Federal Government Needs Restraint

Editorial
Federal Government Needs Restraint

The Radionian
By Ashton Pittman, Opinions Editor
February 2010, Volume 86, No. 4

Right now, the state of Mississippi is struggling to deal with important issues like educational funding, state health care and the budget. Universities are raising tuition costs and consolidation of some is under consideration for cost efficiency.

Medicaid is presenting difficulties to the state as it takes up a greater percentage of the overall budget each year, and the national health care debate is not making things easier. Our state is approximately $400 million behind the year’s anticipated revenue and state lawmakers do not expect the situation to improve over the next year as the economic crisis continues onward.

State Senator Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville) recently expressed his frustration at how the federal government’s excessive spending and its debate over health care have compounded the issues and impeded the ability of individual states, like Mississippi, to efficiently deal with our own issues (see story on front page).

The federal level chaos has created such a high degree of uncertainty for Mississippi that it is even harder to make tough choices in terms of budget cuts and tax increases. While McDazniel was clear that he will not support tax increases on Mississippi citizens, he pointed out that it would be almost impossible for Mississippi to tax its citizens who are already overtaxed by the federal government.

The election of Senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts in January was a clear referendum from a state that has not elected a Republican to the senate in more than half a century that is fed up with the federal government’s recklessness and seeming lack of concern for the plights of Massachusetts citizens. Maybe more states should begin demanding that the federal government cease and desist for a while so that states can do what is best for their own citizens.

It is clear that the unrestrained spending that began with the stimulus package last year is making it nearly impossible for state and local governments to effectively deal with their own issues. The federal government should step back, scale down, halt massive spending reform efforts like health care reform for now, and give state governments an opportunity to deal with their own citizens without having their hands tied by further reckless decisions at the federal level. Jackson, MS should be allowed to function without the great specter of Washington, D.C. looming over it.

Examine Reasons for Season

Editorial
Examine Reasons for Season

The Radionian
By Ashton Pittman, Opinions Editor
December 2009, Volume 86, No. 3

Christmas seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. Retail giants such as Wal-Mart and Target grow increasingly competitive with the fight for early holiday sales and promotions. This is true to such an extent that it seems that the spirit of Christmas that made it such a joyful event has been muddled behind the marketing aspect of it.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of eager moms, dads, spouses, and very good friends are up in the pre-dawn hours to line up outside malls, toy stores and department stores in order to catch the much anticipated Black Friday sales. Once the doors open, chaos ensues as people sprint in all directions to find the Christmas gifts they come seeking. Maternal fervor kicks in all across the country as moms battle each other for the last remaining of the year’s most popular toy.

This cartoon won first place for Best Cartoon in the Student division of the Mississippi Press Association's "Better Newspaper Contest," 2009-2010.

Tragically, last year, one Wal-Mart employee at a location in Long Island was trampled to death by an out-of-control mob while four other shoppers were injured, including one pregnant woman who had to be rushed to the emergency room. The mob of shoppers also knocked the doors off of their hinges at the store’s entrance.

If Christmas is about peace on earth and good will toward men, then it follows that such pandemonium isn’t the best example of the Christmas spirit.

In former times, Christmas was a more whimsical and family-oriented time of singing, dazzling lights and decorations. It was a time when people recognized the less fortunate in the world and gave in charity. Christmas was also a time of giving gifts to family and friends.

Today, however, that idea of giving has been superseded by the mad rush to obtain the gifts themselves. In many ways, it has almost because a sport for many to find the best deals and most sought after Christmas gifts.

So this year, take a step back and remember why we buy Christmas gifts in the first place. While we may be eager to rush out with the masses, stop and remember that Christmas is meant to be a time of peace and joy, not a time of stress. While the old adage that Christmas is about giving and not about receiving is true, it is also true that while Christmas is about giving, it is not about buying gifts.

