Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ugly Betty's New Season

I finally managed to get around to watching my DVRed Ugly Betty season premiere. (Spoilers to follow.) Last season they ended it with Betty's simultaneous romances: Henry, who fathered a baby with his ex-girlfriend and lives across the country, offered a marriage proposal, and Gio, sandwich shop owner, offered up a months-long trip to Europe together. The writers made a pretty unconventional move for a show with an audience as girly as Ugly Betty's: she rejected both offers and decided to stay single because she has so much to experience still in life, including breaking out of assistantship.

But immediately after making an awesome feminist choice like choosing to live her own life and not follow men, she makes a series of really stupid mistakes. First, in an attempt to brandish independence, she foolishly commits to renting an apartment in Manhattan without looking at it first. Aside from the fact that the apartment is ridiculously large for a studio in Manhattan, it is, of course, leaky and in shambles. Second, she returns to work to find that her boss has been assigned to run a Maxim-esque magazine called Player. Instead of calling her sexist coworkers on their obnoxious behavior, she offers up a tense smile and puts up with it. Finally, in an attempt to save her well-meaning but somewhat inept boss, she hops on a motorcycle to save the day. Riding a motorcycle when you don't know how is ridiculously stupid and dangerous.

I get that Ugly Betty's thing is that it's supposed to be filled with caricatures and over-the-top (some of the best of them are Marc and Amanda, who barely made an appearance in this episode), but this just seems more than silly. The best past moments of the show were when we could really identify with Betty's hopes and dreams through her odd color parings. And the satirization of the women's magazine industry (complete with eating disorders) was sometimes spot-on. But if they don't start bringing the show back to its roots with a combination of lovable corniness and homages to Spanish-language TV novellas and a little less American-style comedic plotlines, we won't be seeing any more of Ugly Betty.

Rethinking the SAT

Yesterday Inside Higher Ed reported that The College Board, creator of the highly disputed SAT test, did its own independent analysis about college admissions and diversity. The results agreed with critics of the test, saying that when you include factors other than just the SAT test, the diversity of students who eventually enrolls increases.

When you include what the article calls “non-cognitive factors,” you wind up increasing racial diversity in enrollment. The Board is looking at altering its test to include other factors that tend to indicate success as a student, including “artistic and cultural appreciation, multicultural appreciation, leadership, interpersonal skills, career orientation, perseverance and integrity.” It’s even looking to include questions on “situational leadership” to get not just bookish people, but also those that can show leadership in difficult situations.

Now, for the record, the article appears to define “diversity” in terms of race, not wealth or geography. I’ve written before about how the SAT might be “too white,” but we should be careful about separating out the cause and effect here.

The SAT, because there are so many expensive prep programs out there, tends to be skewed in favor of the wealthy, who can afford such classes. By and large the wealthy tend to be white in this country. There are definitely people of color who are successful at this test without the help of expensive classes. But the test itself tends to assume a certain cultural situation, one that is very specific and doesn’t necessarily depend on your success as a student.

That said, this becomes about priorities. If colleges consider it a priority to have a diverse student body (and I would say that economic and geographic diversity is as important as racial diversity), then they need to examine ways to change their system to include diversity, instead of lamenting that the one key test that they use in admissions tends to exclude a large number of minorities. But, if it’s important for a school to have students that score well on one particular kind of test, they should just keep doing what they’re doing.

The answer most schools seem to be coming to is that they do want to increase diversity on their campuses, so they’re including other admissions factors and sometimes even dropping the SAT altogether.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Crap-tastic Hour

My crappy hour this morning with Megan at Jezebel is all about The Big Bad Media and Sarah Palin crying for a "do over." Maybe I should start drinking coffee before I do these things.

Traister: 'Cry me a freaking river'

Rebbecca Traister, yet again, nails the Sarah Palin sympathy game:
I don't want to be played by the girl-strings anymore. Shaking our heads and wringing our hands in sympathy with Sarah Palin is a disservice to every woman who has ever been unfairly dismissed based on her gender, because this is an utterly fair dismissal, based on an utter lack of ability and readiness. It's a disservice to minority populations of every stripe whose place in the political spectrum has been unfairly spotlighted as mere tokenism; it is a disservice to women throughout this country who have gone from watching a woman who -- love her or hate her -- was able to show us what female leadership could look like to squirming in front of their televisions as they watch the woman sent to replace her struggle to string a complete sentence together.
I admit that occasionally I feel bad when I see disgusting shit like those horribly sexist t-shirts. No woman should have to go through that. But to sympathize with Palin because she gets beat up on the national stage -- like any candidate does who runs for national office -- it's an insult. The point of all those years of feminists fighting for equality wasn't so that women get treated preferentially. It was so that women could be treated equally.

