Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Your Health Info is Going Online

At least if you live in the UK it is. A pilot National Health Service (NHS) project will start storing patient records 'in the cloud,' meaning medical personnel and patients will have full access to it over the Internet. According to The Daily Telegraph:
Flexiant said that the project “could be used to integrate all phases of health-care treatment, from assisted living to primary and secondary healthcare, so that the same data can be used throughout”. The company said that it would allow services to be accessed from a range of devices, including computers linked to the web and mobile phones, but that “multiple identification methods” could be used.
Clearly security will be a primary criticism and ongoing concern of such a system. To confirm identities the system will use a range of protocols, including "mobile phone identity checking, as well checks through Facebook or the Paypal secure online payment system." Hmm...not sure about the Paypal or Facebook defense. Too often both are about as helpful as a comatose arthritic German Shepherd. But mobile phone two factor authentication is pretty nice. Pretty much works like this: enter password info to log into a site, and before you can gain access you are sent an additional password by text message or phone call to a predetermined number. So the scammer would need both your initial password and your phone at the same exact time.

I'm intrigued to see the development of this. 

3 Reasons Michelle Bachmann Isn't Gonna Make It Out of Iowa

Yesterday I got into a little Twitter debate (as I am wont to do) about Michelle Bachmann's chances of earning either the GOP nomination or being asked to come aboard as VP. My fellow debater presented some good analysis and even was kind enough to point me to some interesting stats Nate Silver had blogged about, namely that Bachmann's favorability rating in Iowa is high, second highest in fact, and she's also the most popular second choice. 

All of that would mean a whole lot - that is, if we weren't talking about Iowa. There's nothing wrong with Iowa, of course, but the caucus is dominated by evangelical voters that do not have as much sway in other caucuses. It's the reason Huntsmann is skipping Iowa altogether. When is the last time you heard of a major presidential candidate completely skipping one of the initial caucuses? Huntsmann is betting on two things: (1) Being a Mormon doesn't play well in corn country (and it's not a slam dunk nationally for that matter, with 22 percent of voters saying they wouldn't support a Mormon), and (2) he'll have enough money and momentum (they usually go hand in hand during primaries) to weather the storm. And I think he's right. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

GOP & Black Voters

I ran into this interesting comment about Michelle Bachmann mentioning courting black voters (yes, that Michelle Bachmann) at a recent campaign event. I thought the larger context, not just Bachmann's intentions, were very interesting. So I'll start with there and get back to Bachmann and the comment a little later.

For starters - it wouldn't be that hard for the GOP to woo 20-30% of black voters. Seriously, I'm not kidding. Yes, Democrats average around 90% of the black vote but that could change if the GOP did what they seem to find so abhorrent: act like they want blacks to vote for them. Seems simple but it's true. Blacks aren't a monolith, and I would wager typically vote for Democrats for a number of reasons: affinity for the party due to their upbringing; particular interest in the candidate and their take on issues; affinity for a candidate who has experience with their community and the social issues that mean so much to them; and finally, a candidate and frankly a party that supports other minority candidates.

So if the GOP looked at that list and were able to scratch off 75% I can almost guarantee that they would see a surge in black voter support. A typical retort to this premise of mine is 'But that's pandering!' Nope, not really. It's only pandering in the sense that a politician should care about everyone who resides in his/her community and be fully acquainted with the issues important to that particular constituency. So you see I'm just asking that they merely do their job. Nothing extra. No overtime needed.

Now back to Bachmann. The blog writer said the following:

If she [Bachmann] is instead making the point that Obama's liberal policies don't work, are not working in minority communities, thats the winner argument.   If she wants to hit the homerun, she'll need to take it to the next level and spell out concretely HOW Obama's policies are not working for these communities (not difficult).  If she does that convincingly in front of black/latino audiences and does it effectively, she will become a breakout T-Party candidate with a real potential to peel critical percentages of the minority vote away from Obama.  