Jackson’s Death Exposes Abuse of Celebrities by Society

Jackson’s Death Exposes Abuse of Celebrities by Society

The Radionian
By Ashton Pittman, Opinions Editor
November 2009, Volume 86, No. 2

Only four months after the pop legend’s death, a new film composed of footage from the tour Michael Jackson was preparing for is set to be released with footage from live rehearsals. Yet even in the aftermath of his troubled life, individuals and the media are still relentlessly hounding him with accusations and criticisms.

In fact, at the very hour news of his death hit, there were journalists on live television across multiple news networks reminding everyone that he had been suspected of child molestation amongst numerous other impolite conversations. On Facebook, everyone had something to say about his death in their status updates, including some who said that they were “glad that the child molester is dead.”
After living an extremely troubled life, growing up with an abusive father who only cared for him as much as he could exploit him for financial gain, living through numerous trials that publicity seeking parents had brought against him, an easy target, Jackson died only to continue to be the recipient of our harshest criticisms and least compassion.
Yet Jackson’s actions in life never provided evidence that his critics were correct in any way. In fact, they proved the opposite.
Perhaps because of his missed childhood, he never truly grew. Though hurt himself, he still saw the world through more innocent eyes than most of us, choosing to see the good in people and the need that others had. Guinness even identifies him as the most charitable celebrity in the world.
Look at the lyrics to many of Jackson’s songs and you will not see the perverse, hateful, womanizing, and downright despicable lyrics that so much of today’s popular music is made of. Instead, you will read lyrics about unity, a better world, and love for others.
Michael was not a child molester; he simply loved children, perhaps because he identified more with their innocent optimism, untainted by the bitterness that comes from life experience, than he did with the pessimistic realism of most adults. He’s even quoted as attributing his love for children to his faith, once saying that “Jesus said to love the children and be like children.”
If Jackson had a fault, it was his naivety in failing to realize that there were ravenous wolves who would take advantage of his tenderheartedness, seeing him as an easy target to use for the purpose of garnering fame and money for themselves.
Even though Jackson was acquitted both times due to insufficient evidence that he ever acted inappropriately towards a child, the damage was already done, and much of the media and the public had already condemned him.
We love to see the famous fall from grace, and when they do, we love to jump on the bandwagon of beating them up, mocking them, and treating them as if they are less than human.
In a way, this makes us feel better about our own problems and our own mistakes, and also assuages the jealousy some of us have towards those who have achieved fame and fortune. But of the thousands of celebrities who have suffered such a fate at the hands of the public, Michael Jackson is probably the least deserving. Yet even in death, he can’t seem to escape the endless barrage.
Next time you are tempted to levy criticism against Michael Jackson or any other celebrity, perhaps you should stop, take a look at the man in the mirror, and ask him to change his ways instead.

Open Minds Advance Society

Editorial
Open Minds Advance Society

The Radionian
By Ashton Pittman, Opinions Editor
November 2009, Volume 86, No. 2

“Imagine  world without religion.” Some people think the world would be a better and much more peaceful place. Perhaps, however, we should try to imagine a world without closed-minded people. Despite the many wars that have been waged over the centuries in the name of religion, they all boil down to closed-mindedness and even willful ignorance.

A prime example of this willful religious ignorance is the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. Known as “America’s most hated family,” Westboro members picket the funerals of U.S. soldiers, carrying signs with slogans such as “God Hates America” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” They claim the fallen soldiers are dead at the hands of God’s angry judgment because they fought for a country that tolerates gays.

They claim to believe the Bible and base their beliefs on a few passages that Pastor Fred Phelps uses to seemingly confirm his theological ideas. However, in context, it is clear that the Bible does not send a message of absolute hatred. Have these people ever stopped to ask if they are wrong? Have they ever tested their own beliefs? Probably not. It is likely that they have long justified their ignorance as faith.” However, faith is not the same thing as ignorance.

Being open-minded does not mean letting go of all standards. It means people must look beyond what they have been told to believe and examine why they believe it. If a person chooses, however, to remain ignorant, he may continue traditions of intolerance and injustice without even realizing it.

