Sunday, October 31, 2010

Campus Safety Representative

Hannah Eddy is a Senior Customer Service Representative at the University of Denver’s Campus Safety Center. She reluctantly agreed to the interview, and it makes sense given how many times I’ve been declined an interview by campus safety and police officers.

After presenting Eddy with all the positive effects that occurred following a 1983 Alaska 2-cent alcohol tax increase. I asked her why marijuana legalization gets more attention, especially when alcohol is relevant to more people and effects more people compared to marijuana. She took a second to digest the question, then said, “pot is more popular with the younger crowd, and 1983 was a long time ago, few remember that.”

“I don’t know much about alcohol tax increases, but if it gets more publicity than it will certainly get more attention,” said Eddy.

She agreed that an alcohol tax increase is more important than legalizing marijuana. “It negatively affects more people.” When informing her of the negative effect it would have on the restaurant and beverage industries, she said “stores will feel the effect more than bars,” her rational being that you can’t get bar rats out of bars regardless of price, but when your short on cash while grocery shopping alcohol is likely to be left out because its not a necessity.

“Stores are likely to lobby against it (alcohol tax increase) because of the negative effect it will have on their income,” said Eddy. Lobby or not, those stores have withstood tax increases in the past, which means they can do it again. What is more valuable; salvaging jobs in a industry that benefits from products that cause death, or gaining income for several other industries including health care, while reducing death?

I asked if she had heard of any instances were a campus safety officer had seen or dealt with a person who possessed a marijuana medicinal card, and if so, how does it compare to dealing with someone who has marijuana but no marijuana card. She said she hasn’t heard of anything and couldn’t tell me even if she did because all records are confidential.

Eddy, like every other person I interviewed agreed that marijuana cards should only be given to people who have legitimate health issues in order to avoid resale. The problem with that is, what’s legitimate? Everyone has conflicting perceptions of what qualifies as legitimate. I’m going to say the same thing here as I said from my last post, if a card holder is reselling his or her prescription, then it’s clearly not a medical necessity.

Dispensary Employee Interview

Serenity Moon is a marijuana dispensary located on University Boulevard, directly across from DU’s new bar, Crimson & Gold. Mikah Johnson has been working at Serenity Moon for almost a year; he has an enlightening perspective regarding the alcohol tax increase/marijuana legalization issue.

“Right now there are 26 communities in Colorado that are against marijuana legalization,” said Johnson. This is largely due to culture indifferences. “In Colorado, a lot of marijuana users are interlinked with the hippie lifestyle, and in California users are interlinked with the sex/drug lifestyle. What the marijuana community is trying to accomplish is change the marijuana perception from a social and cultural image to a medicinal accommodation, similar to pharmacy drugs.”

Like all the other people I interviewed, I asked Johnson why marijuana legalization gets more attention than a alcohol tax increase when clearly alcohol is more prevalent in our society and relevant to more people. His response was different from everyone else; “you can’t compare the two,” he said. “Marijuana isn’t a ‘sin tax’ product (tax that generates revenue from health declining products) like cigarettes and alcohol because it doesn’t have the same detrimental health effects. If you tax marijuana, you have to tax it the same way you would tax pharmacy’s.” Unlike alcohol, it’s almost impossible to overdose on marijuana. “Unless you smoke two ounces in a 15 minute span, there is no chance your going to over-dose.”

I saw first hand how dispensaries were aiming for a pharmacy-like reputation when Johnson brought me past the front desk, and to the counters were marijuana is retailed. Each counter is made of glass so customers can see the various types of marijuana, edibles, and accessories being offered. The menu had 12 different types of marijuana and two different types edibles, all of which included the varying prices between Serenity members and non-members.

Despite efforts made by the marijuana community to shape dispensaries in the form of pharmacies, a lot of voters still base their decisions off culture approval. For example, if you approve of the California sex and drugs lifestyle and/or the stereotypical description of a Colorado hippie, than you’re pro legalization, and if you don’t approve, you’re anti legalization. Other voters base their decision on business and what’s best for the economy. If more money is generated from marijuana being legalized and taxed, than keep it legal, if not, ban it. You can argue that each of these voting guidelines are sufficient, but neither are as important as personal health, which should be the top priority in voting.

I presented Johnson with statistics from the 1983 Alaska 2-cent alcohol tax increase and all the positive things that ensued from it; fewer deaths, money saved etc. Then I asked, given all the positive things that ensued from it, why is an alcohol tax increase flying under the radar in such an important election? His response: “Most people don’t notice rules and laws enacted even if they’re good.”

As of now, Colorado is one of 14 states where marijuana is available to any person that has a legitimate medical issue. The problem with this is cardholders are reselling their prescription thus making marijuana more attainable, which leads to the exacerbation of it becoming more of a gateway drug. A potential solution to this problem is a stricter marijuana card application process. If a cardholder is reselling his or her prescription, then it’s clearly not a medical necessity. Marijuana is inevitably going to be used as a gateway drug, but if the card application process becomes stricter, then the gateway drug percentage would likely decrease.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Democrats and Republicans find one more thing to disagree on at the DU campus

As with most college campuses, the University of Denver is a hotbed of political conversation. Two voices in this conversation are the DU Democrats and DU Republicans (an offshoot of College Republicans).

