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Desperately Seeking Dalrymple (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 13-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Teaching



Published: October 5, 2011

I know you couldn’t care less about Sarah Palin bowing out of the presidential race, but let me ask you this: Who wants to spend the next 13 months watching Mitt Romney run against Barack Obama? Can I see a show of hands?

I thought so. All of us, regardless of political persuasion, have a stake in trying to keep the Republican presidential fight going through the winter. These are tough times. (“Sesame Street” just announced it’s adding a poverty-stricken Muppet.) We need diversion.

Plus, it doesn’t look as if there’s going to be a professional basketball season. And I cannot really figure out that many ways to mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car.

But we seem to be running out of fresh blood, and it’s only October! Surely there’s another Republican governor or ex-governor we can crown Non-Mitt of the Month. George Pataki is definitely available, and I think the country is coming to understand that what it really needs right now is another president named George.

Donald Trump seems content to be an ex-candidate, using his deep political expertise to comment on the remaining field. (“I had dinner last night with Jim Perry. I was impressed with him.”) But maybe there’s another reality TV host we can get into the race. Jeff Probst, the guy from “Survivor,” might be good. On the show, whenever a team loses a competition, he always says something like: “Kaluha Tribe, I’ve got nothing for you.” It’s sort of a signature. Think how useful that would be for a president. (“Future Social Security recipients, I’ve got nothing for you.”)

A spokesman for Probst said he was unavailable to provide extraneous details such as whether or not he is a Republican.

How about Idaho Gov. Butch Otter? I have been promoting him as a possible presidential contender, mainly because I like saying “Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.” But there’s much, much more there to recommend him. For one thing, I’m pretty sure he’d be the first president who was on the board of directors of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

One of Otter’s big initiatives this year was declaring the gray wolf an “emergency disaster” so people could shoot them. This could open up a useful debate on the hunting issue, which in presidential politics usually involves candidates bragging about their body count. But we could also revisit Rick Perry’s story about how he shot a coyote with his “Ruger .380 with laser sights” while jogging, and pursue a question that has been bothering all of us: Where was he carrying it?

Even better, it would give us an opportunity to relive the moment in the last presidential campaign when Romney was forced to backtrack from his efforts to portray himself as a lifelong hunter. (“I’m not a big-game hunter. I’ve made that very clear. I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times.”)

One small downside to a Gov. Butch Otter candidacy is that he’s already endorsed Romney. But betrayal is one of the high points of any presidential campaign. The more pain, the more they entertain. It’s sort of like Hunger Games for pacifists.

Finally, and this is very important, if Gov. Butch Otter became a presidential candidate, everybody in the media would have to go to Idaho to follow him around for a while. I have never been to Idaho, so I would like that very much. In fact, if we can’t have Gov. Butch Otter, I think we should try to find a Republican governor from another state that I’ve never visited.

Paging Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota!

North Dakota has so many jobs there’s a labor shortage. And a monster budget surplus. Of course, this is almost entirely because they’ve discovered a huge field of oil up there. But do you remember how Rick Perry keeps bragging about job creation in Texas? If Perry can take credit for oil, Gov. Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota can, too.

“And don’t pooh-pooh agriculture,” the governor mildly chided a TV interviewer.

This campaign needs more candidates who say things like “Don’t pooh-pooh agriculture.”

Now it is true that much of North Dakota’s new prosperity involves hydrofracking, a drilling method that causes environmentalists to genuinely turn green. Also, when they drill for oil, the drillers are so eager to get their hands on it that they don’t bother to capture the byproduct, wasting 100 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. “North Dakota is not as bad as Kazakhstan, but this is not what you would expect a civilized, efficient society to do,” an energy expert told Clifford Krauss of The Times.

Admittedly, “Not as Bad as Kazakhstan” isn’t the best possible state motto. But I think we could work this out over the next 10 or 20 candidate debates.


