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Culture

We need a system for keeping conspiracy kooks out of office. Here's what that might entail.

We need a system for keeping conspiracy kooks out of office. Here's what that might entail.

One of the greatest things about the American experiment is the idea of self-rule, "a government of the people, by the people, for the people." Instead of power being held by a ruling class or monarchical dynasty, we routinely elect our leaders from among the citizenry to represent us in the government.

It's a system that works well when the representatives we choose are among the best of us. But the fact that virtually anyone can serve as an elected official also leaves us open to potentially disastrous leadership. We could end up with, say, a malignant narcissist autocrat wannabe or a kooky conspiracy theorist in positions of power—a reality that clearly puts the security of the entire country in danger.

The Constitution stipulates the requirements for holding office, and they are extremely simple by design. To serve in Congress, you have to be 25 years old, a citizen for at least seven years, and live in the area you represent. To serve as President, you have to be 35 years old, a natural-born citizen of the U.S. and have lived in the country for 14 years.

That's it. Super basic. On paper, a guy who collects trash for a living (a noble job—no criticism) is as qualified to be president or a member of Congress as a professor of constitutional law. There are no educational qualifications and no previous job or relevant experience required. There are also no psychological screenings, meaning that, theoretically, a literal psychopath serial killer could be elected to the position that controls the nuclear codes.


A viral video shared by "Politics Girl" highlights how absurdly weird it is that people can get a job in the most powerful positions in our government without being the least bit qualified:

It's true. There is no official vetting process. And while there are some constitutional disqualifications—such as participating in rebellion or insurrection (ahem), impeachment when included as part of a conviction (double ahem), and not taking the oath of office—most attempts to create additional qualifications have been deemed unconstitutional.

There's wisdom in that. Adding official qualifications is a slippery slope, and most of what we could come up with would be arbitrary anyway.

Relevant job experience is a definite plus for a person seeking public service, no doubt. But one strength of our representative system is the diversity of experience and perspectives it inevitably brings to the table. Having lawmakers who come from a spectrum of careers and backgrounds is a good thing, and can help ensure that more Americans are seen and heard in our government.

What about education? Most of us would agree that an elected official should be smart and knowledgeable. But how do we measure that? Quality of education can vary greatly, rendering specific levels of education virtually meaningless. Earning a degree might indicate an ability and willingness to learn and work, but it is not a guarantee of intelligence or relevant knowledge. People who haven't gone to college might have gained skills and insights through service to their community that would be more valuable to governance than book learning. And since there are barriers that make higher education inaccessible for some Americans, having an education requirement would be an unjust form of gatekeeping.

They have to at least know about government, though, right? A certain understanding of civics seems like a logical prerequisite, but how do we measure that? Do we create a test a person has to pass before they can get on a ballot? Might not be a bad idea, but would that actually solve the real problem we're looking at? A constitutional law degree doesn't make someone conscientious, and a genocidal maniac could study and pass a civics test.

So how about a psychological screening of some sort? Again, not a bad idea on the surface, but here we run into the issue of who conducts it and what they should look for. Would there actually be a set of dealbreaker diagnoses that would disqualify someone? Or would we just provide the results to the public and let them decide themselves whether a person is fit to serve?

The problem there, of course, is that mental health issues that shouldn't preclude someone from serving—an anxiety disorder, for example—could unfairly lead people away from a candidate due to the stigma attached to mental health. There's a huge difference between a run-of-the-mill mental health issue and a full-blown dangerous personality disorder, but any diagnosis could be weaponized. Where and how do we draw the line?

Since party politics is a feature of our system (one that George Washington warned us against, for good reason), some make the argument that the parties themselves need to vet candidates before they get on the primary ballots. A Brookings Institute report from 2018 pointed out that activist groups have begun producing more candidates, which is leading to more underqualified, ideologically extremist candidates. If we're going to have a two-party system, those two parties need to ensure that the candidates in their parties aren't total whack jobs. The suggestion made by the report authors is "to strengthen the position of the institutional parties so that they maintain voice and influence in the process of developing candidacies—not instead of voters and activists, but alongside them."

But what happens if a party itself moves farther to the extremes, either because of the candidates that are getting attention or because the social reality has pushed the voters in that direction? (Ahem, QAnon.)

And isn't partisan politics itself a big reason we're in this spot? A system that places people in two distinct boxes is inevitably going to lead to extremism, as parties resort to increasing demonization of the other side as they vie for power and influence.

Lee Drutman, senior fellow at the New America think tank, wrote about why we need multiple parties in the U.S. in 2019:

"Under the two-party system, U.S. politics are stuck in a deep partisan divide, with no clear winner and only zero-sum escalation ahead. Both sides see themselves as the true majority. Republicans hold up maps of the country showing a sea of red and declare America a conservative country. Democrats win the popular vote (because most Americans live in and around a handful of densely populated cities) and declare America a progressive country.

The only way to break this destructive stalemate is to break the electoral and party system that sustains and reinforces it. The United States is divided into red and blue not because Americans want only two choices. In poll after poll, majorities want more than two political parties."

