Occasional Planet http://www.occasionalplanet.org progressive voices speaking out Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:32:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Let’s repeal the ban on gay blood http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/22/lets-repeal-the-ban-on-gay-blood/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/22/lets-repeal-the-ban-on-gay-blood/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 16:32:12 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29425 gayblooddriveOn July 11, 2014, nationwide, gay men contributed to blood banks in the only way they legally can: Instead of men being able to donate blood themselves, they have to bring along allies who are legally eligible to donate.

The National Gay Blood Drive isn’t your everyday charity event, it’s also a protest that gives voice to an important and overlooked issue. The FDA bars gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

Almost unbelievably, this law is still in effect. When donors enter a donation center, they are asked to fill out a form that includes many questions—one example of which is “Have your ears been pierced in the last three months?—to establish whether or not a person is at high risk for diseases transmitted through blood. Most regulations on blood donors are reasonable and necessary to accurately decrease the amount of unusable blood, by assessing their risk for diseases including Hepatitis B & C, syphilis and HIV/AIDS. So it is excessively unfortunate that another question on the form asks if the donor is a man: “Have you had sex with another man since 1977?” Answering yes to this question makes a man ineligible to donate blood for fear it would contain HIV.

So, being gay puts you at higher risk for AIDS? According to science, absolutely not. According to the federal government, apparently—yes.

Not only is this belief as vintage as leg warmers, it’s a throwback to 1980s knowledge of HIV and the all too recent HIV scare targeted at homosexuals. Obviously, the FDA is thirty years behind the times. Why exclude lifesaving blood when someone needs a transfusion approximately every 2 seconds?

Here are just a few reasons why this law is just plain wrong: All donated blood is tested. All donated blood is tested for HIV, Hep B & C, and syphilis. So, why make you answer questions about sexual identity? If the FDA is willing to concede that not just gay men have HIV, why ban them as a group?

Sexual promiscuity and homosexuality are not synonyms. Just because a man is homosexual or bisexual does not mean he is promiscuous. But this law doesn’t determine someone’s number of partners, just his gender. Some heterosexual people are promiscuous, and many gay men are not. Obviously.

More women have HIV than men. The largest population of HIV today is in Africa, and over 70% of people HIV positive there are women. Women are more likely to contract all types of STIs, including HIV, because of their anatomy.

There. Now that we have established that this regulation is as unfounded as it is arbitrary, why is it still happening? Why doesn’t the FDA just change the questionnaire? There are so many ways to assess high risk behavior, regardless of how a person identifies. It’s a simple solution. But instead, the FDA forces gay men to disclose their sexual behavior when all they wanted to do was give a life-saving donation. It targets gay men who may then relive the torments they’ve experienced before being comfortable identifying as gay.

And this law works on a bizarre honors system. If you don’t disclose this information, no legal action can be taken against you. Why make gay men hide their identity to give blood?

All these questions deserve answers. But what is really striking is how little awareness there is for this issue. While gay marriage garners the main stage of the LGBT rights platform, blatant discrimination and defamation that still exist in government bureaucracy are ignored.

Why is this issue on the back burner of the fast moving LGBT rights movement? Especially when these kinds of misunderstandings about gay men has caused so much animosity in the past, both during the AIDS epidemic and before.

Most people, even in the healthcare industry, have no idea that this law still exists. It’s archaic, a violation of our rights, and totally fixable.

If you’re like me and want to do something to change this law, here is a link to the National Gay Blood Drive website, where you can sign a petition to repeal the ban on gay blood.

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“I can buy a firearm, but I can’t get assistance to buy a sandwich” http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/21/i-can-buy-a-firearm-but-i-cant-get-assistance-to-buy-a-sandwich/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/21/i-can-buy-a-firearm-but-i-cant-get-assistance-to-buy-a-sandwich/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:00:17 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29414 SNAP2In a move that demonstrates a small—and too rare—step toward common sense in lawmaking, Missouri has rescinded [mostly] an 18-year-old law that banned people with felony drug convictions from ever receiving food stamps under the SNAP program. The new law is not a “get-out-of-jail-free,” though. It retains a one-year waiting period following a drug felon’s release from custody, and a third drug felony conviction would still trigger a lifetime ban. But those convicted of one or two drug felonies would be able to get food stamps under the SNAP program after a year, provided that they adhere to court orders regarding drug treatment programs.

