Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dr. Laura's Rebirth is Another Nail in the Coffin of Post-Racial America

(This is an excerpt of John's weekly column in The Loop 21)

So you’ve probably heard that Dr. Laura Schlessinger will be back on the air in a new show debuting on Sirius satellite radio. I wasn’t shocked mind you - she was bound to resurface peddling a “self-help” book or some other nonsense - but it did leave a certain distaste in my mouth as it should yours.

My reaction stemmed from two things:

(1) The fake victim: After Dr. Laura was lambasted for saying the n-word to a caller repeatedly without reason, she played the victim role so well I’m surprised she didn’t do Larry King laid out on a stretcher with an IV attached. (Dr. Laura)

(2) Another nail in the coffin of the Post-racial debate: It’s raged for years but peaked in earnestness when Obama won the presidential election in 2008. The myth goes that since America has elected a black president the tide has officially turned and no longer will society define one’s skills and abilities by their race.

It’s kind of where "I Have a Dream" turns into "I Have a Fantasy."

Fact is, when mainstream radio personalities like Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, and Don Imus hustle vile racist comments for profit it says something about the state of race in our society. It’s one thing when a shock jock says it, but it’s much different when hosts are respected, have influence, and factor into our political or societal discourse.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re in the entertainment business, not politics. But their audiences do feed on this nonsense and that’s something we should be paying attention to. And while African-Americans usually bear the brunt of this, they are not the only ones. Muslim-Americans, Latinos, and other minorities who lack economic and political power feel it as well.

Is it any wonder that in Oklahoma 70 percent of the electorate voted to ban the consideration of Shariah law in that state’s court cases? Never mind the fact that, as a federal judge noted in her injunction barring the law from being enacted, that [Shariah] “is not ‘law’ but is religious traditions that differ among Muslims.” Or the fact that an attorney for the state “acknowledged that he did not know of an instance in which Shariah law had been invoked by the courts,” according to the New York Times. So how did such a law become enacted with the electorate’s blessing in the first place? Imad Enchassi, the imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City who filed the lawsuit against the state, said it best: “The will of the people seems like it was manipulated by a well-funded campaign of hate, bigotry and xenophobia.”

Sound postracial to you?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thank God for a Godless Society

Our society has these so called "religious wars" fought by people want to put "God back in America." Yes, these are the same folks that sing "God Bless America (and nowhere else)". I suppose I wouldn't mind, at least not as much, if these same folks weren't running for political office. These same folks have little to no understanding of the history of religious freedom in America. I know this because if they did they wouldn't be fighting to put "God back in America."

Though, as someone theologically educated and ordained, I do wonder where God went. I've asked this question time and time again, but I've never been able to find out. Perhaps God went off into the next Galaxy to chill out, or play hopscotch. Theology aside, religion and politics are simply too cozy these days. But, I digress.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Elbow Meet Mouth

I grew up with three brothers, in Kentucky. We played basketball every chance we could, and we usually played in the driveway. It was intense. There, on the concrete, we became Larry Bird, Magic, MJ, or Horace Grant. Yes. I just said, "Horace Grant." It was epic.

Yea, President Obama, got "JACKED UP!" Sorry, just had to say it. Though, we already know that you and the Democratic Party got JACKED UP during the mid-terms. The twelve stitches are merely poetic. But, before I get poetic, here's the press release:

WASHINGTON — The White House says President Barack Obama has received 12 stitches in his lip after being hit during a pick up basketball game. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says the president was inadvertently struck by someone’s elbow Friday. The president received the stitches in the doctor’s office on the ground floor of the White House. Obama had traveled to Fort McNair with a group of family and friends for an early morning game of basketball.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Wanted to Kill a Turkey

I really wanted to kill my own Turkey this year. So, I thought about how one might go about doing this.

First, I would need a gun. Yet, I have no clue what kind of gun I would need. Where would I get a gun? What would I need to do? Could I borrow one? Should I use a musket or a bow and arrow? These are the first questions I wondered about.

And, I suppose there are regulations for killing animals? Some agency regulates this, I guess? I've never been hunting in my life, that is if you don't count the birds I once shot with a BB gun. Don't worry, I listened to Atticus Finch – no Mockingbirds were killed during the making of this article.

Fiscal Commission Chairs' Proposal: Social Security and Health Care

This is an excerpt from my article examining the social security and health care proposals in the Fiscal Commission chairs' report:

A little while back, I started this mini-series dedicated to covering the proposal the co-chairs of the Presidential Fiscal Commission.  I have also been in contact with the Strengthen Social Security Coalition to advance the progressive conversation on Social Security.  So today, I will discuss the social security and health care (mostly Medicare and Medicaid) ideas provided in the co-chairs' proposal.  This is no doubt the toughest part of the report, but that is inevitable given that although social security and Medicare are not in the red as I write, they will (especially Medicare) account for our long term projected debt if nothing is done.

I'll get to the Chair's proposals in a minute, but first, let's look at why paying attention to Social Security and Medicare is necessary.  Health care more so than social security.  Although Health Care Reform succeeded in slowing the cost curve of Medicare and extending its life by 12 years, as a greater and greater percentage of our population become seniors, the burdens on these programs will be immense.  A CBO report released in June of this year puts things into perspective in the long term:

growth of federal spending (categorized, CBO projection, June 2010)

So health care spending by the federal government will dwarf everything else if no changes are made, and we will never be paying down our debt, adding more and more debt to pay interest on the debt.  Also note that Social Security spending flat-lines only because Social Security revenues flat-line, and it is by law not allowed to take revenue from other places.  As a result, once the trust fund is depleted, longer term, payable benefits are considerably less (more than a fifth less) than promised benefits.

