Tag Archives: politics

New Media and Politics

Today, my friend Beth Harte and I sat down with Stephanie Abrams from CBS3 here in Philadelphia, to talk a bit about the political climate and how blogs and new media were effecting the election.

Beth and I got to chat for a few minutes after as well.  While I support the Democrats and she the Republicans, I think we are both pretty middle of the road people, with very similar points of view on many issues, and I think this is where most people are- in the center of the bell shaped curve, perhaps falling a bit to the right or left, but not very extreme in any of their viewpoints.

For example, we both agree that the fun and snarky comments online can get pretty out of hand and nasty sometimes, and this does nothing to help either “sides” case- that their candidate is the best one for the job.  We can probably both agree that if you are extremely partisan, it’s easy to just read conservative or liberal blogs, and live in an echo chamber that just magnifies your already entrenched point of view.  What’s harder to do is find decent, reasoned voices and opinions, that take the time to talk about facts (as we know them) and build a reasonable and rational case for either party or candidate.

In recent posts, I’ve talked about how I am not a big fan of Sarah Palin- not because I am some June Cleaver throwback, but I do believe it’s perfectly okay to be a mom and a working person, but I also acknowledge that doing two things at once means often feeling pulled in two directions, and it’s not particularly fun.  I think women can have it all, but the caveat to that is we can’t necessarily have it all at the same time.  We like to pretend everything is rosy and perfect, but being a working Mom is often like having two full time jobs, and only one pays you money, while the other pays you in emotional currency.

But regardless of my position on issues, or Beth’s, we can both agree that having a good new media strategy is essential.  Candidates need to understand we are living in times where hiding the bad news only makes it worse, and being authentic and human is the only way to deal with a changing media landscape.  Those that fail to realize this are taking a very big risk indeed.

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Negotiation Skills

I had a friend in law school who had a five year old daughter.  When Gail was taking Mediation and Negotiation, she said it as the easiest class she ever took, because she got nightly practice with her child, sharpening and honing the skills in her own little real-life lab.  Now that I am a parent, with two boys, 12 and 9, I understand this much better than I ever did at the time.  Having kids sharpens your negotiation and mediation skills to a fine art.

In an odd way, this is one of the reasons I think Hillary Clinton might make a great president.  She’s a lawyer and a mother, so she knows how to bargain and get things done.  I sort of wish she had had at least two children-  more kids raises the stakes in the balancing of needs test parents do between kids.  And lord knows when it comes to foreign affairs, balancing wants and needs is critical.   I know that the tri-partate talks we have here to solve the lost remote control crisis would make me perfect for solving the arab-palestinian problem single handed.

That aside, I am always fascinated on how negotiations start out pleasant, but after a while, people just need to take off the gloves and say the underlying truth of the matter, to solve the problem. The manners I wrote about yesterday are important, respect and honoring each other is important, but ultimately, it should be about solving the problem at hand, not about feeding the egos of the participants.

In parenting, you are often forced into a situation where you just need to tell kids the truth.  “I am sorry that you are upset over the loss of the remote control.  however, after watching two hours of uninterrupted brain candy, your father rightly is exerting his authority and position in the house to watch whatever he wants- please go read a book or find some other source of amusement.”  Acknowledge feelings, tell them, “tough luck” and give them directions on how to move on.

This kind of honesty would be refreshing in foreign affairs.  I just heard a story on NPR about how foreign investment and profits from the high price of oil in putting lots of money in the hands of countries that are not always the biggest fans of the US.  That whenever they wanted to, they could mess with our economy- what stops them is that the economy of the US is tied to global economic health, and tanking our economy for fun would also hurt them.  Mutually assured destruction.

