Trickle up, Trickle down, Trickle all around…

If you’ve never read about Maslow’s heirarchy of needs theory, you should.  There’s a certain aspect of undeniable truth to it, which is likely why it’s taught not only as a theory of human psychology, but as a valuable marketing tool.  It’s also become intertwined with the “trickle-up” theory of economics, and rightly so.  Maslow surmised that, unless an individual’s basic needs were secure, that a person could never achieve self-actualization.  Self-actualization essentially means realizing your full potential and purpose.  Likewise, if a person’s basic needs were not secure, that person would compensate by seeking to further fulfill other basic needs that are perhaps already being met.

This can be applied to the trickle-up effect by observing the spending habits of consumers whose psychological and safety needs, according to Maslow’s heirarchy, aren’t being met.  These people are often from lower-class, low-income households which tend to spend a higher percentage of their income than higher-earning households, who tend to save more.  If you give the low income earners a tax refund, they will be more likely to spend it in an attempt to satisfy their needs (thus stimulating the economy).  Give the high earners a tax refund, and they are likely to save it because their needs are already being met.

One thing in the trickle up theory that I don’t agree with is that securing everyone’s basic needs would result in a weaker economy and less spending. Eventually there would be an equilibrium of sorts, because a person can only own so much stuff, but such a balance could be introduced gradually through fundamental restructuring of the various market systems that make up our economy.  Consider that many people who have to make choices from month-to-month whether they’re going to pay for housing or groceries could conceivably be guaranteed affordable access to both at once.  They could see a financial shortfall turned into a surplus, and imagine the things they would spend that newfound “pocket money” on!  I’m talking about people who perhaps haven’t purchased new clothing or shoes for themselves in years, whose homes are in disrepair because they simply don’t have the money for maintenance or improvement, or those who don’t have a home at all (a setback that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to find employment in a good economy).  These are the people who would spend money, were it put into their hands, not squirrel it away in offshore (tax haven) accounts where it does nothing but earn interest for someone who is probably already  wealthy by any standards.

Anyway, I think everyone ought to be interested in politics because there isn’t a single issue being debated today that doesn’t have a profound effect on our future as a nation, and as individuals.  There are several factors we should all be aware of that influence people’s political ideology.  Two of the most important are income and education.  Lower income people are more likely to call themselves democrats or identify with the ideology of a democratic candidate, as do some of the more educated members of our society.  Yes, there is likely some overlap in those two demographics despite the fact that we are led to believe a college education always means you’ll earn more money than someone without a degree.  We only need to look to our nation’s public school teachers to see this is not the case.  When my own mother began teaching back in 1993, her starting salary was in the low $20,000 range.  I earned more than that as a restaurant/bar manager and as a pizza delivery driver, with no college degree.

So why do minorities and the lower-income element of our society vote democratic?  Some would say that it’s because they’re uneducated, but that isn’t true at all.  These are educated people who, despite their motivation and hard work, are simply having a hard time climbing to the top of the career ladder (or even getting their foot on the first rung, in some cases).  They vote based on their own experiences in life, which often give them firsthand insight into many of the social problems facing our nation that republicans just don’t offer realistic solutions to address.

I’ve been poor all my life and I consider myself something of an expert on living below the poverty line.   I also tend to agree with the “liberal” analysis of those problems and the “progressive” methods of solving them.  It really isn’t a matter of thinking “Oh, that sounds like a great humanitarian position for an elected representative to take”, but a matter of knowing, deep down what the issues are that face our nation’s poor – having lived those issues – and feeling that there are very specific ways that these issues could be addressed, realistically.  One thing that strikes me as particularly disconcerting about republicans is their willingness to ignore this class of people, as if by ignoring them they, and all their problems, will just magically disappear.  I also have a really hard time believing that giving money to the wealthy ever results in an improved disposition for the poor, especially in an economy like ours today – where everyone who has money seems to be hoarding it.  Again, I think it’s important to consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how that translates into a “trickle up” effect, rather than the “trickle down” effect that hasn’t done much to put any wealth in the hands of the poor – and seems to have done more to widen the class divide than to narrow it.

