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Take Pre-K To The Bank

When Elizabeth Hartline’s op-ed on why she believed  universal pre-k was doomed to fail (with or without a tax increase) was published on WNYC, Twitter immediately erupted on why the entire plan should be dropped. Bankstreet Head Start has a good reputation, and  Ms. Hartline’s qualifications certainly give her a credible voice in this debate, but there are real issues with the premise and tone of her opinion.

She starts out by comparing the conditions between private-public and only public schools in New Jersey. Arguing that teachers at schools such as hers get worn out and have capped salaries, plus the high demands that come with any teaching job, it would be impossible to maintain these schools while providing high quality education for its students.

While she correctly points out that there are currently not enough schools to have universal pre-k, Bankstreet’s Head Start program only has room for 68 students, not nearly enough to ensure all the youth in the city receive a quality education. Also, more schools across the city are being built and many elected officials have been talking about the lack of seats currently available. I would not be surprised to see big announcements from Mayor de Blasio or Council Member’s  on a plan to increase the amount of seats available for the city’s students.

When it comes to paying for the program, it is worth noting that despite New York already being one of the most expensive places to live in the country, many of the city’s wealthiest residents have publicly stated they are willing to have their taxes raised to fund universal pre-k.

Hartline’s argument though really falls apart when she writes: “staffing is a huge challenge at CBOs. Assistant teachers, who typically have less training, stay around; head teachers turn over.” Bankstreet is a Community Based Organization (CBO), so what she is really saying is that if parents decide to enroll their child in her school, there’s no guarantee that the good teachers will stay.  She also implies that if universal pre-k becomes a reality, she will continue to lose the better teachers at her school. Not a good thing to put in the minds of perspective parents, or the general public who are favor of the program.

In her closing argument Hartline writes: “This will be childcare. Some CBOs may be able to do it brilliantly, most will not” and claims the students at most of these new schools will not receive a strong education. But even with many of the Common Core’s implementation being botched from the start, this is an entirely new program that will encompass the new standards from the beginning. In fact, the new standards that shows pre-k educators how to teach their subjects are already on the Department of Education’s website.

More importantly, this is not just about pre-k education, it is a lift for families who cannot afford a babysitter and need to make sure their children are in a safe place while they are at work. A report by the Working Poor Families Project found that “The share of female-headed working families that are low income increased from 54 percent in 2007 to 58 percent in 2012.” Whether the mother of the child is looking for a job or is working long hours, universal pre-k offers these parents a peace of mind knowing their child is in a safe, educational environment.

No matter how it is funded, universal pre-k is coming to New York. That will mean more options for parents, which translates into more competition for places like Bankstreet. No, not all the pre-k schools will be as good as others, but the same came be said for middle and high schools, and no one is saying they should be closed.

By instituting universal pre-k in New York, current and future residents will benefit from this program, and you can take that to the bank.

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Six Reasons Why Paul Ryan is a Bad Choice for Mitt Romney

The rule of thumb for choosing a Vice President is to do no harm. He or she is not supposed to be controversial, divisive, or someone you would fear having in the White House. Mitt Romney’s pick of Congressman Paul Ryan for his vice presidential nominee is all those things rolled into one and here are seven reasons why:

1. His Economic Ideas Are Not Popular

As Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Paul Ryan has been in charge of creating and introducing a budget that sets America’s priorities, but his ideas have not been popular with the majority of the American people.

Since 2008 the plan has not changed much, but in 2011, Newt Gingrich famously described it as “social engineering”. At the same time Gallup found in 2011 only 43 percent of Americans thought the plan would reduce America’s long term deficit.

2. It Gives Liberals A Reason To Vote

Liberal economists and Democrats in Congress have railed against Congressman Ryan’s proposals saying it puts a huge burden on the poor and raises the cost of living for senior citizens.

Some Democratic operatives have been worried that with the economy not picking up as fast as they would like, and with the inability to use “Hope” and “Change” as slogans again, it would be hard to appeal to the base of the party. But the ideas in Ryan’s budget could be used as a contrast and give liberals a reason to vote.

3. He Has Not Accomplished Anything

In today’s speech Paul Ryan said “I believe my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Governor Romney’s executive and private sector success outside Washington”. Besides the budgets he introduced, which did pass the House, the Congressman has no major accomplishments to his name in the 14 years he has served in the House.

