Paula Abdul, American Idol and Pay Equity for Women

*** I admit, I have never been a fan of American Karaoke Idol.  But when I heard about Paula Abdul leaving the show, I thought to myself, “Straight Up?”  I mean, that is a lot of money to turn down in light of what she, Simon, Randy and that other lady does.  Which is much of nothing in the whole scheme of things.  I said to myself, “Paula must really be rich and set for life to walk away from a ‘job’ where you get paid millions to basically, let’s face it, show up and do much of nothing.  But after hearing Michel Martin’s comments, I can definitely see the other side of it.  I still don’t care about American Karaoke, but I do believe the subject matter to be very relevant! 

 Michel Martin, Host of NPR’s “Tell Me More

Michel Martin

Finally, and I can’t believe I’m talking about this either. But I have to weigh on Paula Abdul’s decision to leave “American Idol.” I know, I know. Sonia Sotomayor she is not.

Ms. PAULA ABDUL (Entertainer): …that, I, you know, there’s something, first of all one thing that I was kind of – I was kind of surprise you picked that song. But when, well first of all, you’re like this bright light in this competition. You, you’re…

MARTIN: Now published reports suggest she is leaving because she wanted a raise from the approximately $3.5 million in salary and benefits she receives now to somewhere in the range of $10 million and the producers said no.

Now 3.5 million sounds like a lot of money and it is. I wouldn’t sneeze at it until you consider that host Ryan Seacrest just signed a deal worth something like $45 million for the next three years. Simon Cowell is said to be making some $30 million a year. And Randy Jackson is said to be making close to that, for doing what exactly? The same thing she does.

Of course, reporting about entertainment salaries is notoriously unreliable. The people who get paid to put out these stories have all kinds of incentives to lie in either direction. But let’s just assume that the reports are within range of accurate. What exactly does any of these three men do that merits their receiving three to 10 times the pay for doing the same work as Abdul does? Anybody? Anybody?

Could I just tell you ladies and gentlemen, this is what pay equity is about. It’s about women getting paid the same as men for doing the same work. A gap that’s been so well documented that it hardly bears arguing anymore. A December 2008 study by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank, estimated that women in all occupations in all parts of the country and in all education levels experience this gap and it amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages over the course of a 40-year career.

Paula Abdul

I would submit it’s so taken for granted that it actually generates headlines and no small amount of unflattering commentary when women like Barbara Walters or Katie Couric or Julia Roberts actually do manage to get the same pay. The attitude seems to me, why do they deserve that? I don’t know. Why does anybody?

I understand that pay is often not about what you deserve but about what you can negotiate. And I get that it’s hard to feel sorry for anybody who makes that much money for doing something that doesn’t look all that hard, coming up with new trite things to say about bad singing and worse clothing. And I get that pay can often hinge on intangibles, star power, chemistry. But in that score, it’s hard to argue that there should be any difference at all.

As Paula said in her statement on Twitter announcing her departure, she has clearly been integral to the success of this iteration of “American Idol.” Her loopy Earth mother routine, her mesmerizing incoherence, it’s hard to argue she is somehow less compelling than the three other regulars on the show.

Even her off screen antics, ethically questionable as they may be, generate buzz for the program. And while I think the allegation that she had a dalliance with a contestant is serious if true. If it is true she should’ve been fired and she wasn’t.

I have a minister friend, a community activist who will sometimes mention to me some person who’s getting jammed up and assessing its overall importance he’ll tell me, that’s too bad but ain’t marching for him.

Now I can see why you might say, I ain’t marching for her. But maybe somebody should be. Maybe all those teen and ‘tween girls who are so busy texting and calling in and generating millions of dollars in profits to that show should ask themselves, if Paul Abdul can’t get paid the same money for doing the same work as Randy, and Simon, and Ryan, can I?