A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 6, 2011, on page A35 of the New York edition with the headline: Desperately Seeking Dalrymple.

When I Needed Help, I Got Propaganda (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 13-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Sources T3, Teaching



Published: October 5, 2011

DEFENDERS of “crisis pregnancy centers” are converging on Capitol Hill this week to lobby for increased support from the government, brandishing not picket signs, but babies.

The centers portray themselves as nonpartisan health and counseling clinics, but in fact they oppose abortion, and sometimes even family planning, and push a political agenda on vulnerable women. A Congressional investigation in 2006 found that 87 percent of the centers surveyed provided false or misleading medical information. Nonetheless, the government has given over $9.3 million in grants to these centers since 2007 — mostly under the Bush administration. Cities like San Francisco and New York have recently sought to crack down on their deceptive marketing and others have called for an increase in regulations.

Still, supporters of the centers and the “Babies Go to Congress” campaign claim they are promoting a pro-woman agenda.

I am intimately aware of how false that is. Like many young women, I found myself facing an unintended pregnancy. Two years ago, as a junior in college with ambitious career goals, I knew that continuing the pregnancy wasn’t an option for me. I called the local Planned Parenthood and made an appointment for an abortion for a week and a half later. The operator I spoke to encouraged me to spend time thinking over my decision and considering all my options.

I tried to do that. Because my communication with Planned Parenthood had been over the phone and the nearest office was in Iowa City, about an hour away from where I lived, I searched online for somewhere nearby where I could ask questions in person. I found Aid to Women, a center in Cedar Rapids that claimed to provide confidential counseling and abortion information. I knew it didn’t perform abortions, but I still went expecting to get unbiased medical advice.

When I walked in, I knew almost immediately that I’d been wrong. Though the volunteers wore scrubs, none of them were medical professionals. They insisted on calling my pregnancy my “baby” and my “child.” The intake questions included, “What is your relationship to Jesus Christ?”

The “counseling” that I received included the following: I was cautioned that abortions caused breast cancer, even though the National Cancer Institute has found serious flawsin all research that suggests so. I was warned that I would inevitably suffer from post-abortion stress syndrome, even though the American Psychological Association says there is no evidence of increased mental health problems among women who have an abortion in the first trimester. I was told that I would not hear this information from doctors, because doctors make money performing abortions and would lie about the procedure’s risks.

Even as a college student familiar with the abortion debate from studying political science, I left the center with a lot of confusion. I researched what I’d been told, found out that much of it was inaccurate, and got the help I needed at Planned Parenthood. But I can see how easy it would be for more vulnerable women to be manipulated into feeling dependent on these centers.

Since then I’ve talked with dozens of women, including my best friend and my younger sister, about their own experiences with these centers. Regardless of our views on abortion, our conclusion about crisis pregnancy centers is the same — they don’t help women. My sister fully intended to raise her own son, who is now 2, but when she was pregnant and went to a center for advice, all she got was a lecture about the joys of adoption and a pamphlet on eternal salvation. She had to turn to Planned Parenthood to receive any actual prenatal health care or referrals.

Parading babies around as props is only a stunt. While Republicans have made their concern for the unborn clear, the fact that many of them proposed cutting nutrition programs for infants by about 10 percent earlier this year suggests that their concern for babies may end once they’re born. And if they truly want to support women, they should focus on transparent, nonpartisan, fact-based education for those who are facing what is likely to be the most difficult decision of their lives.

Katie Stack is a graduate student in gender and women’s studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato.


A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 6, 2011, on page A35 of the New York edition with the headline: When I Needed Help, I Got Propaganda.

All Quiet on the Southern Front (NYT Op-Ed) Source-T3

Posted on : 13-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Sources T3, Teaching



Published: October 5, 201

ACCORDING to many of the leading Republican presidential candidates, including my governor, Rick Perry, the border between Texas and Mexico is among the most dangerous in the world. All of them insist that “securing” the border has to come before any sort of comprehensive immigration reform, but Mr. Perry has been particularly aggressive about it. “It is not safe on that border,” he said recently, and he called President Obama a liar for suggesting otherwise. He’s even said he was open to sending American troops into Mexico to counter the violence.