The problem with the lifetime ban, argued proponents of the new, more humane approach, is that:

It turned safety net programs into a weapon in the drug war, adding a socioeconomic penalty to the criminal penalties the system imposes for drug crimes.

That approach fails to account for the realities of life in poverty, The Sentencing Project’s Director of Advocacy Nicole Porter said. “There has been a move to modify the ban ever since the 1990s in recognition that it was unfair to people who had already completed their sentence and were living in the community to deny them the ability to participate in the social safety net.” But “poor assumptions about people with prior convictions” have guided lawmakers in the handful of holdout states. The bans are “one way that people who are opposed to the safety net at all have been able to narrow the net and to marginalize people,” she said.

Relaxing the lifetime ban is a nod to the growing evidence that the war on drugs isn’t working. It also demonstrates that punishing poor people doesn’t help, either.

Calling the ban a “lifetime sentence,” The Sentencing Project notes that, when the national law—which gave states the ability to opt in or out—was enacted by Congress in 1996—with very little debate—the ban was intended to show that Congressional representatives were “tough on crime.”

As Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), the sponsor of the amendment, argued, “If we are serious about our drug laws, we ought not to give people welfare benefits who are violating the Nation’s drug laws.”

Conspicuously absent from the brief debate over this provision was any discussion of whether the lifetime ban for individuals with felony drug offenses would advance the general objectives of welfare reform.

During this year’s Missouri hearings on the bill to lift the ban, people with prior drug convictions testified that the food-stamp ban has made it harder for people to climb out of poverty. Some also questioned its fairness, noting that the ban did not apply to convicted murders or sex offenders who are released from prison.

The old law resulted in some ludicrous situations, Think Progress reports:

Johnny Waller, who served five years decades ago for selling marijuana as a teenager, said, “I can go buy a firearm but I can’t get assistance to buy a sandwich

As is so often the case, Missouri is late to this remediating effort. Until Missouri Governor Nixon signed the new bill into law in June 2014, Missouri was one of nine states holding out for the punitive lifetime ban (Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia, Wyoming). The bans were imposed as part of welfare reform under President Clinton, but over the 18 years since they have been repealed in 16 states and modified in various ways by another 25.

The sponsor of the new law in Missouri, Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said food assistance would reduce the chances that a person with a drug problem would relapse and return to prison. “I think it gives folks an opportunity to succeed.”

Not much encouraging comes out of the Republican-dominated Missouri state legislature these days, so this development is refreshing. I doubt that this law passed for purely humanitarian reasons. I’m guessing that legislators just decided that Missouri shouldn’t be—once again—left behind and viewed as a backward state—that’s not good for business, after all. But whatever the reason, this is a small step in a better direction. And in Missouri, that’s newsworthy.

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Who am I? Guess the progressive http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/16/who-am-i-guess-the-progressive-2/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/16/who-am-i-guess-the-progressive-2/#comments Wed, 16 Jul 2014 21:46:02 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29406  

Can you identify this person? Occasional Planet’s “Who Am I” series features people who have made important contributions to liberal thought, progressive politics, human rights, enlightened education, and “small-d” democratic principles–both in the US and internationally.

The abbreviated bios in our “Progressive Hall of Fame” only hint at the scope of our hall of famers’ struggles and accomplishments. We hope that curiosity will impel you find out more about these inspiring people, whose professional efforts and personal sacrifices deserve to be remembered—and emulated.

We welcome suggestions from our readers for additional people to include in our progressive hall of fame. To see a gallery of the progressive role models previously featured on Occasional Planet, click here.


Here’s the answer, plus information about her claims to progressive fame:











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Capitalizing on confidence http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/15/capitalizing-on-confidence/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/15/capitalizing-on-confidence/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29243 womanboxerI think by this point we all know I think feminism is absolutely fantastic- I mean, women’s empowerment is human empowerment! And I think we should all celebrate it and praise it to everyone we meet and be super excited and scream it from rooftops and shout it on radio stations and paste it like literally everywhere and just feminism out everything…

But some people take it too far- and you know based on that last statement that it really is too far- by capitalizing on that and using feminism to make themselves money. Female empowerment should not be a gimmick for your company to sell more shampoo or makeup or chocolate or whatever you’re actually advertising.