Jay-Z vs. The Game, Music, & Foreign Policy Power Tactics

I came across this story recently, and thought it quite clever and interesting.  In addition to the original post by the author Marc Lynch, there is a feature on the story from today’s Morning Edition page on NPR.org.  Basically he compares foreign policy conflicts to rap feuds.  He has a compelling argument too.

After reading the story below, you can have a little more fun with it by listening to this older commentary by music critic Steven Ivory.  This clip is from 2004 but it’s relevant he touches on Kim Jong Il and how to avoid a nuclear war with North Korea if our president takes him out for a good time.

Enjoy!

Jay-Z vs the Game: Lessons for the American Primacy Debate

by, Marc Lynch of ForeignPolicy.com

Late last week, the Los Angeles rapper the Game launched a blistering attack against the legendary New York blogger rapper :>) Jay-Z.   At a series of European shows, the Game led crowds in cheers of “F*** Jay-Z” and “Old Ass N*****”, and at one point went into an obsenity laced (but rather wickedly funny) rampage against Jay-Z’s fiance’ (wife?) Beyonce.  Over the weekend, he released “I’m So Wavy [Too Hardcore to be a Jay-Z]” an inconsistent but catchy attack on Jay-Z (note: all links are to songs which are almost certainly NSFW and which you might find offensive; you’ve been warned).  When I started feeding this stuff to my friend Spencer Ackerman last week, his first take was that “the countdown to the end of the Game’s career starts today.” Mine, me being a professor of international relations, was to start thinking about how this could be turned into a story about the nature of hegemony and the debate over the exercise of American power.  (That, and how I could waste time that I should be spending on real work.)

See, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is the closest thing to a hegemon which the rap world has known for a long time.  He’s #1 on the Forbes list of the top earning rappers.  He has an unimpeachable reputation, both artistic and commercial, and has produced some of the all-time best (and best-selling) hip hop albums including standouts Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and the Black Album.  He spent several successful years as the CEO of Def Jam Records before buying out his contract a few months ago to release his new album on his own label.  And he’s got Beyonce.  Nobody, but nobody, in the hip hop world has his combination of hard power and soft power.  If there be hegemony, then this is it.  Heck, when he tried to retire after the Black Album, he found himself dragged back into the game (shades of America’s inward turn during the Clinton years?). 

 But the limits on his ability to use this power recalls the debates about U.S. primacy.  Should he use this power to its fullest extent, as neo-conservatives would advise, imposing his will to reshape the world, forcing others to adapt to his values and leadership?  Or should he fear a backlash against the unilateral use of power, as realists such as my colleague Steve Walt or liberals such as John Ikenberry would warn, and instead exercise self-restraint?  

 The changes in Jay-Z’s approach over the years suggest that he recognizes the realist and liberal logic… but is sorely tempted by the neo-conservative impulse. Back when he was younger, Jay-Z was a merciless, ruthless killer in the “beefs” which define hip hop politics.  He never would have gotten to the top without that.  But since then he’s changed his style and has instead largely chosen to stand above the fray.   As Jay-Z got older and more powerful, the marginal benefits of such battles declined and the costs increased even as the number of would-be rivals escalated.  Just as the U.S. attracts resentment and rhetorical anti-Americanism simply by virtue of being on top, so did Jay-Z attract a disproportionate number of attackers.   “I got beefs with like a hundred children” he bragged/complained on one track. 

His ability to respond actually declined as his power and enemies list grew, though. As a young 50 Cent spat at him (twisting one of Jay’s own famous lines), “if I shoot you I’m famous, if you shoot me you’re brainless.”  He’s generally avoided getting embroiled in beefs since reaching the top, only occasionally and briefly hitting back at provocations from rising contenders like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, and others.  Responding to every challenge does not become a hegemon. Indeed, it would be counter-productive and exhausting, and would likely trigger even greater resentment among other rising rappers.  Better as hegemon to rise above the fray and accept the sniping of the less powerful while reaping the rewards of a status quo which he dominates and profits from excessively. And that’s what happened:  his wealth, status, and structural power rose inexorably despite the potshots and abuse and unmet challenges — indeed, the only real hit he’s taken was self-inflicted, the critical shrug given to the middling “Kingdom Come” album.

