Saturday, January 16, 2010


Or rather, What would I do differently in undergrad if I knew what I knew now....

I went to a small state school in Michigan for undergrad. We were mostly blue-collar and first-generation college students and so, as my mentor/professor recently reminded me, often unaware of our intelligence and our potential. I am not really sure why this conversation keeps going around in my head, perhaps because I am still trying to figure some of this out for myself, but the conversation isn't going away and I figured I'd flesh it out here.

So "What advice would I give soon-to-be-graduates of my former alma mater? (or any other small state school political science student)?"

First, don't go to law school or grad school because you don't know what else to do. I was lucky enough to have our law school advisor in college give me this sage advice and I am glad I heeded it. Not that law isn't a great profession and perhaps I would be good at it, but he knew I was thinking of law school because I didn't know what else to do.

Second, if you don't know what to do, WORK. Whether it be a formal job, an Americorps position, the Peace Corps or JVC, PIRG or DART, get out there and start doing something. This will be the best way you can find where your interests lie, what your talents are, and what your future may hold. Most importantly, it can teach you WHAT YOU DON'T WANT, something as invaluable as knowing what you do.

Third, take a stock assessment of your resources. I was from a small town in Ohio and wanted to do international work. Unfortunately, this meant I had very few connections in the international realm and it also meant that after college, in part because of a family situation involving money, I didn't really have the luxury to go off and do international work like I had wanted to. Perhaps this is unfair but its reality, and it's a reality that many in my type I am sure have had to face. So what to do? Take reasonable stock of what you can do - perhaps you don't have rich parents that can pay your rent when you move to NYC or DC, or connections that work for the UN or some DC lobbyist org. But what you do have, or at least I had if I had realized it, was intelligence, ambition, and TIME. Take your time, save up some money, don't get into any trouble (credit card debt), and unless that's your desire, don't get bogged down in local relationships or babies!

Fourth, and perhaps this should have been earlier, but before you graduate, think about combining your political science degree with something else more practical - ideas range from public administration, social work (yes, social work is VERY political!), education (what's more political than the power of ideas?). Remember, your 'free' financial aid (grants and scholarships) go away once you graduate with your Bachelors degree. So take an extra year and add that teacher cert or BSW cert so that you make yourself THAT much more employable post-graduation. Looking back, I wish I would have gotten my teacher cert because even if I didn't know whether I wanted to work in public schools, the possibilities for doing education work outside of classroom teaching can be endless (after-school programs, curriculum development projects, TESL with immigrants, or higher salary teaching English in Asia). More importantly, the additional skill, especially in a Language, can just give you a competitive edge in the job market.

Fifth, YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO RIGHT NOW. In fact, it may be better if you don't think in terms of long-term, you'll get caught up in how to get there rather than thinking about what you want to do NOW and exploring your options NOW. I got too caught up in ideas of grandeur - wanting to be a diplomat or a development worker - that I didn't think about the other things on this list. How would I do this? Would I even like the work? More importantly, would I like the entry-level work that I would need to get there? So rather than getting caught up in the future, take baby steps, and do the work that makes you happy NOW.

Some other random thoughts and ideas? Move to a big city, especially one that you DO have resources in. Now, I didn't know anyone in NYC or DC when I graduated from college, but I did know folks in Columbus, Ohio, my state capital and the largest city in the state. It's cheap, there are tons of orgs there (including jobs), and aside from having a good social life (which is important!), you can build your resume until you're ready to move somewhere even bigger for a job or grad school!

Now, this list may not be exhaustive. In fact, I may even come back to it from time to time. I mean, do I really think that soon-to-be-graduates of my alma mater are going to read this? Not really. In fact, this sage advice is probably more for me, as a reminder of where I've come from, where I am, and where I'd still like to go. Because frankly, as I get older, I realize more and more that few people have this 'stuff' figured out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


This Facebook Thread War began when a high school classmate of mine made a status update how the government is taking everything over and we're becoming a socialist state. I won't get into the details regarding that debate (mainly because it's a ridiculous argument in the first place) but let's just say several posts later folks were making the usual bitch-fest comments that they pay taxes for welfare recipients to sit on their asses.

