Friday, July 23, 2010

Inoculations for viral internet stories

Earlier this week my brother who finds all things outrageous amusing sent me a forward that had been making the rounds purporting to prove that President Obama and his cabinet had the worst collective resumes in terms of private sector experience since FDR’s administration. I thanked him for the forward as I am always looking for something current to use in the information literacy activities I do with my students. And then the Shirley Sherrod story hit the news. I think I will stick with the forward I received but the Sherrod story makes it all that much clearer why our students must learn to assess their information, know how to track it to its source and then in the case of Sherrod, how to find the full text or in the case of the Obama Cabinet, how to test the information. Our students need to learn to think, analyze, research and then react. This is a lesson Secretary Vilsack should have had as well.

What follows is my reply to my brother.

Thanks for the forward. I will probably use it as one of my information literacy activities with my students this fall. I used to give them this email that circulated a few years back which purported to prove that there were more military deaths under Jimmy Carter than under George W. Bush. Fox news originally ran the story and misquoted the DOD/CRS numbers. This story then went viral on the email forwards with someone from a very conservative group actually changing the numbers and choosing to leave off the entire discussion of the numbers of non-fatal causalities during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

It looks like your chart first was presented by Glen Beck. It then got circulated by a whole lot of groups including one called niggermania (I hope that's not where you got the story). The Volovkh Conspiracy a group of lawyer bloggers originally passed on the chart but has sense decided after discussing the underlying research and term definitions used by the creator, to remove the chart from its website. In explaining their decision The Volokh Conspiracy used as an example Eisenhower who apparently never had a private sector job even though he and his cabinet earn a 51% for private sector experience."This chart, in its original setting, has a number of qualifications that, among other things, make it clear that while there is a serious point at issue, it is also a bit of whimsy, and constructed as such".

I will probably have my students do their own research and actually figure out comparatively speaking how much private sector experience President Obama and President George W. Bush (in his first term) and their Cabinets had.

President Obama - He graduate from law school and worked at University of Chicago Law school as a Professor of Constitutional Law. Then he worked as a Civil Rights Lawyer with the private firm, Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland. Not a small or large business but certainly private sector (unless you don't count U of Chicago).
President Bush - He created Arbusto Energy and then "when oil prices failed" the company merged with Harken Oil where he remained as a member of the board. He worked for his father's presidential campaign and then of course was managing director of the Texas Rangers.

Secretary of the Treasury
Hillary Clinton -- She worked as a lawyer for the Rose Law Firm from 1977-1992 when she became First Lady.
Colin Powell -- Career Military!

Secretary of the Treasury
Timothy Geitner--He started his career working for Kissinger Associates, a consulting firm started by Henry Kissinger, then among other things he worked in the Treasury Department during George Bush Sr's administration, for the embassy in Tokyo, Council on Foreign Relations and the IMF before becoming the youngest ever President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
Paul O'Neil (the first of GWB's three Secretaries of the Treasury)--He wins the business credentials end of things as he was Chairman and CEO of Alcoa and of the Rand Corporation. But he quarreled with Bush and apparently vice president Cheney so he only lasted a year and was replaced by John Snow who before his appointment was Chairman and CEO of CSX. He got into CSX from his connections while working as a younger man for the Federal Department of Transportation. Snow was replaced by Henry Paulson.

I am going to leave the rest of the cabinet seats to my poor students. With the exception of Powell everyone I looked up in Wikipedia has some sort of private sector experience. I know college professors and lawyers aren’t small or large business owners. I doubt though that the concerns of an O'Neil or Snow are the same as those of the owner at your Prudential Office in Sarasota. And I had read in one of the more virulent sharers of your chart that working for AT&T didn't count. If it doesn't count then neither I suspect should Alcoa.

Anyway, what every happened to respect for genuine public service? I continue to admire Dick Lugar; when did he last have a private sector job? Our own PA Governor Rendall is a career politician who took Philadelphia from the trash heap and helped turn it around. While he and the state assembly continually fail to pass a budget on time that has a lot more to say about PA and the weird politics of this liberal on the ends conservative in the middle state (except conservative democrats tend to win in the central areas too as long as they are Pro-Life and Pro-gun rights.) I think Rendall loves all of the perks of his office but having followed his career now for 20 some years, I think he also has a keen sense of himself as a public servant.

Thanks for the forward and giving me something new with which to torture my students!


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