Not surprisingly, the two have differing opinions on pretty much everything. One of the most prominent of these differences is who's vote matters most in the upcoming midterm elections. During the 2008 presidential elections, every news outlet continually declared that the youth vote would change the nation, that the democratic process would be revived by the younger generations. Yet, two years later you hear very little about the twenty somethings poised to bring about the new world order. Surprisingly, Andrew Valle, president of DU Republicans, also seems unconcerned with earning the college vote for Republican candidates (in this case Ken Buck, running for Senate, and Dan Maes, running for Governor of Colorado).

"The youth are less involved this year. I do not encourage participation based on age. It is important for informed citizens to vote, however old they may be. The youth are not a special demographic." In a voice reminiscent of Tom Tancredo, Valle continually repeated the fact that he encourages only "informed" voters to go to the poles.

On the other side, Dillon Doyle, President of DU Democrats, is still optimistic about the power of youth. "Compared to 2008 I feel there is a tangible difference in excitement. However, the circumstances are vastly different. Historically, only 50% of youth that voted in the previous presidential election will vote in a midterm election. Despite those odds, I feel students are reconnection with their experiences in 2008 and I know we're going to do better than 50% this year." Doyle is so excited about the younger generations voting that he even celebrates the Tea Party. "No matter one's partisan preference, I feel that any movement that can get students excited about participating in our democracy is an enviable endeavor."

While Doyle believes the children are the future, Valle believes it's the undecided voters. "In this election the emphasis is on the middle of the voting bloc. Staunch Democrats and Republicans will vote for their respective candidates, regardless of the situation. That leaves the middle, the third parties, unaffiliated voters, left leaning Republicans, right leaning Democrats and undecided."

The two groups' differing views on who's vote is important also effects how they spread their respective messages. Doyle and the DU Democrats focus mainly on attracting University of Denver students to the poles, holding events on campus (on October 21, with less than twenty four hours notice they were able to attract 100 attendees to a speech by Michael Bennett on the Driscoll lawn), have a weekly table on the bridge in the campus student center and "always try to educate voters".

The DU Republicans, on the other hand, focus mainly on getting out the word to the general community. "We put up yard signs for campaigns, make phone calls for candidates, walk the precincts and encourage Republicans to vote, where they are registered. We work independently with campaigns, campaigns are not allowed to coordinate efforts with 527's but they can coordinate volunteers, and that's where we come in."

Both groups do agree that this election is important, emphasizing a need for voters of any generation to vote on platforms instead of party politics. As Valle put it, "those are the voters who can turn around the country this year, people who vote on issues, not party affiliations. They are upset, and on November 2 we will see how motivated they are."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interview with Office Warren

When a person sees a dog running around the street with no leash, collar, or owner, one thing they might do is call animal control. The Aurora Animal Shelter takes in about 6-10 animals a day throughout the city and it can be surprising the types of abuse they usually encounter and the feeble punishment people receive.

Officer Warren, who works for Aurora Animal Shelter said, “A majority of the cases we receive are animals running about, but we do get cases with animal cruelty.”

Once an officer obtains the animal, the animal is taken to a local shelter and usually adopted out. There are various different shelters throughout Colorado. Some shelters are specifically “no-kill” shelters, which means that in case the animal is not adopted out, they will not be euthanized.

Aurora Animal Shelter has dealt with animal cruelty in a wide variety of instances. Office Warren said that a majority of animal cruelty cases involves an animal being malnourished, neglected, and having no food or water.

He went on to state that there situations where a person will handle a dog the wrong way; for instance, they will grab the back legs and end up breaking one of the legs. Sometimes there are cases that involve an animal being poisoned or shot with a pellet gun. Unfortunately, Officer Warren said that usually these cases are not solved because they do not find a suspect.

In regards to dog fighting, Officer Warren said that there have been no reports on dog fighting, but in Adams County a couple of years ago there was a cock fighting institution where they rescued 98 birds.

When people think of dogfights, Pit Bulls are usually associated. Since Aurora Animal Shelter is located in a city where the Pit Bull Ban is enforced, they do deal with this issue. Officer Warren said that they refer to it as the “Restricted Breed Ban,” and there are 11 breeds on the ban.

Usually, a person will report a dog that they believe to be on the list and the officers will go out and inspect the breed. If the breed is on the list, the dog will be taken to a shelter and housed until the case appears in front of a judge. The judge will determine if the breed is allowed back in the city. If it is not, the dog will either be adopted out in another city or euthanized.

Finally, a question that arises when dealing with all these forms of animal cruelty is what happens to the people? Are they punished? Officer Warren said that since a majority of the cases involve state cruelty (mistreatment, neglect, humane care) the people are issued a ticket. They then must appear in front of a judge and Aurora Animal Shelter will testify if the animal was mistreated. The end result is usually the person pays a fine while the animal endures torment, neglect, and helplessness.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Interview 2: DJ Blitz "Money Aint No Thang"

This past Saturday night students gathered at different locations around campus, including the infamous bar fondly known amongst students as the Border. While standing outside as many students guzzled down the last drink of the night, a tall man with dreds and a black hat stepped out for a cigarette. His hat embroidered with the name DJ Blitz.