We should be open-minded in all aspects of our lives, including politics, science, religion and education. Then, if what we believe is true, that belief will only be confirmed. When a person fears to question his own beliefs, it shows that he may be afraid of being proven wrong.

Thomas Jefferson recognized the importance of an open mind when he said thus:

Shake of all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.”

Since Jefferson’s time, slavery has been abolished and women and minorities have gained equal rights under the law. Were it not for open minds, the presidential election of 2008 would have only been a contest between white men. Instead, two women, a man of mixed race and two white men all vied for the top two offices in the United States in one of the most hotly contested elections in history.

So keep an open mind. It may be what makes this world a better place for future generations.

U.S. Education Falls Behind World

Editorial
U.S. Education Falls Behind World

The Radionian
By Ashton Pittman, Opinions Editor
October 2009, Volume 86, No. 1

Mississippians are often reminded that our state ranks last in educational efficiency. What we are not often told, however, is that the rest of the United States is not far behind Mississippi.

A recent report by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that U.S. placed 18th among 36 other developed nations included in the assessment. A more comprehensive study in 2005 by the United Nations in which 14 and 15-year-old students across the globe were tested on their knowledge also found the U.S. to be occupying territory near the bottom of the list alongside Germany. Not only is the U.S. falling behind the rest of the world, but the rest of the world is moving forward.

Some may wonder how the most powerful nation on earth, which has birthed more technological advancements and revolutionary inventions than any other nation, could possibly be so far behind the rest of the world in education. There are a number of factors contributing to our declining performance.

Social ideologies perpetrated in recent decades have had far-reaching effects across U.S. culture, eventually poisoning our educational system as well. These ideologies reward and eventually promote failure. For example, many educators of younger children are afraid to award one student for his or her achievement without also awarding all the others, even if they failed abysmally. So, in order to ensure that none are left out, the educator will engage in a sort of academic socialism in which he “spreads the reward evenly” to both those who achieve and those who fail.

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea; not only is the achiever rewarded, but those who failed are praised as well and leave with a sense of achievement. The problem, however, is that it is a false sense of achievement that never challenges or motivates those students to a higher realization of their abilities but instead sanctions continued subpar performance.

Numerous retakes, dropped grades, “nice” teachers, after-school programs and mindless curriculums that elevate theory above application give students a false sense of the real world, which is why so many get eaten up by Social Darwinism after graduating high school. In the real world, there are no shift retakes, dropped “grades”, after-work programs, or “nice” employers. Application is everything, while theory is just that–theory.

The offending mentality is fed by the federal government, which loves to control public education as much as possible, while consistently undernourishing it. This is a government that absolutely insists that our students should not taste the disappointment of failure. It has constantly attempted to veil disparities by trying to ensure that we are all equally uneducating. By doing this, it avoids the problem of addressing the real issues.

All of this combines to send studnets one clear message: “You don’t really have to achieve. No matter how little effort you put into it, we will tell you that you did your best. It is okay to perform below your potential. Just live off the success of others; the group is more important than the individual, anyway.”

Our failing educational standards are the end result of a groupthink mentality, which sacrifices the individual on the altar of the social good. Until our society and educational system begins to promote the value of the individual, our nation will continue to fall even further in all areas, and not just in education.

More From My Interview With U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor

As promised, here are a few more quotes and bits of information from my interview with the U.S. Representative Gene Taylor (D, MS-4). The original Radionian article based on my interviews with Rep. Taylor and his potential opponent, Joe Tegerdine, can be read here.

Conservatism

Early in the fifteen minute interview, conducted on April 22, 2010, I made the mistake of framing a question in way that referred to Taylor as a “very moderate Democrat.” Before I could finish my question, he was quick to jump in and correct me, saying affirmatively “A very conservative Democrat.” Far from considering himself a liberal, Taylor is proud to call himself a conservative.

