Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Media coverage of a recent event on the Fordham campus

My attention was just called to two very different online stories about the recent appearance on campus of Michael Sulick, a Fordham alum who is now director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. I didn't attend the lecture, so I don't have my own account to provide, but I'd be interested in comments from (a) anyone who did attend, and (b) any of you interested in journalism and media who'd like to talk about the differences between these stories. Of course, feel free to post links to any other journalistic accounts of the event.

One of the stories is from Fordham's own eNewsroom:

The other is from, which advertises itself as providing "Independent Investigative Journalism Since 1995."

I don't think it would be productive to make personal, ad hominem arguments about the authors of either of these pieces (or about the speaker or anyone else, for that matter). But I'd be interested in learning from anyone reading this blog who can make a good argument about the differences in the perspectives and institutional positions from which these two pieces are written, their differences in tone and content, etc.

Health-Care Confusion

Last week, President Obama and Congress passed historic health-care legislation, arguably the most sweeping government refo
rm measure in decades. Analysts, academics, politicians and average Americans everywhere have since been trying to make sense of the 2,000-plus page bill that will potentially redefine a fundamental system of American society.

I tried my hardest to follow the year-long legislative sparring that preceded this bill's passing, however, as my generational peers would agree, our position at this present time is unfortunate. We have largely never had to face the frustration of medical bills and insurance injustices (most of the medical paperwork is still left to our parents) yet we are just months away from losing that coveted coverage. Our generation will face the task of implementing and monitoring many of the reform measures the bill dictates and we will most definitely be the ones paying the for the fiscal consequences of it, yet we are in no position to really understand the flaws of the current system and whether the reforms actually include any viable solutions.

Apparently the intricacies of the legislation are not just perplexing to 21-year old crowd: Yahoo reports that searches for "health care reform" are up over 6,000 percent this week. Newsweek published a column today "Americans Don't Undestand Health Care" and the pure volume of news coverage on this topic also exhibits just how confused Americans are about it.

Below, I've compiled a list of helpful links from Newsweek and other sources that attempt to simplify the complicated bill. Logically, most try to isolate individual lifestyles and target tailored explanations to "each" particular American prototype. While this is seemingly helpful, we must be careful not to discount the bill's other facets, which also affect all of us, even if indirectly.

Ten major provisions of reform that will change health care for individual Americans—in an idiot-proof graphic form.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's succinct summary of what health-care reform does holistically.
This Washington Post personal calculator allows you to plug in your individual numbers—income, family members, and suchto find out what will happen to your insurance premiums.
This New York Times interactive tool also allows readers to understand the bill's effects.
Another helpful list in bulleted form.

Feel free to post any additional helpful links. In order to form opinions on this controversial bill, Americans need to understand it first- an understanding that is currently missing.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The British Library takes notice of our blog!

The British Library's "Americas Collection" decided to start making a list of interesting American Studies blogs...and ours was first on the list! Check it out!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

You are what you eat (or something like that)

A few weeks ago, I saw a commercial on TV for high fructose corn syrup. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP! Apparently the Corn Refiners Association felt that the product (or is it an ingredient?) needed a bit of a makeover in order to counteract its bad reputation. Personally, I don't think high fructose corn syrup needs any good publicity.

My reaction to the commercial was partially due to the fact that I had recently watched Food Inc. and read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which both provide excellent critiques of the American food system. The basic premise is simple: our food system is irresponsibly produced and ineffectively regulated. The film and book mainly focus on corn, cow, and chicken production, but these three things basically comprise the average American diet (especially corn). I think one of the strengths of the theory found in both the film and the book is that they don’t demonize meat. Neither endorses vegetarianism, but they did point out some facts that sort of made me want to be. For example, most of American hamburgers contain a BLEACH filler in order to kill any remnants of E. coli, which I found particularly disturbing.