I've argued many times that the GOP and the conservative movement writ large consistently blow its opportunity to effectively communicate with blacks as a political constituency.  Bachmann has the chance to redeem this error.  The metaphorical phrase "Only Nixon could go to China" refers to the ability of a politician with an unassailable reputation among their supporters for representing and defending their values to take actions that would draw their criticism and even opposition if taken by someone without those credentials. Its possible that only Bachmann can take the T-Party message to black America and win with it. 

Gingrich has a facile but dangerous attack line; Obama is the food stamp president, Gingrich says, whereas he wants to be the paycheck president."Think of the social catastrophe of 41% of a community not being able to find a job. But we have to have the courage to walk into that neighborhood, to talk to that preacher, to visit that small business, to talk to that mother. And we have to have a convincing case that we actually know how to create jobs....I will bet you there is not a single precinct in this state in which the majority will pick for their children food stamps over paychecks,'

Deployed correctly, this has the makings of an effective attack, notwithstanding the fact that it undercuts itself a bit by playing off imagery of blacks as food stamp recipients.   Like Bachmann, Gingrich will have to take this to the next level and articulate the HOW of this argument.  He doesn't have the credibility of a Bachmann making that case, but he does have the intellectual heft to articulate the argument properly. 
This is very smart take away from Bachmann's statement and one her campaign (as well as the GOP) should take notice of.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Should Rep. Giffords Resign?

This op-ed in CNN today is very interesting. A professor suggests Rep. Giffords should resign because her constituents deserve representation. It intrigues me what the response to this will be for a number of reasons, most of all because when I expressed my thoughts on this issue back in Jan. I was labeled 'soulless,' 'a republican,' (which is far worse in some folks' books), and pretty much dismissed (see video below). Yes, the timing was sensitive, that I understand. It had only been a couple of weeks after Gifford was tragically shot and nearly killed. But that was the point of my writing in the first place: We need to to have a protocol on how to deal with members of Congress who are medically incapacitated before passions run high and, quite frankly, all hell has broken loose.

A democracy can't afford to have its leadership hamstrung, not even by tragedy. Congress should show some leadership and create a protocol.

Monday, June 6, 2011

NCCA Needs to Make Coaches Pay

The college sports world was rocked over the weekend upon hearing that Jim Tressel, coach of The Ohio State University football team, had resigned. Due to his actions in not reporting unethical behavior among five of his players and lying about when he knew what, Tressel decided to hightail it and run before the NCAA started handing out sanctions and asking questions he would rather not answer. How upstanding of Coach Tressel, a former author of two books on faith and integrity. Maybe he was planning to be a case study in his third book. He'll have plenty of time on his hands to write it.

If Tressel's behavior could be attributed to a single character flaw residing in a single big time college sports coach, the issue would be minor at best. But that isn't the case. The pressure brought to bear on Tressel, who who had the third most wins (106) and the second highest win percentage (88.2%) in Ohio State's history, was caused primarily by two things: people fed up with college programs turning a blind eye to inappropriate athlete behavior; and advocacy groups and sports fans angry at the NCCA for dishing out slaps on the wrists to rulebreakers like burnt hot dogs at a bad Memorial Day cookout. The NCAA had yet to rule in Tressel's case, and to their credit, sports journalists were anticipating the that they would hand out a bevy of sanctions and conduct an exhaustive review going all the way back to Tressel's years at Youngstown State University, his previous coaching gig.

Few relationships are as complicated as the one which exists between the black community and big time college sports programs. On one hand, it is these programs, particularly football and basketball, which grant hundreds of black athletes full-tuition scholarships (to universities that would otherwise be unaffordable for the majority of them) and coveted media attention that can propel star athletes to the pro ranks, bringing forth millions of dollars in salary and endorsements; yet on the other hand, there is the parasitic nature of these programs which far too often break nearly any rule as they track and “recruit” kids younger and younger every year. After athletes are enrolled they are hustled through a broken system where the priority is on university coffers and corporate balance sheets not athletes. Of course in Tressel's case it wasn't so much a recruiting problem that brought his downfall as it was turning a blind eye to the clear and convincing NCAA violations his players were racking up year after year.

