- Created on 11 December 2012
Writing at Ebony, Alisha Tillery says that certain topics, ranging from hair to HBCUs, should be retired unless and until someone finds a new angle or argument.
#TeamNatural vs. #TeamRelaxed: Maybe India Arie was wrong. Maybe we are our hair ... because we can't stop talking about it. Women love to debate over which hair choice is better. By now, we're familiar with the go-to arguments for each side ...
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) vs. Predominately White Institutions (PWIs): There will always be value in this topic, and rightly so. However, the "evidence" given to support why either is the better choice for educating African-American students is often one-dimensional. Rebuttals include: Students who attend HBCUs are less likely to secure "good" jobs. Those who attend PWIs aren't recognized by predominately White faculty and staff. As an alumnus of both an HBCU and a PWI, I've been on both sides of the argument for over 10 years, and even I am tired of talking about it ...
The "90 Day Rule:" Men are still secretly planning to overthrow Steve Harvey as the king of relationship gurus three years after the release of his bestseller, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. In his book, and recently, the movie adaptation, Think Like a Man, Harvey suggested women treat men like an employer would a new employee by placing them on a 90-day probationary period before he can have sex with her. Does it really work? The jury's still out ...
Read Alisha Tillery's entire piece at Ebony.
- Created on 10 December 2012
(CNN) -- It's time to pay up, America.
The era of free news is rapidly coming to a close.
The Washington Post, one of the last holdouts among major newspapers, will probably begin charging for online access next year.
We're all spoiled by the illusion that we can get whatever we want on the interwebs without having to pay a dime. Fire up the Google, troll the Twitter, see who's got the most tantalizing links. We all do it, and we all take it for granted.
But you can't have a media ecosystem in which everyone is aggregating, summarizing and retweeting content from everyone else. At some point there have to be actual human beings making phone calls and attending events and pawing through public documents.
And these people -- known as "reporters" -- need to put food on the table. Newspapers and magazines are partially to blame for this state of affairs. For many years they gave away their wares to anyone with a modem, anxious to avoid being left out of the burgeoning world of online commerce. Readers thought nothing of subscribing to a paper that landed on their doorstep but balked at paying for news on their computer screens and mobile phones.
The result, as we all know, has been widespread carnage in American newsrooms. Some papers, such as the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, have folded. Others, such as The New Orleans Times-Picayune, have cut back to three times a week. The Cleveland Plain Dealer just announced it is slashing a third of its newsroom. Even The New York Times, which has made fewer cuts than most papers, said last week that 30 jobs will be lost to buyouts.
There were several rounds of buyouts when I worked at The Washington Post, where the newsroom has shrunk significantly and the new editor, Marty Baron, warns that more cuts are in store. In an overdue move, the paper now says it will likely move to a metered paywall, charging readers after they get a certain number of free articles each month. The Times was among the pioneers of this movement in March 2011 and now has nearly 600,000 digital subscribers. It also helps to have an affluent expense-account crowd, which is why The Wall Street Journal's pay site has always thrived.
The Post has a unique problem in that it is a national brand online, but a local newspaper in terms of circulation. So the out-of-towners who might want to read political analysis by Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza don't have the option of subscribing to the ink-on-paper version. Yet the lucrative print ads that reach consumers in D.C., Maryland and Virginia are worth far more than the modest rates that can be charged for digital ads. So the paper badly needs another source of revenue.
The Daily Beast, where I work, is also considering a metered paywall, now that the parent company is folding the print edition of Newsweek, which led to substantial layoffs last week.
Of course, readers have no august responsibility to pay for anything. And Big Media got too fat and happy in the days of easy money. The Google era is all about disaggregation -- that is, you can search for only the information you want about Medicare or Meryl Streep or Miami without the packaging of a publication. You can get your fix from Facebook friends. With new apps you can be your own editor, selecting the stories that suit your needs.
So this is not a plea for charitable support. Increasingly, the name of the game online is providing something that is so unique or compelling that readers feel it's worth reaching for their credit card.
