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McCutcheon v. FEC: another Citizens United

When wealthy individuals can donate unlimited sums of money to election campaigns, their votes count more than ours.

Should the rich have a larger say in the outcome of elections? It sounds like a silly question to ask, but with the decision of Citizens United v. FEC, the answer seemed to be a resounding “yes.” With the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, the rich might have even more power headed their way.

In 2010, the Supreme Court issued a landmark campaign finance ruling with its Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. Splitting 5-4, the fine judges at SCOTUS decided that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting independent expenditures by unions, corporations, associations, politically active non-profits and super PACs – allowing these groups to donate millions of dollars to campaigns and potentially swing elections with money. Continue reading

Politics: Don't Tread on Me

Why, oh why, Ohio? Husted again tries to suppress voter turnout

Ohio Republicans have targeted predominately Democratic voters in every way they can think of. They’d probably outlaw other parties entirely if they thought they could get away with it.

Are you a minority, a low wage worker, a student, or a senior citizen in Ohio? Were you hoping to vote on Election Day? Unfortunately, I have some bad news for you.

From Think Progress:

“Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has followed through on promises to restrict voting opportunities in his state. The change, announced Tuesday, eliminates extended early voting hours on weekdays, the final two days before Election Day as well as Sunday voting…”

This isn’t the first time that Husted has tried to cut early voting – he attempted to cut hours before the 2012 election as well, even openly defying court orders to restore the hours. Continue reading

Internet & Telecom

Net neutrality? It’s not complicated, AT&T

AT&T’s new toll-free data plan is a great idea. For AT&T. Everyone else, not so much.

It’s been a bit since I’ve written about net neutrality (really, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything), but it seemed right to bring the topic up again with regards to AT&T’s new toll-free data proposal:

“AT&T Inc., the country’s second-largest wireless carrier, announced Monday that it’s setting up a “1-800″ service for wireless data. Websites that pay for the service will be toll-free for AT&T’s wireless customers, meaning the traffic won’t count against a surfer’s monthly allotment of data.

It’s the first major cellphone company to create a comprehensive service for sponsored wireless access in the U.S. The move is likely to face considerable opposition from public-interest groups that fear the service could discourage consumers from exploring new sites that can’t afford to pay communications carriers for traffic.” Continue reading

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What 19th Amendment?

It’s a trend lately, that if a party is afraid of losing an election, they pass legislation barring key groups in their opponents’ base from voting. And clearly, it’s something Texas has taken to heart. Right after Wendy Davis declared that she was running for governor, Texas Republicans set out to disenfranchise women from voting, 19th Amendment be damned.

And the way they’re keeping ladies out of the voting booth it is a doozy.

Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

Default is in our House

After years of watching our country claw its way back from the Great Recession, these debt ceiling and government shutdown are foreign to me. Why would we ever want to put our country in the position to default on our loans? Why is this even an argument?

And yet here we are, on the brink of default. From the Washington Post:

“The government will begin Monday with about $30 billion cash in the bank and a little more room to borrow as a result of extraordinary measures launched in the wake of the debt-ceiling crisis. By Thursday, administration officials say they will exhaust all borrowing authority and have only that cash on hand. Continue reading

CATEGORY: RaceGender

Standing up or sitting down

I was inspired to pick up the pen (well, type) and write another blog post by my good friend, Kimberly McGuire at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. Last week, she and dozens of other brave women – young, old, black, white, Latina, mothers, sisters, daughters – stood up by sitting down.

I wanted to highlight this video, and this protest, for a few reasons. One, because it’s a group entirely comprised of women fighting for justice in immigration – as the video notes, the majority of those affected by immigration laws are women and their children. Two, because despite the promise of immigration reform from both the President and from Congress, we have made little progress towards a comprehensive plan for immigrants in this country.

It’s true, we have made some steps forward recently. The United States deferred the deportation of thousands of immigrants who were brought here as children (under 16) illegally , allowing them to stay in the United States. This is a huge step forward – these young men and women have done nothing wrong, they simply followed their parents to another country for a better life. But this step forward also creates problems. The children are allowed to stay, but their parents are not. Our policy is still splitting families apart.

If they don’t face separation from their families and friends, they face challenges in access to work, to health care, to security and to integration into society here. And unfortunately, they face a lack of urgency in government to work towards a common sense plan for immigration.

I think that part of the hesitation in proposing a practical plan for immigration reform, is the view that illegal immigration is a problem. Congressman Rush Holt put it best in his recent Geek Out! event when he said that immigration should not be framed as a problem, but instead as an opportunity for economic growth and cultural enrichment.

The other part of the problem is a lack of enthusiasm by Congress to propose a plan because it’s too controversial for an election year.

That is a crap excuse. It will always be an election year. The concern shouldn’t be with keeping a job. The concern our government should have, is for the people that elected them, and the country they work for, and the problems in that country that need practical solutions to issues like this.

This month marks the 41st time that conservatives in Congress have tried to repeal Obamacare. Forty one. It’s an exercise in futility if I’ve ever seen one, and a complete and utter waste of everyone’s time and tax dollars. Instead of going through this pointless song and dance again, why are we not putting our energy towards a common sense and comprehensive immigration plan?

We have average citizens (and non-citizens) who are more passionate about this reform than Washington is. There are thousands demanding action on this subject and we have yet to see significant action because politicians are too afraid to risk such a controversial vote before an election year. Why is it that men and women like Kimberly, and the women who sat with her, are willing to risk arrest to see change made, but those in the halls of Congress stay silent?

CATEGORY: Sex

SnapChatting around the issues

In the aftermath of Anthony Weiner’s most recent sexting scandal, I keep hearing this argument for better technology from pundits and late night hosts. Something along the lines of “Why didn’t he just use SnapChat? Those photos on only last up to 10 seconds! Any middle schooler who has ever sent a picture of their bits knows that!”

There are a bunch of problems with this argument, and I wanted to address them.

First, let’s take care of the “use better technology” part. SnapChat, for the uninitiated, is an app for iPhone and Android phones that allows users to take and share photos with other SnapChat users. They allow captions, drawings on the photos, and a set expiration time: usually 10 seconds or less. In my experience, the technology is used to send dumb, double-chinned photos with Perez Hilton-esque finger paintings back and forth to your friends. But the app gained some popularity with sexters because of the set time limit. Finally, people could send NSFW photos to others and have them disappear after mere seconds!

