Presidential Debate 1: domestic issues

President Barack Obama and his challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.), began the series of presidential debates on Tuesday night with the topic of domestic issues. Questions from proctor Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour ranged from the economy to the federal debt to health care and the role of government.

Mitt Romney came out swinging from the beginning. Critical, well-prepped and relentless, the governor of Massachusetts has been dubbed the winner.

Commentators and analysts like to talk about the mannerisms of the candidates when determining who won the debate. President Obama is being criticized for starting out with a defensive and condescending tone, which, according to CNN commentators, dissolved about halfway through. Obama seemed rusty, according to some, which makes sense because he has not debated since 2008. Romney, on the other hand, came off with confidence and arguments critiquing the Obama administration.

Now, for many of us in college right now, 2012 marks the first time we can actually vote in a presidential election. Voting for the right candidate is a daunting task to begin with, but after tonight, the choice may be even more difficult. Any type of political debate should rouse skepticism from both sides. The chatter on social media sites started before the debate began and will surely continue throughout the night—adding even more things for voters to synthesize and consider. However, it’s hard to know exactly what types of questions to ask, especially when candidates reference Dodd-Frank and Simpson and Bowles. It’s okay, I had to Google a couple things, too. So, here is a compilation of the highlights from tonight that includes a breakdown of the questions and a sum of the candidates’ viewpoints.

President Obama said his plan for creating jobs lies in hiring 100,000 math and science teachers, lowering college tuition and providing tax breaks for companies investing in the United States. One of his main goals in the next term includes implementing the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. In terms of eliminating the partisan deadlocks in Congress, President Obama relied on his record, stating that it was bipartisanship that ended the Iraq War and wrote the healthcare law. He also noted that he implemented restrictions on Wall Street in order to regulate the bank systems.

Gov. Romney agreed with President Obama on the need for education reform but also said he wants to increase job training programs to “get dollars back to states.” Romney also discussed his plan to get America entirely energy independent from foreign countries. He used the failures of President Obama to highlight what he sees as the solution to many of the government’s spending problems: bringing decisions back to individuals. Romney also argued for smaller government interference and repealing the law.

President Obama and Governor Romney agree on fundamental issues such such as education reform and lowering the deficit, but they differ in the ways they aim to accomplish these things. Romney argues in favor of the private sector and allowing businesses and individuals to dictate choices. Obama argues for bigger government to regulate these companies in order to make things more affordable for the middle class.

Debates are complicated. Jargon is meant to confuse you, and questions will go unanswered. However, knowing a little about each candidate is better than going in on Election Day blind.

Poll: young voters not as enthusiastic about election

The 2008 presidential election made history among young voters. Rallies on college campuses paired with social media activism brought out one of the highest turnouts of 18 to 29-year-olds on election day—more than 22 million.

This year’s race, however, forecasts a completely different turnout. According to a poll from the PEW Research Center, 63 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds, known as millennials, definitely plan to vote this year; this is down from 72 percent in 2008.

The lack of enthusiasm compared to that in 2008 is reflective of both parties, according to PEW. Rob Altenburger, a senior English major at Stony Brook University, said that groups on campus have reached out to him to make sure he is registered to vote, but he has not really gotten involved in the election so far because he has been busy with school work. He did, however, watch a clip of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s nomination acceptance speech.

“I watched the first 10 minutes and I found that he wasn’t really telling me anything,” Altenburger said. “For me, that kind of turned me off a bit because I wanted to know about what he was going to do, or his plans.”

During campaigns, it is easy to get caught up in the so-called ‘mud-slinging,’ where candidates and their Political Action Committees, known as Super PACs, produce advertisements focused on negative characteristics or actions of the opponent. This bombardment of negativity can also discourage people from wanting to learn more about the candidates and get involved.

The drop in voter enthusiasm also reflects a significant decrease in voter registration compared to 2008. According to the PEW Research Center, 50 percent of people under the age of 30 are sure they are registered to vote—the lowest number in the last 16 years.

Amanda Farnbach, a junior biology major at SBU, shows that not all polls are reflective of the majority. While Farnbach was eligible to vote in 2008, she did not register. Now, she and her friends feel compelled to get involved.

“From my group of friends, I see that they care a lot more or pay more attention to what’s going on politically,” she said.