But it is a reminder that we are hollowing out the business of newsgathering. This is a particular problem at the local level, where no one else is going to investigate decaying schools or the mayor steering contracts to his cronies. Sadly, the shriveled staffs of many local papers are less able to do this kind of distinctive reporting, and will have a hard time persuading readers to pay for meager coverage with an overlay of local sports.
It's also true that there is less original reporting nationally on the environment, health care, criminal justice, finance and other vital areas. The Washington Post, where I was once New York bureau chief, has shut down its bureaus around the country.
The slow stampede toward paywalls will prompt a shakeout in which some publications survive by proving their worth and others head for the graveyard. Some early signs are discouraging: Rupert Murdoch's iPad magazine The Daily, which never had a clear identity, folded last week, and Arianna Huffington's hugely successful site couldn't get people to pay a modest fee for a monthly digital magazine.
Hey, if folks don't think a paper or magazine or online venture is worth the weekly equivalent of a frappuccino, that's their choice. But man does not live by buzz alone. In the end, we get the journalism we deserve.
- Created on 06 December 2012
Outrage over an incident of gun violence should be equal, no matter the perp's race.
(The Root) --The recent killing of 17-year-old Jordan Davis has black folks and social-justice activists up in arms over yet another senseless death of an unarmed black boy at the hands of an armed white man in Florida. I'm still trying to figure out how an argument over the volume of music escalated to the use of deadly force against unarmed teenagers.
I'm also perplexed as to why the shooter, 45-year-old Michael Dunn, allegedly fled the scene if he felt that the shooting was justified and he was "covered" by Florida's controversial "Stand your ground" law. If he hadn't done anything wrong or excessive, then why leave the scene, particularly when there were eyewitnesses?
What I find most perplexing is the national outcry by black folks when a black boy is gunned down by a nonblack person, but there's a "business as usual" attitude (from some media organizations and political leaders) when black boys and girls are gunned down for sport by other blacks in communities of color throughout the country.
One has only to look at what is happening in the streets of inner-city Chicago as an example. A weekend in August of this year was one of the deadliest in the city's history. Six people were killed on Aug. 18, tying the record for killings in a single day in Chicago set on Feb. 19. Four of the victims were teenagers. The record-setting killings were dwarfed by the total number of people wounded during that weekend: 36, to be exact.
To add insult to injury, five people were wounded the following Monday night in a shooting on the city's South Side, including two teenage girls who were grazed while sitting on a nearby porch. Blood has been running through the streets of Chicago for far too long, yet there is very little being said or done on a national level about what's happening there.
What about Detroit? In February a 9-month-old died after being hit by bullets from an AK-47 after his house was "sprayed," allegedly because of a dispute over seating at a baby shower, and a 6-year-old was killed in what appears to have been a carjacking by a pair of 15-year-olds wielding AK-47s -- this after a 12-year-old girl was killed in January after getting caught in the crossfire of a man and a woman engaged in an argument that turned violent. Where was the huge national outcry about these killings?
Record numbers of murders are not found just in Midwestern cities. One only has to look at Camden, N.J.; Stockton, Calif.; Oakland, Calif; Memphis, Tenn.; St. Louis, Mo.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Baltimore to find murder rates that are out of control. Statistically speaking, most crimes are committed by people who look like their victims, because crimes occur in neighborhoods that are largely segregated racially and economically.
I find it maddening that the same outrage and disgust expressed when an unarmed black teen is killed by a nonblack adult is not reflected on a national level, when incidents of gun violence, murder and mayhem -- many involving teenagers -- are happening on a regular basis in communities of color throughout this country.
Why does it seem less acceptable when someone from outside the community kills a black teenager than when someone from inside the community does the killing? The level of anger and desire for justice for the victim and punishment for the perpetrator should not be driven by the color of the alleged assailant's skin. If black folks do not appear to value the lives of our children every day in our communities, then why do we think that people outside the community would value those same lives?
