Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sometimes I Just Can't Keep My Mouth Shut

Nobody who knows me will be surprised to hear that I frequently comment, at length, on the message boards of websites. One of my favorite bloggers is known as the Filthy Liberal Scum. I find his insight fascinating.

The article that prompted the post can be read here. It's a commentary on a pastor who recently preached to a rapt congregation the following:

“Build a great, big, large fence…150 or 100 mile long…put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out… feed’em and you know what? In a few years, they’ll die out… do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”

Of course, the people commenting on the post had varying opinions, ranging from "why can't the South just be a different country?" to "liberals are hypocrites because they say you should tolerate everyone but they don't tolerate religious people" to "not all Christians are like this!"  I had the following to say, which has been "liked" enough times by other people perusing the comments section that I unsubscribed just so that my Facebook Notifications would stop blowing up every five seconds (I'll admit, that's a slight exaggeration). Since modesty has never been my strong suit I have decided to share my much-liked comment with you fine folks. 

I hope not to offend any of our religious followers overly much, but only because they are my friends and because I too believe that the Gospel of Christ preaches love, never hate. With that caveat, here is my post:

"...[P]eople get so offended when liberals speak out against the use of religion as a way to manipulate a vulnerable population, such as one that lacks the critical thinking skills necessary to discern between fact and opinion, or when religion is used as a tool to attack people who are perceived as being somehow threatening to an individual's or group's religious inclination. The problem with comparing one man's speaking out against homo[sexuals] and a general speaking out against religion is that religion is an IDEA. You may see it as an important priority in your life, it may be your Truth, but the actuality of it is that it is an IDEA. Unlike ideas, homosexuality is a characteristic that a finite group of individuals possess. We aren't saying put the South or the Religious in, oh I don't know, a concentration camp where for all we care they can starve and eventually die. All we're saying is that religion has been used as a tool for hate since its inception. It's supposed to be about love, but anyone who has seen the Vatican knows that "the church" didn't care about feeding the poor as much as perpetuating its own opulence. Are all churches like this? No! But then shame on them for not speaking out against the use of religion by people with whom they disagree. Religion is an archaic idea that came about because our ancestors had no way to explain the natural world and because death seemed so depressingly final and happened with enough regularity to make any idea but "everlasting life" truly distressing. What's lightening? Zeus's at it again... What's a rainbow? God's promise not to commit global genocide again. Why do women bleed every month and suffer pain in childbirth? Because Eve ate the apple. What happens when we die? Well, if we worship who these educated people with money tell us to we'll have everlasting life, but only if we strictly adhere to their religious beliefs even though they don't seem to. I hate to resort to quotes, but "Religion is regarded by the wise as false, the common as true and the powerful as useful." Are all religious people the same? No. But challenging an idea is not equal to challenging someone's very humanity and entitlement to life based on a characteristic wholly out of their control. Grow a thicker skin, Bible-thumpers, and get a better argument than "God told me so" because I just got off the phone with the Flying Spaghetti Monster and he finds your arguments unpersuasive...."

God may be Love, but religion is politics wrapped up in a dogmatic belief structure that too often prevents people from gaining true spiritual insight. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Student Loan Debt - The Millennial Sob Story

Contributed by Katie Foley

Ever since I was "this tall" I have heard that the key to a good future is a good education. Fortunately school was something that came easy to me and I had parents who were willing to parent me by taking an active role in my cognitive and social development. A "good education" in my family meant college, end of story. 

When the time for college came I decided to go to a state school because, as I explained to any who inquired, "the price was right." I knew that college is expensive. My older sister went to a private school and seeing her debt load made me direct my attention to a more publicly funded institution. In addition to choosing an economically sensible institution of higher learning, I also worked 30-40 hours a week in order to minimize my need to borrow money. 

Having been so fiscally responsible during college I should have simply framed my shiny new diploma and entered the working world. Instead I went to law school. I cannot say that I "regret" the decision, but I regret the vast amounts of money that foolishly borrowed at a ridiculously high interest rate. I regret not knowing when I began that the economy was about to collapse under the weight of yet another economic bubble. 