That means that when someone isn't qualified and people point that out, it's not sexist just because that person is a woman. Very few of the criticisms leveled against Sarah Palin these days are sexist, especially those leveled in serious political writing. The criticisms are more that she doesn't seem prepared to take office, that she spouts incomprehensible answers, and that she accidentally agrees with her opponents because she can't keep all the talking points in her head. This doesn't mean she's a bad person, but it does mean that she's not qualified for office.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sarah Palin’s Name Is a Boost for Both Sides

After the Republican National Convention, the Republican Party raked in $1 million. But an email campaign last week also helped Planned Parenthood raise more than $800,000 by mentioning Palin’s name. The effort had also been pushed out by various feminist blogs. It shows that charismatic and polarizing politicians have huge capacities for fundraising efforts on both the left and the right. Interestingly enough, the New York Times’ Caucus blog ended its post about the fundraising effort with, “Planned Parenthood said it would begin mailing the thank-you cards next week. The McCain campaign declined to comment."

Cross posted on Pushback.

The Hour is Crappy

Check out my chat with Megan over at Jezebel today for Crappy Hour. Also, please excuse my lame "existential crisis" joke.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday Nephew Blogging


Paying Attention to Mental Health

Yesterday, amid all the wrangling over the debates and the bailout bill, Congress managed to pass a long-overdue bill with bipartisan support. The bill, once championed by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, requires private insurers to provide benefits for mental health treatment to equal those of physical ailments. The bill’s chief co-sponsors in the House, Rep. Jim Ramstead (R-MN) and Rep. Pat Kennedy (D-RI), have both experienced problems with addiction firsthand.

Although the legislation still only addresses the mental health of those already insured, it signals a significant change in the way we approach health care in this country. There has already been an effort to include preventative care in health insurance plans, but sometimes the best way to address health care is to pay attention to other problems that are typically classified as “mental problems”: depression, anxiety, alcoholism, or drug addition. The last thing to add to such struggles is hours of wrangling with insurance companies.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Debating the Value of Debates

Today over at Campus Progress I have an article about the debates, and why we probably shouldn't expect them to be very exciting:

The first of the general election debates tonight will be very different from the long series of multi-issue, multimedia, multi-candidate debates viewers saw during the primary season. Instead, the audience will likely see two candidates in a very controlled environment. The CPD sounds very official and independent—its title suggests an organization dedicated solely the important role debates play in our democracy. But the organization is little more than a sham.

For years, debates were conducted by the League of Women Voters (LWV). Now, under the CPD, the debates have essentially become “bi-partisan press conferences,” according to George Farah, executive director of Open Debates and author of the book, No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates. “[The two major national parties] did not like that a women’s organization was telling their boys what to do,” Farah said.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sandra Day O’Connor’s Anniversary

Via Feminist Law Professors, today is the 27th anniversary of Sandra Day O’Connor’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court. O’Connor was the first woman ever to sit on the bench. Though appointed by Ronald Reagan, a conservative president, she often served as a swing vote on a number of hallmark cases, including Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which she outlined that regulatory measures on abortion would be constitutional so long as they did not place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to have an abortion, and Lawrence v. Texas, a ruling that determined laws against homosexual sodomy were unconstitutional. O’Connor continues to speak at colleges and universities throughout the country.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Congressman Encourages Poor Women to be Sterilized

Via Satyam at Think Progress, a Louisiana congressman wants to pass a law where the government would pay poor women $1,000 to tie their fallopian tubes. In a move that's uncomfortably reminiscent of the eugenics movement back in the 1960s where black women were forcibly sterilized, Rep. John LaBruzzo (D-LA) says in the Times-Picayune that people will be "excited" about his new plan because clearly traditional family planning "repeatedly failed to solve the problem."

This taps into something I wrote about earlier this month, inspired by how conservatives are often supportive of some women's reproductive rights (like Bristol Palin) as long as they're young, at least middle class, and white. Others receive paternalistic lecturing about how they need mandatory Gardasil vaccines (even as conservatives seek to prevent their daughters from getting the vaccine) and are discouraged from procreating. The point is that we need to be supportive of all reproductive choices of all women. That is the definition of reproductive justice.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Campbell Brown: McCain Campaign is Sexist Against Palin

CNN’s Campbell Brown has a really good point about how the McCain campaign has done a really good job of denying interviews or responses to the press–suggesting that she’s a “delicate flower” unable to stand up to the big mean press. I have to say I agree. Let Palin answer questions. Doesn’t seem hard.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Lifetime's Poll of Women

Too bad Mark Penn isn’t working on campaigns anymore, because I get the feeling he’d love to talk about the poll of “Lifetime moms” the women’s network just released. The poll, which certainly raises more questions than it answers, shows women pretty evenly divided between the Republican and Democratic tickets. Women voters in the poll were equally divided on the question of which candidate best represents the interests of women.

One of the many weird things about this poll is that the consensus was that they felt Sen. Hillary Clinton was treated more fairly during the campaign than Gov. Sarah Palin, with “56% saying coverage of Clinton was fair and 50% saying that coverage of Palin has been fair.” But this doesn’t seem like a fair comparison. Clinton has been in the public eye for decades. When she campaigned as a potential first lady, first in 1988 and then in 1992, she experienced some pretty harsh treatment by the media, including of her hair. Today, Sarah Palin is new to the national scene and she, too is experiencing some harsh criticism–including wouldn’t you know it, of her hair.