This was my response:

"as for the welfare system - it's overly complicated so I'll only make a few points.

first, it is designed by the government to be a dependency system, whether explicitly or by misguidedness in how they wrote the laws that govern the system, the system makes it very hard for people to get off it and for people to use it temporarily when they are in crisis (I can go into detail about this if anyone wants). secondly, part of the reason so many are on welfare, and not to discredit that there is a level of individual choice in being or staying on welfare (aside from the fact that many people are born into the system), is because most service industry or low-level health care jobs (in which most people, especially the single mothers everyone seems to allude to, on welfare could or would work) are so low-paying that they don't allow working people to get ahead in life. I mean, when the state of California sues Walmart (now the biggest employer in this country) for having too many of its employees on Medicaid and Welfare and makes them start contributing into the systems, you have to question whether it's individual choice and 'big government' but also a matter of service jobs NOT PAYING ENOUGH for people to meet basic costs of living. In fact, our government has made it increasingly difficult for people to remain dependent on the system (e.g. Welfare to Work reform in the 90's- in order to receive food stamps and welfare assistance, at least in Ohio, you HAVE to be actively looking for work through their job finding program; lowering and/or not raising family income requirements even though everyone's cost of living, especially the working poor, has gone up; etc. etc.)

Let me just point out that I'm not at all advocating for the current welfare system to continue (in fact, I whole-heartedly believe it should be redesigned to decrease dependency, better help people in temporary emergencies to get back on their feet, and get people into meaningful work so they get off the system) but that it's more complicated and more systemic than just blaming the folks on welfare. in fact, statistically speaking, abuse in the system is pretty rare (something like 2 or 3% of recipients are said to be 'frauding' the system).

and my last point of the evening is in response to David's comment that 'health care is not a right, but a privilege': please tell that to the parents whose child dies because they have exceeded their 'lifetime cap' for their health insurance or to the person who can't get medical coverage because they have a pre-existing condition (such as acne, yes, a real live case). I think that statement is extremely dangerous to make, and though I don't argue with many of your other points, I think this one was especially near-sighted.

Oh and P.S. Don't go by what the Dems or the Repubs report on facts and numbers - both sides pad figures based on their agenda....rather go by what the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) - the congressional entity designed specifically to report facts and figures in a NON-BIASED manner. If I'm not mistaken though, they project different figures (most of which state that health care reform will either cost-cut or be deficit-neutral, NOT put us further into debt) but the ultimate determination will be based on WHAT bill ends up getting passed."

Not-to-be-named Facebook poster replied to above comment:
"You know Brittany, I couldn't agree more. I agree that it's a pretty near sighted comment to make. But it being near sighted to me, still doesn't make it false.
I don't think that because of hardship, we should go forth with healthcare for the masses. I think that that's the issue here. Think about the people before us, the depression era. Those people had nothing, they scavenged to make things work,they busted their asses to put what little food they could together for meals. I feel the same way about us. I think some of us need to struggle, and need hardship. I think it makes us better.
I'm not saying I wish people's babies would die, don't get me wrong, I'm saying that I wish people would appreciate what they have. I'm saying that I wish people would increase their work ethic to a level that makes America the hardest working country in the world. But we're lazy! We don't want to work, yet we want the luxuries that people have that work. Thats' my issue. I think it's terrible that a baby would have to die because of a healthcare cap, or whatever it may be, but at the same time, I don't think it's any more terrible than a woman going into an abortion clinic and getting it paid for by our national health care plan."

And my response to the above comment:
"Well first, I take personal offense to the idea that the Great Depression, with all its travesties, poverty, and starvation, somehow built a work ethic into the American people. My grandmother lived through the GD and what she 'got' were nights going to sleep hungry, times where all they had to eat was boiled grass, and lifelong anxiety, especially around food and hoarding. Please don't ever wish that on any American person today, the GD was a horrible time and not something to revere as though it made people better people - because NO, they starved. And before you make a blanket statement such as that, I would talk to some of the folks who lived through that time. In fact, I suggest a rather fascinating book if you want to learn more.

