Sunday, January 30, 2005

I Never Thought I'd Say This...

Since my mom is a Longhorn alumna, I never thought I'd find myself lauding Texas A&M for anything. But after reading a tidbit in The Nation today, I think I have to.

A&M is famous, among other things, for refusing to consider race as a factor in its admissions. A couple of years ago, A&M took a novel approach to increasing diversity on its campus - it got rid of legacy admissions and began recruiting from urban poor areas. The result: A&M saw increases in all minority enrollment, including a 47% increase for black students. At the same time, the University of Michigan, whose affirmative-action program for undergraduate admissions was nixed by Gratz v. Bollinger, saw an 18% decrease in minority enrollment.

A&M, almost certainly unwittingly, has put forth a new model for affirmative action in admissions: get rid of all preferences and recruit the poor. Let's hope other colleges follow suit.

Good Luck

ONAF hereby gives its heartfelt best wishes to the Iraqis who are voting as we speak. Since I know my blessing is so important to them.

Adventures In Controlling The Media, Part 3

From my father comes this disturbing news:

"Maybe you could give some space to the recent flap over PBS and Margaret Spelling, the new Secretary of non-Education. She apparently muscled PBS not to air a show that might indicate that a child that is growing up in a same-sex parental household can be healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and even normal. Apparently, the PBS poohbahs decided earlier, before the Secretary could threaten the purse-string threat, that the 'message' was not appropriate. That whole thing stinks of prior restraints on free speech - just as beginners."

Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes gives it a more in-depth look here. She describes the claim that PBS had already pulled the episode as how it "sounds great if you were born yesterday; otherwise, not so much."

And yet, the DoE spokesperson has the gall to say that, regarding the nature of material shown to children, "It's up to parents to decide for their children, not the government in a taxpayer-funded video for preschoolers." Um, pardon me, but aren't you, the government, deciding what parents should show their kids by censoring the show? I'm sure the idea that one can give parents choices by limiting their choices makes sense... when you're on acid. And this is the Education Department? No wonder our education system sucks. The people at the top have no capacity for abstract thought.

So the Education Department is using its muscle to make sure that public television doesn't give our children gay (as esteemed social critic Homer Simpson would say). And they're paying off columnists to back No Child Left Behind. The naming of this department is becoming more Orwellian by the second.

At least it's amusing that Bush has chosen people named Paige and Spelling as Education Secretary.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Gonzalez's Nomination

Alberto Gonzalez, as expected, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. He'll go before the full Senate either tomorrow or sometime next week. And, in a 55-45 Senate, he'll be approved, barring a well-organized filibuster.

I'm not entirely certain what to think about Gonzalez. On one hand, he did help draft the torture memo. But I wonder whether Gonzalez was more concerned about what was the interpretation of the law that would most help his client - Dubya - rather than the moral imperative. In that sense, I wonder if a lot of criticism towards Gonzalez is somewhat like calling a killer's defense lawyer a murderer. Indeed, Gonzalez seems to recognize that he'll no longer be serving just the President, but the people as a whole, and thus needs to make more broad-based decisions.

And I'm not sure that he's wrong when he says that the Geneva Conventions don't apply, legally speaking, to the Taliban/al Qaeda operatives. But I worry because he's still in this mindset that such detainees need to be treated more severely than, say, Germans during World War II - or if he's not, he's given no evidence to that effect. Gonzalez and this administration seem to believe that the war on terror can only be won by dragging ourselves down to the terrorists' moral level. I don't buy that.

Of course, the torture case specifically is kind of a tangent here. The detainees are, for the most part, Defense's territory, and the AG wouldn't really have final say over what happens to them. What the AG does have control over is how our own citizens are treated when arrested on terrorism charges. And if we extrapolate from the way Gonzalez approached the torture question, we can expect the continuation of Ashcroft's abuses; for if one believes moral sacrifices are required to win the war on terror any breach of the principles of our justice system can be justified. It is for this reason that I oppose Gonzalez's nomination.

Sadly, questions that approached civil liberties issues were either not asked by the senators or not reported by the torture-obsessed media. I admit that I don't know for sure whether Gonzalez would follow in Ashcroft's footsteps. He may surprise me, but I doubt it.

