Doug Stone

Stone has been a journalist for print and broadcast, a U.S. Senate press secretary, a college relations director, a journalism teacher and a freelance writer and consultant. He's currently a communications and media consultant and a freelance writer. Read more about Doug Stone.

Republican minority blocks Senate effort to help long-term unemployed

Posted by: Doug Stone Updated: February 9, 2014 - 8:48 PM

Once again the Senate has failed to extend unemployment benefits for a meager three months for 1.7 million long-term unemployed Americans, who since the end of December have been without any financial help from the richest country in the world.

The Democratic majority in the Senate, along with four Republicans, late last week came one vote short of breaking a Republican filibuster to move the extension to a vote. (Even if the bill passed the Senate, there was no guarantee it would have passed the House.)

President Obama and others have pushed for a year’s extension so the three-month program at $6 billion was a major concession and Senate Democrats had agreed to pay for the benefits in the budget. There was the usual procedural wrangling over when the Republicans could offer amendments.

But the bottom line is this: those 1.7 million of our fellow citizens, some of whom have been out of work for months, need that $300 per week benefit to pay for basic food and rent while they continue to seek employment. It provides basic support as we recover from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. Nearly four million people have been unemployed for longer than six months.

Listen to Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a non-partisan nonprofit that does research and advocates for the unemployed:

“It is disgraceful that once again, a minority of senators—all Republicans—have filibustered a vote on extending federal unemployment insurance for nearly 1.7 million long-term unemployed workers struggling to get by in this harsh winter without a vital lifeline of support….

“Most Americans believe that one of the most important roles of government is to help provide for us when, through no fault of our own, we fall on hard times and need modest support to stay afloat. A minority of senators apparently don’t share that value.”

In one of the best recent stories on the plight of the long-term unemployed, Brad Plumer of the Washington Post explains that while unemployment has improved since the worst days of the recession, the long-term rate is “still as high as it’s been since World War II.” And the unemployed include young workers, older workers, college-educated workers and married workers with kids, he points out.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/01/14/an-extension-of-unemployment-insurance-just-failed-in-the-senate/

We all know them. They are our neighbors and friends. In recent weeks, I’ve run into three people I know, all of whom had decent professional jobs, who are now working at coffee shops and pizza places trying to make ends meet.

Furthermore, according to Plumer, the longer you are out of a job, the harder it is to find one. If you are out of work six months, you only have a 12 percent chance of finding a new job in a given month. And, not surprisingly, long-term unemployed workers tend to have more health problems and strained family relationships. If the benefits are not extended by Congress, nearly 5 million people will lose their current benefits by the end of the year before they find a new job, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Some Republicans, like Sen. Rand Paul, have argued that extending unemployment benefits becomes a disincentive to finding work. As someone who has been unemployed, I find that sentiment rather preposterous as though a family of four can live on $300 or so per week. That barely buys groceries. It can’t do that and pay the mortgage or rent as well while the jobless person continues his or her search.

And Plumer cites research that debunks Paul’s sentiments: “There’s scant evidence that the long-term unemployed will find it easier to get jobs if their benefits are cut off. For starters, there still aren’t enough jobs to go around: There are currently about 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening. That’s worse than the ratio at any point during the 2001 recession.”

Extending the benefits also makes economic sense because the money will be spent and recirculated in the economy. And, as Plumer also notes, this persistent long-term unemployment is hurting the economy. Helping unemployed workers with benefits and more job training will not only help them, but in the end help the economy.

But at its core, extending the benefits to the long-term unemployed is about helping our fellow citizens in a time of need. It’s simply the right thing to do.

A sad goodbye to 10 international journalists

Posted by: Doug Stone Updated: October 14, 2013 - 12:38 PM

WPI Fellows, front left to right: Paul Henson, Philippines; Veronica Kwabla, Ghana; Vera Krichevskaya, Russia; Shakir Reshamwala, Kuwait; Diana Duran, Colombia; back row, left to right: Fu Tao, China; Carson Scott, Australia; Ami Kaufman, Israel; Elina Lappalainen, Finland; Spas Spasov, BulgariaIt’s been a couple days since I said my tearful goodbyes to 10 international journalists with whom I had the pleasure to meet, befriend and travel with as part of a nine-week program called the World Press Institute, based at the University of St. Thomas. I’m the part-time program director under Executive Director David McDonald.

The journalists are by now mostly home to Australia, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Finland, Ghana, Israel, Kuwait, the Philippines and Russia. They may not see each other for many years, but through social media and modern communications, they will certainly be in touch. They are only a click away.