My friend suggested that we talk to him since no one else was outside, and I was soon surprised to find that DJ Blitz was exactly who I needed to be talking to. We walked over to a bench, sat down, and began a long conversation about music. We covered what it is like to be a local artist, how money plays into the scene, and how to work your way up.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Michael Wright, also known as DJ Blitz, started deejaying 20 years ago in central Georgia. He has traveled around the world with music and settled in Denver five years ago. Blitz is more focused on the music than the money but he doesn't deny that money is part of the game.

"If someone likes what I do, that is how I get paid for production...I believe there are two different types of DJ's, there are DJ's who want the attention, who want the money, and they don't last...If I play good music, people are going to like what I am doing, not because of who I am, but because of what I produce."

Blitz went on to explain his ideal job of deejaying which we include being behind a black curtain, where all that mattered was the music.

Blitz went on to say, " I respond to what the crowd wants. If I am not playing what the crowd wants to hear then I don't feel like I am doing my job right. But my creative talent plays into what the crowd wants because I mix music based off the energy they are feeding to me."

Blitz went on to explain how music should be about passion and fun. Music allows people to be released from their daily duties and just get into a groove. Blitz believes that a DJ's ultimate job is to expose people to something they haven't heard.

DJ Blitz also believes that the DJ's job is to get people up and dancing, and it shouldn't matter who they are. "Outside of the club, or of whatever job I'm doing, people should just know that Blitz is going to play what they want to hear, and that's it."

Blitz wanted to emphasize that he has met a lot of DJ's who have lost their way because of popularity and money, but the best DJ's have always known that it is about the music and about passion.

Talking to DJ Blitz made it obvious that the world of music will always be filled with both passionate artists, and artists just looking to make some money, but by talking to local artists it seems that it is pretty easy to spot who is serious and who is not.

(DJ Blitz does not have a website at this time)

Picture: Google Images

Event 2: Teachers react to criticism in education film

Denver, Colo., -- A flabbergasted crowd came out of the Regal Cinema, squinting in the bright mid-afternoon sun. For this group of movie-goers, however, the harsh light of day isn't the only to be shed on them this fall. On Friday, over 250 metro-area high school teachers attended a matinee of Davis Guggenheim's "Waiting for Superman," a documentary about the state of the American education system and the teachers who work therein.

"This is not supposed to be a feel good experience," said Peter Mehlbach, a social studies teacher at Lakewood High School, who purchased tickets for his colleagues to see the film with a grant from the Boettcher Foundation Teacher Recognition Awards Program.

The film pleads for drastic measures of change, rubbing salt in wounds of failing school districts. "The reform train's coming down the tracks and it's dark out and it's coming for us. We have to advocate for ourselves and for our profession," said Ron Castagna, principal of Lakewood High School. "If we don't, reform will happen to us, not with us."

"Waiting for Superman" criticizes teachers' union for impeding such reform action on the district levels, focusing in part on the efforts of Michelle Rhee, former superintendent of Washington, D.C. public schools. Rhee sought to fire poor-performing teachers from the district and implement a merit-based salary structure for high-peforming teachers. Both measures failed. Guggenheim blames unions.

"I was disgusted by the teacher and union bashing in the film, so disgusted I can hardly stand it," said veteran teacher Don Collins, who credits the Colorado Education Association for helping him keep his job when the state faced labor disputes in 2006.

Lakewood High School teachers met for two hours following the film. Some, like Collins, were concerned that "Waiting for Superman" misrepresented unions and did not offer concrete solutions to the problems it addressed. "Some of the problems we face have to be fought at a higher level. That's what the union is for, to make bigger strides than we can alone," said Castagna. "The union can get our profession back."

Other teachers found inspiration from the film's lackluster review of their peers' performance.

"I want to do more, everything I possibly can to be better. It's terrible when teachers just do the same thing year after year," said Dorsee Tucker, who teaches social studies at Lakewood. "When do you stop trying to improve your craft? Why just be mediocre?"

Guggenheim has raised the question of teacher efficacy to the national level. The American Federation of Teachers says the film unfairly places the blame on teachers. They argue Guggenheim is a good storyteller but not a good reformer.

Time magazine's review of "Waiting for Superman" points out that maybe telling the story is what the US needs to kick-start real conversations about change.

Interview Blog: Michelle Obama, One brick on the diversity path

Last time, I spoke with Jason Anderson, the Store Sales Lead of retail giant New York and Company, and was surprised to hear some interesting revelations on Anderson’s take of Michelle Obama and the fashion industry in general. To Anderson diversity in the industry had always been around, but, was becoming more prevalent due to the industry’s yearning to keep up with the changes.

Nathan Rigaud is the head fashion photographer for Wisteria Productions L.L.C and the Director of operations of ModElla Management where he oversees all aspects of the talent agency. I was able to be squeezed into his busy schedule, and have a conversation on his views of the fashion industry and delve further into my pressing investigation, Michelle Obama’s impact on the Fashion industry’s diversity climb. Although Anderson believed that the industry wasn’t really changing but, that more aspects are becoming more prevalent, Rigaud has claimed to see more than meets the eye.

