Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Blog #46 - Reactions to 13th

So we saw 13th, a powerful documentary that examined the way people of color, specifically African Americans, in America have been treated throughout American history.  Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, talked about how our current system of mass incarceration is just another phase in the way white America has controlled the bodies of Black folks, from slavery, to convict leasing, to Jim Crow, and now as part of the prison-industrial complex.

A lot of the legal rationale for controlling the bodies of Black Americans comes from the loophole in the 13th Amendment - see highlighted section below:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Because of that loophole, Black Americans, predominantly Black men, have been subjected to countless offenses.  The prison system in America, according to the film, has become an extension of slavery.  We see this in the way prison labor is used to manufacture furniture, clothing (lingerie from Victoria's Secret), grow potatoes, fighting California wild fires, and other products of the modern American capitalist system.  In fact, companies like Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Whole Foods, and others have employed prison laborers - see link for more companies.  
Image result for 13th documentary
Director Ava Duvernay, in an NPR interview, said that she was shooting for two audiences with the film: people who know what's going on and people who don't.  She wanted the film to spark discussion about how Black Americans are being treated in this country and trace a line from slavery in the 19th Century to the incidents of police brutality in the 21st Century.  

Some questions for you after watching the film: 

1. Does the film prove its point that slavery hasn't been outlawed, just reformed?  Why or why not?  

2. What do you think can be done about the prison labor system?  Should those firms that use prison labor be boycotted?  Should awareness of this system be raised among the general American population?  If so, how?  If not, why not?  

3. Should the 13th Amendment be amended to change the prison system?  Why or why not?  

4. Should laws like Stand Your Ground that are written by ALEC be allowed?  Why or why not?  To read more about Stand Your Ground laws, click here

5. Are more body cams on police officers the best way to deal with police brutality?  Why or why not?  

6. Colorado voters recently passed Amendment A, a law that abolishes prison labor without pay.  To read more, click here.  Do you think this is something that should be done nationwide?  Why or why not?  

Answer 4 out of 6 questions.  400 words total.  Due Thursday Feb. 7 by class.  

To see artwork capturing the #lastwords said by those killed by the police, see this website, Shirin Barghi's work.  

On the Basis of Sex Extra Credit blog

So we got to see the movie about Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s first case in her long battle against sex discrimination in federal court, Moritz v. Commissioners of the IRS.  I hope you liked it.  I enjoyed it, and thought that it did a good job of accurately portraying the justice’s determination, hopes, and fears as she moved from the academic legal world into the real legal world (interestingly enough, the screenplay was written by Ginsburg’s nephew).   According to the New York Times movie review, the only thing the movie got wrong, according to RBG herself, was when she was at a loss for words in front of the judges at the end of the movie.
But with regards to other historical accuracy questions, the movie actually gets a lot right.  RBG had actually read three different early drafts of the film written by her nephew, and it was also run by the real Jane Ginsburg, a Columbia law professor.  RBG’s only requirements of the film were to “get the law right, and get Marty right.”  The film’s portrayal of her helpful, supportive husband, Marty Ginsburg, is accurate as well.  He really did get cancer while at Harvard and recovered, and Ruth helped him by attending classes and typing up his reports.  Marty Ginsburg was also one of the top tax lawyers in the country, and it was him that brought the Moritz case to Ruth’s attention.  One added scene, the moot court at the Ginsburg’s apartment with Mel Wulf, Pauli Murray, and Ruth’s old professor, was not real, nor was the suggestion by Murray that Ruth split up her time with Marty.  The last minute edits by Ruth’s secretary, substituting the word “gender” for “sex”, was also accurate.  One additional scene, the part where she freezes up and cedes her time to the rebuttal, was also invented.  There was no rebuttal, nor a freeze-up, like stated earlier.  The portrayal of Mel Wulf, her colleague at the ACLU, however was not accurate.  He didn’t treat her the way that it was portrayed in the film nor was he reluctant to tackle additional cases that addressed sexism in the law.  Also, Wulf didn’t ask her to write the Reed v. Reed brief nor refuse to let her present it to the Supreme Court, RBG volunteered to do both: write the brief and defend it in court.   Also, the scene below where Ruth and Jane meet pioneering lawyer Dorothy Kenyon didn’t happen, but that scene, in addition to the one with Civil Rights activist Pauli Murray, according to the filmmakers was a way of showing that the feminist legal revolution did not begin with RBG but that she was continuing their work.  However, RBG didn’t feel that the fictional elements of the film detracted from the overall story: “This film is part fact, part imaginative—but what’s wonderful about it is that the imaginative parts fit in with the story so well,” Ginsburg told NPR’s Nina Totenberg following the New York screening.
Questions to answer (PICK 4 OF 6 TO ANSWER):
  1. How is Marty Ginsburg the “perfect” or ideal husband to RBG?  Give specific examples of their relationship.
  2. Provide at least three sexist slights or dismissals from the many men in the movie, from Ginsburg’s time at Harvard to searching for a legal job to tackling and arguing the case before the Denver Circuit Court.   How would you have handled these slights or dismissals over something that you couldn’t control (in this case, RBG being a woman)?  Explain why.
  3. Does it matter that this movie was directed by a woman?  Why or why not?
  4. How does Jane, Ginsburg’s teenage daughter (and for that matter, Ginsburg’s female law students), capture the spirit of the 1960s and early 70s (and in essence, shows a different kind of feminism than her mother represents)?
  5. What are the potential dangers or pitfalls of heroically portraying a living, breathing person such as Ginsburg in a movie like this?  Explain.
  6. Explain how this movie epitomizes this quote from the movie (as its theme): “The Court ought not be affected by the weather of the day, but will be by the climate of the era.”