4. He’s A Member of the House

There’s nothing wrong with being a member of the House of Representatives, however, there’s a reason why President James Garfield in 1880 was the last person to go from the House directly to the White House.

Today, members of the House typically have not run state wide before and proved they can appeal to both Democrats and Republicans. Paul Ryan represents a swing district which voted for George W. Bush in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, and were already represented by a Republican Mark Neumann who lost a bid to become Wisconsin’s next Governor.

Ryan came from his district which always helps, but just because you appeal to a part of it does not mean you appeal to the rest of your state.

5. He Does Not Win Romney Any States

One of the major reasons Paul Ryan was picked was his appeal to the right wing of the Republican party. There’s no doubt that it is there, poll after poll proves the Tea Party like the budgets Ryan has introduced in Congress.

But besides Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, what other Senator has proudly declared him or herself a member of the Tea Party? A quick Google search shows Mr. Ryan never has.

Kentucky is also one of the reddest of red states and Senator Paul’s philosophy appeals to the vast majority of the people living there. It helps to have an organization like the Tea Party to knock on doors for you, but it’s not exactly the hardest thing to get those votes.

6. He’s A Republican Party Pick

Paul Ryan may say he’s just a hometown boy but it’s hard to stay in Washington for 14 years and not make some friends. Ryan was working in Washington before he decided to run for Congress and if you look on the American Enterprise Institutes website and search his name you will see how this conservative and highly influential think tank has glorified Ryan’s work and urged him to run for President.

The people who run think tanks have friends everywhere, including highly influential people in both major political parties. While theoretically the parties and think tanks are supposed to be separate entities, the lines blur and having friends who can talk to other elected officials for you increases your influence in Washington, and in this case it helped Paul Ryan get the Vice Presidential nod from Mitt Romney.
A version of this post also appeared on PolicyMic.

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Opening Up Secrets: Lobbyists and Social Media

I really liked this article in Politico about how lobbyists in Washington are finding it hard to contact staffers on the Hill since the they mainly use gchat, Facebook, and Twitter to communicate. It points out this is much different than the way things used to be done with snail mail and telephone and has been somewhat hard for lobbyists to adjust. But beneath the surface there is another reason why K Street doesn’t like social media: it could easily open them up to public humiliation.

Politico interviewed several lobbyists who argued “The underlying reason for this digital disconnect, numerous lobbyists say, is straightforward: They’d rather meet than tweet, plying a craft through the traditional but effective methods of sit-downs and phone calls uninhibited by 140 character limits.” To be fair it is hard to communicate complex legislation or a policy option in 140 characters, and would be hard to convince a member of Congress to change his or her mind by constantly instant messaging each other. Face to face meetings are always more beneficial and productive.

But another reason, which the story unfortunately does not get into, is that by not using social media and talking to each other in person allows them to speak honestly to each other. A member can’t admit on Twitter he does not understand the legislation that is about to be voted on, or has not had time to read all the memo’s the staff wrote for her. Even in “exploratory hearings” where the legislation is being “discussed” the whole thing is really an act to get names in the paper while most of the work is done in the back.

The majority of votes Congress takes are not life changing. It usually has something to do with an appropriation, mandates that states should or should not have to follow to receive money, or resolutions to change the name of a post office (or what’s left of them) and thank certain members of a members community. The bills that are heavily lobbied are discussed constantly between all groups that are for and against it. But these firms do not want the public to know who they represent. It is safer for them to fly under the radar and try and get as many clients as possible. While one year they could be advocating to increase oil production in the states, the next they could be hired by the nuclear industry to try and get Congress to appropriate funds to build a new plant or for Research and Development.

If you saw the movie Casino Jack you know what I am talking about. Firms hated the fact Abramoff was opening up restaurants and getting on the covers of magazines. It was bad for business. Just like any business they would rather be making money and the only mention in newspapers is from the advertisements they pay to put in them. Having conversations online is completely the opposite of what they want. Many top lobbyists have strong connections with members who they lobby and can be blunt with them. Can you, and should you be, honest on Twitter: of course. Do lobbyists want to be: no. They represent their client’s agenda to those in Washington that can affect policy and that’s it.