 When he learnt this lesson might also offer insights into how great powers in IR learn.  He changed his style after his most famous beef, and the only one which he lost:  his battle with the Queensbridge legend Nas.   The reasons for his loss are instructive.  Jay-Z launched what Nas later described as a “sneak attack” at a time when the latter’s mother was ailing. Why?  Because Nas was at the time recognized widely as the king of NYC rap, and Jay-Z (the rising power) saw that only by knocking off the king could he seize the crown for himself.   A few brief skirmishes — a Jay-Z freestyle mentioning Nas, the first “Stillmatic” response from Nas — then led to the full blast of “The Takeover”.   Rather than fold, Nas hit back with the instant legend “Ether”.  It went back and forth, and then, crucially, Jay-Z misplayed his hand. In “Super Ugly”, about 2 minutes in to a pretty good track, he escalated to a crude personal revelation about his sexual exploits with the mother of Nas’s child — prompting Jay’s mother to call in to a radio station to complain and forcing Jay to apologize.  The lesson:  just because you’ve got an ace card doesn’t mean you should play it… better to keep it in reserve, for fear of triggering a backlash. 

 But what happened next is even more interesting.  The beef actually helped both:  it lit a fire under Nas, who renewed his career, while Jay-Z continued to ascend to his current position (with the Black Album probably still standing as the pinnacle). Jay-Z acknowledged his defeat (on Blueprint 2) and learned lessons from it (while taking a few last shots, and claiming credit for reviging his rival’s career (“I gave you life when n**** had forgotten you MC’d”).  Nas opted to settle the beef, reconcile, and sign on with Def Jam Records — where he became one of Jay’s leading and most valuable artists.   In a world of unipolarity, both win through co-optation, reconciliation between enemies, and the demonstration that the gains of cooperation outweigh the gains of resistance.  

 Which brings us back to the Game.  The Game (Jayceon Taylor) is a wildly erratic, brilliantly talented L.A. gangsta rapper, a protege of Dr. Dre who started off with 50 Cent and G-Unit.  After an ugly break with them, he unleashed a barrage of brutal attacks on G-Unit and 50 Cent culminating in an epic 300 bars freestyle.  The Game clearly won the battle on its merits, but 50 Cent’s career continued relatively unharmed (he was #1 on last year’s Forbes list before being displaced by Jay-Z this year, though his reputation as a rapper has declined significantly after some mediocre albums and a humiliating defeat in a public showdown over album sales at the hands of Kanye West, of all people).  Meanwhile, the Game established himself as a solid solo act.  In that  war between a rising power and a upper-echelon middle power, both ultimately benefited.   

 Jay-Z is a bit different, given his hegemonic status and the absence of a prior relationship. The Game has always had a particularly odd, passive-aggressive relationship with Jay-Z.  His first hit “Westside Story” contained a line about not driving Maybachs (Jay’s signature car) which everyone took as a diss.  The Game panicked, and spliced into the title track of his debut album “The Documentary” a radio interview explaining that he had meant it as a shot against Ja Rule (everyone’s favorite hip hop punching bag) and that he “never takes shots at legends, that’s just not something I do.” Yeah, right.  Over the next few years, he would routinely go out of his way to say that he was not dissing Jay-Z even when it sounded like he was (“before you call this a diss, and you make Hova pissed, why would I do that, when I’m just the new cat, that was taught if a n****take shots to shoot back, defending his yard, yeah standing his ground, I’m sayin if you gonna retire then hand me the crown.”)  Think of him as a rising middle power (#13 on the Forbes list, down there with Young Jeezy, he helpfully explains on I’m So Wavy) eyeing the king, ambitious and a bit resentful, and looking for an opening.  