After my mini-food crusade (I watched Food Inc. and read The Omnivore’s Dilemma within a week of each other and then constantly pestered my roommates about their diets), I started thinking about the overall health of America. Why is it that Italians eat tons of pasta, but don’t seem to have the health concerns of our Atkins-crazed public? Why are the French able to enjoy so much butter, sugar, and bread? And why does it feel like people are more health conscious, but less healthy? I think most of it boils down to what we eat. We live in a world where Ronald Reagan can attempt to have ketchup reclassified as a fruit in children’s lunches, and it’s cheaper to feed your family McDonald’s than vegetables. There’s a lot of debate about creating a universal health care system, but our politicians aren’t discussing how to make good food more affordable to the public. The government needs to address this issue, or else they will find itself, as Michael Pollan puts it, “in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Professor James Fisher

Last year, I had the honor of taking Dr. James Fisher for the course Religion and the American Self. Dr. Fisher, an American Studies professor at Fordham, recently released a book called On the Irish Waterfront: The Crusader, the Movie and the Soul of the Port of New York (Cornell University Press). The book chronicles the back story of Elia Kazan's award-winning 1954 film On the Waterfront, about a tight web of dockworkers, union organizers, crime bosses, politicians and church leaders bound for decades to the corrupt Irish-controlled ports. The book begins after the Civil War, when Irish Tammany took control of Manhattan's Lower West Side waterfront with a "mob-like system of violence and intimidation" (Publisher's Weekly Review). The crime bosses spent years using bribes, unjustified fees, and exploitive labor that ultimately impoverished the communities they helped build. In the 1940s, a charismatic Jesuit priest named John M. "Pete" Corridan worked tirelessly to counter this corruption through the politicians, the media, and even Hollywood powerbrokers.

Dr. Fisher's book has been called "possibly the most thorough genealogy of Irish-American waterfront crime to date." During class last year, Dr. Fisher took us to the waterfront, conveniently located just a few blocks from Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, where he shared with us the overpowering corruption and violence on the West Side docks. In January, Professor Fisher was featured in this very interesting New York Times article.

Professor Fisher is one of the shining examples of the great work coming out of Fordham's faculty and we congratulate him for the years of labor he put into this book.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Thinking About Welfare

In my Contemporary Social Issues and Policies class, a major topic of discussion is the Feminization of Poverty and Welfare Reform. While welfare reform was largely considered a “success” during the 1990s when the economy was growing and jobs were readily available, this is not so much the case today. We all know that in recent years the economy has been in a continual decline and jobs have become less and less available.

The intent of welfare reform, which was initiated through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, was to cut back on welfare rolls. Welfare reform was especially directed at mothers with children and sought to encourage these women to enter the work force.

TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) eliminated welfare entitlement. Therefore, people who were eligible for welfare were no longer guaranteed assistance. TANF also put a time limit on federal aid and required all recipients (including single parents) to find work within two years of receiving aid.
In my class, we discussed how welfare reform promotes seemingly contradictory ideologies. On one hand, it encourages “liberal individualism” by advocating “personal responsibility” and “self sufficiency,” as it calls for mothers to be independent wage earners. Yet on the other hand, the legislation advocates “traditional family values” by encouraging marriage and two-parent families. TANF sought to “prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies” (Hays 2003: 17).

An article by Gina Adams and Monica Rohacek entitled, “Child Care and Welfare Reform,” discusses how child care was a key element of welfare reform. Although not all eligible families could receive adequate child care, “low-income working families that have NOT recently received welfare are LESS likely to receive assistance than those leaving welfare.” Therefore, child care “favors mothers who have been on welfare over equally poor mothers who have not.” This can be interpreted as a means of encouraging mothers to get off welfare by providing them with more assistance. Therefore, this seems to reflect the original goal of welfare reform which was to cut back on welfare and get women employed. However, if child care support isn’t there for working women, then I don't see how the system is going to work effectively.

Additionally, the article includes information in regard to a recent study of sixteen states which showed that low income families were generally not receiving adequate subsidies overall. The study found that no state was serving more than 25 percent of the families who would qualify for subsidies under federal income limits and some were even serving less than 10 percent.

The fact that the working poor are less likely to receive assistance than those who are transitioning off welfare can be seen as a gap in the social safety net. It is true that aid is not always available for those who need it the most.


The Olympics have a spellbinding effect on the world. Every two years, we watch the world's top athletes push themselves to the edge of their physical capabilities and represent their individual countries. While the modern games are ridden with sponsorship extravagance, performance enhancing drugs and other controversies, at their core, the games are still a cultural symbol of peaceful competition. They are a source of unity amongst a world of great difference and have a cultural permanence that will hopefully continue for centuries to come. The video below shows some of the larger themes the Olympics represent and the pride the host state, America and the entire world take in them.