Monthly Archives: September 2011

5 posts

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 9/26

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President

Jon Stewart challenges Republican Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, on conventional Republican solutions to the economy, jobs and inequality.

Mitch Daniels Extended Interview Part I

Mitch Daniels Extended Interview Part II

Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the Democratic nominee to challenge incumbent Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown in 2012, discusses the current state of affairs in our country.

Elizabeth Warren on Class Warfare

Matt Seyer, Secretary

The debate over teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools has escalated in intensity in recent years.  In an interview with NOVA, Dr. Kenneth Miller answers a wide variety of questions about evolution and Intelligent Design.  Miller provides clear, thoughtful responses to such questions as: “What is evolution?…What’s the harm in introducing intelligent design into a science classroom?…What are the weaknesses of evolution?”  For anyone curious about evolution or Intelligent Design, and for anyone concerned with America’s future in science, this relatively brief piece is a must-read.

In Defense of Evolution

Connor Stangler, Campaign Coordinator

While the troubling rise of reactionary populism in the form of the Tea Party and a lack of progressive backbone in the White House has disillusioned some sects of the Democratic Party and the liberal movement, there are rising stars that still claim the resiliency and efficacy of the progressive movement. New York politician Eric Schneiderman is one of a cadre of driven liberals who are intent on limiting the rise of purely financial institutions and the hegemony of big banks. He is smart, politically adroit, and worthy of our attention as Obama loses his luster.

Is Eric Schneiderman America’s most powerful liberal?

Alex Witt, Webmaster

The College Republicans at UC Berkeley, in protest of an affirmative action bill, are planning an Increase Diversity Bake Sale, during which they will sell minority price-adjusted pastries.

UC Berkeley ‘Racist” Bake Sale Demonstration Sparks Outrage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The West Wing, Radio, and the Religious Right

Written by: Alex Witt

In episode three of the second season of The West Wing President Bartlett, busy campaigning in the midterm elections, takes a moment to meet with radio talk show hosts to discuss the important role they play in the democratic process.  Upon addressing the group, he sees, sitting, Dr. Jenna Jacobs, a talk-show host known for incendiary statements regarding homosexuals.  After questioning her on her educational experience (Dr. Jacobs holds a doctoral degree in English literature), he brings up her homophobic statements, and she responds by citing the Bible.  Then comes an onslaught of references by President Bartlett of Biblical citations that are no longer considered acceptable, such as selling one’s daughter into slavery or stoning one’s employee for working on the Sabbath, as well as a final searing look that lasts until she defeatedly stands (Sorkin, 2000).

This scene in “The Midterms” was allegedly inspired by a letter written to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative radio talk-show host known for her homophobic rants.  Dr. Laura, as she is known by listeners, similarly does not hold a Ph.D. in a relevant subject, such as theology or psychology.  Instead she holds a degree in physiology and a certificate in marriage, family, and child counseling.  Dr. Laura’s position on homosexuality is illustrated by her endorsement of books such as Restoring Sexual Identity: Hope for Women Who Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction.  She has been quoted as calling homosexuality a “deviant behavior, a dysfunctional behavior (“Dr. Laura,” 2010).”  Similarly, she once asked, “When a man cannot make love to a woman, how can that be normal (“Dr. Laura,” 2010)?”

Although Dr. Laura was targeted most directly by writer Aaron Sorkin, his rebuke was not only addressed towards her personally.  This was also a general critique of the Religious Right.  Other groups such as Focus on the Family have expressed similar feelings to those of Dr. Laura.  In fact, on their website Focus on the Family states in regards to homosexuality, “If a spouse refuses to seek help and refuses to change, it is almost impossible that your child will escape their youth without some scars and bruises (“Focus on the Family,” 2010),” thus making the assumption that it is necessary, and possible, for homosexuals to “change” their sexual preference.  In defense of their use of the Bible in condemning homosexuality, the organization states that leaders of the Gay-Christian movement claim, “Scriptures that supposedly condemn homosexual behavior have been taken out of context and do not apply to our present society (“Focus on the Family,” 2010).”  This is true; however, Sorkin counters this statement by pointing out other idiosyncrasies that the Religious Right choose to ignore.  Christians are convinced the Bible is the last word on homosexuality, yet they fail to follow many of its other mandates, such as stoning ones mother for wearing different materials or touching the skin of a dead pig.