It is also not a lobbyists job to be Public Relations managers. Social media is a great way to get messages out to the public and give them information needed to make a decision. But lobbyists are skeemie insiders. At times it may not even benefit for them to use the public because it diminishes their ability to say to clients they need them. Only doing online campaigns, letter writing, phone banking, and other bread and butter methods, are cheaper than hiring someone on K Street but lobbyists and their firms need to air confidence in their ability to effectively communicate their message to Congress without all the hustle and bustle of a campaign. This is especially for the clients who have deep pockets but are not looking for the spotlight.

What also scares lobbying firms about social media is when they represent something so controversial that it could blow up in their face. No firm wants to be known as the one who represented a free trade act that wound up sending jobs overseas, or successfully passed a bill that appropriated funds to build a nuclear power plant that wound up having a meltdown. It is just not worth it, and neither is it for them to use social media.

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Rick Perry’s Culture Problem

This weekend, The Washington Post published a story about a ranch presidential candidate Rick Perry and his family owns in west Texas. Stories like these are usually about how much the land is worth, how much it costs to buy, or bloggers arguing the candidate is not like most Americans they want to represent. But this time it was about what the ranch used to be called: “Niggerhead.”

It was on a rock that greeted all the visitors that entered the ranch which the Perry’s have owned since the 1980’s. The campaign told the Post that once Rick first saw the rock at a Fourth of July barbeque he asked his parents to paint over the “offensive rock.” Of course we do not know if this is true or not, and the article speaks to people who say there was no paint on it. But does it matter? The real question is why did they keep the rock at all?

But as it remained in plain sight to everyone who walked by, the rocks contents and its meaning, could not have mattered to the Perry’s. This is land the Perry family has owned for over forty years, and for some reason, it never bothered them that the rock was there. It could not have been covered up well either, considering the reporter who visited the ranch could still see it, and if paint was used it must have been worn off but no one thought twice to cover it back up.

Rick Perry has talked how growing up in Texas shaped his views on life and politics. That can be said about anyone, but what does this epitaph say about Perry’s values? He wants to become President of a country where thirteen percent of the population is black. How can he say to them that he understands them and can represent their best interests? Black people in the U.S. have seen their unemployment rate double since the beginning of the recession, and it was not great before 2008 either. How can he now say to them his ideas will help them when he is thoughtless about their feelings?

What also struck me was how much information the Perry campaign had about the ranch. The article is 5 pages long and there is no way the journalists could have gotten all that information in such a short amount of time. No one could have. While they talked to neighbors, the campaign may have been ready to feed information to journalists knowing this story would eventually come out. There were specific as to when Rick had his name on the lease, the people who currently work at the ranch were not allowed to talk to reporters, and Perry is also quoted as saying they stopped using the entrance where the sign is located in the 1990’s.

Whatever the circumstances, Rick Perry knew this was going to come out and he was arrogant enough to think this sign would be OK. Perry knows there is a black population in Texas, as he likes to remind people in his stump speech, but it did not matter to him that the rock was in such plain sight while he was a state Senator or Governor representing the minorities in Texas.

I guess it is also surprising that it took this long for this story to arise since Perry has been Governor for almost twelve years. If Perry is serious about wanting to be President of the United States, he needs to fully explain why he had such a divisive phrase in the place where he took his friends, and where his mother and father still live.

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How Does Google Affect You?

Congress allowed other online companies to complain about Google’s dominance in the world of “search” at a this week. The online industry makes its money off advertizing, particularly from companies that sell things. But Google owns some of those companies, and the others, have been accusing the Palo Alto giant of helping to highlight the companies they own over the ones they do not. So, why should we care about all this?

Jeff Katz of Nextag and Jeremy Stoppleman of Yelp testified, arguing that because of Google’s popular Map application it shows where Google’s companies are while other companies like theirs are left off. There was also testimony where charts were used that accused Google of helping to promote the companies they owned even if they were not very popular. If the hearing did not turn out to be such a show, like they usually are, serious issues could have arisen from having these major players all in once space. Katz and Stoppleman are upset that their companies are not getting as much exposure as others, thus leading to less sales. Do they have a point? Maybe.

