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City Lights

City Lights's Journal
City Lights's Journal
December 23, 2011

Sirota: The fake “War on Christmas” outrage

The fake “War on Christmas” outrage
It's become as integral to the season as caroling and Black Friday -- but the sentiment is completely manufactured
By David Sirota

One of the defining qualities of late December is the predictable and ritualized nature of America’s holiday season. Other than discovering what’s inside the wrapped gift boxes, there’s no mystery or suspense to it anymore. The Christmas music starts right before Thanksgiving. Then come the flickering lights, the red-and-green decor, Hollywood’s vacation movie blitz, and finally, with media charlatans turning the key, the fake outrage machine rumbles back to life.

Like a narcissist’s souped-up 4-by-4, this turbocharged colossus of self-righteous indignation makes a lot of noise and leaves a mess in its wake — but ultimately says a lot more about its drivers’ pitiable insecurities than anything else.

This year has been particularly illustrative, as the fake outrage machine has caricatured itself like a Bigfoot-esque monster truck in a desperate bid for attention. In just the last few weeks, the Heritage Foundation billed an Agriculture Department initiative to raise revenue for tree farmers as a “Christmas Tree Tax”; Fox News said that standard federal safety warnings were proof that the government wants to “tell you how to decorate your Christmas tree”; and conservative activists criticized Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an Independent, for daring to consecrate a “holiday tree” — rather than a “Christmas Tree” — at the statehouse.

Meanwhile, under the headline “‘Modern Grinches Step Up Anti-Christmas Efforts,” the Christian Broadcasting Network lashed out at cities for trying to respect the separation of church and state at holiday time, and the American Family Association continued its annual effort to denigrate companies that substitute “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas.”

Read the rest at Salon.com

December 19, 2011

Sirota: The case for a national popular vote

The case for a national popular vote
We need to ditch the Iowa caucus -- and stop giving Ohio and Florida so much power over our presidential elections

By David Sirota
Monday, Dec 19, 2011 8:33 PM UTC

With all eyes trained on Iowa and New Hampshire as their decisive presidential nominating contests approach, the question once again is upon us: Why should these two states have such disproportionate sway over American politics? This is a particularly pressing question right now because our increasingly multiethnic, urbanized nation looks less and less like these two small, super-white, largely rural, comparatively older enclaves. In effect, the system promotes a form of generational tyranny whereby a disappearing mid-20th-century model of America continues to wield disproportionate power over today’s 21st century America.

Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t get much better in the general election. Thanks to the undemocratic Electoral College, presidential elections take place in a few big swing states, but nowhere else. Essentially, the campaign for president becomes a glorified campaign for governor of Ohio, Colorado and Florida, with small cities like Dayton, Grand Junction and Fort Lauderdale being treated as much more important than huge population centers like Los Angeles, New York and Chicago where far more voters actually live.

Taken together, the system undermines the most basic notion of republican democracy: the idea that every voter gets equal representation in our national government. In American presidential races, it’s the opposite. Between the nominating process and general election, we have effectively denationalized our most important national election, allowing a tiny handful of voters to choose who represents all of us in the White House. For no substantive or defensible reason, these voters get this undemocratic, anti-republican power not because they are inherently more important, valuable, or demographically representative citizens (in fact, they are often less representative), but simply because they happen to live within a specific state whose nominating contests come early (New Hampshire/Iowa) or whose general elections tend to be narrowly won and lost.

As I noted in my most recent newspaper column, the fastest way to right at least some of this grotesque wrong is to move to a system that elects presidents via a national popular vote. It doesn’t entirely fix the electoral process, but it fixes a few major problems:

Read the rest...
December 10, 2011

Sirota at Salon: What real education reform looks like

What real education reform looks like
Teachers unions aren't the problem. Poverty and punitive funding formulas for poor schools are
By David Sirota

As 2011 draws to a close, we can confidently declare that one of the biggest debates over education is — mercifully — resolved. We may not have addressed all the huge challenges facing our schools, but we finally have empirical data ruling out apocryphal theories and exposing the fundamental problems.

We’ve learned, for instance, that our entire education system is not “in crisis,” as so many executives in the for-profit education industry insist when pushing to privatize public schools. On the contrary, results from Program for International Student Assessment exams show that American students in low-poverty schools are among the highest achieving students in the world.

We’ve also learned that no matter how much self-styled education “reformers” claim otherwise, the always-demonized teachers unions are not holding our education system back. As the New York Times recently noted: “If unions are the primary cause of bad schools, why isn’t labor’s pernicious effect” felt in the very unionized schools that so consistently graduate top students?

Now, at year’s end, we’ve learned from two studies just how powerful economics are in education outcomes — and how disadvantaged kids are being unduly punished by government policy.

More... Salon.com

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