But what’s stopping us from taking off the gloves and trying a fresh approach, like going to Arab states and Russia and saying “You are in great economic shape, we are in the tanker right now.  We are pouring money into Iraq with only moderate signs of progress.  Coincidentally, this country is a neighbor of yours, and any political unrest is closer to your neighborhood than ours.  Is there any way we can work together to fix this problem, as good neighbors and world citizens?  If we fix it, everybody wins; if we let it go, everybody loses.   We aren’t in a position to do this indefinitely.  We have decided it’s time to withdraw and let other countries become the heros.  How about you?”

The point of this essay is this- everyone- families, communities, countries- we’re all interconnected.  We need to let everyone have a chance to succeed, let everyone have a chance to share and grow.  And we need to start looking at everything as a global responsibility, and not be solely concerned with ourselves.  Once we look at the human population as one giant community, with responsibilities that span not only our homes, towns, states and countries, but globally- then we will start to have an inkling of how to best move forward.

We have to start looking at every negotiation as not what makes us happy or the big winners, but how everyone wins in the end.  When everyone wins, no one is diminished or feels less, and then we can form the global community we want and need.  If we could harness the power of cooperation, acknowledge competition drives us, but no one wins in the end if someone has to lose- then we would be in a truly better world.

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Funding for Education in this Country

I was reading some of the positions on issues of political candidates, including the internet darling, Ron Paul. One of the bellweathers for me is education, and how we fund it in this country. So I thought it was high time to discuss this openly, and hear what you think on the issue.

In most States, education is funded by a property tax system. Usually it’s a millage system or something similar. This means if you live in a community with expensive real estate, the school district will have more funds; if you live in a less costly area, there will be less money for the schools. Cities can have it hard as well, since things like Hospitals and Churches are often exempt from these taxes. Sometimes businesses get tax preferences, and this also can throw off the tax base to pay for education.

If we assume better funding means better resources, and then in turn, more competition for the teacher positions, you may also get “better” teachers as well in these resource rich schools. Better salaries, better facilities, more money available for special projects, etc. This means that, on average, you get better schools, in theory, where the more “expensive” homes are, and thus suburbs tend to have better funded schools than cities, allegedly making them more attractive, feeding the cycle of people moving away from cities and into the suburbs. (We can talk about sprawl and environmental impact on another post.)

Many political candidates, usually middle to upper class folks, support vouchers. This would mean you could take some money, perhaps a portion of your tax dollars for education, and apply it towards tuition at private or parochial schools. This is looked at as providing public schools with incentive to improve, so they compete in a free market for students. This sounds great to many people, but I have some major probelms with this including:

1. Education is not a commodity like pork bellies. While we may go out there and purchase education at independent private schools, education is not a truly competitive marketplace, like Ebay. For one, we are just starting to scratch the surface on what a “quality education” means, and we have, at best, weak markers for success. In interviewing kids for the University of Pennsylvania as an alumni, I see college bound teens from public and private schools, and can tell you there are gems and duds in both categories. The school alone does not make the student. It’s far more complex than that. What the school probably does do is afford more or less opportunities for exposure to different experiences, but much of that also comes from a student’s home life.

2. Education is less like a widget, and more like long term R & D. Human development is a linear process. Learning to read, write and do math are part of our system, but we don’t see the outcome of tweeks in a system or a curriculum immediately, or within the next quarter. We do see outcomes often several years after the fact.

Take the old Whole Language versus Phonics debate. It turned out that many of the kids that learned to read by the “whole language” only approach ended up having real problems in Middle School and beyond, versus kids who learned to read through an integrated program and approach. In fact, there are “special” reading programs like Wilson Reading that’s used at Landmark College to take students from reading at a seventh grade level up to college level in a very short period of time. That begs the question why we don’t use this approach in every school across the land to teach reading to everyone, but that is a debate we can have another day as well.

As a long term investment, education gives you sporadic results, inconsistent results, and we shouldn’t be surprised, because we are producing people, not widgets. The long term results matter, and the minute by minute measurements don’t tell you alot about the bigger picture.