As I wrote in the article, he was quick to dismiss criticism of his Conservative credentials. He has been criticized multiple time for voting to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. When I asked him about this, he responded “That’s an election that took place in San Francisco.” Now, it is true that Nancy Pelosi was elected to Congress in San Francisco. However, it was in D.C. where Congress, including Taylor, voted to make her the Speaker. Looking back, I think he may have simply misunderstood my question.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

Congressman Taylor’s website indicates that he “supports the current ban on gays in the military.” On his website, he says that “to introduce openly gay men and women without serious regard for the consequences could severely damage the security and morale of our nation’s armed forces.”

I asked him if his mind had changed at all on the issue. I also asked if he would reconsider his position should any evidence arise that showed that gays in the military did not present a threat to the security and morale of our armed forces.

“Even amongst the senior officers there was very strong disagreement. I remain opposed to it.”

Federal Involvement in Education:

I had a pretty long conversation with Joe Tegerdine on education, but due to the time constraints of my conversation with Representative Taylor, he had to be more concise. He referenced his time in the Mississippi state legislature, and pointed out that he had dealt with education before. So how much federal involvement should there be?

“State should shoulder as much responsibility as possible.”

Taxes and the Debt

Though he did not directly say whether or not he would favor raising taxes to pay off the national debt, what he did say indicates that he probably would. He said that there will have to be some changes and that “any program worth doing is worth paying for right now. Otherwise, we shouldn’t be doing it.”

Healthcare

As I mentioned in the article, Taylor favor repeal of the healthcare bill but believes that the provision on pre-existing conditions is worthwhile. He related that he understands the difficulty someone with a pre-existing conditions faces when attempting to get insurance, referencing a family member who suffers from lyme disease.

“I’m the father of the father of a 21 year old who had a pre-existing condition.”

I suppose that “father of the father of” was a clever way of avoiding using the term “grandfather.”

Congressman Taylor did make a joke at my expense as I was beginning my final question. “I have just one more question,” I said. “Do they teach you that in journalism school?” he asked, laughing. He told me that phrasing the final question in such a way was an old journalism trick, and that I am far too young to already know it. I suppose he was expecting it to be my “GOTCHA!” question. Luckily for him, I was only asking what advice he had for college students.

Unfortunately, that’s about all the extra material I have for the interview with Representative Taylor. I enjoyed speaking to him, even though I do disagree with some of his positions.

More From My Interview With Joe Tegerdine

A few days ago, I posted an article I wrote for the May 2010 edition of The Radionian, which was based on interviews I conducted with U.S. Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi’s 4th district and his potential November opponent, Joe Tegerdine. Due to the constraints of an article, I was not able to include all of the information I garnered. Also, since it was strictly a news article and not an opinions article, I witheld my impressions and thoughts to preserve the integrity of the medium (besides, had I included my impressions, they would have been edited out anyway).

So, I’m going to post some more quotes and impressions from the interviews with the candidate and the Congressman. Here’s more from my conversation with Joe Tegerdine. Later, I will post more from my conversation with Congressman Taylor as well.

The Town Hall Meeting:

Joe Tegerdine went a little more in depth on the Town Hall meeting that spawned his candidacy. According to him, Taylor was dodging questions of other attendees and refusing to adequately answer one of his own, which was about The Give Act.

“I couldn’t believe how arrogant and condescending our congressman is. You know, you watch it on television and you just see these guys spin questions and never answer questions, and you expect it because it’s TV.”

“At the end I answered questions of people he had refused to answer, and then his comment to me was ‘This is my town hall meeting, not yours.'”

On the Political Establishment and His Candidacy:

“I called around our Republican leadership and talked to some of our elected leaders and nobody believed Gene Taylor could be beat.”

“I said ‘No, we can beat him. If we run the right campaign we can win.'”

“I think even some of the Democrats are starting to realize that they’ve put our country in a precarious situation economically.”

“If you have people in there who are making decisions based on re election and based on special interests–lobby money that they get through PACs–then the problems are not going to subside. We’ll continue on the same destructive path.”