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How-To: Find the truth in politics and the media (or the closest approximation)

When I was younger, I had a vague interest in politics and would sometimes find myself debating social issues like abortion, criminal justice and capital punishment, *welfare, and our “controlled substances” policies with some of my conservative-leaning peers. At the time, I had a pretty loose grasp of the actual impact of such issues on our society and rarely did any of the key political issues of the day seem to have any real effect on my life – which means they weren’t important enough to warrant more than the ocassional and mostly lighthearted oral controversion.  In those days, I wasn’t nearly as interested in the actual facts or truth so much as the emotion that defending my beliefs brought about.  At some point, I guess I came to a realization that emotion is a funny thing that can’t always be trusted, especially in an age of consumerism where everyone seems to be trying to sell something and persuasive marketers know precisely how to stir up the emotional response of their target demographic.

Today we’re seeing a frightening influx of corporate crusaders masquerading as concerned citizens, journalists, and “grassroots” organizers/activists.  These people have been hand-fed by corporate lobbies and misinformation agents, and are now taking to the streets in an attempt to stop any number of atrocities being committed by the Obama administration and democrats in Congress.  The thing is – these “atrocities” aren’t actually being committed at all.  There’s a concerted effort on the part of conservative republicans to misinform the public to the point of mass confusion.  There are cable “news” programs, blogs, and “news”papers joining this effort, which makes it all the more difficult for honest people to convince the clueless masses that they’re being duped.

It’s amazing to me that, in this “information age” where everything is online and anything you could ever possibly want to know is less than a second away (thanks, Google!), there are people who are still so dependent on cable television and the mainstream media to keep up with current events.  Television is a static medium (sometimes, quite literally).  With a few exceptions, everything you see on television is heavily scripted and rehearsed.  The internet, on the other hand, is constantly changing.  You might read a story on a news website one morning and find that, several hours later, the story has been updated with new information.  Of course, this happens in television news, too, but updates are dependent on scheduling, time slots, etc.  Yes, they do interrupt with “breaking news” sometimes, but they can’t do it every single time there’s a new tidbit of information on a story.  On the internet, you can update your web site any time you want – there’s no need to wait until 5pm, 6pm, 11pm, or a commercial break, as there is with television news.

“Watching the news” and “reading the paper” now also mean watching the news online, and reading the “paper” online.  Where and how a person gets their “news” can be a great indication of that person’s state of mind and often even their political alignment.  The philosophy of conservative “news” publications seems to be, “lie to them and hope they don’t try to verify the information through another source”.  This is easier to do on television, particularly when your target demographic appears to be made up primarily from the 50+ , “technologically challenged” (aka: computer illiterate) crowd.  Someone who is comfortable with computers and knows their way around the internet will be more likely to cross-reference the information that’s presented to them and discover when they’re being intentionally misled by the media.

The internet is undoubtedly the largest compilation of information the world has ever known, and understanding how to use the internet as a research tool is something that’s drilled into the subconscious of anyone who has ever used it for that purpose, particularly those in the academic community, students, teachers, and the media.  When using the internet as a research tool, you have to be diligent in verifying sources. It isn’t enough that an article or study appears in eleventy-billion web pages on a Google search.  You also have to consider where they appear most frequently, what those web sites’ motivation for publishing such information is, and if they have an underlying political agenda that may disqualify them as an unbiased and reliable source.

If you really want to be well-informed in today’s politcal/media climate, that means taking the initiative to do a little investigative reporting of your own.  If you see something on the news or read something on a news web site that doesn’t sit well, do a little digging.  Plug a phrase or some key words into your search engine and see who else is running the “story”, how the facts of the story match up across several different sources, and whether the majority of media outlets where the story is found are unbiased and reliable.  It may seem like a daunting task at first, but once you’ve identified a few mostly trustworthy sources, it becomes increasingly easier to spot the bias and determine which outlets are reliable and mostly unbiased and which aren’t.