While the two problems are different, they stem from the same mindset: college athletes are disposable and their value is strictly appraised based upon their performance. But a coach is not just a mini sports agent shuffling college athletes from an unpaid forum in which to exhibit their talents to a paid one (the pro ranks). Instead, a coach should help model appropriate behavior to these young men and ensure they follow the rules and get their education. Or is that asking too much?

In Tressel's case and unfortunately too many coaches like him, it is. Sports Illustrated (SI) has uncovered numerous violations among Tressel players dating back to the 1990's. In one particular case “he claimed not to know that his star quarterback had received a car and more than $10,000 from a school trustee and his associates -- even though it was later established in court documents that Tressel had told the player to go see the trustee.” In a more cynical case, when Tressel was an assistant coach at Ohio State back in the 1980's he helped run their summer camp. Most of the kids who attended weren't Ohio State material but a few were clearly prospects. At the end of camp a raffle was conducted and kids would buy tickets hoping to win cleats and Ohio State gear. Turns out, according to a fellow assistant back then, Tressel would rig the raffle so that the recruits Ohio State wanted would win. Not only is this a possible N.C.A.A. Violation, it's Jim Tressel at his best. His assistant tells SI, "in the morning he would read the Bible with another coach. Then, in the afternoon, he would go out and cheat kids who had probably saved up money from mowing lawns to buy those raffle tickets. That's Jim Tressel."

NCAA infractions plague all big time college sports programs. A recent review by
Inside Higher Education found “53 of the 120 universities in the NCAA's top competitive level, the Bowl Subdivision, were found by the Division I Committee on Infractions to have committed major rules violations from 2001 to 2010.” It's a pervasive problem the NCAA has yet to properly address. That same review also uncovered that “fifteen of the 64 major cases involving Bowl Subdivision universities from 2001 to 2010 pertained to academic fraud or other academic violations.” And who is hurt the most? It isn't the coaches. Sure, fans of Jim Tressel are crying crocodile tears for him now but how long will it be before he is on the sidelines of another big time coaching program? Not long. He'll be coaching again before Ohio State comes off their sanctions, that's for sure.

If the NCAA is serious about reform and academic honesty where athletes are concerned they will make coaches and their staffs more accountable. Don Wilson, one of my brothers, recently shared a great idea with me: have sanctions applied to the university and the coach. If he leaves the sanctions go with him like a scarlet letter. And I'll go a step further. George Dohrmann, a writer at SI, was on to something a little over a year ago. Taking a hint from Wall Street, he suggested that college athletic programs use clawback clauses in coaches contracts. The clawback clauses “enable companies to recover compensations such as bonuses for a variety of reasons, including the uncovering of a scandal or if certain performance goals are not reached, said Dorhrmann. By forcing college coaches to own up to their misdeeds the NCAA will restore the integrity and faith in the process that existed before the sponsorships and TV contracts. Maybe Coach Tressel could be the first ginny pig. Now that's something he's worthy of writing about.

       About the Author
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john [at]
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.comand founder of So Educated (, an education policy and reform blog focused on widening the debate surrounding education and empowering parents and teachers - frequently the least thought of. 

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 VoiceFrum Forum (formerly New MajorityWiretap magazineBlack Web 2.0The Daily CalifornianClub and Policy Net. In addition, his commentary has been dissected on Countdown with Keith OlbermannCNNThink ProgressYahoo News, and Mediaite.

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, June 1, 2011

The Quest for HBCUs to be Heard

By Andre Serrette

Over the past decade or so, I have read numerous articles and arguments about whether or not historically black colleges and universities are necessary or even relevant in today’s society. From the perspective of the black community, HBCUs are extremely relevant, as they still produce the most black professionals that exist in the country today along with giving black students a strong sense of pride about their heritage. 

On the contrary, much of the non-black community feels that HBCUs are not necessary anymore, as there is now more of an equal opportunity to get into all colleges and universities in addition to the fact that many of the top black students in the country choose to go to the elite schools rather than attend an HBCU. The views on HBCUs seem to be polarizing more and more as time passes. I was asked by a very well-respected individual and professor in the HBCU academic arena, Marybeth Gasman, "What can HBCUs do to get more of a voice?" As it stands now, they do not have much of a voice because they are not respected as much as other colleges and universities. HBCUs are going to have to earn more respect because it will not be given to them under the status quo.