“Diversity is becoming more accepted and promoted. Just yesterday I saw [actress] Zoe Saldana in a commercial for Calvin Klein! I think we have come a long way since 1974, when we saw the first African American on the cover of Vogue magazine, now it’s not such an unusual sight to see diversity in magazines and on the runway” said Rigaud.

Since supermodel Beverly Johnson graced the cover of the groundbreaking 1974 issue of Vogue Magazine, statistics in diversity have indeed slowly risen.
Popular blogging site, reported on the statistics of women of color becoming more prevalent on the runways and in the industry. We have seen a steady rise in women of color, from 13% in 2008 to an estimated 18.2% in the Spring 2011 collections. Although the incline is still seems to be slow, it does raise some questions as to why women of color are being used more frequently. As a fashion photographer, part of Rigaud’s job description entails keeping up with fashion industry. Rigaud speculated that “Designers are starting to step out and look for more unique looks to better portray their styles and reach a wider audience. “ In addition, Rigaud also said that he believed “more women of color are striving to be models on the runway and in magazines.”

More designers are taking an interest in women of color? Could the rise in ethnic diverse models be the real reason for the culture boom? Rigaud viewed the change as interesting and stated that one of the reasons why could be because of Michelle Obama. “[She] is in a position where she is constantly being observed. She holds herself to a level of professionalism at all times which is a big reason to her success at maintaining this look and the way she dresses.” Rigaud believed that because of her constant reminder on how professional women should portray themselves, that she is indeed a fashion icon and could be a reason for the rising numbers.

However, he and Anderson do agree on one perspective, although Michelle Obama may be one of the reasons why diversity in fashion is becoming more prevalent, she may be indeed only a small part. It hasn’t been long since models the likes of Waris Dire and Naomi Campbell strutted down the runways and flowed over magazine cover and it seems that consumers and industry professionals are looking over that fact. Rigaud contributes the rise in diversity to two figures in particular, Tyra Banks and Oprah Winfrey.

“I would say that Tyra Banks and Oprah Winfrey probably provide the biggest impacts on diversity in the fashion industry. Both are looked to as icons for many women, regardless of their skin color, and have been highly active in the campaign for bringing more diversity.”

So, Michelle Obama may not be one of the biggest reasons for diversity in fashion after all. But, one thing seems to be clear from Mr. Rigaud, that the FLOTUS has paved some of the pathways towards the higher percentages of diversity in fashion. When asked where he saw fashion heading in years to come, Rigaud believed that the industry would start placing more interest in smaller cities. He emphasized that “all branches of media are really connected”. Seeing that without one industry, there can’t be another. Music, film and even politics, all require fashion in some form.

“Denver still has a long way to go as far as the Fashion industry is concerned, but [Denver] is becoming more and more popular in the realm of music so it will be interesting to see how well that’s going to play in with the industry of fashion”.

Natasha Thompson: A Walking Contradiction to the Media’s Teen Mom

As national teen pregnancy rates have increased in recent years, Natasha Thompson spoke with me about her perception of the media’s role in the relationship between media and viewers. Thompson is a 19-year-old teen mother of a nearly 2-year-old girl named Payton who was exposed to TV programs highlighting the lives of pregnant teens.

After learning she was pregnant during the summer of 2008, her junior year in high school, Thompson faced a large amount of opposition from her family and friends, not to mention her boyfriend at the time.

“Everyone I told wanted me to have an abortion, but I knew that was never an option for me,” says Thompson.

Like many young women who face a teen pregnancy, their relationships don’t work out with the father of their child. Originally from Seattle where she grew up, Thompson describes her relationship with Payton’s father as “on and off” mixed with continuous fighting. Despite their attempts to make it work for the sake of Payton’s well-being and future life, the couple split. Thompson picked up her whole life and newborn daughter and moved to Denver.

During her pregnancy as well as the current programming, MTV aired 16 & Pregnant, showcasing a number of girls in the same situation Thompson faced -- pregnant, usually with very little support and a rocky relationship to bring a child into. Thompson recollects watching these shows but never watched them religiously . She was even interviewed by MTV to be one of the starring girls to be profiled for the nation to watch. Her situation practically fits the mold for the dramatic climaxes and relationship pitfalls exemplified on 16 & Pregnant, which then carried over into Teen Mom.

As a young person rather than an expert, Thompson characterizes each person as in control of their decisions which are generally portrayed through television as edited and misleading thus defaming the young people.

“I don’t think that MTV portrays the teen moms in a certain light,” says Thompson. “The mothers on the show make their own independent decisions.”

However, she believes that the portrayals of the young men through shows such as these are accurate. In many of the shows, the young men are portrayed as lazy, immature and simply not ready for the responsibility they are being forced to take on. In the original season of 16 & Pregnant, there is only one young man who is portrayed as a “good father” through the show as a whole.

Thompson spoke to this occurrence as well as the fact that many young relationships faced with a teen pregnancy simply do not last, such as her own.

“I think its about a 25 percent chance that young parents will stay together,” says Thompson. “I know many other young mothers, and out of all of them there are only two or three that are still a couple.”