Those of us who actually live along the border know otherwise. El Paso, the largest city along the United States-Mexico border, is also one of the country’s safest cities and the heart of a vibrant binational community.

The region has its problems — our sister city across the border, Ciudad Juárez, has been ravaged by Mexico’s drug war — but a focus on a quasi-military approach ignores the need for real solutions to our economic and social challenges.

As a lifelong resident of El Paso, I find it disheartening to see our city, and the border region in general, misrepresented for political advantage. Texas border cities are as safe or safer than other cities their size in Texas.

Yet despite the facts, Mr. Perry continues to cast El Paso and our neighbors as poster cities for border violence: last year he claimed, without evidence, that bombs were exploding in our streets and that Juárez was the most dangerous city in America (even though it’s in Mexico).

Mr. Perry is far from alone. Many Republican politicians — and not a few Democrats, too — use the bogeyman of border violence to justify exorbitant security measures, like the ever-lengthening border fence that costs $2.8 million per mile (for a total of $6.5 billion, including maintenance, over the 20-year lifetime of the fence). Mr. Perry’s brainchild, security cameras, have so far cost $4 million to put in place and maintain.

These measures do little besides waste money. Tunnels already run below the border fence. During their first two years in operation, Mr. Perry’s cameras led to the arrest of a whopping 26 people — that’s $154,000 per arrest. And once undocumented immigrants are apprehended, costs continue to mount: in this fiscal year alone, the federal government is budgeting $2 billion just for detention.

But there’s a bigger cost to my community. Claims about our supposedly dangerous border would be laughable if they didn’t damage our image and our ability to recruit talent, investment and events. El Paso is home to an emerging national research university, a new cutting-edge medical school, one of the nation’s largest military installations and a vibrant business community.

It is also an important trade corridor, and our busy land ports — through which $70 billion worth of commerce passed last year — are critical to the American economy. The factories across the Rio Grande provide products for the American homebuilding and automobile industries, as well as high-tech electronics.

None of that seems to matter, however, when El Paso is made the symbol of our supposedly broken border.

True, there are challenges along the border. We need jobs and investment, as well as improvements to the trade infrastructure on which our economy depends. While billions have been expended for walls, cameras and detention, we’ve seen little investment in our ports. During an era of shrinking budgets, our nation’s resources should be spent more wisely.

In El Paso, for every four Customs and Border Protection agent positions, there are three vacancies. As a result, commerce waits as trucks idle for hours in long lines. Such congestion frustrates business, and it certainly doesn’t make us safer or assist our economy.

A recent study commissioned by the Texas Department of Transportation warned that if our ports receive no investment, including additional personnel, El Paso’s economy will contract by $54 billion over the next 25 years, driving up unemployment and hurting trade. And what harms our economy harms the state and national economies.

While the one-dimensional security discussion continues, candidates continue to avoid dealing with the complex border reality. It would be in the candidates’ and the country’s best interest to present the truth about the cities on the border: we are safe, dynamic economic engines that need strategic investment.

So while candidates talk about getting tougher, border cities like mine will continue to talk about becoming smarter. Let’s just hope they join our conversation soon.

Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, is the county judge in El Paso.



A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 6, 2011, on page A35 of the New York edition with the headline: All Quiet on the Southern Front.


The Cronyism Behind a Pipeline for Crude (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 13-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Teaching





The Cronyism Behind a Pipeline for Crude

Published: October 3, 2011

LATE last month, the Obama administration unveiled a new tool that lets anyone send a petition to the White House; get 5,000 signatures in 30 days and you’re guaranteed some kind of answer. My prediction: it’s not going to stop people from trying to occupy Wall Street. After the past few years, we’re increasingly unwilling to believe that political reform can be accomplished by going through the “normal channels” of democracy.