The one thing that we know from 2004 is that married women tend to vote very differently than single women. This is a curious trend to me. I’d like to see a breakdown of the Lifetime poll above to see how many of the 534 likely women voters they surveyed were married and if those trends reflect larger marriage trends in American society today. In the end, the Lifetime poll shows women are as divided about the election as, say, America as a whole. It just reconfirms that women aren’t a monolithic group.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Youth Care About the Economy, 13% Still Undecided

Rock the Vote released a new poll of young voters for the month of September. It seems that young people are just as concerned about the economy as everyone else is. Here are some highlights from the survey.

- More than half of those polled cited job creation as their most important issue, half cited energy prices (such as gas), and 45 percent cited health care.

- While many still care about the war, only about a quarter (24 percent) thought the Iraq war was the first issue the next president should address.

- Young voters did not think candidates were spending enough time discussing any of the issues they were asked about, including job creation, college affordability, health care, health care, and immigration.

- Most young voters (87 percent) said they plan to vote in November and 92 percent said they’ve discussed the election with family or friends

- Although 59 percent of young voters said they are voting for Barack Obama and 29 percent said they will vote for John McCain, 13 percent of young voters are still undecided.

You can read more about the Rock the Vote poll here.

Cross posted at Pushback.

College and University Faculties Experience Demographic Crunch

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education’s news blog, a new study (PDF) from the American Council on Education shows that the traditional methods of promoting faculty through department chair, dean, and chief academic officer may soon become a thing of the past. The problem is twofold: First, since mandatory retirement ended in 1994 there are far more older professors than ever, and the recent squeeze on investments has caused many to delay retirement. Second, there are very few young faculty (under the age of 34) in permanent positions. Many doctoral students are taking longer to complete their programs or taking time off (especially women) once they’ve completed them. Community colleges in particular have many faculty members who work part-time or come to teaching as a second career.

This is especially bad for the promotion of women and minorities because they make up so few of the younger permanent faculty. According to the study, “Women under the age of 45 in permanent positions make up 5 percent of faculty at four-year institutions and 6 percent of community college faculty. People of color under the age of 45 in permanent positions represent 4 percent of faculty at four-year institutions, and 6 percent of faculty at community colleges.” In other words, when senior faculty look around at the permanent faculty for promotion, most of the candidates are going to be white dudes.

The study’s authors call for universities, colleges, and community colleges to reevaluate the methods they use for promotion. They may have to start looking at faculty with less experience than they might traditionally have in the past. Perhaps schools should start to include other life experiences when evaluating a candidate for promotion rather than strictly looking at academic experience. In any case, once older faculty do start to retire, academia will be facing major problems to fill leadership positions.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Real-Life 'Mad Men' Make More Money

Mad Men, a show about 1960s advertising agency and all the icky gender roles from back then, won the top award at the Emmys this year, and a new study from the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that regressive gender attitudes pay off in real life. The study, released this week, shows that women and men with “traditional” attitudes about gender roles have a pay gap that is 10 times greater than men and women with egalitarian attitudes about gender roles.

Men with attitudes suggesting that men and women should have distinct roles in society–that there are some professions that women just shouldn’t do–tend to make $11,930 more than other men who had more egalitarian attitudes about gender roles and $14,404 more than women with regressive attitudes. The study followed a group of 12,000 people starting who were just starting in their careers in 1979 and who are now middle-aged. One of the authors of the study was astonished, saying that the pay gap based on attitudes persisted across all professions.

The thing that struck me about this study was that women with more egalitarian attitudes made more while men with more egalitarian attitudes made less than their counterparts who believed in distinct gender roles. This may lead many to think of pay as a zero-sum game. But this is still about attitudes. Men who believe they should be the primary earners also believe that they deserve to make more money. It’s the same with women who believe in egalitarian gender roles. In part making more money is about asking for more. So that way, if the scale is already tipped in your favor, as it is for men (even controlling for all factors, women still make about 77 cents for every dollar men make), and you believe you deserve to make more based on the virtue of your sex, then you end up cashing out with more.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Bitch is Back

So after I wrote that lengthly response to Tracie on Jezebel who seemed to say that Bitch should just die already, the magazine raised $6,000 more than their goal of $40,000. It just goes to show that people see a valuable product and want to see it continue.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Viewership High on Maddow's Show

On the Rachel Maddow front, her show is pretty popular -- already drawing more viewers than Kieth Olbermann's show in her first week. I think this just goes to show that quality left-of-center media, which tends to be underrepresented on cable news, is actually worthwhile if it's given the chance.

Misogyny of the Day

When you search the word "wench" on Wikipedia, this is what you get:

Yeah, that's right. Check out the redirect.

Increased Demand for Student Aid

It turns out that the economic crisis has engendered a spike in financial aid applications, most commonly known as FAFSAs. On average the number of applications increased nationally by 16 percent over the last year. This suggests that families are worried about the ability to pay for college, and though not all of those new applicants will get aid, many will. Inside Higher Ed published a chart that shows some of the top increases by state:

Some schools, like Duke in North Carolina, will be reaching into their sizable endowments to meet for the increased demand for aid. Others will scramble and possibly have to ask for more money from state budgets if they are public schools.