And they will have some wonderful memories to share with each other and with their friends, families and colleagues back home. In their four weeks in Minnesota and five weeks on the road across the U.S., they became a family of journalists, spending pretty much every waking hour together.

I’m struck by how easily international boundaries, cultures and historic disputes seem to fade away when people actually get to know each other intimately. And that also goes for stereotypes and images that others have about America. For sure there has been much to criticize about American foreign policy over the years. But like other groups of WPI journalists before them, these 10 found much to like about the U.S. and its cities and people.

They traveled to New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Tampa, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, as well as Ely and Tracy, Minnesota. They visited traditional news organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal; broadcasters like CNN and NPR; and online news groups like Politico in Washington and the Texas Tribune in Austin. They also met with business leaders, political leaders, pro- and anti-immigration reform groups, pollsters, think tanks, foundations such as the Gates and MacArthur Foundations and they even saw how Boeing assembles planes outside Seattle.

They almost always had interesting reactions to what they saw and the people they met.

The journalist from China was touched by the renewal of a friendship with a man he had met a few years earlier in California.  “Ralph, almost 80, who lives in Berkeley for decades, told me his life stories and his views of life and society,” he wrote.  “I, more than 40 years younger than him, who is from Beijing, told him my challenges, struggles and confusions in my life. Sometimes I feel the distance between different cultures and ages is so short that he seems like my grandfather.”

The Colombian journalist was moved by the prayer of a Muslim colleague from Kuwait. She wrote: “I will remember the time I saw him praying and will conclude once again that, in spite of knowing different prophets or being guided by different clerics, we praise the same God. And I will conclude it was God’s plan for me to meet him.”

And about an Israeli colleague, the Colombian said: “I will pray for all of them, and all the people who live around them, whenever someone is shouting the word ‘war’ in the Middle East. One day, we dream, Israel and Palestine will be able to be neighbors instead of enemies. That day I will hold a glass up and say out loud: L’chaim, my dear Ami, this one is for you.”

The Russian journalist, who has visited the U.S. before, was struck by our strong non-profit sector: “I’m angered and irritated listening to very typical anti-American discourse: ‘You, Americans, have complex of world boss, you think you can dictate to all world what to do.’ I feel anger because of people who use this discourse have never said a single positive word about the American non-profit impact and influence to this world. So sad.”

An Australian broadcaster was moved by broadcaster Dan Rather’s passion for journalism at age 81. Rather inscribed a copy of his book: “Don’t let the dream die. Courage.”

The journalists often offered insights into some of our oldest problems as when the Kuwaiti observed about the immigration debate:  “They (the immigrants) pick the fruit that ends up on dinner tables across the nation,  keep streets, restaurants and hotels clean, care for the elderly and build houses and skyscrapers. Their children who are born here have U.S. citizenship and American mannerisms. Most of them are law-abiding people with deep cultural and familial values. A compromise that would allow them to stay and build their lives will be good for them as well as America.”

A journalist from the Philippines described his feelings about his colleagues: “I am leaving with nine new friends, and many others whom I’ve met along the way; I am taking with me many learnings. Pack 10 strong-headed, opinionated, alpha-type personalities all together for 9 weeks.  There’s a word to describe it: stressful.  But it is also incredibly enriching!  At first, you see so many cultural differences.  Name it: food, room organizing skills, spirituality, journalism principles, outlook and view of the world. After nine weeks, you realize, the commonalities outweigh our differences.” There were many more moving comments from the other journalists as well.

I will miss these journalists. They are engaging, smart, dedicated and funny. By the end of their time here, they could imitate their colleagues’ introduction in the same English accent whether the colleague was from Colombia, Russia or Kuwait. They could finish each other’s sentences. I am also secure in the knowledge that journalism in their countries will be stronger because of them and because of what they learned, both good and bad, about America. Farewell my friends. You can read more about what they found during their journey around the U.S. at: http://www.worldpressinstitute.org/wpi-reports/blog

A tough goodbye: a daughter off to college

Posted by: Doug Stone Updated: August 26, 2013 - 11:08 PM

Sadie Stone, Monmouth College Class of 2017

Sadie Stone, Monmouth College Class of 2017

Sadie came into our lives on a December day in 1995 at an orphanage in Xiamen, China, in the southeastern part of the country across the water from Taiwan. She was six months old and couldn’t hold her head up by herself.

