Saturday, March 1, 2008

Retirement Racism

Although the South may never rise again, racism from as early as the 1940's is still affecting African Americans today. As if living through the segregation wasn't bad enough, many of these people are still dealing with the remnants of a racist society.

In Georgia, the first black police officers are now collecting pensions, but their benefits are significantly lower than white officers who worked for the same amount of time. The reason for this lies in an old Georgia law. Up until 1976, no black officers were allowed to join a state retirement fund. Therefore even though some of these officers may have been working for twenty years before the law was changed, they are unable to collect the benefits from those years of work.

As these officers retire, they are trying to get the Georgia Constitution amended to allow them to collect the pension from the years they worked before 1976, but the state's constitution doesn't allow the state to change a person's benefits after they have retired. A law has twice been passed through the Georgia House to amend the Constituiton, but it has stalled in the Senate.

You would think that amending the Constitution would be a fairly obvious way to help victims of discrimination. Many of the officers were subjected to abuse and humiliation, and it is a matter of justice that their pensions be payed in full for ALL of their years of work. I sincerely hope that future efforts to change the Georgia law will pass and retired black officers will get their much deserved reward.

Press Favoritism?

Lee Cowan, the NBC reporter assigned to Obama's campaign, was asked a question that had been on the minds of many journalists, candidates, and the public: Are journalists favoring Obama over Clinton in their election coverage?

"I don't think that it's kind treatment versus unkind treatment...[Obama] hasn't been around as long, so there isn't as much to pick at. He plays everything very cool. He's not as much of a lightning rod. His personality just doesn't seem to draw that kind of coverage," responded Cowan in attempt to explain why Obama has an advantage over Clinton (while at the same time casually praising Obama).

Hilary Clinton has certainly indicated that the press has been going easier on Obama. Clinton reprimanded Tim Russert and Brian Williams during the Cleveland debate on MSNBC for asking her a disproportionate amount of "first" questions. Apparently, many Democrats agree with Clinton. In a New York Times/CBS News phone poll, almost half of respondents who described themselves as voters in the Democratic primaries/caucuses believed that the media had been "harder" on Clinton than the other primary candidates, while only 10% thought that the media had been "harder" on Obama.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism, a research institute that studies weekly campaign coverage from 48 news sources, said that Obama had attained more prominent mentions in coverage that Clinton ever since mid-February.

Mike Glover, and Associated Press reporter covering the Clinton campaign, acknowledged that Clinton's loses have had an affect on media coverage. "We're covering a candidate who's lost 11 straight primaries. They're covering a candidate who has won 11 straight primaries."

Newsweek columnist Johnathan Alter, who has traveled with the Obama campaign, called Clinton's attempt to weigh stories as either favorable or unfavorable to her as "silly", saying "People got it into their head that if you say something good about a candidate, you have to say something bad about him, and if you don't that's not fair. What Clinton partisans wanted was for us to create a phony balance that was at odds with what our eyes were telling us. That's not the job of a journalist."

To view the article, click here.

Have you noticed any bias in the press favoring Obama? Favoring Clinton?

Can journalists be completely objective, or is it impossible to avoid some bias? (Keep in mind the movie we watched at the start of the year: Alexandra Pelosi's "Journeys with George").

How much harm is media bias capable of causing a candidate?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Controversial Endorsement for McCain

John McCain is refusing to renounce the endorsement of John Hagee, a prominent Texas televangelist. Hagee has been quoted by Democrats as saying the Catholic Church conspired with the Nazis against the Jews during WWII and that Hurrican Katrina was God's punishment for homosexual sin. Hagee has also been associated with demeaning comments aimed toward women and flippant remarks concerning slavery.

Not surprisingly, the Catholic League and Catholics United called on McCain to reject the endorsement. Catholics United's executive director, Chris Korzen, called on McCain to publicly address the issue, arguing that if McCain does so, "[McCain] will reaffirm to the American public and to Catholics that intolerance and bigotry have no place in American presidential campaigns."

Tom McMahon, executive director of the Democratic National Committee, voiced a similar opinion, stating, "Hagee's hate speech has no place in public discourse, and McCain's embrace of this figure raises serious questions about John McCain's character and his willingness to do anything to win."

McCain replied that "When [Hagee] endorses me, that does not mean that I endorse everything that he stands for and believes in... I don't have to agree with everyone who endorses my campaign." McCain further defended the endorsement, affirming, " no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee's views, which I obviously do not."

However, McCain did state that he was "proud" of Hagee's "spiritual leadership" in regard to Hagee's large congregation ( a 17,000-member San Antonio church).

To view the article, click here.

Is it appropriate for McCain to accept the endorsement of John Hagee?

How much affect do endorsements have on a candidate's success?

How large of a role should religion play in politics? Should a candidate's religious beliefs affect their policies?