Read the full article here: http://www.thepeoplesview.net/2010/11/fiscal-commission-chairs-proposal_23.html

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TSA groping and a 'War on Terror' Free of Inconvenience

(Author's Note: excerpt of my weekly column in The Loop 21)

Not sure but this may come off the wrong way: I don’t care if the TSA won’t let go of your junk (as a passenger so eloquently put it as he was being patted down a little too vigorously). I don’t care if they look too mean, seem too lazy, or heaven forbid ask you to actually follow their procedures in full. I don’t say this because I’m insensitive to the legitimate claims out there that warrant attention to the TSA’s misdeeds. And I don’t say this because I don’t fly. In fact, I’ve flown three times in as many months. No, I say this because it is just another reminder that America expects to have a ‘war on terrorism’ with zero cost.

Let’s face it - these days America loves sacrifice as long as it’s someone else doing the sacrificing. Numerous cases came to light over the past few years where foreign citizens were apprehended, not formally accused, and provided zero access to attorneys and little access to representatives from their country’s government. One of the most notable cases occurred in 2002.

Read more here: http://theloop21.com/politics/TSA-groping-an-Inconvenience-Free-War-on-Terror

No Television for Internet Users: The Big Four vs. Internet TV

A federal judge Monday said she was granting a temporary restraining order against an online streaming video site, a source in the courtroom said. Since then, FilmOn.com has decided to temporarily stop streaming TV station signals in light of the impending temporary restraining order. This raises the issue of whether the FCC governs the regulation of internet television or whether an online streaming site is a cable system subject to the FCC's rules.

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the federal court for the Southern District of New York, signaled Monday that she was granting the restraining order, but had not yet issued it.

The Big Four nets and their associated studios had a fit and filed suit last month after FilmOn, an online streaming video site that allows Ipad users to watch television, launched a $9.95-per-month high-definition service that included what it called "premium free to air television channels" including from CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, KCAL and KTLA, as well as various international satellite channels.

The Federal Communications Commission is currently charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The issue of how online video services are going to be treated when it comes to FCC regulations and copyright laws will be a crucial to the future of online video, which many, including the current FCC chairman, argue will be an increasingly important delivery platform. The bottom line is internet television is the way of the future and the Big Four, while slow to launch apps that allow users to watch television online, are quick to want profits from others who try to stream their programming.

The other service is called ivi.TV. It promises the same kind of functionality as FilmOn but offers programming from more than just the LA market instead offering Seattle TV channels and according to the website All Things Digital, they will be offering channels from New York City, LA, and potentially Chicago and Philadelphia. Right now their service is computer only, but they do plan to add streaming for the iPad for an extra $4.95/month. Right now you can get a 30 day trial and it will be free for some over the air channels without DVR, $4.95/month for the Seattle TV channels streamed to a PC client which runs on Mac, Linux and Windows, and an extra $.99 for DVR functionality.

The response from both the online television service providers is that they are not doing anything illegal since the FCC rules say that over the air broadcasts can be retransmitted, according to one interpretation of the rules (like cable systems, it has a retransmission right under copyright law). But while the FCC has yet to chime in a judge is set to enjoin FilmOn from operating.

Founder of  FilmOn, Alki David admitted that he had not negotiated individual carriage deals with the broadcasters, as cable operators must per FCC retransmission rules, though for some other content he does have deals. In halting its rebroadcasting, FilmOn issued this statement:

"We respect the Court's decision in this matter and have temporarily ceased retransmission of free network television on FilmOn," the company said in a statement. "In the few weeks FilmOn provided free access to basic television on consumers' mobile devices [since Sept 27], it received more than 30 million individual users. We also garnered dozens of positive reviews about our free service's quality and ease of use. We have, in essence, shown full proof of concept of the FilmOn delivery system--proving that millions of viewers will watch our superior television service online, all with commercials, adding millions of extra impressions that enhance network's value to its viewers and advertisers."

Like ivi TV, which also streams TV station signals without paying retransmission fees and which has also been sued by broadcasters Read the Complaint here, FilmOn argues that it fits the definition of cable system when it comes to the statutory license to retransmit broadcast signals over the air per U.S. Copyright law, but that it is not a cable system when it comes to the Communications Act requirement to obtain express permission from a station before such retransmission.

The broadcasters and studios say the company does not have the right to stream the stations or the underlying copyrighted content and asked the court for a declaratory judgment that that is the case, as well as the preliminary order that would require it to stop, the latter which at press time appeared to have been granted.

The Downfall of Information Superpowers

Jeffrey Toobin and Tim Wu, professor at Columbia Law School, chat about monopolies and the future of information technology.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving is Worthless

I’m tired of the same-old-same Thanksgiving. I’m tired of the same-old-story. And, no, it’s not only because it begins the tale of oppression and subjugation of Native peoples. But because giving thanks has only been about words. As far as I can tell, Thanksgiving is worthless, and will continually be worthless. Americans just want to eat, drink, and be merry. No matter how thankful somebody is, if we don’t live it, we're not thankful.

What if we stopped giving thanks, and actually demonstrated our thankfulness? Thanksgiving can become, if we want, “Thanks-taking.”

You have heard the romanticized version of the “Plymouth Pilgrims.”
You have heard they came here to seek asylum from religious persecution.
You have heard that those pilgrims were brave souls.
This is all true.

HIV and the Policy of Permanence

"Visualize a World with AIDS as a permanent fixture"

This past weekend, I was with some old friends from high school - some of whom hadn't seen each other in over 25 years.  We were catching up on life - the various journeys we have been on, our careers, and the various aspirations and activities of the next generation of those with children.  One of my best friends from this group mentioned that his daughter, currently in her first year at college, has a dream of opening up an HIV/AIDS clinic in Cuba or some place like that.  This got me thinking about 2 things:

1. We often hear about HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, especially Haiti, but I don't ever recall hearing much about Cuba.  When I did a brief internet search this morning, I saw that Cuba has actually been held up as a model for addressing HIV and, according to this 2003 report, had one of the lowest rates of HIV in the world, a remarkable statistic given that HIV first emerged there in the mid-1980's.  I find it curious that, at a time when GW Bush was rising in the global stature of HIV, Cuba was left out of the discussion. A more recent OxFam report about Cuba's HIV/AIDS efforts can be found here.