4 steps toward enlightenment:

1)Go straight to the source: Remember playing “telephone” as a kid? Someone starts a “rumor” that’s whispered amongst a circle of people and by the time it gets back to the person who started it, it’s something completely different?  Remember when Al Gore invented the internet, newspapers became obsolete, and the “mainstream media” outlets were trying to find their way back into people’s homes through a complicated series of tubes? Somewhere along the way the MSM must have taken a shortcut through the blogosphere, depriving them of the oxygen required for normal brain function.  As a result, some things you hear/read on/in the “news” contain more opinion than fact.  Just about every prominent public figure or organization has an established web presence, so it’s often as easy as finding the appropriate URL – especially for any questions relating to the U.S. government.  Relating specifically to legislative issues (what’s in a bill, who supports it), everything is posted at the Library of Congress web site.

2) Independent fact-checking web sites:  Web sites like Politifact.org and FactCheck.org make a great first-stop for verifying any questionable statements made by prominent political figures or politically-aligned organizations and individuals in the media.  Factcheck.org filters out the larger particles of gunk floating on the surface with near-perfect accuracy but doesn’t usually dive into the deeper layers of muck, which is why I consider it a good starting point.  Politifact.org’s Truth-O-Meter and Obameter are equally helpful but by no means all-inclusive – but, wait! There’s more…

3)Media watchdogs: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is a national media watch group that has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. At the other end of the political spectrum is Newsbusters.org, a project of the Media Research Center (MRC), the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias. Keep in mind that these types of “watchdog” organizations are often biased themselves, so anything you read on their websites should also be verified by additional sources, if possible.

4) Google: Pretty self-explanatory.  If(when) you hear or read something that just doesn’t sound right, plug some search terms into Google (or whatever search engine you use, I like bing because you can search through news articles or videos and sort them by most recent) – and see what you can find. Anything you read on a blog should be considered opinion rather than fact unless there are reputable news organizations reporting the same information.  On the other hand, just because a news organization runs a story and someone blogs about it doesn’t mean that you should consider everything in that blog entry to be factual and visa-versa. The “news” contains so much opinion these days that it actually warrants its own fact-checking (see number 3, above).

* the term “welfare” is used to describe social “safety net” programs in their totality. This term used to be applied to one particular program that distributed cash payments to low-income individuals and families who were struggling financially.  That program was retired in the 1990’s and replaced by another program, no longer called “welfare”.

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“Armchair Activism” far-reaching, effective.

I wonder what the creator of a certain web site dedicated to stopping “junk email and misinformation” thinks of such “armchair activism” efforts as; Change.org, a decidedly more popular site than his own, according to traffic data available on Alexa.com.

If you don’t know what Change.org is, it’s an online community of “armchair activists”, non-profit organizations, and regular people who think it’s important to communicate their viewpoints to elected officials, corporations, and other powerful entities by way of, but not limited to, online petitions, “chain emails”, etc. Sure – sending a handwritten, certified letter might seem like a more personal method of communicating and also carries with it an air of importance that’s harder to convey in the subject line of an email – but, times change, technology changes, and who in their right mind wants to go stand in line at the post office for stamps? Let’s face it, a lot of people probably don’t even keep envelopes on hand anymore. Who needs them when you can pay your bills, communicate with friends and family, and all those other types of correspondence that used to take place in person or through the mail – online?

Granted, said creator’s web site was apparently registered in 1997 when the “world-wide-web” concept was still fairly new and not nearly as “world-wide” as it is today. In January of 1998, for example, it was estimated that there were just over 100 million internet users around the world compared to approximately 1.5 billion in 2009. More people are using the internet for any number of functions, and new functions for the internet are being thought of or tried out undoubtedly on a daily basis. In fact, more people in the United States use the internet than have cable television service in their homes, which just goes to show how valuable the internet really is – not just for the media, but for any kind of grassroots-ish organizing and political activism. There’s more to today’s “armchair activism” than just adding your name to a chain mail and forwarding it to everyone you know in hopes that it will someday reach it’s intended target. Now, you can send emails directly to your elected representatives. The “new” chain letter is usually an editable form letter that you can either send as-is, or personalize with your own message to whomever the recipient happens to be. Or, you can bypass the “community activism”/online “petition” scene altogether and write your own email to whoever you want on any issue you feel needs to be addressed. No mass forwarding or spamming required.