There have been some incredible individuals that have graduated from HBCUs, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois. However, that is where much of the problem lies. Outside of the sports and entertainment industries, the famous alumni that we are quick to identify and use to assist in the HBCU relevancy argument graduated many decades ago when racism was a part of the norm in society and the opportunity to attend a predominantly white college or university was relatively small. 

The famous alumni that have graduated in more recent decades are usually actors, rappers, singers, or professionals in sports. It does not help the argument regarding the relevancy of HBCUs when most of the more recent famous alumni are all entertainers in some sort of capacity and it certainly does not help when the more prominent black individuals in today’s society who are not entertainers did not go to HBCUs. If you do not believe me, think of some prominent black non-entertainers and or research where they went to college. I can assure you that almost everyone you think of did not go to an HBCU.

I have never been a huge fan of collegiate rankings, but look at the rankings for the top-rated HBCUs. For the sake of this article, look at the U.S. News rankings, which usually tends to be the most prestigious when it comes to a collegiate ranking guide. According to the U.S. News top HBCU rankings, the top three colleges, in order, are Spelman, Howard, and Morehouse. Once again, these are the top three black colleges. However, look at them compared to all of the other colleges and universities. Spelman is the #1 black college, yet it is ranked #59 on the rankings for the best liberal arts colleges and Morehouse is ranked #127 on the same list while Howard is #104 on the best national universities list. Compared to other HBCUs, these schools are the best of the best, but compared to other colleges and universities, these HBCUs are very, very average in the eyes of others, which also means most of the other HBCUs are not even taken seriously. And I will not even begin to list the retention and graduation rates of some HBCUs along with some of the grade point averages and test scores of the incoming classes. 

 While it is extremely admirable that HBCUs give underprivileged students who are not as prepared an opportunity to advance their education (similar to state colleges and universities), the standards cannot be so low to where they are not even respectable anymore when compared to the standards of non-HBCUs (the statistics are almost comical in many cases). The top HBCUs should not be on the same plateau as a state college or university and there has to be at least one or two HBCUs that are among the elite when compared to other non-HBCUs. They must reach a level to where they attract the elite black students throughout the country and to a point where a student with a 3.7 GPA is not offered a full scholarship and is not one of the best students in the incoming class, but is still vigorously competing with the other applicants to even get into the schools. They must reach a level to where they are consistently producing Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright Scholars, and other top students that show the schools are not only admitting these students, but grooming them to be extremely high achievers. Having one or two schools that are elite will prove that HBCUs are capable of competing at a high level and is the only way that the others will listen and respect what other HBCUs have to say and offer.

We take so much pride in saying HBCUs produce the most black professionals. While that may be true, it is not necessarily because we are the best. If the majority of black students go to HBCUs, it is a given that HBCUs will produce the most black professionals. In addition, most companies and universities pride themselves on being as diverse as possible. Being diverse in today’s society is similar to "going green"... it’s the "in-thing"... it’s the thing to be. If you are a company and you are looking to bring in more blacks, are you going to search a regular college where the black student population is probably less than 5% of the entire student body or would you go directly to the source and search a college where 99% of the student population is black?

Let me conclude by saying that my alma mater is the University of Southern California and I received an absolutely incredible education from there. During my undergraduate and graduate studies there, I had some of the best professors and mentors imaginable. I was a part of track and field team for four fantastic years, and I was even the captain of the team during my senior year. For all six years that I attended the school, I was also a part of Athletes in Action, which is a Christian ministry geared towards athletes. From the day I first stepped foot on the campus until today, the school has done nothing but embrace me and let it be known that I am a Trojan forever. It is almost to the point where I bleed cardinal and gold, which are the school colors. However, while I do not regret my decision to attend USC for my undergraduate coursework, I do wish I would have followed my original plan to attend Howard University for my graduate coursework. I will not go into detail about why I wish I would have gone there (I’ll save that for a different day), but I say that because I do not want anyone to feel like I am belittling HBCUs. I wrote this because I am challenging HBCUs to earn the respect... to be heard... to be better... we can do better!