Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Public Schools: Jobs Factory or Something More

Many people believe, rightly so I think, that the recent tax compromise signed by President Obama will give the deficit hawks something to rally around. However, I hope that we can be certain that of all things, education funding is safe. After all, only the most callous among us would dare to compromise the future of our youth by stealing away the funds teachers need to shape young minds, right. Maintaining current funding levels for education is good, but I truly believe that our education system needs a fundamental overhaul in order to make the American Dream a reality for millions of children and safeguard the nation's economic future. This is an obvious political and social win-win. Education policy seem like it should be a last bastion of bipartisanship, and there are so many people who have great ideas about how to make our education system more like better-performing ones abroad. So why has there been so little progress in the past 50 years. We are stuck with a broken system which is propped up by people who use the rhetoric of unions, the holy grail of workers' rights, to argue that vast changes to the status quo would jeopardize the job security of teachers. This is nonsense. We are always going to need teachers. We just need to find a way to attract talented ones and help them do a better job.

Education policy has been in the news recently because of Mark Zuckerburg's 100 million dollar philanthropic donation to the Newark, New Jersey school system. Despite Governor Chris Christie's record education cuts in New Jersey, Zuckerburg says that he believes in the leadership of Christie and Corey Booker, the mayor of Newark and possibly a future presidential candidate. Hopefully this money will make a real difference in Newark, which is saddled with one of the most notoriously under-performing school systems in the United States. Of the 15 elementary schools, according to 2008 statistics, 11 were categorized as having 80% of students reading at least one year below grade level. Of the comprehensive high schools (not magnet schools), an average of 70% of 9th grade students test below the sixth grade level. Clearly this is an abominable record and views about how to turn around under performing school systems vary widely.

Much has been written about the success of charter schools in cities like Newark and especially New York. Essentially, advocates of charter schools are selling school choice. Charter schools are unhindered by what many argue are clunky and onerous policies mandated by teacher union contracts, allowing them to set more rigorous standards for teachers in terms of hours and student performance. Many charter schools in New York have extended hours and robust after-school programs. Charter schools are undeniably in demand, as evidenced by the waiting lists of over 6000 for Newark's successful charter schools. The lotteries used to admit students to New York's charter schools result in thousands of disappointed parents each time they are held. Critics of Charter schools contend that they benefit from parents who are passionate about education, fewer special education students and smaller class sizes. The point about class sizes is simply false. Most of New York's charter schools have class sizes equally as bloated as traditional public schools. Many factors may contribute to the success of charter schools, but the statistics paint a fairly obvious picture. A 2008 study by a EducationNext, a respected education journal, found clear gains in both reading and math scores for students enrolled in New York's charter schools as compared to students from traditional public schools.

As much as I wonder how critics of charter schools justify their vehement opposition to programs that have proven successful, I think that the debate about our nations public schools is a huge positive. Put simply, the United States does not have a good public school system. According to 2006 statistics, published by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, the graduation rate for U.S students is lower and is rising more slowly than the majority of developed countries. Rates of current participation suggest that even more countries are likely to catch up and surpass the United States graduation rates. Out of the 30 OECD countries taking part in PISA 2003 (Program for International Student assessment)2003, the average performance for the United States was statistically significantly higher only than that of five countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Mexico and Turkey) and statistically lower than that of 20 countries. I know these statistics are a bit outdated, but one could go on and on finding statistics that prove the same point.

The way public schools are organized has essentially stayed the same since World War II. Curriculum has been overhauled many times, but the system has generally remained stagnant. Teacher unions and school administrations essentially operate the same now as they did 50 years ago. This model was adopted from manufacturing; teacher unions and automotive worker unions share many common roots. The durability of the education system can't possibly arise from its success, but because the public is comfortable with it since it is what we grew up with. I think that one of the biggest problems is that we need to stop treating our teacher-development and pay-scale systems like the auto industry, or any industrial manufacturing industry does. Education is fundamentally different than manufacturing, so why do teacher union contracts contain details about how many minutes teachers are required to spend on each topic. I am very pro-union. Heck, my dad is the president of one, and I know how important it is for unions to fight for a favorable deal from out-of-touch administrations seem as though they'd like to run the organization into the ground if given the chance. But we need a system which protects the freedom of teachers within the classroom, but does not protect the jobs of teachers who put forth minimum effort. Teachers should be given incentives to be exceptional. I think that recent initiatives in Washington D.C which provides higher pay ceilings for teachers who opt out of the tenure track sound promising and should be studied carefully.

I went to an awesome public school, but even at my suburban, middle class Spackenkill High School which sends students to the Ivy League every year I saw the dead weight among the faculty. Some teachers were amazing and probably deserved more generous salaries than they received, but some were frankly awful. My brother has not written a full-length essay in his A.P English class this year. This is a class that is supposed to gain you college credit, but the class is just a joke. My friends and I used to joke that we were taught AP U.S History by Peter Jennings, the TV personality, because my teacher literally just put on documentaries narrated by him for the entire second semester of the year. The guy taught us nothing himself. Tenure exists on college campuses to give professors academic freedom, the assurance that no official is going to censure class material. But it seems to me that tenure is way to easy to achieve in public schools and creates dead weight among faculty.

If a politician, especially an urban one, so much as suggests tampering with the tenure system for teachers, he/she will face fierce, united opposition from the teachers unions. But I think we need to have an informed debate about the role that tenure plays for public school teachers. We need a real personnel-development system which seeks to do more than protect the jobs of teaching professionals but to motivate them to do their jobs better and to adopt proven methods.

In a place like Finland, which has a far superior public education system, money is invested in supporting teachers so that they can develop innovative teaching strategies and evaluating their methods, telling them what they are doing right and what needs to change. I know how evaluations worked in my school. An administrator would come in for about 20 minutes for only once a year because that was what was mandated by the union contract, and the teacher would soup up an invigorating lesson for those 20 minutes, pass his/her inspection, and then exclaim to the students how relieved the were that it was over. I understand that evaluations might be stressful, but I see nothing wrong with a system employed in many charter schools, where administrators are free to observe teachers on any day without notice, and use that privilege liberally. In a recent Newsweek interview, Bill Gates, who has invested millions in education said “They [Finland] actually run a personnel system, which is kind of an amazing thing. You have a review, and you’re told what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. If over a period of time you’re not improving, then you move to another profession. So, Finland, Korea, Singapore—they run teacher personnel systems. In the U.S. we have one of the most predictive personnel systems mankind ever invented—try to remember how many years you’ve worked, and you will know your salary.”