It’s easy to understand why. In the first few months of the Bush administration, the vice president’s staff held a series of secret meetings with energy company executives to come up with a new energy policy that, essentially, gave big oil everything it asked for. When journalists learned about the secret sessions, they became a scandal — environmental groups complained long and loud, right up to the Supreme Court, and rightly so. Important decisions should be made in the open, not behind closed doors by cronies scratching one another’s backs.

In 2008, Barack Obama promised to turn things around with new ethics guidelines and promises of transparency. But if two batches of e-mails released via the Freedom of Information Act — the first last month and the second on Monday — are any indication, he’s not delivering on that promise.

The e-mails, made available by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, show something just as tawdry as Dick Cheney’s backroom dealing: the State Department working with lobbyists to advance the interests of TransCanada, the company trying to build the Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Canada across the center of the continent. Even as the State Department was supposedly carrying out a neutral evaluation of the pipeline’s environmental impact, key players were undermining the process.

One of the stars of this sordid drama was Paul Elliott, TransCanada’s chief Washington lobbyist for its pipeline project. Back in 2008, he was the deputy national campaign manager of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid. Around the time she became secretary of state, he was hired by TransCanada. Why did he get the job? Just ask Marja Verloop, a member of the diplomatic staff at the United States Embassy in Canada who oversaw environmental and energy issues. In one of the friendly e-mails between the diplomat and the lobbyist, Ms. Verloop reassured Mr. Elliott about an article that mentioned his possible conflicts of interest: “it’s precisely because you have connections that you’re sought after and hired.”

And how neutral was the State Department about the plan it was supposedly evaluating? Here’s Ms. Verloop again, in response to an e-mail from Mr. Elliott relaying the good news that he had persuaded Senator Max Baucus of Montana to back the pipeline: “Go Paul!” Clearly, these guys are on the same team, never mind that one of them works for the energy company and the other for the government agency overseeing it.

This comes, in one sense, as no big surprise. In a 2009 cable obtained by Wikileaks, another State Department higher-up was caught advising Canadian officials on how to spin their message to win favorable media coverage of Canadian crude. And when the State Department picked a consulting firm to help carry out the environmental impact statement on the Keystone pipeline, it chose a company called Cardno Entrix that listed among its chief clients …TransCanada. The final report, which came out in late August, decided the pipeline would have “no significant impact” on the nearby land and water resources.

This is laughable — we’re talking about connecting a pipe to one of the largest pools of carbon on earth. Twenty of the nation’s top scientists sent the administration a letter this summer explaining what a disaster it would be. According to NASA’s chief climate scientist, James Hansen, if we tapped the tar sands heavily, it would be “essentially game over” for the climate.

But instead of listening to bright people like Mr. Hansen who know what they’re talking about, our government’s staffers are blowing kisses at lobbyists. That’s exactly why cronyism is such a problem. The people writing these e-mails don’t have expertise — they have connections. If this is happening in the State Department, why should we not assume it’s also going on in the Treasury Department’s dealings with the big banks, and just about everywhere else in government?

It really does seem extra shocking in the Obama administration. Dick Cheney’s sitting down with the energy barons was almost expected — he’d just quit as chief executive of the drilling company Halliburton, after all. But Barack Obama said he would “end the tyranny of oil”; he also said he was going to end back-room dealing. His decision about the Keystone pipeline project, which is expected by year’s end, seems like one last chance to show he actually meant it.

Bill McKibben, a scholar in residence in environmental studies at Middlebury College, is a spokesman for tarsandsaction.org, an organization that opposes the Keystone XL pipeline.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 4, 2011, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: The Cronyism Behind a Pipeline for Crude.

Hooray for Federal Loans (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 13-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Rebuttal Articles, Teaching

Tags: ,



Hooray for Federal Loans!