A study by Generation Opportunity, a non-profit, non-partisan organization focused on 18 to 29-year-olds, reflected Farnbach’s views more closely. In a study released on Oct. 3, Generation Opportunity reported that 76 percent of millennials plan to vote this year.

Paul T. Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, said the number of people who plan to vote has not changed, but their motivations for why they will choose a candidate has changed significantly. The top things that will determine millennials’ votes are the candidate’s record in office and stance on issues, according to their poll. These two determinants outweigh the candidates’ character and personality.

Conway said that the millennial generation is misunderstood by elected officials.

“There’s a narrative out there…that somehow young adults are self-absorbed, they’re only interested in their technology…they’re withdrawn,” he said. “But we 100 percent reject that. What we think these numbers represent is the intelligence of this generation.”

James Car, an undeclared freshman, is voting for the first time this year. He said each candidate’s “interpretations of what to do with student loans” is the most important factor in determining his vote.

So the enthusiasm is not as apparent for one candidate over another, but for reforming and fixing the nation’s problems.

“The passion that was felt in 2008 has become much more temperate and stronger and much more focused on how to actually get the country going in the direction that you had hoped would go in in 2008,” Conway said. “Your generation is much farther ahead than elected officials give you credit for.”

The amount of information consumed by the millennials pushes them to think in terms greater than party lines. According to Conway, the young vote will be determined this year by the facts and the future plans, not on the charisma and character of the candidates.

A guide to clubs and orgs

Stony Brook University is home to more than 300 clubs and organizations, all run by students.

At the beginning of each year, the campus-wide Involvement Fair showcases the clubs and organizations offered at Stony Brook. This year, the event will take place during Campus Lifetime on Sept. 12.

The Undergraduate Student Government oversees clubs and organizations on campus and allocates club budgets. It comprises seven executive board members, 22 senators, four class representatives and a judiciary board. Freshmen are eligible to run for the class representative position in mid-fall.

The clubs and organizations on campus vary in size and type—from sports clubs, to dance groups, to volunteer organizations, to school subjects and graduate preparatory clubs. Requirements for each club are different, but students must have a 2.5 GPA to hold a position.

The university encourages students to get involved in some type of extracurricular activity, and if there is nothing of interest offered, students can create their own club or organization. The step-by-step process can be found on the USG website: stonybrookusg.org.

One organization still budding at Stony Brook is Humans vs. Zombies, where students team up to see who can survive the ‘zombie apocalypse’ fought with Nerf guns across campus. More than 400 students signed up for the battle last year, and the club has seen significant growth in its numbers since the first game started in spring 2010.

If academia sounds more appealing, Stony Brook has ample amounts of pre-professional societies and interest groups. Volunteer organizations such as the Alternative Spring Break Outreach, or ASBO, sends student to areas in need.

USG Vice President of Communications Sophia Marsh said the best way to overcome the SBU commuter school stereotype is by getting involved and joining a club.

“It’s the best way to meet people who are like-minded,” she said. “And it’s the best way to become part of the community.”

Forget the myths you’ve heard about greek life

I am not a sorority girl. I don’t parade around like Elle Woods. I don’t scoff at people who wear anything but designer. I didn’t get locked in a basement for “sisterhood” purposes before my initiation.

I am a girl in a sorority. My Greek letters do not define me, but they are a part of who I have become in college. I never thought I’d join a sorority in college, but it was probably the best decision I could have made as a freshman.

The Greek community at Stony Brook University is not typical, but it does give students a unique experience to say the least. Greeks make up about five percent of students, which is a relatively low number compared to other colleges across the country. The tight-knit community is part of what makes the SBU experience different—we are a continuously growing community with the common understanding of brother and sisterhood.
“From the outside looking in, you can’t describe it. From the inside looking out you can’t explain it.” This quote has been used frequently during recruitment—and it’s completely true. I can’t explain what my sisters mean to me or how great it is to be a part of the Greek community, but I’ll try.

In 2009, I was a freshman. I was initiated into my sorority in the spring semester of 2010, along with some of my closest friends. Some joined the same organization, while others ended up in different fraternities. Shortly after we were all initiated, our letters did not matter because a tragedy struck our community. Two members of the Alpha Phi Delta fraternity passed away in a car accident in late April. I had the pleasure of knowing one of those men.