Google is by far the most dominant search engine in the U.S., mainly because it has been much more innovative than others who try and compete with it (I’m looking at you Bing). They created maps, translate, images, and of course everyone likes the clever ways they sometimes change their logo. As a privately owned company, Google has the right to promote which products and websites they want. One of the scuttles that occurred during the hearing was when other companies accused Google of not promoting its site even when it paid for the advertisement. Google said the ad was not used as much because of the quality of the company’s website was poor, and they use other factors which sites to put higher on its results. This also comes on the heels of Google being accused of charging higher prices for advertisements from companies they do not own, and being investigated to see if they have violated any antitrust laws.

By why should anyone outside of Palo Alto care about this issue? Well, if you want competitive prices online (which drive costs down for consumers), having one search engine deciding where you should shop is not a good thing. Particularly when it is becoming more and more common for people to shop online, they need options. Instead of people going to their local store or similar ones to compare prices, they are looking for deals on the internet using Google.

There is also a general fear of one company having control over all the online content that people look at or find. As the internet becomes the way more and more people make a living, we need to make sure the information we find on it is not only easy but unbiased. The last thing people should want to happen is where we are searching on Google for information on the medicine we need, and the only sites that come up are the ones owned by Google. Not to mention it could hurt future job prospects because small companies or start ups would be harder to foster.

Google’s executives argued many times that if people do not want to use Google as their search engine, they have other options. Other sites like Bing and Yahoo give you the same results as Google, but they are not used as much because their branding methods have not been as effective. Yahoo does not have as good of an email system, and Bing’s Maps aren’t nearly as functional as Google’s. Once you are in the Google bubble you trust it and see no reason to leave. Apple has done the same thing with its products and created a large following, like Google, because of it.

Google is a company, and like all companies they exist to make money. There is nothing wrong with that. They have made investments to reach into other areas expanding its reach and successfully became a global powerhouse. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are much more likely to praise Google as being a great American company rather than claiming they are abusing its users. When similar antitrust investigations took place involving Microsoft the problem wasn’t the services but the way they were providing it. They got hit harder in the public arena because people running the company (cough! Bill Gates cough!) couldn’t keep their mouth shut. The same thing happened with Intel, but last time I checked both companies were doing alright.

So far all we learned from the investigations and hearings is that Google is something to keep an eye on. The government needs to keep watching the hedge fund managers on Wall Street, and inspecting our food imports, with the same caution to make sure the American people don’t get tangled in Google.

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Last Night At The David Weprin “Party”

By now I’m sure you’ve heard Republican Bob Turner beat Democrat David Weprin last night to represent New York’s Ninth Congressional District. It is a horrible loss for DCCC who spent half a million dollars, on top of the almost a quarter million dollars Weprin spent, trying to keep the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner. While there wasn’t much to celebrate, for the Weprin camp, they still could have picked a better venue for his party.

The Cobblestone’s Pub in Queens is definitely a nice place to watch the Giants and Yankees, but it’s horrible for a political event. The press were given a small area in the back next to being tapped off to getting any of the free kosher food. The cameras were barely able to see the stage. It was so bad I took a picture and put it on Twitter saying “Don’t bother adjusting your TV’s for the Weprin speech, just tilt your head” because there was no way to get a straight angle. The camera for NY1 was right next to the wall, and while they were doing interviews with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, they had to zoom in on her because it was impossible to get both her and the reporter in the same shot.

At ten o’ clock the party was crowded and people were booing former Mayor Ed Koch (who endorsed Turner) on television. I spoke to volunteers and many of them were optimistic because they didn’t see the opposition out their trying to get people to vote. The entire night Quinn remained optimistic not willing to say they lost. I asked her even if Weprin does win would it still be a disappointment for the Democrats because they had to put so much effort into a district that used to be represented by Senator Chuck Schumer? She said “I always thought this was going to be a tough race. I was never under any illusions this was going to be a cake walk or a blowout.”

