Literacy In America

The advanced potential of technology, along with its mainstream function of being able to access information at any given time, has now overturned the way readers have access to books. Having the potential to access publications from the comfort of your own home at any given time of the day or night may be the main contributing factor as to why consumers have elected to invest in the purchasing of an e-book reader as opposed to spending money on transportation costs to their local bookstore. More recently, local and large chain bookstores have reported an enormous drop in sales since technology has introduced a more convenient way to read by way of the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Amazon Kindle, the Pandigial Reader, and the Sony Reader. While e-book sales have increased over the years in the United States, the U.S. adult literacy rates have decreased.

Literacy has a major impact on the functional ability of a country. However, statistics reveal a sad truth concerning the readers residing in the United States: approximately 32 million Americans cannot read. According to a study performed by The Organization for Economic Adult Literacy, the United States ranked 16 out of 23 countries. 1 out of 3 American adults cannot read properly, meaning either they do not fully understand the material they have read or they cannot analyze the information they have read correctly. Oddly, 33% of American adults, or 1 out of 4 Americans, own an e-reader of some sort. As the number of e-books sold has increased by 43% over the past 5 years, over 10 million e-books have been sold thus far yet this does not indicate there is hope for an increase in American literacy rates.

One possible explanation as to the awkward imbalance in statistics when comparing the number of e-reader and e-book sales to literacy rates is the decline of available bookstores where physical books may be purchased. When assessing the literacy rates, approximately 1 in 3 adults scored low in problem solving abilities within a technical environment. Not every reader is computer literate. In bookstores, customers can readily ask for assistance if needed when searching for a specific topic or publication. With e-readers, the reader is pretty much on their own. Since the sales of e-books has risen over the past 10 years, bookstores have been forced to shut down due to their low sales volume. Their low sales volume is contributed to the rising number of readers who prefer to purchase e-books rather than the traditionally printed book, and not all adult educational development resources are available in electronic form.

With bookstores becoming extinct and electronic book sales increasing, there may still be hope for raising the literacy stats for American adults as long as the number of library locations does not decline in the process…

©2013 Learus Ohnine

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Woman’s Work Is Never Done

For decades on end, woman have been fighting for their equality to be recognized, in one form or another, within the workforce. Former President John F. Kennedy endorsed it – President Barack Obama ensues to enforce it. The Equal Pay Act, signed by Kennedy in June 1963, was the latest attempt to put an end to gender discrimination pertaining to unequal wages earned by women versus men who are employed in identical positions that are of equal job content. President Obama sponsors John F. Kennedy’s Equal Pay Act (or EPA) for gender wage equality with the Paycheck Fairness Act (or PFA), a legislation to end the approximate 77% difference in compensated wages earned by women when compared to that of men. This bill was approved in January 2009 by the House of Representatives, however, the United States Senate fell short of 2 votes for the 60 votes needed in order to move the bill forward. The bill was presented again for a second time in June 2012. Consequently, the United States Senate only acquired 52 votes in favor of proceeding the bill to its final consideration. Why?

Republican Senators, of whom comprise the small minority of congressional voters opposing the PFA, believe that the bill could adversely affect small businesses by making it easier for female employees to file litigation suits in regards to wage discrimination. Ironically, out of the number of Republican Senators who blocked the bill, five of them were women: Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Senator Susan Collins, also of Maine.

In a statement made by Senate Republican Susan Collins on June 5, 2012, she believes the existing workforce laws are already sufficient: “We already have on the books the Equal Pay Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Lilly Ledbetter Act in which I support, and I believe that they provide adequate protections. I think this bill would impose a real burden, particularly on small businesses.” In a similar statement made by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky supporting Collins’ viewpoint, McConnell states “We don’t think America suffers from a lack of litigation.” In another statement made by Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, he makes it clear that he does not support pay discrimination within the workforce based on gender, but instead focuses on the issue of workforce inequality in itself: “The question is, will the Paycheck Fairness Act actually address workplace inequality? And the simple answer is no.”