3. The Education System takes Everybody. Just like most hospitals, the education system takes everyone who loves in the area. They have to. There’s no options. This means schools have to adapt to the changing demographic patterns of its area, changing economic tides- they are a microcosm of the bigger community. Public education has to take and teach, by federal and state law, every child regardless of disability, need, race, economic status- every single child, from the most capable to the most disabled.  This means funds have to go to educate all children, and some children are more costly than others.  Take kids with disabilities or learning disabilities.  They often require more one on one or smaller ratio instruction.  Some children need a full time aide.

And even more interesting, people are starting to move into areas where the school districts provide better services.  A friend reports this year alone, families from Texas, Georgia and even Kenya have moved to Delaware so their children can be part of the Delaware Autism Program, one of the better programs out there for kids with austism spectrum disorders.  This program is run by the public schools, but it is serving a higher proportion of kids with autism than might occur naturally within the State, because the services it provides is a rarity.

Naturally, this means the State of Delaware is paying more money to educate these children on a per child basis as well, but they also profit from the parent’s tax money and talents.  But the State does not have the option to impose a usage tax, nor dissuade parents from doing what lawyers might call “forum shopping” for education.  Delaware must take all eligible students, and if someone moves to the area with an eligile student, even if it’s for that reason alone, they get services.

4. Public Education Talent Drain.  Another interesting historical fact about Delaware is that it had a long nasty issue with bussing. This lead to the development of a huge number of privateand parochial schools within the State, much more per capita than you would expect in a State this size.  Often this means that if you live in Delaware or over the border in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and have the means to do so, you send your kids to private school.  Not always, but frequently.  This means a disproportionate number of the kids from a higher socio-economic class go to private school, leaving the less fortunate kids, and often more troubled kids in public school.

While studies show that kids from both high and low socioeconomic status are more likely to have problems with substance abuse (and less in the middle- see below)* it’s not just the drug problem in each school that’s an issue- you are often chopping off the righ-side of the bell curve- the kids who “need a more competitive environment” or enrichment that get pulled out of the public school system.

Encouraging this “opt out” option with public tax dollars will only serve to exacerbate the current problem and make it worse.  Dollars will drain out of the public schools and into the private ones, while letting private schools pick and choose their pupils, leaving only the most difficult students in the public schools.

We need to fix education, and fix it’s funding.  Decent public education is an infrastructure issue, and it will be what keeps us competitive in  global economy.  But since it is very muchlong term R & D, if we don’t address issues now, we will pay for them dearly in the long term.

One last example:  Steve Graham, from Vanderbilt University has stated that based on 2002 educational testing, 69% of eighth graders and 77% of high school sniors cannot write well enough to keep up with the demands of the curriculum, and American Business spends over $3.1 Billion a year in remediating writing deficits.  So, we can pay for educatin early on, or pass it on to busines later on.  I don’t think it’s something we can afford to pay for on the back end, if we want to stay competitive as a nation.

What do you think?  I think this has to be one of the most critical political issues of our time, as decisions today will haunt us for years in the future.

* From PubMed- recent journal article about the correlation of substance abuse problems in kids with ADHD, showing it is often those in the lowest and highest socioeconomic status that have the biggest issues with substance abuse.

Am J Addict. 2007 Sep-Oct;16(5):403-9.Click here to read Links

Does social class predict substance problems in young adults with ADHD?

Monuteaux MC, Wilens TE, Biederman J.

Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA. mmonuteaux@partners.org

The relationship between social class and substance use problems is unclear. We aimed to clarify this association in a sample of young adult males with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We included 69 ADHD and 78 control subjects. Substance use problems were measured with the Drug Use Screening Inventory-Revised (DUSI). Among ADHD subjects, we found a U-shaped association, with elevated risk for substance-related problems at both ends of the SES spectrum. No significant association was found in controls. These findings indicate that substance use risk in ADHD subjects is especially vulnerable to social class.

PMID: 17882612 [PubMed – in process]

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