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Every election term, I learn more about how this country really works.

I grew up believing that voting made me an engaged citizen. Remember Bush v. Gore? I didn’t know, until then, that elections were decided before all the votes from came in from Americans living abroad, including Americans in the military. If the election results that year weren’t so close, I wouldn’t have heard about that detail.

In 2008, President Obama got less votes than Hillary Clinton, but he won more delegates. I didn’t quite get the impact at the time. (Now I understand why Clinton supporters were so enraged.) As Hillary battled Bernie, and as the Stop Trump! movement tried to derail his candidacy, the importance of delegates sunk in.

I learned that delegates are a Party (Democrat or Republican) invention. A news reporter went to a Republican caucus and interviewed a party member. He asked whether or not it was fair for Republican delegates to deny Mr. Trump the nomination. I would summarize and paraphrase her response as, “It is fair because everyone has the same chance to come to party meetings and be a part of the decision-making process. If people are not involved, they get what they get.”

Whoa.

Voting comes at the end of a long decision–making and action–taking process. Engaged citizenship means being a part of the process from beginning to end. Voting is literally the least we can do.

The next NYS election will be on September 13. The registration deadline is August 19.

Rhonda Harrison completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

I listened to President Obama’s final State of the Union address.  He ended his address by putting the onus for the state of our political system on the American citizenry—us.  He closed the circle quite nicely.

Back in 2008, I was flipping channels and came across Michelle Obama making a speech.  Essentially, she said that if we elected her husband, we couldn’t abandon them once they entered the White House.  She said that her husband would need an engaged citizenry in order to govern well.  It was heartening to hear her.  As a citizen, I felt empowered.

I was encouraged to do something that I had not done since high school.  I read the United States Constitution.  I rediscovered the fact that the President’s job is to protect the Constitution.  I also learned that the states are where the real power is in the United States.  People who really want to be engaged and vote on high stakes elections should really keep their eyes on local races.

Senator Obama’s tagline was “Yes we can!”  President Obama is ending on a note of “Yes, you can!”  We should accept the challenge.

Rhonda Harrison has just completed her studies at CUNY SPS to earn her post-graduate certificate in Adult Learning & Program Design. She is a social worker with a background in workforce development and currently works as an Advisor at a community college.

Back in the 60’s, the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions were exciting and we all watched Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley report all the details from launch to splash down. Beginning with Alan Shepard’s 15 minute sub-orbital flight in 1961 and culminating with the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, the space program was fascinating.

The public thrill did not last long, and except for crises, disasters and firsts (ride, Sally Ride), we stopped paying too much attention. Launches rated little more than a few seconds on the evening news. However, so much science was going on! Besides the high profile space shuttle and space station programs, NASA has conducted hundreds of manned and unmanned missions and has many more proposed. I was astonished by the number and descriptions of each program and you can link to each one at http://www.nasa.gov/.

President Kennedy inaugurated the US space program with landing men on the moon as its goal. For over 40 years since that accomplishment, humans have been confined to earth orbit. In 2004, President George W. Bush announced a plan to return Americans to the moon by 2020 and ultimately, to reach Mars. He stated, “the desire to explore and understand is part of our character“. Two robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, successfully landed on Mars in 2004. Spirit stopped communicating last year and Opportunity continues to function beyond all expectations. President Obama reiterated the commitment to Mars but pushed the target date back to 2030, and robotic rover Curiosity was launched on November 26 on its 8 month journey to explore the planet.

According to NASA, this is the beginning of a new era in space exploration where the International Space Station will be used as a stepping stone. In addition, NASA plans to foster a commercial industry for projects within Earth’s orbit so energy and resources can be focused on sending astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. I hope they have read Packing for Mars by Mary Roach and can figure out all the complications by 2030. “The road ahead is challenging but this approach and space exploration architecture puts us in a position to go where no human has gone before.

Space exploration has provided countless benefits and NASA’s website has a list at http://techtran.msfc.nasa.gov/at_home.html. Of course, the benefits come with a high costs  and it is prudent to ask if the benefits are worth the expense, especially in these difficult economic times. Does the quest for knowledge and need to explore have a price tag?

Mary Casey is a student in the MS in Business Leadership and Management program at CUNY School of Professional Studies and is an alumna of Lehman College. She is an administrator for a university in NYC. She loves to travel and wants to see as much of the world as possible. Mary has more comments on the SPS blog than she received on the community/political blog that she created and maintained from 2002 to 2004.

With all the mayhem that’s been going on in Washington, D.C. and across the United States, you’d think politicos would use some measure of wisdom.  I’ve been reading articles, watching news reports and tweeting stories, which I feel has some semblance, contrary to all the madness.

Yesterday was Halloween and I read an article on the New York Daily News’ website, which said a “Virginia county GOP sent out a mass email depicting an ugly and disturbing image of our president of the United States.”

A 2006, copyrighted AP image of Obama was created by Virginia GOP committee, which showed him as a skeletal, one-eyed man with a bullet piercing his head.