The Paycheck Fairness Act, in comparison to the Equal Pay Act, would provide remedies for the loopholes found within the act signed by former President John F. Kennedy in 1963. The bill would require wages to be paid based on education, training, and/or experience, not sex-based. This bill would also protect employees from retribution from their employers should they happen to discuss their wages for the purposes of evaluating whether or not a gender differential exists. Although American women have come a long way when it comes to putting an end to being shortchanged within their professions, it is still evident that women will have to continue fight even harder for their right to be heard and understood. As the old cliché goes: “Men work from sun to sun, but woman’s work is never done.”

©2013 Learus Ohnine

The U.S. Government Shutdown: Whose Fault Is It?

Imagine you are kidnapped – you are held hostage against your will by a belligerent abductor who threatens to kill you unless they receive everything they are demanding in exchange for preserving your life. Your fate lies in the hands of the negotiator, who then refuses your abductor’s demands, and in turn, kills you themselves. Prior to your murder, your abductor did proclaim to the negotiator of their intent to kidnap a hostage long time ago, yet the negotiator did nothing about this warning to stop this from literally happening.

Now imagine the entire United States of America being held hostage by a committee comprised of 535 law makers whose congressional position would not have been possible if it were not for them being voted into their appointed seats by the U.S. citizens themselves. Unfortunately, this congressional committee cannot seem to collaborate on pertinent issues that are supposed to be made in the best interest of the country as a whole. Ironically due to this committee’s poor negotiating skills, the fate of the country soon begins to quickly plummet on a downward spiral by the very same people whom the citizens have willingly chosen to represent them.

Both analogies describe what the current U.S. government shutdown is really all about. One side of the congressional table, or the predominately-Republican House of Representatives, wants to have their way by insisting their own budget plan will work out for bailing the United States out of $17 trillion in debt by dismantling President Obama’s health care reform law, while the other side of the congressional table, the predominately-Democratic Senate, will not agree nor negotiate the idea of altering anything pertaining to the Affordable Care Act. Since Congress could not pass a budget by the October 1st deadline, shutting down the government was the only alternative left for them to do until a compromised can be reached by both sides.

In the meantime, as of October 1st, approximately 800,000 federal employees will not be paid, however, 1.4 million active-duty military personnel will get paid but may not receive their paychecks when they anticipate to receive them. Food programs that provide nutritional vouchers to low-income pregnant women and mothers with children up to age 5 will not be funded. All Smithsonian museums, zoos, national parks and monuments (this includes the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the National Mall, and the Statue of Liberty) will be closed. And as if this wasn’t bad enough, Senior Service Programs such as “Meals on Wheels” which provides food to thousands of senior citizens may not receive government funding, energy assistance and weatherization programs for the low-income families
to help them stay warm during winter months may cease to be funded, and social security and supplemental income programs may see delays in check disbursements.

The bottom line: who is really at fault for the government shutting down? Every American who voted for a congressional nominee based simply on whether or not they were a Republican or Democrat is to blame. We put those people in office, therefore, we gave them their power – power that is apparently devoid of any genuinely bona fide cofunctioning abilities, especially in a time of crisis. Only we, the voters, can prevent these politically catastrophic conditions from ever happening again by voting based on policy and NOT party.

©2013 Learus Ohnine

Is Syria Really Surrendering?

In light of what seems to be a progressive compliance to an agreement reached by the United States and the Russian Federation on September 14, 2013, the Syrian government has met its first deadline in an attempt to destroy their chemical weapons program. On Friday, September 19, 2013, Syrian officials have submitted an inventory list of their chemical weapons stockpile to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), with the intent to destroy their entire chemical weapons program by mid-2014. It has been indicated that Syria has the potential of executing surface-to-surface missiles, aerial bombs, and artillery rockets containing several thousand tons of the toxic chemicals Yperite, VX, and Sarin for use in warfare.

