• Big Bangs, A Medieval Hat, and Other Controversies: The Dangers of Social Media During the Inauguration (Op-Ed)

    While President Obama was being sworn in for second term on Monday, also Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day, the American people were focused more on the seated audience members than the man standing behind the podium.Many eyes were on the lovely dressed First Lady Michelle Obama and her new fringe-style bangs, as well as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s mystery hat.

    Eric Wilson’s article in The New York Times, Mrs. Obama’s Inaugural Wardrobe by Many Designers, highlights the fact that Mrs. Obama chose to wear many designers on the day of the inauguration:

    Mrs. Obama gave credit to a large cast of designers in her inaugural wardrobe, beginning with Thom Browne, who made the elegantly tailored coat and dress in a navy silk jacquard that she wore during the day. Her earrings were by Cathy Waterman, and her shoes, at least in the morning, were from J. Crew.

    She later changed into boots and a cardigan by Reed Krakoff and added to the outfit a sparkly belt from J. Crew, which served no apparent purpose beyond a plug for the retailer, or to remind us that belts are one of her signatures.

    Mrs. Obama wore a custom red Jason Wu evening gown to the inaugural ball.

    While Mrs. Obama had a very pleasing appearance, Scalia’s hat was quite an eyesore. Of all days, why did he wear that hat?

    New York Daily News described it as “a velvety cap that looked like a beret on steroids.”

    The Washingston Post speculates that it has religious significance. Scalia’s hat, a conversative, may have been a stand for faith against politics, but there are many other explanations. Maybe he had no other relatively warm headgear and decided to don this one because he had no other choice. 

    I am doubtful of the latter explanation, but who knows. The hat was such a hot topic during the inaugural ceremony that it even had its own hastag on Twitter.

    Kevin C. Walsh of University of Richmond School of Law explained on his blog that the Thomas More Society of Richmond had given it to Scalia in November 2010 “as a memento of his participation in our 27th annual Red Mass and dinner.” The hat was made by Camille Parham in Richmond, Virginia and was “a replica of the hat depicted in Holbein’s famous portrait of St. Thomas More.”

    As much as I love fashion and poking fun at politics, the media coverage emphasized details that should be considered minute in comparison to President Obama’s inaugural speech.  The focus was taken away from bringing up the big issues in America that the White House plans to address over the next four years and given to more vain pursuits.

    Since Monday, there has also been a controversy that Beyonce had lip-synched the national anthem. Kelly Clarkson is not believed to have lip-synched her performance.

    I’m certainly not saying that there should be no coverage on Mrs. Obama’s promotion of independent designers or humorous remarks–that’s why there are fashion magazines and bloggers–but I don’t think it was the responsibility of major news networks to obscure the importance of the president’s words.

  • The White House Looks Up in 2013: Congress Approves $60 Billion in Aid for Hurricane Sandy Victims and more

    The 2013 Presidential Inauguration has yet to come to pass, but the White House and Congress have passed an piece of important legislation for those affected by Hurricane Sandy and laid out ambitious plans in regards to gun control for the months ahead.

    On Tuesday night, Bloomberg reports the House of Representatives voted for an additional $50.5 billion in aid on top of the $9.7 billion package approved by both Congress and the House on Jan. 4th. According to the Bloomberg article, the “measure includes $17 billion to meet the immediate needs of Sandy victims in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and $33.5 billion for long-term reconstruction.”

    Among many other objectives, the relief package will be used to restore shoreline communities, replenish beaches, and repair the subway system. The Senate likely vote for the package on Jan. 22nd.

    But the White House’s progress doesn’t end there. President Obama announced plans to regulate gun laws and prevent dangerous assault weapons from getting in the wrong hands. The New York Times says that Mr. Obama “plans to introduce legislation by next week that includes a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, explanded background checks for gun purchases and new gun trafficking laws to crack down on the spreado of weapons across the country.”

    The administration is well aware of the challenges gun control legislation faces, but the White House hopes to take advantage of the opportunity to push legislation in the wake of the shooting massacres in 2012.

    The willingness of Congress and the White House to respond to significant issues facing the American people in 2013 is a beacon of light to lead the country out of last year’s veil of frustration and indecision. If the cooperation between parties and strength of belief persists, Americans may be able to restore some faith in the government.

  • Study Reveals College Graduates Were Least Harmed by Great Recession

    There have been many foreboding headlines for college graduates since the Great Recession.

    Last April, The Atlantic wrote “53% of Recent College Grads Are Jobless or Underemployed—How?

    Last May, WTVM.com of Colombus, Ga. reported “One in two College Graduates not finding jobs.”