 So what prompted him to finally cross the line and attack Jay-Z?  There doesn’t seem to be anything in the public record to speak of — the proximate cause was a throwaway line in a Jay-Z freestyle which didn’t even attack him (“I ain’t talkin’ about THE GAME”).  His ego has always been there, and the Jay-Z obsession (in “360” earlier this year, he memorably rapped over Jay’s Million and One beat “I’m the king and you better respect it, all I need is Beyonce and a Roc-a-Fella necklace”).  Maybe he really just wants to test himself (he says on his Twitter feed “I ALWAYS FELT I WAS GOOD ENUFF 2 GO BAR 4 BAR @ JAY IN A “LYRICAL BEEF”), the way rising powers do.  Or maybe he just is hoping for publicity… wouldn’t be the first. But none of that explains the timing, even if it might account for the attack itself.  So let’s go with the IR analogies for a moment.

 The Game’s own account suggests that he saw vulnerability in Jay-Z’s over-extension.  First, supposedly Jay-Z got Chris Brown blackballed from the BET Video Awards by threatening to stay home if he performed.  Second, D.O.A., the first single off of Blueprint 3, attacked a whole generation of rappers using the Autotune program to sing (including such great powers as Lil Wayne, Snoop Dogg, and Kanye West as well as the hapless T-Pain). Taken together, that might add up to a growing resentment which could be exploited. Maybe he calculated that now was the moment to strike, and that the rest of the middle powers will ally with him to topple the tyrant.  

 But still, the timing is odd for a “power transition” narrative, given that Jay-Z is set to release his new Blueprint 3 album in September and has done a whole series of verses with other leading rappers in recent years (including Nas, Lil Wayne, and T.I.) which is to hip hop as “alliances” are to International Relations.  He may be old, but hardly looks like a declining power…. although perhaps Game simply detects weakness in Jay-Z’s age.  After all, he tweeted at one point that he “really don’t hate jay’s old music, but this new sh!t is convalescent home elevator music.” He clearly understands the extent of Jay-Z’s structural power, daring a long list of influential DJs to play I’m So Wavy.  

 So what does Jay-Z do?  If he hits back hard in public, the Game will gain in publicity even if he loses… the classic problem of a great power confronted by a smaller annoying challenger.   And given his demonstrated skills and talent, and his track record against G-Unit, the Game may well score some points.  At the least, it would bring Jay-Z down to his level — bogging him down in an asymmetric war negating the hegemon’s primary advantages.   If Jay-Z tries to use his structural power to kill Game’s career (block him from releasing albums or booking tour dates or appearing at the Grammy Awards), it could be seen as a wimpy and pathetic operation — especially since it would be exposed on Twitter and the hip hop blogs. 

 The Realist advice?  His best hope is probably to sit back and let the Game self-destruct, something of which he’s quite capable  (he’s already backing away from the hit on Beyonce) — while working behind the scenes to maintain his own alliance structure and to prevent any defections over to the Game’s camp.  And it seems that thus far, that’s exactly what he’s doing. We’ll see if that’s a winning strategy…. or if he’s just biding his time getting ready for a counter-attack.   Either way, I’ve succeeded in wasting a lot of time so… mission accomplished!

Is Gay The New Black?

LZ Granderson says criticism of President Obama by the gay community has gone too far.

LZ Granderson doesn’t think so. 

(CNN) — Far from flowing rainbow flags, the sound of Lady Gaga and, quite honestly, white people, stands a nightclub just outside of Wicker Park in Chicago, Illinois, by the name of The Prop House.

The line to get in usually stretches down the block, and unlike many of the clubs in Boystown and Andersonville, this one plays hip-hop and caters to men who may or may not openly identify as gay, but without question are black and proud.

And a good number of them are tired of hearing how the gay community is disappointed in President Obama, because they are not.

In recent weeks, one would have thought the nation’s first black president was also the nation’s biggest homophobe. Everyone from Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black and radio personality Rachel Maddow to Joe Solmonese, the president of Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay advocacy group, seem to be blasting Obama for everything from “don’t ask don’t tell” to Adam Lambert not winning American Idol.