Considering the history of Syria’s light-hearted regards for integrity, one only has to wonder about the accuracy of this “list” submitted to the OPCW. On July 23, 2012, when Syrian officials admitted to being in possession of stockpiles of chemical weapons for defense purposes, major concerns were raised given to the fact that Syria had previously denied being in possession of such weapons in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In July of 2012, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman severely contradicted himself when he stated “No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used”, safely and securely stored away from rebels, and will not be utilized “unless Syria is exposed to external aggression.” In December of 2012, a gas attack using the odorless military incapacitating agent named “Agent 15” killed seven civilians in Homs. In March of 2013, missiles allegedly containing a chemical substance were launched into the Khan al-Assal district of Aleppo and Al Atebeh suburbs of Damascus. When Syrian officials gave permission for the UN to investigate these allegations, they refused to allow the UN to investigate other areas where possible chemical weaponry were also alleged to have taken place.

However on April 18, 2013, British military scientists confirmed the use of nerve agents in the Homs, Aleppo, and Damascus areas by way of forensic evidence found on soil samples smuggled out of those regions, regions the Syrian government previously denied chemical weapon usage. Although Russian scientists concluded the March 2013 attack was possibly initiated by rebel forces, the chemical weapons attack on Ghouta in August of 2013, killing 1,300 people, was most definitely led by the Syrian regime.

Currently, the exactitude of this chemical weapons list remains under scrutiny until official reports from the OPCW confirm its validity. In the meantime, many alternative scenarios could be underway in yet another attempt by the Syrians to evade discoveries of possibly hidden chemical artillery. Syria could ship weapons to another undisclosed location since there have been reports in August of 2013 of the Syrians moving weapons to an outside location. Bashar al-Assad could order his chemical weapons to be shipped to allies in the outside regions in order to elude his stockpile from undergoing complete destruction.

North Korea perhaps?

©2013 Learus Ohnine

How Far Is Too Far?

In light of the recent worldwide travel alert warnings of potential terrorist attacks issued by the U.S. State Department, issues surround the risks posed manly on the safety of Americans or its allies have, once again, become a major top concern. Seeing as the season is not over yet for vacationers and tourists, some have come to think just how far is considered too far to protect our country.

Take for instance the controversy over whether or not Edward Snowden, former employee for the National Security Agency, did the right thing by leaking classified information that should have been kept confidential as to how the United States finds out what goes on behind closed doors. Since this worldwide terrorist alert has been issued, many who viewed this as the United States engaging in unconstitutional behavior have changed from animosity to appreciation.

The events of September 11, 2001 have without a doubt left a serious impact on just how far terrorists will go to make a statement. With no holds barred as being their personal mission statement, it would seem feasible that we as Americans take the same stance by whatever means necessary to ensure we do not suffer the same catastrophic event ever again. But is that really possible?

Apparently, it is possible. Intelligence officials claim to have evidence supporting a possible terrorist attack to occur from now until the end of August, thereby putting embassies and public transportation systems on high alert. By announcing this recent finding, this let’s all terrorist groups know “we are on to them”, however, that does not guarantee their possible plan of attack will cease; they could change their strategy.

Should we protect our nation by any means necessary? Absolute, thanks to this so-called “infringement on our privacy” technique. We may not appreciate whatever those necessary means are, especially if it includes infringing on our privacy. If there was ever a choice to be made, many U.S. citizens can be rest assured nothing can ultimately replace their lives once lost if sacrificing their privacy means preserving it.

©2013 Learus Ohnine

Snowden: Hero or Traitor?

There’s a difference between knowing the truth, telling the truth, and knowing when to tell the truth. Apparently for Snowden, there was a fine line between all those differences. His intention to inform those of what he felt they needed to know verses his pledge of secrecy to the U.S. government for what he wished he didn’t know has taken a drastic turn for the worse on his behalf and the behalf of the whole world; all because he told the truth. While Snowden had something very important to say, the government had something very important to hide.

The United States is going to hold Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, accountable for espionage whether he likes it or not. Running halfway around the world, being detained at Moscow’s Sheremedevo International Airport because his passport has been cancelled, and desperately pleading to 27 countries to be granted political asylum does not change the fact that he is guilty of leaking classified documentation about U.S. surveillance programs; a huge no-no as far as the U.S. officials are concerned.