This argument is flawed. Even with this “new and improved” sexting technology, there are ways to keep that photo. You can still screen grab them – and screen grabbing DOES allow you to send the photo along to others. The app has developed a notification system for the sender in case this happens, but it doesn’t actually do anything to stop the recipient from freezing that photo, adding it to their camera roll, and then sharing it with others.

The second problem with this argument is, technology is not the problem we should be focusing on.

By focusing on the technology part of this scandal, we’re ignoring the fundamental fact that Anthony Weiner sent photos of his junk to women who were not his wife – some of whom probably didn’t want that photo in their inbox. After doing so, he lied about it and said his Twitter feed was hacked, and spent thousands of dollars to investigate the hack (when he could’ve saved that money and simply owned up to sending the photos). After swearing to never send those photos again, he sent more photos of himself to women who were not his wife, and appeared unrepentant when asked about it.

In this way, the news media and entertainment media focusing on the technology used, instead of the transgression, is a disservice to their viewers. This is an elected official lying about his personal life, and wasting campaign money in investigating a “hack” to save face. This is a candidate for public office, expected to be (semi) honest with the people he governs, and by focusing on SnapChat as a solution rather than his lies as a problem, it’s not helping anyone.

More importantly, by suggesting a technological “work around” to getting caught sexting, we’re acknowledging that politicians are going to sext people, and that it’s acceptable behavior. We’re not holding someone accountable for their actions here – we’re telling them how to obfuscate their behavior even further. By saying “Just use SnapChat!” we’re saying “You’re an idiot, instead of not sending pictures of your junk, you should’ve just sent them another way so we have less chance of finding out about it.”

Call me crazy, but I think people should be held accountable for stupid things that they do. I think Wall Street bankers that shafted millions out of their homes and retirement savings should be punished by more than pithy fines. I believe that 18 year-olds that post drinking photos on Facebook without at least making their profiles private should have employers find them and question them. I believe that journalists that mislead people and report false news should be exposed as the frauds they are. And I believe that public figures should be questioned when they do dumb things like send photos of their naughty bits to constituents. I don’t think we should be advising them on how to lie more easily, because this just grows the problem into something larger – and it has nothing to do with technology.

CATEGORY: ReligionWeek3

Pro-Life vs. Pro-Birth

I’ve gotten called some awful things when I tell people that I’m both a practicing Catholic and an advocate for women’s choice – from baby killer to hypocrite. But hear me out.

I was raised with a strong sense of faith in a “cafeteria Catholic” family – that is, a family that picked and chose from doctrine and tradition what we would actually practice. There was an overarching idea of being good to other people, whether you agreed with them or not, and trying to stand in someone else’s shoes when considering situations. I was raised to help the poor, to speak up for those who couldn’t, and to be as good of a person as I could be.

I was raised in a church where my LGBT friends weren’t accepted, but in a family where they were welcomed; in a church where stem cell research wasn’t embraced because it killed live embryos, but in a family with history of diabetes and dementia, diseases that could be potentially cured by such research; in a church where women aren’t allowed to be priests, but in a family that sees it as a practical and natural progression for an aging priest population.

This isn’t to say that I was raised in a family that espoused abortion. They didn’t. I formed that opinion on my own. But it comes back around to the idea of thinking of others first, and trying to see a situation from their perspective. I consider myself pro-choice, and pro-quality of life, rather than pro-life.

Let me explain.

In states like Texas, Virginia, Kansas, and Wisconsin, legislators are not necessarily banning abortion and pre-natal care, but making it harder and harder to obtain. By instituting waiting periods, enacting parental consent requirements, building specifications that are nearly impossible to meet, and other hurdles, they have created a de facto ban on abortion in their states, tearing away at the freedom and rights that Roe v. Wade guaranteed to American women over 40 years ago. But what these politicians fail to acknowledge is that women have been having abortions for years, and will continue to have them whether they’re legal or not. The difference is that by keeping them legal, regulated, and performed by doctors, we can save more lives than the abortions end and keep thousands of women from shoddily performed procedures that result in their sickness or death.

These legislators, and their supporters, consider themselves to be a righteous, “pro-life” movement, where every life is sacred (except for the mother in question), and where we as people have no right to end a life (unless it’s someone on death row). What I argue is that these people are not pro-life. They are pro-birth.

Legislators who are against women terminating their pregnancies are also the ones who want to cut funds to programs helping families. They aim to slash the budgets for SNAP, food assistance, child care credits, education, and health care. Parents who couldn’t afford to have a child to begin with, but couldn’t abort the pregnancy, are now faced with the challenge of raising a child without the means to do so, and with little to no assistance. Not only is this difficult for the parents, but for the child. Yes, the child is alive, and that’s wonderful. But what is the quality of his or her life like? Is it really best for a child to be born when their quality of life is subpar?

I mention this argument and tie it to my religious upbringing because many of the legislators making it difficult for women to have abortions and nearly impossible for them to receive government assistance once they deliver claim to be Christian men and women of high moral standing –they’re just trying to stop people from killing babies, they say.

I don’t agree with this misguided sense of morality.

As Christians, as Americans, as people, we cannot let this counter-intuitive, counter-productive set of principles guide our legislation and limit a woman’s ability to plan her family and access health care. We must help women do what is best for themselves, their partners, and their families, even if we don’t personally agree with their choices. It is not our place, and it goes against the sort of Christianity I was taught growing up – the “judge not, lest ye be judged” kind that Bible thumpers seem to forget about when they’re spewing t their hateful ideas and claiming them as Christian doctrine.

Am I comfortable with abortion? Not really, no. But as a woman, I could never deny or legislate against a sister or a friend or a mother or a stranger seeking one because it was her best option. As a woman, I can’t bear to watch states domino one-by-one into legislating against half of the population. And as a Catholic, I cannot bear to watch legislators who fail to listen to the voices of their constituents and who refuse to care for their brothers and sisters and children as they were elected to do.

I wanted to end with a quote by Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Catholic nun who talks about human rights, war, poverty and women’s rights. I think she sums up my position more succinctly and eloquently than I ever could when she said:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

CATEGORY: Education

Congress punts on student loan reform: we’ve made it a hassle to get a tassel

We hear constantly from politicians and candidates for office that young people are our future, and that we need to invest in our future if we want to grow our economy, and if we provide more training and education we can boost people out of poverty. So on, and so forth.

I agree with all this – being a young person and recent college graduate, I can attest to the earning power of a college degree. And education should be more accessible and affordable. But it never ceases to amaze me how a candidate will appear so concerned with courting the youth vote, but won’t actually do anything to earn their votes.