As a teenager I witnessed the burst of the .com bubble and as a young adult I witnessed the burst of the housing bubble and subsequent near-collapse of the global economy. I have come to accept that, to a particular breed of greedy jerks, the threat of national or global economic collapse does not outweigh the promise of a quick buck. I have read about the deterioration of worker benefits. I have heard about the decline in academic achievement as lawmakers demand standardized results instead of allowing for cognitive and social development. I have seen the devastation wrought when intellectual strength gives way to political expediency in judicial appointments. I have watched as politicians consistently fail to address the pressing issues of the present and future because they owe their campaign donors more loyalty than their constituents. I have witnessed  much of the America I grew up expecting to inhabit fall prey to the greed of a chosen few, who were able to manipulate the right assholes at the right period in time.

But soon I’ll have to accept that I was one of the assholes manipulated by those greedy jerks. Today I read this article about how U.S. Bank has decided to pull out of the Student Loan business. J.P. Morgan too, it would seem, has decided to start lending only to their current customers. US Bank is one of the more [little "c"] conservative banks left and J.P. Morgan was badly singed by the sub-prime conflagration. When you add to that this article, which states that the student loan debt burden has now exceeded $1 trillion (yes, with a "t"), a debt burden that outstrips credit card debt it would seem that maybe these two banks see a bubble burst on the horizon.

Discussion of today’s student loan debt burden often produces two main arguments. One side thinks that all student loan debt should be forgiven. As someone who has an upside-down mortgage on her law school diploma I would LOVE to see my loans wiped away. However, this is hardly fair and fails to take into account the economic impact erasing debt would have now that the Department of Education holds much of the debt. The opposing side doesn’t think that those with student loan debt should be given any relief, as they “signed on the dotted line” to borrow the money. This is a fair point, but again it is overly simplistic as it fails to understand that this staggering amount of debt is preventing young people from doing other things that are good for the economy, such as buying homes, getting married and having families.

Now President Obama is touring the country, trying to say we need to keep college affordable. I agree. But let's re-invest in our college system instead of ensuring individuals can borrow vast sums of money at a capped interest rate. Let's stop cutting funding for education. Or, if we're going to cap anything, let's cap the rate at which tuition can increase from year to year. Making the assumption of student loan debt more palatable to America's youth may get you votes, but it's not going to keep this bubble from bursting. And unlike a house, my diploma has very little resale value. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lessons from Rome

OR ~ Why the GOP should have paid attention in history class

Contributed by Katie Foley

Today, while working, I watched a few episodes of Terry Jones’ BBC series, “The Hidden History of ….”
One of the videos closed with the following monologue from Mr. Jones,

It’s the story of a society that “was run as a mafia-like business; of Senators worth $30,000,000, who supported a system that let the poor go to the war while they supported free trade and low taxes for the businessmen. It’s the story of a society in which the [prosperous][1] families flaunted their wealth while the majority drifted into relative poverty. A society based on inequality, on the tantalizing luxury that was possible for a few, as long as the vast proportion of the population had no rights at all, or could be fooled into compliance with [Miller Lite][2] and [football][3].”

This particular monologue came at the end of “The Hidden History of Rome.” I was astounded by how well the quote had been crafted to span the centuries from ancient Rome to modern Western society. That we are still trying to make these ideas work is nothing short of lunacy. 

Sterling Archer from FX's "Archer"
So how about we try something new guys? Tax breaks for the wealthy and free trade (including the free trade of slaves) did not end well for Rome. The next time you think you’re bringing new ideas to the table, I suggest you first follow Sterling Archer’s advice and, “Read a book!”

Or, you could just watch a historical documentary hosted by a Monty Python alum….