In their minds, Obama is not moving fast enough on behalf of the GLBT community. The outcry is not completely without merit — the Justice Department’s unnerving brief on the Defense of Marriage Act immediately comes to mind. I was upset by some of the statements, but not surprised. (After the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, President Ronald Reagan’s initial handling of AIDS and, more recently, Katrina, there is little that surprises me when it comes to the government and the treatment of its people.)

Still, rarely has criticism regarding Obama and the GLBT community come from the kind of person you would find standing in line at a spot like The Prop House, and there’s a reason for that.

Despite the catchiness of the slogan, gay is not the new black.

Black is still black.

And if any group should know this, it’s the gay community.

Bars such as The Prop House, or Bulldogs in Atlanta, Georgia, exist because a large number of gay blacks — particularly those who date other blacks, and live in the black community — do not feel a part of the larger gay movement. There are Gay Pride celebrations, and then there are Black Gay Prides.

There’s a popular bar in the heart of the nation’s capital that might as well rename itself Antebellum, because all of the white patrons tend to stay upstairs and the black patrons are on the first floor. Last year at the annual Human Rights Campaign national fundraiser in Washington, D.C. — an event that lasted more than three hours — the only black person to make it on stage was the entertainment.

When Proposition 8 passed in California, white gays were quick to blame the black community despite blacks making up less than 10 percent of total voters and whites being close to 60 percent. At protest rallies that followed, some gay blacks reported they were even hit with racial epithets by angry white participants. Not to split hairs, but for most blacks, the n-word trumps the f-word.

So while the white mouthpiece of the gay community shakes an angry finger at intolerance and bigotry in their blogs and on television, blacks and other minorities see the dirty laundry. They see the hypocrisy of publicly rallying in the name of unity but then privately living in segregated pockets. And then there is the history.

The 40th anniversary of Stonewall dominated Gay Pride celebrations around the country, and while that is certainly a significant moment that should be recognized, 40 years is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country. There are stories some blacks lived through, stories others were told by their parents and stories that never had a chance to be told.

While those who were at Stonewall talk about the fear of being arrested by police, 40 years ago, blacks talked about the fear of dying at the hands of police and not having their bodies found or murder investigated. The 13th Amendment was signed in 1865, and it wasn’t until 1948 that President Harry S Truman desegregated the military. That’s more than an 80-year gap.

Not to be flip, but Miley Cyrus is older than Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That doesn’t mean that the safety of gay people should be trivialized or that Obama should not be held accountable for the promises he made on the campaign trail. But to call this month’s first-ever White House reception for GLBT leaders “too little too late” is akin to a petulant child throwing a tantrum because he wants to eat his dessert before dinner. This is one of the main reasons why so many blacks bristle at the comparison of the two movements — everybody wants to sing the blues, nobody wants to live them.

This lack of perspective is only going to alienate a black community that is still very proud of Obama and is hypersensitive about any criticism of him, especially given he’s been in office barely six months.

If blacks are less accepting of gays than other racial groups — and that is certainly debatable — then the parade of gay people calling Obama a “disappointment” on television is counterproductive in gaining acceptance, to say the least. And the fact that the loudest critics are mostly white doesn’t help matters either.

Hearing that race matters in the gay community may not be comforting to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

**** BB&G Notes – Opinions for either argument are welcome.  Please come intelligent regardless.

Ending No Fault Divorce: Guest Commentary from Leah Ward Sears

I found this article on CNN.com to be interesting.  It’s definitely something we should talk about.  As a man who came from an unstable background as a child, the older I get, the more I feel that families and stable homes for children are the foundation of a solid community.  Strong families are what make nations great for so many reasons.    What do you think?

Leah Sears stepped down as chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court to work on strengthening families.