That having been said, I think Democrats should save their filibustering for a Supreme Court nomination. Block Gonzalez, and you end up with some other right-winger. Save it for somewhere where it would do some good.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Oops, They Did It Again

When Armstrong Williams made the ominous claim that he wasn't the only writer under secret government contract to promote presidential initiatives, he wasn't kidding. Now there's Maggie Gallagher, who was being paid off by the Department of Health and Human Services. She was pushing Bush's welfare reform policies, "marriage strengthening" initiative, and gay-bashing. Howard Kurtz reports here.

Even the psychotically conservative National Review was annoyed that she didn't reveal the existence of her contract. Damn.

Social Security Reform

In the upcoming days, I plan to address several of the issues Republicans - who have the power to set the agenda - are planning to bring before the country these next two years. They include simplifying the tax code, tort and malpractice reform, the creation of health care savings accounts, and others. Today, though, I'm dealing with Social Security/Medicare, since it's the hot-button issue out there.

Republicans are telling us Social Security is about to go down the tubes. Democrats tell us that everything's hunky-dory, so why bother? Of course, we sentient beings realize that neither side is being forthcoming with us. Social Security is in trouble, but it's not immediate trouble. In fact, if medical costs remain inflated, Medicare is likely to go bust before Social Security.

So let's look at the Republicans' plan. They want to divert payroll tax funds into private accounts, essentially setting up a mandatory retirement fund. This will create a $2 trillion cost over the first decade - but alleviating what supporters say will be a $11.2 trillion cost down the road (according to Cato, anyway).

It seems to me, though, that this is a fairly absurd plan. It is a dishonest attempt to gut the Social Security system. If you have it in for Social Security, as Republicans seem to, you should have the courage to eliminate the payroll tax and do away with the whole system. As it is, Republicans have come up with something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Who's going to manage these accounts, anyway? If we're going to manage them ourselves, why not just give us a payroll tax cut and let us do what we want with the money we get? And what sense would it make to have the government manage them? Couldn't the government just start investing money anyway without all this hullaballoo about "starting private accounts"?

(Of course, because of our deficit, that would lead to the somewhat amusing situation of our government issuing bonds to get money to invest. I wonder what would happen if the government invested in its own bonds - would everything disappear in a puff of logic, as Douglas Adams would say?)

It seems to me there are solutions that allow us to save Social Security without destroying it. My favorite idea is reorganizing the ridiculously regressive payroll tax, thus making the system fairer and raising the money to save the system. Right now, Social Security is an upward redistribution scheme - taking money from the working class and giving it to the richest segment of the population. Another possibility is to cut benefits to the financially independent elderly, making Social Security a need-based program.

Anyway, that's my take on it. More ideas as they come to me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Quick Hitters

I've heard unconfirmed reports that Fuel lead vocalist Brett Scallion dropped the F-bomb at one of Bush's inaugural balls. If it's true, it's hilarious - anyone know?

Also, slightly more confirmed reports that James "Focus On This, Bitch" Dobson has declared SpongeBob to be gay. What Dobson has failed to realize is that sponges reproduce either remotely or asexually, so they don't actually have sex, per se. Plus, why is Dobson thinking about SpongeBob's sex life anyway? What kind of person sits up at night wondering if SpongeBob gets laid, and by whom? Does Dobson get way too excited about doing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Time To Be Obnoxious

For some reason, I subscribe to Time magazine. In their January 24th issue, Time featured a cover story on twentysomethings (that's us) who apparently refuse to grow up. The article is here. My response, which will never get printed because it's way too long, is posted here.

Dear editor,

In my 23 years, I have never read a “journalistic” article that missed the point as severely as your January 24th piece “Grow Up? Not So Fast.” Your writer, Lev Grossman, seems to believe that America’s twentysomethings are irresponsible for not finding good jobs and settling down. This comes from a member of the generation that outsourced or downsized all the well-paying jobs, replaced the union system with the Wal-Mart system, and turned the concept of job security into some quaint ephemeral ideal. Not to mention his is the generation that is more concerned with Social Security’s solvency than with the epidemic of youth poverty and that his is the generation that has caused college tuitions to skyrocket, burying us under mountains of student loans. And while Mr. Grossman alluded to the economic reasons for staying at home and not starting families, he still believes that irresponsibility is at the center of our actions.

The younger generation is, for the most part, left with low-paying jobs well into their twenties. Those of us with stable family backgrounds face the following decision: live at home for free and save up what money we can, or let our low salaries and high costs of living drive us into destitution. It seems to me that staying at home and saving up is the responsible choice. And we marry and have children later because we want to wait to start a family until we can afford it. How irresponsible of us.

