Posts Tagged ‘President Obama’

It is not secret sociological knowledge that a lot more people consider themselves to be “middle class” than a strict definition of the term implies. At CNN.com, for example, you can report whether you feel middle class and then enter data on where you live to find out what the middle household income quintile is for your county. Despite the fact that I feel middle class, my income is slightly above this range for my own residence. The housing market in my area is a good example of the relativity of social class. I don’t feel particularly wealthy because housing here is expensive. Technically, this is false, but the sorts of homes that I would want to live in are expensive, so I perceive that housing is expensive overall and, thus, that my income is not high relative to the cost of housing.

This sort of reasoning led Jesse Klein, a student at the University of Michigan, to state that although her family makes over $250,000 per year, they are middle class. Growing up in Silicon Valley makes it easy to understand Klein’s perception, as this Yahoo Finance article points out. It does not, however, change the fact that Klein’s family is among the wealthiest in the country. The fact that a few households make more doesn’t change this, even if a lot of those households are around Klein’s. Her argument that she is middle class despite her family’s ability to afford out-of-state tuition at the University of Michigan also calls her perceptions into question. Like Klein, a Vancouver couple recently got some negative attention for complaining about the fact that their $360,000 salary would not cover their expenses.

It is interesting that Klein’s family income is also the number that President Obama used in his campaigns to distinguish the wealthy because less than 2% of American households have incomes above that amount. The response during his campaigns seemed to be, though, that $250,000 didn’t sound like that much. To somebody making $50,000 per year, $250,000 might sound (however unrealistically) within the realm of possibility. When discussing income (not to mention wealth), then, it is particularly important to provide a broader context about the nation as a whole. $250,000 isn’t just a number, it is a number that we can compare to the national median and earnings along the entire income range. Klein’s might not feel like her family is wealthy in Silicon Valley, but when she considers the fact that they make more than nearly every family in the country and can afford to do things that most Americans cannot, her feelings may change.

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The President of the American Association of University Professors has released a damning statement on President Obama’s higher education plan. In it, he states:

Blaming “complacent faculty” who remain “shortsighted” ignores the reality of higher education in the 21st century. It is not the tenured and tenure-track faculty, much less the army of contingent faculty who have been displacing tenured faculty, who are complacent or shortsighted. If anyone has lost touch with reality it is the metastasizing army of administrators with bloated salaries, who make decisions about the allocation of resources on our campuses, and our university presidents who are now paid as though they were CEO’s running a business — and not a very successful one at that. Unfortunately, these are the very people President Obama plans to consult while implementing his plan.

Read the whole thing here.

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One of the things I try to do in my sociology courses is disrupt students’ normal way of looking at the world to show them that things are often not as simple as they seem. From this perspective, one of the most interesting things about the Zimmerman trial to me was his claim that he was defending himself after he actively pursued Trayvon Martin. As President Obama noted in his recent speech on the case, the idea of Stand Your Ground laws are complicated by the difficulty of telling who is on the offensive and who is on the defensive. Obama stated:

For those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these ‘‘stand your ground’’ laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

While my fighting experience is limited to being punched twice in the face (on separate occasions), it seems that in most fights both parties are on both offense and defense. In this case, the fight between Martin and Zimmerman could have easily started because Martin felt threatened by the man who followed him first in his truck and then on foot. In the event that somebody is pursuing you, defending yourself seems like a reasonable course of action. As soon as the fight started, though, Martin’s defense would be perceived by Zimmerman as offense and Zimmerman may have felt that he was defending himself. The cliche that the best defense is a good offense is based on the complicated interplay in situations like this.

The idea that fights like this are either/or affairs where one person is attacking and the other may be “standing his ground” could use a good dose of disruption. Situations like these are the perfect time to commit sociology for the greater good.

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