At this point, any changes to the teaching industry will stagnate as long as we don't have proven, widely accepted methods for evaluating teachers. This is the only way to avoid unfairness. An article in this morning's New York Times spoke about how the data used to evaluate New York teachers based upon their test scores has an extremely high margin of error and is full of errors. For example, many teachers are ranked for teaching subjects that they have never even taught. This is not efficient, and if we are ever going to make an honest effort to make teaching into a more merit-based profession, and offer incentives to bright, talented and motivated teachers, we need a better way to evaluate teachers and their methods. Its not enough to simply grade teachers according to how well they can teach students to pass watered-down standardized exams. After No Child Left Behind, teacher accountability is a dirty word. The truth is that it is not fair to judge teachers on how well they can teach students to pass a watered-down standardized exam. We need an evaluation system that incorporates holistic as well as statistical measures, and gives teachers a real idea of what they are doing right and wrong. Along with the refining of statistical models based upon test scores, I think that in-person evaluations conducted not by career administrators but by career teachers should be the centerpiece of this effort. Say that I'm a sheltered suburban kid who doesn't know a thing about the issues facing real struggling schools, and I might agree with you. But I know the huge disparity among my own public school teachers, and I truly believe that if some of my poorer teachers had been given advice by some of my exceptional ones, and had worked under a system that rewarded good teaching as opposed to passing tests, I would have had a more stimulating education.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All I Want For Christmas

This has been a great day. I finally finished all my papers, there was pesto sauce in the dining hall at dinner, oh, and THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES VOTED TO REPEAL THE BAN ON OPENLY GAY MEN AND WOMEN SERVING IN THE MILITARY! The final vote was 250-175. I have been incredibly pessimistic about Washington's ability to achieve anything lately, and the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts didn't help the situation. Just in time for Christmas, though, the end of an incredibly backwards and archaic practice is in sight.

We're not out of the woods yet, the bill still has to go through the Senate before getting to President Obama for final sign-off, but it seems completely inconceivable to me that anyone could still support the ban, even after the results of the survey were released. Representative Jared Polis of Colorado summed it up nicely, saying DADT is the only law "in the country that requires people to be dishonest or be fired if they choose to be honest."

In a development that surprised no one, the DADT survey that polled soldiers on the effects of serving with closeted and open gays, revealed that 70% of the troops have worked with gay soldiers in the past, and 92% said it would not impact the way they do their job or interact with their fellow soldiers. Essentially, soldiers in a gunfight just don't care whether the soldier covering their back is attracted to men or women or both.

Despite the survey, Republicans in the Senate are sure to put up a fight. John McCain, for one, has voiced concern about the survey results, and made it clear that he does not support a repeal of of DADT. Nevertheless, Democrats are "very confident" they will get the 60 votes necessary. Hopefully, lame duck senators who have nothing to do will quit playing the politics game and throw their vote behind the bill. In addition, Obama should make a direct appeal to the Senate to put aside petty politics and listen to reason this holiday season. The people who defend our country should not be punished for exercising their right to freedom and loving whomever they choose.

So I know what my Christmas wish will be, that America lives up to its historic identity as a progressive country that celebrates freedom, and that we repeal DADT once and for all. To see where we stand on LGBT rights compared to other countries, check out this site or for more information on the repeal, follow the links below.

The U.S. Senate passed the DADT repeal 65-31 on Saturday, ending the 17 year ban with the help of moderate republicans including Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and Scott Brown. A great way to kick off Christmas break!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Watching China Win


Wind turbine in Chinese  風力發電機組.  Time to start learning green tech in Chinese!! Every month the US waits to implement policy we fall behind the future largest economic power in the world.  Pushing business to internalize the costs of its environmental externalities, in tandem with research and development incentives in green tech will position the US economy for long-term success.

Did you know that, according to the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car, Toyota developed the Prius out of panic that they had to compete in the electric market in the United States after California passed the Zero-Emissions Vehicle mandate in 1990?  Because GM made a lower margin on electric vehicles and didn't think they were profitable yet across the country they fought hard against the mandate, along with other automakers, and were successful.  The power of policy is inexplicable in developing the green economy.

While climate change is a threat to our well-being it is not a limit on our economy! Clean energy technology might be the only industry capable of driving a new decade of economic growth. Much like the internet, before that computers, and before that bioengineering, we now have an opportunity to lead the world in technology. Unfortunately, this country cannot look past five years in making decisions. Coal states and global warming skeptics will cripple our potential to take the lead in the economy of the future.  The debate needs to move from whether or not global warming is happening, to how can public policy enhance the competitiveness of US businesses in green technology.

Why is the promotion of a carbon tax or a gasoline tax limited to the world's best thinkers and economists?  If the trajectory of discussion does not change, and policy remains stagnant, we should all be prepared to take a seat and watch China dominate the green revolution.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Glimmer of Hope

In the dismal time that is the lead up to finals week, I turned on the TV to watch tonight's Daily Show, expecting what has become the norm, laughter that covers up tears. And that was just what I got in the beginning of the first segment, as we examined the misery that is the Obama tax cuts for the wealthy. (P.S. We need to cal them that from now on, so that Republicans have no choice but to oppose them next time)

But then precisely 4 minutes into the show, something magical happened. John Oliver stumbled upon something truly phenomenal. Bi-partisanship. I'm not talking "we'll co-sponsor one bill together and then resume hating each other". No, this was far bigger; THESE TWO MEN CAMPAIGNED TOGETHER. How could they do this? What campaign slogan did they use if it wasn't, "Hey I'm not as bad as that other guy"?

It turns out they remembered the most classic American slogan, that everyone seems to have forgotten, "Don't be an asshole." Shocking, I know.

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Also, give those guys credit for really understanding how to handle a comedy news interview. A lot of people seem to miss the point and try to play it too straight, but these guys rolled with it and did some stuff that must have seemed a little ridiculous at the time. Well done, good sirs. Thank you for restoring in me some hope that someday our political system can actual work for the benefit of the people.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Christmas Miracle... Sort Of

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and apparently he reads Lefty’s.

You probably don't remember my November post bemoaning the impending recount in this year’s Minnesota gubernatorial race, but it appears that my appeal to Santa did not go unheeded. That’s right, ol’ Chris Kringle took matters into his own hands and brought the good people of Minnesota a special gift earlier today; a Governor!

It was almost the year without a Governor, until that jolly old elf (and I don’t mean Dennis Kucinich) intervened.

This morning Republican candidate Tom Emmer conceded the election and waived his right to request a recount. I applaud Emmer for recognizing the reality of the situation and taking the honorable course of action.

The results of Emmer’s announcement are the discontinuation of the automatic recount, which had already begun, and the canvassing board’s certification of Mark Dayton as the winner of the gubernatorial race. Mark Dayton technically has to wait one week before he is the Governor-elect of Minnesota and can thus assume the office on January 3rd. The week allows for any Minnesotan voter to file a lawsuit contesting the decision, but since Emmer waived this right it is unlikely anyone will do so. Nobody wants an unnecessary recount.

Now Minnesotans can begin the new year with a governor and an opportunity to work together for the improvement of our state. Santa can only do so much; at some point it falls on the elected officials and the people to make sure the needs of the state trump politics.

This concept also applies on the national level. President Obama needs to work with the new Republican majority in the House to pass legislation that will help the American people. It should be something of a new year’s resolution, but ideally one that is kept. The responsibility for compromise also falls on the shoulders of Republican leadership. They may have managed to win votes by being a wet blanket party and opposing the Obama administration at every turn, but now that the people have given them more political power they will be expected to actually accomplish something and actually propose legislation that helps the American people.

Peace on earth, good will toward men, and thank you for a governor!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reflecting on the Tax Cuts

As President Obama prepares to walk back on one of his signature campaign promises, I want to bring your attention to a quote from Alexis de Tocqueville; a chilling forecast of the political reality we inhabit.