When Airport Security Goes Too Far and Pat-Downs Cross the Line

By Alexander J. Chenault

Have you been groped lately? The Transportation Security Administration will soon become your close friend—a touchy feely friend. Unless you want to brave the new body scanning machines popping up at U.S. airports, you will be forced to submit an intense pat-down. The TSA operates 768 security checkpoints at 458 airports across the U.S. To date, the agency has deployed 385 of the advanced imaging scanners at 68 U.S. airports. It’s all in the name of security… because you could be standing next to an underwear bomber. These advanced imaging scanners, or “body scanners,” enable the detection of nonmetallic threats, including weapons and explosives.

But skeptics argue that the risk of harm associated underwear bombs might not balance out the health risks associated with use of the machines. Some scientists and two major airline pilots unions argue not enough is known about the effects of the small doses of X-ray radiation emitted by backscatter X-ray technology, one of the two types of airport scanning machines. Backscatter technology raises concerns among some because it uses small doses of ionizing radiation.

The Transportation Security Administration's advanced imaging technology machines use two separate means of creating images of passengers. The use of the millimeter-wave technology hasn't received the same attention. At the end of October, 189 backscatter units and 152 millimeter-wave machines were in use in more than 65 airports. The total number of imaging machines is expected to near 1,000 by the end of 2011, according to the TSA.

While the risk of harmful radiation exposure from backscatter scans is small, according to David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University and a professor of radiation biophysics, even he has concerns about how widely the scanners will be used.

"If you think of the entire population of, shall we say a billion people per year going through these scanners, it's very likely that some number of those will develop cancer from the radiation from these scanners," Brenner said.

But passengers can opt out of the advance image scanning. Passengers who chose to not to be scanned will be patted down thoroughly. TSA's new pat-down procedure is "more up close and personal" than previous hand-search techniques said Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. So for airport passengers, that means choosing between risks of cancer or allowing a stranger, putting it frankly, to feel your genitals. But don’t these pat-downs violate some privacy rights?

Currently, there is no legal "bright line" to determine whether advanced imaging scans or intensive pat-downs amount to unreasonable searches of passengers. According to Sam Kamin, an associate professor of constitutional law and criminal procedure at the University of Denver law school, it is better to err on the side of safety as TSA officials undoubtedly would rather be on Capitol Hill answering questions about screening intrusiveness than "explaining why an airliner was brought down."

     About the Author

Connect:  Twitter
Alexander J. Chenault is an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and the Frederick Douglass Teaching Scholar at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania where he teaches courses on the American legal, constitutional, and regulatory systems.

A graduate of Tulane University Law School, The City College of New York, and Morehouse College, Chenault is quickly emerging as a legal and policy expert. A young polished scholar and editor-in-chief of The Chenault Report, he is known for his well researched and opinionated legal, political, and social commentary. 

JC Watts Coming to Town

On Wednesday, November 24 we'll be interviewing former congressman JC Watts (R-OK). For folks whose political memories are hazier than Charlie Rangel's tax records, please refer to Wikipedia to find out more about Mr. Watts.

We'll be talking about the GOP's agenda, the increase in minority members, and where he sees the party headed.

In the meantime we are asking readers to submit questions. We'll pick the best ones and ask those. We'll give out brownie points for the good ones. And the worst ones we'll just shake our heads at and hope a weekly dose of Policy Diary for the next 100 years will get you back on your game. Fire away! You can email them to us: submissions@policydiary.com; put them in the comments of this post; put them on our Facebook page; or send them to us on Twitter (@policydiary). (No ESP doesn't work.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Yes, I Am a Racist!"

I work with the Institute for Dismantling Racism (IDR). I am constantly engaging my white privilege. It's a long journey wrought with joy, sorrow, and growth. In partnership with Crossroads, IDR offers 2 1/2 day trainings throughout the year. This is the story of a conversation that took place at such a training this past Thursday night.

During a break from the anti-racist introductory workshop, I was introduced to a woman of color. She asked me questions about organizing and racism. This was not my first training. I attend every workshop I can. Each training aids the continual engagement of white privilege.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Four Loko Manufacturer Stops Sipping and Starts Thinking

It's over folks, or is it? According to the New York Times, the maker of Four Loko will cease to include caffeine in the alcoholic beverage that has been responsible for numerous injuries to its drinkers. Four Loko, or 'Liquid Cocaine' as it's known to young folks, is a combination of caffeine (equivalent level of a cup of coffee) and alcohol (12 percent worth or four beers). 

The FDA says that the caffeine masks the effects of the alcohol, leaving users unaware of how intoxicated they are. The manufacturer, Phusion Projects, stated in the New York Times: "We are taking this step after trying — unsuccessfully — to navigate a difficult and politically-charged regulatory environment at both the state and federal levels."

Where Your Ads At?

That's really what it comes down to when looking at the trends in media, whether social or otherwise. If companies don't need to chase ad dollars then their pay wall is probably considerably high. And even in cases where it is -- advertisers are still coveted. Why? Simple, because the revenue opportunity is enormous and advertisers' cachet can lend prestige to the brand as well.

Why Facebook does what it does and TV wishes it could do what they're about to do.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Michael Steele on the Brink

The cloud surrounding Michael Steele's tenure at the RNC continues to get darker. Earlier today the RNC's political director issued a scathing letter with a litany of allegations. Read below.

Michael Steele's Tenure at RNC -

Steele Traps Republicans in Race Card Shuffle

(Author's Note: excerpt of my piece in theGrio)

Rumor has it the GOP is gearing up to replace Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC). At first glance this isn't too surprising, considering Steele himself has made so many gaffesyou would think he was trying to lose the job.

Yet firing him doesn't quite add up though once you take a look at the victories he's notched under the his belt during his RNC tenure. He's presided over gubernatorial victories in Virginia (expected but nice) and New Jersey (far from expected), and Scott Brown's Senate victory in Massachusetts (deemed impossible until Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate, decided to play chicken with voters and got plucked).