In this episode, President Bartlett not only discusses the importance of the radio media, but also alludes to their power with the very vehement anger with which he addresses Dr. Jacobs.  According to Hollihan (2009), commercial talk radio has emerged as a major news source in modern America, especially for Republicans.  24% of Republicans listen to interactive radio shows, and 13% of Democrats do.  91% of political radio talk show content is skewed toward conservative positions, and 77% of Rush Limbaugh’s audience consider themselves conservative, versus 36% of the general public.  This gives those listeners a distorted representation of what they country truly feels.  Surrounded by people with similar political beliefs, these listeners have their opinions validated daily.  This validation from fellow listeners gives them the confidence that they are not alone in their beliefs.  Unfortunately, a very small percent of the population is actually reflected in this sample, thus making the conclusions invalid.

Hollihan also discusses the use of wedge political strategies and their negative influence on public confidence.  According to Hollihan (2009), people who have experienced this brand of negative advertising will not have faith that their interests will be represented or considered if their party is not elected.  He further elaborates that both the Democrats and Republicans are growing increasingly polarized and that this phenomena is encouraged by the emergence of hard-lined activists on both sides of the aisle, activists like Dr. Laura.  This is undermining the faith of the American people, which only contributes to apathy among citizens.

Rozell discusses the increasingly popular use of a bully pulpit by nonstate actors.  With access to media outlets increasing and becoming more polarized, more and more shows, such as those of Dr. Laura and Glenn Beck, are finding a channel for their opinions.  Rozell points out that non-governmental media users have some advantages over others, such as their ability to oversimplify issues into good versus bad dilemmas and their ability to shirk accountability when it comes to credibility (2008).  This is illustrated often in the case of the Religious Right.  Christians are good.  Gays are bad.  And don’t even try to accuse the broadcaster of being a bigot because they’re just speaking the Truth the Bible offers.  The Bible is a perfect iron curtain to hide behind, as its authors have been dead for millennia, and no one wants to be perceived as a sinful Christian-hater.  After all, who knows whether Rush Limbaugh has a direct line to God and to what extent he can influence where you spend eternity.

Dahlgren (2009), in examining the relationship between the media and political engagement, points out that the media audience is becoming more and more fragmented as a greater variety of outlets and channels become available to consumers.  This aspect has been very important in the development of the Religious Right, as conservative media stars like Glenn Beck, Dr. Laura, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity have found outlets for their particular brand of controversial journalism.  Networks such as Fox News, radio outlets such as Sirius satellite radio, and infinite numbers of blogs have triggered a movement of “journalists” rushing to become more polarized than ever in order to gain the ratings necessary to stay on the air.  Unfortunately, these options seem to be more sensational than factual and often only enforce the political beliefs of their consumers, instead of actually enlightening them with the truth.

In the article, “Political Parody and Public Culture,” Hariman (2008) examines the relationship between the two.  He finds that parody is useful in many situations, including helping people see what they’ve done wrong and letting leaders know what they’ve done wrong, by placing emphasis on certain elements of the discourse.  This is true in the case of The West WingThe West Wing is writer Aaron Sorkin’s idea of what politics should be, not necessarily what it is.  Therefore, in the episode “The Midterms” the response by President Bartlett displays the way in which Sorkin believes moderates and liberals should handle the rhetoric of the Religious Right.  The idea is to wake up the audience, and ideally the politicians, to make them see the shortcomings of their actions.  In order to point out those shortcomings, though, a writer cannot be a dispassionate observer.  He must let his reaction become part of the story in order to make a truly honest critique (Baym, 2005).

The most relevant pieces of critical literature, however, do not simply make critiques.  They also become incorporated into real life, and The West Wing has done just that.  In February of 2006, British newspaper The Guardian published a piece listing the top ten political tips gleaned from the television program after the British House of Commons allegedly used a technique outlined in the show to pass real life legislation by waiting until the opposition was indisposed to call for a vote (Stelter, 2008).  And while President Obama’s presidential campaign was not necessarily based on the one run in the final season of the series by candidate Matthew Santos, many of the similarities were uncanny (Lawson, 2006).

Media such as The West Wing plays an important role in modern American democracy.  In a day and age in which audiences are bombarded from every side by radio shows, outrageous television “news” stations, and infinite political blogs, traditional media can no longer be solely trusted to relay the most important, truthful news that can be offered.  In many instances, it is up to the viewer to critically examine the information being fed, and draw their own conclusions.  Thankfully, there are aids such as The West Wing to help audiences make those decisions.

References

(2010, December 5). “Dr. Laura.” Retrieved from http://www.drlaura.com/

(2010, December 5). “Focus on the Family.” Retrieved from http://www.focusonthefamily.com/

Baym, G. (2005). The Daily Show: Discursive integration and the reinvention of political journalism. In Political communication. Taylor and Francis Inc.