While we were sitting waiting for the results to come in, David’s brother, Mark, was next to the press wanting to find out the returns as they come in. Around 11pm it was clear David was going to lose and he was surprised that even when they had 1,500 volunteers out there today they were going to lose. I asked what he thought was the major factor and he told me “Dave wasn’t the incumbent but that didn’t help” since his brother was an elected official and no one is happy with any politician right now. He went on to say “People seemed to want to make a statement” and now that we’ve seen the returns it is clear the Republican base was much more excited about this race than Democrats.

By 11:30 the place was only about half full and David Weprin did not get on the stage until midnight. Mark introduced him and Dave thanked all the people who helped him. A couple of other reporters and I rushed out to see if we could talk to him but he rushed out to get into his car as quickly as possible.

Overall the mood was solemn and everyone was just trying to put on as good of a face as they could. But before the returns came in I spoke to a former Weiner staffer, who said she was lucky to have found a job, but said of the night “this sucks.”

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What The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Should Be

First, I would have loved for Elizabeth Warren to be the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). It was her idea, worked extremely hard to make it happen, and also get it off to a good start. The problem was that the people liked her too much and Republicans would never vote for someone that popular to lead it. But now that President Obama has nominated Richard Cordery to head the CFPB, there needs to be a conversation as to what the Bureau will look like. They have already taken good first steps with their website, which doesn’t look like a typical government site, and is user friendly.

The strongest argument any group or politician can make isn’t from them, it’s from the people. CFPB tells stories of those who have been affected by the confusing rules banks use to lend money or give people credit cards. There are so many of them the contracts are usually close to 100 pages which no one can understand, but know they need the loan. After telling the story of Karen, whose mortgage broker charged her more money without telling her, CFPB makes it clear these are the type of abuses that they will work to stop from happening again. The “Protecting You” area doesn’t say which section of which paragraph of Dodd-Frank allows the Bureau to do this, but instead tells the American people what they are going to do.

Now granted having a blog can sound funny, but not if you use it the right way. So far the topics have covered what CFPB has already done to inform and protect military members from the types of abuses that have been going on. It’s safe to say they have other worries. It also tells college students the best ways they can work to pay off their loans after graduation.

And yes, it is an open process! If you need to fill your academic prowess and define words, or want to have a hand in creating legislation, one of the posts was about figuring out what “larger participants” means. There were several comments on the post, along with the announcement of a video of a live discussion about the same topic to take place. By getting citizens involved this way about government they will feel an ownership to it, understand what it’s doing, and want it to succeed. It’s also a way to hold government accountable for its actions by making it easy to ask questions. Since most other agencies can’t or won’t have this set up, it will be easier for the CFPB to use its influence to get funding or enforce regulation over large banks that are practicing new schemes. The more information out there the better, and so far the Bureau is making sure people understand what’s going on.

As we move out of the Warren era though, CFPB is going to have to prove it was victorious. I’m not saying they have to stop another financial meltdown (though it would be nice), but the next story they have to tell should be about someone who is getting a college or mortgage and used the information from the Bureau to know his or her rights. It needs to show why these regulations were put in place and the money tax payers are giving to it are not being wasted. That’s what an open government is, and that’s what CFPB should be.

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Launching America

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills… President John Fitzgerald Kennedy September 12th 1962

The countdown to take place on Wednesday for Shuttle Atlantis will be the last one for NASA’s space flight program. These shuttles have been launched into space for the last forty years, and when first built, were one greatest advances of technology on the face of the Earth. But as time went on, priorities and leadership changed, and the shuttles retirement is one of the sad examples of how our country has been lead these past four decades.

Even on television, a space shuttle launch is one of the most miraculous things you will ever see, and when you think about the power and force it takes to launch these machines it is simply amazing. The more an object weighs Earth, the planets gravity holds it down, but NASA somehow figured out a way to beat gravity. They have sent millions of pounds of food, people, and equipment, not just to the International Space Station, but also to the moon.

When JFK said the above passage at Rice University he was speaking to America’s best. America was already behind as the Russians made it to space before us, and the psychological affect of that was enormous. Like today, we were questioning America’s ability to compete, wondering if we were making the right decisions, and wondering what it meant for the future? Kennedy knew going to the moon alone wasn’t going to defeat the Russians. But to show the world that we could do something that no one else had done was almost a spiritual moment that brought the country together.