"When the taste for physical gratification among a democratic people has grown more rapidly than their education and their experience of free institutions, the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint at the sight of the new possessions they are about to obtain. In their intense and exclusive anxiety to make a fortune they lose sight of the close connection that exists between the private fortune of each and the prosperity of all."
-Alexis de Tocqueville

Paul Krugman's thoughts

A retiring Republican Senator taking a stand against keeping the tax cuts

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

GM Says Thank You America

So as a New England Patriots fan, I naturally spent part of my Thanksgiving watching the football game against the Detroit Lions. It was a pretty good game, especially because the Patriots won. But one advertisement that I saw was more memorable than any play in the game. Given that Detroit is the city of the automobile, it's not too surprising that GM ran a big ad during the Thanksgiving Day game. But this ad truly surprised me and grabbed my attention. Take a look:

This ad really stuck with me all weekend. If the banks had tried to run it, well, it would have been obnoxious. But GM was a casualty and not an instigator of our financial collapse. And the truth is, they're right. Everyone falls, and most of the time we need help getting back up. Regardless of your feelings on the TARP program, whether you think it was Bush's failure, Obama's failure, Bush's success, or Obama's success (I've heard at least one person say every single one of these), the logic of this ad still holds true. But our government seems to have forgotten what it knew two years ago.

At midnight tonight, our government is poised to turn its back on the million of unemployed Americans who still need help getting back up. They want jobs, but none are available. They aren't waiting for something better. They are struggling to survive. And when unemployment benefits aren't extended, a motion which will add a mere $5 billion dollars to the deficit, these people will have nothing to live on. For the record, extending the Bush tax cuts for people making MORE THAN $250,000, which the Republicans hope to do, will add $700 billion to the deficit over the next ten years. That means it costs $10 billion dollars more a year to provide extra cash to people making a quarter of a million dollars, than it does to help millions of unemployed Americans survive while looking for jobs. And yet Republicans are concerned solely about the deficit when it comes to the unemployed and solely about the economy when it comes the top 2%. The hypocrisy is glaring.

Everyone falls, and everyone needs help getting back up. If you're making over $250,000 a year, you aren't falling. If you have no job and no source of income, then you are. GM and the banks got the bailout they needed to prevent a complete collapse of our economy. And they are paying the money back. And now the American people are asking for the same kind of help. They'll pay that the money back, by spending it and stimulating the economy during an important Christmas season. Should they be turned down, so that the wealthiest 2% can lavish themselves and add more to their bank accounts?

Governments are designed to do two essential things: Protect their citizens from "falling" in many different ways, and to help them get back up when they do. Ours failed at protecting us from an economic collapse, but if they fail to help us recover from that collapse, then truly America is lost.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Food For Thought...

...Because I'm sure we all didn't eat enough yesterday. I had to read this poem for one of my courses, and it got me thinking about Michelle Obama's infamous campaign quote ("for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country"), about the very conflicting ways I love America and about the reality that America will never be exactly what we want it to be. All the more reason to keep fighting.

A patriot is not a weapon. A patriot is one who wrestles for the
soul of her country
as she wrestles for her own being, for the soul of his country
(gazing through the great circle at Window Rock into the sheen
of the Viet Nam Wall)
as he wrestles for his own being. A patriot is a citizen trying to
from the burnt-out dream of innocence, the nightmare
of the white general and the Black general posed in their
to remember her true country, remember his suffering land:
that blessing and cursing are born as twins and separated at birth
to meet again in mourning
that the internal emigrant is the most homesick of all women and
of all men
that every flag that flies today is a cry of pain.
Where are we moored?
What are the bindings?
What behooves us?

from 'An Atlas of the Difficult World' by Adrienne Rich

Sarah Palin's patriotism is not the only patriotism. We may be a country in turmoil, but I'm confident we can work it out, we can find our bearings and rebuild the American Dream. We can recover from the last decade and the last wars. Midterm elections were less than ideal, but the only way to go is forward. Let's wake America up to the reality and hope inherent in our messy country. So a day late: I'm thankful to all Lefty's writers and readers for giving me hope that we can emerge from the bipartisanship, the fighting, the recessions, the inequalities. You make me believe that America is still a land of achievable dreams.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Travels or Intimate Moments?

I don't know about anybody else, but I am so ready for Thanksgiving. I can't wait to meet up with the family and such. And while some people complain about air travel, as a fairly frequent flier, I've never had too many problems with the system. Wait a second though, what's this I hear about new TSA procedures...

Somehow Lefty's is the only blog in the country that hasn't started talking about the body scanners and pat downs yet, so I figure while we're all preparing to travel, we should know exactly what we're walking into.

Now, seriously, I am a frequent flier, and I really have found that on the whole the system has been fine. The TSA and I are chill. I love the expression on their face, when they see my license with that awkward picture from when I shaved my head... I can remember when we first had to put liquids in the checked bag. And next shoes had to come off. But always it felt like they just wanted make things a little more challenging and annoying. I always love being fully ready and standing behind people who forget about the change in their pockets until the last second. Minor inconveniences from the TSA, I can live with that. They've crossed the line, between so much security that we've lost freedom. Or they hadn't until recently...

For those who have been under a rock, the TSA has implemented new full body scanners at major airports to make sure you can't hide ANYTHING. Some find it a little embarrassing to have a random TSA agent look at a naked picture of them. Honestly, I'm just flattered. Or I would be, if I wasn't somewhat worried about radiation. They say the radiation levels are perfectly safe, but when it comes to radiation, the mother of all cancer, I'd rather avoid unnecessary risks. Fortunately the TSA is prepared, and allows me to avoid the look-at-me-naked machine. I can opt out, and let them grope me up and down, paying special attention to the private parts. I know we've encountered each other a lot in the airport over the years, but TSA, you rascal, I think this could be a little inappropriate before we at least do dinner and a movie.

Okay, kidding aside now, I'm very disturbed by this whole process. I'm glad I'm going through security at South Bend airport because we know they won't have one of these scanners. But what about on the trip back? I have no desire to go through a radiation machine and be seen naked, nor do I want another guy feeling all around my junk. But because this is America, I have no choice. Wait, what? When did America become the scared, cowardly, b**** of the world? It's not a cliche, when you let the terrorists make you do things that are unconstitutional, and against your principles, they've won. Their goal is to use TERROR to make you do things you wouldn't normally do. Like cause endless humiliation to people just trying to get home on the holidays.

I hate to sound insensitive, but it's time we looked past the emotional baggage of 9/11 and examined the statistics. On one day approximately 3,000 people were killed by terrorists. In the entire history of air travel, that is the number of passengers who have been killed by terrorists. It was a tragic day. So is every day in America, because over 30,000 people die in car crashes EVERY SINGLE YEAR. That would be 10 times the number of people who died on 9/11. Now we could decide to place stricter limits on people who can drive. We could require that every car get an inspection every week. Or we could do what we've done, accept some level of risk and educate ourselves and continue on with life.

And that's the crux of it, we decided long ago in this country, that we can't stop every car accident, just like we can't stop every homicide. Not without taking extreme measures that limit freedoms. Curfews and a police state could bring the murder rate down, but we know that the loss of freedom is unacceptable. Yet, when it comes to airline travel, suddenly our common sense goes out the window. For an incredibly marginal perceived semblance of added security in an airport, we'll sell our dignity. I have a better chance of being hit by a lightening than my plane has of being attacked by terrorists. And that will be true regardless of whether the TSA feels me up or not.

I hope I don't have to be placed in this awkward situation this weekend. I wish I could just boycott the whole process, but I have no desire to get fined big time, and I have no other viable means of travel. But I can guarantee this, if after all my experiences flying into and out of Washington DC, if the TSA decides I need a special random screening, I plan to make the process as laborious and painful for them as is humanly possible.

