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Dear Senator or Representative,

I understand that you’ve been considering opposing the proposed “public option” for insurance as part of the comprehensive health care reform bill. I’ve composed an exhaustive list of possible justifications for voting against the public health care option to help you make this difficult decision. If you don’t fit into one of the catagories below, then rest assured: there is no conceivable reason for you to vote no.

  1. Agents of the American Medical Association have kidnapped a member of your immediate family and, instead of ransom, are demanding a “no” vote.
  2. Marty McFly burst into your office in a Delorean shouting about impending doom if uninsured children gain access to coverage.
  3. You confuse the “no” button on your desk with the button that stops the world from ending on Lost, or you think the “yes” button means “yes, fire all our nuclear weapons at China.
  4. You don’t want to let poor people go to the doctor because you’re trying to spark a socialist revolution by exacerbating class disparity.
  5. The Psychiatrists’ lobby convinces you it’s opposite day.
  6. You hate poor people.*
  7. The bill gives you a severe paper cut and extreme blood loss makes you feel dizzy, causing you to stumble and fall onto the “no” button.
  8. You hate your job, but unlike some people, you’re not willing to resign. Instead, you just vote against your constituent’s best interests in that hope that you’ll get fired.
  9. You think that the free market will provide a solution and that the government should just stay out of the way.**

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Concerned Citizen Sled Dog

*Not an actual justification, just makes you an asshole.

**Not an actual justification, just makes you an ignorant moron.

056While a week in Xi’an and another in Beijing hardly makes me an expert on traveling in the People’s Republic of China, I think it puts me a step ahead of most people. My time in China was a hell of a lot of fun, but it would have been better if I’d known a few important things beforehand:

1. Be prepared to bargain: as a general rule, price tags are just opening offers. That goes for souvenir shops, obviously, but also for bars, restaurants, clothing shops, and pretty much everywhere else. As a general rule, the higher the ration of westerners toChinese in a particular spot, the more inflated the initial asking price. In Beijing’s silk market, for example, a pair of knock-off Ray-bans will fetch an opening offer of between 400-500 RMB . You shouldn’t pay more than 60 or so. In touristy spots, your offer should probably be less than 10% of the asking price. The vendor will probably act insulted and knock 5% off the price. Then you say something like “well, we’re not going to be able to work anything out” and walk off. They’ll chase after you if you’re even in the ballpark.

2. There is no such thing as “original art” in China: On at least three different occasions, I was hustled into “art studios” where folks tried to sell me original works by struggling local artists. The three studios had completely identical prints. Some of them are very beautiful but unless you watch some one paint it, it’s probably a reproduction.

3. Use your hotel/hostel’s bathroom: You don’t want to be wandering around the hutongs looking for a public restroom. Even if you find one, you won’t want to use it. The only places you’ll find toilet seats are at your hotel, the airport, and maybe some upscale restaurants (like Pizza Hut!). Same goes for toilet paper.

4. Carry a map and a business card from the hotel: If you’re looking to explore at all, you will probably get lost. Most of the street signs have pinyin translations, but the sounds aren’t familiar so they’re very difficult to memorize. For example, it’s pretty tough to keep a word like “dongjiaominxiang” rattling around in your brain, especially after a night of knocking back 25 centTsingtaos . And even if you could, you probably couldn’t say it with an understandable accent anyway. But if you have a map and a business card, you can get acabby to drive you home despite the language barrier.

5. Worry about getting scammed, not getting mugged: I have yet to hear a story from any westerner I met in China about being the victim of violent crime. The police apparently just won’t tolerate it. If you’re walking down a dark alley by yourself, fear not! It’s far more likely your cab driver overcharged you than some one will rob you at knife point.

6. Fast food in China is even grosser than fast food in the US: McDonald’s and KFC are easy to find, but not worth eating. If you’re desperate for some familiar food (and you probably will be), scope out a Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut is, inexplicably, five star dining in China. It’s also very affordable. For non-pizza alternatives, look around the popular touristy bar districts. I found a place in theSanlitun district of Beijing with a Mexican theme. I had a delicious qeusadilla.

7. Stash a bottle of fresh water in your room: after a long night of too much fun at various bars, I stumbled into the hostel only to discover all the local markets were boarded up and there was nary a bottle of clean water to be found. Tap water is undrinkable, so I got to spend a long night with a parched mouth staring at a spinning ceiling. Big mistake.

