Stuff You Should Know: Powerful Video on U.S. Wealth Inequality

To say that the internet and devices to access it are powerful tools is a gross understatement. Not being a guy who can crunch numbers, but who is nevertheless interested in data and statistics, I am grateful that the internet offers ways to find, present and then communicate data to the world.

A favorite recent example of this threefold use of data is this “interactive heatmap” infographic displaying the most common birth date in the U.S.  (the answer to the question is below the image):

Birthday Heatmap

The answer? September 16th!

Data and presentation tools can be used for much more than answering trivia questions. In the hands of skilled practitioners, data can be used to show the need for social, political and economic change. Take about six minutes to watch this video, which clearly shows how much wealth the “one percent” in America holds. Perhaps more interestingly, the video also shows how vastly different the actual wealth distribution is from either what the public thinks it is or what people surveyed think it should be.

 

So what can you and I do about this? Honestly, I don’t know.  What I do know is that this massive disparity cannot be sustainable for much longer. And that remedying it will take significant courage, sacrifice and commitment to fairness and justice. Do we the people have what it takes?

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Fear or Love & My Trip to the 2012 Iowa Republican Caucus

On the eve of the much anticipated (and hyped) 2016 Iowa Caucus, I’ve been thinking about how I got the once-in-a-lifetime (for a non-Iowan and non-politico) chance to witness the Iowa Caucus the last go-round in 2012.  For me, one who follows politics like some people follow sports, it felt like going to game 7 of the World Series. Just being on the ground at the political focal point for the U.S. and even international media was a thrill.

Here’s how it happened: During the 2011-2012 school year, I worked for a major educational publisher in a role which took me to Davenport, IA every week. Even though I worked closely with the technology department in that school district, it was a pleasant surprise that I struck up a warm friendship with Rudy, who was assigned to the same project as I. During one of our many conversations, I learned that he was a leader for the Republican Party in his mid-sized town Muscadine – about 45 minutes down the Mississippi from Davenport.

I don’t recall whether he outright invited me, if I strongly hinted for an invite, or just invited myself to the caucus meeting. Regardless, I met him at the school used for the meeting at about 6:30 pm on January 3, 2012. The fund-raising spaghetti dinner was wrapping up, so we went directly to the gymnasium with the other caucus-goers.

By the time the program started, the bleachers were full and people stood against the walls. I estimated at least 400 people and maybe even more. After introductions of those running the proceedings and some “housekeeping” items, the surprisingly informal presentations started. Each person running for the GOP nomination had a proxy speak on his or her behalf. I remember clearly the remarkable range of formality offered by these representatives. At one end were a few seemingly unprepared presenters who didn’t speak clearly, rambled, and generally didn’t sell their candidate effectively.

I gasped when a presenter, representing the VIP end of the spectrum, stood and spoke for Texas Governor Rick Perry. It was none other than the infamous, controversial, former Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell.  He offered an impressive testimonial for Perry and surely caught the attention of the Iowans present. I imagine most of them didn’t know what I did, as an Ohioan – Blackwell was demolished in the governor’s race in 2006 during which he earned just 37% of the vote!

At the conclusion of this assembly, we filed out and headed to classrooms grouped by precincts. Rudy, the leader for the Social Studies classroom in which we met, introduced me as a guest “from the important swing-state of Ohio.” I thought to myself- although these Iowans have a huge role in the primaries, we Ohioans have a bigger role in the general election. Ballots, like the one pictured above, were handed out. After each of the 40 or so people in the standing room only gathering marked and folded the papers, these were collected and counted. Soon after Rudy announced the totals. While I don’t remember the exact numbers, I do recall that Rick Santorum won our room and the state by just a few votes over eventual nominee Mitt Romney.

After the main event of the evening was completed, the under card of participatory democracy commenced. The voters in the classroom were invited to write down issues they would like to have considered for the GOP platform discussed at a statewide meeting that spring. These slips were collected and read aloud. Some people spoke briefly on a few of the issues before the room voted by voice and hands on the most pressing ones. The suggestions chosen by the cell in our room were then passed up in the Iowan GOP body politic. After a brief closing, I headed into the dark, cool, yet dry winter night, grateful for the chance to witness and vicariously participate in one of the most important political traditions of our nation.

The 2016 caucus held on Monday, Feb 1st will be more closely watched than what I experienced four years ago. We’ve talked often in my religion classes about how much fear, anger, and hostility is being put forth this election cycle by candidates of both parties. An article posted last week by popular Catholic blogger and author of “Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life,” Elizabeth Scalia caught my eye. In it Scalia asks the provocative question: Are your decisions born of fear or love? She writes:

Why is everyone so afraid? Don’t we realize that fear is the foundation that supports so much of our sin? I’m stupid, and sometimes I will not be afraid when perhaps I should be. But I’d rather be stupid, naive and bumbling, than so afraid, all the time.