Are Middle Names Fair Game?

During a Cincinnati rally, conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham referenced Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein. When asked about it later, John McCain felt the comments were inappropriate and refused to condone the behavior. Although this statement was well received by political pundits, it has left many people wondering why it is inappropriate to say Obama's middle name. Hussein simply translates to "beautiful," so it doesn't seem like it should be taboo to say it. By making it seem so illicit to reference his middle name, it seems like he is ashamed of it, and perhaps this is making it seem like a bigger issue than it should be. I don't think conservatives should be insinuating that his name makes him a terrorist of some sort, but I also don't agree that it should be such a big deal if it is said.

I feel Obama should address this topic and be proud of his name. By avoiding it and accepting the apology he's making it easier for opponents to use his name against him. He could have simply released a statement saying that he is proud of his heritage and what it means to him and I think voters easily would have accepted that he is a polar opposite of Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Is a Stagnant Economy on the Horizon?

In a news conference today President Bush and Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke both agreed that they did not see a recession in the near future. Both have been trying to prevent the countries first recession since 2001, but with the housing market crisis and the rising energy prices, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Bush considered the economy to be in a "slowdown," but not a recession, and the Federal Reserve is predicting increased unemployment and slow growth.

In response to whether he forsees stagflation, Bernanke replied that it seems unlikely despite the fact that there is inflation coupled with slowed growth. He felt that inflation would eventually slow down (and when would that be?), and admitted he was worried about how weak the U.S. economy is right now. Yet with the rising energy prices, inflation seems to be worsening. Instead of spending their money on other commodities, people are forced to spend more money filling up their cars with gas and heating their houses during the cold winter months.

Economic growth has been severely crippled. From July to September of 2007, the economy was growing at a rate of 4.9%. From then until the end of the year, this rate dropped to 0.6%, and is expected to go down to 0.4% by March. For the country to be considering in a recession, a rough estimates states that growth would have to decrease for six months in a row. By this estimate it seems that we are well on our way. All I can say is I hope Bush is right for once.

China Reconsidering One-Child Limit

Home to 1.3 billion people, China is the most populous nation. To curb this enormous population, China has been following strict family planning policies for the past three decades.

While most urban couples are limited to a single child (unless they pay expensive fines), farmers are generally allowed to have a second child if the first child is a girl. Minorities have the most freedom with their family planning; they are often allowed to have two or more children.

In the 1980's, the birth restrictions were often violently enforced, due to the fact that local officials received performance ratings based on how well residents adhered to the family planning specifications. Officials often forced women to abort fetuses that would have resulted in a 2nd child for the family, and many more men and women were forced to undergo sterilization operations. Today, most areas rely on fines to ensure compliance, but forced abortions are still present.

The result of the restrictions has been a drastic imbalance in the ratio of boys to girls, since many families place a higher value on sons and have used "selective abortions" to ensure that the child is a boy. While officials argue that the restrictions have prevented "400 million births and allowed the country to prosper and better live within its resources", China's fertility rate is extremely low and its population is aging rapidly. Already, the country's largest manufacturing centers are facing labor shortages since there is a lack of young workers. Young people seem eager to change the restrictions; surveys indicate that a vast majority of younger Chinese citizens favor being able to have two children.

Zhao Baige, vice minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission revealed at a news conference that government officials recognize that China must alter its current population-control policies. "I cannot answer at what time or how, but this has become a big issue among decision makers," said Baige. However, another official warned that change would be gradual and would not signify an elimination of family planning policies.

To view the article, click here.

Do you think the restrictions should be lifted, or does China's large population still warrant the family planning policies?

How would you feel about the restrictions policies if you were forced to comply with them?

Is it fair for the government to have such a large say in (arguably) one of the most important decisions of your life: to have children?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Debating Issues or Trading Insults?

Last night the Democratic frontrunners debated in Ohio. What could have been a meaningful debate about relevant issues mainly turned into a war of words. Clinton accused Obama of falsely reporting information about her health care plan, stating that it seemed almost as if a Republican had written the ads. Obama countered that that's how politics is played and America hasn't seen him complaining about the negative advertising from the Clinton campaign. Obama also graciously believed Clinton when she said she had nothing to do with photos circulating of him in traditional African attire.

Clinton also seemed to blame the moderators for her drop in popularity saying "In the last several debates I seem to get the first question all the time. I don't mind. I'll be happy to field it. I just find it curious if anybody saw "Saturday Night Live," maybe we should ask Barack if he's comfortable and needs another pillow." This jab seems to indicate that she feels the questioners have shown considerable favoritism toward Obama, which may have negatively affected her campaign.