Letters and organizations did not matter that day. We were all deeply affected because we understood what the brotherhood meant. We stood together, laughed together, cried together, mourned and celebrated those no longer with us because we could all appreciate the fact that it could have been any one of us in that car.

It’s been two years since the accident, and when I attended the memorial service a few months ago, I stood with the same group of girls. I saw the same faces. I comforted the same friends.

Some schools have individual Greek organizations with 400 members. SBU has about 400 members in the Greek system in total. Freshmen can participate in recruitment their first semester, but cannot be initiated into an organization until their second semester if they have a 2.5 GPA or above.

Each chapter—comprising the specific people at SBU—hosts educational events, fundraisers and social events throughout the year. The core values of the Stony Brook Fraternity and Sorority Life are academic excellence, service, personal development, leadership, brotherhood/sisterhood and multiculturalism.

I never thought I would have spent my college years in a sorority, but it’s my home away from home. My letters do not define who I am, but they made me a well-rounded person and gave me a fulfilling college experience. So, even if you don’t think Greek life is for you, come check us out. You’d be surprised where you end up.

Behind the scenes of the USG election process

Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Student Government held elections last week. Polls were open April 16-20, but the campaign process is more than just putting one’s name on a ballot.

The Setup

Campaigning does not begin with a poster design or a catchy slogan. The eight-week process begins with the Elections Board. The Elections Board holds an informational meeting—usually at the end of January—to inform prospective candidates and answer questions. The guidelines for campaigning are established and from there candidates are on their own.

According to Elections Board Chairman Jillian Genco, candidates must submit a letter of intent with a platform statement within three days of the informational meeting.

“The platform statement is what will appear on SOLAR,” Genco said. “So, when people are voting, they’ll be able to see what [the candidate] stands for.”

Typically students include leadership skills, past positions, and major areas within USG that they would like to change, according to Genco.

After the paperwork is approved by the Elections Board, each candidate receives a petitioning packet with signature slots.  In order to run, candidates need a quota of signatures to prove to the board that they have a substantial chance of being elected.

The Executive Council—President, Vice President, and Treasurer—candidates need a minimum of 600 signatures. Candidates running for the other “VP” positions need 400 signatures; class representatives and senators need 100 signatures.

“We recommend [class reps and senator candidates] get more than 100 signatures because they need to be validated,” Genco said. “If one of the signatures is not valid and [the candidate] only has 100, then they are disqualified.”

She said that many candidates have problems getting accurate information from students when they sign the form. The student needs to include their full name, net ID, phone number and signature.

“A lot of people will put their SOLAR ID where the Net ID is supposed to go, and that’s an issue because it doesn’t count as a signature.”

Ten percent of the contacts on each petition are contacted by the Elections Board in order to check the validity of each petitioner’s packet. After the candidates’ packets are deemed valid, electioneering begins.

Candidates have a broad-spectrum for campaigning. According to the USG Bylaws, there are no limits on campaigning as long as the Elections Board approves it, but there are restrictions on where parties and candidates can campaign.

All flyers must be posted in accordance with campus rules and nothing can be distributed or posted within 100 feet of a Sinc Site. Campaigning is not permitted in the USG Suite of the Student Activities Center or at any USG sponsored event. Since voting is done through SOLAR, any computing site on campus is considered a polling place.

“People have been asking, ‘Can I bring my laptop around and ask people to vote?’” Genco said. “[The Elections Board] looked in the USG Code and it says that no electronic device can be affiliated with a candidate, so that answers that question.”

Genco will be a member of the Elections Board for the next two years, this being her second semester. It is her first time being in charge of the board and there are many things she wishes to change next year.

“Unfortunately, [the elections portion of the USG Code] was not written by the Elections Board,” she said. “There are some rules that are just ridiculous … and some that are so vague.” In order to clarify and fix the issues, Genco would like to start by getting a group of dedicated members.  “I hope that next year [the board] will have a solid group of people … and once we have this group we’ll be able to approach the Senate and say we need to reform these bylaws because we don’t agree with them.”

One example of the vagueness in the code has to do with the party affiliations. “This election is dominated by parties, and there’s almost nothing in the code about them. There needs to be clarification because right now there’s maybe one line about them.”

SUP Seawolves 4 Change, are you SAFE? 