While Thompson feels like the age and maturity level of the young men in these situations plays a significant role in their dedication to becoming a new father, she recognizes the likelihood of a young man sticking around is much lower as a teenager.

Through her trials and tribulations as a young mother, being exposed to these mediums throughout her pregnancy and new motherhood, Thompson believes her life has not been affected by the media’s portrayal of young parents.

“When I found out I was pregnant, I became a full time, line in nanny so I could gain experience with children of different age ranges,” says Thompson. “I didn’t watch TV to learn what to do. That’s how I gained my parenting skills on top of taking classes on early childhood development.”

Her personal experiences have lead her to believe a very different story than that portrayed by the media. For Thompson, “there is no such thing as a typical teen mother,” and those portrayals on television don’t tell the whole story of the young women.

"Every child is an individual, and requires their own unique style of parenting,” says Thompson. “My goal is to try to be consistent and provide a stable environment for my child.”

Interview blog - Ethical, transparent government advocacy group pushes for public campaign financing

Jenny Flanagan, executive director of Colorado Common Cause, uses a scuba diving analogy to describe the effect of big money in politics. She likened corporate cash to a lifeline that politicians cannot live without in the murky depths of a campaign.

“When you become a politician that money is your oxygen tank,” she said.

Corporations, Wall Street banks, oil companies and pharmaceutical companies, among others, are using donations to buy access and influence, she said. Elected officials make policy choices based on these contributions, consciously or subconsciously.

“They are beholden to their donors, whether they know it or not,” she said. “It just becomes subconscious.”

A public campaign financing option is one of the best ways to curb big money in politics, said Flanagan. With this option, candidates who chose to forgo corporate cash and private donations can have enough money to win elections.

“We have to adopt a public financing option to level the playing field,” she said.

In a public financing program, also called a clean elections system, if a candidate can gather enough small donations of around $5 they qualify for a sum of funding from the government to help finance the campaign.

Flanagan said a public financing option combined with free TV airtime would be the best way to reduce dependency on corporate contributions.

Common Cause, a national organization, has been fighting for these programs across the country, but has not succeeded in Colorado.

Maine and Arizona enacted this option for all state offices in 2000. Connecticut and two municipalities, Albuquerque, N.M. and Portland, Ore., passed a law called Clean Money, Clean Elections in 2005.

North Carolina, New Mexico, Vermont, Wisconsin and Massachusetts have also enacted some form of public financing.

Lawmakers who have participated in the program have made major reforms while in office, which they often credit to the lack of corporate donations, said Flanagan.

Individual donations and contributions from PACs, which pool individuals’ money, are less of a concern to Flanagan. The most reckless spending comes in the way of “independent” expenditures from corporate entities, funneled through non-profit and tax-exempt organizations.

“It’s obscene the amount of money they’re spending,” she said.

Independent expenditures are those by groups that are prohibited by law from coordinating with any candidate or political party, but have no limits on how much they can raise to influence a race.

Independent expenditures can be frustrating for candidates as well as for voters, because candidates have no control over the messages these groups put out, positive or negative.

Colorado holds one of the top spots in the country for most money spent on campaigns by independent expenditure committees, according to a Colorado Public Radio story.

Many of these committees are 527s, tax-exempt organizations which generally have no limits on how much money they can raise for an election or a candidate, but cannot coordinate with campaigns or parties in any way.

Also in the independent expenditure category are two types of non-profits, 501c3s and 501c4s. These are often formed by corporations and labor unions to influence campaigns, though like 527s they cannot coordinate with candidates or parties.

These groups do not have to disclose frequently, or sometimes at all, on a national level to the Federal Election Commission.

Unlike issue committees and candidates, independent expenditure committees do not usually disclose much information to the public, either. They often have little web presence or public visibility, as a recent Colorado Statesman story points out.

Colorado enacted a law, Senate Bill 203, earlier this year that does put stricter requirements on these groups, however. The bill outlined new reporting requirements, limited foreign contributions to these committees and required that any entity contributing $1,000 to a race outside of a candidate or party register as an independent expenditure committee.

Though this bill is a start, a multi-pronged approach is needed to reform the pay-to-play system in Colorado and nationally, said Flanagan.

“I don’t think there’s one silver bullet,” she said.

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons, Google Images

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Michael Bennet Visits DU (Event Blog 2)

Thursday morning, amidst the rush to classes, University of Denver students received a visit from Senator Michael Bennet who stood in front of Sturm Hall briefly discussing his platform and its relevance to young adults.

The democratic candidate first addressed the crowd of less than a hundred students and faculty by calling attention to college student’s current apathy towards the election even though the deadline for voting is only twelve days away.

“Bill Clinton came here the other day...and he told me that the youth are not interested,” Bennet said in reference to the former president who spoke on Bennet’s behalf at a fundraiser earlier this week. However, Bennet emphasized that this is unfortunate considering the significant shifts in education that could result if young adults choose not to support his mission to expand the federal student loan program.

“Ken Buck said that he doesn’t think our founding fathers ever intended for the federal government to have student loans” Bennet mentioned about his republican opponent who supports the gradual elimination of the program, even though 65.6 percent of four-year undergraduates required loans to finance their education in 2007-2008.