Published: October 3, 2011

In the firestorm over Solyndra, three main criticisms have emerged.

The first is that Solyndra wasn’t ready for prime time and that the Department of Energy, which gave it a $535 million federally guaranteed loan, should have known as much. The second is that Solyndra used political influence to land a loan that was destined to blow up. And the third is that Solyndra’s bankruptcy case shows why government bureaucrats shouldn’t be picking technology winners and losers — or making risky investments that the private sector won’t.

I think we can now safely concede the first point. Although what sunk Solyndra was the unsustainably high price of its innovative solar panels, The Washington PostThe Los Angeles Times and Megan McArdle’s blog at The Atlantic’s Web site have all made a convincing case that, internally, the company was a mess.

The second argument, on the other hand, strikes me as utterly bogus. Yes, there are a few e-mails from inside the government that questioned the loan guarantee. And, yes, Solyndra hired — shocker! — lobbyists. But you can always find, after the fact, “bad documents” that can be twisted to make something innocent sound nefarious.

“I suspect that when all the information finally comes out, there will be very little that is scandalous,” said Jonathan Rothwell, who has studied the Solyndra case as a senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution. Although Republicans will surely try to keep Solyndra in the news until, oh, next November, the scandal will eventually evaporate because there is very little there.

The third criticism is the one that really matters: government “is a crappy vc,” as Obama’s former economic adviser, Larry Summers, put it in another embarrassing e-mail that was recently released as part of a Congressional investigation into Solyndra.

“VC,” of course, stands for venture capitalist; the notion is that government is not equipped to play that role. A corollary point, voiced by Holman Jenkins Jr. in The Wall Street Journal, is that solar projects that make financial sense get financed by the private sector and those that don’t are the ones that need federal backing.

But if you spend any time actually looking into how the Department of Energy doles out the loan guarantees, you quickly realize that it’s not acting like a venture capitalist. Rather, it is funding projects that have already attracted private capital — lots of it. The private sector, in other words, is still the one picking winners and losers.

What the program is essentially doing is moving alternative energy innovations to full-scale development. Why is the government doing this? Because this is precisely where the private sector fails. As Rothwell puts it, “The program is supposed to overcome the commercialization valley of death.”

In this country, it is relatively easy to get venture capital for a good idea — and alternative energy has attracted billions in the past few years. What is hard to come by is money to fund the far more expensive process of commercializing the innovation. Andy Grove, the former chief executive of Intel (and still one of the great business minds in America), has been sounding the alarm about this, pointing out that one reason so many American innovations wind up being manufactured in China is that the Chinese are more than happy to finance the commercialization process.

One company that has received three federally guaranteed loans, totaling more than $3 billion, is First Solar. That money is going to help the company build three solar power plants in California and Arizona. The plants already have long-term contracts with utilities. They have locked-in cash flows. The risk is minimal.

Shouldn’t banks be making these loans? Sure, but they are still paralyzed by the financial crisis and don’t understand the economics of solar power. Can you really argue that the government should, therefore, also sit on its hands? Indeed, one goal of the loan guarantee program is to show private capital that these loans make sense — so that the banks can eventually step in and replace the government.

The Republicans know all this, surely. In 2005, when the Energy Policy Act was first proposed by the Bush administration, they made some of these same arguments in support of the loan guarantee program, which was part of the bill. The bill passed the House with overwhelming Republican support. Most Democrats voted no.

Today, the Republican-led Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating Solyndra, forcing its executives to take the Fifth Amendment, and releasing embarrassing White House e-mails. I looked it up: every single Republican on that committee who was in office in 2005 voted for the loan guarantee program that they are now so gleefully condemning.

I wonder why.


A version of this op-ed appeared in print on October 4, 2011, on page A29 of the New York edition with the headline: Hooray for Federal Loans!.


Door Swinging Open (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 02-10-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Teaching


By Published: September 26, 2011

Like many college freshmen, Energy Maburutse is adjusting to a new world. For him it’s not merely strange. More like wondrous.