As much as I like Pantene’s #ShineStrong movement and the videos they have put out for it, I feel it detracts from the message to end all the “feel good and be brave and you and more power to you” with “and then come buy our shampoo and make your hair look gorgeous so all the men in your life can see you powerfully whip your hair.” Excuse me; what?


Ditto, Covergirl’s #GirlsCan and Nike Women’s Voices

I guess Verizon is slightly better for not advertising makeup or shampoo or other make yourself beautiful for the guys products, but still, Verizon isn’t “Inspiring Her Mind” with their phones, so they shouldn’t be advertising feminism as a product they’re selling.

Ditto Always’ #LikeAGirl

Don’t get me wrong, I think all the videos are absolutely fantabulous. I love that Verizon wants more women in STEM fields; that Always wants “‘run like a girl’ to also win the race;” that Pantene wants women to stop apologizing for who they are and for the world to stop double standards and labels that demean women; that Nike wants women to not fear the criticism of their male colleagues; that Covergirl wants to show that women can do anything and everything they want. I just don’t think it should all be in the name of “help us make us money.”

On the other hand, Snickers tried (maybe) to empower women with this commercial, but fell terribly far from the mark. Really? Are you (Snickers) saying men, when normal, could never shout empowering and positive things to women- that men, in their natural state, are actually just degrading catcallers? Well great job, then, Snickers, for demeaning men and women in just one minute.

At the same time, at least they’re trying. Hardee’s obviously isn’t. It looooves objectifying women. And Axe, too. Axe’s entire campaign for its body spray is that if men wear Axe, they’ll get hundreds of scantily clad women flocking to them from across oceans.

So thank you, companies celebrating feminism, even if you’re doing it in a slightly flawed manner. And companies that treat women like pieces of meat (with breasts), up yours..

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Al Gore’s good news (for a change) on climate and renewable energy http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/14/al-gores-good-news-for-a-change-on-climate-and-renewable-energy/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/14/al-gores-good-news-for-a-change-on-climate-and-renewable-energy/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 12:00:48 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29390 algoreEight years ago. Al Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth,” the book and documentary film that laid out the scientific consensus connecting the burning of fossil fuels to climate change. At the time, the former vice-president challenged the fossil-fuel industry and all of us who depend upon its dirty output to face up to what may be the most difficult economic, scientific, and moral challenge the global community will ever face.

Gore’s articulation of the long-term, developing climate catastrophe was a shocking prediction that’s proved to be all too true. But there’s some good news, too.

The bad news

Since throwing out those first frightening and potentially life-altering salvos, Gore has been an easy target for climate-change deniers. Their response to Gore’s brilliant cataloguing of the case for human activity and climate change was swift and ugly. Some clever right-wing wordsmith coined the word “schlockumentary” to mock and vilify the movie and the man. The book was dismissed as science fiction by congressional conservatives and lobbyists for the oil, gas, and coal industries. The immediate, vociferous response to Gore’s science lesson demonstrated the truth of the old maxim that blaming the bearer of bad news is always easier than confronting the bad news itself.

Unfortunately, the bad news has only gotten worse. Since 1988, when the world passed the upper safety limit for atmospheric CO2—350 ppm (parts per million)—the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have been steadily rising. This past June, CO2 measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory reached 401.30 ppm, a level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is the highest CO2 concentration in human history.

And if you want to lose some sleep at night, cogitate on this: The present measurements of CO2 levels are higher than they’ve been for any time during the past 800,000 years. (And that number is a conservative estimate. Some scientists put the number of years in the millions.)

The effects of those increased levels of CO2 in our fragile atmosphere are becoming ever more dramatic, more visible, and more difficult to dismiss. May 2014 was the warmest May in more than 130 years of recorded global temperatures. Rising global temperatures are speeding the melting of glaciers and ice caps. The polar ice cap is melting at a rate of 9% per decade. The thickness of Arctic ice has decreased 40% since the 1960s, and it’s estimated that, if the current rate of global warming continues, the Arctic could be ice-free by 2040. Over the last three decades more than one million square miles of perennial sea ice have disappeared, and the pace of sea level rise is accelerating. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with all that ice melt sea levels could rise 10 to 23 inches by 2100.