Unlike in Trayvon Martin's case, Davis' killing had several eyewitnesses who are helping the police build a case against Dunn. In some of our communities, if there are eyewitnesses to violent crimes, we often discourage them from reporting the crime and working with the police to apprehend the suspects. Instead, they are often labeled "snitches" if they actually report the crime and offer testimony.
We still don't know who killed Tupac, Biggie or Jam Master Jay, and there were eyewitnesses to all three of those high-profile murders. What difference does it make if you are considered a pioneer, genius or game changer in the American mainstream and in black popular culture if your life isn't valued enough for someone to reveal, "Who Shot Ya?"
I understand that there are many cultural reasons for this phenomenon of silence (fear of retaliation, police occupation instead of protection, economic inability to leave the community where the perpetrator might also reside). However, at what point do we stop leaning on these factors and start standing up for the black bodies -- many of them teenagers' -- that are lining the streets of our communities?
What happened to Jordan Davis is awful, and we should all be calling for justice at the tops of our lungs. That demand should be just as loud when the alleged killer of one of our children looks like us, because if we don't value our own, then who will?
- Created on 07 December 2012
(CNN) -- A college degree was once synonymous with academic excellence and workforce readiness. Today, it seems synonymous with debt and underemployment.
Last week, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that student loan debt increased to $956 billion, more than auto loan debt or credit card debt. More worrisome, the student loan 90-day delinquency rate increased to 11% this past quarter and for the first time exceeds the "serious delinquency" rate for credit card debt.
Student loan debt is reaching bubble-bursting levels. By comparison, in October 2007, the start of the subprime mortgage crisis, 16% of subprime mortgages were 90 days delinquent, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. By January 2008 it accelerated to 21%. If the economy heads off the fast-approaching fiscal cliff and tax rates spike for lower- and middle-class Americans, it may accelerate student loan defaults to crisis levels. The big banks got their taxpayer bailout; taxpayers may soon be on the hook for another.
Even if the markets manage to avoid another debt crisis, the mountain of student loan debt is already taking its toll on a weak economy.
In September, Pew Research Center reported that a record one-in-five households owe student loan debt. The average student loan debt in 2011 was $23,300.
Unlike credit card debt or automobile loans, student loans are virtually impossible to liquidate, even after declaring bankruptcy. So 20- and 30-year-olds buried under student loan debt are forced to put off other purchases crucial to the health of the economy, like buying a car or home or investing in the markets. Many are moving back in with their parents and delaying marriage and starting a family, two of the most vital building blocks to a healthy and prosperous economy. Valuable human capital is withering before it can even set its roots.
The problem now rests in the hands, and wallets, of taxpayers. In 2010, the federal government consolidated its power in the student loan industry so it could eliminate private middlemen and directly issue and guarantee loans. By 2011-12, the federal government issued 93% of all student loans.
By nature, student loans are inherently risky. Students have hardly any credit worthiness. But the government is making a bad situation even worse. Federal lenders are notoriously lax. For example, they don't distinguish between loans to students pursuing highly employable fields such as health and education, and students pursuing majors that have a high unemployment rate, like architecture and arts.
And yet, the federal government continues to flood the higher education market with more loans. In 2010, the Department of Education distributed $133 billion in student aid. In 2011, it was nearly $157 billion, a 17% increase. As I've said before, these increased subsidies have not curtailed student loan debt or tuition costs.
What's driving this debt crisis is a vicious cycle of bad lending policies eerily similar to the causes of the subprime mortgage crisis. Over the past 50 years, it has become conventional wisdom that everyone should go to college. High school guidance counselors and college admissions offices preach it, parents believe it and politicians cater to it. With near-universal demand and parents willing to pay or borrow almost anything to get their son or daughter through college, colleges and universities can drive up their prices.
When tuition prices rise, the government subsidizes the difference by increasing federal loans. But these easy loans, many of which are increasingly going to middle-class students, only increase the price ceiling that colleges can charge, thus completing, or starting, the cycle.