More impressive still is that these victories occurred when the GOP had about as much momentum as a fantasy league team starring Brett Favre and Randy Moss. Not only was Steele able to build on the excitement created around these victories, he was also able to pour money into midterm races throughout the country. Steele has said he used Howard Dean's successful 50-state strategy from four years ago as inspiration.

"The Republican program, dubbed D2H -- Delaware, the First State, to Hawaii, the 50th -- sent money and staffers even to Democratic-heavy areas," according to the National Journal. Furthermore, Frank Luntz, a celebrated Republican strategist known for 'crafting messaging" (you know, twisting words like limbs at a Cirque du Soleil performance) has conducted surveys showing that early investments helped voters -- the majority of which made up their minds months ago -- to buy into GOP candidates. And buy voters did. Republicans picked up 60 House and 6 Senate seats, and reserved U-Hauls for many more governor's mansions.

So why get rid of Steele now? What purpose does it serve?

America Intoxicated with Control

Our society is akin to a human body: when one part ails or suffers, the rest of the body suffers too. The major organ we call the economy has failed. Our attempt to transplant and provide revitalization of the body requires recovery, and with organ transplant the body needs time to recover. Economic hardship sits well with nobody. The system has faltered, and as is the case with every system, it has sent shockwaves throughout our society.

People have lost jobs, soup kitchens struggle to keep pace with demand, and reasonable citizens succumb to fear that consumes voraciously and cyclically intoxicates our communities. When somebody talks about the economy they use percentages and projections, and talk about the globalized nature of the economy. While the global economy might be suffering, those receiving the brunt of the pain are people within our communities, next-door neighbors, and family members.

Some use the economic downfall for a political platform. This is characteristic of opportunistic policy: react to the problems with the band-aid of heated rhetoric and condemnation. Politicians try to give a pep talk to the broken body, yet have not thought out how the body will learn from this event, this transplant. Indeed, the liver of America has cirrhosis from addiction to overabundance and materialism. We have to learn how we will live in light of this traumatic experience, this near-death experience.

Yet, when health leaves our control and we are reliant upon the passage of time, frustration sits in. Economic hardship cannot be seen. We cannot pinpoint and actually see the cause; we only see the effects. As our frustration grows, our desire to control grows. We want to assert that though we may be suffering economically, we have not lost control.

The Tea Party’s rise to power surprised many, but I’m not sure why. Tea Partiers offered opportunity to control, and fed the addiction of control. They are not the cause of political debacle, but a symptom of a larger disease. When one accounts for cultural symptoms of bullying, anti-Islamic sentiment, and “Beckian” anger the picture becomes clear: we are addicted with power and control. When we couldn’t control the economy any longer, we turned to what we could.

People retreated into closed minds and shut down veins of conversation. With the transplant we grew frustrated with the rest of the body. Doctors ordered rest because recovery takes time. This simply was unacceptable. When we couldn’t control our lives, we controlled our attitudes. Instead of learning how the body could help, deep seeded anger welled up within.

Recovery dictated that we couldn’t walk around, and we grew angry at the legs. Yet was it the legs fault? We grew angry at the arms because we couldn’t use them like we once could. Yet what did the arms do to put us in the bed of recovery?

Our actions placed us on bed rest, and necessitated a transplant. Will we return to our voracious addiction? Or, will we learn from our actions, and enter, as a society, into detox? The cure for this addiction requires community. Authentic community has fallen away because we can’t control community. One person does not control, but the whole controls together. It is not easy, and not pleasant – I’ve never heard of a pleasant detox. Yet, if we actually care about this country, this broken body, we cannot afford to repeat disastrous behaviors that placed us under the surgeon’s knife.

When people encounter life-saving surgery, they’re usually grateful. But, upon occasion, people are mad at the surgeon for suggesting the transplant. Could we have survived without a transplant? No. The last person that deserves blame is the surgeon. The surgeon inherited a patient that never once had a doctor say: “Slow down, and detox.”

We have the opportunity now to change this body, to learn a new way of living. Learning new ways of life are not easy, especially when you’re 235 years old. Yet, if we expect to live another 50 years, we have to start now, in the recovery, in the rest, changing our lives. Maybe, then, once we walk out of the door and back into life we can live full lives, and the whole body can thrive. Even then, the addiction will never fade away.

The opportunity to return to destructive habits will be ever-present. Yet, this time we have knowledge of a better way of living: in, by, and through community. After all, if we truly love ourselves, this nation, isn’t it in our best interest to heal ourselves? Or is the short-lived dream of addiction worth the destruction and pain? You decide. Me? I’m entering rapid detox, and it’s painful, but worth it for me, for community, and for the future. I’m not always proud of our body’s history, but I’ll never forget it, lest I return to a way of life that suffers the whole body.

  About the Author 
Connect:  Facebook Twitter
Zac Bailes is an ordained Baptist minister with native Kentucky roots. A second-year student at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, he earned his bachelor's in Philosophy at Georgetown College in Georgetown, KY. 

Passionate about social justice, Zac is intimately involved with the Institute for Dismantling Racism, an organization which seeks to create an anti-racist identity and culture that effects individuals and institutions. As a white, straight male, he constantly seeks to engage and question his privilege. It is a journey that is continually traveled on his blog Libs and Cons, and in life.

The Dream Act is Important, and Not Just for Immigrants

(Author's Note: excerpt of my weekly column in The Loop 21)

Like most legislation up for debate these days in D.C. the DREAM Act is neither new (first proposed in 2001) or as liberal (co-signed by Orin Hatch (R-UT), though he no longer supports it) as it seems. So what is the DREAM Act and why is it unlikely to pass?

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) would provide a path to citizenship -- but not exclusively grant it -- by conferring temporary legal status for a six-year period to undocumented immigrants. Eligibility would be based on the following:
  • Have proof of having arrived in the United States before age 16.
  • Have proof of residence in the United States for a least five consecutive years since their date of arrival, compliance with Selective Service.
  • Be between the ages of 12 and 35 at the time of bill enactment.
  • Have graduated from an American high school or obtained a GED.
  • Be of "good moral character"
It is estimated that there are over 2 million Hispanic immigrants who would be eligible, many of whom have lived in the United States most of their lives yet have no real legal status. Clearly, their current situation presents many individual obstacles -- access to jobs, higher education, and freedom to live where they would see fit as opposed to the few places where they can blend in without fear of deportation.