And then there’s the weather itself. There’s growing evidence that global warming is causing hurricanes that are more intense; dangerous heat waves; heavier rainfall and more frequent flooding; and increased conditions, such as more severe and longer-lasting droughts, that threaten our food supply and make wildfires more frequent and severe.

While the data continue to confirm the reality of the climate threat, Gore has been traveling the globe trying to educate and convince a reluctant, disbelieving world of the necessity to wean away from carbon fuels and to switch to clean, renewable energy sources. Gore and climate scientists across the globe desperately want us to understand that only a large-scale switch to renewables will give the world a fighting change to stabilize the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

The good news

Recently, Gore took a step back from being the perennial messenger of bad news and took some time to compose an article published in the June 18,  2014 issue of Rolling Stone that throws some much-needed good news our way. Here’s a sample of some of the developments that Gore himself calls “surprising, shocking good news.”

  •  Converting sunshine into usable electricity has become cheaper more rapidly than anyone expected.
  •  In 79 countries, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources.
  • In 2000, the projection was that the world would be installing one gigawatt of new solar electricity per year by 2010. In 2010 the number was 17 gigawatts per year. In 2013 the number was 39 gigawatts per year, and in 2014 projections are for 55 gigawatts.
  • As costs continue to decline, by 2020 more than 80% of the world will live in places where solar-generated power is competitive with other energy sources.
  • In 2012 49% of new generating capacity in the U.S. came from renewables.
  • Since 2009 the cost of wind energy in the U.S. has dropped by 43%.
  • In the past four years 166 coal-fired electricity generating plants have closed or announced their closing.
  • 183 proposed new coal plants in the U.S. have been canceled since 2005.
  •  Currently, there’s an ongoing shift from the central-station utility grid that had its origins in the 1880s to a widely distributed model characterized by rooftop solar cells and on-site grid-battery storage and microgrids.
  • Photovoltaic electricity is displacing carbon-based energy in two of the world’s most densely populated countries—India and Bangladesh.

And Gore even finds a glimmer of hope in the behind-the-scenes discussions of the financial fat cats and the recommendations of market analysts.

  • Companies selling carbon-based fuels (particularly coal) are quietly discussing their fears of a “utility death spiral.”
  •  Barclays recently downgraded the U.S. electric sector as a result of increased distributed electric generation.
  • Citigroup is warning investors that the assumption that fracked shale gas will be the primary alternative to coal may be a false assumption. Other financial analysts are warning that fracked gas will fall victim to the decline in the cost of solar- and wind-powered generation.
  • Large investors are divesting from carbon-intensive assets and diversifying their portfolios to include significant investments in renewables.
  • Large banks and assets managers are advising clients of the danger that carbon assets will become “stranded.”
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Microbeads: A not-so-tiny problem http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/11/microbeads-a-not-so-tiny-problem/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/11/microbeads-a-not-so-tiny-problem/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 12:00:23 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29357  

facialscrubsIn the well-lit aisles of your drugstore, millions of tiny and dangerous pollutants lurk in the cheerful packaging of your favorite exfoliating cleansers. But in Illinois, you’ll notice a distinct lack of certain facial washes. In a groundbreaking decision, Illinois recently became the first state to ban the use of the microbead, a popular ingredient in many face washes.

Manufacturers use microbeads in their facial washes to rub away dead skin cells, allowing users to scrub their faces to remove dirt and makeup. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles – designed to slip down your bathroom sink, each less than a millimeter in size.

While these plastic beads may seem tiny, it’s their small size that makes them such a nuisance. Just as these beads slip down the drain, they also slip through sewage systems and water treatment plants, making their way to the Great Lakes in mass quantities. In fact, microbeads accounted for about 90 percent of the plastic pollution in Lake Erie alone.

microbeadpollutionUnfortunately, their size and color makes them closely resemble fish eggs – effectively causing fish and wildlife to consume them and soak up the toxins like sponges. These tiny plastics food create a grave ecological threat, as they are being incorporated into the food web at an alarming rate. Scientists found over 6,000 microbeads on average per every 0.1 gram of facial cleanser, and these cleansers are used widely across the country.