But lest we still believe that the younger generations are “irresponsible,” let us take a look at the actions of the so-called “responsible” generations that preceded us:

- Under the leadership of presidents from the World War II generation and the Baby Boomer generation, our government has run up a national debt of $5 trillion and counting. Such spending habits have severely jeopardized our economic solvency. How responsible.
- Members of the World War II and Baby Boomer generations married early – and ended fifty percent of those marriages in divorce. How responsible.
- Older generations spend on frivolous luxury goods instead of saving; the national savings rate is currently the lowest it has been since the Depression, and the average credit card debt per family is $7,000. Apparently, older generations opted to buy that third shiny new SUV and pay for it later instead of saving some money for future expenses such as, say, helping their kids out after they leave college. To the Boomers, it’s more important to show up the neighbors than to be financially secure. How responsible.

Responsibility is living within your means. Responsibility is saving money for tomorrow’s possible disasters. Responsibility is buying a house when you find a steady job, no matter how long it takes. Responsibility is raising children once you can afford it. Responsibility is buying something when you have the money instead of using the credit card. Responsibility is planning for the future while enjoying the present. We know what responsibility is. If Boomers want to see what irresponsibility is, they need not look past their mirrors.

Jeff Woodhead
Cary, NC

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The New "Compassion"

Happy birthday, Dr. King.

I've been reading a lot of articles recently on the world's responses to the tsunami. I haven't written anything about it, but here's a trend I've been noticing:

National governments are in a bidding war to win the PR boost that comes from pledging the most money. The U.S. government seems to want to give money so that its image in the Muslim world improves. Relief organizations seem to have their alterior motives - one Christian group wanted to "provide entrance for the Gospel" in predominantly Muslim Aceh. Muslim groups fought back. An ugly battle ensued. (Read the Post article here.)

(And to the Christians out there - yes, I understand that y'all see the spreading of the Gospel as an act of compassion. But the WorldHelp guy seems like he's using Acehnese orphans primarily as pawns to spread Christianity instead of providing them with a home because it's the good Christian thing to do, and that's sickening to me.)

Which makes me wonder: what the hell happened to compassion for compassion's sake? How about helping people not because you want to look good, or because you want to advance your foreign policy goals, or because you want to spread your religion, but helping because someone's home and family just got wiped out by a big ass wall of water?

Maybe most people and organizations are helping out of the goodness of their hearts, and the ones with alterior motives are the ones who get the press. I guess I'm just bitter. It reminds me of Christmas in a weird sort of way - somehow, our worth as people and as countries is measured by how much we give, and that kind of defeats the purpose of generosity.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Oh. Hell. No.

Just when liberals thought it couldn't get any worse, word on the street is that Newt Gingrich is mulling a 2008 presidential bid. The silver lining: at least he's a critic of W's Iraq policy.

Friday, January 07, 2005


This is a disturbing trend I've noticed: Why do the supermarkets around here keep condoms in locked cabinets? Do they want people to have unprotected sex?

What Propaganda Machine?

I feel cheated. I've been operating so long under the delusion that we have a free press in this country, when actually it costs $241,000.

That's how much money - your money - went to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams in return for his support of the No Child Left Behind law. You can read all about it here.

And this is not the first time that the Bush administration has been caught with its hands in the media jar either. The Education Department has paid a public relations firm $700,000 to institute a ratings system aimed at journalists' coverage of the law. And we can't forget the May debacle over the HHS TV advertisement that some stations aired as actual news coverage.

Add this to the administration's general intolerance towards dissent and to the hyper-sanitized press conferences for which this president is famous, and you have trouble.

It's nothing new for politicians to try to manipulate the media, so I can't really get mad at the administration for much more than using our tax dollars in a slimy, underhanded way. I just thought the press would be better.

See, it's a journalist's duty - as I understand it - to report the news and to critically analyze government policy. So why are the media credulously swallowing whatever the administration feeds them (or whatever some interest group feeds them, like the Dan Rather/Texans for Truth debacle)? It makes me wonder what other stories I've been reading have been changed thanks to the influence of the almighty dollar (whether directly or indirectly)...

And David Broder has the audacity to bitch at the bloggers for being unprofessional. I guess he's using "professional" in the strictest sense - getting paid. By the government. In exchange for favorable coverage. You know, if I wanted to listen to Bush's bitch, I would find Bill Frist. I don't want it when I open the paper.

(Note: Broder, to my knowledge, tends to be fairly independent. It's his colleagues I'm beginning to doubt. Especially Krauthammer.)