Throughout the night, the debate was laced with barbed insults and rude comments ranging from voting records about the Iraq war to NAFTA. To me it seemed more like the debate turned into a 90 minutes of negative advertising for both sides than an actual debate. What did you think of the debate, and how did it translate into your feelings about the candidates?

Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions

Common Core, an organization that describes itself as a "new research and advocacy organization that will press for more teaching of the liberal arts in public education", commissioned a survey in which they asked 1,200 17-year-old teenagers "basic" history and literature questions. Some results:

- fewer than half of the teenagers surveyed knew when the Civil War was fought

-25% said Columbus sailed to the new world sometime AFTER 1750 (he sailed in 1492)

-25% were unable to identify Hitler as Germany's chancellor during WWII (they instead identified him as a munitions maker, an Austrian premier, and the German kaiser).

-4/10 could pick the name of Ralph Emerson's novel "about a young man's growing up in the South and moving to Harlem" (the novel is "Invisible Man").

-50% knew that Job, from the Bible, is known for his "patience in suffering".

-97% correctly identified Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as the speaker of "I have a dream."

-8/10 could identify the subject/basic plot of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"

Common Core characterized the survey results as an indication that a significant proportion of teenagers live in "stunning ignorance" of history and literature. President Bush's education law, No Child Left Behind, which holds schools accountable for student scores on annual tests in reading and math (but no other subjects), was cited as playing a role in the survey results because it "had led schools to focus to narrowly on reading an math" in addition to cutting school time devoted to other subjects.

Indeed, the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research group, estimated that based on one of its surveys, 62% of school systems had increased math or reading instruction by an average of three hours at the expense of time devoted to other subjects such as social studies and art.

To view the article online, click here.

Are all school subjects equally important, or not?

Were you surprised by the content of the aforementioned "basic" history and literature questions? Do you feel that they were truly "basic"?

Do you think too much time is devoted teaching math and reading AND/OR public schools focus too much on testing?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Helping the Refugees

In September of 2007, it was approximated that each month about 60,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes to avoid the war. While 2.2 have been forcibly displaced within Iraq, over 2.5 million have left for neighboring countries, especially Jordan and Syria. In Syria, over the course of just two years, a million refugees have entered the country (a staggering amount, considering that Syria's population is 19 million). This would be the equivalent of 15 million Iraqis coming to the United States.

Yet the United States has accepted far, far fewer than 15 million Iraqi refugees. In 2006, only 535 Iraqis were granted entry into the country, whereas before the war (in 2000), the U.S. admitted 3,145. Since the war began, only about 1,700 Iraqis have been resettled in America.

Iraqi refugees now have another challenge other than finding a place to reside: remaining in their new location . A U.N. refugee official warned of the possibility that Iraqi refugees might be expelled from the countries they have moved to unless the U.S. and Iraq help the refugees.

L. Craig Johnstone, deputy to the U.N. High Commission of Refugees, testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, mentioning that a "window of opportunity" now exists to help the refuges, a window created by the increased security in Iraq since the surge.
Johnstone warned that the "window of opportunity" should not be dismissed lightly, since he is uncertain "how long the generosity and tolerance of Iraq's neighbors, particularly Syria and Jordan, will last."

Johnstone also said that whether the "window of opportunity" shall remain "will largely depend on the leadership of the Iraqi government...". Representative William Delahunt called on America to assist as well, saying "It is believed by many that this is an American-made crisis. Our response must therefore by timely, decisive, and fully resourced--not simply because it is right and reflects our values, but because it will prevent further erosion of how we are viewed in the region."

Johnstone also warned "The lack of assistance to refugees and host communities in neighboring states could also lead to a mass (coerced) return to Iraq as the ability of host governments to provide assistance, as well as the coping mechanisms of refugees, incrementally fail."

To read more about the UN's desire to assist the refugees, click here.

To read more about the U.S. denying access to refugees, click here.

What do you think about the fact that the U.S. has admitted so few refugees in comparison to Syria?

How can the U.S. and Iraq help the refugees? How successful will these countries be with assisting the refugees?

When Teachers Strike Back

As the popularity of websites such as YouTube and MySpace continue to grow, there has been an increase in online pranking. We've all seen video parodies or photoshopped pictures of our teachers as we browse the internet. Although many of these pranks are simply meant to be funny, teachers are retaliating with civil law suits, suspensions, expulsions or even arrests. A National School Board's survey from 2006 reported that nearly 26 percent of teachers or principals have been targets of demeaning online ridicule. Some school districts such as one in Charlotte, N.C. have hired cyber crimes experts to crack down on students, and it seems that others may be following suit soon. Still many wonder if this is a violation of our First Amendment rights. Therefore, a new test may be on the horizon as to what constitutes online bullying and what can be restricted.

Although I understand that cyber bullying is a problem, I wonder what the test will restrict. Depending on the restrictions placed on what can be said online, people may have their speech severely limited. Also, if the government begins monitoring what is said online, I have to wonder what will be next.