The most important thing to note about the evolution of armchair activism is our elected representatives’ own use of the internet to communicate with their constituents and the nation in general. Our Congressmen and women, the White House, and other prominent political figures have all taken to the internet. President Obama’s weekly YouTube address to the nation, the White House blog, our congresspeople on Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, and Huffington Post blogs from U.S. Senators have all contributed to the change in how we view political “activism”. Protesting something doesn’t necessarily mean standing around holding signs and taking action in favor of something doesn’t mean shouting at passersby with a megaphone. Why marginalize activism through blogging, email, and social media when it’s potential influence far exceeds that of any picket line or rally? There’s no such thing as too much potential, is there? I mean, door-to-door sales seems a little silly when you consider how many more potential customers you can reach with a little clever marketing and a website, doesn’t it?

This isn’t to say that “thinking locally” isn’t a great way to do some things, like buying produce, locally-produced meat and dairy products, supporting local small businesses, and showing an interest in local politics and issues. When it comes to national or international issues, it seems counterproductive to restrict yourself to local action when there’s such an effective global platform available.

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Dear Carrie Prejean, turtlenecks are conservative.

One thing in a seemingly endless sea of things that don’t make sense to me: Self-proclaimed “conservative women” who (as teenagers?) film themselves masturbating, send the video to their boyfriend and then pretend that behavior is  in any way “conservative”.

Miss Prejean, sweetheart, a turtleneck sweater is conservative.  If you can compare a sex tape to a turtleneck sweater and convince me that there are any circumstances in which the turtleneck could be considered less conservative than the sex tape, you’re off the hook.  You can argue that a masturbation video isn’t a sex tape all you want, just because it isn’t intercourse with a partner, doesn’t mean it isn’t a sexual act.  Videos like the one you made are universally categorized as pornography.  Sending your boyfriend amateur pornography featuring you as the cast of one, whether you “loved him”, “cared about him”, or not, cannot logically be construed as the moral high ground.  This is especially true when you are supposed to be “conservative”.

I could be described as agreeing mostly with liberal social philosophies, and I have never made a video of myself engaged in any kind of sexual activity or wearing any less than what’s typically required by law in a public place.  So if I’m the turtleneck and you’re the sex tape, which one of us is the true conservative and which one clearly isn’t?

Unless of course, moral conservatism literally means to conserve one’s morals – that is; to have fewer and consider them less often?

The truth is often ugly, but the sooner we face it the sooner we can find a plastic surgeon to fix it up.

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Say it isn’t so, Joe Lieberman! WTF

Joe Lieberman, the independent Senator from Connecticut who caucuses with the senate democrats, announced yesterday that he would stand with republicans in a fillibuster of health reform if the bill that is presented contains the public option that Lieberman his friends and benefactors in the insurance industry oppose. The “public option” as it currently exists in the senate health reform bill, is a government-administered public insurance plan akin to the plans already administered by the government – Medicare and Medicaid. Allowing the public an alternative to private health insurance plans means competition for the insurance monopolies and their (recently challenged and hopefully soon to be revoked) anti-trust exemptions, who have been taking at least 30% of every dollar each one of their customers has paid in premiums and buying politicians like Joe Lieberman to block reform efforts instead of spending that money on things their customers actually need…like health care.

So this morning, in a WTF heard ’round the country, everyone is talking about Joe Lieberman and whether or not democrats should be worried by his apparent moonlighting as a lobbyist for the insurance industry. I think it’s Mr. Lieberman who should be worried. After all, his term is almost up. That means the choice will soon lie with the people he was elected to represent as to whether or not they want to bestow upon him the continued ability to rake in millions of dollars in campaign contributions from opponents of health reform like the insurance industry and PhRMA.