Monday, November 22, 2010


On 9/11 I was an eighth-grade student whose ISTEP testing was interrupted by a national tragedy. Little did I know, it would be the classmates by my side who would go on to fight in the wars yet to come. I believe keeping my classmates, our community and nation secure should remain a top national priority.

The U.S. Senate should take a strong, principled stand for America’s security by voting “yes” to move forward on ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

I have been especially pleased with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar’s leadership on this important measure. Now is the time for the entire Senate to move forward on New START, putting aside party politics to confront nuclear weapons dangers. This treaty takes an essential step forward in reducing Russia’s still enormous nuclear stockpile. It also enables us to “trust, but verify” with inspections and a state of the art verification system providing transparency and stability with Russia. A chorus of bipartisan experts and our nation’s military leaders support ratification.

We need 67 senators to vote for New START when it reaches the Senate floor. I want Senator Lugar and Evan Bayh to prove they recognize the safety and security of the people of Indiana and the United States is a top priority by working to ensure that this vital treaty is promptly ratified.

Originally Printed in the South Bend Tribune Voice of the People, Nov. 22, 2010: http://www.southbendtribune.com/article/20101122/Opinion/101129850/1063/Opinion

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Being a Democrat Stands for Something

Clearly, today was a big day. G.M is now a publicly traded company on Wall Street again, and I think this proves, unequivocally, that the G.M bailout was a success. It may have been a struggle to streamline their business model, and many people did lose their jobs in the process, but the bottom line is that the bailout worked. I don't care whether Texas Governor Rick Perry was in front of cameras today proclaiming that the government should not have bailed out the company because companies are supposed to go bankrupt when they make bad decisions. Anyone who questions whether the Obama administration made the right decision is simply not looking at the facts. Also today, Democratic leaders announced that there would be a vote on keeping tax cuts for the MIDDLE class only, which should force Republicans to at least go on record that they support giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, even as they remained hyper-focused on trimming the deficit. I didn't think I would say this two weeks ago, but I'm cautiously optimistic, because I believe that the Democrats are standing up for legitimately good ideas. Clearly, it's going to be a lot tougher to get things done in these next two years, but Democrats should not shy away from the ideas that define them.

We've all heard so much about how the Obama administration has not done a good enough job of publicizing and advertising the legislation that has been passed. There's been real progress in the last two years, and even though it may take a few years for the majority of Americans to start seeing the effects of healthcare reform and other legislation, that doesn't mean that Democrats should hunker down and expect to have to submit to Republicans on every issue. We still have the President and one house of Congress. I'm not so naive to think that compromise won't be necessary, but from a purely political perspective it is much better for the Democrats to go on the record supporting good policies so that they can point to what could have been accomplished if it weren't for Republican obstructionism.

I'm ranting here, but its not the President's fault that the Republicans have supported hardly any policies in the past year that would be good for ordinary middle class people in the name of political obstructionism. The Democrats offered up plenty. A good example is the Consumer Financial Protection, designed to protect consumers from being swindled by greedy credit card companies or being pushed into signing for higher mortgages. Can you imagine Republicans ever tying the hands of big business like that so that you don't get cheated out of your life savings?

Politics are politics, so compromise is the name of the game, but when John Boehner goes on the TV and tells me that he is going to bring a new way of doing business to Washington by borrowing money from China to give tax cuts to billionaires, I want to spit in his face. It is so frustrating as an observer to see that there is this sort of expectation in Washington that liberals will capitulate to movement conservatives who stand firmly on their principles. Why can't Democrats be the ones framing the debates on things like job-creation, the environment, and taxation. There are numerous issues that cut to the core of the Democratic agenda like controlling carbon emissions, repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell and trying to bridge the out of control income gap between the wealthy and the poor, that are popular with much of the country.

Take immigration reform. Some of what I would consider the uglier aspects of our society are against it, but many polls show that a majority of the country supports comprehensive immigration reform. The Democrats have a responsibility to the Latino base to try to do something on this issue, and they can at least mount an aggressive campaign to inform the American public that it makes zero economic sense and is un-American to not allow a path to citizenship for illegals already living here. The bill might not pass but I'd like to see the issue be raised by the Party that is actually looking to move America forward instead of by the one that wants to discriminate against Latinos.

Look at Green Energy. Ask anyone who knows anything about the global economy, and they will tell you that in order for America to lead the world in the 21st century it has to become a technological leader in green energy. For a party that professes to care so much about not placing a burden on future generations, how can the Republican party want to block this from happening. They won't tell you that they want to block it, but a look into campaign contributions from oil companies might tell another story. This is a huge issue that the Democrats can take ownership of, and your heart has to tell you that they can win the public battle on this issue, because it makes so much sense to invest in this country's green energy future.

This past election taught us that the Republican party is exceptionally good at mucking up the system long enough to mount campaigns against good legislation (Death panels anyone???) However, it can still be politically savvy for Democrats to support good legislation that will provide real change. Its defeatist to admit that standing up on principle for bills actually based in reason and designed to protect the average American, like the Financial Regulatory Reform legislation, has to cost you in the next election cycle. Do that and you're basically admitting that the system is completely broken. If Democrats have to learn anything from Republicans its how to win the battle in the court of public opinion.

I think what many of us have felt over the past two years is maybe a sense of disappointment, or frustration about the beating the administration has been taking over the airwaves. I know my heart sunk a little bit every time I read that the President's approval rating dipped another such and such percentage points. The enthusiasm was gone. Obama was governing in prose after campaigning in poetry, and it was rocky. A lot got done but it didn't feel like that all the time. With a little more perspective, maybe we can see these next two years as a series of small successes. This vote on the Bush tax cuts would be a nice place to start. But it wold be remiss to be overly concerned with pragmatism and fear communicating the big issues that the party stands for. In the end, the merits of our party's stance stand on their own. Be proud of it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Justice FTW

The California Supreme Court made a landmark decision yesterday by unanimously upholding AB 540, a law which allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities and colleges in California. A lower court ruled against AB 540, swayed by the argument by the plaintiff that out-of-state students should not have to pay more than illegal immigrants to attend California Universities. The Supreme Court ruled that AB 540 does not offer in-state tuition based on legal residency, rather it is based on the number of years a student has attended high school in California. Therefore the legal status of the student should have no bearing on their eligibility for tuition benefits.

So what does this mean for the rest of us? First, the case sets a precedent for the 10 other states that have similar laws. It is unlikely that similar challenges will be successful, and that's a great thing for motivated students across the country who are looking to escape the cycle of poverty and ignorance that trapped their parents. (Excuse the sweeping generality. Not all undocumented workers are ignorant, poor or trapped. And by ignorant I simply mean uneducated. But as a general rule, people don't sneak into other countries just for a change of scene. Most "illegal aliens" leave behind desperate circumstances and come to America as a means of survival and to give their children and families better opportunities, something they're not likely to find anymore, sadly. But that's another story.) The California ruling is a rejuvenation of the American Dream.

Just as importantly, the ruling brings some positive publicity to the DREAM act, currently languishing in Washingotn. Pundits can argue semantics and technicalities till they're blue in the face, but what it comes down to is every child's right to an education. Students who were brought to this country by their parents when they were children should not be punished by society for a choice they did not make. If a student has the mental capacity and drive to get into college, something a lot of legal citizens can't do, then the country should allow them, should encourage them, to grow as people and become productive members of society.