But this aid crunch has created another problem. The New York Times reported that because of the increased demand in Pell grants, next year will likely see a shortfall of $6 billion in the national budget. As of August 31 this year, 800,000 more students applied for Pell grants than had last year. Ultimately this is good because Pell grants go to the students that are the worst off--the most unable to pay for school. But as I've written before, the buying power of the Pell grant has declined significantly over time.

Cross posted at Pushback.

The Icky Palin T-shirts

While Ann at Feminsting and Tracie at Jezebel said pretty much everything on those disgusting Sarah Palin t-shirts, I was struck by how I just don't get it. Palin is pretty much the opposite of feminist on nearly every issue. Isn't that was misogynists out there want? All the feminists to just shut up and follow the Palin model? But instead these sexists go ahead and target Palin with the same disgusting behavior they try to use to denigrate feminists.

Women are just sex objects, no matter what their actual role in life. So then it occurred to me: it doesn't matter if Palin reinforces the virgin/whore stereotypes that misogynists thrive on -- you piss them off just by virtue of your having a vagina. In other words, even though Palin has been working really hard to placate these ridiculous people, there's no way she can ever placate them. She exists in life as a woman, and that is enough.

Teen Pregnancy Rates Up in S.C.

Via the Daily Women's Health Policy Report, teen pregnancy rates are up in South Carolina after a decade-long decline. Of course, the response has been to ramp up abstinence-only programming. And we all know how well that works.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Catholics “Swing” on Choice

The New York Times has an article about Catholic “swing” voters making their decisions based on a candidate’s position about abortion. There was a lot of buzz about Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi recently debating choice. Biden and Pelosi, both Catholic, seem to abide by the idea that there needs to be a separation between belief and public policy when it comes to choice, something supported recently by a poll. The Times article says that:

Progressive Catholics complain that by wading into the history of church opposition to abortion — Mr. Biden brought up St. Thomas Aquinas, Ms. Pelosi discussed St. Augustine — Democratic officials are starting a distracting debate with the church hierarchy.

But this is because the church hierarchy is engaging in something it should never do–attempting to make public policy. More than 70 percent of Catholics polled found the bishops’ position on abortion irrelevant to the public policy debate. Basing public policy on one subset of Christianity just seems like a bad idea.

Cross posted on Pushback.

White Privilege and Reproductive Justice

Tim Wise, a prominent anti-racism thinker, published an article on white privilege in the election. One line I thought was particularly good was this:
White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
This has been something on my mind for a while ever since the Bristol Palin pregnancy story broke. I just finished a review of Jeanne Flavin's Our Bodies, Our Crimes (NYU Press) for Bitch, and a good deal of Flavin's argument is about how race and class determine how supportive of society is of your reproductive decisions. Setting aside the icky eugenics-style past of attempting mass sterilization of women of color, today the stereotypes of "welfare queens" have a lot to do with irresponsible reproduction.

One could well think of this recent story about the Bush administration requiring immigrants to take the HPV vaccine. The traditional conservative mantra on this issue tends to freak out at the idea of putting this vaccine into their daughters -- but these same people are entirely in favor of vaccinating a group of people that tends to be overwhelmingly Hispanic. The underlying assumption here is that our perfect, white daughters are beautiful and pure and don't need to be vaccinated against icky nasty HPV. The implication about immigrants is too nasty to even type. What comes out of this is a paternalistic desire do control women's sexual health. For some it's okay, and for others they are a "burden."

In the end, what it means for me to be pro-choice is to support the reproduction and sexual health of all women, regardless of race or class. Rather than trying to control the reproduction of one set of women and then get very defensive about the "choices" of another, we need to make sure all women have the tools they need to make educated and safe choices about their reproductive health.

Thoughts on Bitch and Non-Profit Media

Yesterday onetime-Slut Machine-turned-bride-to-be Tracie over at Jezebel came off rather "assey," as she says, in arguing that Bitch magazine should just die already. (Full disclosure: I am an occasional contributor to both Bitch and Jezebel. For the record, Bitch pays me; Jezebel doesn't.) Bitch editor Andi Zesler has also criticized former Jezebel writer Moe in its pages before.

That's not to say that Tracie doesn't have some legitimate criticisms. She, like Ezra, doesn't understand what the obsession with printing things on paper is. It seems clear that the best way to cut overhead costs is to stop printing on paper. It's very expensive, takes a lot of time, and actually isn't all that environmentally friendly. I know Bitch came of age during the third wave zine era, but this really would be the best way to save the magazine if they were serious about it.

The other point that Tracie brings up is that Bitch shouldn't be so prudish about accepting advertising. Bitch has a policy of only accepting advertising from feminist-friendly products and services, something Tracie points out limits their advertising revenue. Advertising is still the biggest way that magazines make money. I have mixed feelings about accepting advertising money from non-feminist sources, given Bitch's mission. While I agree with Tracie that it may not be realistic in the long term to reject such advertising funds, I also know that a lot of Bitch's readers, who find the magazine a haven for real feminist thought, may take the sudden change in advertising policy as an affront. They could lose some of their most loyal readers this way.