Never has that been more clear than today: because of Congress’s inaction on student loan reform, the interest rates on federal student loans will double, jumping from 3.4% to a staggering 6.8%.

Part of the problem is that government (and most voters) don’t see a student loan hike as a far-reaching economic problem. They see it as affecting a small percentage of the population, a population with lower voter turnout than most and a percentage of the population expected to either suck it up and borrow from the bank or their parents (if they’re able) or to forego college altogether.

We cannot afford to keep thinking that way.

Clearly, the first group of people affected by this rate jump is college kids. On average, college students take out loans and graduate from four-year universities with around $27,000 worth of debt). So before day one their careers students are already digging out of a hole instead of laying the foundations for a productive and successful future. Since wages have remained stagnant over the past few years, these graduates are not making enough to put away any savings and they’re not making enough to save for retirement. Because college is so expensive, a new subset of the lower middle class is emerging – hard working Americans who will never catch up to their parents in earnings or benefits, a class of workers that will take longer to pay back their loans at higher rates, leaving them less money to contribute to growing the economy.

The next group of people affected: the parents of college kids. When students can’t take out a loan because of bad or nonexistent credit, what often happens is that parents take out loans on the students’ behalf. The parents, though, are also dealing with stagnant wages (if not straight-up unemployment or underemployment). The result: either they cannot help their children get the educations they need to succeed, or they must make huge sacrifices to do so. In the end, both students and families are forced to mortgage their futures for a shot at a better career.

We’re hurting schools as well – by making education less affordable, fewer students will be able to attend college. This can drive a university’s costs up, beyond the obscene tuition prices they already charge, and anyone who has been paying attention understands the implications for professors, administrators and staff, who can suddenly find their own jobs in jepoardy.

The final group hurt by this jump? All of us, really. By raising the interest rates on loans and failing to “invest in our future,” we’re setting ourselves back in terms of productivity, buying power and global competitive edge. If our students cannot afford to go to college, they stand to earn 84% less than their friends who do attend. They will not be qualified for the higher paying jobs in health care, engineering, research, math, and education. They will not make enough to afford even the basics without taking on a second or even third job. And they will not make enough to save, retire on, or spend on homes, cars, clothing and other services that keep our economy on track. More will need assistance and benefits from the government because their jobs will not pay enough or provide those benefits.

By making it so expensive to attend college, we’re hurting students and we’re hurting our economic recovery. To grow our economy and keep the recovery on track, we need to grow our middle class, to pay good wages to working and middle class Americans, and to train more workers for future careers rather than leaving them out in the cold to fend for themselves. By investing in our students, we do our entire country a favor by training the workforce of tomorrow and growing from the middle out.

By failing to act, Congress has made it that much harder for students to get a college education – and by extension, Congress has made it that much harder for students and families to earn more money, get the training and education that they need for a good paying job, and made it that much more difficult for us to keep recovering.

CATEGORY: LGBT

“Where Girls Grow Strong” – and Boy Scouts follow

Yesterday was a sort-of victory for LGBT youth: the Boy Scouts of America lifted the ban on LGBT scouts, after gathering over a million signatures to allow homosexual scouts to join. From the Huffington Post:

The Boy Scouts of America have reportedly voted 61-38 to allow gay Scouts.

According to multiple media sources, the scouting organization has chosen to eliminate sexual orientation as youth membership criterion. Under the new ruling, gay Scout leaders are still prohibited from serving.

I say it’s a “sort of” victory because I’m conflicted in my response to this new ruling. Obviously, this is huge progress for the group and great news for LGBT youth hoping to join the Boy Scouts – this outdated and discriminatory requirement is no longer a problem, truly a “better late than never” decision. Also a victory? The decision inspired the close minded, “morally straight” scouts and scout leaders in the On My Honor network to quit the Boy Scouts of America, and convene in Kentucky to consider “the creation of a new character development organization for boys.”

While these victories are hard-earned and extremely welcome, the Boy Scouts of America still aren’t allowing for LGBT den leaders, and do not allow for older LGBT scouts to be included in programs like Venture, a co-ed program for scouts who outgrow the traditional troops. This ruling is the Boy Scouts saying “It’s okay to be gay, unless you’re an adult.”

This sort of restriction bars young scouts from experiencing part of the real world, stops scouts from meeting people with different viewpoints and lifestyles of their own, and keeps scouts from learning that being LGBT is not a big deal. To me, it implies that being gay is okay until you’re 18 – an adult – as if being LGBT is something childish that scouts will outgrow.

Even more, by barring LGBT adults from participating in scouting, the Boy Scouts of America are allowing LGBT youth but giving them no LGBT role models to look up to. How wonderful would it be for a scout who is LGBT to have a successful and strong den leader who is just like them? To see that being LGBT is okay, and that they can be strong, independent and successful? And how great would it be for young straight boys to have an LGBT den leader to show them that being homosexual isn’t a bad thing, and that LGBT people are just like everyone else?

And how is it even an argument that LGBT leaders and scout members are such a detriment to the organization, such a harm to other straight members of the troop, when the Girl Scouts of America have long since proven this wrong?

When the Boy Scouts were excluding LGBT youth and leaders, the Girl Scouts were admitting everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or religion. From TIME Magazine:

In their statement of purpose called “What we stand for,” the Girl Scouts explicitly reject discrimination of any kind and consider sexual orientation, “a private matter for girls and their families to address.” Noting their affirmation of freedom of religion, a founding principle of American life, the Girl Scouts “do not attempt to dictate the form or style of a member’s worship” and urge “flexibility” in reciting the Girl Scout Promise. (They are encouraged to substitute the word “God” for something that’s more in line with their own spiritual practice.) It’s an arresting contrast to the Boy Scouts of America, who in addition to excluding gays also refuse to hire non-believers.

The religion factor in the Boy Scouts’ organization has a lot to do with its sponsorship: about 70% of sponsorship funding for the Boy Scouts of America comes from religiously affiliated groups (about half of those groups are Mormon), with the other 30% coming from corporations. The Girl Scouts are funded by corporate backers like Coca-Cola and MetLife.

