Some ramblings on fairness

How do you talk to a kid about fairness, about the idea that despite what might seem fair, sometimes things just don’t work out? When I deal with my students, I try to think about this. I often wonder if my grading is fair. I wonder if that boy was more polite and less aggressive, or if that girl didn’t have a pretty smile and kind demeanor, would I still give them the same scores? And how do you tell an athlete that despite hard work and obvious ability, that he or she won’t get much of an opportunity or much of the credit because of the way he or she is built. This is what drove Kobe Bryant crazy when he played with Shaq.

I know that sometimes, the idea of “fairness” is just a mirage. That it’s all about point-of-view. Could I read an essay and give the student an “A” and another teacher read the essay and give it a “C” and could both of us have been fair? Absolutely, but more likely than not, certain immeasurables related to the student’s personality play a large part. (The solution to this is easy: use ID numbers, but I don’t want to have to look up students’ names after the fact to put them in the gradebook.)

As a society, we want everything to be fair. Politicians speak of it all the time: those on the right saying it’s not fair to tax the wealthy more and those on the left saying it’s not fair to let the poor starve. We cry about it when we find that a co-worker who comes in later and leaves earlier earns the same amount as us. I think about it when I think about USC’s football team and their sanctions. I think about it when I grade. I think about it in my private life and ask if people are being fair to me.

I don’t think I have a romantic sense of justice, just an idea of what the world should be like—effort, obstacles and dedication outweighing talent when it comes to competition and a blind judgment based off production and quality when it comes to work.

Tagged , , , ,

My invitation to the right-wing media

If I was a Republican and sat and watched the absolute destruction of my fantastical dreams of defeating President Obama and overtaking the Senate, I’d be pretty angry at the media that sold me the faulty stories.

Last night when it was clear the president would win, I couldn’t help but turn the TV to Fox News. I needed to know how they’d take the news that everything they’ve been reporting was wrong. I watched as Karl Rove attempted to prove on a piece of paper that his Ohio math was more factual than the calculations of a roomful of number crunchers. This moment of disbelief in the real-world facts epitomized the last four years of the Republican Party and its Republican media machine–an entire industry based on gut and emotion instead of facts and data.

While us on the left visited daily and saw consistent Obama leads in all the swing states, including Florida at the end, those on the right obsessed over the gut feelings of Rove, who predicted, based on his experience with George W. Bush, that Mitt Romney would win. And the GOP media also focused on the predictions of pundit Michael Barone, who proudly wrote that Romney would win, 315-223–almost the exact opposite of math god Nate Silver at 538, who predicted a 313-223, Obama victory. (By the way Silver nailed each state in his final electoral map.)

If I was a Fox News watcher this morning, I wouldn’t trust a word coming out of any of the newscasters’ mouths from here on until they make a fundamental change in how they conduct business.

Some facts Fox News might need to fix immediately in order to save some credibility:

  • America likes Obama. His approval rating has been around 50 percent leading up to the end of his first term. Bill Clinton, before he was re-elected, had an approval rating hovering in the 40s with a low-point at 37 percent.
  • Obama’s healthcare plan is not a “government takeover.” It’s a practical plan based on the private markets. Simple. Basic. Capitalistic.
  • Most Americans believe in science. Man-caused climate change is real, not a theory.
  • Most Americans don’t blame Obama for the economy. Most of the blame still falls on President George W. Bush. Don’t get me wrong. The president still has the bulk of economic responsibility to get the country growing faster, but he was handed a really difficult task. Oh yeah, Congress is a bit responsible too since they pass the damn laws.
  • On the economy, it’s not as weak as Fox and right-wing pundits claim. Could it be growing faster? Yes. But is it growing? Yes, unlike the economies in Europe. The United States is no longer in a recession and not really a risk of falling into another one. If Obama and Congress do NOTHING the next four years, economists expect 12 million jobs to be added.

Most importantly though, last night proved one thing that I’ve been thinking for a while: Fox and right wingers continue to use “Americans” and “American people” to refer to the electorate. Romney would have won the election if Fox News’s America — white, middle-class men — would have been the only ones to vote. But that isn’t America anymore–Obama won with the lowest percentage of the white vote in the history of this country.

America is different now. America is darker. America also includes working women. It also includes a majority of people who support gay rights. America is like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago. It is not like Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Last night after the election was well over, I sent this tweet:

Republicans, the message is this: America has changed. We are minorities, women, gays, science believers. Adapt or be irrelevant.