Now, I’m all for free speech in this country and abroad, but I do believe there are certain actions, which cannot be tolerated nor endorsed.  Any image portraying a sitting president of the United States in a derogatory manner, whether one agrees or not with their policies, is just unacceptable.  No one will ever totally agree with every policy a president or political figure believes in.  But the blatant disrespect of the highest office on earth is unfathomable.

There were policies that our 43rd president didn’t seem to have much wisdom in, but I certainly wouldn’t revert to name calling of any sort for his lack thereof.

Democracy is one of our country’s crown jewels, but relegating to such childish antics only chip away at the very fabric most Americans hold dear to.  Our right to free speech should never be used as a buffeting force as a means to dishonor any citizen – especially our President of the United States of America.

Poking fun at or using convoluted imagery to assault the commander-in-chief’s character only reveals how un-American one can be.

Here’s what I mean.

As a class assignment in my Digital Information in the Contemporary World, we were asked to address images and visual literacy.  One aspect of the assignment challenged us to “briefly check out one of five (assigned) sites listed, all of which use (and/or talk about) images and visualizations in different ways.  My group was given the charge of observing and critiquing the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal.  I’ll submit two questions my professor posed to the class as a whole.

What is the source of the image or visualization? What do you know about how it was created and why? (Do you know enough?)

The sources of the images are from various photographers.  Ocean Portal either has the rights to use these images with permission from the owners or they’re the sole owners of these images.  I would gather these images were created to support the writer’s view on coral reefs and how they thrive in the ocean or not.

Question two: Have the images been manipulated or modified in any way? (Can you tell?) Does the modification, if any, enhance or distort? (Can you tell?

Yes, the images were manipulated to a degree to show the negative impact coral reefs can experience. For instance, the images show coral reefs in their highlight of vibrancy and full of color thriving in an ocean untouched by humans.  But in another screen shot,  high temperatures cause corals to lose the microscopic algae need to produce food, which feed other animals.  The high temperatures experienced in our oceans were due to global warming which shows our carbon footprint.

I also pointed out that, “the images were “distorted” to a degree with the magnification and added colors, used by the popular program photo shop.  This is the exact method that was used to distort the AP photo of our 44th President, Barack Obama.

How does my assignment have any connection to this article?

Well, as I stated earlier, visualization is one form of communication, which allows the artist, author, or blogger to get their point across.  In a book my classmate Fayola C. mentioned in her analysis of, Readings in Information Visualization: Using vision to think  she added “people think in images as much as they do in words.”

I’d have to whole-heartedly agree to that!

The derogatory image was immediately condemned by Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell and the Democratic Party of Virgina Spokesman, Brian Coy after which, the committee issued a public apology.

“The controversial image was first reported on the northern Virginia blog, Too Conservative.”

Even though the apology was issued, this group of free speech citizens wanted to justify their acts by declaring this in their statement, “[t]he Loudoun County Republican Committee yesterday sent an email to its members that represented a light-hearted attempt to inject satire into the Halloween holiday.”

I hardly call that humor.

Miranda A. Walker is currently in her freshman year in the B.A. in Communication & Culture program at CUNY School of Professional Studies.  She works in the multi-media industry as an Executive Assistant at the New York Daily News.  In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her children and reading immensely.  Her dream is to one day run her own company.

Aside from the expected non-stop wave of stops and applause, there was one line from the State of the Union address delivered last night by President Obama that stuck with me.

“None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be, or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do – what America does better than anyone – is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It’s how we make a living.”

– President Barack Obama, The State of the Union, 1/25/11

The technological revolution we are going through is being spoken of in the same context as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers.  It is just further proof that the advances in online interactivity are something profoundly significant.  That the President choose to highlight these corporate powerhouses, both still in their relative infancy, as the new vanguards of the American economy and American ingenuity is worthy of a moment of discussion.

If our chief export is to be defined as innovation and ingenuity, it is impossible to avoid certain concerns.  We’re not talking about easily quantifiable products that will boost company revenues because we’re shipping more units and earning more money.  But the success stories of Facebook and Google are to be lauded because they are highlighting a new sort of social export that proves that America still has a lot to offer to the world, and will remain relevant and powerful on a global level thanks to sites that quite frankly, many people cannot live without.

We all love their products and can clearly point to a point in our lives before and after we began using them.  I’d wager that most folks would say that their lives have been improved (either subtly or significantly) thanks to either Facebook or Google.  But the truth is that one of the key selling points to both Google and Facebook is that they are both free.  Would you use either if they started charging?  Before you answer, seriously think about it.  Of course it’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction of mock disgust and dismay.  Pay?  For Facebook?  For Google?  Absurd.

But is it, really?  Think of the ease of information afforded to you by Google, and the convenience of contact that Facebook cultivates.  How much is that worth to you?  Something tells me it’s more than the whopping zero dollars we’re all paying right now.