Tracie also seems to forget that Bitch is part of non-profit media. She expresses frustration that Bitch has the gall to ask for donations. But all non-profit media do this. The approach is different with each, National Public Radio does the equivalent of Bitch's beg once or twice a year -- and they also get subsidies from the government. In fact, non-profit media has a long and proud tradition of asking it's readers, viewers, or listeners to support the product they like. Yes, it's annoying, but we need both for-profit and non-profit media. Tracie's argument about advertising could well be applied to any non-profit medium. And then we'd just be left with outlets like Jezebel.

Finally, Tracie points out that "Maybe the reason why Bitch isn't succeeding is because, although it's trudged along for 12 years, it just isn't successful." Well, this depends on how you define success. If you define success only by financial success, then no, the magazine isn't successful. But if you think the magazine has something to contribute to the public debate, look forward to learning about pop culture through a feminist lens, then you probably find value in what Bitch does. The idea that only popularized mediums like Jezebel deserve to survive, well, isn't very feminist.

Ultimately, what is happening to Bitch is indicative of larger media trends. In response to declining ad revenues and subscribers, many publications look to cutting costs. Often this means firing people that know how to do their jobs, and we've seen that the results haven't been so great. I don't have the answer to media's problems, but I'd like to keep reading publications like Bitch. The more voices we have out there, the better off we'll be.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Concerns on GI Bill Changes

This summer Congress passed a widely anticipated GI Bill revision that was supposed to fix many of the problems that had been lingering since the mobilization of the military in late 2001. But it turns out there are some bureaucratic concerns with this version of the bill.

Because there will be so many changes, the old Veterans Affairs system may not be ready to handle the volume of requests it will receive after the program goes into effect on August 1, 2009. The VA contracted out an automated system and those rejected by the system will be handled by VA staff, but Subcommittee Chair Bob Filner asked a lot of hard questions about how this contracted system will handle the paperwork. Filner demanded that the system be demonstrated to be in working condition by March 1, five months before the VA is required to implement the new benefits.

This goes to show that proper implementation of laws is just as important as the laws themselves. If it takes too long for veterans to get their GI Bill reimbursements, the bill does little good in practice. The updates to the GI Bill are massive–many say this is the biggest set of changes since the program’s implementation just after World War II. The kind of oversight the veterans subcommittee is conducting keeps the administration on its toes, and setting early deadlines is key.

Cross posted on Pushback.

Minnesota Nice

I'm from Minnesota. I'm nice. This apparently proves it.

Republicans Divided on Choice

In the increasing age of the ideological polarization of social issues, the Republican Majority for Choice seemed like a fresh breath of air when I interviewed one of their co-chairs at the Republican National Convention. But the RMC is perhaps a little too optimistic about the outcome of a McCain/Palin ticket:

In the end, the battle becomes about justices on the Supreme Court. Though McCain has made his judicial philosophy clear -- and essentially guaranteed the nomination of a "strict constructionist" justice or justices in the mold of Robert and Alito -- Stockman sees the Democratic Congress as a buffer to the most egregious of his possible choices: "Believe it or not, I'm not as concerned because Democrats will control the Senate and McCain can't propose [a judicial nominee] who's on the record as being anti-choice," Stockman said.

Despite RMC's optimism that McCain will prioritize other issues over women's health and rights, his track record aligns overwhelmingly with a pro-life agenda. As Sarah Blustain reported in The New Republic earlier this summer, McCain has voted against women's health and rights issues -- ranging from birth control access to abortion -- 125 out of 130 times.
Read the rest of what I wrote over at RH Reality Check.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Conservatives and the Media

Here at the Values Voter Summit, Family Research Council Action has a panel on how the media is “hanging conservatives out to dry.” Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the National Review , said that Palin is the most prominent pro-life woman in politics today. That’s certainly true. In fact, there is only one pro-life woman in Congress today. Kate O’Beirne, president at the National Review Institute, said that Sarah Palin may finally “sound the death knell for modern feminism.” The proclamation was met with cheers.

Ponnuru said that media “trust socially liberal sources more than socially conservative ones.” He lamented The New York Times‘ unwillingness to use the term “partial birth abortion.” This is because the term “partial birth” isn’t a medical term, and therefore would be inaccurate when referring to the procedure. He also cited the “liberal media’s” tendency to cite “liberal” sources when it comes to cases like Terry Schiavo. (In case you missed it, social conservatives were totally wrong about her.)

Cross posted at Pushback.

Stephen Baldwin Hates Gossip Girl

Stephen Baldwin, at Family Research Council Action's Values Voter Summit, went on a 20-minute rant about how Gossip Girl is bad and evil. He yelled at the audience, saying that some of the attendees' children could be watching the show without them even knowing it. He called the show "trash" and claimed that the advertisers for the show were "mocking God" by putting out advertisements like this one.

Cross posted at Pushback.

FRC Action Won’t Support Presidential Ticket

Family Research Council Action today announced that they will not be endorsing a presidential ticket, and will instead be focusing on congressional races. The group has a list of roughly 80 candidates it’s planning to support, and there are two Democrats: Heath Shuler and Mike McIntyre, both social conservatives from North Carolina.