[1] “Noble” in original quote
[2] “Bread” in original quote
[3] “Circuses” in original quote

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Senate District 41 - Thoughts on Redistricting

Contributed by Rachel Nelson, a.k.a. Katie Foley

            I loved my DFL family in the old SD50. Barb Goodwin’s candidacy for the Minnesota Senate gave us a common purpose around which we could unite. This single event, which took place over several months, gave our district the common struggle and history that gives rise to lasting relationships.
            When the Court came down with its redistricting plan, it was a plan about which I could not form a real definitive opinion. Sure, it put a lot of really good sitting DFL legislators against each other, but it did the same for the GOP. I did not have to be too anxious about meeting a bunch of new Democrats because much of what comprised SD50 had been swallowed up by the new SD41. Also, SD41 managed to nab some of the great party leaders of the districts neighboring the old SD50.
            However, it was not until last night that I became truly excited about the new SD41. As Connie Bernardy’s endorsement campaign coordinator I’ve been in a unique position to learn the names of the delegates from the new House District 41A. Last night Connie and her husband Dan hosted an HD 41A get-together. It was very well-attended, including an appearance and speech by Congressman Keith Ellison. But perhaps more important than the campaign atmosphere and upbeat endorsements from Ellison and Carolyn Laine was the chance I had to meet some of the people with whose names I have become so familiar.
            I met and spoke with people who are bursting with ideas and talents that could really make SD41 a shining example of what works for DFL politics. Fundraisers, the centralization of information, complete lifetimes of knowledge and experience – the people I have so far had a chance to meet from the new SD41 have reinvigorated me.
            So I suppose that have I finally had a chance to form a real opinion about the Court’s redistricting plan. State-wide it gives the DFL a chance to take back the majority in the state legislature, giving Minnesota’s policy makers a real chance to enact policies that will make Minnesota great once again. Locally, I couldn’t be more excited about the ideas, energy, wisdom and thoughtfulness displayed by my new DFL family. Let the fun begin!

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: Elect Rachel Nelson for SD 41 Chair at the DFL Senate District 41’s Endorsing Convention on March 31 at Columbia Heights High School. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

In Defense of Millennials

Contributed by Katie Foley

The other day I read this article and it got me thinking, Are Millennials, or “Generation Y” as this author refers to us, really “going nowhere?”

To prove their point, Mr. and Ms. Buchholz cite the fact that 18 year olds are getting their licenses at a rate 15% lower than their 1980’s counter parts. Also, twice as many young adults were living at home in 2008 compared to 1980, and the likelihood of a young person moving to another state has dropped 40% in the same time frame.

What’s to blame? To start with, the authors blame Facebook. Apparently studies have shown that the more time a young person spends on the internet, the more likely they are to delay getting their driver’s license. We’re more risk adverse, we’re too quick to believe “luck” plays a major role in life’s events and we’re more sedentary. As the authors pointed out, even a decrease in bike sales indicates that we’re literally going nowhere.

So what gives? Are we just too involved with our virtual world to explore the natural world around us? Do we settle for mediocre jobs instead of pursuing our dreams because of an innate laziness we picked up somewhere? Are Millennials complacent?

I don’t think so. The authors talked about every modern American generation through the Baby Boomers, then skipped Generation X. Is Generation Y really the first generation of “why bother?” In my lifetime, I have always known that AIDs existed, that it could infect anyone regardless of sexual preference or promiscuity, and that you could not get it from a toilet seat. I was born into a pre-Google world, but the internet was around by the time I was ready to start browsing. Until recently, there has never been any doubt in my mind that I had a right to use contraception and that women could go just as far professionally as men, even if they weren’t there yet.

But as I grew into adulthood the world around me has all but imploded. A vibrant economy during my adolescence has turned into the “Great Recession.” Home ownership, touted as part and parcel of the American dream, has turned into a nightmare in neighborhoods around the country, as reported on the nightly news. People who cannot understand what a computer network is are trying to draft laws regulating them. Every day we see drug users who are not violent, not lazy and not on the road to a serious and debilitating addiction. On 101.3 Drake sings, “It’s my birthday I’ll get high if I want to,” while AM 1130 is promoting the same “War on Drugs” propaganda that has characterized this  doomed movement from the start.

Millennials understand the value of an open community, an online community of people around the globe that share our interests and vision. It is because young people were able to set up proxy servers faster than the government could find them that videos of the 2009 Iranian uprising made it to our television screens and computer monitors. Some of the greatest modern protest movements have gained recognition, validation and exposure through the use of the internet.

Using today's dollars, the average cost of private college tuition is 3.4 times more expensive, public college tuition is 4 times more expensive, and private law school is 4 1/2 times more expensive now than it was when I was born in 1985. Regardless of whether cars and gas prices are more or less expensive now or then, the cost of college alone has become something young people must consider when developing a life plan.