I’m going to shift gears away from these hypotheticals, because luckily for us all, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing either site behind a pay wall in our lifetime.  If ever.  In fact, there have been so many nonsensical “news” stories claiming that Facebook will start charging, that the site recently changed their login page to reflect them:

Notice the pledge on the right hand side above the sign up fields that the site will always be free.  They needed to put that out there right in front to supersede all the bogus claims of turning into a paysite.  But those claims are based in the reality that, Facebook is probably indispensable to a large enough percentage of their user base that people would find themselves willing to pay.

But we won’t have to, and that’s a good thing.  The American economy is on its way to righting itself, and the future is looking bright.  We have companies innovating on a scale so massive that it is changing the way the world interacts and learns more than anything since the telephone.  State of the Unions are always a time for Presidents to put a positive spin on things, even if the situation is particularly dire.  But for once, I’m inclined to agree.  Things are changing for the better, and thanks to innovations by Facebook, Google, Apple, and companies we haven’t even heard of yet, they’re changing at a rapid rate that all but guarantees an exciting and unpredictable future.

Shawn Abraham is SPS’ Virtual Campus Manager, which means he gets to have a lot of fun building an online community for the school.  He also has a lot of fun reading books about zombies.  These two things rarely intersect.

A few weeks ago, in a supposed attempt to put a dent in the federal deficit, Obama announced that he would be freezing wages for federal employees—over 2 million workers.  Obama said, “The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice…And that sacrifice must be shared by the employees of the federal government.” This is just pure nonsense. Freezing wages for working class people in bad economic times will at best only contribute to a sluggish recovery, and at worst contribute to a double-dip into a recession.  Furthermore, why do ordinary Americans—most federal employees are not analysts making 6 figures—have to share the sacrifice alone? What about the rich?  Maybe they will just share their sacrifice in taxes….

Try again.  Yesterday, the Senate pretty much sured up the passage a controversial tax bill, as it cleared a procedural hurdle with overwhelming support.  The upside is that the bill extends unemployment benefits for 13 months. The downside is, well, everything else. Worst of all, it will extend Bush-era tax cuts, including the ones for the rich—going against one of his biggest campaign promises not to do so.  This part of the bill was forcefully pushed by Republicans but Obama easily caved in, per usual these days.  Yes, you heard me right. The bankers on Wall St. and the other super rich get “socialism for the rich” through bailouts, and they also get rewarded with tax breaks.

Firstly, this is, and should be, a huge insult to every working person in the United States.  It shows that bankers and corporations matter most, and they will be rewarded no matter how much they ruin our economy and people’s lives in the process.  Secondly, the fact that unemployment benefits were held hostage and tagged onto a bill that will hurt working people should also be an insult. Thirdly, it will add to the federal deficit by taking away billions of dollars in federal revenue.  Confused? Weren’t they trying to reduce that? Fourthly, it shows that the elites really don’t care about the deficit.  It is merely used as an excuse to attack social spending on programs and services that benefit working people, and at the same time ensure that the rich get richer.  Now it makes sense, no?

As I argued in a previous post, on the whole the Democrats are not able to put forth truly progressive economy policy because they are beholden to moneyed interests.  However, this seems to be the beginning of austerity programs that are not only regressive, but represent an escalation of the thirty years or so attack that has been taking place against working America.  Sadly, they will only worse under the coming Republican controlled House and weakened Democratic Senate. And, yes, this should be cause for great concern.

I could continue to explain the ills of the measures, but I think they speak for themselves.  The real question is what to do.  I think these recent events change the game plan a bit.  More than ever I am convinced that there is very little hope of getting any progressive measure passed in the next two years on a national level, and the chances of regressive measures has increased. Therefore, I believe we must focus more than ever on building grassroots opposition to any and all policies and forces that siege oppressed communities.  We need to start now if we are to have any influence in the years to come.

I think for the labor movement this means a few things.   It means that it is time for it to take its place as a leading actor and advocate for working and oppressed people everywhere. In a great article in the New Labor Forum, Stephen Lerner of SEIU says:

This is the time to offer a moral voice for those devastated by the economic crisis, and to have the courage and passion to liberate ourselves from the straitjacket of limited expectations. Unions, and their members, must join with communities long mired in poverty—and the tens of millions of people being forced out of the middle class—to imagine and articulate a vision of a better world, and to help lead the battle to win it. We have the opportunity to work with a growing group of potential allies to develop a plan and strategy to achieve that vision—but, to do so, we have to question and challenge long held assumptions and ideas.

One of those “long held assumptions” is that what is good for free market capitalism is good for us.  We need to ditch that in the gutter.  So, yes, we are in tough political climate, but we should use such hectic times to provide a true voice of hope and vision; and a vehicle to exercise collective will to reach it.  Let’s get started. It’s getting cold.

John Cronan Jr is a restaurant worker, organizer, and a masters student at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.  Currently, he is a volunteer organizer for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). John is also an avid Boston sports fan.