As Democrats push Paycheck Fairness Act, Republicans decline

President Obama issued an executive order to prevent federal contractors from taking action against employees who discuss their salaries.  The President also used his weekly address to underscore the need for equal pay between men and women in the same professions.

In the Senate, Democrats voted on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which was defeated by the Republicans. Senate hopeful Terry Lynn Land (R) stated that she opposed the bill “that would require that businesses have to post the pay of each individual so it was public”. The problem is that the bill contains no language about posting salaries. Women, however, would be able to ask employers for salary information about male workers.

Late night comedians Jimmy Fallon (Tonight Show) and Cecily Strong (Saturday Night Live) took turns poking fun at the Republicans.

The pay equity bill is part of a broader strategy by Democrats that includes increasing the federal minimum wage and extending long-term unemployment benefits. Moreover, female voters were instrumental in helping Democrats win in the 2008 and 2012 presidential races.



Affordable Care Act is now real for 7.1 million Americans

With the closing of the first open enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act, the President defiantly stated, “The debate over repealing this law is over”. Flanked by Joe Biden in the Rose Garden, Obama announced that 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private health coverage.

The number is remarkable given the disastrous roll-out of the website last fall. With a concerted effort to enroll people in the final week, however, the Administration reached its goal in the most unlikely manner possible. Celebrities such as Lebron JamesZach Galifianakis, and  Ellen DeGeneres all helped the President raise awareness about open enrollment. With a flood of applicants in the final hours, however, the healthcare website once again crashed.


As the new system becomes reality, public attitudes have begun to shift.  A new Washington Post poll shows 49 percent of those polled support and 48 percent oppose the health-care law. This is the first time the law has been above water, ever. For months, if not years, the negative aspects of new regulations have sunk the popularity of the the ACA. Increasingly, the positive aspects of the act are becoming a tangible part of people’s lives.

Opinions are not surprisingly split along party lines, with few Republicans supporting the law (20%) and a majority of Democrats embracing it (76%). On Twitter, the split is apparent with some rejoicing,

And others are, well perhaps missing something,





Russia exiled from G8

Russia has been suspended from the G8, ending its membership among leading industrialized nations that began in 1998. The move is a direct response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and dealings with Ukraine. The G7 released  what it calls “The Hague Declaration”, which includes the following statement:

“International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force. To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine’s constitution. We also strongly condemn Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea in contravention of international law and specific international obligations. We do not recognize either.”



Grade-level equivalency for comments on Foxnews, MSNBC, NPR and CBC

As the American news landscape polarizes, outlets have fragmented into those with left- versus right-leaning audiences. News programming has moved towards debate-style formats and increasingly to those having multiple talking heads all speaking from one side of an issue. Watching an entire panel agree on every issue makes it difficult to feel like the entire story is being told or even that the audience is learning anything of value.

This type of polarization in reporting is increasingly reflected in the audience and the politicians they elect. Both left and right leaning outlets demonize the other side and charge that those who follow a competitor lack the mental capacity to understand the true complexities of the world. “Low information voters” has become a popular phrase to belittle those who hold an opposing viewpoint. Anne Coulter’s book, “If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans” sums up the animosity that pervades much of the discussion.

So, this begs the question – who, if anyone is right? Does one side actually have a leg up on the other or are they just two sides of the same coin? A 2013 Pew Research Center survey testing knowledge about general news and political knowledge showed no difference between Republicans (8.7 correct/13 questions) and Democrats (8.6/13). So, there you have it. These political groups appear to be large tents with diverse memberships.

Reading, writing and ROFL

Suffice to say that the two groups are equally familiar with political trivia, but are there differences in how they communicate? We wanted to compare the level of discourse ongoing at each of the news sites (yes, you know where this deep, dark hole is leading). To do so, we applied the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula to the written comments by readers of various news websites. Obviously this cannot account for the intellectual content of the comments, but only the level of writing being used to communicate.

We chose four articles, posted on the same day, concerning the Russian parliament authorizing Vladimir Putin to leverage military resources in any effort to secure Russian interests in Ukraine:

“Ukraine forces on high alert after Putin gets permission to use military” –

“Russia’s Parliament Approves Putin’s Request For Troops In Ukraine” -

“Putin gets OK for armed intervention in Ukraine” -

“Ukraine crisis: U.S. tells Russia to withdraw forces” -

For each article, we sub-sampled the first 50 comments that loaded when we accessed the page to generate an average reading grade-level equivalency score.  Here are the results:


So, take the data and interpret away! Not surprisingly, the grades are low, but it is a comment section after all. Fox and MSNBC certainly play into the polarizing strategy and both scored on the low end. Is there more fighting and less genuine contribution from their audiences?





Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe supporting STEM training

Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe was on hand to mark the beginning of major renovations to the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub. The facility will serve to develop local talent  in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with an eye towards supporting the state’s economy.

Gov. Beebe emphasized the need for people pursuing scientific careers, “The Innovation Hub attracts those who think outside the box and who will forever change the economic climate in the area. They will be our business leaders of tomorrow.”

The hub will house many developmental resources for including: 3-D printers, laser-cutting machines,training in computer coding, programming, and computer-aided design (CAD),space for entrepreneurs and small business owners and summer training for students in the visual arts.

The renovations are supported by a $575,000 grant from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.





House Democrats consider discharge petition for minimum wage and immigration reform

House Democrats announced that they are considering a discharge petition to bring bills on minimum wage and immigration reform to the floor for a vote. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would require 18 Republicans to join her to force Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to floor the bills.


Public opinion polls suggest that there is overwhelming support for a minimum wage hike among Americans. However, it remains doubtful that many Republicans will be willing to break ranks and cross leadership – the last successful discharge petition was in 2002.



President Obama passes minimum wage hike

On Wednesday, President Obama signed an Executive Order to raise minimum wage for federal contract workers. The new rate for federally contracted employees will rise to $10.10 per hour, up from $7.25 per hour.

The federal minimum wage has not increased since 2009 and a year after requesting that congress raise minimum wage, Obama has little reason to trust that they will take meaningful action. Thus, the administration surely hopes that this order will spur Congress to approve a similar increase for all workers.


While Congress has failed to pass any form of minimum wage legislation since Obama’s request, six states have done so. In Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray has put in motion an effort to raise minimum wage for city employees to $15 per hour.

In statement to reporters, Murray stated, “I believe Seattle should be a model, the city itself, for the rest of the employers in this city and in this community”.



Daughter of slain Newtown principal confronts Senator Ayotte in New Hampshire

Senator Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire faced withering criticism from her constituents at a town hall meeting. Ayotte voted against the compromise proposal reached by Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa that called for limited background checks.

gun control

Amongnst the crowd, Erica Lafferty, the daughter the principal killed at Sandy Hook Elementary leveled stern questions to the Senator,

“You had mentioned that day the burden on owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would harm. I am just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn’t more important than that,”.

Ayotte countered that efforts should address mental health to prevent guns from falling into the hands of the mentally ill. She continued, “…we have fallen down on actually prosecuting gun crimes and violations of our current background check system.”




2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Last night The President was joined by TBS late night host Conan O’Brien at the 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The evening started with the customary video starring Kevin Spacey and featuring both Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The night mixed political jabs, light punchlines with some earnest reflection about the recent violence that has occurred. Obama stated, “These have been some very hard days for too many of our citizens. Even as we gather here tonight, our thoughts are not far from the people of Boston, the people of West, Texas, and in the Midwest there are some people coping with some terrible floods”

Obama proceeded to deliver some own one-liners. For instance, he implored Republicans to reach out to minorities, “Call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they can start with,” he said, motioning toward himself. “Think of me as a trial run, see how it goes.”

Conan O’Brien kept the event moving with some lighthearted jabs at CNN, Mitt Romney and newspapers. Most of the jokes were soft and none were aimed at the President. One of the better bits compared TV networks to a high school cafeteria, “Fox is the jocks, MSNBC is the nerds, bloggers are the goths, NPR is the table with the kids for peanut allergies. Al Jazeera is the weird foreign exchange student nobody talks to and print media is the kid who died sophomore year in a car crash.”



Obama urges resolve in gun control debate

President Barack Obama, speaking at the White House, confronted opponents of gun control measures under debate in Congress. Obama urged passage of new measures introduced by Senate Democrats and accused those opposing the proposed laws as  “running out the clock” in hopes that the nation’s resolve wanes.

Invoking memories of the massacre in Newtown, Obama stated, “We need everybody to remember how we felt 100 days ago and make sure that what we said at that time wasn’t just a bunch of platitudes, that we meant it,”

Although both a federal assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazines were dropped from the main Senate proposal, a proposal to strengthen background checks remains. Such checks enjoy wide support among the public, some polls indicating as high as 90%.

Obama aims to provide a counterweight against a fully mobilized NRA that claims the record-keeping associated with background checks represents a precursor to a federal registry of gun owners.