As much as I hate to say it, I don't think the DREAM act will pass this congressional session. But I commend California for taking a step in the right direction by extending the right to education to the thousands of students trapped by their parents choices. If change won't happen at a federal level, this is a nice reminder that it can happen at a state level. The battle's not over, but progress has been made. Happy studies!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Meaning of Freedom

*Article was published in the Observer on Friday November 12, 2010

Freedom is "the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action" (legal definition). The word freedom dominates the U.S. political discourse. While the nature of the word is expansive, its use in U.S. politics has been deduced to a concrete and tightly bound definition of personal choice without the interference of government. This interpretation of the word and its portrayal as the founder's sole intention defined the rhetoric of the wave of conservative victories in 2010.

What was left out of 2010 debate is that there is a spectrum of freedom that spans from government intruding on individual freedom by requiring certain behavior from its citizens, to an economic structure that chains people to economic necessity in their decision making. The debate of what it means to be free is not as simplistic as conservatives like to believe. A person who must choose to turn down treatment for a disease because her family cannot afford it, is equally relevant to the discussion of freedom as someone who is forced to buy health insurance to prevent free-riding and bring costs down for everyone. Let the citizens choose whether they want to prevent government from protecting citizens from medical tragedies due to economic constraints, but it is unjust to claim that more government involvement in health care unequivocally means less freedom.

Before further argument, it must be exposed how far the lines have been moved on the definition of freedom. The 4.6 percent tax increase President Obama is seeking on the wealthiest two percent to a rate of 39.6 percent, the highest tax rate under Clinton when the budget was balanced and more than 22 million jobs were created, has been compared to socialism and a government takeover of the economy. These claims become increasingly hyperbolic the more history is examined. The new tax rate under President Obama on the highest earners would be considerably lower for that tax bracket than the rates of three Republican presidents in their third year in office, prior to being reelected. Under the Eisenhower administration the U.S. had a top marginal income tax rate of 91 percent, under Nixon it was 71.75 percent and finally under Reagan it was 50 percent.

While it is always a temptation to create growth as fast as possible by dismantling what appear to be irrational limitations, the temptations must occasionally be refused. A new political class has been elected that believe the U.S. needs to drastically reduce restraints on business designed to protect society. The core belief is that taking away the freedom of business to act in its best interest is what is preventing our economy from a full recovery. Democrats do not want to stop business, President Obama and the vast majority of Democrats are ardent capitalists who believe a system of competition and markets drives ingenuity and efficiency, but they also believe speed limits must be set that ensure the long term health of society.

It is a natural impulse to want to get somewhere as fast as possible or to have it as cheap as possible, but without constraint that urge has likely created problems for every American. The same will occur across society when regulations are removed, and programs designed to keep the financially vulnerable above water while they recover their health, work to find employment or get an education will be cut in order to reduce taxes on businesses and the wealthiest two percent.

The United States will never represent anything but the strength and opportunity of capitalism despite the worst fears of the right. Setting limits to ensure the health of civil society is not an infringement on the founding values of this country or the freedoms of individual citizens. It is not anti-business to disagree with business some of the time. In reality, business functions better in the long term if there is some basis of equality to drive aggregate demand. The United States is at risk to succumbing to a systemic risk of democratic governance, that short term need or pleasure, will replace sound and balanced long term economic growth and societal health.

It is important to have a social infrastructure in society designed to promote freedom from making choices based on economic need. Are seniors more free when cost cutting results in the retirement age on social security being pushed to 70? Should the poor have the freedom to know they can temporarily feed their families with food stamps in order to buy other necessities for their family? Or should their success in the free market determine the family's survival? Should Americans have the freedom to pollute the environment or the freedom to live with clean air, clean water, and a stable climate? Should companies have the freedom to mislead people into debt they cannot afford, or should people be protected against exploitative contracts written by the nation's wealthiest lawyers? Do people have the freedom of using their voice in democracy? Or is it more important that the government not regulate campaign donations letting corporate money take over elections? These are debates on freedom that should not have clear partisan lines. Unfortunately, these issues are robbed of a fair hearing when one party monopolizes the definition of freedom.

A real discussion of freedom in America does not leave out the millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules only to remain in poverty. No one is less free in the United States than the 43.6 million people that live in poverty according to the Census Bureau. In 2010, one in five U.S. families admit to struggling to put food on the table and 20 percent of children are growing up in poverty. Should we put freedom from government influence ahead of the success of the next generation? It is fair to debate the level of which government should be involved to ensure opportunity and a safe and just society, but it is dishonest to claim that the only domestic force threatening the freedom of U.S. citizens is the U.S. government.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

So what was this election really about?

So, now that we’ve had our week and a half, for the dust to settle, let’s figure out what has happened to our government and what it means. For those coming out of their cave, the Republicans took the house, and Democrats held the Senate (barely). So my initial reactions are: oh, why can’t everyplace else in the country be as the smart as the places I live. In South Bend we sent back Joe Donnelly despite the tough competition of his heavily funded Tea Party opponent. (Seriously, was anyone else sick of seeing her face before EVERY YouTube video and on the side of EVERY web page?) And back in my wonderful home state of Massachusetts, the hyped-up “Scott Brown effect” turned out to be nothing more than hype, as we stayed completely blue in all 10 districts in addition to electing a Democratic governor, treasurer (shout-out to Steve Grossman, because well my Mom was once his campaign manager), and auditor. It reminded me of this image depicting Nixon’s 1972 presidential win. There even more so than now we were the rock of blue in a sea of red.

But, I digress. So let’s return to examining the state of the union. In MY opinion there were two real lessons in this election.

Lesson one was the economy is first and foremost, and people want it to be the top priority. Let’s be honest, Obama was concerned with the economy, but was also taking care of bigger issues, like reforming Health Care. The lesson was NOT that Obamacare and big government are evil. The statement was really, “Do something that will actually have a noticeable positive effect in the mess that my jobless life has become.” People can’t truly hate something they don’t understand especially when a huge chunk of the changes haven’t even happened yet. And a huge portion of people who aren’t happy with the bill, wished it went further. The Republicans missed the message however, because they think we should waste valuable time trying to repeal Obamacare. Rather than fix the big issue that is affecting everyone’s lives, the Republicans want to continue to battle that is already over. Some people accept defeat gracefully and move on and focus on the greater picture. The Republican Party lacks a little bit of grace it seems.

To me this whole thing seems truly remarkable. When you think about it, repealing Obamacare is fairly un-American. Oh yes, I went there. What do I mean, you ask? The backbone of America has been innovation and creativity. Politicians on both sides throw those words around all the time, but what does that really mean? Neither of these concepts involves being afraid of trying something new and different. There’s a reason the message of “change” energizes people. In America, we have seen that when people take risks and do new and different things, we move forward. Innovation is what made our country great. So why would we be too afraid to try a different type of health care? We all admit the current system is broken. And anyone who looks at the bill could tell you that most major changes are still on the way. Shouldn’t we give a legitimate idea a try BEFORE we spend all our energy trying to kill and stifle it? Revolution didn’t seem like a great idea at the time, but people ran with it and it worked. Let’s see where Health Care takes us, instead of wasting months and months trying (and most likely failing) to repeal it. Instead let’s maybe FOCUS ON THE ECONOMY, like voters want clearly want Congress to do.