Dahlgren, P. (2009). Media and political engagement. Cambridge University Press.

Hariman, R. (2008). Political parody and public culture. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 94 (3), 247-272.

Hollihan, T. A. (2009). Uncivil war: Political campaigns in a media age. Boston, MA:

Bedford/St. Martin’s

Lawson, M. (2006, February 3). Ten top political tips from The West Wing. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/

Rozell, M.J., & Mayer, J.D. (Eds.). (2008). Media power, media politics. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Sorkin, A. (Writer), & Graves, A. (Director). (2000). The midterms [Television series episode]. In J. Wells (Producer), The west wing. Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers Burbank Studios.

Stelter, B. (2008, October 29). Following the script: Obama, McCain and “The West Wing.” The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 9/20

Brett Cline, President

The GOP should attack Obama’s policy, not the man himself, as Obama still has a good personal approval rating. The article also looks ahead to the strategies both parties might use in the 2012 campaign.

GOP should attack Obama’s plans, not Obama the man

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President

Jim Webb’s Criminal Justice Crusade

Michael Polwort, Treasurer

John Fleming, GOP Congressman, Blasts Obama Over Buffett Rule: I Can’t Afford A Tax Hike

Connor Stangler, Campaign Coordinator

This piece is a little different than what we’re used to reading. The New Republic‘s review of the new movie “Contagion” asserts that the film is more than just the most recent thriller, it’s a challenge to the recent shift in pop culture against government solutions. Instead of government being the cause or accomplice of apocalyptic chaos, it instead becomes the solution. Is this movie indicative of a new force in pop culture, one that accepts the benevolence of government solutions? Perhaps. But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

‘Contagion’ Isn’t Just a Thriller. It’s a Defense of Big Government

Alex Witt, Webmaster

In spite of education reform by means of standardized testing, mandated teacher goals, and charter schools, SAT reading and verbal scores are continuing to decline. Reading and comprehension should be taught from pre-school onward to create a stronger knowledge base for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

How to Stop the Drop in Verbal Scores

Waiting for Superman: What’s under the Cape

Written by: Colton Richardson

The public education system in the United States in obviously on a steady-to-downward spiral. But is the solution to form charter schools and to deny the right of a fair and just education to every child, thereby leaving a child’s education up to a lottery chance? Davis Gunggenheim would have us believe so. In his recent film, Waiting for Superman, Gunggenheim highlights the faults of the public education system at large and gives us insight into how it affects the lives of five young participants. Biases are all too common in the study and writings of public education, but today we are going to look past those biases to look at truths. We will focus on the message that the film is trying to convey, the effect that it has on the people that see it, and how the film makers achieved that effect.

One of the main ideals set forth in this film is that the teachers are the ones that make the difference in the system. The system either succeeds or fails upon the caliber of teacher that a school hires (Gunggenheim). What this movie does, though, is to attack teachers unions and to demonize them for their position on tenure and bargaining rights. Generalization is this film’s Achilles’ heel when it comes to the discussion of national teachers’ rights, tenure, and district policy on the firing of teachers. Every state has specific protocol for terminating teachers. It is a bit presumptuous to say all districts around the nation have the same methods of hiring and firing teachers, and it is unfair to give examples of only the most extreme bad behavior.Another fallacy in Waiting for Superman is the way that Gunggenheim generalizes about all teachers by focusing on inner city school teachers exclusively (Hanushek).  We will revisit this topic in our third point of review.

Another of the three main topics that this film highlights is charter school success; although, in actuality, charter schools perform worse than public schools on average (Hanushek, Denby).  In the film, Gunggenheim focuses his attention on the fleeting possibility that these children have of attaining actual knowledge is rested in these high level of learning facilities that are purported to be charter schools. How these schools operate is altogether another story. They are funded by receiving grants – grants that come from public funding, the same funding that goes toward public schools. The catch in this scenario, however, is that these schools are independently run and do not have to answer to a school board or district at all. The only measure of allowing admittance is that if the maximum number of seats open is outmatched by the number of applicants, the institution must hold a random drawing, more commonly referred to as a lottery (Guggenheim).  In this fashion, the schools can also hold selected students to a higher standard, which is inherently a good thing; but, if these students do not meet these levels of excellence, they are sent back to the public schools from which they come.

We must also ensure in our analysis that we separate charter schools from private schools. Private schools are self-funding schools that charge tuition as a cost to attend the school; the charter school system is a free public school. A distinction must also be made between the test scores of private and public schools. That is, charter schools in a private school structure, without normative levels of testing, are still forced to compete with the level of analysis and evaluation of both review boards and testing centers as large public schools that cater to all the students that inhabit the district (Knapp, Reid, Ginder, Grigg, Jenkins).