In fact, the lesson the American people and the government took from that dark era in our country's history was to develop such programs so that it NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN - Social Security, Welfare Assistance, Disability Insurance (SI), Unemployment Insurance, all came out of that era. Later in the 60's when pictures of children with extended bellies (think Ethiopia) came out in the media, the uproar went up that hunger was STILL a rampant problem and we developed more social programs like Food Stamps. Personally, I thank God that we have a system set up - and that I contribute to with my tax dollars - that at the very least, you don't see poor kids running around with extended bellies anymore. Certainly there's still hunger in this country and malnutrition (a completely different but equally interesting issue are the number of poor who are OBESE but yet MALNOURISHED), but by and large, we have government and community/faith-based systems in place to curb most of the extremism of starvation in this country. I don't think that's robbing children of a 'work ethic', but I do think that's moral and right.

Secondly, the fact remains (and I think it's been widely publicized) that health care reform WILL NOT fund abortions. I'm pretty sure that's why the pro-choice movement is all up in arms against the bill and many in the far left don't like the bill. Also, THERE IS NO NATIONAL HEALTH CARE PLAN. There is a bill in Congress that when it is passed, will curb some of the abusive policies that American health insurance companies have concocted to make them ridiculously rich (they have seen an 800% increase in profits over the last ten years - EIGHT HUNDRED PERCENT!) through policies such as lifetime caps of service, limiting insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, and giving less of an insurance plan while premiums are going up. Most of the other developed countries in the world have already banned these practices or have never allowed them. Remember, health insurance companies, because they are all publicly trading on the stock market (just like Walmart, which I will get to in a few minutes), are bound to make their shareholders as much money as they can make. So their interests are not in giving good service for a fair price but rather to decrease services and raise prices and instituting crazy policies like I outlined, which they've been doing for many years now and making a killing from it (see their profit margins).

Furthermore, you seem to be on a very big WORK kick - the American people are lazy, or the people on Welfare need to get a job - fine, I concede that point. But there are MANY people, including myself, that are actively looking for work AND THERE ARE JUST NO JOBS or the ones that are out there would barely cover my gas and day care costs, let alone any other expenses that I may have (e.g. rent, utilities, car payment, cell phone/phone service, etc.). And what is one of the BIGGEST impediments to job creation in this country? HEALTH CARE COSTS! A third of a cost of hiring an employee are health care costs. I used to work for a non-profit that literally couldn't keep pace with how much THEY paid for my health care each year, which meant they had to offset that high rise by having ME PAY MORE. And were we getting better plans? No, they were decreasing service. And this is the norm, not the minority. So if you're big on folks getting jobs (which I agree with), we also must create more jobs (and more jobs that people can actually live on e.g. Walmart and other service employers need to get there shit together) and the best way we can do that is by enacting health care reform so that we hold these profiteering insurance companies accountable for their rising rates and eliminate their unethical policies (you should actually be quite happy to know that the current bill in Congress is without the public option, which many on the right allege is a national plan - not so, but I won't argue the point since it's moot anyway).

As for folks getting jobs or needing to work harder or getting a better work ethic, etc. etc. etc. I suggest you read this book (or the summary at Wiki) - on how most poor are WORKING POOR because service industries and low-paying health care jobs (e.g. nurses aides) can't make it on their $8 or 9 dollar an hour job - they can't, the numbers just don't add up. Furthermore, as the nation's biggest employer, why aren't we angrier with Walmart that by and large their employees income levels meet poverty levels and thus are overwhelmingly on government assistance like Food Stamps and Medicaid? Walmart has a bigger economy than most of the COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD - they can't afford to pay their employees better so they're not dependent on a taxpayer system? The reality is that our wages, when adjusted for inflation, have steadily decreased in the last 60-70 years (yes, since that generation you spoke of that 'worked' their way out of the Great Depression) while our cost of living has steadily gone up. That's why union jobs, with cost of living increases and inflation increases written into their contract, have outpaced American workers' salaries so much! Think on that for a second. That is why union jobs are so high paying, because their employers are mandated by their contracts to increase their wages based on inflation and cost of living. Now, I don't contend that union employees are justified in demanding the kind of money they make, but I think it points to the rest of us WHO DON'T have union jobs and how little we make compared to what our grandfathers made - this is of course why my Grandfather raised five children on his one income (as a factory supervisor, no less) where as that is completely unheard of today!"