So what’s the hold up on getting this guy granted his asylum? The problem with every country that Snowden has applied for asylum to has to consider whether or not taking in a fugitive will jeopardize the economic relationship each one has with the United States. Venezuela made $56 billion last year off of exports and imports between the United States and is the country’s fourth largest supplier of imported crude oil. Bolivia made close to $2.4 billion last year in exports and imports with the United States. Not only did Nicaragua earned more than $3.8 billion last year in exports and imports between the United States, but the United States also gives Nicaragua special trade preferences.

Would Snowden be considered a hero or a traitor? No matter where the guy seeks his safe haven, there’s going to be a “cause and effect” with the way that nation does business with the United States, which will eventually have another domino effect on our economy that we’ll have to deal with. On the other hand, what he did actually opened the eyes of a lot of Americans still wondering why hasn’t anyone done anything about the sex-trafficking issue if all means of telecommunications are supposedly being “watched”. However, in the words of Edward Snowden himself: “I am neither a traitor nor a hero. I’m an American.”

©2013 Learus Ohnine

Higher Learning

With the United States supposedly being the leading country in terms of having the world’s largest economy and entrepreneurial climate, why is our education system falling behind other countries reflective of our student academic performances? Could the academic deficiencies of American children be due to their delinquency in starting their education at an earlier age than in most countries? Is there a learning gap between genders in the United States as opposed to international students? Does classroom size determine the outcome of an American student’s success?

When comparing the starting age of children in pre-kindergarten programs in foreign countries to the U.S., surveys revealed children are allowed to begin their childhood education during the most crucial stages of a child’s early developmental years. For example, Denmark allows children to begin preschool as early as 12-months-old. The main objective for their early education curriculums are focused on learning cultural norms, social and motor skills imperative for managing the cognitive, emotional and social development of a child. Kindergarten programs are taught at age 3 in Korea and Singapore. Belgium provides the same early educational opportunities for 2-year-olds, while the average age for kindergarten attendance in the United States is 4-years-old.

Gender discrepancies when comparing test scores in mathematics and science fairly compensates for the benefits of having an early education, but may also explain the rationale behind the differences in scores amongst gender due to the persuasion from cultural forces in other countries. South Korean and Singapore’s fourth-grade male and female students ranked in the highest overall percentile in test scores in math and science when compared to the 11th percentile ranking in math and the 17th percentile ranking in science for both male and female U.S. fourth-graders. In Korea and Finland, 15-year-old females scored 14 percent higher in science scores than 15-year-old males. However, male students within the same age bracket were in the overall lead by 15 percent when compared to the 15-year-old female students in the United States. Females as well as males in countries such as Russia, Asia, and the Middle East are persuaded at an early age to go into science and engineering occupations whereas females are stereotypically motivated to only pursue nursing, teaching, and administrative occupations in the United States.

Studies have shown student performance rarely depends on the student-teacher ratio regardless of differences amongst the diverse cultural and ethnic populations nationally and internationally. Korean and Japanese K-12 schools, with its 37-to-1 student-teacher ratio, still ranks higher in student performance than with Finnish K-12 schools at a 20-to-1 ratio. In the United States, Vermont and Wisconsin ranks closest in comparison to Korean, Japanese, and Finnish schools for high-ranking student performance yet with a lower student-teacher ratio. While Vermont K-12 schools currently has a student-teacher ratio of 11-to-1 and Wisconsin K-12 schools with a 15-to-1 ratio, both schools maintain more culturally diverse teachers than students.

Conclusively, there is no one contributing factor as to why America does not hold the highest rank in student performances nor is there any cause to blame why the United States cannot achieve a higher ranking than it has. American minority and Latino students have made a considerable amount of progress over the years, therefore it cannot be proclaimed that cultural diversity holds any sort of hindrance on a child’s academic success. All students enrolled in the education system in America are allotted the same equal opportunistic educational advantages as in other countries, but its up to our nation as a whole to encourage our students to make the most out of their opportunities before we can reach the rank of #1 amongst all other nations.

©2013 Learus Ohnine