Of course, these aren't the only problems in today's higher education financial crisis. Many colleges and universities are failing at their most basic responsibility: education. Students are graduating ill-equipped for the needs of the modern workforce. More than half of all college graduates in 2010-11 were unemployed or dramatically underemployed. Many employers rate college graduates today as unprepared or only somewhat prepared for the job.
Reform is needed at many levels. Money-hungry institutions should be subject to more accountability and transparency; uninformed consumers should be aware of the alternatives to four-year colleges like trade and technical schools; and irresponsible federal lending needs to be reined in.
But above all, American society at large must stop pushing the notion that everyone should, or deserves, to go to a four-year college. It took a recession and massive taxpayer bailout for Americans to realize that not everyone should, or deserves, to own a home. We can't afford to learn this lesson the hard way again.
- Created on 06 December 2012
(CNN) -- Earlier this year, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, expressed support for raising taxes only on households earning $1 million or more, a higher threshold than the $250,000 dividing line backed by President Obama.
Eventually, Schumer and Pelosi declared their support for the president's position. But the $1 million proposal might serve as the basis for a bipartisan agreement.
A number of Republicans, led by Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, have called for raising tax revenue by capping deductions at $50,000, a proposal that would leave virtually all middle-income households untouched while substantially raising average tax rates on households in the top 2% of the income distribution.
A deduction cap is expected to raise roughly $800 billion in revenue above current policy, which is only half of the $1.6 trillion the Obama administration hopes to raise from high-earners. It is, however, an amount that many congressional Republicans appear to have deemed acceptable.
One of the central problems with a deduction cap, however, is that it is likely to be opposed by politically influential charitable organizations, which recognize that it will greatly undermine the incentive for high earners to make large charitable donations. Moreover, President Obama has insisted that tax rates on high earners will have to increase, though he has not made an explicit commitment to the Clinton-era statutory top rate of 39.6% (which compares to today's top rate of 35%).
So, is there a way out of this impasse? Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, along with Reps. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, Bob Dold, R-Illinois, and Mary Bono Mack, R-California, have called on congressional Republicans to back legislation that would extend all the Bush-era tax cuts except for the high-income rate reductions, which would be allowed to expire. This remains a minority view among congressional Republicans, but it may well gain support in light of the popularity of allowing the high-income rate reductions to expire.
Another possibility is that congressional Republicans will embrace the Schumer-Pelosi proposal. That is, rather than embrace expiration for the high-income rate reductions for households earning $250,000 or more, they would accept it for households earning $1 million or more.
This would shield a large, politically influential constituency of affluent households, a disproportionately large share of whom live in high-cost metropolitan areas in blue states, while allowing Democrats and Republicans to take a politically popular stand.
To raise somewhat more revenue, this threshold could be set at $500,000 or $410,000, the latter of which would more precisely target the top 1% of households by annual income. Rather than set the tax rate for this new top bracket at 39.6%, Congress could set a rate of 36% or 37%, a face-saving gesture that would contribute to an appearance of moderation.
Back in 2007, Alan Viard, a tax economist at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, offered a detailed explanation of why increasing taxes on high-income households alone is unlikely to raise enough revenue to reach ambitious deficit reduction goals. At the time, he estimated that raising $1 trillion in additional revenue relative to the Bush-era tax code from households earning $1 million or more ($500,000 for singles) would require raising the tax rate from 35% to 57%.
If the goal of a millionaire's tax bracket is not to raise revenue in the most efficient manner but rather to make a political point, as seems at least somewhat plausible, it is easy to imagine it as the basis of a political compromise.
The Obama administration is eager to secure more fiscal stimulus for the coming year in light of sluggish global economic growth. So a tax compromise that raises relatively little revenue is arguably desirable, at least in the short term, as it would help forestall an economic contraction.
If some small number of Republican senators from swing states are willing to cross the aisle to back a millionaire's tax bracket, President Obama will be able to claim he has a bipartisan consensus in favor of his broad approach to resolving the fiscal cliff. This in turn will make it very difficult for House Republicans to resist.