The two-party system in this country is essential. Just like this country wouldn’t survive if we moved all the way to Ron Paul’s right, we wouldn’t survive if we moved all the way to’s left. Ideological battles are necessary and helpful and keep the country on a healthy balance.

But the battles fought by the right-wing media the last four years was not a healthy one. It was a battle based on extreme ideology and an appeal to the basest of Republican thought. This must change.

Fox News employs the sensible Juan Williams. Maybe it’s time to give him a larger role. Maybe it’s time for them to say goodbye to their fear-mongers. Keep Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and we’ll keep Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They are healthy for political dialogue. But do away with your demagogues: Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Karl Rove.

Join us, right wing. Join the fact-based world. Join the Americans who re-elected Obama. We need you. Your viewers and readers need you.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Welcome to the Republicans’ 21st Century Jim Crow voting laws

All the signs look good:

As of Sunday night, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight gives President Obama an 85.5 percent chance to stay in The White House. Princeton Professor Sam Wang gives the president a better chance: 98 percent. The president has yet to trail in Ohio in any legitimate poll (sorry, Rasmussen) for months and leads in Florida in a few of the latest polls. Obama is even ahead in nearly every national poll despite trailing for most of October.

Even some Republicans, like Matt Lattimer, who worked for Newt Gingrich’s campaign, wrote that the entire right-wing punditry have deluded themselves into thinking the Romney has a chance:

What is propelling Team Romney and their cheerleaders in the media appears to be wishful thinking, not empirical evidence.

With all this data, I should feel like this election is game, set, match. But I don’t.

It’s not because Obama is a “weak” candidate, as Michael Medved suggested in an asinine column, “Why the Long Face, Democrats?

Not even the Romney campaign’s decision to start airing ads and having rallies in Pennsylvania and Michigan is making me nervous. These are signs of desperation and suggests that Romney & Co. are preparing to lose in Ohio, Nevada, and, possibly, Florida and Virginia and need to find a new pathway to victory.

I am worried because 12 years ago, an election was stolen and the political run-up to this one has some similarities.

I’m OK with Al Gore defeating President Bush in the popular vote, but losing in the electoral college–that’s the U.S. electoral system. And the Republicans didn’t really “steal” the election when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was too late to start a recount. That election was stolen when Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had purged tens of thousands of voters who should have been able to cast ballots and, statistically (most would have been from Democratic constituencies) at least, would have reversed the outcome of the entire election since Gore lost Florida by only 537 votes.

Voter suppression is happening again.

Earlier this election season, Florida representatives purged eligible voters from the rolls. The Florida secretary of state tried to cut early voting hours. So did Ohio. The Buckeye State and Pennsylvania have tried to implement Draconian voter I.D. laws that would prevent mostly Democrat voters from casting ballots. At least 14 other states have attempted to suppress turnout with new laws meant to prevent the mythical voter fraud.

Just this Friday, Ohio Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a declaration which could invalidate some provisional ballots. In Florida on Sunday, early voters needed a court order to cast their ballots because the Republican secretary of state had ordered polling places closed despite long lines of waiting voters Saturday night. The longest lines were primarily at “polling sites in urban areas and locations most convenient to college students, senior citizens and minority voters.” All of which are Democratic constituencies.

The Republican strategy for winning an election is clear. Republicans who rule in several states are enacting the 21st Century’s versions of Jim Crow’s literacy tests and grandfather clauses: Voter ID laws and voter roll purges. These voter suppression laws create low turnout, especially among minorities and college students, and have been the driving force behind Republican efforts to rig elections for more than a decade.

These measures also seem to be the only way Romney wins.

However, for Romney to win, with state polls as they are, the GOP must undertake a gigantic conspiracy. There has to be massive voter suppression and other funny business (like losing boxes of ballots) in multiple states with no one whistle-blowing. I can’t see that happening…

Still, you never know.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

On abortion and Mitt Romney

Now that Mitt Romney has the same exact stance on Roe v. Wade as President Obama, why would single-issue Christians still vote for him?

Oh, you haven’t heard? Romney wouldn’t challenge the Supreme Court ruling.

On Fox News (of course) a few days ago, Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson dismissed abortion as a campaign issue:

“I’ve had one person talking about the abortion issue during this entire campaign. It’s just — it’s not even an issue here in Wisconsin, it doesn’t even move the radar at all.”