Illinois is leading the country in eliminating this dangerous and often disregarded pollutant. The manufacture and sale of products containing the beads will be banned by 2018. However, many companies such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson are one step ahead – already agreeing to phase out microbeads on a global scale, without legislative pressure. Alternatives to these plastic exfoliating beads include more environmentally sound options such as crushed apricot pits, cocoa beans or sea salt.

So, what can consumers like you and me do to eliminate plastics from our bathroom cabinets? “Polyethylene” and “polypropylene” on ingredient labels mean that the product contains plastic, indicative of the dangerous microbead. Some manufactures even advertise the ingredient, putting “microbeads” on the product label. However, with recent pressure from environmental groups and lawmakers, the inclusion of microbeads won’t be anything for companies to brag about for long.

In general, the plastics in microbeads won’t degrade within the consumer’s lifetime. It is simply not logical to design a disposable product that will last forever. Why create a product that will only be used for a few seconds but will continue to negatively affect the ecosystem for decades?

Change starts with the individual. While eliminating microbeads may seem like an insignificant lifestyle change, it will have a huge impact in the long run. After all, if we can eliminate microbeads, effectively we’ll be getting rid of the majority of the plastics in the Great Lakes, where 20 percent of the world’s freshwater is stored. This will prevent problems with fish and wildlife, as well as protecting ourselves and future generations from the many toxins leaching into drinking water.

As responsible consumers, changing out our facial washes for something without exfoliating microbeads is a concrete step we can take in solving the environmental crisis that faces our planet. Liking a Facebook post isn’t environmental activism – we need to be taking real action and dramatically changing our lifestyles.

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I’m a member of a minority culture: Here’s what it’s like http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/10/im-a-member-of-a-minority-culture-heres-what-its-like/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/10/im-a-member-of-a-minority-culture-heres-what-its-like/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 12:00:48 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29349 american-muslim2A few years back, I was searching for essay contests to enter (they were for extra credit; don’t judge), and I stumbled on one that asked me to describe the experience of being a multicultural teen living in the United States today. I just laughed a little, thinking that if whoever was asking didn’t already know, then there was nothing more I could do for them. It was a can of worms I didn’t want to open. To be fair, I did give it a half-hearted shot for the sake of the free points, but it was just nonsense. I really felt like everybody understood, because we live in America, for goodness sakes! And I didn’t need to explain it to the close-minded people who didn’t get it.

Fast forward to today–through the hours excitedly and intensely poring through news and politics, through realizations of who I am and what this crazy world is,, through needing to grow up and meeting that need (well, sorta).

Fast forward through all that, and I realize now, that their term “multicultural” was a PC euphemism  for “minority,” and being a minority was not an experience the majority shared. I also realize that maybe the reason I was so upset about the question before was because I thought minority-ness” was just about prejudices and nothing more. That’s not true. So are some hard truths and some of the fairly comedic facts of minority-ness:

1. When you have a “minority name,” roll calls of  any sort are a particular kind of torture… especially for the speaker. First comes the pregnant pause and the “oh, crap” expression (sometimes followed by “why couldn’t these parents just friggin name him Bob, gosh darn it). Then the “I’m so sorry beforehand for butchering your name.” Next the stuttering and “uh” with that look of concentration and “I haven’t felt this silly sounding out a word since kindergarten” painted all across their face. After they finally choke that out, they ask you like 12 different times how it’s actually pronounced and if they’re saying it correctly now (but they don’t really care). And the whole time they’re suffering through that, you’re just cringing. Your name in their mouth just sounds like a square peg in a round hole, and that’s not a pleasant sensation. I have honest to goodness gotten to the point that I know who comes before me on the attendance list and when I see that “oh, crap” face, I go “here!” really loudly so they (and I) don’t have to suffer through that.

2. Maintaining your culture outside its natural habitat is expensive. The few people who sell the foods of your heritage, the clothes of your native country, and the non-English movies and songs you crave can charge whatever they want (capitalism at its finest). They can overprice the crap out of anything and everything because if you want it, you don’t really have a whole lot of options and you’re just gonna have to settle for the price if you want it that badly. For instance, my family and I have made the decision to only eat halal meat… unfortunately there aren’t a whole lot of vendors in this area that sell halal meat. So, without having to compete against Walmart and Shop N Save, they can charge whatever ludicrously high price they want because we don’t really have any other option.