This weekend, 17 ½ years later, we dropped her off at Monmouth College, a small liberal arts school in Monmouth, Illinois, where she starts a new phase in her life.  How did it happen so fast? All those swim meets, basketball games, softball tournaments, school programs, birthday parties, water ski shows, doctors’ visits, family vacations, grade school, junior high and high school graduations and all the rest are over. Just like that.

I enjoyed every minute of it. I relished in her whirlwind persona, moving from one activity to the next, in her never-say-die attitude, in her willingness to take on new challenges and in her desire to help others. She wrote her college essay about how she helped get a girl with Down’s syndrome on her high school swim team and then became her biggest booster. I will miss her daily presence in our house and her infectious personality.
 
I’m sure my experiences this weekend are not unique. They have been or will be shared by thousands of parents and their college-bound kids. Just as they were last fall and the fall before that and next fall and the fall after that. But my separation anxiety is real. I looked forward to the weekend because Sadie was so excited. Yet I knew it would be difficult emotionally. She never even went to overnight camp. The longest we’d been apart was a week. Now we were facing many weeks before the first school break.
 
All the trips to Shopko and Target in Monmouth and neighboring Galesburg took our minds over what was about to happen. We met her roommate and her friends. We went to lunch together in the cafeteria. We walked around the campus.
 
The school made a special effort to welcome the new students and their anxious parents by staging a “Matriculation Convocation.”  It is sort of a reverse graduation ceremony, replete with bagpipes and a faculty procession. The President, Dr. Mauri Ditzler, provided some insightful remarks about the importance of learning and seeking wisdom. The students took the “Matriculation Pledge,” in which they promised “that we will accept responsibility for our lives while here at Monmouth College; that we will endeavor daily to choose the course of action that ensures our own growth and well-being and that of our fellow students; that we will act with honesty and integrity in all that we do” and so on. Very nice, reassuring words for parents about to cut the ties with their kids. At the end of the ceremony, each new student went to the microphone to say her or his name. At graduation, someone will read their names.
 
The president gently reminded the parents that they are welcome to stay around, but not too long. Your students, he said, have important things to do.
 
And he’s right, I guess. If I weren’t so lonesome, I’d be really jealous of Sadie and her class of 2017. What a great time they have to look forward to. When else in your life do you have the chance for four years to write your own story, to paint on your own canvass? A chance to grow up, to study, to learn, to meet kids from across the country and around the world. A chance to experiment with new ideas, to explore, to participate in athletics and community politics.
 
When I got to Monmouth, I texted a friend whose son is leaving for college this week and who is as anxious about the separation as I am. I said, “We made it. You will, too.” I hoped it helped her just a little bit.
 
We saved the final goodbye for Sunday morning after breakfast and a few photos by the college sign. Sadie and I hugged and she hugged her mom. I told her how proud I was of her and I told her to have the time of her life. I could barely get the words out because I had tears in my eyes and I was choked up. We have this to look forward in another three years when our younger daughter goes off to college.
 
 I remembered a recent column in the Star Tribune by Michael Gerson, who writes for The Washington Post. He described his feelings about taking his son to college. He reminded parents to keep a bedroom for their college student because it’s a psychological symbol that they still have a place at home no matter what.
 
It sounded like a good idea and I plan to do that. And why not? Sadie’s room is as clean and neat as it has ever been.
 

Legislators should vote to be on the right side of history on gay marriage

Posted by: Doug Stone Updated: May 8, 2013 - 9:19 PM
In his now famous speech in 2011 during the debate over the marriage amendment, former Republican Rep. John Kriesel said, “When my grand kids look at me, I will be proud to look at them and say you know what, I was on the right side of history.”
 
Kriesel, a decorated Iraq war veteran who lost both legs in the war, voted against the amendment, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. It  passed in the Republican-controlled Legislature, but was defeated last fall by Minnesota’s voters.
 
And now the Legislature returns to the issue once again on Thursday (May 9) when the House will vote on a bill that would legalize gay marriage. And it has the feel of being one of those momentous decisions in our political history, a decision that will affect the lives and freedom of a large group of our fellow citizens. Not on the same scale, perhaps, as major national changes in civil rights, but important nonetheless.
 
Such moments don’t come along very often: The Supreme Court’s 1954 school desegregation ruling, ending generations of separate school systems based on race. The 1965 Voting Rights Act, ensuring that African Americans could exercise their right to vote in many states that threw up barriers. The 1967 Supreme Court ruling in the Loving case, which said that state laws in Virginia and a number of other Southern states prohibiting inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional.
 