8. Avoid fresh veggies and fresh fruit: after a week of eating salty, vinegary Chinese food, you will probably be pretty tempted to buy dirt cheap produce from a local open-air stand. Don’t. Or if you do, wash it thoroughly with boiled water. Otherwise,diarrhea is virtually guaranteed. The only way to be 100% safe with local produce is stick to things you can peel yourself, like oranges,lichee, dragon fruit, etc…

But despite the warnings above, I have to say that my time in China was remarkably easy. I don’t speak a word of Chinese and before this trip I’d never left the United States, but I got around just fine. I highly recommend it.

Hey all, I’ve been out of town the last couple weeks on a trip to China. I will get back to posting as soon as I recover from jet lag.

Citigroup is using manipulative tactics to trick unsuspecting college students into opposing President Obama’s plan to overhaul the student loan system. The company, which received $45 billion in federal bailout money, sent an email to its student loan customers (myself included) encouraging them to write their representatives in opposition to the proposed reform.

The current system allows private banks to lend students money for college without any risk, because the loans are insured by the government. Banks make bank with this system, since without any risk the interest is pure profit. Obama sensible reform proposal is to cut out the middle man and have the federal government lend directly to students. Naturually, companies like Citigroup oppose the measure because it would take money out of their pockets and give it back to students.

It’s bad enough that Citigroup is using taxpayer money to foster opposition to banking reform program; the company is also doing it disingenuously. The email is formatted to look like a financial statement email–it’s sent from an email address at the same domain name, it has the same logo, and it has the same footer inviting me to check my statement. The only reason I opened the email was to check my accountable balance. Plus, the arguments in the email are straight up wrong:

May 7, 2009

Dear NICHOLAS ROBINSON,

Thank you for the opportunity to help you obtain the education of your choice. As a student loan provider for the past 50 years, Citi has provided financial aid assistance to millions of students and parents nationwide.

Given the challenging economy and continued increases in the cost of higher education, it is critical that the U.S. student lending system serves the best interests of students and their families. If you believe that competition and choice among student loan providers is valuable, you have an opportunity to make your voice heard.

Why Get Involved?
The government budget outline proposes offering federal student loans solely through the federal government’s Direct Lending Program starting July of next year. While this proposal will not impact a borrower’s ability to obtain a federal student loan, it will eliminate your ability to choose a student loan provider. It will also substantially increase the national debt since each and every federally-insured student loan will be funded by the Federal Treasury through the issuance of treasury securities. This proposal impacts you as a citizen – both as a taxpayer and as a borrower.

Why Does Competition And Choice Matter?
Without private lender involvement through the Federal Family Education Loan Program, students and their families will not enjoy the benefits that competition has made possible for more than 40 years. This competition has provided not only a choice of lenders, but also innovative products and services, such as:

  • a variety of borrower benefits that lower your cost of borrowing
  • financial literacy programs that educate you on how to borrow responsibly
  • web-based tools and resources to advise you about your financing options
  • default prevention services to help you pay back your loans

Competition also has driven increased customer satisfaction as a result of the responsiveness, personal attention and on-campus support that student loan lenders have provided to borrowers and schools nationwide.

Make Your Voice Heard
If you value the ability to shop for, evaluate and choose your student loan provider, make your voice heard by contacting your Members of Congress and by signing one of the online petitions that support borrower choice and competition in federal student lending.

Sincerely,

The Student Loan Corporation

Citi highlights four benefits to allowing the private market to suck away student loan customer’s money. The first, that competition produces “borrower benefits” that lower costs, is just a lie. Private banks lend money to make more money; the federal goverment isn’t interested in turning a profit on loans. Who do you think will charge you more for a loan?

Second, Citi says competition encourages companies to offer “financial literacy” programs. The only financial literature I’ve ever received from Citigroup are invitations to sign up for credit cards. Perhaps financial education should be left to institutions that don’t have a financial stake in brainwashing customers…

Third, Citi says they offer convenient web-based tools. The government doesn’t know how to use the internet?