It was a bragging point no one would ever be able to take away from us. While today we seem to be looking for entrepreneurs to come up with the next microchip, we have been lacking the “Yes We Can” attitude that made space flight possible.

In the sixties it was easy to say Democrats and Republicans were partners in crime, rather than trying to stab each other in the back. The rhetoric wasn’t nearly as bad and elected officials always knew to put country first and politics second. You certainly don’t get that sense out of Washington anymore. With leaders refusing to negotiate, talking points are at an all time high, and no one wants to take responsibility for anything unless they know their constituents will like it.

America’s debt wasn’t half what it is today. Not to mention it was more sustainable because the Marshall Plan was in full swing as we were exporting food to Europe and helping to rebuild the continent. Members of Congress knew this, and the debates that took place were specific and to the point. No one even cared about the rumors surrounding the JFK’s infidelities, because, well, it had nothing to do with the way he was running the country.

But now anything is fair game. Decorated heroes are having to defend their record, everyone is calling each other liars (because most of them are lying), and the only actions being taken is to advance ones political aspirations.

The reason why Obama is going to win next year is because Republicans can’t blame him for the reasons why he had to cut the space program. While historians might look back at the rockin’ 90’s as equivalent to the roaring 20’s, they will notice how no one sounded the alarm in the 00’s when there were signs the economy was slowing down.

But now instead of learning from our mistakes we tried to keep the machine going and living for the now instead of for the future. Space is humanities next frontier and it will not end with this launch. Russia and private companies will continue to go to the space station, but the advancements made by the scientists in NASA cannot be repeated anywhere else.

There is a difference between wanting to make a profit and working to advance humanities well being. It takes a different mindset, it takes a different type of drive that goes beyond our tiny little planet. We were willing to do the hard things because it was exciting to try and accomplish them. This poise is when America is at his best, and it took the countries leaders to put us in the position to give us the confidence to take those risks.

But as demand is down so is America’s adventuresome. The launch of the shuttle used to be representative of America’s assurance, but as that is slowly fading, we have to realize we are living in the internet age where even more things are possible. So when you watch the launch don’t think about what was, but think about what could be.

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Political History

As everyone is getting ready for the Fourth of July weekend, there will be plenty of politicians touting what the founding fathers sacrificed to create the great country we live in today. But if you hear them comparing today’s challenges during the time of the revolution, you might as well believe George Washington chopped down a cherry tree.

Of course it didn’t take long for certain Republican candidates to try and sound smart about their “knowledge” of American history. Today, Michelle Bachmann was on Good Morning America, where she was asked about her dither on Fox News (where Chris Wallace called her a flake) her response only gave more ammunition to those who are calling her, and I’m putting this in the nicest possible way, slow.

“Well if you look at one of our Founding Fathers, John Quincy Adams, that’s absolutely true. He was a very young boy when he was with his father serving essentially as his father’s secretary. He tirelessly worked throughout his life to make sure that we did in fact one day eradicate slavery…”

Now, ever since the movie Amistad came out I have always liked John Quincy Adams. Yes, he was a powerful voice that worked to free the slaves, but no, he wasn’t a founding father. What got me though is; don’t Republican’s like to give Abraham Lincoln credit for ending slavery? During every Republican National Convention they show a video before their nominee for President comes out to give a speech. This video always starts with a picture of Lincoln with his famous top hat, then the voiceover reminds everyone he was a Republican who wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. I don’t know if Bachmann knows this bit of history or not, but if I were working on her campaign I would worry about her not knowing standard talking points which could lead to more gaffes.

While sometimes it is hard to tell the two apart, the biggest blooper was by Sarah Palin when she described Paul Revere as a traitor. But I don’t consider this as much of a gaffe as it is a lack of common sense.

Usually around this time candidates/politicians like to emphasize the importance of the founding fathers and criticize their opponents because “they’re not doing what the founding fathers would have.” But as we look back in history, let’s remember what it was like during America’s birth.

There was no real army, only a bunch of young men who were considered renegades by the British. In order to beat the most powerful army in the world they had to develop ways that would catch them off guard. New York City was abandoned by General Washington because there was no way to save it from the massive British Army that had invaded. The British were also known to torture captured soldiers, of face punishment if they showed any mercy.