Aside from religion, I believe the diversity and acceptance of the Girl Scouts of America has to do with its founding: the Girl Scouts of America were formed in 1912 to teach “girls – all girls” to be independent, to make their own decisions, to “help people at all times,” to dream big, to be as ambitious as the boys, and to forge a path for themselves in their professional and personal lives. The Girl Scouts were formed because young women were being excluded from the boys’ club – so to exclude girls would be hypocritical and counter to its purpose. Two great examples of this inclusion have been the integration of African American Girl Scouts as early as the 1950s and the recent inclusion of transgender Girl Scout Bobby Montoya.

While the Girl Scouts encouraged girls to think critically and to consider others’ ideas, the Boy Scouts encouraged boys to think as a team and subscribe to traditionally masculine “duties,” an idea growing more outdated as men and women in America grow into less traditional gender roles – a doctrine which makes it more difficult to fully integrate everyone, including LGBT scouts and non-religious scouts, and provide scouts a more accurate picture of the world outside the den.

I think that the inclusion of LGBT scouts in the Boy Scouts of America is a belated, but fantastic step forward. And I do believe that eventually, the Boy Scouts of America will have to include LGBT den leaders. But I think we need to stress to people that both of these additions are good things, that they are signs of a changing and more inclusive nation, and that they will show today’s young men that being gay is okay, and will grow more accepting leaders of tomorrow. Just like the Girl Scouts have been doing all this time.

Boehner: Oh, so now you’re angry?

I can’t deal with the IRS news coverage right now.

In case you haven’t turned on a television, booted up your computer, glanced at a newspaper or listened to a radio in the past few days, the news is all a twitter (and so is Twitter) about the IRS – it just came out that the Internal Revenue Service targeted Tea Party Groups since 2011. Naturally, people are up in arms, as they should be. The IRS was profiling these groups based on the way their names sounded, and with this profiling, they have limited free speech.

It’s bad. I agree. But the response from the right is sickening.

S.E. Cupp is on The Cycle using this as a perfect example to prove that small government is best. The right is crying foul that their civil liberties are being trounced upon, which is utter bullshit considering how many other civil liberties they seem to be fine with throwing away for the rest of us.

John Boehner outright said that someone needed to go to jail for this, as you can see here:

What I want to know is this: where was this outrage when Wall Street was robbing us blind?

Where was this anger, and where were these calls for accountability and imprisonment, when families were losing their life savings to reckless lending practices and rampant corruption in the Big Banking sphere? Where was this outrage when millions of people were losing their jobs and CEOs were pocketing the change? Where was this disgust when workers had to come out of retirement to pay their bills?

Why do our elected officials only cry foul, waving their arms and crying “civil liberties” when their campaign cronies are inconvenienced, when the people they represent have been hurting for years at the hands of a greedy few?

Education2

The student loan interest rates are too damn high

Like many other twentysomethings, I was watching the Daily Show the other night to see what news Jon Stewart and his crew were mocking/making sense of, and the middle segment hit a little close to home.

Obviously, this is meant to be a goof. Education is a wonderful thing, and encouraging people not to go to college because of high costs is an exaggeration for comedy. But behind the humor (and the wisdom that illustration may have been a bad degree program to pursue), The Daily Show nailed it – education is too expensive, and the costs are only going to go up.

Last year, Congress decided to keep interest rates on Stafford Loans and other student loans locked in around 3.4% – but like everything else Congress seems to do these days, this was only a temporary fix. The fight is going to start again in July, when the student loan rates are set to double to 6.8%. College is already far too pricey for many to attend, and this double in interest rates will put a higher education even farther out of reach for thousands of students and their families.

Thankfully, a progressive former professor got elected to the Senate this year, and wants to do something about this. For her first standalone bill in the Senate, Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the Bank on Student Loans Fairness Act – a law designed to lower interest rates on student loans and make it easier for working class families and students to attend college. Check out this segment:

She makes a great point when she says that “We the taxpayers make an investment in our financial institutions. Can’t we make the same investment in students who are trying to get an education?”

I’ve talked before about how expensive it is to go to college, and the ramifications of student loans going forward – the consequences of a poor rising working class. And this bill would make a huge step towards making college more affordable for thousands more students, and make a significant investment in the middle class. We just need to get it passed.

Senator Warren is right on the money when she says “If the federal reserve can float trillions of dollars to large financial institutions for low interest rates to grow the economy, surely they can float the Department of Education the money to fund our students, keep us competitive, and grow our middle class.”

I encourage you to sign on to the Campaign for America’s Future and Daily Kos’s petition to support Elizabeth Warren’s bill here. Investing in our students, rather than our banks, and helping ambitious students – the scientists, teachers, writers, doctors, engineers and workers of tomorrow – get the training they need to compete, is a step towards a stronger middle class and a stronger economy.

PoliticsLawGovernment4

GOP works overtime to Block the Vote

A few months back I wrote about how Republicans were trying to keep college students from voting – they removed voting booths from campuses, they tried to knock kids off the voter rolls for using their dorm addresses, tried to institute photo ID laws, plus a dozen other nasty tricks to keep young Americans from voting.

But what Ohio Republicans are trying to do is disgusting. From Think Progress:

“Under a budget amendment filed by Republicans in the Ohio House, state universities that provide documents enabling students to register to vote in their college town, rather than in the state where their parents reside, will be forbidden from charging those students out-of-state tuition. Thus, the amendment would effectively reduce the funding of state schools that assist their students in registering to vote.

This is the second GOP attempt to restrict college students from voting in just the past month. About a month ago, a North Carolina Republican lawmaker filed a bill that would raise taxes on families with college students if the student registers to vote at school rather than in their parents’ hometown.”

North Carolina recently proposed another similarly ridiculous law, asking that taxes be raised on families of college students who register to vote outside the state.

Look past the fact that Republicans are trying to stop young people from exercising their rights for a moment. This budget amendment is not only horrible, it’s illegal. In 1979, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot change voting laws to put “unique burdens” on college students if those rules do not apply to the rest of the electorate of the state. So this law is both morally and legally wrong, as well as being a general waste of everyone’s time.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: rather than passing laws to grow the economy, level the wealth playing field, close the gender pay gap, improve education, slow climate change, and a million other useful things, conservatives are trying to ensure their own victory by stripping away the rights of others.

Ohio and North Carolina Republicans know that most (not all, don’t send me letters) young people vote more progressive, vote more Democratic, and over the past few years, have actually been voting. So of course conservatives want to stamp out this rising tide of (comparative) liberalism. Why encourage people to vote against you?

The problem is, the same people trying to stop college students from voting are the ones who pretend to be concerned with our rights and freedoms. My question for them: if we teach our children, starting in grade school, that voting is your right and your duty as an American, why are we expending so much energy to prevent them from exercising their rights?