Everyday, I ponder the Sacred Heart of Jesus before me, “abode of Justice and Love … enriching all who invoke thee …” and I realize that every concern can be placed into that huge heart, and left there, in complete trust.

Nothing is safe or pure. Everyone will have a turn (or several) in the crucible. But the Sacred Heart is a self-immolation, never consumed. It is there, in the crucible with us. What is there, then, to fear?

I pray that, as the second reading of today’s mass proclaimed, faith, hope and love will win over fear and anger in Iowa, the U.S. and our broken world.

ADDITION (Monday Morning):

After publishing this post last night, I discovered this wonderful quote by Fr. Richard Rohr from the Center for Action and Contemplation. He’s dedicated this entire year of daily reflections to the them of love. Yesterday he remarked:

The passion of Pope Francis is to again make merciful love the foundation, the center, and the goal of Christianity. Love is not just the basis on which we build everything, but it’s also the energy with which we proceed, and it’s then the final goal toward which we tend. Love has two lovely daughters, twins called grace and mercy. Like identical twins, they are often indistinguishable: Grace is the inner freedom to be merciful. Mercy is grace in action. And both are the children of love.

 

Friday FunLink 2: Sheryl Crow & Stephen Colbert Songs on This Week’s Debate

OK, so maybe the Friday FunLink on the words used by the candidates in the debates wasn’t really that much fun or funny.  So, here’s a bonus post- complete with music too!

Singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow sang the national anthem at the debate, so The Huffington Post ran an article summarizing the debate through Crow’s songs.  My favorite paragraph, with some (maybe too) obvious connections is:

Senator Sanders frequently and importantly mentioned the issue of climate change starting in his introductory statement. Senator Sanders stated that “climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and we have a moral responsibility” to address it. Later in the debate, he deemed climate change “a major crisis.” “All [he] wan[ts] to do” is develop sustainable energy. In fact, when considering the candidates’ debate remarks on the environment as a whole, all seem ready to get out those solar panels to “soak up the sun.”

Stephen Colbert, on his Late Show, the other night, had a funny segment about campaign songs. After listing popular musicians who didn’t want candidates using their songs in rallies and similar, he offered a song that candidates from either or both parties could use as desired:

I think my favorite part is when Colbert and Jack Black rattle off the incongruent elements of “Americana” ala “We Didn’t Start This Fire.”  Since they offer this song to any candidate with no strings attached, I wonder if anyone will take them up on it?

Friday FunLink – What Did The Presidential Candidates Say?

I go out of my way to not offer partisan political perspective at this blog. As we’re still quite early in the 2016 presidential campaign (less than 13 months to go!) and still in the “sporting” stage of the race, sharing these links is hard to resist.

The journalists over at NBC News (yes, they’re still a leading news source) analyzed both the Republican and Democratic debates to determine and compare the most commonly used words. The entire article is worth a read (especially for the methodology in this survey), but here’s the lists with the number of mentions. (I list the Democrats first b/c they were the most recent and the article presents them first too):

Democrats

  • Obama – 34
  • Wall Street – 25
  • Syria – 22
  • Climate Change – 22
  • Russia – 16
  • Banks – 16
  • Iran – 14
  • Gun – 42
  • Marijuana – 11
  • Education – 10
  • China/Chinese – 13
  • Immigration – 9
  • Inequality – 9
  • ISIS/ISIL – 5
  • Small business – 4
  • Marriage – 3
  • Trump – 3
  • Obamacare – 2
  • Planned Parenthood – 1
  • God – 3
  • Terror – 3
  • Border – 2
  • Abortion – 0
  • Faith – 0
  • Religious liberty – 0
  • Amnesty – 0
  • Radical Islam – 0

Republicans

  • Obama – 34
  • Clinton – 27
  • Iran – 26
  • ISIS/ISIL – 22
  • Border – 20
  • God – 19
  • Immigration – 18
  • Terror – 15
  • Education – 11
  • Abortion – 10
  • Russia – 9
  • Obamacare – 9
  • China/Chinese – 8
  • Amnesty – 8
  • Planned Parenthood – 8
  • Small business – 5
  • Radical Islam – 4
  • Religious liberty – 4
  • Banks – 2
  • Wall Street – 1
  • Syria – 1
  • Gun – 2
  • Climate change – 0
  • Inequality – 0
  • Marijuana – 0

Here’s a visual representation for the Republican debate.  The one for the Democrats is above.

image

For comparison, here’s the word cloud showing what Pope Francis said in his prepared addresses, homilies, etc during his recent US visit:

Words Pope Francis Used the Most During His Visit

Happy Labor Day – 18 Numbers That Show Why Americans Need a Break

It’s Labor Day and I hope it’s as bright and sunny where you are as it is here in Central Ohio.

So here I am laboring by assessing student papers today.  Teachers know that a three day weekend means that we either do school work on Sunday (as usual) and enjoy Monday or else enjoy a recreational Sunday afternoon/evening and then use Monday for school work.