400 words total. 

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Green Book Extra Credit

This movie, Green Book, portrays the lives of two very complex men, Dr. Don Shirley and Tony Lip (Vallelonga) and the friendship that they forged in the 1960s.  The movie takes place amidst the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement and takes the main characters to places – it seems – untouched by any Civil Right agitation.  The men are a portrait of contrasts – Tony as a sloppy, uncouth Italian tough guy while Dr. Shirley is uptight, ultra-focused (on music), and very alone.  In many respects, this is somewhat of a formulaic movie that works like a buddy comedy or a road trip movie, but there’s much more to the film (and their relationship) than that.  Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in "Green Book."The actors, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali feel that the movie has an understated power that just lets its characters interact in interesting and human ways.

“One thing I felt was really valuable, in the script, was that it didn’t tell you what to think,” Mortensen said. “It didn’t tell you what to feel. Yes, there’s a history lesson. There’s a civics lesson there. You could even say that there’s a cautionary tale that can be applied to our time, or any time really, in terms of discrimination, racism, ignorance.”
“I will say if it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago it would be a movie for our time,” said Ali. “I think the difference is, a heightened awareness about the division in our country, in the last couple of years. I think there’s more eyes on the problems, and the things that need to be bridged between communities. And I do feel that this film fits perfectly in the culture right now, as far as something that can serve as an example of what is possible.”

Even in some of the darkest, most racist parts of the South, Dr. Shirley maintains his dignity even when asked to use segregated bathrooms or refused service in a white restaurant, even at the same place where he is playing later that night.  Yet he is tormented by his demons, he drinks to silence them, and his inability to not be his true self haunts him.  By just existing, by playing the piano in such an excellent manner, Dr. Shirley defies what white America at the time thought of Black Americans.  He wasn’t making speeches, he wasn’t marching with Dr. King, but Dr. Shirley was on the “front lines” of the Civil Rights Movement.

Pick 3 of the following questions to answer about the film: 
  1. How does Ali’s portrayal of Dr. Shirley show his complexity at being a closeted Black musician in Jim Crow America?  Give specifics.
  2. Explain how Dr. Shirley was “on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement” just by playing the piano in a tour of the Deep South in 1962.
  3. What historical elements in the film let you know that this movie takes place in 1962?  Explain with details.
  4. How do both Tony and Dr. Shirley move from barely tolerating one another to a place of real friendship by the end of the movie?  Explain with details.
  5. How does this movie about a friendship made over 50 years ago speak to today’s audiences and what does it say about our country today?
350 words minimum.  Due January 18 by class.  

Friday, December 14, 2018

Blog #45 - Drop the atomic bomb? Yes or no?

Time: August 1, 1945

Your job: An advisor to President Truman.

The issues:
1. What is the best way to get Japan to surrender without invading?
2. Should we use the atomic bomb to force Japan to surrender?  If so, how should it be used?
3. Do we go ahead with the invasion of Japan (overall known as Operation Downfall)? see link for info on Downfall.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Downfall

America has fought defeated Germany already, getting them to surrender earlier this year in May and Japan is the lone target for all of the Allies. 

The Soviet Union has planned to attack Japanese troops in northern China soon, and you are worried about the Soviets' influence in both Asia and Europe after World War 2.  They have already begun installing Communist governments in Eastern Europe, in defiance of the Yalta Peace Conference agreement. 

Secretary of State James Byrnes feels that using the atomic bomb will send a signal to the Soviets to stop expanding, yet America needs their help to defeat the Japanese in China.  America has been given the sole task of invading the mainland islands of Japan. 

Another thing to consider is that Japan currently holds tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war around Asia.  What would happen to them if an invasion of Japan occurred?  Would they all be massacred by the soldiers watching them? 

One more thing to consider is Admiral Leahy's recommendation: Don't use the bomb but stop all shipping to the island, essentially quarantine Japan, and wait them out until they surrender.  The Japanese may not surrender until they know that their emperor is safe because they see him as a god on Earth. 

Intelligence sources are picking up information that some Japanese officials have contacted the Soviet Union about possible surrender, but nothing official has been announced.  The Soviets may or may not cooperate with us in reaching a surrender agreement. 

As of now, Operation Olympic (phase 1 of Downfall) is planned for the invasion to take place on November 1 later this year.  Because of the heavy defenses on the mainland of Kyushu, the Army Chief of Staff is predicting 450,000 casualties, including 100,000 dead just within 90 days.  That total is significantly greater than any single battle we have ever seen in American history. 

Related image

In order for Operation Downfall to work, Olympic must be successful, so that we can launch Operation Coronet (phase 2 of Downfall) in March 1946 which would invade the main island of Honshu close to Tokyo. 

We have to consider the possibility that the Japanese may not surrender after dropping the two atomic bombs and that we will have to go through with Operation Downfall.  The big question is, the Japanese are weary of war as we are, especially since they've been fighting it since 1937, so would they surrender after being hit with the most destructive bomb in the history of mankind? 