As the republicans run out of possible fabrications about the various health reform bills being considered by congressional democrats, and the heavy fog that seemed to cover the actual facts in this debate for the past few months finally dissipates, it’s clear that what the majority of Americans want is the “public option” that congressional republicans and now Senator Lieberman don’t want us to have. It’s what we’ve wanted all along, even through the summer months this year while the far right was screaming at us trying to convince us that the public option is “socialism”, and therefore evil, and that somehow by wanting to give every American citizen access to affordable health care Obama is leading us down the slippery slope to one pejorative “-ism” or another. The fact that the insurance companies were given anti-trust exemptions tells us that there is no competition in the insurance market. The insurance companies are allowed to monopolize the market, which means the public has no choice but to purchase their largely useless, wasteful and overpriced service if they want to protect themselves against the considerable financial risk of becoming ill or needing medical treatment of any kind. Insurance premiums are expensive, but nothing compared to the tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills that could result from a catastrophic and unexpected injury or illness requiring hospitalization.

It seems Joe Lieberman has forgotten exactly who it is he was elected to represent, either that or he’s getting lonely as one of the few independents in the Congress and just needs some special attention. Either way, he’s practically begging for strongly-worded letters encouraging him to get over himself and quit his new second job as a roadblock to health reform. Take a moment to sign your name to a letter I’ve written to Senator Lieberman, majority leader Harry Reid, the majority whip, and the democratic senators who sit on various committees with Mr. Lieberman and are in a position to exert considerable pressure upon him for his recent step out of line. Feel free to edit the letter to your liking.

Send a letter to Joe Lieberman and congressional democrats expressing concern over Lieberman’s threat to join a republican fillibuster of health reform.

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Dear Representative: A call for action in support of net neutrality rule

Dear Representative,
I am an undergraduate student at Strayer University, currently pursuing a degree in the diverse and ever-expanding field of computer science. I’d like to offer, if I may, a brief statement on the importance of “net neutrality”, as it relates to the study of information technology, and the utilization of such technology by every imaginable rung on the educational ladder, from public to private, preschool to post-graduate studies.
Keeping the internet free and open, by implementing a rule for net neutrality as proposed recently by the FCC, is vital to the success of our students and educational institutions in America. Without this rule, internet providers are given the demonstrated ability to control what content users who access the internet via their subscription services are able to view. They are able to effectively slow download and upload speeds, restrict the user’s access to streaming audio and video applications, or completely deny the user the freedom to view certain content at the sole discretion of the provider.
There are those in the media, and even a few in the Congress it seems, who seek to distort the public’s perception of what “net neutrality” really means by presenting the rule as “more government control” of the free exchange of information on the internet. To the contrary, the real underlying principle of net neutrality is not one of control, but freedom from control. A position, such as the one expressed recently by officials at the FCC, that will preserve the internet freedom of every American is the precise opposite of the “control” that these naysayers insist such a rule would allow.
For instance, Senator John McCain has announced his plans to introduce a bill he calls “The Internet Freedom Act of 2009”, which would give the internet service providers the freedom to control the content that is accessible from their networks, potentially leaving hundreds of thousands or even millions of American students and teachers without the educational resources they require. Senator John McCain recently stated that the proposed net neutrality rule would stifle innovation and hurt the job market when in fact the opposite is true.
Allowing corporate interests to overshadow the collective rights of the American people could undoubtedly lead to very severe negative consequences in our schools and our work force, particularly in the field of information technology.
In recent years, a growing number of institutions of higher education have begun offering distance learning programs using the internet as an instructional medium – a virtual blackboard of sorts – to reach “non-traditional” students who prefer asynchronous, independently focused study over a traditional classroom setting that, for various reasons such as work schedule or transportation constraints, they would not have access to otherwise. Businesses of all sizes from around the world depend on these distance learning programs for industry-specific continuing education and professional certification programs for both current and prospective employees.
Distance learning education via the internet relies heavily on streaming video and audio, as well as the utilization of the worldwide web as a research tool and a way for instructors to communicate with a geographically diverse student body. Technology is the driving force for innovation, and over the last few decades the internet has allowed us to take leaps and strides towards achieving a truly progressive educational system in our country, and opened the doors of opportunity to those who have, for so long, stood patiently outside waiting to be granted entry.
It is in the best interest of our nation to preserve the open exchange of information online by supporting the proposed rule for net neutrality and opposing Senator McCain’s “Internet Freedom Act”. The sheer volume of misinformation being put forth into the public scrutiny must be counteracted and a significant effort must be made to set the record straight on this very important issue.
Please join me in calling on students, teachers, proponents of academia and higher education, institutions of learning, IT professionals, journalists and anyone else who has a vested interest in keeping the exchange of information free and open on the internet. Don’t let misinformation and political doublespeak muddy this debate. The internet belongs to all of us.