Expanding our options beyond Republican and Democrat sounds like a fabulous idea in my book.

In the meantime, we the people are still left to vet the people who get put on the ballot. So maybe the answer in the short term is to 1) Encourage and enable better candidates to run for office, and 2) Educate and encourage the voting populace to do a better job of vetting. Relying on a candidate's own messaging isn't enough. What have they actually done in their communities? What have they said in public or on social media? Look at various media sources to see what kinds of red flags may have been spotted.

Of course, this process only works if people actually care about not having kooky conspiracy theorists and malignant narcissist authoritarians in our government. Ultimately, when we start electing highly problematic people to lead us, that's a reflection of where we are as a society. And unfortunately, there's no quick fix for a voting populace that doesn't recognize when an elected official is an actual danger to the country and when they're just being subject to partisan attacks. (A good hint to the former is when members of the official's own party, especially one that tends to stick together, speak out and say, "Yeah, this is a bridge too far.")

Answers here aren't obvious or simple, but it's clear we need to do something different. The way we're going now, we very well could end up with a psychopathic serial killer in Congress. And my biggest fear is that a good portion of the nation wouldn't even blink an eye if we did.

Pop Culture

Here’s a paycheck for a McDonald’s worker. And here's my jaw dropping to the floor.

So we've all heard the numbers, but what does that mean in reality? Here's one year's wages — yes, *full-time* wages. Woo.

Making a little over 10,000 for a yearly salary.


I've written tons of things about minimum wage, backed up by fact-checkers and economists and scholarly studies. All of them point to raising the minimum wage as a solution to lifting people out of poverty and getting folks off of public assistance. It's slowly happening, and there's much more to be done.

But when it comes right down to it, where the rubber meets the road is what it means for everyday workers who have to live with those wages. I honestly don't know how they do it.


Ask yourself: Could I live on this small of a full-time paycheck? I know what my answer is.

(And note that the minimum wage in many parts of the county is STILL $7.25, so it would be even less than this).

paychecks, McDonalds, corporate power, broken system

One year of work at McDonalds grossed this worker $13,811.18.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This story was written by Brandon Weber and was originally appeared on 02.26.15

Bill Gates in conversation with The Times of India

Bill Gates sure is strict on how his children use the very technology he helped bring to the masses.

In a recent interview with the Mirror, the tech mogul said his children were not allowed to own their own cellphone until the age of 14. "We often set a time after which there is no screen time, and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour," he said. Gates added that the children are not allowed to have cellphones at the table, but are allowed to use them for homework or studying.


The Gates children, now 20, 17 and 14, are all above the minimum age requirement to own a phone, but they are still banned from having any Apple products in the house—thanks to Gates' longtime rivalry with Apple founder Steve Jobs.

smartphones, families, responsible parenting, social media

Bill Gates tasting recycled water.

Image from media.giphy.com.

While the parenting choice may seem harsh, the Gates may be onto something with delaying childhood smartphone ownership. According to the 2016 "Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today's Digital Natives"report, the average age that a child gets their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.

"I think that age is going to trend even younger, because parents are getting tired of handing their smartphones to their kids," Stacy DeBroff, chief executive of Influence Central, told The New York Times.

James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, additionally told the Times that he too has one strict rule for his children when it comes to cellphones: They get one when they start high school and only when they've proven they have restraint. "No two kids are the same, and there's no magic number," he said. "A kid's age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level."

PBS Parents also provided a list of questions parents should answer before giving their child their first phone. Check out the entire list below:

  • How independent are your kids?
  • Do your children "need" to be in touch for safety reasons—or social ones?
  • How responsible are they?
  • Can they get behind the concept of limits for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Can they be trusted not to text during class, disturb others with their conversations, and to use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly (and not to embarrass or harass others)?
  • Do they really need a smartphone that is also their music device, a portable movie and game player, and portal to the internet?
  • Do they need something that gives their location information to their friends—and maybe some strangers, too—as some of the new apps allow?
  • And do you want to add all the expenses of new data plans? (Try keeping your temper when they announce that their new smartphone got dropped in the toilet...)


This article originally appeared on 05.01.17

Democracy

This Map Reveals The True Value Of $100 In Each State

Your purchasing power can swing by 30% from state to state.

Image by Tax Foundation.

Map represents the value of 100 dollars.


As the cost of living in large cities continues to rise, more and more people are realizing that the value of a dollar in the United States is a very relative concept. For decades, cost of living indices have sought to address and benchmark the inconsistencies in what money will buy, but they are often so specific as to prevent a holistic picture or the ability to "browse" the data based on geographic location.

The Tax Foundation addressed many of these shortcomings using the most recent (2015) Bureau of Economic Analysis data to provide a familiar map of the United States overlaid with the relative value of what $100 is "worth" in each state. Granted, going state-by-state still introduces a fair amount of "smoothing" into the process — $100 will go farther in Los Angeles than in Fresno, for instance — but it does provide insight into where the value lies.