In your response (answer #1 and #2 or #3), 
1. Consider the options listed above - which options seem most likely to get the Japanese to surrender? Why?
2. If you recommend that President Truman use the bomb(s), how do we use it?  What is your rationale? 
3. If you recommend that President Truman go ahead with the invasion, what would be the impact on America from such horrific casualties? 

300 words minimum.  Due Monday, December 17th by class.  

Monday, October 15, 2018

Blog #44 - Flat tax or Progressive Tax

During this week, we discussed the 16th Amendment and the income tax - its fairness and unfairness. Its opponents have proposed a flat tax that everyone pays the same rate across the board: 20%. That way, if you earn more, you technically pay more. So, in some ways it sounds progressive. If you see the chart below, this is where almost all of our tax income comes from: 
Image result for chart of U.S. government spending  The biggest portion comes (47%) comes from income taxes.  Another portion comes from payroll taxes (32%) and then corporate taxes are the third biggest chunk (13%) as of fiscal year 2016.  

The argument for the flat tax focuses on several arguments:
1. It eliminates special- interests by treating all taxpayers equally. Taxpayers will no longer be able to "scam the system by hiring enough lawyers, accountants and lobbyists."
2. It will boost economic growth by allowing businesses and investors to invest more money (saved by not giving as much money in taxes) into other businesses and ventures.
3. It eliminates the capital gains tax, the estate tax (other people call it the "death tax"), and double taxes on savings (taxed once when you earn it and it's deposited into the bank and then twice at the end of the year as part of your income though it already is in your bank account).
4. It's amazingly simple. Household income tax forms are now done on a postcard. It also treats all businesses the same: "Microsoft to a hot dog stand would play by the same rules."

Arguments for the progressive tax include:
1. All Americans benefit from two of our government's responsibilities, protection (police, firefighters, public health, military) and empowerment (roads, public education, banking system for loans and economic stability, SEC for the stock market, courts, national parks, public buildings, etc.), and they should be available to everyone. We are financially responsible to maintain these so that they may be used for the common good. These protections are maintained through taxes.
2. The wealthy (corporations, investors and other wealthy individuals) pay more into the system because "our taxes create and sustain, [and] empower the wealthy in myriad ways to create (and sustain) their wealth." In other words, they have benefited from the system in place, they should pay to maintain it.

"Consider Bill Gates...Though he has undoubtedly benefited from his unusual
intelligence and business acumen, he could not have created or sustained his
personal wealth without the common wealth [of the United States]. The legal
system protected Microsoft's intellectual property and contracts. The
tax-supported financial infrastructure (phones, electricity, Internet) enabled
him to access capital markets and trade his stock in a market in which investors
have confidence. He built his company with many employees educated in public
schools and universities. Tax-funded research helped develop computer science
and the internet..." and so on.

3. The wealthy are morally obligated to sustain the American system b/c they benefit more from it than the average American. "Ordinary people rarely use the courts; most of the courts are used for corporate law and contract disputes." Therefore, the rich pay more than the poor or middle class b/c the rich utilize the system more often to create and sustain their wealth.  Their wealth is protected from useless lawsuits in courts and by laws.  

So, I think we have two very persuasive arguments here, but I think we're missing the real questions that we should be asking. The questions we should be asking are: 
1. What are we spending our money on? 
2. Why are we spending so much of our money instead of letting the American people spend it? 
3. Why do we have such a huge national debt? 
4. What can we do about it? 

If you see the chart below, the U.S. federal government spend almost 4 trillion dollars a year:
Image result for chart of U.S. government spending 1/3 of the budget goes to programs like Social Security and unemployment (not sure what labor means in this graph).  27% goes to pay for Medicare and other federal health programs.  16% of our total budget goes towards military spending, and 6% of the budget just goes to pay for the interest on the national debt (which is currently $21 trillion and growing - see National Debt link below).  That's like paying the minimum amount due on a credit card without paying the balance off. 

We can pressure our Congressmen and women about spending too much by writing letters / emails. You are the future voters. Get educated now about the National Debt.   Check here for an up-to-date look at the National Debt - http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Your job: 
1. Which do you think is a fairer tax - the flat tax or progressive tax?   Why? 
2. If you were rich, which tax would you prefer and why? 
3. Since our federal government is spending more than it is bringing in, how do you think the federal government should stop this deficit?  Decrease spending or raise taxes?  Both?  Why?  If we're cutting spending, where do we cut and why?  If we raise taxes, who pays and why?  

300 words minimum for all three questions.  Due Monday, October 22 by class.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Blog #43 - Your favorite top 3 inventions of the past 200 years

In the next few days, we will talk about the most influential inventions and concepts that have changed human life for the better or worse, initially in our short lives, and then we expanded it to the past 200 years (of course, the Snuggie is right up there in the Top 1 Million Inventions of the Decade).

There are many inventions from the past few hundred years that would qualify as being the best.  They include, but are not limited, to:

 - antibiotics, painkillers, refrigerators, televisions, telephones, harnessing the use of electricity, light bulb, airplanes, computers, calculators, air conditioning (I think that's in my selfish top 3), duct tape (someone insisted on putting it on the board), the car, steam engine, gasoline engine, light saber, and many others.