Opponents will argue that marriage through history has traditionally been between a man and a woman. They will argue that marriage is only between a man and a woman because out of that marriage comes children, which gay couples can’t produce. They will argue that passage of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage will violate the rights of churches to marry people according to their own religious tradition. They will argue that legalizing same-sex marriage will force us to talk about gay rights in schools. They will argue that same-sex marriage will cost the state money because gay marriage partners who are public employees will now be eligible for insurance and other benefits. And so on. I am sure many of those who argue against gay marriage do so because of strongly held personal and religious beliefs.
 
But at the end of the day, this is about personal freedom and about people who love each other—whether gay or straight—having the right to marry and raise a family. It is about the government not being able to discriminate against same-sex couples and about not allowing the religious beliefs of some citizens determining for the rest of us who can marry and who can’t. No one is dictating to churches that they have to marry gay couples. That is a red herring in my opinion.
 
We all have neighbors and friends and family members who are gay and in committed relationships. Many of them are raising children and doing every bit as a good a job as heterosexual couples. And many have adopted children, creating new families and providing a wonderful opportunity that those children might otherwise not have. Can we really argue that they shouldn’t be considered families in the same way as straight couples?  
 
“Tell the court I love my wife and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia,” Richard Loving told his lawyer before the arguments in the 1967 Supreme Court case about the prohibition against inter-racial marriage. The same statement could be made by any gay person today about his or her spouse: “Tell the Legislature that I love my spouse and it’s unfair that I can’t live with him/her in marriage in Minnesota.”
 
Minnesotans soundly defeated the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Now it is time for the Legislature, beginning in the House of Representatives and then the Senate, to take the next step and legalize same-sex marriage. Our legislators should be able to tell their children and grandchildren, like John Kriesel did in his courageous vote, that they were on the right side of history.

Minnesota House fails to take a stand on gun safety

Posted by: Doug Stone Updated: May 1, 2013 - 10:51 PM

And now the Minnesota House, caving to gun rights supporters, joins the U.S. Senate in failing to expand background checks for purchasing guns at gun shows. At least the U.S. Senate voted on a similar measure, which failed by six votes.

 

But Minnesota House members apparently will not even get a chance to debate and vote on their bill because Speaker Paul Thissen has concluded there aren’t enough votes to pass the background check expansion or other gun safety legislation.
 
According to the Strib, a coalition of rural DFLers and all House Republicans were prepared to join together to vote against any measure they see as restricting gun rights.
 
And so despite the shootings at Sandy Hook, Aurora, Tucson and Minneapolis and on the streets of our cities every day, and despite polls showing 80 percent or more support for expanded background checks, our elected officials at both the state and federal levels have failed to act.
 
How do they face the families of the victims of all these shootings and say, “We didn’t do anything?” How do they call themselves responsible legislators when in the face of all that has happened and overwhelming public support, including from police and prosecutor associations in Minnesota, they fail to act?
 
I have watched this gun debate since President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. I thought that finally, after all these years and all these mass shootings and all these street corner shootings, and all this public support, something would finally get done.
 
But the culture of guns in this country is hard to change. I understand how people enjoy hunting and target practice. I understand how some people want to have a weapon in their house for self-defense. I understand how people are ardent in their support of the 2nd amendment.
 
Expanding background checks to prevent criminals and people with mental health issues from owning guns does nothing to harm the rights of legitimate gun owners. Nothing.
 
Yet the National Rifle Association and its allies try to sell the false notion that any restriction on rights whatsoever is a slippery slope, somehow leading to government confiscation of weapons. They are well-funded, well-organized and apparently more effective at Congressional and Legislative politics than gun safety advocates. But they are wrong about their central belief that the 2nd Amendment is absolute.
 
In a democratic society, there is always a balance between personal freedom and public safety. We regulate all kinds of activity from how fast you can drive on the freeway to where you put your garbage.
 
In a passage that gun rights advocates seem to ignore, conservative Supreme Court Justice Anton Scalia said in a 2008 opinion that there can be reasonable regulation of gun ownership:
 
“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on the longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
 
Apparently, a lot of legislators aren’t familiar with that passage by one of the icons of the conservative movement.
 
The other thing that gun rights advocates argue is that expanded background checks would make no difference so why enact them. Such checks may not prevent all these mass shootings and other violence. But if they stop one potential murderer from getting a gun and shooting a child or a spouse or a teenager, it would be worth it.
 
At the end of the day, we as a society, and our elected representatives in St. Paul and Washington, owe it to the victims and the families of too many shootings to do something to stop the killing.
 
 

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