Furthermore, “Ken Buck does not support abortion even in the case of rape or incest” Bennet said while assuring the crowd that he believes in a woman’s reproductive rights, which caused a small burst of applause.
Then he went on to discuss the importance of repairing the state’s infrastructure, and finding ways to make sure that America has the most competitive economy in the twenty-first century even in the face of the largest deficit in history. “No matter what party we belong to,” Bennet said, “I don’t want to be a part of the generation that leaves behind debt for you.”

After promising to make the tough decisions necessary to lay a strong foundation for young adults to build upon, Bennet encouraged DU students to give an hour or two of their time to raise support for his election on campus.

“This race is the closest senate race in the country,” Bennet said, but “if we get our vote out, we will win this race.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Event #2: Denver to be re-evaluated for NCAA certification

DU athletics is undergoing a periodic evaluation of its programs by the NCAA, whose representatives visited campus earlier this month to interview administrators, coaches, and student athletes.

As part of the NCAA evaluation process, the Division of Athletics and Recreation assumed a self-evaluation of its 17 varsity sports that was completed May 5, 2000. The NCAA evaluators will analyze this evaluation in the coming weeks and DU should be informed as to its status as a Division I NCAA school by spring of 2011, according to Denver associate athletic director for compliance and student-athlete support services, Cynthia Rail.

The evaluation, which occurs every 10 years, is a complete look at the school’s compliance with NCAA rules and regulations, as well as the welfare of student athletes, and academic integrity.

The process involves a committee selected by Chancellor Robert E. Coombe, to perform a self-study of the university’s athletic department. The committee consists of personnel from every area, including compliance, student support services, budget and finance, and development.

Denver athletic advisor and committee member, Cindi Nagai, said, “This process is an in-depth look into our athletic program. It helps us take a look at what we are doing here and ensures that we are maintaining high levels of honesty and integrity.”

According to Nagai, the committee has been preparing for this evaluation for the last 12-14 months by compiling documents required for the study. Included in those documents are reports that show the school’s governance and commitment to NCAA rules. Following the self-evaluation, the NCAA assembles a peer review team to evaluate all of the aforementioned documents. This team is made up of athletic directors and compliance officers from other NCAA institutions, which arrived on campus Sunday, Oct. 21, for a 3-day comprehensive assessment.

During the review, different student athletes and coaches were interviewed on their experiences here atthe university.

Andrew Lay, senior men’s lacrosse captain, met with the NCAA evaluators on Monday Oct. 4, and said, “They basically wanted to know how I liked the school, and my thoughts on the athletic department.

Nagai said, “We have prepared for over a year for this evaluation.We have incredible athletes, coaches, and staff here at Denver and this evaluation should resemble that.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Restoring Colorado's Economy: Interview Blog

Despite reports of economic recovery, Colorado remains in a precarious state that citizen’s fear could be worsened by proposed tax cuts. Unemployment is at 8.2 percent, enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Basic Health Program has grown 35.2 percent, and the number of individuals receiving food stamps has steadily grown to over 400,000. Not surprisingly, such staggering statistics have many people blaming local and national government figures for misappropriating the billions of dollars Colorado has received under The American Recovery and Investment Act.

Just take a look around town. The “hope” and “change” mantras of 2008 have been replaced with a plethora of negative advertisements critiquing local and national figures. For instance, the Who Said You Said campaign sponsored by the Colorado non-profit Citizen Media, have set up 100 billboards throughout the state that read “Stop Payment” next to images of Hickenlooper, Obama, Bennet, Markey, Perlmutter, and Salazar. However, Carol Hedges, the director of the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, assures reckless outflow is not the case.

“I think the economic problems we are experiencing have very little to do with government spending” she said. “Fundamentally, we are in the middle of permanent economic restructuring…the stimulus was a tool to try to offset the effects of the private sector adjustments but too many people mistakenly concluded it was a solution to the problem.”

As a result of this erroneous mindset, some citizens are more likely to embrace the proposed tax cuts out of fear. “People are afraid and feel like their own economic situations are very fragile,” said Hedges. “Their sense of connection to the broader public good is overwhelmed by their own economic conditions.”

Yet their own economic conditions are exactly what citizens should be focused on. It is a well known fact that the abuse of credit in the form of mortgages, and consumer spending greatly contributed to the economic meltdown. But even with this knowledge families are having a hard time adjusting because, as Hedges said, “credit may seem like the way to pay ongoing bills,” in the face of unemployment.

Therefore, one of the solutions seems to be finding a balance between spending and saving. “I think greater saving by households can help with future downturns,” said Hedges, “but not spending will have an effect on the current economy” such as slowing its recovery.

Other solutions include investing in renewable energy, emerging technologies, digital media, and education. Denver is one of the most highly-educated cities in the nation with 35.7 percent of adults having a bachelor’s degree or higher. College diplomas equal higher earnings, which expands the middle class, raises tax revenue for the federal government, and potentially lowers the overall tax burden.
Clearly, improving the economy is going to take time despite the urgency political candidates and citizens are feeling. The Great Recession unmasked numerous long-standing defects in local and national governments, which America as a whole is struggling to cope with. Like Hedges emphasized, “There are no easy answers to the questions about the future.” But regardless of its shaky foundation, Colorado should not give up.