What these misguided GOP legislators need to accept is that a democracy is a democracy whether or not they win. You can’t cry “voter fraud” when things don’t go your way.

Really, we should be encouraging more college students to vote and take an active interest in the future of their country. The hot-button issues we all argue about are going to have a major impact on the lives of these young people. They might as well have a say in the outcome.

It will be young peoples’ tax dollars funding the country. It will be young peoples’ paychecks sustaining social security. It will be young peoples’ children attending public schools. It will be young peoples’ environments affected by climate change. It will be young peoples’ families affected by reproductive planning. It will be young people going to war. Young peoples’ health, even their very lives, will depend on the decisions government makes about insurance coverage. It will be their careers affected by the economy.

Why, then, shouldn’t young people be encouraged to vote for those who represent them?

CATEGORY: Racism

Boston Marathon bombing: tragedy, bigotry and hope

CATEGORY: RacismFirst and foremost, my thoughts are with Boston today. I hope your friends and family were as lucky as mine were to avoid any harm, and my prayers are with those who were not as lucky.

Watching the news was horrific for anyone who turned on a television or browsed the Internet yesterday. But apart from the horrible images and stories I was hearing out of Boston, a smaller part of the coverage was scary. Without any clear evidence, some sources were claiming that the person or team behind the bombing was Muslim.

While the Boston PD and other law enforcement denied anyone being in custody, the New York Post and Drudge Report stirred the pot by saying a man of Saudi descent was being questioned in the hospital following the blasts.

The culturally-sensitive Erik Rush tweeted “Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon! #bostonmarathon,” and then when a follower asked if he was already blaming Muslims for the blast, he tweeted “Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.”

He said it was a joke, intended as sarcasm, and then added “Hypothesis proven: Libs responding to ‘kill them all’ sarcasm neglect fact that their precious Islamists say the same about us EVERY DAY.”

Even MSNBC, the supposedly progressive, liberal news network had a commentator allude to Islamic terrorism, saying that the London Marathon was upping security, because they had a “higher population of possible terrorists” than other countries. And today, they continue to speculate about foreign threats.

The Washington Post offered a piece yesterday, in response to the bombing, about Muslims worldwide hoping the bomber was not one of them. The bombing was horrific for everyone, but to see blame needlessly pinned on them was even more frightening, and probably brought back nasty memories of the 9/11 backlash from 12 years ago.

Yes, it is true that a Saudi man was being questioned by police as one of many persons of interest and a search warrant for his apartment was issued. But NBC reported that “nothing of value was found in that search” and no one has been formally named a suspect yet – the police have not revealed why he was a person of interest, only that he was tackled at the run as he was running away (just like every other spectator). And yes, the comments on the news were made in the heat of a crisis, but the circumstances don’t make that sort of bigotry okay.

It’s repulsive that the media – both mainstream and not – is allowing these sort of Anti-Muslim feelings pervade the coverage of a horrible event. I’m absolutely disgusted with the news right now, both with the writers and “journalists” making these comments, and with their editors and producers for letting them go to print or go to air.

The last 12 years have seen hate crimes skyrocket against Muslims in the US, and saw every television show and action movie casting a Middle Eastern villain fighting “jihad” against the American hero. Fiction is already doing enough to make Americans afraid of Muslims and Arabs. The last thing we need is for our agenda-setters and news media to scare people further with baseless speculation, and encourage the bigotry and fear lingering in peoples’ minds from years before.

To its credit, social media has responded in droves in support of Muslims worldwide, save for a few trolls taking advantage of the tragedy to spread hate. Tweets like “Don’t be an idiot and know the facts first” and “educate yourself” were among the millions of other tweets of love and solidarity that cropped up across the social network.

Call it armchair activism, but armchair activism did a lot this week.

It’s scary not knowing why someone would do such a horrible thing, to hurt and kill innocent people out for a run. But that’s no excuse to blame an entire faith, to stir racism and anti-Muslim feelings and dredge up memories of 9/11 to put a villain to a crime. We cannot continue to blame innocents for the work of a few.

The simple fact is, we don’t know who did this, and speculating if Islamic terrorists did this is not only untrue, but hurtful to the Muslim community and any progress in religious tolerance we’ve made since September 11th. But if we keep working together like the first responders and runners and Bostonians who ran towards the blasts to help, we can heal.

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance

Fall into the gap: Why are women still paid less than men for equal work?

In case anyone missed it today, I wanted to take the time to point people towards the Center for American Progress’s (CAP) terrific interactive feature “The Game of Wages.” It’s fun, it’s visually fantastic, and it drives home a problem that shouldn’t exist: that in 2013, women are still getting paid less than men for the same amount of work.

From CAP’s report:

“Of the 534 occupations listed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn more than men in exactly seven professions. Together, these seven occupations account for about 1.5 million working women, or about 3 percent of the full-time female labor force.

The remaining 97 percent of full-time working women are in occupations where they earn less than their male counterparts…

Education, success, and occupational prestige are not enough to protect women from the gender wage gap. While data show that American women are in more senior managerial professions than other OECD countries, these high-achieving women are still disadvantaged by an above-average wage gap. Managerial professionals, CEOs, and administrators all rank in the top 10 occupations in which women earn less than men.”

I already had an idea of the disgusting wage difference between men and women, and the reasons to pay women less turned my stomach even more. The top reasons employers gave for wage inequality were pay difference in work fields, and gaps in job experience.

The fields of work that men and women occupy are part of the problem – many of the traditionally female caregiver and clerical jobs pay less than engineering and administrative fields that men generally fill. But the second reason for unequal pay is a doozy: many employers point to “lack of experience” as a reason to pay women less.

The “lack of experience” here comes from a uniquely feminine source: children. Women often leave the workforce for a few years to start and raise a family, something that most men do not do. Sure, men start families, but most do not leave the workforce to do so. Parenting has always been a very one-sided cultural pursuit, with the burden of child-rearing falling on women – women that leave the work force, don’t get paid when they do leave, and sometimes do not have their job waiting for them when they return. While many countries offer paid maternity (and sometimes, paternity) leave, the US is still dragging behind. With the cost of living rising, most families need both parents to work; but when women go back into the workforce after having children, their experience gap puts them at a pay disadvantage.

And while women now outnumber men at colleges and universities, CAP notes that a woman needs a PhD to make the same amount of money over her lifetime as a man with a 4-year degree would.