The Students United Party (SUP), Seawolves 4 Change and Students Actively Fighting for Equality (SAFE) are the three major parties this election round.

Each party is formed by candidates. According to the USG Code, “All Party Coalitions shall be granted a Charter by the Elections Board, upon submission of Bylaws for such Party Coalition, which shall expire at the end of the semester in which the Charter was granted.”

Kenneth Meyers was a part of the SUP Party before he co-created SAFE.

“I left [SUP] because I realized in the first meeting that I didn’t know anyone,” Meyers said. “I wasn’t comfortable running with people I didn’t know anything about.”

Meyers hesitated to join a party in the first place because he does not agree with the ideas behind them.

“I hate undergraduate parties,” he said, “because almost everyone has the same viewpoint, and it becomes us versus them, and oh, I just want to use these people to get as many votes as possible.”

Juan Pablo Cordon, presidential candidate, has a similar view on the party system. He is the only Executive Board candidate to run un-affiliated.

“It worked both ways because there wasn’t really a party for me to join and I didn’t really look to join [any party],” Cordon said. “I don’t want to have to owe people favors and have to work with the parties. It’s a new stand point and I’m coming in fresh … without people telling me what to think.”

Sophia Marsh of the SUP party is the only candidate for Vice President of Communications, but she thinks that parties are a crucial part of the election process.

“The whole idea of the Students United Party is people not just from one area—it’s a very diverse group,” Marsh said. “There are groups that are very polarized, but our group has members from every possible club and we’re all friends outside [of the party] and get along really well.”

One goal all candidates seem to have in common is the need for change—to weed out rumored corruption and make USG more efficient and transparent to the student body.

Looking Ahead

In addition to choosing next year’s USG membership, voters decided to keep the Student Activity Fee mandatory with a final vote of 1120-963.

New members of USG now must decide, “If you had $3.1 million, what would you do with it?”

 

 

#TheFineLine

In the days of print, the news section was news and the opinion section was opinion. The only grey area was the physical paper that was distributed. Now, the grey has flooded the online world of blogging and reporting. There is this unspoken fine line between news and opinion that blurred dramatically when anyone could post online and call it “news.” This line, however, is not the one to which I am referring.

As a journalism student, I am talking about the fine line between the professional world and what I like to call the goof-ball world.  In the professional world, I would use my Twitter account to aggregate interesting news stories and share witty commentary on a piece or bit of information. My Facebook would consist of my published work, cheers for my successful colleagues, and one or two photos of the office, my dog, or my family. In the goof-ball world, I am free to be a twenty-year-old in college. I can post complaints about professors, photos of wild parties and curse like a trucker. On Twitter, I can post pictures of my outfit, everything I eat and every thought I have walking from my dorm room to the dining hall. I can retweet daily Virgo horoscopes and sappy love quotes without a second thought.

But what can I post as a journalism student? Should I rip off the bandage now and go full out professional? Or do I have time to wean myself off those funny cat memes? The more my professors tell me to bite the bullet and bid adeu to #damnitstrue and #sh*tcollegekidssay, the more I find myself stumbling upon these pages.

The default answer is to have two of everything: one professional and one personal. In theory, this is the perfect solution and I won’t have to delete half of my facebook and twitter posts the day after graduation. Let’s think about this for a second though: how much time do I devote to social media? The answer is probably too much—meaning if I had to worry about two of everything, I might as well quit school and e-socialize 24 hours per day.

I can hear my grandmother’s complaints already. “What’s wrong with this generation? You’re always typing or texting or flying something.” (Flying = tweeting…at least she tries to keep up). The older generations complain that I’m logged in too much and my niche of future journalists would write me off as someone who doesn’t take my future seriously. Is there a solution to this other than me sitting here panicking about not pleasing everyone?!

Oh, wait, being a journalist isn’t about pleasing everyone. It’s about writing what you know. Here’s what I know:

  1. I take the future seriously, but I want to stay a kid for as long as possible.
  2. I know the e-golden rule: don’t post anything online that could ultimately bite you in the behind later.
  3. Social media thrives on unique voices. Voices that people can identify with, disagree with, laugh at, or simply hear.

I guess that’s my answer. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and hope to balance between journalist-wannabe and regular college kid. And if my future employers don’t like it—I’ll wait to change until after I toss my graduation cap.