September 27, 2007

What Makes a Person Old Enough to Drink?

What Kind of Demands & Restrictions are Reasonable?

It seems to me that if a person is old enough to go to war, vote & get elected, buy guns, and legally do all sorts of things like other adults, then he/she should be able to have a drink as well. Unfortunately, this is one issue that reason does not prevail when we're talking about it.

In the New Hampshire Democratic debate (9/26), six of the 8 presidential candidates want the federal government to apply pressure on the states not to let young people under 21 to legally consume alcohol. I think this is stupid, not only on the grounds I mentioned above, but also because it doesn't stop anyone from using or abusing alcohol--a readily available legal product--that, by the way, kills more that, say, marijuana.

The federal government gives money to the states for their transportation needs, such as highway maintenance & construction, so Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Biden, Richardson, and Dodd all want to deny federal funds to states that don't have a 21 years old restriction! Only Kusinich and Gravel basically said that such policy is ridiculous. These two got the applause, as most people in the audience approved.

In the 2006 ground-shaking
election--when the control of Congress changed back to the Democrats after 12 years of Republican rule--the younger voters (those under 25) participated in record numbers. I was elated to see this and I hope the trend continues. Presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, and the Democratic party in 2006, received the majority of the young people's votes. This voting block was solidly Democratic, much more than other groups. A reasonable question is, why the Democratic presidential candidates--with the exception of the two least popular ones--don't feel the pressure to reverse such a discriminatory policy? Which pressure groups or what popular sentiment prevents them from accepting that an 18 year old that has all sorts of rights should also be able to consume alcohol?

However, young people are also rather marginal when it comes to voting. Even though there's been a 20% increase in participation lately, 76% of young Americans do not vote! Yes, this is not a misprint. Yes, it went down from 80% of non-voters, but the abstention rate is way too high.

Of course, sane and practical public policy should be the standard, but we all know it doesn't work like this. Right? Emotions, and, more often, misinformation rule the day. Why shouldn't we have a discussion whether this particular federal policy has a measurable effect on public safety. If it does, and we see that the mix of driving and alcohol is a deadly one, then why limit the restrictions to only one particular group?

I don't know about you, but if a young adult is about to be sent to Iraq tomorrow to kill & be killed, having a beer tonight seems very reasonable to me. What do you think?
[Take the poll on the right side of page]

September 19, 2007

The Millennial Generation's Progressive Outlook

School has started and, as it happens in my classes, we get to discuss current events and the important issues facing our country. There are some worrisome signs and some encouraging ones. Worrisome in the sense that people in fear or in crisis may react in ways that actually change those conditions (or the reasons) that made our country great. This new generation is not immune from this threat. For example, there isn't an urgency (as much as I'd like to see anyway) regarding the incremental intrusions into our civil liberties by our government in the name of national security. Young people, by definition, haven't had the experiences of the past, thus, serious abuses [like the interment of US citizens of Japanese ancestry, the McCarthy witch-hunts, etc.] haven't been felt, while the current ones haven't sank in yet.

Yet, over all, I think the millennium (or millennial)
generation--those who come of age at the cusp of the new century--is probably more promising than the one that preceded it.

Every generation has to deal with important issues and big challenges, but this one is marked by the "war on terror" which includes the attacks on 9-11, and the Bush presidency. I believe that the country made a terrible mistake by giving power to this small man--most likely the worst president in US history--because the bad policies of his administration will haunt this & future generations. It was a missed opportunity for America to start the new millennium on the right path and sensible plans for the future. Instead, the new president will have no margin for error in foreign & domestic policies. It seems that every generation, 25 years or so, the US does something really stupid. It's up to the millennials not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The younger people tend to have more progressive attitudes; the Democrats may benefit from this trend.

I do think that our politics is equally dominated by personalities as much as people's party affiliation and ideology. However, the basic core ideological tenets--or, if you like, the pursued public policies--as expressed by our two major political groups Democrats & Republicans. The Democratic agenda has found a wider acceptance among the younger (under 30) US citizens.

Take a look at the chart [produced by Democracy Corps; its site has more info], and check out the Harvard Institute of Politics polling data [here, in pdf]. If you want to read more about the so-called millennials at the New Politics Institute, go here. [includes a pdf download on the progressive attitudes of younger Americans]

This millennial generation is trending away from the Republican party. As things stand today in the presidential field, the Republican candidates couldn't be farther from the core preferences of this generation. Of course, the Republican primary voters are a different beast, so the candidates obviously reflect this sentiment over all. Although, even within the broader Republican base, the presidential candidates are out of touch when it comes to ending the failed occupation in Iraq.

Several conservatives have replied that younger people always tend to be more radical until they ..grow up. I don't subscribe to this theory. People can change their minds at any time--depending on the circumstances, life experiences, availability of leadership, etc. However, certain core beliefs are formed rather earlier in a person's life. If, say, people under 30 believe that same-sex marriage is OK, I don't see why they'd change their mind and support all those laws denying same rights to every American. Likewise, for a host of other issues, i.e., the environment, heath care, education, etc. We also know that if a person votes for a particular political party 3 times or more before he/she's 30, they stay with this party in the years to come.

Next year, the Millennial voters will be 50 million. By 2016, they'll be 1/3 of the electorate. I am a liberal-progressive not because I happened to pick a team and sticking with it, but because it makes sense. Many of the issues we're facing today could be easily solved if more people used sense and an analytical mind instead of following their ..gut. Wanting to believe in something [yeah, we've all been there.... Remember failed relationships?] when all evidence pointed to the opposite direction, or, when people just accept something that makes them feel good without any supporting evidence.

Anyway, the bottom line: there's ground for optimism, much of it comes from the signs that Millenials are civic-minded, politically engaged, and hold values long associated with progressives, such as concern about economic inequalities, smarter & multilateral foreign policy, and that government can be an instrument for a fairer society.
[from the New Politics Institute]

“Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ” Kurt Vonnegut

September 08, 2007

Another Good Step in Making Higher Ed more Accessible

Obviously education is very important, as we can't have a prosperous country without educated people. It's a new reality out there, so we better do something today--to invest for our future. If anything this country stood for, it was equality--equality in front of the law, and equality of opportunity.

Higher education should be easily accessible to all Americans, but how do you do that? One way is to make it less costly, or, at least, make it affordable. Congress did the right thing by passing a $20 billion bill that will boost student aid. President Bush is expected to sign it into law soon. This is the biggest tuition assistance since WW II.

You can click the link [in the title above, and here] for more information. Essentially, this new legislation raises
the maximum PELL grant for low-income students from $4,050 to $5,400, and temporarily slashes interest rates on student loans by half.

It also establishes debt-forgiveness programs for graduates who enter certain poorly paid fields such as law enforcement, firefighting, and teaching. According to the Department of Education, the average student now graduates with $19,000 in debt.

The new aid would be funded by a massive cut in subsidies to the scandal-plagued private student loan industry.