For instance, 75 percent of those eligible for the Dream Act reside in ten states: “led by California with 553,000 (or 26 percent of total); Texas, 258,000 (12 percent); Florida, 192,000 (9 percent); New York, 146,000 (7 percent); and Arizona, 114,000 (5 percent).” When undocumented immigrants lose, we all do. How so?

Monday, November 15, 2010

'So Educated' is Here

Our sister blog So Educated launched today to much fanfare. Nearly 10 articles published and another 6 coming tomorrow. That's a lot of reading (but that doesn't mean you can forget about us here at Policy Diary). All the articles are great today but I would especially like to highlight the roundtable interview with five attorneys who have pursued joint degrees. 

As an regular reader of Policy Diary knows, we have spent a lot of time in the past on law school admissions, law school life, and the practice of law as a whole. Kind of an odd topic for a policy blog. Hence, the need for So Educated - a blog on education and only education. So head on over and check them out. It's worth it.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Fiscal Commission Chairs' Proposal: Progressive Income Tax Reform

This is an excerpt from the fist article in my new series covering the Presidential deficit (or fiscal) commission co-chairs' report at The People's View. I started this series to promote detailed policy understanding of the proposal, instead of the internet and media bru-ha-ha it seems to have caused.

...The proposal, however, is about more than just Medicare and Social Security. It is about a wide range of changes to the federal budget and the federal tax code. While a lot of it entails painful choices, the proposal presents some unique and valuable opportunities for progressives that most of the coverage is completely missing. So today I start this small series to cover Chairs' proposal in detail. Today's part will focus on the income tax reform proposals (both individual and corporate)...

A lot of liberal activists are prone to put up a defensive wall as soon as the words "tax reform" are spoken, as the right has used it to serve their regressive tax agenda. But the tax reform proposals by the co-chairs of the Fiscal Commission are thought-provoking and mostly with progressive policy merit. They propose three plans, which I will go through one by one.

First is the "Zero Plan," which will significantly lower the tax rate while eliminating all the tax expenditures (i.e. itemized deductions), and then it forces Congress to raise the rates as exemptions are put back in. At the bottom-line, all-deductions-gone level, the current 10% and 15% rates drop to 8%, the current 25% and 28% rates fall to 15%, the top rate falls to 24% and the corporate rate to 26%. And it makes some very important progressive changes:

First and most importantly, it treats income from capital gains and dividends as ordinary income, ending their special tax treatment...

Read the full article here: http://www.thepeoplesview.net/2010/11/fiscal-commission-chairs-proposal.html

You can also follow the series which will have additional articles here.

How Business Killed Diversity

Diversity is a buzz-word. It's difficult to find one institution that does not attempt to proclaim it's work on diversity with a catchy slogan. I won't shame myself in attempting to recreate one – suffice to say it's awkward. We have watered down the multiplicity of persons to capital gain and marketing ploys. Institutions see diversity as a fad, not a way of life. This should cause pause for questioning.

Yet, I'm not here to say that diversity is 'bad' or 'awful.' Diversity provides room for exploration and growth for all people. Indeed, we don't live in homogeneous societies, so why would we work or learn in homogeneous atmospheres? Diversity provides learning experiences that no structured course can provide. Diversity provides the education of experience.

What does it mean for a historically white institution to open itself up to people of color, those in different economic classes, or different geographical locations? These are wonderful steps in the right direction, especially for institutions that have only catered only to white males for centuries. Yet, this does not reach far enough. If we are to provide learning-labs in our educational institutions or build institutions that extend beyond a slogan, we have to reach into the depths of white privilege.

However, as a community organizer I don't walk into an institution's main office and proclaim, "Reckon with your privilege!" Through conversation and building relationships I find the mutual self-interest. How does the white institution benefit from more people of color? How do people of color benefit from white institutions? How can they help each other?

Yet, this is only a starting point.

If the movement stops there, it does not good for us all. The systems of institutional racism reach their highest peak when they destroy our common humanity. When we look only at mutual self-interest and never beyond that, we have not procured our humanity. To speak of the wonderful aspects of diversity, is also a pledge to move deeper into the need for 'special programs' for diversity. Why do our educational institutions need diversity programs? Why do our businesses and corporate offices need catch slogans? These are the questions that matter. If an institution increases diversity from 2% to 11%, this deserves applause; applause that says, "Glad you're doing what we ought to have done."

We share a common bond, which is our humanity. The mutual self-interest, when recognized, provides an inroads to deeper and substantive discussion concerning oppressive systems. They are varied, and we know them by an '-ism'. Whatever our journey, whatever our '-ism', it must be encountered in relationship. It means those in privileged positions and oppressed positions working together, not always in a march, but in a meeting of hearts and humanity. White privilege will not fade away, and oppression never sleeps. Yet, it is through the persistent conversation between left and right; white people and people of color; abled and differently-abled that change occurs.

Diversity is a buzz-word. Might we have the courage to go beyond one word, and investigate the system? Might we have the pugnacity of spirit to speak the truth in love? Might we? Indeed, this journey is long, winding, and weary – alone there is no hope, together there exists a brighter future. One Hope – Through All.

Going Social - Facebook Email Coming Soon

Rumor has it that Facebook will be unveiling a full-fledged webmail service on Monday, November 15. Codenamed 'Project Titan' and whispered abbot since February of this year, there have been far more questions than answers: Is it a gmail killer? How would Facebook protect privacy, avert spam, or for that matter get your ex to stop adding you?

What is known is this: Facebook already has made investments in three separate areas, and is kicking Google's butt in the process.

But before I get into those lets go over why Facebook email changes the game.