    NBC News, in August, described how the “Economy leaves many returning students disappointed, deep in debt.”

    As we enter a new year, college grads can know there is an upside.

    A study released on Wednesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that recent college graduates (ages 21-24) from a four-year universitybraved the Great Recession better than those without. Conducted by the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality (SCPI) , the study found individuals with less extensive post-secondary eduation fared worse.

    David Grusky, the lead author of the study and director of SCPI, told the Stanford Report the study was the first of its kind in regards to researching recent college graduates. Grusky and his team based the study on dividing a group of 21-24 year olds by their highest education level received: high-school diploma, 2-year associate’s degree, and 4-year bachelor’s degree.

    Then, the researchers looked at the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey and analyzed full-time and part-time employment of 21-24 year olds “in the roughly two and a half years before the 2007-2009 recession, during it, and in the two and a half years after it,” according to The New York Times.

    Here are the numbers from The New York Times article:

    Among those whose highest degree was a high school diploma, only 55 percent had jobs even before the downturn, and that fell to 47 percent after it.

    For young people with an associate’s degree, the employment rate fell from 64 percent to 57 percent.

    But those with a bachelor’s degree started off in the strongest position and weathered the downturn best, with employment slipping from 69 percent to 65 percent.

    People with four-year college degrees saw a 5 percent drop in wages, compared with a 12 percent decrease for their peers with associate’s degrees, and a 10 percent decline for high school graduates.

    Grusky observes that even though some college graduates are forced to take jobs that do not make full use of their education, “even worse things are happening for groups that have lesser credentials.”

    Despite the recession, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported a 37% increase in enrollment between 2000 and 2010 from 15.3 million to 21 million. The number of full-time students rose 45%, while the number of part-time students rose 26%.

  • Make It Stop: Shootings of 2012 Still In the Headlines in 2013 (Op-Ed)

    The mass shootings in 2012 were horrific reminders that gun control and mental health are two fields that need to be researched, re-evaluated, and re-addressed on Capitol Hill. As time goes on, I fear that politicians will overlook these issues in the midst of heated debates over the decision to raise the debt ceiling in February.

    The headlines are keeping gun control and mental health in the spotlight, but they’re not about the House or Congress passing a new bill: they’re about James Holmes’ preliminary hearing, the shooter at the theater in Aurora, Colo. and a bomb threat in a high school Seale, Ala. inspired by the events of Newton, Conn.

    The preliminary hearing of James Holmes on Monday was attended by many of relatives of the movie theater victims. Aurora Police Office Justin Grizzle testified a full account of what had happened July 20, 2012 when he found Holmes outside Theater 9.

    When Grizzle first set foot in the theater, The Dark Knight Rises was still playing on the screen, but he “almost fell down because of all the blood there.” according to the article in The Denver Post. He described other happenings that most of us could not possibly imagine going through.

    Also on Monday, Associated Press reports that Derek Shrout, 17, began plotting an attack on students at Russell County High School. Shrout, a white supremacist, planned on targeting African American classmates with homemade explosives. A teacher had found Shrout’s journal detailing these plans and turned it over to authorities. Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor believes Shrout was inspired by the Newtown massacre, because the first entry of Shrout’s journal was Dec. 17, only three days after the shooting. Shrout is currently held at $75,000 bail.

    It is evident that the past shootings continues to haunt the American public. It is in the best interest of state representatives to put forth changes that will prevent any more tragedies like this in the future. If such events continue to occur, then we will not have learned our lessons from the pain we had to endure, and will continue to endure unless we make the changes necessary to make it stop.

    I believe that steps need to be taken to make sure guns remain in the hands of responsible citizens and to help families and individuals living with a mental condition get the help they need. I may not be proposing the most detailed or most articulate answer to these issues, but I hope that the White House will find the solutions to better protect Americans.

    It’s a start.

  • Setting Sandy Victims Aside: Boehner Pushes Aid Package Off the Table (Op-Ed)

    Here are some statistics from “Hurricane Sandy By the Numbers: A Superstorm’s Statistics, One Month Later,” a Time article published November 26, 2012:

    8,100,000: Number of homes that lost power. The outages affected people in 17 states, as far west as Michigan.

    820: Sandy’s size in miles, as measured by diameter of tropical storm-force sustained wind, as it made landfall just south of Atlantic City, New Jersey—more than double the landfall size of Hurricanes Issac and Irene combined.