3. Even without the price, it just is difficult in general not to conform. All PC rainbows and unicorns and melting pot BS aside, there is a very distinct American culture, and it’s not some utopian blend of every culture. We may have once been proud of being a nation of immigrants, but that’s not really American culture today.

It’s not wearing saris or sombreros; it’s blue jeans and a ball cap. And that’s why when you look down the street and see everybody wearing those blue jeans and ball caps, you’ll wear them too. Because you want to fit in. You’ll deny it and spew something about it being more comfortable or practical, but in the end you just want to feel like everybody else.

That need fades slightly after childhood, but past that. you’ve already established your style and daily life. and you don’t want to change it. So you just stick with the conformity. Because fighting it is a lot more effort than you can really afford to give.

4. When you leave home for any length of time, you begin to crave and lust for (like a junkie, withdrawals and all) for your native tongue and spices. If you don’t live in a community of people with similar heritages, your family is your only pipeline to the customs and traditions of your culture. So being away from them from any length of time means you come home begging your mommy to cook you some comfort food and not speak English (thank goodness I won’t be going too far away for college next year and come back on the weekends). Your family is your community, and people don’t get it because “but, you can get Italian just down the street,”

5. Except when people try to capitalize on your culture, it gets diluted and American-ized into something indistinguishable. 100% guarantee, the Mexican/Italian/Greek/Chinese food commercially available is not the real stuff. It’s a slightly less spicy, slightly more sketchy, and very not right. So that “Italian just down the street” is very much not a substitute for home cooking.

6. Politicians have a never-ending quest for the majority vote… which often leads minority-ness out in the cold. Democracy means politicians compete for the majority vote and target their every action to them. That’s why Obama pursuing the African- American vote made such a big splash; it really wasn’t something typically associated with the presidential playbook.

Foreign policy can be an especially sore spot. You tend to pay particular attention to what the candidates say they’re planning on doing in your country and whether or not they distinguish between the innocent people and the often power-hungry government—and that can definitely be a major selling point.

I generally favor the politician who votes to end the war overseas and doesn’t want to “police the world” (which is code for “strong-arm and bully until they accept the American way”), because that’s a big deal for me. Every politician focuses on making sure the economy is stable and the people are happy, but foreign policy often falls through the cracks, because many times, the majority doesn’t focus on it as much as the minority.

7. When you are a member of a minority, you are the minority. Your every action is often a direct reflection upon the groups to which you belong.The way you dress, the way you speak, the way you carry yourself through every situation—especially if it’s not absolutely impeccably—becomes the next thing people incorporate into their schema for your group.

My parents tried explaining this to me since… well, forever… that the way I behave affects the way that people think of whatever group I am a part of, regardless of whether that’s my religion, my race, or my school. I thought that was wholly unfair, so I ignored it… well, I still think it’s unfair, but I do realize now that I can’t ignore it. I hate that I have to guard my every move when I’m around strangers in case something I do becomes something Muslims do—that as a minority I have to represent my entire minority. Any blunder I make in my typical human fashion ought not to be attributed to my minority-ness, but it is. And while I don’t want to give up and embrace it as an unfortunate and immutable fact of life, it is a fact of life for many people today, immutable though it may not be.

But despite all that, some of the most patriotic people in America are members of  minorities.They gave up their old lives to immigrate here, because they had faith it would be better. Even if America isn’t perfect, who is? People suffering from minority-ness worked to become American citizen because they weren’t just born into it; they created the rhetoric everyone else is now spewing, and they meant it when they said it, rather than just mindlessly repeating.

So, being “multicultural” is great and funny and sad and unfortunate all at the same time.

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Political quotes: Who said this? http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/09/political-quotes-who-said-this-one/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/09/political-quotes-who-said-this-one/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 17:22:26 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29381 Click Quote 0629

Click Quote 0629

There’ s a politically relevant quote hiding behind this teaser. When you see the full quote, you may be surprised to learn who said it, but you’ll have to figure out the source out by choosing from a multiple-choice list. It’s a quiz!