It's what they know, not what they don't. By that I mean, Facebook may not know how to truly combat spam or handle 'official correspondence' as opposed to that Farmville notification letting you know your peaches are ripe, but they do know who you message most, how you're connected to that person (e.g., work, school, other friend), and what similarities that you both share (see: friendships, recently released). This is far more information than Google has. Utilizing this Facebook could implement an email system that is far more intuitive and delivers a unique experience tailored to each user.

And if they could do that then they could probably do search better too. That's what really scares Google, because it accounts for a majority of their revenue.

(1) Events

The most popular event on Facebook is birthdays, replete with the requisite 'wall coronation' that leads new friends to say, quite creatively, Happy Bday, and old friends to reminisce on the good ol days. Seriously though, it's simple yet indispensable. When is the last time you received a Happy Birthday email?

As far as manually setting up an event, I've never done it and honestly find most of those invitations annoying and far from useful . But that's me. Tons of folks do find them useful, and what I've seen runs the gamut - birthday gatherings, family reunions, school and university happenings. But the most surprising -- and the most telling -- was an informational event held on a graduate school campus set up by a consultancy.

Makes sense. Any business looking for the under-35 crowd (even though Facebook's rapid growth recently has been fueled by those far older), knows where this crowd is spending the majority of their time. So why not be where they are? It's a no-brainer.

Personally, I use Google Calendar for my daily schedule and appointment needs. But few of my friends do. I've never received an event invitation on there. Which means two things: (a) the field is wide open; (b) people are probably far more likely to use a calendar integrated with an event system they actually use and that is also coupled with their email.

Or it could just mean my friends don't invite me anywhere.

(2) RSS Reader

Some of you may not know what it is and technically Facebook doesn't have one. So why am I talking about it? Because Facebook went one step better.

An RSS reader allows one to subscribe to their favorite website or blog and be updated when new content is published. One of the biggest RSS Readers in the business is Google Reader (I have it and hate it). GR's problem is that it's too unwieldy. Paradoxically, there's just too much going on yet not enough to motivate me to actually give a crap about it and open it every day.

So I use Facebook Pages instead. Liking Pages allows me to constantly be updated on new content on my favorite sites (in an organized manner), via the newsfeed in a streaming format (read: lazy), or by visiting the actual pages themselves. It's brilliant. And of course Pages are also a social hub connecting likeminded people, helping to further strengthen the brand in the process.

(3) IM

I use Gchat every now and then, but honestly, it's not that impressive. I spend far more time on Facebook and am more apt to send messages than I am to initiate Gchats. However, Facebook chat needs to be beefed up considerably. The biggest problem I have is that you can't be invisible and still be able to receive or send chats. Why not? I love being invisible. It allows me to be social while I'm being antisocial. (Don't ask.)

But issues withstanding, Facebook Chat has over 200 million users. And it's not even loaded on all mobile platforms.

Google's got a fight on their hands.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Boylston St,Boston,United States

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Weak-kneed Democrats Give In on Bush Tax Cuts

Just as I predicted in my weekly column at The Loop 21 Democrats have caved in on repealing the Bush tax cuts. "We have to deal with the world as we find it. The world of what it takes to get this done," said David Axelrod. So while progressives were caught up signing petitions and lighting up MSNBC switchboards over the Keith Olbermann suspenstion, the Obama administration was losing yet another political fight, one that started off with them impassioned and resolute and ended with them wondering who kicked them in the shins. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting it's progressives' fault why the Obama administration can't get the job done. If anything progressives have asked too much of the administration at times (e.g., health care reform), as opposed to too little. However no one can argue that progressives haven't held the Obama administration's feet to the fire.

But this one really hurt. And this is before the GOP brigade that was just voted in even gets there. So how could the Obama administration back down before the real punches were even thrown? In hip-hop parlance they have a term for that - it's called having a glass jaw. Democrats need to wise up, and quickly.

The problem is really twofold: The Obama administration has time and again deferred too much to Congress. And secondly, there aren't repercussions for Democrats who don't toe the line. Essentially both go hand in hand. I would even argue that by deferring to Congress as much as they have the administration is (implicitly) admitting that they don't have the stomach (read: balls) to punish detractors. And Congress is fine with that. They'll go in a hundred directions and produce little results. Or worse, achieve plenty and do such a poor job of making it known to voters that they lose an election by a landslide and come back to DC and lose even more (see: Democrats circa 2010).

It's time to put an end to it. It's time for Obama to do what should've been done months ago: Sit Congressional leadership down and explain to them the good ole days are over. They'll be repercussions for detractors; there will be funds withheld from campaigns; and there will be cold stares that last longer than Sarah Palin looking at an SAT exam.

Because if the new GOP looks anything like the old GOP they'll get what they want and have Democrats' jaws on ice in no time.

By John S. Wilson

A proud graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, John is currently a Master's of Public Health candidate at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University  where he is studying health policy & management. He is also a weekly contributor to theloop21.com

Areas of interest include health care reform and education reform, particularly: access to health care, health care exchanges, and Medicare and Medicaid; in addition, charter schools,  K-12 funding, and educational equality.
John is wholeheartedly determined to contribute to the rapidly changing dialogue in the health care and education communities. He has made continuous contributions by conducting research, publishing articles, interviewing practitioners and professors, and engaging students through on-campus organizations.

John's publishings have appeared in fora such as: The Orlando SentinelThe Daily VoiceWiretap magazineBlack Web 2.0The Daily CalifornianNewMajority.comClub RelafordHipHopRepublican.com and Policy Net

Previously, he served as a legislative fellow in the offices of the Honorable David Englin (D) and  David Bulova (D) of the Virginia House of Delegates, in the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions, respectively. John also interned in the office of the State Attorney General of Virginia, and completed a Governor's Fellowship in the Office of Gov. Bob McDonnell where he worked with the deputy secretary of health on projects regarding aging, HIT and disability. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Can the Greatest Generation Teach Us About Race?

She was by far the oldest person at the family reunion. She shuffled around and everyone stooped down to explain, help, and give reverence to the reigning matriarch of the occasion. I’m not really sure how we are related, great aunt, great cousin in-law, I have never been all that close with this side of the family.