Your job in this blog is to think of how your life and your parents' and grandparents' lives would have been amazingly different w/o the top three inventions that you have chosen.  Ask your parents and / or grandparents, aunts, uncles or other family members for perspective on technology, b/c we have a hard time looking past the few years we've lived in.  Right now, I don't know how I've lived w/o cell phones, but I obviously had for over 20+ years.  Now, try finding a pay phone.  But my personal favorite invention in the past 200 yrs (mainly b/c I'm not a huge fan of going outside in the middle of the night when ya gotta go) is the flushing toilet, right along w/ toilet paper.  It has made life so much more comfortable.  You can laugh, but think of having a pit toilet / outhouse in your back yard, and having to go there in the middle of the night.  In the winter. I know, the girls, you would hold it, but the boys.... you're gross.  

Here's an article that can get you thinking about what are your top 3 inventions of all time: http://www.londonip.co.uk/20-groundbreaking-inventions-from-the-last-100-years/ 

Your job: List your favorite or most significant top 3 inventions of the past 200 years and explain why.  Provide a good solid paragraph explanation for each invention and why you think it's significant or your favorite.  

Due Monday, Sept. 24 by class.  300 words minimum.  

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Blog #42 - "Prisoner of War camps" = Indian Reservations?

For most American history books, we see that they talk about the Indians almost always when they are being pushed off of their land by Europeans (King Philip’s War, Powhatan War, Seminole War, Indian Removal Act) or when they fight back (Battle of Little Bighorn, Red Cloud’s War) or after being indiscriminately massacred (Sand Creek and Wounded Knee Massacres).  Few cover the decimation of disaeases that faced the Native Americans when the Europeans first arrived.  Even fewer touch on 20th Century issues and laws regarding education, reservation (and sale of Indian land), tribal recognition, citizenship, Termination policy in the 1950s or other Indian policies like the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.  Our textbooks might talk about AIM or the standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973, but just as an inclusion of many minority groups in the chapter on the late 1960s / early 1970s. There might even be something about the seizure of Alcatraz Island by Native Americans. But rarely anything is heard after that.

In the following disturbing and moving video, photographer Aaron Huey lists the many things done (in the name of America) to the Lakota Sioux tribe.  He juxtaposes the lists of broken treaties and promises and horrific things with his own photos of the Lakota tribe at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Aaron Huey’s wish is that the American government honor the treaties and give back the Black Hills.  To atone for America’s sins, to use such a phrase, can anything truly be done?  Where, if anywhere, should Americans start to make up for what has been done to the Native Americans?   Is it right that we should speak in such manner as atoning for sins or asking for forgiveness?  Or do you feel that you have nothing to ask forgiveness for since these things had been done before you were born?  

What responsibility do we have to Native Americans?
One major thing to consider is that though we may not have been personally responsible for oppressing the Native Americans, we benefit from the results of past policies of our government towards Native Americans (and even from past colonial practices).
 - Should we replace Columbus Day with Indigineous Peoples’ Day?
 - Should we push Congress to rescind the Medals of Honor distributed to the 7th Cavalry handed out after the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890?
 - Should reservations be abolished? Or should those that exist still remain yet receive generous help?
 - Should the Washington football team, the Cleveland Indians, or Atlanta Braves be forced to take new mascot names?
 - What can we learn from Canada and the way they have treated and honored their Native Americans?
 - Should we continue to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline (since President Trump has rescinded President Obama’s cancellation of it) or other industrial things that impact the environment of Native American reservations?
 - Should Native Americans be given back their religious ceremonial artifacts, tens of thousands of which sit in museums, some on display, others locked in vaults? 

In finishing up the research for this blog (including reading chapters of the book, “All the Real Indians Died Off”: And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz) I found that Congress passed, as part of an appropriations bill, a resolution called the Native American Apology Resolution in 2009.  Introduced by Republican senator from Kansas, Sam Brownback, he said the reason he did this was “to officially apologize for the past ill-conceived policies by the US Government toward the Native Peoples of this land and re-affirm our commitment toward healing our nation’s wounds and working toward establishing better relationships rooted in reconciliation.”
The Apology Resolution states that the United States, “apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all Native Peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States.”
The Apology Resolution also “urges the President to acknowledge the wrongs of the United States against Indian tribes in the history of the United States in order to bring healing to this land.”
The Apology Resolution comes with a disclaimer that nothing in the Resolution authorizes or supports any legal claims against the United States and that the Resolution does not settle any claims against the United States.
The Apology Resolution does not include the lengthy Preamble that was part of S.J Res. 14 introduced earlier this year by Senator Brownback.  The Preamble recites the history of U.S. – tribal relations including the assistance provided to the settlers by Native Americans, the killing of Indian women and children, the Trail of Tears, the Long Walk, the Sand Creek Massacre, and Wounded Knee, the theft of tribal lands and resources, the breaking of treaties, and the removal of Indian children to boarding schools.
  1. Tell us your reactions to the Ted Talk;
  2. Discuss your thoughts / concerns about how to acknowledge the debt America owes Native Americans and why.

400 words minimum for both answers total. Due Wednesday, Sept. 12 by class. 

Friday, November 02, 2012

Blog #41 -- Do we have free speech during war times?

During the Great War, the United States went to great lengths to stop people from expressing their views on the war and the draft. According to historian Sean Dennis Cashman, Wilson that war "required illiberalism at home to reinforce the men at the front. We couldn't fight Germany and maintain the ideals of Government that all thinking men shared...once led into war, [Americans] will forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance" (505).

