just 8 percent of American men at the bottom rose to the top fifth. That compares with 12 percent of the British and 14 percent of the Danes.

Despite frequent references to the United States as a classless society, about 62 percent of Americans (male and female) raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, according to research by the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Similarly, 65 percent born in the bottom fifth stay in the bottom two-fifths.

By emphasizing the influence of family background, the studies not only challenge American identity but speak to the debate about inequality. While liberals often complain that the United States has unusually large income gaps, many conservatives have argued that the system is fair because mobility is especially high, too: everyone can climb the ladder. Now the evidence suggests that America is not only less equal, but also less mobile.

John Bridgeland, a former aide to President George W. Bush who helped start Opportunity Nation, an effort to seek policy solutions, said he was “shocked” by the international comparisons. “Republicans will not feel compelled to talk about income inequality,” Mr. Bridgeland said. “But they will feel a need to talk about a lack of mobility — a lack of access to the American Dream.”

While Europe differs from the United States in culture and demographics, a more telling comparison may be with Canada, a neighbor with significant ethnic diversity. Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa, found that just 16 percent of Canadian men raised in the bottom tenth of incomes stayed there as adults, compared with 22 percent of Americans. Similarly, 26 percent of American men raised at the top tenth stayed there, but just 18 percent of Canadians.

“Family background plays more of a role in the U.S. than in most comparable countries,” Professor Corak said in an interview.

Skeptics caution that the studies measure “relative mobility” — how likely children are to move from their parents’ place in the income distribution. That is different from asking whether they have more money. Most Americans have higher incomes than their parents because the country has grown richer.

Some conservatives say this measure, called absolute mobility, is a better gauge of opportunity. A Pew study found that 81 percent of Americans have higher incomes than their parents (after accounting for family size). There is no comparable data on other countries.

Since they require two generations of data, the studies also omit immigrants, whose upward movement has long been considered an American strength. “If America is so poor in economic mobility, maybe someone should tell all these people who still want to come to the U.S.,” said Stuart M. Butler, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

The income compression in rival countries may also make them seem more mobile. Reihan Salam, a writer for The Daily and National Review Online, has calculated that a Danish family can move from the 10th percentile to the 90th percentile with $45,000 of additional earnings, while an American family would need an additional $93,000.

Even by measures of relative mobility, Middle America remains fluid. About 36 percent of Americans raised in the middle fifth move up as adults, while 23 percent stay on the same rung and 41 percent move down, according to Pew research. The “stickiness” appears at the top and bottom, as affluent families transmit their advantages and poor families stay trapped.

While Americans have boasted of casting off class since Poor Richard’s Almanac, until recently there has been little data.

Pioneering work in the early 1980s by Gary S. Becker, a Nobel laureate in economics, found only a mild relationship between fathers’ earnings and those of their sons. But when better data became available a decade later, another prominent economist, Gary Solon, found the bond twice as strong. Most researchers now estimate the “elasticity” of father-son earnings at 0.5, which means if one man earns $100,000 more than another, his sons would earn $50,000 more on average than the sons of the poorer man.

In 2006 Professor Corak reviewed more than 50 studies of nine countries. He ranked Canada, Norway, Finland and Denmark as the most mobile, with the United States and Britain roughly tied at the other extreme. Sweden, Germany, and France were scattered across the middle.

The causes of America’s mobility problem are a topic of dispute — starting with the debates over poverty. The United States maintains a thinner safety net than other rich countries, leaving more children vulnerable to debilitating hardships.

Poor Americans are also more likely than foreign peers to grow up with single mothers. That places them at an elevated risk of experiencing poverty and related problems, a point frequently made by Mr. Santorum, who surged into contention in the Iowa caucuses. The United States also has uniquely high incarceration rates, and a longer history of racial stratification than its peers.

“The bottom fifth in the U.S. looks very different from the bottom fifth in other countries,” said Scott Winship, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, who wrote thearticle for National Review. “Poor Americans have to work their way up from a lower floor.”

A second distinguishing American trait is the pay tilt toward educated workers. While in theory that could help poor children rise — good learners can become high earners — more often it favors the children of the educated and affluent, who have access to better schools and arrive in them more prepared to learn.

“Upper-income families can invest more in their children’s education and they may have a better understanding of what it takes to get a good education,” said Eric Wanner, president of the Russell Sage Foundation, which gives grants to social scientists.

The United States is also less unionized than many of its peers, which may lower wages among the least skilled, and has public health problems, like obesity and diabetes, which can limit education and employment.

Perhaps another brake on American mobility is the sheer magnitude of the gaps between rich and the rest — the theme of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which emphasize the power of the privileged to protect their interests. Countries with less equality generally have less mobility.

Mr. Salam recently wrote that relative mobility “is overrated as a social policy goal” compared with raising incomes across the board. Parents naturally try to help their children, and a completely mobile society would mean complete insecurity: anyone could tumble any time.

But he finds the stagnation at the bottom alarming and warns that it will worsen. Most of the studies end with people born before 1970, while wage gaps, single motherhood and incarceration increased later. Until more recent data arrives, he said, “we don’t know the half of it.”

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