So now that rant part one is complete, I will draw back to emphasize the other big lesson of this election, when combined with the last election. People are sick of Washington. They are sick of both parties. They want something new and different. Obama campaigned on change. And the changes he accomplished (which were big) were just not seen. So the Tea Party came along and promised to change the establishment. Time will show that they aren’t planning to do that either. But the point is this, Americans want visible change. We’ve lost faith in both political parties. Obama was seen as an untouched guy; a fresh newcomer, untouched by the taint of long-standing corruption and allegiances. The Tea Party was a group of people outside the mainstream Republican Party. They may have all been batshit crazy, but they were a fresh group of faces. We want different so desperately that we buy into the new and fresh, and avoid the issues. If we were voting on the issues there is no way that the wave that the same country that overwhelmingly voted Barrack Obama as President, would subsequently vote this Republican Party into power. On the matter of the issues, they agree on basically nothing. The only thing that's similar, is that both campaigned as being sick of Washington, and that's something Americans identify with right now.

But here’s my thought. People weren’t that sick of Washington before we voted in President Bush and the Republicans. Under Clinton we were pretty happy with our government. But 8 years later, we were stuck with two wars we shouldn’t have been in, with a skyrocketing debt, a tax system that made life easier for the rich, while they were screwing us with a far too deregulated Wall Street, which eventually led to a financial collapse from which we still have not recovered, and a broken health care system that was skyrocketing in costs. There was a reason to be sick of Washington. But in two years, a lot of those things have begun to change. The problem is people don't want a beginning to change. They want fully formed and completed change. But seriously look at what we've done.

We got out of one of those unnecessary wars, and while we still need to evacuate the other one, that’s a step in the right direction. But nobody seems to have noticed that we have NO combat troops in Iraq anymore. The debt is still skyrocketing, but the broken economy should take precedence over the debt. Drive the debt up, by fixing the economy, and when everyone is prosperous again, you will be gaining more money from taxes, and be spending less and the debt will reduce again. The idea of focusing on the deficit while the job issue looms is simply backwards. It’s the great Republican deception. Follow the left hand problems of debt to ignore the right hand successes on the job front. And yes, I realize Obama didn’t immediately stop job loss and therefore failed to fix the economy in the eyes of the American people. But in the end, he did stop the hemorrhaging, which was going at its strongest when Bush finished up (see chart below). Without a stimulus we would undoubtedly be in double digit unemployment. The deregulated Wall Street is on its way to being more regulated, with the passing of Financial Reform. Health Care is also on its way to being fixed. The impact of these two laws cannot be measured yet. It’s far too soon. That kind of change is long term. That’s what the American missed between 2008 and 2010. Obama promised change and he delivered.

But people haven’t seen it yet. History will show the truth, but we don’t live in history. We live in a world of instantaneous gratification. The lesson of the election really is that true change will cost you. If the focus is always going to be on the next election, change doesn’t sell. Because no one trusts change until it’s over and it’s worked. People want change, but while in the actual process of change, people become scared. What they really is for change to have happened not to be happening. That means doing something worthwhile will mean losing an election or two. For those Democrats who lost their seats, because they voted for Cap and Trade or the Health Care bill, I commend you. Governing is not about winning the next election. Governing is about doing what’s right, and what’s good for the country. And history will show that Democrats did that. So while we sit through two years of gridlock, as the House prepares to shut down the government entirely, let’s remember and enjoy that we did something real and concrete, and that history won’t remember or like the people who sat on their asses while the country needed change.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day

Today is a great day to be proud of our nation. It is a day of solemn homage, and also a day to be proud of and thankful for the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens.

Whatever your opinions of the current and past actions and inactions of the American military, you still owe a certain measure of gratitude and especially respect to the men and women who give their lives defending our country. I know that at times we are disappointed in or even angry with the actions of individuals in our military. Sometimes this displeasure is entirely justifiable. The military is not without flaws, but every human institution has its flaws. The good of the U.S. military far outweighs the bad, and, until the wonderful time when there is no need for a standing army, our military will continue to defend the American people.

I hope that at some point today everyone has a chance to reflect on the meaning of Veteran’s Day and the people who have given their lives throughout our nation’s history in order to preserve the ideals of the United States of America. I’m going to take the opportunity to reflect right now, and in doing so I’d also like to share a personal story.

My family has been in every American war from the American Revolution (Ethan Allen) through Operation Desert Storm (Kevin Steele). This includes my grandfather, Theodore Myers, who served in Vietnam.

The story I’d like to focus on is that of my great-grandmother’s younger brother (I don’t know the proper term for that relation), Otis Perkins. Otis was a senior engineering student at the University of Kansas when he left to volunteer for service during the build up to WWII. He entered the military before the U.S. entered into war.

He enlisted first in the army and then in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In this capacity, he was stationed at Hickam Air Field in Hawaii and was there when it was attacked by the Japanese in 1941. He survived the attack and entered into service in the Pacific theater. He flew recon missions for Army artillery in a small unarmed plane. He was a very successful pilot and survived countless battles.

April 29, 1945, during the Battle of Okinawa, Captain Otis Perkins was riding as an observer in a Marine Corps Plane. The plane was shot down in the course of the battle. Then a peculiarity of the military and its distinct branches took effect. Because the Marine Corps is a division of the Navy, the plane was under Navy jurisdiction, and it is the policy of the U.S. Navy that burial at sea is honorable. Thus, the Navy will not attempt to locate or recover the plane. If Captain Perkins had been shot down while flying his own plane, the U. S. Army would have attempted to recover the plane and his body.

Captain Perkins served in the U.S Army for 5 years, fighting in the pacific theatre from the very beginning, but was killed just 3 ½ months before the end of the war.

I first heard this powerful story from my father, and it sparked my desire to serve my country, which I intend to do as a lawyer, politician, or in another government position. I don’t know what my future holds, but I do know that service to my country will somehow be a part of it.

With this story and my sincere desire to honor Otis Perkins, I took an opportunity afforded me by the Presidential Classroom program and was selected for the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery.
That's me in the back left.

I will never forget the experience. I was able to honor Captain Otis Perkins and all of the other veterans in my family. It was an amazing feeling to be able to honor them in this way. On each of the two Veteran’s Days (including today) since then I have been able to call to mind that experience and reflect on the veterans in my family, past and present.
I was able to thank my Grandfather for his service earlier today; I urge you to take this day to remember how much we all owe to our veterans, and, if you can, take the time to thank any veterans you know.

If you would like to do something tangible to help out the veterans and military personnel who have done so much for us: http://www.serve.gov/vets.asp

Monday, November 8, 2010

End the Neglect

By now, a few of you might have seen me, shoving a pamphlet in your face this morning outside of DeBart, shouting about NTDs and promising you a free silly band. Sorry that we were so annoying, but this week is NTD Awareness Week, and it’s my mission to get everyone on campus interested in a bunch of diseases that no one really knows about. So here goes.