So, in order to set Europe free from tyranny, the government had to restrict more of Americans' rights. Historian Howard Zinn has written at length that part of this suppression was done to keep Americans from expressing their anti-war sentiments/feelings:
- Why should we get into a war that we have no interests in? This is only about European colonialists, not U.S. interests;

- Why should I be drafted to go protect France or Belgium? (only 73,000 volunteered in the first 6 weeks after Wilson declared war on Germany in April 1917);

- Why should we spend millions and millions of our tax money to do this?;

- Why should we join a war that current French soldiers are beginning to mutiny against? (in essence, why we should we join a losing fight?);

- Why should we break away from our tradition of isolationism? It's served us well for this long (if it ain't broke, don't fix it);

So Wilson and Congress together got tough on this kind of anti-war talk and anti-draft interference w/ the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. The Supreme Court affirmed that we do NOT have the right to free speech as long as it creates a "clear and present danger" (much like yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre like Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes jr. so eloquently phrased it in the 1919 court decision, Schenck vs. U.S.).  Under these acts, a person can be fined up to a max of $10,000 (almost $200,000 in 2012 dollars) and given a 20 year sentence for interfering with the sale of war bonds or the draft, or saying anything profane, disloyal, or abusive about the government. Obviously, these laws violate the 1st Amendment.

A speech like this one by Eugene Debs is the kind of thing that got him in trouble and thrown in the big house:

"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder. ...the
working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme
sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish their
corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It
is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they
alone make peace. They are continually talking about their patriotic
duty. It is not their but your patriotic duty that they are concerned
about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty
never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches."
(emphasis added)

*Debs was sentenced to jail for this speech and while in jail ran for President under the Socialist Party for which he received almost one million votes in 1912 and in 1920! Website for Debs: http://www.eugenevdebs.com/

During wartime, there is a feeling that certain ideas may be considered dangerous, traitorous, or even downright unpatriotic. Many have been accused of such things when criticizing their government during times of war, and our history book mentions some of them.  As I mentioned above, Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist Party leader and candidate for the Presidency, was sentenced to ten years in prison and fined $10,000 for "speaking out against the war and the draft" (Danzer, et. al. 392). Anarchist Emma Goldman was convicted and sentenced for creating a No Conscription League and then was deported to Russia after two years in jail. 

But my questions still remain:
1. Is questioning your country's conduct during a war o.k.?

2. Should asking questions about how the war is conducted, about the tactics being used (torture, waterboarding, etc.), about how the goals are being met (or if they're being met at all), or is it all worth the sacrifice of all the young men and women's lives??

3. Is this line of questioning during war time o.k. or does it make you unpatriotic? Why?

Your response to all three questions should be a minimum of 250 words, due by Wednesday, November 7.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blog #40 Puerto Rico statehood?

In less than two weeks, the territory of Puerto Rico will decide on a ballot issue that determines their future. On the ballot, there are two choices:
1. Should Puerto Rico stay as a commonwealth of the United States (its current status)?
2. a. Should Puerto Rico become an American state (something which hasn't happened in over fifty years - adding a new state to the Union);
   b. should Puerto Rico become an independent nation and break political ties with the U.S.;
   c. or should PR become a free nation with an association with the U.S.? 

The territory's residents have voted on this issue three times previously and all attempts to become a state have failed.  The latest vote, in 1998, saw a majority of voters (50.3%) vote for "none of the above" while 46.5% picked statehood and only 2.5% picked independence. 

An argument for independence points to the fact that Puerto Rico is a Latin American nation and that it is culturally, linguistically, and socially different than the U.S.  An advocate for independence stated the following:

"There's no reason for the United States to try to incorporate a Latin American country," he said. "If they want a country, why not Jamaica? They speak English there. It doesn't make sense." 5

Puerto Rico would become the poorest state in the nation, with a GDP of $16,000 and an unemployment rate of 13.7%.  Mississippi is currently the poorest state in the nation with a GDP of $21,000, and Nevada's unemployment is the worst w/ 11.8%.  3 4  By becoming a state, Puerto Ricans would be required to pay federal income taxes, even though the territory currently receives $4 billion in federal aid.  3  If Puerto Rico decides against statehood, they'd still receive federal aid.  Nearly half the island's 3.7 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, but the island is still currently big on tourism.  5

An advocate for statehood feels that the island would get more federal aid than it's currently receiving, especially because of the relative poverty:

"People are getting tired here of having to beg for things states automatically get," said Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock. "Many people who support statehood have moved to the States to enjoy the benefits of statehood. Some people are getting impatient." 5
Benefits for PR statehood would include gaining three representatives in Congress (a representative and two senators). Plus, though Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, they cannot vote in presidential elections. 1.  The island's residents are allowed to vote in presidential primaries and send delegates to both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.  Puerto Ricans living in the United States, however, can vote in presidential elections. 

Senator Obama in 2008 promised to let the Puerto Ricans decide the issue of their statehood and is therefore in support of this referendum.  He became the first president to visit the island in 50 years when he went in 2011, since JFK went in 1961.  Former governor Mitt Romney has also supported this vote.  What statehood would mean for American politics is unclear: Luis Fortuna, the state's governor, is a Republican, and the state tends to be socially conservative but economically liberal.  Also, the people of the District of Columbia are looking to become a state as a way of balancing out the statehood issue. 

One big thing to remember is that even if a majority of Puerto Ricans vote to become a state on Tuesday, November 6, that does not mean they automatically become a state.  Congress would have to approve of their application for statehood, just like it had done with previous states. 