That ceaselessly humming appliance in his dorm-room window? In Zimbabwe he had never seen an air-conditioner. That sweet treat in the student cafeteria? Frozen yogurt is another first — and one reason he has almost gained his freshman 15 already. He now weighs about 80 pounds.

Most amazing to him is the electric wheelchair in which he spends his waking hours. It’s nicer by far than any from his past. Because of it and the ramps and automatic doors atLynn University here, he can move his hunched, twisted body from place to place without constantly asking for help. That, too, is a revelation.

“I can’t stop smiling,” he told me. “I’m free.”

To meet him is to get a crucial reference point for what we in America call hardship and an example of how profoundly a life can be changed by the right intervention and the right determination. His is a miserable story that became a miraculous one.

He was born 21 years ago in a rural village in Zimbabwe that still doesn’t have electricity or plumbing. Crippled, he never walked, so his mother would carry him four hours to the nearest medical clinic. It was a trip they made often, because his bones kept breaking.

The clinic’s workers berated and even slapped her, certain she was being negligent. In reality Energy had osteogenesis imperfecta, known as brittle bone disease, but it wasn’t diagnosed until he was 5.

He didn’t know there was such a thing as a wheelchair until he got one two years later at a school for disabled children where his mother, intent on his education, managed to place him. The school was far from home. Saying goodbye, his mother told him: “Make me proud.”

He was at another such school, King George VI, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, when my friendElinor Burkett, an American journalist, happened to meet him in 2006. The school’s band, Liyana, caught her attention and deeply touched her, and she got to know its members, including three disabled boys who played marimba — Energy, Goodwell and Honest.

They confessed a fantasy: college in America. It was like “an ant dreaming of becoming King of the jungle,” Energy wrote in a recent class assignment.

Burkett connected them with the United States Achievers Program, administered by embassies. It helps disadvantaged foreigners apply to, and get scholarships from, American universities.

Each boy was admitted to a school, and Burkett lobbied each school for as much aid as possible. She hit up friends, strangers and foundations for the additional thousands necessary for the boys’ living expenses, a process she’ll repeat until all three have diplomas.

People are generous when faced with concrete situations rather than abstract causes. At Lynn University faculty members and students made sure Energy got a television and a mini-fridge. One of Burkett’s friends pays for his iPhone. His wheelchair was donated byUCP Wheels for Humanity; United Parcel Service delivered it free. His Kindle he won in a card game.

Around campus almost everyone greets him by name. He stands out, given the big chair and tiny body in it. His legs are stuck in a lotuslike position; he can’t straighten them all the way. He has no idea how tall he is.

Over the years his spine has curved badly. Some of his vital organs are compressed. With painful corrective surgery he could live a long life, and he hopes to get an operation this summer, from a doctor at Johns Hopkins Medical Center whom Burkett took him to see. Now that he has medical insurance through school, it just might happen.

He studies hard and frets all the time. He can’t fail, not if he wants to realize his goal of a job as a human rights advocate — maybe with the United Nations, maybe with Unicef — and of some sort of arrangement by which he can live in America or anywhere but Zimbabwe, where there are no ramps, astronomical unemployment and unfathomable poverty.

He told me that he’s surprised by the casual work habits of many of his fellow students.

“Americans are so relaxed,” he told me. “So rich.”

He pointed to a mop leaning against his room wall. Like most mops in this country, it can be wrung by a sliding mechanism on the handle. He thinks that’s hysterical — absurd. In Zimbabwe everyone wrings mops with their hands.

He had just returned from a class in which he’d given a presentation on global warming, a phenomenon he hasn’t thought much about. In Zimbabwe other issues, like hunger, crowd it out.

I asked him if anything about his new life disappointed him. He stared blankly at me. To him, the question made no sense whatsoever.