Women’s access to college and advanced degrees has not been enough to close the gap completely. Women need an additional degree in order to make as much as men with a lower degree over the course of a lifetime. A woman would need a doctoral degree, for instance, to earn the same as a man with a bachelor’s degree, and a man with a high school education would earn approximately the same amount as a woman with a bachelor’s degree.

CATEGORY: BusinessFinanceHow the hell is that fair?

Washington has prided itself for making progress in gender equality for years now – making strides to educate and employ more women, electing women to higher office in increasing numbers, and patting themselves on the back for approving the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

It’s still not enough.

The causes for income inequality and the gender pay gap are many and varied, and the solutions should be the same. We, as a nation, cannot just pass one limited pay equality bill and sit on our hands, saying that we fixed the problem. Because we haven’t. And we’re not even close.

Furthermore, pay inequality disproportionately affects families. More than ever, women are the primary breadwinners in single-family households. If women cannot earn equitable and fair pay for their hard work, it makes it more difficult to raise families, leaving many women to work multiple jobs.

Together, we have to pass more legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, and enforce it. We need to make it clear to employers that a woman’s work is just as important and valuable as a man’s work, and wages should reflect this equity.

Culturally, we have to make it easier for women and men to co-parent, and ease the burden on women who want both a family and a career – no woman should have to have her earning potential penalized because she chose to start and raise a family. And we need to seriously look at our nation’s laws regarding paid sick time, paid maternity (and paternity) leave, and other legislation that affects families and their earning power.

To be frank, wage inequality is an antiquated problem that we should have solved ages ago, and it’s a national embarrassment that in 2013, we haven’t rectified this wrong. This is a multi-pronged problem, and it needs a multi-pronged response – and soon.

Monsant-Oh No!

With every bill passed in Congress, there is good news and bad news. The good news of HR 933 passing the House: we avoided a government shutdown (for now). The bad news: Congress authorized a provision known as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” protecting the agricultural giant from litigation.

From The Russian Times:

The US House of Representatives quietly passed a last-minute addition to the Agricultural Appropriations Bill for 2013 last week – including a provision protecting genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks.

The rider, which is officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, has been derided by opponents of biotech lobbying as the “Monsanto Protection Act,” as it would strip federal courts of the authority to immediately halt the planting and sale of genetically modified (GMO) seed crop regardless of any consumer health concerns.

Senator Jon Tester from Montana was the only opponent (which surely will come back to bite him in the ass in his next election cycle, when his opponent will say he “opposed preventing a government shutdown” and “wants us to fall into an economic rut” or something stupid).

The protection bill is dangerous for a few reasons. First, a lot of the people who voted for it didn’t know they were approving this particular addition because they didn’t read the whole bill. The protection provision was included anonymously, pointing to back-room wheeling and dealing, and it was packed into a bill trying to keep the government from shutting down.

Second, Monsanto has a history of litigation with their genetically engineered crops – they fought with DuPont over rights to genetically altered crops, they were found liable for a farmer’s memory loss and physical problems from inhaling their weedkiller, and recent studies have shown that the company’s engineered crops are leading to infertility in cattle and declining plant health. If they are protected from litigation, the company can continue to make dangerous products with no legal ramifications – allowing them to turn a profit while people, animals, and the environment suffer, not entirely unlike 2005’s Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and its protection of the gun industry.

And third, the Monsanto Protection Act is also dangerous because it sets a nasty precedent for future consumer protection cases. From the International Business Times:

“Though it will only remain in effect for six months until the government finds another way to fund its operations, the message it sends is that corporations can get around consumer safety protections if they get Congress on their side. Furthermore, it sets a precedent that suggests that court challenges are a privilege, not a right.”

It’s a continuation on the trend of corporations getting away with shafting their customers out of millions, leaving consumers worse for the wear and letting corporations off scot-free. Big Banks, the ones Too Big to Fail, cost customers billions of dollars only to be bailed out and refuse to pay back the taxpayers after making record profits. They take up a huge chunk of our economy and can make higher profits risking working families’ money than conducting ethical banking business, and they’re not being held accountable for that. Even champions like Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fighting for consumers and hard-working Americans who got hosed, it’s still not enough.  Big Pharma has gotten away with murder for years – right now, they’re fighting pressure from the Obama administration to stop the “pay to delay” practice of keeping generics off the pharmaceutical market for years – keeping millions of Americans from being able to afford the drugs they need, and allowing Big Pharma to make millions off of their exclusive drugs.

With this deal, Big Agriculture is stepping up its game in consumer abuses and stopping consumers from holding them accountable for their actions. And that is wrong. The government should be protecting consumers, not big companies. If the products or services that a company provides to its customers are faulty, risky, or dangerous, they should be willing to either take them off the market or be held legally responsible for them.

This deal is nothing new – but it’s a disturbing pattern of “more of the same,” and further proof that our government isn’t doing enough to protect us from Big Business and special interests.

CATEGORY: LGBT

LGBT marriage: Why is this even an argument?

CATEGORY: LGBTFacebook is awash in red equal signs. The Supreme Court is surrounded by protestors and supporters. And polling numbers show a massive increase in support for marriage equality – a recent poll from Pew showed support from Catholics, Jews, and Protestants well over 50% in support of LGBT marriage.

Which begs the question: why are we still arguing about this?

The ranks of allies and supporters of LGBT marriage equality are growing quickly for a few reasons. First, opposition to marriage equality is “aging out” – as more young people, who grew up in a more LGBT friendly time, are coming of age and voting, their political heft is surpassing that of of older voters who are less comfortable with it. Second, some of the older generations are, to use President Obama’s phrase, “evolving” on the issue – they talked to their kids, they thought about who they knew, and they slowly became more and more comfortable with the idea of men marrying men and women marrying women.

This graph from Daily Kos’s article “Republicans struggle to explain generational divide on marriage equality” shows support in different generations pretty nicely. What I found hilarious was how the GOP is trying to avoid the question of LGBT equality. Lisa Stickan, the chairwoman of the Young Republican National Federation, told POLITICO:

Gay marriage “is not as politically potent because you have younger people in a completely different scenario than five years ago. It’s post-college, paying off student loans, the ability to buy a house. Everyone is talking about the new normal being staying with parents longer because of the difficulty in terms of being able to find employment. And I think that’s something young people are concerned with.”

She’s wrong and she’s right, really. She’s wrong when she says that LGBT marriage equality “is not as politically potent” as it was – support has only grown, and it would be foolish not to jump on that support.