I'm partly posting these because it's a debate that I tend to have over and over, either on Facebook or in random conversations, and also because I put a lot of work in these responses. Sure they need some further editing but I think they get the main points across about how our economy has been and is playing out, how health care is playing into that, and also about how our social welfare system runs, debunking a few myths along the way (can we all just forget about the Welfare Queen already!?!?). Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Everywhere I have been in the world has made the case that education is one of the fundamental factors in determining a young person's life. Access to education, contextually-based on what type of education and what level of education one is referring to in terms of 'access', can be the determinant for lifelong outcomes. Throughout the world and within the United States denying a young person an essential education can be based on language, disability, class, lack of quality programs and schools, etc. etc. and can impact a person for the rest of their life.

This is something in which I hope to elaborate on in the future. Thoughts?

Sunday, May 17, 2009


by Mark C. Taylor, Chairman of Religion department at Columbia University
"If higher education is to thrive, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured."

As my first official post, I would like to comment on this article recently published in the New York Times as it is something near and dear to my heart (and pocketbook) - it's on the increasingly defunct and suspiciously unethical factory system of higher education.  As the introductory sentence of the article states, "Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning."  Of course, Detroit and the fall of the Big Three (as in the autocompanies Chrysler, GM, Ford) is also near and dear to my heart since I lived in the Detroit metro area for four years of undergrad and many of my friends and their families are currently enduring the brunt of Detroit's demise.  It's interesting that Taylor connects two very poignant current event issues - the fall of Wall Street and Detroit - with what I consider to be the fallacy of higher education.  Of course, what isn't told to you is that graduate degrees are increasingly becoming a dime a dozen and university's are pumping these degrees because it's their big money maker.  You fund their PhD students, who in turn perform essential functions in higher education - like lecturing, TA'ing, researching - so they don't have to pay big money for those who already have PhD's.  Their's the conundrum folks, the downsizing of professorships and the tenureship of baby boomers (some of whom are now old farts) have greatly diminished the need for job-seekers with PhD's.  Yet universities are pumping in graduate students and pumping out over-qualified for entry-level and under-qualified for anything that pays the student loan bills.  

The second argument that Taylor makes is that the university system - with it's departmental systems and professors specializing in sub-fields of sub-fields of sub-fields - is a compartmentalized system that is often counterproductive to solving real, tangible problems facing society.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Although I'm sure there are those making expressed efforts to counter this compartmentalization and bridge the divide between disciplines, I don't believe this to be the norm (and neither does Taylor).  Rather, problems seem to get tackled in piecemeal fashion and with little discourse and idea-sharing across disciplines.  Taylor instead suggests 'departments' that engage experts from a broad range of disciplines and specialties to tackle real, tangible problems - so for instance, the increasingly relevant issue of water rights.  For those that live in the developing world or even in arid parts of the United States like Phoenix or Las Vegas, water is an increasingly scarce resource with a majority of the fresh water of the world being controlled by a limited number of actors.  In my home state of Ohio, we are increasingly reading in the local news about water being 'purchased' and pumped for use in other parts of the United States, and when I visited family in Arizona was horrified to see that people water their grassed lawns (which is really just sod on top of sand!).  This sign of prestige in Arizona (that you can afford to landscape sod on top of sand and that you can pay extra for water and it's upkeep) is also using scarce water resources in a state that's 'at war' with neighboring states over who 'owns' the Colorado River.  (My opinion?  The Indians do.)  So as Taylor explains in the article, water is an important societal issue and one that must have a multi-faceted problem-solving approach - this is not just work for biologists, environmental engineers and planners, or public health experts, but also for urban planners and policy wonks and even religious experts (as throughout the world water has religious connotations).  Without this multi-faceted approach, we continue to risk public policy disasters (for another day, my friends) a la urban public housing development of the '40's & '50's or even the current economic crisis.  And it would seem an understatement to say it's in society's best interest to avoid a repeat of the latter.