    10,000: Estimated number of phone calls received by True Value Hardware in Hackensack, New Jersey from people hoping to buy generators in the days before Sandy hit, according to assistant manager Jeff Moskel. The store easily sold out of its stock of 20, as well as all of its batteries, flashlights and extensions cords. Customers are now stocking up on sheet rock, nails, paint and other tools for demolition and repair.

    Recent statistics from an article in The New York Times January 3, 2013 report an estimated $82 billion would be needed to repair the damage from Hurricane Sandy.

    So why on Earth did House Speaker John Boehner decide to put a $60 billion relief package on hold?

    The fact is that the people affected by Hurricane Sandy didn’t disappear when the news coverage dwindled. Some New York and New Jersey residents are still struggling to without their homes and without their businesses. They still need help to get through their personal storms of frustration and loss in order to rebuild not only their homes, but their faith.

    For whatever reason, Boehner was willing to put aside Americans citizens in need until he was shamed by House representatives, including some members from his own party, to readdress the aid package in mid-January.  Governor Chris Christie openly called Boehner’s decision “disappointing and disgusting.”

  • One Step Foward, Two Steps Back: South Korea’s First Female President Shadowed by Her Father’s Past

    South Korea, the country in the developed world known for its gender inequality, elected their first female president, Park Geun-hye on Wednesday, December 19, 2012.  CNN reports that Park won the election against incumbent Moon Jae-in with roughly 52% of votes when Lee conceded with about 48% of votes.

    Park, 60, is the daughter of authoritarian leader, the late Park Chung-hee, who ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. Park entered the political arena in 1974 at the age of 22 when she became South Korea’s First Lady after her mother’s death, which was a failed assassination attempt intended for her father.

    Although Park Chung-hee is remembered for bringing economic prosperity to the country, he is also known for dsiregarding human rights and torturing enemies. In 1979, South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator was assassinated by his chief intelligence officer.

    As a single woman, Park vows to serve her country as a mother is devoted to her children, according to The New York Times

    “I have no family to take care of,” she said. “I have no child to inherit my properties. You, the people, are my only family, and to make you happy is the reason I do politics. And if elected, I would govern like a mother dedicated to her family.”

    The shadow of Park’s father continues to cast over Park. The older population who remembered Park’s father’s positive contributions to South Korea is mainly responsible for electing Park into office. On the other hand, Moon was more popular with the younger generation, after Park’s comment that her father’s coup d’etat during his reign was “necessary.”

    Last September, Park publicly apologized for the crimes committed during her father’s presidency.

    The tension of Park’s rise to political power became highly visible last Friday over Time Magazine Asia’s typo. LinkTV reports that the front cover of Time Magazine Asia’s issue featuring Park, originally titled “The Strongman’s Daughter”, was renamed “The Dictator’s Daughter” on Time’s online edition.  The implication’s of using the word “dictator” as opposed to “strongman” upset supporters of the Saenuri Party, the political party Park represents, while dissenters believed the online title better represented the former president.

  • A Different Arms Race: Newtown Tragedy Brings Gun Control to the White House

    On Friday, December 14, 2012, one of the most devastating American tragedies since 9/11 happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. At 9:30 am, twenty-six victims–twenty children, six adults–were killed by Newtown resident Adam Lanza. Many suspect that Lanza, suffered from a developmental disorder, most likely Asperger’s syndrome. He had obtained the guns used at Sandy Hook from his mother, Nancy Lanza, the first victim of that Friday, who used to go trap shooting.

    While the nation mourns the loss of Newtown’s children and teachers, Sandy Hook has been a wake-up call for Congress and the White House to make some decisions about how to address the regulation of gun control.

    One month prior to the events of December 14, Specialist in Domestic Security and Crime Policy William J. Krausse compiled a Congressional Research Service report titled “Gun Control Legislation”. The report goes into extensive detail and explores “Federal Regulation of Firearms,” “Issues in the 112th Congress,” and “Other Salient Gun Control Legislative Issues.”   Most importantly, the report recounts that gun control has been an issue that needs addressing, because of the recent events that even preceded Sandy Hook:

    Congress has debated the efficacy and constitutionality of federal regulation of firearms and ammunition, with strong advocates arguing for and against greater gun control. In the wake of the July 20, 2012, Aurora, CO, theater mass shooting, in which 12 people were shot to death and 58 wounded (7 of them critically) by a lone gunman, it is likely that there will be calls in the 112th Congress to reconsider a 1994 ban on semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices that expired in September 2004. There were similar calls to ban such feeding devices (see S. 436/H.R. 1781) following the January 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ, mass shooting, in which 6 people were killed and 14 wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was grievously wounded. These calls could be amplified by the August 5, 2012, Sikh temple shooting in Milwaukee, WI, in which six worshipers were shot to death and three wounded by a lone gunman.