Marijuana Card Holder Interview

When you analytically break down the logistics of each issue, most people will come to the conclusion that a potential alcohol tax increase would be more beneficial than legalizing marijuana. The person I interviewed is a Denver student who is medically prescribed to marijuana. He agreed to the interview under one condition; his name had to be kept anonymous.

This student has been a marijuana cardholder for the last three years. His opinion regarding marijuana legalization lies somewhere between senator Tancredo’s and Hickenlooper’s political agenda. He believes marijuana should be prescribed to anyone who has a LEGITIMENT health issue which can be accommodated by marijuana. “As much as I and several other college students would benefit and take advantage of the legalization of pot, I don’t think it should be totally legalized because that will only result in more marijuana experimentation for people who don’t need it.” This student has legitimate anxiety issues and has used marijuana to compensate.

When asked about the significance of a potential alcohol tax increase, the student said “that sounds good on paper, but you can pitch anything to sound good on paper.” He thinks people will take the tax proposal more seriously if accommodation is provided to the restaurant and beverage industries; they are the two businesses that will suffer the most if a tax increase is enacted.

His rational for why the legalization of marijuana generates more attention than a tax increase is because it’s so close to being enacted. Right now, there are about 20 senatorial candidates in favor of legalizing marijuana and 10 opposing it. “Perhaps professors should take advantage of the spot light being on marijuana. Take time to alter the proposal by finding accommodation for the beverage and restaurant industries while still saving millions in health care and generating millions in revenue.”

Me being biased and having my own agenda, I countered his argument by stating that on average, an alcoholic who consumes less alcohol would be a greater beneficiary compared to a marijuana card holder. He responded by rearranging his words from his initial answer. “We’ve had alcohol tax increases in the past, never have we had marijuana being fully legal. Provide accommodation then we’ll talk.” He never denied that a tax increase would have more positive results than legalizing marijuana. He just stated a rational for why things were the way they were.
The path he took to attaining a marijuana medical card started his freshman year of college. He had such bad anxiety, and it reached its peak the night before a final. “I was sitting at my desk studying, and all of a sudden I wasn’t able to breath. I knew right their that I needed help.” When he discussed his anxiety with a psychiatrist, the proposal of trying marijuana arose. “We initially discussed anti-depressants, but came to the conclusion that that was a bad fit.” He says the hardest thing was to sell the parents on the idea. “They were skeptical at first, but after discussing it with the psychiatrist and reviewing statistics, they reluctantly agreed to it.”

He says the most difficult part was disaffiliating smoking with rest of his social activities. “Throughout high school and the beginning of college I would smoke socially, but when academics came into the picture, it changed my perspective. I had to remind myself that I’m not doing this for fun. I need this to succeed.” Under his first quarter being prescribed he earned a 3.1 G.P.A., which was almost three points higher than his average at the time. “Through trial & error, I was able to find a routine that works.” How much he smokes revolves around the workload. He smokes less when there is less work and vice versa. He now has a 3.4 G.P.A.

Another tough aspect of being prescribed is not giving into peer pressure by reselling. “I try to keep my prescription on the down-low (hence why he wanted his name kept anonymous), people don’t understand that I’m not smoking socially and they become bitter when I don’t sell to them.” He made light of situation when he said “sometimes I do wish it was legal, that way my buddies can stop giving me grief for not selling to them.”

His final burn on the marijuana legalization/alcohol tax increase stated, “both issues need a resolution, but you can’t get everything solved at once. After elections, we’ll have a clearer idea for what issues need more attention. By then, hopefully a legitimate alcohol tax proposal is introduced.”

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Interview: The FLOTUS in NY&CO

Founded in 1918 and known as one of the oldest retailers in the country, “New York and Company”, formerly known as Lerners New York has always prided itself on bringing runway fashion to retail floors. According its official website, one of the company’s goals is to “provide fashionable clothing for REAL women with REAL lives.” NY&CO has constantly been reviewed and kept in the fashion industry’s spotlight from popular print and online publications such as Women’s Wear Daily and I wanted to discover just how important fashion really was to this popular chain. I walked into one of the into the company’s Denver district, perused some of the new clothing hitting the floors and made my way to the back office to speak with Jason Anderson, the store sales lead for one of New York and Company’s top selling stores in the region to get his take on fashion, his company and the question I’ve been trying to answer, who or what has truly caused this new boom of diversity in the fashion industry.
“Fashion and politics. Most don’t even assume those two work, but without one we couldn’t have the other” Anderson started as he pushed the mounds of papers from his desk to make room for my laptop. “And furthermore, people don’t even think that fashion, politics and retail go together. They think, ‘oh retail can’t possibly be in line with fashion trends’ Oh they most certainly do” he finished.

Anderson has been in the retail and fashion worlds for over 10 years, and through them he has worked to gain the knowledge needed to further himself in the retail portion of the fashion industry. “New York and Company is the place to come for business minded women. NY&CO and retail in general brings fashion to consumers who can’t afford what’s on rodeo drive. But, you can’t do that unless you have a grasp on the industry you work in.” he elaborated. Through our time together, Anderson explained that he never really followed politics unless it had something to do with his industry. “I don’t pay attention to CNN or any of the political races. But, when WWD [Women’s Wear Daily] starts talking about Michelle [Obama] or why wearing red in Japan during a business interview is considered taboo, my ears perk up.”