Editor’s note: Leah Ward Sears stepped down this week as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. In 1992, she became the first woman — and youngest person — appointed to Georgia’s highest court.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — After Tommy’s sudden death, we found among my brother’s personal effects a questionnaire he had completed in 2005 for a church class.

The very first question was a fill-in-the-blank that went like this: “At the end of my life, I’d love to be able to look back and know I’d done something about …..”

“Fathers,” Tommy wrote.

When asked to identify something that angered him that could be changed, Tommy wrote, “Re-establishment of equity and balance and sanity within the American family.”

My brother was born to be a father, and he grew into a good and loving one. Tommy was tall and handsome, smart, witty and fun. A graduate of the Naval Academy and a Stanford-educated lawyer, he married and fathered a little girl and boy who were the center of his life.

Tommy felt that one of the worst problems in our country today was family breakdown and fatherlessness. He railed against intentional unwed childbearing and the ease with which divorce was possible. He didn’t like that we have become a society that values the rights of adults to do their own thing over our responsibility to protect our children.

As a judge I have long held a front row seat to the wreckage left behind by our culture of disposable marriage and casual divorce that my brother so despised.

No-fault divorce was a response to a very real problem. The social and legal landscape that preceded it largely prevented casual divorce, but it often trapped people in abusive marriages. It also turned divorces into even uglier affairs than they are today, forcing people to expose in court damaging information about their children’s other parent. That system was intolerable, and we should never go back to that.

But no-fault divorce’s broad acceptance as an unquestioned social good helped usher in an era that fundamentally altered the seriousness with which marriage is viewed. It effectively ended marriage as a legal contract since either party can terminate it, with or without cause. This leaves many people struggling to remake their lives after painful divorces that they do not want. It also left many parents cut off from, or sidelined in, the lives of the children they love.

When Tommy divorced, as in so many cases, a bitter struggle over resources and the children ensued. My brother came to believe that the legal system turned him into a mere visitor of his children.

Tommy eventually accepted a job as a lawyer for the State Department and went to Iraq (and later to Dubai) in order to make the money needed to support his children. Being in a war zone, under terrible conditions without the children he loved, was unbearable to him.

On November 5, 2007, my phone rang before daybreak. A U.S. Foreign Service officer was on the other line. Was I the sister of William Thomas Sears?

I knew before I was told what had happened. Tommy had died. But the cause took my breath away: My brother had taken his own life.

I know I’ll never understand fully all that factored into his decision to kill himself. No doubt Tommy was wrestling with more demons than he had ever admitted to me or knew himself. But as a divorcee myself and, for a number of years, a single parent, I know the immense pain of divorce and its aftermath. The limitations the law placed on Tommy’s right to raise his own children after his divorce magnified my brother’s pain and was, I believe, more than he could live with.

Tommy was only 53 when he committed suicide. That was more than a year ago, and I am still learning to live without him and live with the fact that this man I looked up to all my life chose to end his own life.

Tommy’s loss has catapulted me even farther down a path I was already on. This may sound like heresy, but I believe the United States and a host of Western democracies are engaged in an unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. By refusing to do everything we can to stem the rising rate of divorce and unwed childbearing, our country often isolates fathers (and sometimes mothers) from their children and their families.

Of course, there are occasions when divorce is necessary. And not everyone should marry. But it has become too easy for people to walk away from their families and commitments without a real regard for the gravity of their decision and the consequences for other people, particularly children.

Removing no-fault divorce as a legal option may not be the right way to move forward, and the solutions we need may not be entirely legal in nature. But answers must be found. The coupling and uncoupling we’ve become accustomed to undermines our democracy, destroys our families and devastates the lives of our children, who are not as resilient as we may wish to think. The one-parent norm, which is necessary and successful in many cases, nevertheless often creates a host of other problems, from poverty to crime, teen pregnancy and drug abuse.

The loss of my brother has changed my life, as these losses so often do to people. This summer, after 26 years, I’m hanging up my robe as a judge to return to private practice.