You’ll find the full quote and the expanded illustration below.

It’s part of Occasional Planet’s long-running series of quotes–contemporary and historical–that are pertinent to the current political environment. Our illustrator is Christopher Burke, whose quirky cartoons add a touch of whimsy. Scroll down to see the complete quote and Christopher’s  full illustration. To see a gallery of previously published “click quotes,” click here.





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Suing over executive orders: Politics as usual http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/09/suing-over-executive-orders-politics-as-usual/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/09/suing-over-executive-orders-politics-as-usual/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:00:59 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29333 Executive-orders-bThere’s an adage that all politics is local. It makes a lot of sense; most issues are bread and butter ones that occur in the neighborhoods and the households where we live. But like all aphorisms, it’s not always true.

The current dispute between House Speaker Boehner and President Obama about who is most faithful in carrying out his responsibilities to follow the Constitution lends itself to another maxim: “All politics is politics.”

Boehner started it all with a threat to sue the president because he [the President] is issuing too many executive orders where Congress has not passed legislation authorizing him to do so. Boehner outlined his reasoning in an op-ed that he penned for CNN.

Too often over the past five years, the President has circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action, changing and creating his own laws, and excusing himself from enforcing statutes he is sworn to uphold — at times even boasting about his willingness to do it, as if daring the American people to stop him.

Boehner feels, perhaps justifiably, that the president is not paying proper homage to Congress. As far as Boehner is concerned, it should not matter that the current 113th Congress has passed virtually no meaningful legislation. He does not like the president taking executive actions to clarify and streamline immigration, to raise and expand the minimum wage, to clear up uncertainties in the Affordable Care Act, etc. But Boehner acts as if Barack Obama is the first president to use executive orders. That is far from true.

Obama has enacted 182 executive orders; hardly an “imperial president” when compared to others. His predecessor, George W. Bush enacted 291. Republicans Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower had 381 and 484 respectively. And Republican Theodore Roosevelt, in less than two full terms, enacted 1,081. His distant cousin, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt issued 3,522 in three plus terms.

So, if Boehner is making a constitutional argument (against a president who is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago), he [Boehner] seems to be overlooking much of history. Barack Obama is acting well within the bounds of custom in the number of executive orders that he has issued.

It may not matter how much or how little Boehner knows about the Constitution. Like virtually every politician, he has never been known to fight a constitutional battle that would not give him political gain. And as Boehner has chosen to engage in this legal battle, Republican strategists are thinking about making it their main issue in the 2014 general election. Make no mistake about it, this is a political issue.

In defense of the President, Sally Kohn writes in CNN about Boehner:

Think about this for just a second: House Republicans are using taxpayer dollars to fund a lawsuit against a President who has literally done not only what every president before him has done but has done it less often and is doing so now only because House Republicans repeatedly refuse to even vote on legislation, let alone pass anything.

And you have the gall to accuse the President of being the one in violation of the Constitution?

Even more frustrating is how your repeated attacks on the President fall factually flat. In your essay for CNN, you write: “After years of slow economic growth and high unemployment under President Obama, they are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ ”

This is a particularly laughable assertion given last week’s jobs report, which noted our economy added 288,000 jobs in June, marking 52 straight months of continuous job growth. Overall, under President Obama’s leadership, the private sector has added 9.7 million jobs and an economy that was in free fall when he was elected is now in a steady recovery.

Kohn makes a familiar point: It’s likely that, because Boehner’s House has refused to act on so many legislative proposals,  he is as derelict in following his constitutional duties as the president might be. The bottom line is that if either Boehner or the President has a legal case on the other not fulfilling his oath of office, the adjudication of the issues would be: (a) extremely difficult to make, (b) subjective in substance, and (c) basically political in nature.

The tendency to “vote” politically has been repeatedly shown by the U.S. Supreme Court since Bush v. Gore. As many legal observers have said, the rulings on recess appointments, Hobby Lobby, and a host of other cases show the justices voting along both party and partisan lines. It’s time that we get over it. The Supreme Court, the Congress, and the President all tend to bend in the direction of their political views. It’s hard to say that any of us would not do the same.