NTD stands for Neglected Tropical Diseases, a series of seven disfiguring and potentially deadly parasitic illnesses that affect 1.4 billion people around the globe. That’s more than malaria and AIDS combined, a number that could fill the Notre Dame stadium 17,822 times. These diseases are a big deal. So why hasn’t anyone heard of them? Put simply, they lack the drama of malaria and the death sentence of AIDS. NTDs kill slowly and indirectly. When a person contracts an NTD they contract a lifetime of drawn out suffering, of chronic malnutrition, asthma, pneumonia, cancer, blindness and disability. Some NTDs cause itching so intense it drives people mad, drives them to suicide. With others, such as Elephantiasis, tiny worms pool in the lymph nodes, swelling limbs and, in males, the scrotum, to impossible sizes. Some of the parasite burrow into lung tissue or the intestines, robbing victims of the breath and sustenance and leading, in the long term, to cancer and other equally horrific deaths.

Sorry to gross you out, but here’s the kicker: all seven NTDs can be prevented, treated or cured for just 50 cents per person per year. It’s trite, but 50 cents really can save a life. The medications to treat these diseases have already been developed and donated by major medical suppliers. The cures are free; we just need to get the medicine where it needs to go. To me, that’s the grossest injustice. People desperately need the medication, and we don’t have the funds to get it to them.

During NTD Awareness Week there will be various events around campus to raise money and simply inform people. There will be another silly bandz give-away tomorrow in front of DeBartolo, and on Wednesday, from 7:00 to 10:00 Five Guys will donate 10% of all proceeds to ND Fighting NTDs. Thursday, come to LaFortune and support us by buying a dirt cup (use your flex points!) and Friday ND Fighting NTDs is hosting a free concert and petition signing on South Quad in front of Dillon Hall from 4:00 to 6:30 pm.

I know most of you are just as broke and stressed out as me, but small efforts can make such a huge difference in this campaign. Stop by LaFortune on your way to the library Thursday. Sign a petition for our politicians before dinner on Friday or visit our website (http://www.nd.edu/~ndfntds/) for more information. Our top priority is to inform people right now, even linking this post on your Facebook or Twitter is a huge help. To solve a problem we’ve got to know about the problem, so take the first step. Check out this video or these websites and help end the neglect.



Sunday, November 7, 2010

Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck

I found this a couple days ago. It's actually really well done.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Guess It's Time to Learn Mandarin

Let's see how self-centered we can be, and how many stereotypes we can exploit. It's always pretty entertaining and terrifying to stumble upon such blatant propaganda. The scary thing is that some people will see this video and buy into it.

Sort of reminiscent of the 1980's apple computer ad, only without the snarky, self-aware ending:

But in all seriousness, the only thing this video gets right is the completely egotistical American view that we are some unbeatable empire. Let's keep this country focused on the "principles that made us great;" freedom, human rights, and democracy. Everyone who voted last week is doing their part, so thanks and congratulations.

Thanks, Hannah Greggs for showing me these videos and ranting with me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Here We Go Again...

The first thing I'd like to say, unrelated to the rest of my post, is give blood. The blood drive at Rolfs ends tomorrow, but that means there's still a chance. If you do miss it then make sure to give blood the next time around. Also, good job to all those who already gave blood. I'm proud of my blood and the fact that by giving just a little bit away I am doing something that really does save lives. Honestly, by the end of the semester it might be the only A- I still have.

My second side note (I'll get to the main point, it's just these are short but I feel I need to get them out there) was that Thomas Friedman's presentation tonight was great. Friedman, who is originally from Minnesota, has a great ability to discuss broad, complicated issues in a comprehensible way. He simplifies things, but doesn't lose the meaning as much as other people do when they "dumb things down." I'm pretty sure that's what makes him and his books so popular. Friedman's views on technology and the future of American economics were very interesting, as were his views on American politics. He also talked a lot about the "green" movement, energy, and sustainability. The highlight of this, for me, was when he said "Green is the new red, white, and blue."

My thoughts on green/renewable energy: We better step-up our game or Germany will take the lead on the energy technology revolution, and I don't want to learn German!

So, without further ado, here's the reason I wrote this post and the reason the title makes any sense: Minnesota has another state-wide recount to suffer through!

Last election cycle we waited through over 8 months of legal battling, accusations, and hand counting of ballots until Al Franken was finally sworn into the Senate about six months after his term technically began.

Apparently, my home state decided they hadn't had enough. This time around a very close gubernatorial election has been plunged into an automatic recount. Democrat Mark Dayton leads Republican Tom Emmer by a very small number of votes.

I desperately hope Dayton wins. Not only does Emmer hold many views that I disagree with, not only do I think he would cause even more problems for Minnesota than Tim Pawlenty, but he also didn't get into Notre Dame. Now of course I realize that Notre Dame is a great school and not everyone gets in, BUT Emmer's parents both attended the University, Emmer was baptized on campus, and Emmer attended St.Thomas Academy (You've probably heard of it, it is an all-boys private school with a reputation for producing golden domers). Furthermore, it was easier to get into college in those days, just ask your parents. I am sure Emmer is intelligent and a respectable individual, but as a public official I am more than a little concerned with that background in addition to his policies. I'd also take former Senator Dayton's experience over State Representative Emmer's.

Now Minnesota has to play the waiting game once again. I don't know how long this recount will take, but I do know it will be irritating. I think that by the end Minnesota will set a record for the longest time without a governor: Pawlenty left over a year ago to begin campaigning for President (technically he's still governor, but he's never actually in Minnesota) and the new governor won't be decided on any time soon.

Here I'd also like to add that we had to endure Jesse the Body (yes our luck is that bad).

The only bright side of this development is that it means my vote really counts. This was the first time I could vote and the most important race that I voted in. My absentee ballot could be the one of the few that pushes Dayton over the top. Go Democracy!

Every once in a while, for the next indefinite number of months, say a prayer or direct some pity toward the poor folks in Minnesota waiting for a Governor. It's been so long since we had a good one that at this point we'll settle for having one.

Psst...you listening Santa?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


It's election day people. So you need to make sure you vote. It's your civic duty. It's the one thing that makes our government a Democracy. It's the cornerstone of America. And frankly speaking we as college students really suck at voting, especially at mid-term elections. This year, we (ages 18-29) make up 22% of all potential voters. Yet we are are projected to make up only 11% of actual voters, and we make up 34% of non-voters. (Courtesy of Pew Research Center)

Guys, whatever our government does will be affecting us for a longer period than our parents our grandparents. We're going to be alive longer. We have the most at stake in any given elections. So why do we give the generations above us more say? Take a stand. Exercise the most important right you have in our government. Because if you give up the right to vote, you also forfeit an even more important right, the right to justly complain. (let's be honest, what would any of us do if we lost that one)

Also if you won't vote for the sane reasons which I've given to you, then vote because BEARS may or may not attack you in your home and/or dorm room, and slowly maul you until you've gone to the polls and cast your vote.

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Remember 2001-2009. Do You?

Why you should vote for Joe Donnelly

There are less than 48 hours to get involved in the 2010 elections. Joe Donnelly needs your help!! The College Democrats will be working non-stop until the polls have closed tomorrow please text or call Eileen at (714)642-9083 to find out how you can help. Joe's campaign has spent months identifying who his voters are and how to get in contact with them by making phone calls and knocking on doors. We are now in Get Out The Vote (GOTV) time, in which many volunteers are needed to be sure we contact every person that has expressed interest in voting for Joe to make sure he or she has voted. PLEASE get in touch with Eileen and volunteer a little bit of your time in these final hours.

Joe Donnelly is the Democratic congressman of the 2nd district of Indiana that includes Notre Dame, South Bend, Elkhart and surrounding rural areas. He is a proud Catholic and a "double domer," with an undergraduate and law degree from Notre Dame.