I will spend some of my time teaching a course in family law at the University of Georgia Law School. And I have accepted a fellowship at the Institute of American Values in New York — a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that contributes intellectually to strengthening families and civil society in the United States and the world.

At my request, the fellowship is named after my brother. As the William Thomas Sears Distinguished Fellow in Family Law, perhaps now I can truly do “something about fathers” — a mission I’m on for Tommy and a critical calling for all of us.

Eighth-Grade Graduations

A friend of mine forwarded this article to me recently.  I read it and thought the subject worthy of discussion. 

I have opinions that I will leave out of this post.  If there is any interest comment wise I will share my views later this week.

This came from the Raising Kane column of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, by Eugene Kane.

BTW: Kane also wrote a follow up article on this one responding to the feedback he got from this original post.  You can read here.

 

This is a much-anticipated time of year for hard-working graduates to celebrate their academic accomplishments with family and friends.

But eighth grade?

The sad fact is, in a city like Milwaukee, with its extremely high dropout rate, a majority of eighth-graders may never get a high school diploma. For some, eighth-grade graduation might be the highlight of their school days, which is pretty depressing.

Even President Barack Obama has taken note of the increased prominence of eighth-grade graduation celebrations.

“Now hold on a second – this is just eighth grade,” Obama said in his remarks about education last year during a campaign appearance at a Chicago church. “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”

I suspect Obama witnessed the same scene I did during visits to some central-city schools for eighth-grade ceremonies in recent years. My last visit, about three years ago, was an eye-opener.

There were 14-year-old boys and girls dressed to the nines, including formal wear, in front of an enthusiastic audience of friends and relatives. When the students received their “diplomas,” most were so demonstrative you might have assumed they were finished with their formal education.

I did a quick survey this week of some African-American friends with school-age children – mainly mothers – and discovered this particular issue has been drawing attention for some time.

“Yes, I think some black people are guilty of going too far with graduations, period!” said Tina King, who has a daughter graduating from the eighth grade this week. King said her daughter’s school wasn’t planning a traditional walk across the stage; a recognition dinner was planned instead.

King said she understood why some parents go overboard. “The thing is, with our black children being killed or dropping out of school, every graduation is a big thing,” she said.

Another friend who has attended more than a few eighth-grade graduations criticized the overkill. “Eighth grade is just a completion ceremony; they do not graduate until the 12th grade. Yet, every year I am amazed at the amount of money parents spend. I’ve seen limos, tuxes, formal gowns, sometimes the mothers, too.

“My question is, what do they have to look forward to when they actually do graduate, or are the parents going to these extremes because they are afraid that for many this will be their only ceremony?”

Teachers shared my concern but defended the ceremonies as a necessary enticement for some students. “With the way things are now and the new generation of kids, I think it’s good to celebrate accomplishments on any level to encourage their positive behavior,” said one educator.

That’s a good point. There’s nothing wrong with kids feeling good about themselves, but my fear is that the bar is being set so low, some students might start to view eighth grade as the high point of their education instead of simply the latest step.

I suggest each eighth-grade graduate should receive a heartfelt congratulation, quickly followed by a stern reminder about the challenges to come if they intend to receive a high school diploma one day. Celebrate quickly, because next school year, you’ll need to be ready to get back to work.

Ninth grade is no picnic.

Justice Obama? A Novel Idea!

Of course this isn’t going to happen… but I bet she would make an interesting Justice and bring a fresh perspective that’s needed.

Thanks for this article by Eva Rodriguez 

Justice Obama?

By Eva Rodriguez of the Washington Post

Mr. President:

Stop your search. I’ve got the perfect candidate for that soon-to-be vacant slot on the Supreme Court.

She’s a Harvard Law grad with a Princeton undergraduate degree. She was a lawyer in private practice with a prestigious national law firm. She worked in-house for a large and complex medical facility. She’s also paid her dues in local politics and knows a thing or two about the national political arena — yet she doesn’t have much of a paper trail.