I found myself sitting next to her at a banquet table one evening. “What nationality is she?” she asked me, referring to my daughter, who was sitting near us.

“Her Mom is African-American.”

“Afro what? African? Amrination?” she struggled.

“Her Mom, my wife, is black,” I simplified.

“Oh. Well ya never know. Sometimes they adopt ya know. Now where exactly is Philadelphia? What is it near?”

I thought about how to answer her question and took the easy way out. “It’s near New York.” I was not prepared for what she asked next.

“Now, there’s lots of Negroes in New York right?”

I don’t recall exactly how I answered. I think I stammered some sort of affirmation, trying to be respectful to both an old lady and a whole race of people.

“Nancy says I’m not supposed to say Negro. Is it Colored? I just don’t know what to say. What was it you said earlier? AfreeMerin?”

She doesn’t hear all that well, so I thought it best to just stay simple, “just say black.”

“They used to be really mean to them I think. Wouldn’t let them sit on the busses, go to school. I just don’t know, but I think that wasn’t right. I just think it was mean. But it’s better now, right? That’s all done now isn’t it?”

I could have answered her a million ways. I could have been upset, could have just dismissed her entirely, or climbed high up on my horse and lectured my senior. I imagined what my wife’s face would have looked like had she been here to hear the whole exchange; mouth open, one eyebrow arched higher than the other, head slightly to the side.

“It was worse than mean. It was more than wrong. Things can still get better.” Is all I said.

I should explain something about this woman.

Earlier that same day the whole family had taken a trip to not only where this woman grew up, but where she has spent nearly all her life; Lyman Wyoming. I stood in front of a small wood home, looked right, looked left, turned all the way around and saw nothing but that house. Not a tree, not a building, nothing. Nothing all the way to the horizon in all directions. For most of her life she had to travel just to see another person. I think she may have met a total of 2.5 black people in her whole life. It has been a long life. Lest one think this isolation would amplify the affects of media, I should mention that for most of this woman’s life, they had no power. They had no power, as in influence, but mostly just in that they had no electricity. They lived “off the grid” as the hipsters would say today, but they did it in the 60’s.

What should I expect from a woman who lived in Wyoming with no TV during the 60’s? She is the equivalent of the average American today and our awareness of the state of indigenous tribes in Central America.

She is the generation of my grandmother. What should I expect her to have taught her children about race? Should I have expected her to address such an abstract in her world at all? We learn what we know through teaching and experience. On this subject she neither had, nor could give, either.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

More Important Than An Election

Crossposted from The People's View.

The election of 2010 is over.  Democrats are still reeling from it, and political strategists are still engaged in "woulda, coulda, shoulda."  I'm as disappointed as anyone.  But elections are conducted for one purpose and one purpose only: to distribute political power.  The measure of a majority is not whether it continues to hold power in the immediate following election, but in how it yields power.

Some things are more important and more lasting than an election.  Some things are worth taking a bullet over.  Some things are worth fighting for even if the politics of the day tell you not to.  Some things are worth losing 60-something seats over.  For the sake of country, the fierce urgency of now required the party in power to act with transformational reforms even if it cost them an election.

Health care reform was such a thing, as were the other reforms that are already the legacy of this Congress and President Obama.  The Slate's William Saleton makes this point in his article, Pelosi's Triumph
In the national exit poll, voters were split on health care. Unemployment is at nearly 10 percent. Democrats lost a lot of seats that were never really theirs, and those who voted against the bill lost at a higher rate than did those who voted for it. But if health care did cost the party its majority, so what? The bill was more important than the election. [...] The big picture isn't about winning or keeping power. It's about using it.

MSNBC's suspension of Olbermann plays right into Fox News' hand

(Author's Note: An excerpt of my weekly column in The Loop 21.)

Today Keith Olbermann returns from the pointless suspension doled out by his employer, MSNBC. Olbermann had admitted in an interview that he contributed to Democratic candidates, an act deemed a violation of employee conduct. The suspension was riveting because Olbermann is MSNBC’s cash cow, raking in more than 1 million viewers per night. Which would lead one to think that MSNBC was making a principled stand, no?

Well, no. If you were deaf, dumb, and blind you still would have known that Olbermann was a Democrat who was supportive of their candidates (donations or no donations). The riddle here is why MSNBC actually believes they have gained a modicum of respect for the impartiality such a suspension would seem to suggest.

How can I put this elegantly: Um, no...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Kendrick Meek sent Marco Rubio to Washington

(Author's Note: Excerpt of my weekly column at The Loop 21.)

After watching Florida’s election results trickle in I’m still flummoxed. Why exactly did Meek not leave the race? Why did Democrats support him as they whispered in his ear that he should drop out? Why didn’t Crist make his move to the left known sooner? Questions, questions. The only question I don’t have is: What kind of senator will Marco Rubio -- the Republican candidate and newly-crowned senator -- be?

First, let me say I was all for Meek running until I realized there wasn’t anywhere to run to. While far more progressive than Charlie Crist (and for that matter consistent on where he fell on the issues), he had no chance. Polls consistently showed that Meek’s support ebbed at 25 percent and dipped as low as 16 percent. He wasn’t really making any inroads with independents or Republicans. On top of all that a good number of Democrats were supportive of Crist from the outset. According to a Quinnipac poll, Democratic voters were peeling away support from Meek steadily even before Crist announced that he would caucus with Democrats, if elected.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Politics of HIV Testing

The Food and Drug Administration wields immense power that effects all of us in terms of options as well as in terms of countless profits for the food and drug industry. It’s influence in the fight against HIV/AIDS is no different. Not only has this been the body that approves HIV-medications for disbursement, but when it comes time to use US funds overseas on treatments, only FDA-approved medications are used. The FDA-approval in general is based on two criteria: does the medication/treatment in question reasonably accomplish what it claims to (“Efficacy”)? And what are the possible side-effects/concerns (“Safety”)?