Joe Donnelly, despite his flaws, is the unique type of candidate that should receive votes from constituents across the political spectrum.

If you are a progressive Democrat:

The first thoughts that come to mind might be that Congressman Donnelly voted against the cap and trade bill, as well as ending Don't Ask Don't Tell. Donnelly is endorsed by the NRA, he refers to undocumented immigrants as illegals, and he continues to support the war in Afghanistan. All of these are undoubtedly disturbing and make it difficult to garner much enthusiasm for someone who votes like moderate Republicans would, if they still existed in Congress. However, Joe Donnelly is a good man caught up in bad political times. He is also beating all of the political odds by being in a position to win as a Democratic incumbent in a Republican leaning district.

He must be commended for fighting for the people of the 2nd district by voting for the Recovery Act, the health care bill and the financial reform bill. While these three bills were far from perfect they each took a step in the right direction. The stimulus has "increased the number of people employed between 1.4 million and 3.3 million," according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and helped avert crises in state governments trying to pay teachers, police officers and firefighters across the country. The health care bill ended the worst of insurance company abuses like discriminating based on pre-existing conditions or denying claims without the opportunity to have an independent review. The bill also allows students to stay on their parents insurance until they are 26, will make health insurance available to 30 million more Americans and makes preventative care like screenings and vaccinations free. The financial reform bill created the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, a major victory for consumers who will now be better protected from exploitative practices in the financial industry. The bill also creates important rules on derivatives trading, mortgage lending and credit rating agencies that will help prevent a future financial meltdown.

There is a debate raging in the progressive community across the country about whether or not to support conservative Democrats. While supporting more left-wing opposition in a primary makes sense, staying home on Election Day because the Democrat is too conservative does not. As a resident of the 2nd district you have the choice between State Senator Jackie Walorski, a blindly partisan candidate who will ignore your interests, or Congressman Donnelly, a bipartisan congressman who will be open minded to supporting the president and make a meaningful assessment of the district's preferences before voting. Donnelly voted for health care because he could not resist the relentless pressure from his voting base in the district to vote for the bill.

If Jackie Walorski is your congresswoman no amount of phone calling, office visits or demonstrations will make her vote with the president. She is the Michelle Bachmann of Indiana and will have no qualms bringing national attention to the 2nd district with her radical perspective. Walorski is a proud member of the tea party, an enthusiastic supporter of the Arizona immigration law, believes in a spending freeze on everything but defense, wants to extend all the Bush tax cuts indefinitely and she believes in privatizing social security. In the first debate of the race she justified her denial of global warming as a threat to the country by saying she has consulted Indiana farmers on the issue. Not to mention, she bragged at the debate about always carrying a gun in her purse, even though she was nice enough to "know and respect the laws" and not bring one into the high school where the debate was held.

Joe Donnelly is far from ideal, but he will listen to his progressive constituents, while his opponent is one of the most radical Republican candidates running for office in 2010, a scary thought.

If you are an independent or moderate Republican:

Joe Donnelly, an outspoken "Blue Dog Democrat," represents a disappearing breed of bipartisan members of Congress, a sharp contrast to his hyper-partisan opponent. Blue Dog Democrats are conservative Democrats that prioritize lowering the deficit, and vote conservatively on social issues.

Joe Donnelly is uniformly pro-life, opposing abortion and embryonic stem cell research. He is known for being an advocate for veterans and small businesses with his position on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the House Financial Services Committee. Congressman Donnelly was instrumental in writing the Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 that included language that raises supplemental coverage for severely disabled veterans by 50 percent. In September he wrote language in the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 in response to a critical local small business problem. The language altered a tax penalty provision that would have destroyed an asphalt business in the district and unfairly penalized companies across the country.

This year's election to many is about which members of Congress vote in line with their party leadership and which members put their district before party priorities. Donnelly has proven that he stands firmly with the 2nd district. The South Bend area needs a member of Congress that will listen and that is why the Indianapolis Star endorsed Congressman Donnelly saying, "Beneath the noise of a nationalized campaign heavy with attack ads, Donnelly's record shows moderation and willingness to listen to constituents. He deserves to stay on the job."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Health Care Reform Explained

This video is a clear and to-the-point explanation of the Health Care Reform. It's also pretty cute.


Friday, October 29, 2010

More Incentive to Vote...

In the final stretch to the election, politicians from all parties have been slinging mud. Recently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other democratic leaders hinted that the GOP has been accepting illegal donations. Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, told Pelosi he wanted proof, saying “put up or shut up.” I’m not going to make any claims about legal matters, but I’m still disturbed about who is funding Republican candidates. BP and other European companies such as Bayer are pouring money into Tea Party candidates that deny global warming. In fact, nearly 80% of campaign donations from major European businesses went to Tea Party candidates who blocked or opposed legislation on climate change.

But of course, Tea Partiers are ‘taking back America,’ representing the interests of the heartland. That’s a little hard to do when you owe BP for your election.

Additionally, the United States Chamber of Commerce, which is running a $75 million dollar campaign to unseat congressional progressives and push a big-oil agenda, has accepted donations from oil companies owned by the Kingdom of Bahrain and others.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to accept foreign donations, but I don’t want my senators funded by foreign oil companies. I know politicians will always be swayed by one ideology or another, but donations such as this make unbiased representation seem like a laughable myth. That’s why it is SO IMPORTANT to get out and vote on November 2. Vote in Indiana or fill out your absentee ballot, but make your voice heard so democracy isn’t a farce.

For more information of campaign finance, check out these sites:



Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Final Stretch

Election Day is five days away. This midterm election will affect everyone. A Republican majority may take over the House. Many seats are threatened in the Senate. If this happens, President Obama will have a near impossible chance of keeping his campaign promises. More importantly, if this happens, Congress will undergo two years of major gridlock.
This election is important. Unfortunately, this country has fallen into a state of apathy. Dissatisfaction with the state of American affairs has caused the most politically conscious to avoid this midterm election. We cannot afford to stay on the sidelines. Democrats need to get out and vote. And Democrats need to convince other Democrats and left-leaning Independents to vote. We need to do all that we can to insure that President Obama and Congress has every opportunity to pass the legislation we, as a country, need.
We cannot lose sight of the change that we all worked for in the 2008 elections. We need to go beyond voting and volunteer for the local Get out the Vote (GOTV) campaign this weekend. We need to encourage people to vote by knocking on doors and making phone calls. This is the only way to impact the election. Notre Dame Democrats need to Get Out The Vote for Congressman Joe Donnelly. A loss to Jackie Walorski, the Tea Party challenger, cannot occur. Volunteer for Joe Donnelly in these last five days. Congress will lose Democrats. After all, it is a midterm election. But we need to do all we can to insure a Donnelly victory. If Donnelly loses his seat, we lose the change we all worked for in 2008. Get Out The Vote!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Tea Party in Our Backyard

As the clock ticks down to election day, back on the Indiana home front, Joe Donnelly is showing up Jackie Walorski, the midwestern breed of Tea Party craziness. In a recent ad, she seems to have condemned one particular block of South Bend, which she has never actually visited, as a sign of the "ruin" Joe Donnelly has brought. Take a look and see how residents of over 40 years respond to having their corner labeled as a "road to ruin".

Guess the "family values" of the Tea Party don't extend to showing common courtesy to the very people they say they want to represent.