Regardless, it’s a day to reflect on work and its meaning and value.  Thanks to the USCCB for the graphic above as well as for distributing this annual statement regarding labor.

Time Magazine (via Money magazine) offers 18 numbers which offer some perspective on where American workers are on this 2015 Labor Day:

———————————————————————-

15% vs. 138% Average pay increase in real wages since 1979 for the bottom 90% vs. top 1% of earners in America, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

11% vs. 20%+ Percentage of American workers in unions in 2014 vs. the 1970s/early 1980s, respectiv

1 Number of countries in the world with an advanced economy that does not require paid vacation for workers. Four weeks vacation is the minimum in many European countries. And the lone country without any federal mandatory paid vacation is the United States of America.

47 Number of hours the average employee in the U.S. works each week; nearly 40% of employees report working 50 or more hours per week.

33% Percentage increase risk of stroke among employees who work 55 or more hours per week, compared to those with a 35- to 40-hour week.

15 Number of minutes some Amazon employees were given within which to respond to a pager message—even on weekends or during vacations—or risk getting in trouble with the manager.

 

12% Rise in the number of employees since 2007 who voluntarily choose part-time work and a limited, more flexible work schedule rather than traditional full-time employment.

8% Percentage of workers who say they get extra time off during the summer, in the form of “summer Fridays” or other extended vacation opportunities.

5.6% The official unemployment rate in July, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

42% The “real” unemployment rate according to Donald Trump, who has pointed out that 93 million Americans, or 42% of the working-age population, don’t have jobs. Trump’s numbers include many groups who simply aren’t in the market for a job, including teenagers, stay-at-home parents, and retired senior citizens.

62, 64 Average retirement age for American women and men, respectively, as of 2013. Over the past five decades, the average age of retirement has remained mostly flat for men but has been rising for women, from 55 in the mid-1960s. At least part of the increase can be attributed to the fact that women are more likely to have better career options and more invested in their work lives in modern times.

25% Percentage of Americans age 65 and over who were in the workforce as of 2013, a 3% increase compared to 2010. During this same time frame, there was a 2% drop in the Americans ages 18 to 29 in the workforce.

59% Percentage of American workers who say they are “somewhat” or “very” confident they will enjoy a comfortable retirement.

$63,000, $1 Million The value of the typical American’s retirement savings account, versus the amount that the typical worker believes he or she will need for retirement, respectively.

 

“The Conversation” Website

I stumbled across a website which I’d like to share.  As mentioned in a previous post, I believe educators should keep on top of what’s being posted about the events and ideas in the world. Obviously, this can take up much valuable time in an already busy educator’s life.  Thus, it’s important to find those quality sites which aggregate solid information.

The Conversation is an excellent site for this.  Their masthead states: “The Conversation is a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary that’s free to read and republish.”

I receive their email every morning (along with many other less useful news/info updates) and consistently The Conversation has the most interesting, insightful, topical and useful articles.  The diversity of articles that are featured currently include:

A Melting Arctic and Weird Weather: The Plot Thickens

What Historic Megadroughts in the Western US Tell Us About Our Climate Future

How Russia is Building a Psychological Firewall Against the West

Why We Should Get Rid of Tipping (not a favorite article of mine as I work Saturdays in a wine tasting room)

The American Nations Today

Aviary Photo_130667698570726523

 

Ever wonder why the U.S. is such a divided nation these days? According to Collin Woodard in his 2011 book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North Americathe differences and rivalries go back to the founding of our nation.

The map above, taken from a article based upon the book, reflects the boundaries of these different cultures. Woodard qualifies these divisions:

“Before I describe the nations, I should underscore that my observations refer to the dominant culture, not the individual inhabitants, of each region. In every town, city, and state you’ll likely find a full range of political opinions and social preferences. Even in the reddest of red counties and bluest of blue ones, twenty to forty percent of voters cast ballots for the “wrong” team. It isn’t that residents of one or another nation all think the same, but rather that they are all embedded within a cultural framework of deep-seated preferences and attitudes—each of which a person may like or hate, but has to deal with nonetheless.”

Where is your county on this map?  Is it a county that borders another region or is it deeply within a cultural region?

My county (Franklin) in central Ohio borders Greater Appalachia to our south and west.  Woodard says this of our region:

“THE MIDLANDS. America’s great swing region was founded by English Quakers, who believed in humans’ inherent goodness and welcomed people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies like Pennsylvania on the shores of Delaware Bay. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate. An ethnic mosaic from the start—it had a German, rather than British, majority at the time of the Revolution—it shares the Yankee belief that society should be organized to benefit ordinary people, though it rejects top-down government intervention.”

This makes a lot of sense to me as we are surely the premiere “swing region” for presidential elections.  I also find it interesting that “the three C’s” in Ohio are in different regions.  Cleveland is in a little corner of Yankeedom while Cincinnati is deeply in Greater Appalachia. Surely this is why state politics in Ohio is so interesting!