She’s right in that we have better things to argue about. Why, as a nation, are we suddenly so concerned with who people are allowed to marry? This shouldn’t be a question. LGBT people should have the same marriage rights as everyone else, it makes no difference to the government or to other private citizens.

We have so many more important things facing our nation. Why are we not devoting all our energies to creating jobs? Why are we not focusing our attention on comprehensive immigration reform? Why are we arguing about marriage when we could be reforming education?

In other words: LGBT marriage equality isn’t going to hurt anyone, and we clearly don’t care too much who straight people marry (or divorce). So why are getting so worked up about this and ignoring the more pressing problems we could be fixing?

Generation Poor

Generation Poor: Gen X and Millennials losing ground…

This month, the Urban Institute put out a study called “Lost Generations? Wealth Building Among Young Americans.” In the report, the Institute confirmed what most of Gen X and Gen Y already knew: we’re poor.

“Today, those in Gen X and Gen Y have accumulated less wealth than their parents did at that age 25 years ago. Their average wealth in 2010 was 7 percent below that of those in their 20s and 30s in 1983. Even before the Great Recession, younger Americans were on a strikingly different trajectory. Now stagnant wages, diminishing job opportunities, and lost home values may be merging to paint a vastly different future for Gen X and Gen Y. Despite their relative youth, they may not be able to make up the lost ground. If these generations cannot accumulate wealth, they will be less able to support themselves when they eventually retire. This financial uncertainty could reverberate throughout the economy, since entrepreneurial activity, saving and investment tend to build on a base of confidence and growing wealth.”

Campus Progress put the study into stark perspective with their recent post called “How Student Loans Are Keeping You Out Of The Middle Class,” saying this:

“A new study from the Urban Institute shows just how long those investments can be delayed. Millennials have accumulated less wealth since entering the workforce than their parents did at the same age, even as the economy has grown and the average wealth of Americans has doubled.

The problems that have led to today’s middle-class crisis for borrowers aren’t unknown. Cuts to public funding for higher education have gradually shifted the costs of a college education on to individual students. With scholarship and grant funding limited, students have turned to loans. Escalating tuition combined with stagnating middle-class incomes have made it harder for borrowers to meet their obligations.”

I don’t point to this study and this article to complain. But this is a dangerous economic trend in the workforce, and the economic pressures building up on young people trying to make a life for themselves and their families (or future families) are getting out of hand. And our culture of valuing hard work and “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” isn’t necessarily helping.

For years, parents and educators tell their children that a good education and a college degree are the ticket to a good job with a good paycheck. I’m not disputing this – there’s plenty of proof that college graduates make more than their colleagues without degrees. But while college graduates will earn more in the long run, they come out of college with a mountain of student loan debt, especially in recent years. And while President Obama made it easier for people to get Pell Grants and attend college, the administration and Congress have not been able to make a substantial dent in the price of a college education – leaving students to take out loans and graduate with an average $27,000 of student loan debt.

Once students graduate, they are faced with two choices. They can continue their education even further with graduate degrees, giving them a better chance of a higher salary in the future, but amassing an even greater amount of debt, or enter a shaky job market in a still-recovering economy.

The first hurdle they’ll hit is the “lack of experience” hamster wheel: employers will tell them they need more experience to get a job, and yet they can’t get a job without experience. A great source of education and experience is the internship, but this brings up the problem of unpaid work post-graduation.

Traditionally, internships for undergrads are unpaid and for college credit – schools require them as part of an “on the job” experience prerequisite for graduation, and it gives students a great resume boost. Post-grad, however, unpaid internships are growing more and more popular amongst employers, and are now being considered the “first job” – forcing students to work for free, with only the vague promise of being hired for a paycheck in the future. And as recent graduates work these jobs, they face grown-up debt with a student paycheck – and that’s an ominous imbalance. From Campus Progress:

“Young adults are in a period when they should be investing in their futures to build the kind of middle class stability that their parents’ generation enjoyed,” Catherine Ruetschlin, a policy analyst at Demos, told Campus Progress. “Instead they are paying down tens of thousands of dollars in college debt, putting those critical investments in their future farther out of reach.”

Generation Poor

When the students finally do upgrade from unpaid internships to paid jobs, they face the problem of stagnant wages. The New York Times points out stagnation in the country’s wages:

“Wages have fallen to a record low as a share of America’s gross domestic product. Until 1975, wages nearly always accounted for more than 50 percent of the nation’s G.D.P., but last year wages fell to a record low of 43.5 percent. Since 2001, when the wage share was 49 percent, there has been a steep slide.”

I also found that among friends, we face a more cultural problem: being grateful for any job we can get right out of school. We constantly hear that someone is unemployed, or has just been laid off, and that we’re “lucky” to have any job at all – to complain about how your paycheck isn’t enough is considered ungrateful. It’s true, we are lucky to be employed. But that doesn’t mean we should be paid the bare minimum for our work because employers know we’re desperate for jobs.

As a nation, we need to work together to get the cost of education under control – not only so that more people have access to higher education, but so students can financially handle the cost of education before and after graduating. We must reform student loans, compelling banks to offer lower interest rates and more forgiving payment plans so that students earning small paychecks have a hope of repaying them without defaulting or making painful sacrifices to pay them back on time. We must encourage employers and organizations to offer fair compensation for internships and work placement, especially for students who have graduated. And we must urge employers to pay decent wages for good jobs, so that their workers can meet their financial obligations and put money away for their futures.  If we make strides in these areas, our economy can continue to recover – and the Millenials can breathe a little easier when it comes time to pay the bills.

PoliticsLawGovernment4

Republicans are the New Coke of politics

Yesterday, the Republican National Committee released its Growth & Opportunity Report, a compendium of all of the lessons the party learned from the 2012 elections, and what the Washington Post calls an “autopsy” of what went wrong.

If you break it down, the report focuses most on demographics and branding. The RNC rightly recognizes how associated the GOP has become with rich, white men – and draws the conclusion that the party must attract more minorities, more young people, and more women to the party, and take a different approach to marketing the party in pop culture. The report says this:

“On messaging, we must change our tone — especially on certain social issues that are turning off young voters. In every session with young voters, social issues were at the forefront of the discussion; many see them as the civil rights issues of our time. We must be a party that is welcoming and inclusive for all voters.”

Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress already did a great job of analyzing the pop culture goals of the GOP, and I agree with her: most of the celebrities associated with the GOP are either crazy (Ted Nugent), racist (Hank Williams Jr.), creepy (Jon Voight), or Chuck Norris. I wanted to focus more on the report’s suggestions, and the new branding of the GOP.

The report makes great points – it says the Republican Party must appeal to people outside the Republican Party, which can’t even agree with itself right now (I’ll get to that). It advises the party to adopt a better regional primary system so that fringe candidates like Christine O’Donnell don’t beat established moderates like Mike Castle. It suggests that the Republican Party starts an opposition research and tracking operation, in the same vein as left-leaning powerhouse (and my former employer) American Bridge.

But the suggestions of the report are purely surface suggestions – they’re about messaging, not about policy. House Republican leadership and CPAC participants don’t seem ready to follow that report. These two groups within the GOP are proof the Party can’t get their ducks in a row, and shows how far the once fiscally responsible and socially conservative party has skewed to the Right.

With regards to messaging, there have been some great examples of moderate Republicans supporting social issues like LGBT marriage equality and women’s reproductive rights, but they’re progressive exceptions to a stagnant Republican rule. The same week that Senator Rob Portman endorsed LGBT marriage rights, tanning enthusiast and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he would continue to oppose LGBT marriage even if his child were LGBT. And if you read further into the report, it says that the party should continue to stick to its outdated and discriminatory principles – they just should do so more quietly.

“For the GOP to appeal to younger voters, we do not have to agree on every issue, but we do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be.

If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out. The Party should be proud of its conservative principles, but just because someone disagrees with us on 20 percent of the issues, that does not mean we cannot come together on the rest of the issues where we do agree.”

(I’m not even discussing the War on Women. Deny it all they want, the GOP has rolled back reproductive rights and blocked equal pay for women across the country for no reason. The party has serious work to do if they want to cozy up to the lady voters, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than messaging to do it)

So the report is saying that the GOP can stay as conservative as they want, they just have to sound less awful.  The baffling part is, the party can’t even agree on this plan – right now, the split is between more open-minded moderates who want to appeal to a wider base, and more conservative Tea Partiers who believe that lambasting their moderate colleagues and going after the “Guns and God” vote will endear them to everyone.

The RNC was trying to tell its party members how they need to rebrand themselves as more diverse and open minded, and willing to compromise with outsiders. But you would never be able to tell by watching the CPAC conference – a conference that left supposedly moderate Republicans like Chris Christie off the roster in favor of reality TV has-been Sarah Palin, pretend businessman Donald Trump, and McCarthy-lite Senator Ted Cruz.

The party got too caught up trying out a shiny new rebranding strategy without trying to modernize their tired, anti-minority, anti-women and anti-poor product to match. Instead of evolving, they point fingers at each other – they blame someone else for their troubles rather than turning inward and realizing that their branding isn’t the problem, as Meghan McCain’s “I Hate Karl Rove” rant shows.

The GOP lost the last few elections because they had awful ideas behind their ad campaigns. They are the New Coke of party politics – and like the soda, they’re not selling. Not because of the ad campaign, but because they’re gross.

The RNC’s report has great intentions, trying to liven up the party a bit and make them look more like the cool, progressive rainbow coalition that voted for Obama and less like the corporation-backed, wealthy old white men that everyone (accurately) perceives them to be. The problem is, the party leadership doesn’t want to change its outdated ways and attitudes towards minorities, LGBT people and women, or try to appeal to working class Americans. They just want to look good while they continue to discriminate, and to keep public embarrassments like Rape Gate and “I’m Not A Witch” from reaching the masses.

They want to win again. But until they stop arguing with each other and stop legislating like they have, it’s not going to happen that easily.

Pope

The papal conclave IS a political event

PopeAs the cardinals and priests filed into the Vatican for the impending conclave and new Pope-picking, a few things caught my attention in MSNBC’s coverage of the event:

  1. The organ music that they use in their commercial bumpers sounds a lot like Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman.” Which, if you think about the Church’s antiquated views on marriage, is very funny and oddly appropriate.
  2. One of the participants in the conclave complained that the media coverage of the conclave is ridiculous, saying “The media is focusing on this conclave like it’s a political convention.”

But isn’t it?

The participants in the conclave all agree that they are voting for a man that has Jesus-like qualities – a faithful follower of Christ from a small, prayerful group. But at the same time that the Pope must be a faithful disciple and pilgrim in the Catholic faith, he is also responsible for setting the agenda for 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide – and a very diverse group of Catholics at that.

Right now in the US, religious leaders are trying to reconcile their faith and religious teachings with issues like marriage equality, health care, and women’s issues. In Africa, the Church is trying to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS while still not being fans of contraceptives. In Europe, the Church is seeing a steady decline in the number of worshipers, especially among young people. In Asia, the Church clashes with government over “state approved churches” and underground ones. In South America, the Church is growing rapidly, with little representation from Latin American and Caribbean churches. And internationally, the church must deal with the sexual indiscretions of their priests and the abuse of thousands of children, as well as the lack of women allowed into Church leadership has progressives calling to allow more women to be ordained as priests and given roles in church hierarchy.

The array of issues the Catholic Church leadership must address is strikingly similar to issues that the Democratic and Republican parties had to deal with this past year. Women’s issues – most specifically, reproductive health and contraception coverage in health care – were a huge deciding factor in both national and local elections. The impact of minority voter groups continues, with Latinos being the most discussed demographic of 2012.

And just like we watched the election maps on the news networks turn red and blue, we watch a chimney spewing black smoke, waiting until the final results.

The process is highly secretive, which obviously draws in the media – there’s no way around that. And like the election, there’s no shortage of pundits and possible candidates ready to speculate about the bland white men (and a few minority priests) who could become Pope, just like pundits and news outlets speculated over the bland white men (and Marco Rubio) who could become Romney’s running mate during the “Veepstakes.”

Just like the winner of the Presidential election, whoever is chosen as Pope doesn’t have to contend solely with the issues of his country – in this case, the Vatican. He, like the President, must deal with global issues. He must decide how to keep Catholicism relevant and meaningful, while remaining true to scripture, as many of its followers are finding the mandates of the Church hierarchy increasingly antiquated and irrelevant to modern life.

Yes, choosing a new pope is an old, traditional and deeply spiritual decision for these priests to make, and the media coverage of the conclave is insane. But the decision is more political than these cardinals and priests want to admit – and the conclave’s decision will affect billions.

Doesn’t that sort of global influence warrant a little bit of media attention?