Some other observations about the Values Voter Summit here at the Hilton Washington:

-the music is all very big band, with a number of pieces by John Philip Sousa

-most popular free giveaway item: “I (heart) Palin” and “Palin Power” stickers

-a video about “the call” (a prayer event to overturn legal gay marriage in California) featured the scariest voiceover I’ve ever heard

-FRC is supporting “more conservative judges” on every level, both at the Supreme Court and various appellate courts around the country

-Michael Medved was introduced with the Star Wars theme song

Cross posted on Pushback.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More Oversight on Private Lending

Inside Higher Ed has some good information on further regulation that’s needed on the private loan industry. It seems the investigation conducted by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (started by Elliot Spitzer before he became governor of New York) is prompting more insight into this industry, which boomed in the early part of this decade. A lot of the necessary changes were addressed by the Higher Education Opportunity Act passed by Congress this summer. There are two outstanding pieces of business:

Congress stopped short of embracing two major changes that advocates for students and many financial aid officers argued would truly protect students from being hamstrung by unnecessary private loan debt: (1) requiring college officials to “certify” that a student needs the money he or she is preparing to borrow from a private loan provider and (2) allowing borrowers to discharge private loan debt in bankruptcy. The first provision was strongly opposed by some lenders who provide loans directly to consumers, and the latter ran into significant opposition from senators who had little interest in reopening wholesale changes made to federal bankruptcy laws in 2005.

That’s right. If you go bankrupt with student loan debt, the government has afforded that debt the same protection (meaning you still have to pay it off) as child support and taxes. This seems to me like a major loophole in the legislation. No other industry gets such special protection. Why student loans? I would understand if it covered direct lending from the federal government, but it covers private loans from lending giants like Sallie Mae.

UPDATE: Okay, so I seem to have gotten this a bit wrong, but that’s what we have post updates for, right? When you stop paying federal loans (these are the ones that come through after you fill out your federal aid application and will have names like Stafford), perhaps because you can’t afford to, the government still pays of almost all of the loan off. The government will still try to collect on that loan from you, though, and recover some of their costs. This was actually explained really well on the financial page in the New Yorker a while ago. It seems that private loans, though, while not reimbursed by the government if the borrower defaults never go away, even if you manage to go bankrupt and unable to pay off your debt. In other words, both federal and private loans aren’t something you can get rid of — even if you go bankrupt.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Videos on RH Reality Check

My RH Reality Check colleague Amanda Marcotte has a new video series up. Check out this great one on contraception access for youth.

RH Reality Check: Contraception Access For Youth from RH Reality Check on Vimeo.

Too Many Women

Awesome headline, New York Observer editors. In an intense presidential election, of course people are tiring of political stories, but it's not that people are tired of politics or the campaign season, it's because America is tired of feminism. Because, you know, we have too many women running around. And furthermore, there is just no difference between Hillary Clinton and Cindy McCain. You can lump them all into the same lady-parts category. Ugh. I'm really hating this new trend of equating Republican women like Cindy McCain and Sarah Palin with feminism.

Nice Try, Camille

So according to would-be feminist Camille Paglia, Sarah Palin is a "a powerful new feminist -- yes, feminist! -- force." She goes on to call Palin a "tough, scrappy fighter with a mischievous sense of humor" and says Palin has "made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment."

Uh huh. Of that I can only say this:

Dear Ms. Paglia,

We have received your application to be a leading feminist thinker. Unfortunately, we're not able to accept you at this time. Best of luck in placing your thoughts elsewhere.

Real Feminists Everywhere

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Charging for Rape Kits in Wasilla, Alaska

Via Mike Tomasky, apparently during Sarah Palin’s reign as mayor of Wasilla the hospital had a policy of charging victims for rape kits:

While the Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies have covered the cost of exams, which cost between $300 to $1,200 apiece, the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests.

The thing is this is actually a fairly common practice around the country and doesn’t really have anything to do with Sarah Palin or Wasilla. This is a real problem in this country. Yes, it’s linked to the fact that people have to pay for medical care in this country whether they can afford it or not. But the fact of the matter is, if you are a rape victim, that event will cost you. It will cost you in medical bills, therapy, and legal fees if you choose to press charges. This shouldn’t be the policy in Wasilla and it shouldn’t be the policy anywhere in this country.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Michelle Obama is Fabulous

The Burgeoning Education Reform Movement on the Left

This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine had an article by Paul Tough on the division between teachers’ unions and education reformers. It seems that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, while problematic, is shining light on some pretty significant achievement gap that falls along racial lines.

As Dana Goldstein reported in a piece on an education reform event at the Democratic National Convention:

In the United States, about half of all black and Latino students drop out of high school, while 78 percent of white students earn a degree. And while No Child Left Behind is regarded as deeply flawed legislation in every quarter, it is also almost uniformly praised by policy wonks for shining a light on the achievement gap and for instituting the first national collection of education data correlated by race and family income.

Tough pointed out that there “is evidence that schools can do a lot to erase that divide, but the reality is that most schools do not. If we truly want to counter the effects of poverty on the achievement of children, these advocates argue, we need to start a whole lot earlier and do a whole lot more.”