    In a “Letter from Victims and Families of Mass Shootings in America” sponsored by the Brady Campaign and written by relatives of mass shooting victims, claims that “every day in America, 32 more families lose loved ones to gun murders.” The letter notes that  “most in tragedies that do not make national headlines because they are so common.”

    The “Letter” is ultimately a plea for politicians to put aside their political differences and put in “sensible solutions” in place to protect Americans from gun violence–they believe the American people have the right to “hold our elected leaders accountable to do everything they can to enact such solutions.”

    President Obama alluded to bringing the gun control debate forward to the White House in his speech during the multi-faith vigil held at Newtown High School on Sunday, December 16, but there are no proposed legislations at this time for gun regulation.

    In the meantime, an article in The New York Times reports that Dick’s Sporting Goods has temporarily removed the rifles from the shelves and Bass Pro Shop has removed Bushmaster rifle–one of the guns Lanza reportedly used–from their website. Walmart.com has removed the information blurb about Bushmaster rifle on their website, but continues to sell the guns.

  • “Where Stories Take Us”: Establishing a Deeper Connection with Public Policy

    On the evening of Wednesday, November 28, 2012, G. Wayne Miller of the Providence Journal spoke at the Pell Center to discuss the power of story-telling in journalism. During the lecture, titled Where Stories Take Us: Story in the Public Square, Miller described the art of story-telling and provided specific examples of how some works in the Providence Journal made an impact on Rhode Island public policy.

    To give story-telling context in the news world, Miller explained the three elements of a story: character, narrative, and emotion. The first two elements, character and narrative, are always found in hard news as seen in major news broadcasts from CNN, MSNBC, or Fox. It is emotion that touches people and makes the story memorable. When writing about public policy through the lens of story-telling, establishing an emotional connection with readers is important because it evokes a strong response.

    The incredible thing about story-telling, as Miller pointed out, is how good stories can persist over time and be told in a number of different ways. For example, Homer’s Iliad persists not only through literature, but also through film, literature, plays and, even for infants and young children, comic books and children’s books. Babies certainly cannot have a full-length discussion about The Hobbit or Madame Bovary (why you would ever read those books to infants is questionable in itself), but babies become familiar with feeling a connection while being read child-appropriate book such as The Little Prince, or Miller’s example, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

    Miller transitioned to defining expository journalism. When first published in 1829, the Providence Journal declared its interest in the reporting of facts and promoting the interests of the community. Miller showed a few old newspaper front pages—Lincoln’s assassination, Pearl Harbor, landing on the moon, President Obama’s re-election. This demonstrated how writing about facts and statistics is important, even though it does not necessarily evoke as emotion as a story.

    Miller and his colleagues at the Providence Journal combine the elements of story-telling and expository journalism to shed light on public policy issues in the state or the nation. The Journal frequently publishes stories on the weak health of Rhode Island’s economy.   Since March, the Journal publishes stories Reinvent Rhode Island, a series of articles that shed light on how Rhode Islander are affected by the economy and possible solutions to fix the state’s problems.

    “Going it alone and losing ground: Single parents struggle to stay afloat” is one article Miller wrote for the Reinvent Rhode Island series in July.  The article does talk about the facts and figures of single-parent incomes, but Miller tells the story of one woman, Ms. Crystal M. Tetreault of Cranston. It is through Ms. Tetreault that the reader understands the struggles of being an unemployed single parent in Rhode Island and builds an emotional connection in recognizing that the problem is very real.  Miller said that most people responded positively to the article.

    After the presenting several more beautifully told stories of people and their relationship to public policy, including the profiles of Afghanistan War veterans featured in the Providence Journal’s documentary Coming Home, Miller concluded that if you tell a good story, readers will listen. The story does not end when we as readers finish reading. According to Miller, “it’s a question of what we do with it.”


    On Friday, April 12, 2013, Miller and The Pell Center of International Relations and Public Policy will be collaborating on “Story in the Public Square,” a day-long event that will focus on the “ethical” use of story-telling in the public arena. There will be panel discussions, a film screening, a student focused contest and the presentation of the first annual Pell Center Prize for “story in the public square.” To stay updated on the event, please follow Pell Public Stories on Twitter @pubstory.

    To learn more about G. Wayne Miller, please visit his website.

    If you want to learn more about Reinvent Rhode Island, please read the articles on the Providence Journal website and check out the Reinvent Rhode Island YouTube channel.