The FDA makes efforts to base decisions on hard science, but because of the nature of statistics, reporting, power and money, it often has latitude. Medications and treatments are approved with varying degrees of efficacy with a wide-range of side-effects. Often the data they are given is not independent, but provided to them by the very companies that are seeking their approval and stand to make millions and billions of dollars. The data can be greatly skewed. When I first went on a protease inhibitor (Viracept, one of the new “cocktails” that dramatically changed the HIV-landscape in the late 1990’s), I had an allergic reaction unlike anything I had ever experienced. While on it, I ran steady fevers of 101-102; these fevers would spike up to 105 for about an hour after taking the medication. After 3 weeks of this, I could not continue.

When I then researched the medication and called to report my experience to the manufacturer, the woman with whom I spoke stated that she had never heard of these symptoms, but she also let me in on a dirty little secret: medication efficacy and side-effects are only reported on those who stay in studies, not those who drop out of studies. This made me reflect: who usually drops out of studies? I’d venture to say the answer is “those who are not having a good experience”. It was a troubling but also a telling moment in my understanding of the inner-workings of the world of meds and FDA.

The FDA has also been known to respond to public pressure. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, groups such as ACT-Up were effective in getting the FDA to put early formulations of HIV medications on a “fast-track” for approval, and then use the “public” as the source of new data for further review. Ultimately, many of the early HIV-medications were proven not to be very effective, and in many cases not safe. This was a time when people were taking drastic measures – blood-cleansing, drinking urine, to name a few things. It looked like the FDA-approval was a “drastic measures” approval, not one based on the rigorous results they demand of other products. More recently, the FDA has put a microbicide gel, Tenofovir, on a fast-track for approval. Microbicides have been a media and activist darling for approval and funding – with good reason, for sure, as it can help provide women with some options for prevention.

What I find perplexing is this: Why is approval for Home-Based, Self-Administered (HBSA) HIV-tests left out of the media, activist and policy arena? Consider:

• Rapid-test technology has been widely available for over 12 years, but remains available only in clinics. This is basically a self-administered assay test that measures HIV-antibodies.

• These tests are 96-97% accurate. If you replicate the test immediately and get the same results, the accuracy rate goes up to 99%+, practically eliminating the concern for false-results.

• HBSA HIV-tests could help save money. The administrative costs for testing in the current system starts at about $60/test, and can go much higher. The test itself is in the $10 range.

• The test is harmless in and of itself – not toxic, no side-effects. All the safety concerns are about the information it provides.

• Preliminary studies have shown that people can self-administer with the same efficacy as in the clinic, and that 80% of people want the option.

• One objection is that people need counseling. A 3-day training of paraprofessionals does not make one a “counselor”, but the counseling professionals who have spent years in the field are not qualified to offer these tests. There is a logical gap here.

• Routine-testers, including people in relations with people with HIV, are not allowed to self-test, but instead are required to go to “the system”, a task that costs both time and money.

• Outside of urban settings, people not deemed “high-risk” are being turned away from health departments. The alternative – a private physician – carries a greater financial cost as well as possible social cost if the provider is uninformed.

AIDS experts in South Africa recently called for policy changes that would allow home-testing as an option, declaring that people should be able to decide for themselves when and where they want to get tested.

A research article looked at the question in 2007 “Are we ready for HBSA testing?” (a link to this article can be found on Mosaic Initiative's home-page). The results were clear: the answer is sociological, not medical, and can only be answered by trying it. But the FDA continues to drag its feet on approval of these tests. In fact, there is a lot of fear, turf and politics involved. The South African AIDS experts termed it, "AIDS exceptionalism"; I have been calling it "AIDS, Inc."; regardless, it is not helping to de-stigmatize HIV-testing.

Last year, I purchased self-tests on-line from Africa, and promptly received a “cease and desist" call from the FDA. A subsequent meeting, after I refused, let me in on another dirty little secret; many AIDS organizations consider HIV-testing their “turf”; HBSA tests are an inherent threat to this. But when you read that there is a rise in HIV among college students, making HIV-tests more readily available on campuses, in creative ways and with adequate guidance information seems a no-brainer. This is an age group that under the best of conditions is not likely to go out of their way for a test; we need policies that can bring the test to them and engage them where they are.

The concerns about HBSA tests are consistent, but are also easily refuted or can be addressed through effective social networking and marketing. (see www.mosaicinitiative.org for more about this).

It just seems ludicrous to me that we live in a society where people can test themselves for pregnancy and std’s, and are routinely encouraged to screen themselves for early signs of deadly diseases, but there are more restrictions on HIV-tests than firearms. I also just don’t fully understand why the activist community that has no qualms about disrupting political rallies for more funding cannot find its way to at least raise their voice an iota for this cost-saving technology to be released.

About the Author
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Brad's articles on Policy Diary
Brad Ogilvie spent over a decade working on the "treatment" side of HIV as a clinician and program coordinator in a holistic clinic, and then running an AIDS housing program. During this time period – 1995 to 2005, he witnessed huge advances in the treatment of HIV. He also noticed that the institutions that had grown out of the early HIV/AIDS movement were slow and even resistant to change – often being competitive and divisive along demographic and geographic lines both nationally and internationally. He was increasingly convinced that the "business of AIDS" was big business that placed greater weight on keeping case loads and beds full, rather than stopping the spread of HIV. 

 As a person living with HIV, he also experienced the “spend-it-or-lose-it” policies that fostered a culture of dependency.  Armed with this knowledge and these experiences, he founded The Mosaic Initiative in 2005 to focus solely on stopping the spread of HIV through education and testing. He has worked in conservative and liberal communities in Illinois, Washington DC and rural Kenya.  As a gay man living with HIV, he has also found that by simply engaging people with open arms rather than closed fists, new alliances, friendships and community partnerships form that will, hopefully, bring a stronger grassroots voice to HIV from a place of common ground that influences better policy and action.  Brad lives in Washington, DC and works full-time for William Penn House developing programs for youth and young adults on social justice issues including HIV. His blog Mosaic Initiative is frequently updated and a wealth of information.