Perhaps it’s just our priorities that have changed, not our values. Instead of buying $75,000 homes we’re buying $75,000 educations. Rather than spend our limited funds meeting our friends and associates over coffee, we utilize technology in a way that allows us to meet virtually. Maybe we aren’t complacent, maybe we just realize that if we are going to make this country work we better buckle down together and do some problem solving. It’s possible that what the Boomers and Gen Xers don’t fully understand is that “It’s not that we don’t care, we just know that the fight ain’t fair.” [1] Don’t worry, once you’ve finished making a mess of things we’ll swoop in to save the day. 

And stop patronizing us by pretending to be concerned about your legacy. . . 

[1] "Waiting on the World to Change" by John Mayer, lyrics available here

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex - Part II

 Contributed  by Katie Foley


As a woman born into the Millenial generation I find it mind-boggling that contraception, and whether I should be able to access it, is still such a hot button political issue. I was born in a post Eisenstadt v. Baird world, a world where women can determine where, when and whether they bear children without having to sacrifice physical intimacy. In a way, the pill and other forms of contraception allowed women finally to be able to “have their cake and eat it too,” when it came to sex – something that has been a strictly male domain since, well, forever.

Women have always gotten the short end of the stick where sex is involved. Since property interests were directly tied to a man’s descendants, and the only way to ensure a woman’s offspring were any one man’s was to ensure the only man with whom she had been intimate was the man in question, a woman’s life was ruined if she “gave it away.”

In fact, “ruined” is what they called a woman who had sex before she was married. She became damaged goods, a person ostracized for having “given in” to a biological urge that men were encouraged to explore. If the woman became pregnant it was seen as her fault, never mind that women were often kept ignorant of the consequences of intimate encounters. And if someone from the upper class impregnated someone from a lower class she could just about forget about having her child acknowledged by that man or his family.
It’s the same old story. Woman gets pregnant. Woman tells man she’s pregnant. Man denies the child is his. Woman proves the child is his. Court orders man to pay child support. Man pays child support reluctantly, if at all, bitterly complaining the whole time about the injustice of it all. However, if woman complains bitterly about how her life has changed, about the expense (in both monetary terms and in terms of time) of raising a child, she is told that she “should have thought of that.”

And now the right wing, led by Rick Santorum, is again raising hell about whether women should even have access to birth control. Time and again it is suggested that women should just keep their legs together. Boys will be boys, but girls will be sluts. The funniest thing about it is that the Catholic Church did not explicitly prohibit the use of contraception until 1930, well after women got franchise rights. Letting women vote was all good and well until they started using their new right to assert self-determination. Suddenly women were deciding whether to have children. Suddenly women were able to delay child bearing in a way that allowed them to pursue educational and professional opportunities. Suddenly women posed a threat to the paternalistic establishment.

However, the men in charge had an ace up their sleeves. Since women are often seen as the backbone of a society’s morality they portrayed the use of contraception as morally repugnant. The crazy thing is that almost a half-century has passed and men are still trying to tell women that they don’t deserve to set their own course in life, that they should not explore the sexuality that pervades our society on an individual level, that they should simply keep their legs closed. Why are men I’ve never met so damn interested in my uterus?

I have a couple theories.

1) In an increasingly fast paced society, skills such as communication, stress management, collaboration and multi-tasking can make the difference between mediocrity and success. It just so happens that these are things at which women are better than men.[1] It could be that as more women come into positions of power and prestige, men will use whatever tool necessary to keep them from succeeding. Since child-rearing and home-making is still a primarily female realm, it’s only natural to try to use that against us. I can’t compete against men for a high powered job if I’m taking care of kids at home.

2) The future of our country’s economy is dependent upon my generation keeping the birth rate sufficiently high to create the next generation of tax payers and corporate slaves. As the boomers age it becomes more and more important for there to be an available workforce to pay for Social Security and medicine for the three chronic medical conditions the average elderly person suffers. By not having children we are jeopardizing the tax base of the future – and we all know they aren’t going to make up the difference by increasing capital gains and inheritance taxes. Oh no, the solution is for me and my sisters to start, as George Carlin would say, “pumping out a unit now and then.”