“On our state level I’ve met a lot of are representatives. They’re pretty excited. They look at this as the future of politics of America. This is going to help us get back on track.”

“There’s always that negative element–the power structure, the powers that be–they don’t like to be challenged, and they don’t like someone like me who is an outsider to their politican network–coming and rattling the cages a bit.”

“I truly believe that if I wasn’t a viable candidate they would just ignore me. But based on the attacks I’m getting from both of my opponents, I’m pretty sure they both feel like ‘Okay, this guy is a challenger.’ And for Taylor, I’m a challenger. For Palazzo, I’m the guy he’s got to try to beat.”

“I’m not coming in ignorant. You know, just yelling and angry. I actually have some substance to what I believe and what I’m saying and what I think we need to do to get things back in order.”

On Education:

“I think that at some level you have to say, ‘Let’s stop treating the symptoms’– you know, all these different programs–Let’s put the responsibility back on the parents and say educate your kids.”

“There’s a lesson to be learned from winning and there’s a lesson to be learned from losing. I played on championship football teams and I played on teams that didn’t win a game the entire season and I learned valuable lessons from both. That’s life.”

“You’re going to probably fail more times that you’re going to succeed. So why are trying to insulate ourselves from that? Why are we trying to insulate our children from that lesson? It’s really absurd.”

On Welfare:

“I think the government has to slowly wean the states off of federal aid. It’s not Constitutional. I think you have to slowly wean them off. You can’t do it overnight or you’d have a humanitarian crisis.”

“We have to incentivize people to work. So if somebody can make $1000 a month working a job but the federal government gives them $1200 to do nothing, you have to remove that equation.”

On Term Limits:

Under Joe Tegerdine’s proposed Constitutional amendment, Senators would only be limited to only serving two terms (twelve years) and House Representatives would be limited to four terms (eight years). I asked him, however, why Senators should get twelve years when House Reps and even the President was limited to eight. He agreed that it would make sense to limit them to only eight years as well.

“I could see them having four years terms so that they would be like the President. I think that would be fine. I don’t think Senators have to be in there six years. I think it’s not as crucial for them to serve six.”

“I feel like we’ve been experimenting the for the last three-hundreds years with no term limits and I think it’s time we did a little experimenting with term limits.”

But how would we ever get Congressman and Senators to place limits on the offices that they themselves hold?

“Put in an exemption that this law only applies to new people coming into office,” he said.

On Faith

“As a candidate, I feel that it’s important that people know what my faith is.”

“I think people in our district expect to know where people stand on faith and religion. They want a leader who is going to be a strong Christian. I appreciate the other elected officials in our state who will mention their faith, their commitment to Christian principles.”

“When I think about the Establishment Clause, I think it’s definitely been misinterpreted. I don’t think that our founding fathers ever intended for the bill of rights to take religion out of government. If their intent was that there would be a state religion or a preference given to one denomination. I think for some reason we got way for off to where people think that Separation of Church and State means that there is no place for religion. There’s a reason why we traditionally have opened our sessions of Congress with a word of prayer. There’s a reason why at the inauguration there’s a prayer. It’s part of our culture, our heritage–our Christian faith. And to try to deny that or remove that from the public square is to take away from a necessary part of our culture.”

On Abortion:

“Ideally, Roe v. Wade would have never been put before the Supreme Court and it would have remained a state issue. But we know that some of the people in minority position will manipulate courts or push things through to get the court’s recognition and the approval that they desire.”

“I’ve considered before ‘What do you do with abortion?’ It’s really difficult because of that precedent that has been set with Roe v. Wade because they can’t legislate and say ban abortions. I think the only way to ban abortions would be a Constitutional Amendment that prohibits abortions. Otherwise I’m afraid it’s always going to be with us.”

“I would support anything that would help eliminate abortion.”

“Abortion affects our culture in ways that we sometimes don’t even realize. It permeates our thoughts about life and the sanctity of life and our relationship with others.”