But while education reformers love to paint teachers unions as standing in the way of real reform, Kevin Carey’s piece (sub. req.) in latest issue of The American Prospect notes that while teachers’ unions tend to be resistant to change, the reasons are more structural than attitudinal:

[A]s unions’ ability to garner pay increases has slowed since the 1970s, their agenda became more focused on two key goals: job security and classroom autonomy. Unions also focused on school security, seeking to maintain the status quo. They weren’t interested in letting other public schools compete for the same children or letting outside agencies judge school results. Classroom autonomy, meanwhile, was seen as a key element of elevating the teaching profession into the realm of respected, self-directed professionals. This, too, argued against uniform standards. [emphasis his]

So the answer, it seems, lies somewhere in the middle. Rather than the left’s old solution of “throwing money at the problem,” there does seem to be a need for achievement standards. That way, at least, there are measurable ways to see which students are lagging behind. Then educators can begin to look at why. But there’s also a need for real investment in school infrastructure, teacher compensation, and early childhood education. It seems that both sides need to open themselves up to criticism and then work together to come to a solution.

Cross posted on pushback.

Biden on Conception

This weekend on Meet the Press, Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden noted that he identified with the Catholic Church's definition of life beginning at conception, and the New York Times reported that fact. I do hope you watch the whole clip, because I think that this is where the real issue is. As a pro-choice person I don't dispute that some people believe that life begins at conception, even if I might disagree with them. They're entitled to believe that. But, as Biden points out, it's wrong to force that belief on others who may still have a strong faith but believe that abortion can be a moral choice.

On the flip side, Biden doesn't support federal funding of abortion. While this seems like a principled stance, I think that people often forget that taking away federally funding for abortion often leaves poor women, sometimes the women who didn't get proper sex education, without options. If you can't afford an abortion and there isn't some kind of assistance, federal or otherwise, to help you have all your options available, then you no longer have that choice.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Orders to the Alaska National Guard Not from Sarah Palin

When Republicans introduced Sarah Palin to the audience at the RNC, they touted her executive experience -- something no one else seems to have. To show how capable she was to lead, they said that she is commander-in-chief of the Alaska National Guard.

But a recent McClatchy report shows that Palin never issued any orders to the National Guard in her state. As long as troops are called up for federal service, Palin has no authority over the troops. Her authority over the state's National Guard extends to in-state national disasters and emergencies. In the two years that she has been governor, Palin hasn't commanded the troops in such an instance. So I guess her executive experience commanding troops is a bit oversold.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Investing in 'Clean Coal' a Misstep By Both Candidates

Last week, Barack Obama promised to tackle the problem of global warming in his acceptance speech in Denver:
As president, as president, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology , and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America.

And tonight, John McCain also promised to tackle the issue during his own acceptance speech in St. Paul:
We will produce more energy at home. We will drill new wells offshore, and we'll drill them now. We will build more nuclear power plants. We will develop clean coal technology . We will increase the use of wind, tide, solar and natural gas. We will encourage the development and use of flex fuel, hybrid and electric automobiles.

But as Rob pointed out earlier this week, clean coal is still pretty bad , and won't be any real solution to global warming or be better environmental policy in the long term.

Cross posted at Pushback.

"Radical Moderates" in Minnesota

Progressive Republicans
Yesterday morning I went to an event sponsored by Growth and Justice, a think tank in Minnesota that takes a more moderate pro-business view than other conservative groups. The event highlighted former Minnesota Governors Al Quie and Arnie Carlson, as well as retiring Congressman Jim Ramstead. The idea was to highlight how these were Republicans who were committed to social justice as well as promoting business growth.

The group's president, Dane Smith, opened the event by saying, "It's good to see so many fire-breathing radical moderates in one room." He noted that Minnesota was among the top ten states in economic growth at the same time it was one of the top ten most heavily taxed states--that is, "until recently." He talked of the state's tradition in investing in education and health care. Of the speakers, many are known for being moderate Republicans, and each has a crowning social justice achievement.

Ramstead has co-sponsored the Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act, something that Paul Wellstone pushed for during his time in the Senate. Ramstead said he expects the bill to be passed and signed into law this September.

Quie inherited a budget crisis while governor, and is often hailed for his fiscal responsibility. Lately, he has devoted himself to social justice causes such as the prison crisis and education for children with disabilities.

Much like Quie, Arnie Carlson's role as governor was highlighted by tackling a budgetary crisis. He established what's now known as Minnesota Care, a program that provides health insurance to low-income families. He also pushed for the anti-discrimination laws in Minnesota to include gays and lesbians--a move so controversial that Republicans didn't endorse him for his re-election campaign in 1994, when he won the majority of the vote, something that hasn't happened in a gubernatorial election since.

The significant thing about this event is that the moderate Republicans on the panel criticized the "no new taxes" and caps on tax increases that have been common with conservatives in recent years. These moderates favored a balanced budget and social programs for the poor over voting "no" on tax increases at every opportunity. Smith pointed out that in 2006, during Governor Tim Pawlenty's re-election campaign, 200 of Minnesota's wealthiest individuals took out a full-page ad in Star Tribune to declare that they could afford to pay more in taxes.