Your questions:
1. Should Puerto Rico become a state?  Why or why not? 
2. Does the U.S. want or need another state?  What benefits could Puerto Rico bring with it?

Your answer should be a minimum of 200 words and are due Friday, October 26 by 11:59 p.m. 

1. http://news.yahoo.com/puerto-rico-statehood-vote-could-election-day-wildcard-100210615.html
2. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-14/obama-wants-puerto-rico-to-decide-statehood-or-independence-1-.html
3. http://cornellsun.com/node/52606 Cornell Sun, "Puerto Rico Moving Towards Statehood." 9/13/12.
4. http://www.bls.gov/lau/  Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5. http://www.ibtimes.com/puerto-rico-statehood-bad-business-us-or-next-swing-state-754173  International Business Times, "Puerto Rico Statehood: Bad Business For The U.S. Or The Next Swing State?"  8/23/12.
6. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/6/new-dc-statehood-plan-strategize-puerto-rico/  The Washington Times. "New D.C. statehood plan: strategize with Puerto Rico?" 9/6/2012. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blog #39 -- Is there a war on women today?

This week, we've been studying women's suffrage and the fight to get women the right to vote.  With the Supreme Court case, Minor v. Happersett, that equated women with the insane and criminals, to the anti-suffrage sentiments and the crack down on Alice Paul and Lucy Burns for marching in front of the White House, women have not had an easy road towards equal rights.

This past year has seen a variety of misinformed comments about rape, criticisms or limitations of reproductive rights, and attacks on individual women like Sandra Fluke.  http://www.wearewoman.us/p/reasons-to-march-on-washington.html

For instance, the pro-life forces have been working to restrict or end access to a woman's right to an abortion.  Texas ended funding of Planned Parenthood, an organization which is recognized as one that "delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide."  1  Defunding Planned Parenthood directly affects poor women's access to affordable health care.  

Here's a commercial that highlights the fears of liberal women concerning this war on women 3: 

Also, former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has a stance on abortion in which there are no exceptions, not even in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.  http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/01/23/409242/santorum-to-rape-victims-make-the-best-out-of-a-bad-situation/?mobile=nc 

Also, Republican Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin has claimed that a woman's body knows the difference between a "legitimate rape" and consenual sex and can shut down any chance of a baby conceived by a rape from occurring.  Apparently, this is a believe that some men still believe: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/a-canard-that-will-not-die-legitimate-rape-doesnt-cause-pregnancy/261303/ 

Also, the Republicans opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act which its proponents say is supposed to be equal pay for equal work but its opponents say that the PFA is the "kind of labor regulation will likely hamper the job market for women of all political stripes – unless, of course, if they are trial lawyers -- by expanding the definition of “wage discrimination,” making it easier to file class-action lawsuits, and opening businesses up to greater litigation and uncertainty." 2  Fox News reports that 74% of women find that there is discrimination in the workplace, yet they don't think that there should be some kind of government regulation about this issue.  In fact, they don't think workplace discrimination is a "burning issue" with women. 2


Democrats have characterized these restrictions as a "war on women" while Republicans say that this is nothing but a myth.  For instance, Mary Kate Cary in the U.S. News and World Report has summarized the following five myths that have been tossed around in the past year:
1. If you are pro-life, you are anti-woman;
2. Republican men believe that they should control women's bodies (see cartoon above);
3. Republicans are trying to take away women's contraception (birth control);
4. Republicans don't support "equal pay for equal work" laws;
5. Any cuts that Republicans call for in Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare will automatically hurt women. 
Cary summarizes her points by saying "I and most women I know want to be empowered to pursue our own opportunities and... live our lives free of too much bureaucracy. We want to leave our children free of debt and deficits, with a smarter, smaller government."  She doesn't buy this "war on women" concept and thinks it's the Democrats who are trying to change the issues during a very close election year to attract more women voters. 

So, what do you make of these comments and quotes about a war on women?  Things to think about:
1. Is there an actual war on women or has the press latched onto something that is sensational?  Why?
2. What do you think of these comments by Republican law makers? 
3. Ask a woman in your life and ask her what is the most important issue to her.  Does this issue match up with what the Democrats are criticizing the Republicans over? 

Your response is due Thursday, Oct. 18 by class time.  250 words minimum. 

Sources: 1. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are-4648.htm  Planned Parenthood.
2. Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/06/05/war-on-women-backfires-on-democrats/#ixzz29Ua4oUx6

3. http://stopthewaronwomen.com/whats_at_stake   Top 10 shocking things from the war on women and their news sources. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Blog 38 - Immigration Reform

We've talked a bit about immigration these past two weeks (both past and present), and so I wanted to see what you thought about current immigration reform. 

Since the economy has been changing over the past 20 years, so has the need for a diverse work force.  Immigrants can bring some of those skills to America that Americans don't have or haven't been trained to do yet.  Sometimes, highly skilled immigrants have to wait for work visas to come to America even though American companies have requested their presence in the country to work here.  Yet these workers have had to wait months if not years to get work visas.