Anderson and I began our discussion with what the new trends were in the industry, how cardigans and business slacks are making their way off the top designer’s mannequins and trickling down to retail, finally ending with his take on the new bouts of diversity appearing in many of the top fashion periodicals and designer’s fall lines. Although he was aware of the budding appearances of multiple cultures in the fashion industry, he had an issue contributing it all to the FLOTUS (first lady of the United States). “I mean, diversity has always been a part of fashion to me. It may not have been as prominent in the past, but, it’s always been around and Michelle can’t keep being pegged as the ONLY one who brought diversity to the industry into fruition.”
Earlier in the week, Michelle Obama traveled to Denver where she led a lunch campaign for democratic senator Michael Bennett. While her presence and clear support for Bennett, many of those flashing bulbs captured the style that, although may not have been the sole reason for women of color rising in the fashion industry, Anderson still claimed many are trying to copy.

“She tends to steer clear of what’s considered proper for the FLOTUS, but, I think her suit [during the lunch] exuded business. Kind of classic, reminded me of past icons. And everyone copies icons.”
To Anderson, having Michelle Obama in office has been a contribution to African American’s being featured more and as a result, retail chains that focus on re-vamping runway styles, are creating “clothing with a more fitted style, adhering to curves and producing more styles that work for more women.” However, Anderson did bring up another possible reason for the drastic changes occurring.
“I think fashion deals with trends and diversity can be considered one of those trends. Times are changing and regardless of [Michelle] being the FLOTUS or not, Fashion will still change with the times. I wouldn’t consider her to be the only source of change in fashion. Other people and situations need to be considered, not just Obama.”
In the end, Anderson described in few words where he thought the fashion industry was heading. Since fashion is constantly evolving, he believed that he couldn’t really elaborate on where it would go. “This industry never gives strict direction in my opinion. I have no clue where it’s headed. One day black is cool. Next year, the new it thing could be obese women. Who knows?”
Jason Anderson shed some light on some outlooks in the fashion industry in regards to politics and diversity. But, as stated earlier, there may be other factors to consider than just that of Michelle Obama. Could her impact just be the scratch on the surface?

On the school-front: Principal Mary Lauer

Principal Mary Lauer talks with a student in her office. Lauer graduated from Colorado public schools. She has spent 30 years working as a teacher and administrator in the state.
Photo courtesy of Greeley Tribune

For Mary Lauer, the conversation about educational reform won't stop November 3rd. It isn't part of any stump speech she gives and it isn't something that can be summarized in a paragraph on her website. Lauer toils for educational reform year-round; it's her job.

"Colorado kids can't wait," said Lauer. "Big changes are coming and if we don't take a look at achievement, if we don't take a look at our teachers, they'll happen to us, not with us."

As principal of Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, Lauer oversees more than 1,400 students and 100 teachers. Her principle duty - making sure all of them get better.

On Friday, Bear Creek students took a day off so Bear Creek teachers could get at the crux of the issue of student achievement gaps. Data from the Colorado Department of Education shows that poor students, minority students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who show a history of "needing to catch up" have not made "adequate growth" from 2009 to 2010 at Bear Creek.

Aside from spending 15 hours with her teachers this semester, looking at hard numbers and finding solutions for niche students' lack of proficiency, Lauer also requested that her staff go to the movies. Davis Guggenheim's documentary, "Waiting for Superman," will change the attitude about education reform in America, says Lauer. "Everybody needs to see this film. It's just that good."

A key component of the film rests on legislative interaction with teachers' unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers. When it comes to changing teachers' salaries or reevaluating teachers in the classroom, Guggenheim suggests that the union presents a difficult challenge for reformers. Lauer agrees. "Teachers should lose their non-probationary status if students are not growing," she said. "The union puts tenured teachers in holding tanks where they can't be fired, but are detrimental to have in classrooms. We have to be able to fire bad teachers."

The film spotlighted the result of this head butting in the New York public school system where teachers who have been deemed poor at their craft and those accused of sexual assault can't, by contract, be fired. These limbo teachers spend years in "the rubber room," a space with tables and chairs, magazines and playing cards, awaiting their disciplinary hearings. All while they make full salary.

"I got into this job for the kids," said Lauer. "Now I spend most of my time managing adults."

Colorado is leading the way in negotiations with the teachers' union and reassessing how teachers are paid. The goal is to compensate instructors based on performance in the classroom, not solely on years of experience. The state's efforts have not gone unnoticed. Lauer was at the premiere of "Waiting for Superman" where Guggenheim commended Colorado for taking on the tough changes, she said.

Another form of impending change could look like funding cuts as laid out in Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 on the ballot this November. The initiatives would cease grant funding, as well as cut property tax dollars that have traditionally gone to public schools.

"It's like we (public schools) took out a 30-year loan. Then the bank forces you to pay it back in 10," said Lauer of the potential new laws.