The map may not subvert one's intuitive assumptions, but it nonetheless quantities and presents the cost of living by geography in a brilliantly simple way. For instance, if you're looking for a beach lifestyle but don't want to pay California prices, try Florida, which is about as close to "average" — in terms of purchasing power, anyway — as any state in the Union. If you happen to find yourself in a "Brewster's Millions"-type situation, head to Hawaii, D.C., or New York. You'll burn through your money in no time.

income, money, economics, national average

The Relative Value of $100 in a state.

Image by Tax Foundation.

If you're quite fond of your cash and would prefer to keep it, get to Mississippi, which boasts a 16.1% premium on your cash from the national average.

The Tax Foundation notes that if you're using this map for a practical purpose, bear in mind that incomes also tend to rise in similar fashion, so one could safely assume that wages in these states are roughly inverse to the purchasing power $100 represents.


This article originally appeared on 08.17.17

What dog is best for you?


PawsLikeMe might know you better than you know yourself.

Hello from the other siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!!! I'm a dog and I love youuuuuuuu!!!

Because PawsLikeMe knows about your dreams.

Your DOG dreams, that is.

How? A dog-human personality quiz!

A sophisticated one, too! From their website:

"The personality assessment is based on 4 core personality traits that influence the human-canine bond; energy, focus, confidence, and independence."

It also takes into account environmental factors and other special circumstances as well.

It's not uncommon for dogs that are adopted to be returned because they just aren't compatible with their owner's life.



PawsLikeMe aims to stop dog-owner mismatch by playing dog matchmaker! Its goal is to help people find the right dog for them.

Need a dog that's friendly with kids but loves learning tricks and is also house-trained? DONE. Have other specific requirements? DONE!

Ya got options.

When you go on the website, you can opt to just answer the four most important questions in a dog owner's life:

1. What's your energy level?

2. What kind of parties do you like?

3. What kind of dog personality do you want?

4. What is your personality like?

After those four questions, you can begin searching for a doggie match.

Or you can opt for the full questionnaire (you should) ... and basically feel very, VERY understood.

I took the full PawsLikeMe quiz, and when I saw the results I was kindof taken aback:


PawsLikeMe GETS ME!

Then I was the whisked away to dogs who are just ready to love me.

Listen. My apartment in NYC doesn't allow dogs. But if it did? I'd be 91% ready to adopt Carli. She's perfect, and I love her. CUE ADELE and her songs of lost opportunities to love!

With all the 80 gajillion personality quizzes out there in the world, this one is hands down THE BEST.

Take it for yourself! You won't regret it.


This article originally appeared on 11.06.15


New baby and a happy dad.


When San Francisco photographer Lisa Robinson was about to have her second child, she was both excited and nervous.

Sure, those are the feelings most moms-to-be experience before giving birth, but Lisa's nerves were tied to something different.

She and her husband already had a 9-year-old son but desperately wanted another baby. They spent years trying to get pregnant again, but after countless failed attempts and two miscarriages, they decided to stop trying.


Of course, that's when Lisa ended up becoming pregnant with her daughter, Anora. Since it was such a miraculous pregnancy, Lisa wanted to do something special to commemorate her daughter's birth.

So she turned to her craft — photography — as a way to both commemorate the special day, and keep herself calm and focused throughout the birthing process.

Normally, Lisa takes portraits and does wedding photography, so she knew the logistics of being her own birth photographer would be a somewhat precarious new adventure — to say the least.

pregnancy, hospital, giving birth, POV

She initially suggested the idea to her husband Alec as a joke.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"After some thought," she says, "I figured I would try it out and that it could capture some amazing memories for us and our daughter."

In the end, she says, Alec was supportive and thought it would be great if she could pull it off. Her doctors and nurses were all for Lisa taking pictures, too, especially because it really seemed to help her manage the pain and stress.

In the hospital, she realized it was a lot harder to hold her camera steady than she initially thought it would be.

tocodynamometer, labor, selfies

She had labor shakes but would periodically take pictures between contractions.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Eventually when it was time to push and I was able to take the photos as I was pushing, I focused on my daughter and my husband and not so much the camera," she says.

"I didn't know if I was in focus or capturing everything but it was amazing to do.”

The shots she ended up getting speak for themselves:

nurse, strangers, medical care,

Warm and encouraging smiles from the nurse.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

experiment, images, capture, document, record

Newborn Anora's first experience with breastfeeding.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Everybody was supportive and kind of surprised that I was able to capture things throughout. I even remember laughing along with them at one point as I was pushing," Lisa recalled.

In the end, Lisa was so glad she went through with her experiment. She got incredible pictures — and it actually did make her labor easier.

Would she recommend every mom-to-be document their birth in this way? Absolutely not. What works for one person may not work at all for another.

However, if you do have a hobby that relaxes you, figuring out how to incorporate it into one of the most stressful moments in your life is a pretty good way to keep yourself calm and focused.

Expecting and love the idea of documenting your own birthing process?

Take some advice from Lisa: "Don't put pressure on yourself to get 'the shot'" she says, "and enjoy the moment as much as you can.”

Lisa's mom took this last one.

grandma, hobby, birthing process

Mom and daughter earned the rest.

Photo via Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

This article originally appeared on 06.30.16