The last main point of criticism that this film draws is a comparison of the methods which Guggenheim employs when comparing urban and rural school districts. Not once does the director make reference to a rural school district in this film. He focuses mainly on inner city, impoverished, and usually danger-filled neighborhoods in large cities; three of the stories were from Burroughs of New York City and the other two were from Los Angeles and a small town outside of LA. It is puzzling to understand how this solution, i.e. charter schools, is supposed to help all of education when one cites only these larger cities as examples.

Just as in prior documentaries, the director uses many emotional cues to obtain the desired reaction from the audience. Gunggenheim uses pauses and revelation moments in this documentary to allow the poignant moments to settle in. It is sad to say, but what Gunggenheim is really doing in his use of inner city minority children for the documentary is exploiting them as token children. They have become the token Hispanic child or the repressed African American child, instead of just another child in a struggling educational system. This tactic is a very good one for Gunggenheim, though – it allows him to take the moments when each child is not accepted into a charter school and slow it down to show the challenges that these parents face in trying to get their children to a higher institution of knowledge.

Gunggenheim makes use of hot button topics, such as tenure, bargaining rights, “drop out factories,” and equal education.  He uses this tactic to rationalize his analyses of the entire public school system, even though he only shows us a very small example of the system in its entirety. He uses common dimensions and benchmarks to measure the progress of public education in the United States over the last decade and compares it to other international education systems (Gunggenheim). Another one of the overarching methods in which Gunggenheim approaches this documentary is with motivated reasoning. Since he produced a documentary in 1999, he already knew what he wanted to prove. Throughout the film, the viewer must fit all of these pieces of the puzzle together to form one coherent argument. It seems, though, that Gunggenheim only used the evidence and stories which helped him make his desired analysis.

The conclusion that public education needs to be fixed is a very obvious one to make, but the question lies in how we do it. Who has the real answer? Gunggenheim believes that charter schools are the way to do it. Although I am a firm believer in public education, I will also be one of the first to say when something needs to be fixed – and in a hurry. The ideas put forth in this documentary though, is not the way to do it. It has good intentions: promoting good teachers and what they do, providing a great education for all students. But the way that Gunggenheim reaches his conclusions perplexes me. Instead of fixing the problem that he identified throughout the entire film, he simply proposes alternative institutions of knowledge as a legitimate answer. As only 1 in 5 charter schools survive, while public education has been around for quite a substantial amount of time, they do not fix the problem. The solution that many reformers should take does not involve creating a new entity, but rather trying to restore the greatness that once was public education.

Bibliography

Waiting for Superman. Dir. Davis Gunggenheim. Electric Kinney Films, Participant Media, Walden Media, 2010. DVD.

Denby, David. “School Spirit.” The New Yorker 11 Oct. 2010: 1-2. The New Yorker. Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2010/10/11/101011crci_cinema_denby>.

Knapp, L.G., Kelly-Reid, J.E., and Ginder, S.A. (2011). Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009; Graduation Rates, 2003 & 2006 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2009 (NCES 2011-230). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved [date] from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch.

Braun, H., Jenkins, F., and Grigg, W. (2006). Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical LinearModeling (NCES 2006-461). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

USA. National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research The Urban Institute. The Evidence Behind Waiting for Superman: A CALDER Fact Sheet. By Eric Hanushek. Print.

Thoughts from Exec, Week of 9/13

Brett Cline, President:

This article looks at the constitution and the goals the framers had for it as well as their outlooks on its success. It frames the debate over the rights of the executive in courses of action such as Libya, healthcare reform, the Debt Ceiling and immigration. The article tries to explain where the President gets his powers on these issues and where the Tea Party believes he is overstepping his bounds.

One Document, Under Siege

Michael Baharaeen, Vice President:

Few Americans  are aware of the growing disparity of wealth in the country, yet, it is of increasing concern.

Land of the Free, Home of the Poor

Connor Stangler, Campaign Coordinator:

The shortfalls of President Obama’s presidency have been felt by his base.

Obama is best GOP president since Lincoln

Alex Witt, Webmaster:

The 2012 Republican Primary is already taking form as candidates rush to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Not long ago, positions covering the campaigns were in high-demand and reserved for only the most experienced and well-known reporters. The campaigns of today’s Presidential hopefuls, however, are now being examined by young writers fresh out of school. These young professionals walk the line between skill and inexperience, innovative technology and old-school common sense.

Campaign Reporters are Younger and Cheaper