How would you feel if you were expelled or arrested for this?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Photo Controversy

Barrack Obama's campaign is accusing Hillary Clinton's team of circulating a photo that depicts Obama wearing Muslim clothing as part of a goodwill gesture during an overseas trip. The picture appeared on the cover of the Drudge Report (a website with links to news sources and columnists) and was attributed to sources within the Clinton campaign (though no specific names were mentioned).

The Clinton campaign did not issue a denial, but rather a statement which called the Obama team's accusation "an obvious and transparent attempt to distract" voters. Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson asserted that he had not been aware of the photo's release, nor was the photo sanctioned by the campaign. However, he did admit that "We have over 700 people on this campaign and I'm not in a position to know what each one of them may or may not have done."

Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, said of Senator Clinton, "This is part of a disturbing pattern that led her county chairs to resign in Iowa, her campaign chairman to resign in New Hampshire, and it's exactly the kind of divisive politics that turns away Americans of all parties and diminishes respect for America in the world."

Emails falsely claiming that Obama is a Muslim had previously been circulated by some Clinton campaign volunteers in Iowa and New Hampshire. The aforementioned volunteers later left her campaign in early 2008.

Obama has strived to overcome the rumor that he is a Muslim, since many Americans feel uneasy about electing a president who is not a member of a more traditional religion (remember the intense focus on the fact that Mitt Romney is Mormon?). Indeed, every president except for John F. Kennedy (a Catholic) has been a Protestant.

It is important to keep in mind that last week, it was Hillary Clinton's campaign pointing fingers at the Obama team, whom they accused of circulating mailings that spread "lies" about her positions on universal health care and the North American Free Trade Agreement. View the article here.

Do you think that both sides have blame to share, or is one candidate's offense worse than the other?

Do you think either Obama's or Clinton's campaign will be affected by this?

How do you feel about the fact that our country has had only one non-Protestant president?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Raul to succeed in Cuba

Today Raul Castro was chosen to succeed his older brother Fidel Castro as Cuba's new president. Cuba's National Assembly, the 614 member legislature confirmed the 31 members of the Council of State and selected Raul as President. Previously the 76 year old Raul had been the country's defense minister, but he has had additonal powers since 2006 when Fidel first entered the hospital for intestinal surgery. Despite saying that he would be would transition the country to "a better form of socialism and...toward a more democratic society," Raul basically created the Cuban army and has been its leader for the past fifty years. Therefore the truth behind these statements remains in question. Still, many U.S. politicians view this as a positive change. The Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Joe Biden believes that the U.S. should consider opening relaitons with Cuba, and others, such as Republican Policy Committee Chair Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison agree. Biden has even spoken about lifting the embargo on the condition that Cuba address the situation of political prisoners as well as other problems under the Castro administration.
Do you think Raul's administration will be a positive change for Cuba, or do you feel that he will simply follow in his brother's footsteps?

Ralph Nader for President

Ralph Nader, who turns 74 this week, announced today that he will be entering the presidential race as an independent. Many Americans, however, are still bitter about the 2000 election in which Nader's candidacy allegedly pulled support away from Al Gore and thus played a role in helping George W. Bush win the election. Nader ran again for president in 2004, but won only .3% of the vote.

Presidential hopefuls Clinton and Obama seemed scornful of Nader. Obama, recalling the 2000 election, argued that Nader "thought that there was no difference between Al Gore and George Bush, and eight years later, I think people realize that Ralph did not know what he was talking about."

Clinton, too, criticized Nader's past bid for presidency, saying "I remember when he ran before. It didn't turn out very well for anybody--especially our country."

The fear that Nader's candidacy could hurt the Democrats in the general election was echoed by Huckabee, who seemed pleased at Nader's decision to run. "I think it always would probably pull votes away from the Democrats and not the Republicans, so naturally, Republicans would welcome his entry into the race."

Do you think Nader's bid for the presidency will have an effect on the general election, positive or negative?

How successful do you think Nader will be at garnering support?

For more information on Ralph Nader's campaign, click here. For more information on his bid for the presidency, click here.

March 4th?

As Hilary has lost 11 states in a row now, many begin to question, how long will Clinton stay in the race? Analysts from the washington post and abc's 'this week' tv show, beleive it is very possible that Hilary could get out if she loses Texas and Ohio. They say, if Hilary wants to stay in this race, she needs to win these states by atleast 20 or 25 points.

Do you beleive that Hilary should or will get out if she loses in either Texas or Ohio? Or do you think it is likely she'll stay in race until the end?

The Clinton and Obama will have a final debate before the March 4th primaries on Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio. I'd expect Hilary to come out firing to show the public she is still in the race, despite being on ropes in what seems to be the end of her run.