Thank you.

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Amid the muddled and distorted political discourse surrounding the health reform debate that has dominated the front pages of the national news for the past few months, lies a sleeping giant, an issue of equal importance that has received little time in the spotlight despite its potentially disastrous effects on the lives of many to satisfy the wants of very few. This sleeping giant is the concept commonly known as “net neutrality”. Net neutrality is the notion that the internet belongs to everyone and noone at the same time, and that everyone should have the right to access any content that happens to be floating around in cyberspace. Barack Obama campaigned on a promise to uphold the notion of net neutrality in the interest of keeping the exchange of information on the internet free and open for everyone. In recent days, the FCC has proposed implementing a net neutrality rule that would prevent internet service providers from discriminating against certain internet applications or content by restricting or denying any user access to different types of media through their networks. The rhetoric that has emerged since this proposed rule was announced has been disturbing, to say the least. As we’ve seen happen with other important political issues this year, opponents of the net neutrality rule are attempting to paint net neutrality in a negative light by twisting its meaning so they appear to be on the side of freedom and public interest and “net neutrality” ends up on the growing list of pejorative words being injected into the public scrutiny to cause fear and confusion. We should be focusing on the reasons why corporate interests cannot be allowed to take precedence over the public interest, and how this proposed rule for net neutrality will ensure that the internet remains free and open.

Please take a moment to sign your name to this petition at Change.org in support of the net neutrality rule.

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H.R. 1466: What it’ll do, why it’s important, and how you can help get it passed.

In my last post on mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses, I wrote about a bill that was introduced into Congress this year that will remove those mandatory minimum sentences and focus our federal resources on major offenses.

This measure would positively impact millions of Americans currently incarcerated for or facing federal drug charges and their families. It would also greatly reduce federal spending, which increased dramatically when these sentencing guidelines were put in place some 2 decades or so ago. Our criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform. America has the highest incarceration rate in the history of humanity, but we proclaim ourselves to be the “land of the free”?

I’ve written about Change.org before in my posts. Barack Obama urged Americans during his campaign to get involved in the political process, and Change.org aims to help citizens do just that. I’ve started an action to support H.R. 1466. Sign the petition and send emails to the House, Senate, and Barack Obama asking them to take immediate steps to pass this legislation.

Please act now, and spread the word to your family, friends and co-workers and ask them to do the same. Most legislation never makes it out of committee. Don’t let this important bill die like so many others.

Watch this video, from the ACLU’s “Drug Wars” documentary, and hear the story of one woman imprisoned for decades because her boyfriend was a drug dealer and she drove him around and paid her family’s bills with money earned from the illegal sale of drugs. Hear her children speak, and see how they’ve been impacted by the incarceration of her mother who was sentenced to a mandatory prison term for conspiring with a drug dealer even though she never used or sold drugs herself.

The video is long, but it’s worth watching. It also highlights the infamous drug bust in Hearne, TX, during which a quarter of the town’s African American population were arrested despite the fact that no drugs were found and the only “evidence” police had that drug activity was going on was a tip from a single informant. You’ll also hear the story about a high school that was raided for drugs, and watch footage from the raid showing drug enforcement officers holding loaded guns to the heads of terrified high school students. This raid took place because school officials suspected a student had one joint. No drugs were found.

It’s time to change not only our drug policies themselves, but how we enforce them. The War on Drugs is simply out of hand.

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