Another issue concerns undocumented or illegal aliens.  It is estimated that 50-75% of America's agricultural workforce is undocumented.  "Farmers across the country don’t want to see their best workers taken away from them, but whether these workers are given the legal authorization to work will depend on action by Congress." 1

President Bush proposed a plan about seven or eight years ago that would help put undocumented immigrants "on the path to citizenship."  This plan included having the immigrants receive legal immigrant status in exchange for paying a penalty for having stayed here illegally, learn English, become citizens within five to ten years, and become tax-paying, Social Security number-having, green-card-carrying aliens. Opposition in Congress shot this plan down , and so it remains in limbo. 

As we saw in the Frontline special, "Lost in Detention," President Obama and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) have cracked down on illegal immigrants and cast a very wide net across America to deport illegal immigrants with their Secure Communities program.  ICE has tried to reach its quota of 400,000 undocumented immigrants deported every year for the past three years.  The show seemed to imply that if Obama enforced the laws vigorously, then Congress would pass some meaningful immigration reform.  But so far, that hasn't happened yet. 

Two U.S. Senators, one from each party, working with President Obama, had proposed an immigration reform bill in 2010 based upon: "four pillars: requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here." 2
This plan acknowledges the idea that America must do something about the estimated 10-12 million undocumented immigrants living here already.  The plan also goes after businesses who hire undocumented immigrants and avoid paying taxes on these workers.  "Employers who refused to swipe the card or who otherwise knowingly hired unauthorized workers would face stiff fines and, for repeat offenses, prison sentences."

The plan also wants to improve our economy by insuring that educated immigrants stay here: "Ensuring economic prosperity requires attracting the world's best and brightest. Our legislation would award green cards to immigrants who receive a PhD or master's degree in science, technology, engineering or math from a U.S. university. It makes no sense to educate the world's future inventors and entrepreneurs and then force them to leave when they are able to contribute to our economy." 2

And lastly, the plan addressed temporary workers to acquire green cards: 

"Our blueprint also creates a rational system for admitting lower-skilled workers. Our current system prohibits lower-skilled immigrants from coming here to earn money and then returning home. Our framework would facilitate this desired circular migration by allowing employers to hire immigrants if they can show they were unsuccessful in recruiting an American to fill an open position; allowing more lower-skilled immigrants to come here when our economy is creating jobs and fewer in a recession; and permitting workers who have succeeded in the workplace, and contributed to their communities over many years, the chance to earn a green card.
" 2

Over the summer, the Obama administration helped out young undocumented immigrants by deferring their deportation with an executive order that President Obama had signed.  This program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), affects young people between the ages of 16-30 who meet certain requirements like be in school and not have been a criminal.  DACA potentially affects 1.7 million people, and since it began in August of this year, 82,000 people have applied to stay here for two years. 3   

Pick one of the issues that I've mentioned above:
1. allowing highly-skilled immigrants to get work viasas more quickly;
2. what to do with the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants already here;
3. should Secure Communities continue deporting people;
4. the Senate's plan to reform immigration;
5. deporting school aged children who were brought here illegally by their parents
and discuss your opinions about that issue and possibly if it has affected your family or friends. 

200 words, due by class Thursday 10/4. 

2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/17/AR2010031703115.html "The Right Way to Mend Immigration," by Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham. The Washington Post. March 19, 2010.
3. http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/2012/DACA-First-Month.pdf  "Deferred Action Program Moves Forward." National Immigration Reform. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lost in Detention video

Here's the video from Wednesday and Thursday, Lost in Detention, about President Obama's immigration policy called Secure Communities. 

Watch Lost in Detention on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Blog #37 - Unions

This week, we have spent some time looking at the reasons that unions exist, including the following reasons:

  • unions raise wages of unionized workers (by roughly 20%) and compensation including benefits by 28%; 
  • Unions help reduce wage inequality b/c "they raise wages more for low- and middle class workers than higher wage workers, more for blue collar workers than white-collar workers, and more for workers who do not have a college degree." 
  • Unions set a pay standard for other non-unionized employers to follow; 
  • Probably the most important area that unions help is in fringe benefits, things like paid leave, health benefits, and employer paid pension plans. 1 
In the video that we saw on Friday, the Amalgamated Steel workers tried initially to work together with Carnegie Steel until Andrew Carnegie and his business partner, Henry Clay Frick, decided to break the union and lock them out in the summer of 1892.  As the video said, the whole world was watching to see what would happen between the most powerful steel company in the country and its most powerful union.  After the strike was broken, wages decreased by almost half (which also could have been caused by the Depression of 1893 - something the video failed to mention).  But, what the professors in the film did emphasize was that workers felt that once they worked a job for a while, they felt like that there job is theirs.  The battle at Homestead was between who was to control the resources of the country - labor or management, and the owners won this war even though the workers defeated the Pinkertons.  2

Labor unions did not gain official or legal security until the Wilson administration in 1914 and then even more security during the Great Depression under President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935 with the Wagner Act and in 1938 with the Fair Labor Standards Act (which established the minimum wage, overtime pay, and ended child labor for good).  Since that time, workers wages had increased and union membership had increased until the 1950s (1/3 of the workforce) and falling to a low of 12.1% of the workforce in 2008 when union membership came back up, according to the Washington Post.  Most of these gains in union membership, according to the article, were NOT in the private sector but in government jobs.  As the economy crashed in 2008, private sector workers lost their jobs but unionized workers, for the most part, did not because of their contracts signed before the crash began.  3