But looking around the room of "radical moderates," many of them fell on the later side of life. Fewer than half a dozen people in the room were under 30, and of those many were reporters or staffing the event. Whether that means that young people today are more extreme than in the past or that moderates are having a harder time reaching out to young people it's hard to say. But it's interesting how such moderate voices are rarely reflected in the political debate today.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Police in Riot Gear

Last night protesters met police in full-on riot gear. They blocked off nearly all the streets surrounding the Xcel Energy Center. Here's a video showing you what the blockade looked like. Moments later, the police sprayed tear gas into the crowd.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Effect of the 1960s


Today at the Minnesota state capitol, people have gathered for concerts, yoga, and registering to vote. The Ripple Effect, which could better be described as Hippie Fest '08, put an emphasis on ending the war and enacting a leftist Middle East policy. One of the performers asked attendees to recycle properly and then asked for anyone to yell if they wanted to end the war. A second performer was excited to see Palestinian scarves in the audience. The smell of incense was strong, and you could even see some attendees creating a sculpture out of flowers (see below).

It was almost surprising to see such a collection of college-aged young people in dreadlocks cheering to "give peace a chance" after living inside the Beltway for two years. The kind of youth participation I typically see is more of the button-down, get-a-job-at-an-activist-organization kind. But the appearance of this brand of anti-war liberals should be of comfort to those like Tom Friedman , who say that we're all too quiet and spend too much time online. It seems like a mistake to take a group of office-working DC activists for the whole of the generation. Clearly the protest kind of activism born in the 1960s still exists.


Cross posted at Pushback.

Palin Draws Down

Apparently the controversy over Bristol's pregnancy has earned her a rating of 59 percent of US Weekly online readers thinking that Sarah Palin should step down as vice presidential nominee. Palin, who was scheduled to appear at Phillis Schlafy's Party for Life event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul, decided she wouldn't appear after all.

Covering the RNC

Sorry to have not posted recently. I've been busy flying from Denver to DC and then to Minneapolis to cover the Republican National Convention. Already the tone is very different. After cutting back on events the last couple of days, the Republicans, at least in my personal interactions (perhaps because they know about the Center for American Progress, my employer) seem to be more on the defensive than the Democrats were last week. Minnesota Public Radio has already devoted several segments to the question of Sarah Palin's viability as a vice presidential candidate. I'll be reporting more over at Pushback, but in the meantime, here's a rather humorous logo to entertain you.

The Problem with Choosing Sarah Palin

Today’s theme at the convention is “Who is John McCain?” The question has become more or less abandoned recently. Over the last several days, gallons of ink–digital and otherwise–has been spilled over McCain’s vice presidential pick. Because Sarah Palin was relatively unknown in the national scene, reporters and bloggers have been spending a great deal of time trying to uncover her political history. Already, the minor scandals Troopergate and Babygate have bubbled up. Conservatives went on the defensive almost immediately trying to assure everyone that Palin has enough experience to be the vice presidential nominee.

By choosing someone with a relatively unknown past, the national attention has dropped from the top of the ticket to the bottom of it. Already Palin’s garnering louder cheers than McCain from some conservative groups. Although she brings energy to the ticket, especially from religious conservative voters, she has also energized the left because of her socially conservative positions. With such a controversial figure on the ticket, the debate has become more about Palin than the differences between the two parties.

It’s too early to say if this is going to be a lasting narrative in the campaign or a blip around the Republican National Convention. But it may be difficult to focus the campaign on the top of the ticket, even if the theme tonight is getting to know McCain.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Youth Delegates at the RNC

Spencer Rice is delegate from New York. He believes he's the second youngest delegate, having just turned 18 in May. He hopes to go to Annapolis like John McCain.

Cross posted at Pushback.

Young Republicans Hear From Huckabee, Voinovich

Mike Huckabee at YR
Yesterday at the Young Republicans luncheon at the Hard Rock Cafe (full disclosure: Campus Progress Action co-sponsored the event) a group of roughly 25 young people gathered to listen to Sen. Voinovich from Ohio, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and the Student PIRGs to talk about get-out-the-vote efforts. "I really believe in grassroots politics," Voinovich said to the young people with a hearing aid in his ear.

The event was designed to talk about the youth vote, but for the most part, it noted more about some leaders in the Republican party. Voinovich pointed out that he had become a Republican because he believed in "balancing budgets and paying down debts," and noted that the country's deficit has gone up 40 percent since 2001 -- during a Republican administration. It was the kind of thing you might hear from a Blue Dog Democrat.

When speakers mentioned presidential nominee John McCain the Young Republicans cheered, but when they mentioned vice presidential nominee the Young Republicans cheered louder. Although Huckabee noticed that McCain was his "second choice" for president, he endorsed him. He also spoke of respect for Palin for carrying through with her pregnancy even after she discovered that her baby would be born with Down's syndrome. Very few people choose to carry through with such a pregnancy after discovering such a challenge. "Then we find out who's really pro-life," he said.

Cross posted at Pushback.
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