  • Tracing the Origins of the “Fiscal Cliff”

    Shortly after the re-election of President Barack Obama, there was an immediate and pressing concern to address the termination of tax cuts by January 1, 2013.

    The expiration of several tax cuts worth billions of dollars—the Bush tax cuts, the payroll-tax holiday, the alternative minimum tax, and tax credits—would result in raised expenses across the board, from the middle class to the affluent “one-percent.” The phrase used to define this impending economic crisis is known as the “fiscal cliff.”

    It is safe to say that the “fiscal cliff” is the latest catchphrase frequenting discussion of American politics this year after “Invisible Obama,” “the forty-seven percent,” or “binders full of women.” The origins of the last three phrases can be easily tracked down, but where exactly does “fiscal cliff” come from?

    Most news outlets are quick to trace the phrase’s origins to a speech given by Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke in this past February when forecasting the drastic economic shift, which is only five weeks (or merely thirty-six days) away as of Monday November 26th.

    However, a BBC News article traces the term’s origins back to 1957 when New York Times journalist Walter Stern used “fiscal cliff” in an article discussing first-time homebuyers:

    To the prospective home owner wondering whether the purchase of a given house will push him over the fiscal cliff, probably the most difficult item to estimate is his future property tax.

    The article also credits Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina to saying the phrase in 2008 discussing President Obama’s spending program, who suggests that the country could have some benefits by jumping off the immense financial precipice.

    Negotiations between Democrats and Republicans are slowly progressing, but the ideological differences that set them apart continue to persist, therefore barraging the conclusions of important decisions like the fiscal cliff. While Democrats want the Bush tax cuts to expire, the Republicans want them extended. Furthermore, Republicans want to maintain current tax rates, but reduce government spending.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner spoke over the phone to discuss the fiscal cliff Monday November 26th.  The President and Senator Boehner are considered to be the leaders of the negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in finding a solution to avert the fiscal cliff, but visible progress has yet to be seen.

  • “Poverty and Development” Visualizes a Fairer Economy by Transitioning the Informal Sector

    On Thursday, November 8, 2012, the Pell Center hosted a lecture given by Karen Tramontano, the founder and President of the Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) at DiStefano Lecture Hall. The lecture, Poverty & Development: The Role of the Informal Economy in Changing People’s Lives discussed how developing countries’ economies benefit from integrating the “informal sector” of businesses with the formal sector.

    The informal sector, as defined by GFI, refers to the “billions of unprotected workers engaged in legal but unregistered enterprises outside formal economic structures.” Third world countries with struggling economies are linked to having high rates of informality, which is responsible for unequal opportunities, low wages, corruption, and child labor.

    Tramontano listed three downfalls of businesses to participating in the informal economy: the workers in informal business have a small chance of rising above the poverty line; the businesses are impervious to market forces of global businesses, and the impact of powerful economic consequences as a result of moving towards the formal sector are not realized.

    Transitioning informal businesses to the formal sector is the best way to aid employers, protect workers, and grow the economy.  To develop programs that encourage and maintain the transition, GFI surveys the poor in the informal sector to identify how to attract informal businesses to the formal. Since establishing GFI in 2002, Tramontano has transitioned informal businesses to the formal sector in developing countries all over the world, including Costa Rica, Peru, and Ghana.

    Tramontano discussed two different businesses –one formal, the other informal—working in Ghana’s cocoa farming industry. The formal business, dominated by men, has access to roads, storage facilities, and a John Deere tractor. They also had access to foreign trade and had better control over their supply chain.

    On the other hand, the informal business had no access to those resources. The informal business, which is run by women, earns lower wages, struggles to transport goods, and has less control of the supply chain.  Tramontano says more “insight can change development” by raising awareness of the opportunities the formal sector can provide to improve the informal business.

    Investing in women’s labor in developing countries is crucial to a sustainable economy, but it is only effective when women are out of sustained instability in the informal sector, which Tramontano describes as a “painful existence.” Unfortunately, child labor, which parallels the rate of women laborers, poses an even more challenging lifestyle.  Not only do child laborers lose their freedom of childhood, but they are cut off from earning a better education.

    Tramontano established GFI to solve the problem of inequal opportunity among the poor and minorities, a misrepresented group in the midst of macroeconomic industry. Senator Claibrone Pell, a former boss of Tramontano’s , urged her to “look for the next huge idea that people are missing.”

    By the end of the lecture, Tramontano made two things clear: GFI wants to make sure no one is exploited or excluded from opportunity.

    To learn more about the Global Fairness Initiative on their website, please click here.