Deer Hunts and Dirt Bikes (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 23-09-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Teaching


Published: September 19, 2011

Paul Ryan may not be running for president this time around, but if you have any doubt about his ambitions for a long, prominent future in government, just look at his comments in a Q. and A. published in Sunday’s Times. They’re a minor masterpiece of image calibration.

In the span of two dozen sentences, Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, mentioned the Bible, or rather a beginner’s version of it, which he said he was reading aloud to his 6-year-old son. He mentioned his truck and his appetite for hard rock, thus establishing automotive and musical affinities that balance his wonkier, number-crunching bona fides. He mentioned hunting — with a bow, no less.

Then came the capper. He mentioned his talent for what I’d like to call venison charcuterie, just because he so clearly wouldn’t. “I butcher my own deer, grind the meat, stuff it in casings and then smoke it,” he said, making clear that Sarah Palin in all her moose-eviscerating glory has nothing on him.

And thus his self-portrait as an outside-the-Beltway guy’s guy with grime (and maybe guts) under his fingernails was complete, and he had discharged one of the more ridiculous obligations of the contemporary politician. He had asserted that he was just like the rest of us, even though there’s no such thing as one uniform us and if there were, it would be buying its Bambi sausages in bulk at Costco.

Will American politics ever get away from this crazy contest in which the players strive to out-ordinary one another, distancing themselves from any whiff of privilege and trying to project a woodsy, folksy, flannel essence?

The relationship between lifestyle and political priorities is at best oblique: you really can’t judge how politicians will govern by whether they hunt or windsurf, frolic in the Texas brush or the Martha’s Vineyard sand, favor corn dogs or arugula. And that was suggested by another, different glimpse of Ryan on Sunday. He appeared on Fox News to defend millionaires and decry President Obama’s proposed tax increase on them as “class warfare.”

Still, candidates labor mightily to come down on the fried and unfussy end of things, lest they seem out of touch and be deemed unable to relate.

Remember that sequence of Jon Huntsman ads? The ones counting down the days to his presidential announcement? They showed a helmeted man zooming on a dirt bike through Monument Valley and introduced him as someone who “rides motocross to relax” and played in a rock band called Wizard. Not a word about Huntsman’s considerable wealth, a legacy of the family business. Not a word about his ability to speak Mandarin.

Meanwhile supporters of Mitt Romney have found themselves in the awkward position of insisting that the expansion of his reportedly $12 million beach house in California — not his primary residence — isn’t an extravagance, because the house has just two or three bedrooms, depending on how you count. Those must be some bedrooms.

Romney shuns neckties and hones a populist touch. He joked with voters in Florida that inasmuch as a presidential campaign is a surreally drawn-out job application, he, too, knew something about being unemployed. And he has taken to Twitter to inform the electorate that he had breakfast at Subway and flew Southwest Airlines.

While such atmospherics are almost compulsory, they’re also sad. Romney’s affluence largely reflects his business success, which is more asset than liability and needn’t be played down. And his principal flaw isn’t the thread count of his sheets. It’s the high count of his ever changing positions over time.

His advantages in life don’t mean he can’t think about social welfare. It was Romney, remember, who in Massachusetts spearheaded the template for federal health-care reform.

For that matter, Obama’s childhood disadvantages don’t mean that the less fortunate will flourish under him. That certainly hasn’t happened so far. The downturn has taken its greatest toll on the poor. And while the lion’s share of blame for the dismal economy rests with circumstances he inherited, there’s mounting evidence that he made mistakes early on in his administration and was in over his head.

Having a modest background, a knowledge of hardship or a kinship with the so-called common man doesn’t correlate with competence. Or with compassion. Rick Perry could certainly use more of that, and he started life in a house without indoor plumbing.

Over the next 14 months, we shouldn’t be impressed by someone who can imitate ordinary. We should figure out who promises to be extraordinary. And that determination should be guided less by what candidates eat or drive than by what they’ve done with the reins of power, whether holding them with chapped or manicured fingers.