Since the 1980s, states and Congress and the presidents have worked to weaken union regulations and security by allowing "open shop" laws - which require workers to not have to join a union if they work in an unionized industry.  These laws, called "right to work" laws, are spread throughout the U.S., but Michigan is not one of these states.  These laws build off of an anti-union law called the Taft-Hartley Act passed in 1947 after World War 2, and currently 23 states have their own "right to work" laws.  5

The question now is, have unions outlived their usefulness?  Back when wages were terribly low and union membership was at only 7% of the workforce, workers forming together and collectively bargaining made sense to get better working conditions, wages, and benefits. 3  But critics have always charged that these union benefits come at the expense of higher prices passed on to the consumers by the unionized companies. Critics also charge that having union contracts prohibit businesses and government agencies from making changes (meaning firing workers, lowering wages and eliminating benefits) when times are tough like they are now, and this lack of flexibility can force some companies out of business or have to eliminate jobs by outsourcing them overseas -thereby defeating the purpose of union protection in the first place.  6

However, manufacturing jobs have disappeared over the past 30 years, and unskilled laborers have had to get more education and skills just to get a job.  Plus, we're seeing the size of the middle-class shrink as the size of union membership shrink since the mid-1960s.  It took almost ten years to raise the minimum wage in 2007, and most families cannot survive on that alone.  Currently, Republican governors like our own Rick Snyder and Wisconsin's Scott Walker have worked at restricting the legal rights of unions - whether for skilled or unskilled workers - rights that have been guaranteed for almost 80 years. 4 Michigan workers are organizing a ballot initiative called "Protect Our Jobs" that would make collective bargaining a constitutional right in Michigan.  You've probably even seen some of their commercials on TV in the past few weeks as well as commercials against this proposal.  Could more people benefit from being unionized if companies would let them?  Could unions make a resurgence if times were better?  Or does that only happen when times are bad? 

So my question for you is this: have unions outlived their usefulness?  Why or why not?  Use the ideas above to answer the question, and look at the sources linked below.  There's lots of good information out there on unions.  If you find another source, please site it in your comment.  

Your comment is due Monday, Sept. 24 at the beginning of class, 200 words minimum! 

1. http://www.epi.org/publication/briefingpapers_bp143/  "How Unions Help All Workers," Lawrence Mishel and Matthew Walters, Economic Policy Institute, August 2003.  
2. "The Homestead Strike," 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America, DVD. 2006. 
3. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/28/AR2009012801621.html "American Union Ranks Grow After Bottoming Out," Peter Whoriskey, The Washington Post, 1/29/2009.  
4. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/who-killed-american-unions/258239/  "Who Killed American Unions?" Derek Thompson, The Atlantic Monthly, June 2012.  
5. National Right to Work Legal Defense Fund. http://www.nrtw.org/en/about 
6. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2009/05/what-unions-do-how-labor-unions-affect-jobs-and-the-economy "What Unions Do: How Labor Unions Affect Jobs and the Economy," James Sherk, The Heritage Foundation, May 2009. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blog #36 - Best inventions in the past 200 years

In the next few days, we will talk about the most influential inventions and concepts that have changed human life for the better or worse, initially in our short lives, and then we expanded it to the past 200 years (of course, the Snuggie is right up there in the Top 1 Million Inventions of the Decade).

There are many inventions from the past few hundred years that would qualify as being the best.  They include, but are not limited, to:

 - antibiotics, painkillers, refrigerators, televisions, telephones, harnessing the use of electricity, light bulb, airplanes, computers, calculators, air conditioning (I think that's in my selfish top 3), duct tape (someone insisted on putting it on the board), the car, steam engine, gasoline engine, light saber, and many others.

Your job in this blog is to think of how your life and your parents' and grandparents' lives would have been amazingly different w/o the top three inventions that you have chosen.  Ask your parents and / or grandparents, aunts, uncles or other family members for perspective on technology, b/c we have a hard time looking past the few years we've lived in.  Right now, I don't know how I've lived w/o cell phones, but I obviously had for over 20+ years.  Now, try finding a pay phone.  But my personal favorite invention in the past 200 yrs (mainly b/c I'm not a huge fan of going outside in the middle of the night when ya gotta go) is:

The flushing toilet, right along w/ toilet paper.  It has made life so much more comfortable.  You can laugh, but think of having a pit toilet in your back yard, and having to go there in the middle of the night.  In the winter. I know, the girls, you would hold it, but the boys.... you're gross. 

Here's a website where you can rank your own top ten list of inventions: http://www.the-top-tens.com/lists/top-ten-inventions-in-the-last-200-years.asp
Top medical breakthroughs - http://zayamsbury.net/top-medical-breakthroughs-of-the-past-200-years/index.html

200 words minimum for the blog.  
Due Tuesday, Sept. 18 by the beginning of class. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Blog #35 - Musings about history and peace


Pick one of these quotes and tell me what you think the speaker means by it and what he/she is saying about history/peace specifically.  Please make sure you don't restate the quote.  Explore its meaning, especially for today's world.  

Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind...War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.
John F. Kennedy

No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent.
Abraham Lincoln

Finishing second in the Olympics gets you silver. Finishing second in politics gets you oblivion.
Richard Nixon

People ask the difference between a leader and a [political] boss. . . . The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.
Teddy Roosevelt

Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. Woodrow Wilson
No democracy can long survive which does not accept as fundamental to its very existence the recognition of the rights of minorities. Franklin Roosevelt

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Franklin Roosevelt

200 words minimum.  Due Monday, September 10 before class begins.