 And this woman clearly has the empathy gene you’ve been looking for. (I have a feeling you’d hit it off during the one-on-one interview.) She knows first-hand how difficult it is to strike the right work-life balance. She knows what it’s like to put your career on hold to help a partner, a husband fulfill his dreams.  She has spoken eloquently about the plight of single moms and their challenges in making ends meet and finding quality child care. She knows through her own experiences and those of her family how far this country has come in eradicating racism and how far it still needs to go.

And — to state what is by now obvious — she is a woman of color. Best of all, Mr. President, she already lives right here in the nation’s capital and could walk to work. Think of the benefits to the environment! Jack had Bobby. You’ll have Michelle. Whether you call her First Lady or Madame Justice is up to you. Being commander in chief has its privileges.

 To be fair, there may be a few drawbacks to this appointment, not the least of which will be the separation of powers issue.  It may at times get awkward when Justice Obama is forced to review legislation you signed into law.   And you really shouldn’t try to coax her to reveal how the court — read: Nino Scalia — is leaning on a particular matter; you’ll have to wait just like the rest of us to read slip opinions when they’re published. 

You may be the former constitutional law professor, but she’ll have the last word on what “the law is.” She’ll also have to wave goodbye to bare arms since she’ll be forced to spend big chunks of her working hours in robes. One last thing: Since you’ll be the only parent working from home once Justice Obama is sworn in, you’ll be in charge of Bo. (Maybe Rahm could help with that.)

The Taxation of Smoke Inhalation!

Roland S. Martin – CNN

Roland Martin says that a bigger cigarette tax is a good idea that will discourage an unhealthy practice.

We all have our vices. But one that drives me nuts is smoking.

There is nothing — NOTHING! — that I like about smoking.

Why someone in their right mind would want to essentially inhale fire is beyond me.

When relatives come to my home and they smoke, they can’t just stand outside the front or back door. No, I send them to the furthest point in the backyard to get their nicotine fix.

I celebrate when cities pass smoking bans because the only smoke I want in a restaurant should come from a hot, juicy steak. If I’m walking down the street, and the person in front of me is leaving their trail of smoke, I’ll happily speed up to get past them or publicly wave the smoke out of the way when walking by them to show my disapproval. And it angers me to drive down the street and look over to the next car and see a mom or dad puffing away as a helpless child has to sit there and inhale that junk.

So don’t think for a second that you’ll find any sympathy from me for the folks who are up in arms over the federal tobacco tax on a pack of cigarettes jumping from 39 cents to a buck and a penny. The money will be used for the expansion of the president’s health initiatives.

Look, I don’t care if a Democrat, Republican, or independent was behind this tax, I would gladly see it happen.

The folks who are not happy are saying this is far too much taxation and it’s wrong, but we can’t deny the health reality. Cigarettes are unhealthy. Period. This isn’t up for argument or debate.

According to an Associated Press story, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cigarette smoking results in an estimated 443,000 premature deaths each year, and costs the economy $193 billion in health care expenses and lost time from work. Smoking is a major contributor to heart disease, cancer and lung disease.”

But then those who don’t want to see it happen are bringing out the usual prop: the poor, poor people.

Critics say the tax will disproportionately hurt poor people. Fine! Did we somehow forget that poor people already are likely to be in poorer health because they are living in areas where there are food deserts, and that means lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables?

Poor folks are likely to lack insurance, which means when they get sick, they will go to a city or county hospital, and taxpayers have to foot the bill. So their decision to buy cigarettes will probably hit us in the pocketbook later on.

Folks, poor people are always used by someone. And in this case, they are being trotted out so we can say, “Oh, this is so harsh because the poor will be hurt.”

Let’s face it: I don’t want poor, middle or rich folks smoking. I just think it’s disgusting. But if this tax will cause a lot of folks — poor or otherwise — to quit smoking and add a few years to their life, then I call that good legislation.

~ Any thoughts people?