Maybe that’s not a super clear statement about Romney’s position on the issue. But yesterday, another Romney surrogate, Norm Coleman, clarified that, if elected, the “pro-life” candidate wouldn’t do anything to hurt Roe v. Wade:

“President Bush was president eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. It’s not going to be reversed.”

And, for good measure, Romney’s sister Jane (described as a bit of a loose cannon) said last month that Mitt would NEVER ban abortion:

“Women would take to the streets. Women fought for our choice, we’re not going to go back.”

Translation: Romney is personally opposed to abortion, but would do little to overturn the ruling that makes it a constitutional right to have one.

In other words, Romney has the EXACT position as President Obama on the issue.

Those single-issue Christian voters could have a problem with that. Especially considering that the rest of the Republican platform goes against Christian doctrine. Caring for the poor isn’t exactly a top priority of Paul Ryan’s budget plan.

There’s a long-standing belief that leading Republicans know that if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, it will probably destroy the party. The moderates will leave. Women will leave. And single-issue Christian voters could leave if they aim to follow Christ’s teachings.

Romney has three choices: 1. State clearly that he opposes Roe v. Wade and wants to see legal abortion outlawed (he says he wants states to decide the issue – clearly a cop-out); 2. He can admit that he is personally opposed to abortion, but will do nothing to help overturn Roe v. Wade; 3. He can say nothing except some lame platitudes about how he wants it legal only for the health of the mother and in cases of rape.

I praise candidate Richard Mourdock of Indiana for his comments that he opposes rape in all circumstances, even in the case of rape. His belief is consistent and principled. That is admirable.

Romney doesn’t have those kinds of principles. Anti-abortion Christians, he doesn’t deserve your vote.

Tagged , , ,

President Obama’s biggest “failure”

When I discuss President Obama with those who don’t plan voting for him, there are two phrases that always precede whatever charge is about to be levied against him: “He said he would…” or “I hoped he would…”

The phrases are used in reference to Obama’s hope of changing the tone in Washington. They are used in the mythical charge that the unemployment rate would be under 5 percent if his stimulus bill passed.

And they are used when referring to what the left hoped the president would be: the anti-George W. Bush.

Regardless, each of the phrases emphasizes the president’s biggest failure: he’s failed to deliver a successful narrative for his presidency.

President Obama has been the most progressive president since Franklin Roosevelt. He’s the first president, despite nearly a century of trying, to pass a form of universal health care. He’s made clean, alternative energy a viable source of fuel. He’s made it law that women should be paid the same as their male counterparts for equal work. He rescued the American auto industry.

And conservatives should be thrilled with the president. His health care law is built on conservative ideas. The mandate is an idea from the Heritage Foundation. The entire law is based off Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts law, which is based off of President Nixon’s universal health care proposal. He’s also shown himself to be an effective Commander-in-Chief, using drones to assassinate known terrorists and taking decisive action in taking out Osama bin Laden. A dove Obama is not.

Plus, the economy is growing at 2 percent, which is slow, but miraculous considering Europe is still in recession and Congress has refused to pass any stimulative measures the last two years.

But for some reason, no one is happy. Progressives don’t think Obama has been liberal enough. Conservatives just hate the guy.

This is because President Obama hasn’t told an effective story. He didn’t make the country realize that the recovery would be a long, hard slog, to steal a Republican phrase. He didn’t make people realize that health care reform is directly tied into the economic recovery. He didn’t effectively call out the Republican-led Congress and the minority in the Senate who had effectively stopped governing in hopes of stalling the economy and making Obama a one-term president, which they very well might succeed in doing.

Three and a half years after he took office, President Obama finally found a perfect slogan to tell his story: “Forward.”

During the Democratic Convention, speaker after speaker pushed the “Forward” message and Obama’s chances of re-election soared. No one wants to go back to the Bush days.

Then the first debate happened. Obama allowed Romney to change the narrative. The president didn’t fight back.

We have new plans to get the country moving forward, Romney said in Denver. (He doesn’t. He is just rehashing Bush-era policies of tax cuts and increased military spending.)  It’s the Romney narrative of “the president said he’d do this, but he failed” that has taken hold in independent, mostly white working-class voters.

To be clear, Obama hasn’t failed in his job as president. If he only serves one term, he will go down as the president who saved the country from a second Great Depression and who passed universal health care. You aren’t considered a failure for having done those things.

He’s just failed in telling the country what he’s done.

Tagged , , , , , ,