David McCullough has described American’s birth as its darkest time. There was so much uncertainty as to the future, but the new countries leaders worked hard to gain support from other nations to make sure the soldiers could be supplied and paid.

But I guess you can’t put all the blame on Bachmann or Palin for getting some of America’s history wrong. Even the famous portrait of the founding fathers signing the Constitution, prominently placed in capitol dome, never took place. And the story of George Washington and the cherry tree was made up by a family friend.

I watched a repeat of 60 Minutes on Sunday where they told the story of children going to sleep hungry because their parents lost their job, eventually the house, and couldn’t afford to give them food. You would never believe this story was taking place in America, and I’m sure it’s not what the founding fathers had in mind while they were risking their lives.

But when politicians rile up their base by inflating arguments, or walking out of rooms in a tantrum and refusing to negotiate, it demeans what the members of the Continental Congress built. Whether they thought the federal or state governments were the primary areas of influence, the point was for all sides to come together and debate what is best for all Americans, not just their constituencies. But if Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, the country’s debt will be enormous and will only burden families further.

So as we all celebrate the holiday, let’s remember how our countries leaders came together to defeat the most powerful army the world has ever seen, and hope today’s leaders can only agree to disagree.

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Child Exploitation in Kenya

In Kenya, half of the people living in the country are below the poverty line. Climate conditions have restricted farming and families are suffering the economic consequences. In order to help raise needed money, young children offer sexual services to men living in and visiting Kenya, with studies showing one of every ten children in Kenya were involved in sex work before they reach puberty.

Trafficking for sexual exploitation grosses $32 billion per year, and according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), two million children around the world are believed to be exploited either by prostitution or pornography. Kenya is located in the horn of Africa where they are still feeling the effects of El Nina, which caused severe droughts. With such water deficits, farmers are not able to grow food for the 10 million Kenyans who can’t afford to buy it. Desperate, children are forced to perform sexual acts for money to Kenyan men and tourists. Most children perform five times a week, and this behavior greatly increases their chances for contracting HIV/AIDS, which is already widespread in the area, because most of the time they are practicing unsafe sex.

The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), has been a recipient of the Gates Award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and since 1957 has worked with children in need of medical attention. With clinics set up around the country, Project Manager Rosemary Kamanu, in an interview conducted by email writes, “we meet children that have gone through cases of abuse” and that they are “living on the streets, are sodomised either as rape and in some cases they are paid by older persons.”

The majority of young people having to conduct these acts are young girls, estimated to be 30 to 45 percent, starting when they are twelve years old. They live together in slums outside the city and then go out to clubs at night where they are usually paid 20 ksh, equal to 22 US cents.
Tourism is a major part of Kenya’s economy, bringing in one billion dollars a year. But most Kenyans do not benefit from the industry. Many tourists come to Kenya to visit the beaches, which are known to be some of the most beautiful in the world; this is also where some tourists find these young children. While Kenyan men make up 38 percent of the abusers, studies show Italians (18 percent) Germans (14 percent) and the Swiss (12 percent), are all taking part.

One of the ways to reduce the number of children from having to perform these acts is to provide families with the tools they need to take care of themselves. UNICEF, a long with the Kenyan government, implemented a cash transfer program in 2004 where families are given money in order to improve their quality of life. So far, the program has reached over one hundred thousand families in Kenya, and aims to reach close to thirty thousand by the end of July. When the program first started in December of 2004, a select group of people were chosen based on their socioeconomic needs. Many families had fathers who were sick, unemployed, and members had HIV/AIDS.

The money they were given was used for food, school uniforms, and cooking oil. In the discussions that took place with the families, they agreed to make school and health a priority for their children. Other family members benefited as well. Half of the families who first received funds had members who were HIV positive or developed AIDS, and the money was used to buy them anti retroviral treatment. However, they all said that the money given to them was not enough to cover everything.

While the results of the cash transfer program are promising, there are still problems monitoring the progress of the endowed families, and dividing up the limited monies. On Friday, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki is going to sign the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization’s Golden Book. By doing so, he is hoping more tourists will come to the country, spend money, and help grow the economy. But enforcing the laws that do protect children are weak, and hopefully Mr. Kibaki will be encouraged to protect some of his country’s most vulnerable citizens.

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