I don’t know what men are so afraid of or threatened by; I don’t know why it is that they feel they have any right to prescribe my sex life and dictate whether I bring a child into this crazy world of ours. However, I have a friend who has a brilliant solution to the moral issues surrounding contraception. Since vasectomies are reversible, wouldn’t it make sense to put every boy under the knife at about age 8? Then, when they’ve decided they’re ready for children, men can go have the procedure reversed. But then, we wouldn’t want to tell men what to do with their bodies now would we? That wouldn’t go over well at all.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Email to Keith Ellison

Contributed by Katie Foley

As I've previously mentioned, I'm on more political email lists than I can count. Somehow I've ended up on Mr. Keith Ellison's. Today I received an email inviting me to take a survey to tell Keith what issues are important to me. At the end they provide an email address in case "our" issue was not included in the survey. In response I sent the following email:

Dear Mr. Ellison (or at least his campaign committee),

I am writing to tell you that you missed a very important issue in the survey.

I am talking, of course, about getting marijuana reclassified as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, telling the DEA and other federal agencies to stop interfering with medical marijuana laws in states that have them, and to allow for the production of industrialized hemp as a viable and cost-efficient alternative to many of the current organic products used in our society today.

First I'll address the issue of rescheduling marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance. One of the favorite reasons cited by "the government" for not approving medical marijuana is that there is insufficient scientific evidence indicating the medicinal value of cannabis. Yet, every time someone approaches the FDA and DEA to conduct a study they are denied the ability to do so because of the fact that marijuana is a Schedule I substance. This is ridiculous and counter-productive. It's like telling a child that they can't watch TV until they read a book about fairies, then making sure there are no books about fairies available for the child to read. It's both counter-productive and stupid and its time for marijuana to stop occupying the same schedule as heroin and PCP. While I'm all for legalizing and taxing this estimated $18 Billion (yes, with a "b") industry, I'd settle for rescheduling it so that real, up-to-date scientific studies can be conducted.

Secondly, allowing for the growth of industrial hemp for oil, food products, textiles, paper, etc. would do many things. For starters it would relieve the ecological disasters that have resulted and continue to result from deforestation. A 1916 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that one acre of hemp could yield as much pulp for paper as 4 acres of trees, and hemp grows faster and can be harvested more often than trees. Not only can hemp be used for paper, it can also be used to develop building materials. Hemp fiber is more ecologically and economically viable than cotton fiber and the oil from hemp can be used for everything from fuel to cooking. Yet, even though smoking an entire field of hemp will give you naught more than a headache and sore lungs, the DEA consistently considers hemp and it's psychoactive cousin marijuana as the same plant. This is a product that, instead of importing from places like China and Russia, could help get family farms up and running again in the face of agribusiness.

I once heard Mr. Ellison say that he was all for "states rights," yet when I asked him whether the federal government should allow states to decide their own marijuana and hemp policies he waffled. In my experience Mr. Ellison is both an excellent speaker and an excellent waffler. I haven't ever heard him say anything new or profound, I never hear stories on MPR about Mr. Ellison being a man of the people, who boldly stands up to conservative opposition. I actually am not sure I've ever gotten a straight answer from him on anything. Mr. Ellison is fluent in politi-speech. Lucky for him he represents a "safe" district and there are no liberals willing and/or able to rise up and challenge him for the DFL endorsement. That doesn't mean he should fall back on his laurels, knowing that he doesn't have to talk straight because he's not going to have any real challenger.

44% of Americans favor a blanket legalization of marijuana (78% of self-described "liberals") and 50% of Americans support legalizing it for medical use. The trend is changing, with more people in support of legalization in one form or the other, and yet the government and the elected officials that occupy its hallowed halls are stubbornly refusing to alter their long-held beliefs about marijuana, beliefs born out of racism and a capitalistic urge to eliminate competition in the lumber industry. This is a real issue with real facts and it's not just tie-dyed hippies munching cheetos on the couch that are talking about it. I would love if Mr. Ellison joined the conversation in a meaningful way. 

Thank you for your time,

[Katie Foley]