Finally, Citi says they offer default prevention services. I fail to see how the government could possibly offer less help to student borrowers than a giant, multinational conglomerate. Citi should focus less on twisting the truth for political gain and more on managing their company. If they did, we might not be in this mess.

I got a job! It’s true! I will not be one of those unfortunate college graduates who has to move into their parents’ basement and hang out with their high school friends. In three months, I’ll take over as the parliamentary debate coach at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington.

I’m really excited to get to work. I know several of the debaters at Whitman, and they’re very talented and easy to get along with. My biggest concern is that I’ll be living in Walla Walla, which, aside from sounding like a made up place, is located in Eastern Washington. I’ve only been there in the middle of winter, but my impression is that it’s kind of a frozen wasteland.

But it’s okay, because I have a job! My future is certain, at least for a while. By stomach is slowly unclenching.

swine-fluThe swine flu pandemic will soon kill us all. It’s already taken out 20 people, or 0.000000003% of the global population! In the words of South Park, soon there will be only 99.999% of us left!

Okay, maybe that isn’t so bad. But swine flu COULD kill us all, which is a good reason to panic and devote hours upon hours of cable news network time to the story. As opposed to, say, environmental destruction or genocide, which is currently killing hundreds of thousands. Now folks are running out to buy of surgical masks by the boatload, despite scientists’ pesky insistance that it won’t stop you from catching the flu.

Okay, so I’m skeptical. Anyone who isn’t is probably paranoid, given the gigantic scares of SARS of avian flu in recent years. But a giant flu pandemic could get pretty bad, so I’d like to take this opportunity to point out how I CALLED it. A few months back I was doing debate research and came across a staggeringly scary fact: we can’t do jack to stop the flu. Consider the following:

  • Vaccines are really, really ineffective because influenza mutates so quickly. Scientists have to guess which strain will break out in order to target their vaccines. In 2008, the flu vaccine was only 44% effective.
  • In February of 2008, flu was responsible for almost 10% of all deaths in the United States.
  • Empirically, flu pandemics pop up every 30 years or so. Spanish flu of 1918-1919, an outbreak in 1957-58, and another in 1968-69 all fit the curve. By that measure, we’re overdue.
  • Flu can kill a lot of people–the 1918 outbreak killed between 50 and 100 million, or 2.5% of the global population.

So why are we so helpless at the hands of this little bug? The first problem is that it mutates fast, but the second is that we don’t look for it in the right places. Evidence shows that new strains of the flu tend to pop up in Southeast Asia, but the WHO headquarters its flu research centers in Japan, the UK, Australia, and the United States. If they were to focus more research in Cambodia or Laos, the WHO would have a big headstart on vaccines and could probably guess the right strain to prepare for. Maybe one day…

But for now, we’re all stuck breathing through flimsy surgical masks and running away from sneezing toddlers. My guess is that this strain will join SARS and bird flu in the hall of overhyped dread diseases. But you never know.

A middle school principle should not ever, ever, EVER be allowed to strip search a 13-year-old girl without the consent of her parents. Not ever. You’d think that would go without saying. But for the 70-year-old men on the Supreme Court, it’s no biggie. The court heard oral argument this week on the case of Savana Redding, a girl who was strip searched after some one told the principal she was passing out ibuprofen.

Justice Breyer, who’s supposed to be one of the good guys, can’t see why forcing a young teenage girl to disrobe on command from her teachers might be a problem. “In my experience when I was 8 or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK? And in my experience, too, people did sometimes stick things in my underwear.”

What? And that was Breyer. By Dahlia Lithwick’s account, Scalia and Thomas were gleefully chortling at the ridiculousness of the ACLU’s claim that you should think twice before demanding a teen strip. Slate intern Lindsey Hough was strip searched when she was in middle school, and captures my outrage perfectly:

They made me take the shirt off, and obliterated any sense of autonomy I thought I had. I got the sense the counselor knew she was doing something fishy but covered by “bringing in the nurse who has to check it out.” Forced to sit shirtless in front of these two women, I felt exposed and humiliated, embarrassed and angry. I felt they weren’t just judging my actions but my body. We talk a lot on the XX Factor about young women and their changing ideas about privacy. But no matter who you are, being forced to take your clothes off against your will is an act of humiliation, embarrassment, and violation. It stings to know that 8 years after my own strip search, those feelings still don’t matter.

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