Find the original article at The New York Times

Our Hidden Government Benefits (NYT Op-Ed)

Posted on : 23-09-2011 | By : Dean | In : EN101, Teaching


Published: September 19, 2011
Ithaca, N.Y.

DON’T take at face value the claims that Americans dislike government. Sure, a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 56 percent of Americans said they wanted smaller government and fewer services. Tea Party activists, the most vocal citizens of our time, powerfully amplify those demands. Yet the reality is that the vast majority of Americans have at some point relied on government programs — and valued them — even though they often fail to recognize that government is the source of the assistance.

A 2008 poll of 1,400 Americans by the Cornell Survey Research Institute found that when people were asked whether they had “ever used a government social program,” 57 percent said they had not. Respondents were then asked whether they had availed themselves of any of 21 different federal policies, including Social Security, unemployment insurance, the home-mortgage-interest deduction and student loans. It turned out that 94 percent of those who had denied using programs had benefited from at least one; the average respondent had used four.

Americans often fail to recognize government’s role in society, even if they have experienced it in their own lives. That is because so much of what government does today is largely invisible.

Individuals’ political views partly account for their perceptions. In the Cornell poll, a respondent who self-identified as “extremely liberal” was 20 percentage points more likely to acknowledge using a government program than someone who used the same number of programs but was “extremely conservative.” Also, those who believed that the nation spent too much on welfare were less likely to admit that they had used a “government social program,” perhaps because that term had pejorative connotations.

Besides political ideology, the design of policies also influences awareness. The most visible policies are those that require people to interact frequently or intensively with public officials to qualify for benefits, like food stamps, disability payments and subsidized housing. Another set of programs, including Medicare, Pell Grants and Social Security retirement benefits, are also fairly visible, though each contains characteristics that can camouflage government’s role.

The man at the town hall meeting in the summer of 2009 who angrily told his congressman, “Keep your government hands off my Medicare,” might have been in less of a state of denial than many believed: last year, one in four Medicare beneficiaries got their benefits through a private insurance company.

In the case of Social Security, checks are sent directly by the government, making it clear why 56 percent of beneficiaries in the Cornell poll acknowledged the use of a social program. But the denial by the remaining 44 percent is also understandable, given that individuals contributed directly from their paychecks to help finance the program. President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted on this arrangement, knowing the benefits would be understood as an earned right. That way, he said, “no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

The final group of policies, what I call the “submerged state,” is largely invisible because its benefits are channeled through the tax code and subsidies to private organizations. These include the home-mortgage-interest deduction and the exemption from taxes on employer-provided health and retirement benefits. Using “submerged” benefits is nearly as common as using more visible policies.

Even personal encounters with the submerged state fail to make most people recognize that they have benefited from government. The greater the number of visible policies an individual had used, the more likely he or she was to agree that “government programs have helped me in times of need,” but greater use of policies of the submerged state had no comparable impact.

Likewise, the greater the number of visible policies used, the higher the rate of agreement that “government has provided me opportunities to improve my standard of living”; by contrast, those who had used more submerged policies were more likely to disagree. The hidden policies left beneficiaries with the false impression that their economic security was owed merely to their own efforts.

The submerged state obscures the role of government and exaggerates that of the market. It leaves citizens unaware of the source of programs and unable to form meaningful opinions about them.

Until political leaders reveal government benefits for what they are by talking openly about them, we cannot have an honest discussion about spending, taxes or deficits. The stipulation in the new health care reform law that W-2 forms must indicate the value of untaxed employer-provided health care benefits is a step in the right direction. The government should also provide “receipts” that inform people of the size of each benefit they get through the tax code.

The threat to democracy today is not the size of government but rather the hidden form that so much of its growth has taken. If those who assume government has never helped them could see how it has, it might help defuse our polarized political climate and reinvigorate informed citizenship.

Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell, is the author of “The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy.”

Original Source: The New York Times

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