What we need to do now is to name it [political decision-making], acknowledge it for what it is, and get used to seeing it this way. If the Constitution was as pure as some might want us to believe, then perhaps that wouldn’t be so. But the framers of the Constitution were human and were also political [clearly biased in favor of the white landed gentry]. Let’s accept this and move on from there.

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Direct-deposit helps city workers enter the financial mainstream http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/08/direct-deposit-helps-city-workers-enter-the-financial-mainstream/ http://www.occasionalplanet.org/2014/07/08/direct-deposit-helps-city-workers-enter-the-financial-mainstream/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.occasionalplanet.org/?p=29327 tishaurajonesFrom the department of good government practices: St. Louis’ City Treasurer Tishaura Jones is helping city workers escape the high-interest, payday loan world and gain the advantages of having bank accounts. She’s doing it with a simple, commonsense measure: paying city workers via direct deposit.

“St. Louis is near the top of the nation in the number of “unbanked” minority households. We are third in the nation right now, and just a few years ago, we were number one,” said Jones in an interview with Republic 3.0, an organization that highlights practical governmental solutions to issues. “This means that more than a third of our minority residents don’t use a traditional bank or credit union for financial services. Instead, they’re using payday loans or check cashing services or title loans.”

Jones started looking into a direct-deposit payroll system in 2013, soon after she was elected City Treasurer.

I found that we could take our city employees to mandatory direct deposit. Out of 7,000 employees we manage payroll for in the treasurers’ office, 1,600 of them weren’t on direct deposit.

We held three banking fairs for people to choose a traditional bank or credit union, and if they didn’t choose one, they were assigned their benefits on a [pre-paid] card. Eight hundred people chose that option, although another 800 people chose a traditional bank or credit union. Going to direct deposit not only saves the employees money, we saved over $100,000 for the city each year [in fees] by going to direct deposit.

Jones’ policy addresses an issue that affects workers everywhere, not just in St. Louis. According to a report by the FDIC [Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation]:

  • As many as 10 million American households – or 1 in 12 – lack a bank account.
  • As many as a quarter of U.S. households rely on non-bank financial service providers, such as check cashers, payday lenders or title loan companies, for all or part of their banking needs.
  • These services can be expensive – check cashing typically costs up to 4 percent of the value of the check – and offer no options for consumers to save.
  • Low-income people are the ones most likely to be underbanked. Among households with annual incomes of less than $15,000 a year, 28% have no bank account and another 22% have less than a full range of services.
  • Rates of underbanking are similarly high among the unemployed, people without high school degrees and those under the age of 25.
  • In addition, African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics have higher rates than whites and Asians.

Why do so many people remain outside of the financial mainstream of banks and credit unions? Jones says:

One reason is lack of trust in traditional banks or credit unions. We also find that people have had a bad experience – [they’ve] bounced several checks and as a result have an outstanding balance with the check system that they have to pay off before getting access to another account.

Another reason is that banks and credit unions just aren’t located in their neighborhoods, whereas payday lenders are. The same relationship you may have with a banker or a financial institution, they may have with a payday lender.

The consequences of being unbanked are that the average family could save over $40,000 over a lifetime or over $1,200 a year by using a traditional bank or credit union.

There are many arguments to be made against the way our banking system works: That our financial system is rigged in favor of banks and against consumers; that the banking lobby has successfully blocked many needed regulations that would help consumers get a fair deal; that banks themselves have created the payday-loan/checking cashing industry that deliberately preys on low-income people; and that banks have abandoned low-income neighborhoods, forcing residents to use high-cost check-cashing services.

With all that, it’s understandable that some people distrust banks and have opted out. But despite these legitimate concerns, the fact remains that people who are “unbanked” are at a distinct economic disadvantage, and many “unbanked people” aren’t outside the system by choice. Without a bank account, it’s hard to establish a credit rating. Not having a bank account often means that you can’t get a loan at a reasonable rate—you are forced to go through payday lenders, whose interest rates are often extremely high. Without a bank account, you can’t get a credit card. The list goes on.

St. Louis is not the only city that uses direct deposit to pay its workers, and Tishaura Jones didn’t invent this idea all by herself. But kudos to Jones for bringing this practical approach to St. Louis, bucking the ugly nationwide trend of punishing public workers, and instead, trying to improve their lives.

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