Reading Response 2 / Emma Siewny

In the internet age, rapidly-advancing technology has vastly increased the amount of information that we have at our fingertips. In many ways, this gives us a huge advantage over those from previous generations; this information is readily available and allows us to be better informed than our grandparents ever thought possible. This same resource, however, can also make being informed more difficult in some ways – in order to form opinions, we have to sort through exponentially more sources for our information, and learn to sift out those that we deem unimportant. With all of these resources competing for our attention, how can we decide what is meaningful and what to discard?

The reading this week explores the idea that humor provides a powerful and valuable means with which to influence political opinions. In the introduction, the author states that “Jokes are an open-source weapon of politics, and  it is time to tap their power.”  The political theorist Aaron Peters contends that “jokes are among a series of political instruments, and should be used in concert with them”.  Through the discussion of the history of how the “meme” was first utilized, we gain a perspective on how the use of humor has evolved in the subject of political discourse. The question of whether the use of jokes can “bring down government”, though, seems to be open to question. I read an article that explores this subject further entitled “When political satire – whoops! – reinforces ideas it meant to skewer”, from the Chicago Tribune. It provided an excellent insight into the use of political satire, and whether or not it is interpreted in the manner that is intended.  The television show “Saturday Night Live” has used political satire as a subject for their show for many years and many election cycles. Most people in my generation can easily identify with the skits in which Tina Fey, for example, portrayed Sarah Palin during the 2008 election; there has been much discussion about whether or not this affected the ultimate outcome of the election. The article describes how more recently, Tina was in a skit following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. In this skit, she played a woman who stuffed herself with cake in an attempt to cope with the feelings  she had about the situation, but the intended meaning behind the skit seemed to create confusion among viewers – many couldn’t determine the point that she was making. The larger point of the article was that it may be questionable whether this use of satire can change minds; those who watch tend to have formed their opinions before seeing it, and “mold” their interpretation around their preconceived opinions.

Can humor bring down governments, or is it unable to do so due to this argument? I am of the opinion that while entertaining, and perhaps having the ability to help form opinions, humor probably can’t move the needle as far as the ability to create political discourse to the extent that it could change history substantially.


Secondary Research: Individual / Emma Siewny

Secondary Research

1.  “Cities Can Sue Big Banks Over Effects Of Discriminatory Practices, Supreme Court Says.”

Chappell, Bill. “Cities Can Sue Big Banks Over Effects Of Discriminatory Practices, Supreme Court Says.” NPR, NPR, 1 May 2017, two-way/2017/05/01/526413560/cities-can-sue-big-banks-over-effects-of-discriminatory-practices-supreme-court.

National Public Radio is an American privately and publicly funded non-profit membership media organization that serves as a national syndicator to a network of 900 public radio stations in the United States.

 What? NPR article stating that the Supreme Court decided that cites can sue big banks over effects of discriminatory practices.

Who’s involved? NPR’s reporter Bill Chappell, the City of Miami, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, the Supreme Court

When? The article was written May 1, 2017 at 2:56 PM

Where? This happened in Miami, FL

Important Points/Data:

-Because of discriminatory and predatory lending practices causing economic harm to the city, under the Fair Housing Act, the Supreme Court decided that the City of Miami can sue large banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America in a 5-3 vote.

-Here’s the tricky part: “But the justices said that to win damages, the city must prove a direct link to the revenue loss and increased costs, and that is an extremely high bar to clear,” says NPR’S Nina Totenburg. Overall, opposing views argue that the direct link that is drawn between the revenue loss and the increased costs is a very thin line.

-In particular, Miami is accusing those companies of targeting African-American and Latinos with being the victims of these predatory lending practices from 2004 to 2012. Those lending practices led to foreclosures and vacancies in minority neighborhoods, which in turn lead to crippling property values and tax revenues, and putting a burden on the city to service blighted and unsafe properties. Overall, this slowed down the city’s racial integration process as a whole.

-This ruling by the Supreme Court came two years after the Supreme Court decided that “claims of racial discrimination in housing cases shouldn’t be limited by questions of intent.”

-This case was argued against in lower courts as not being in the City’s favor, because they viewed the city’s damages as “foreseeable.” The Supreme Court said that the lower courts were wrong in that they “erred in holding that foreseeability is sufficient to establish proximate cause under the FHA.”

-Although this article was less data/statistical based and more informative, I think that it will be very useful for our research – not to mention the fact of how recently this case was, and how large of a scale it is – a city suing several very large banks. I think it will be interesting to continue to see how it unfolds in the future, and if the City of Miami ends up going through with the case, now that they have the legal clearance.

Thesis Statement:

Because of the discriminatory and predatory lending practices by Wells Fargo and Bank of America from 2004-2012, under the Fair Housing Act, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 vote in May of this year that the City of Miami is, indeed allowed to sue the banks for the economic harm and slowed racial progress they caused the city because of the unfair lending practices that occurred to people of different races, primarily Hispanic and African American.

  1. “GAO Study: Segregation worsening in U.S. schools”

Toppo, USA TODAY Greg. “GAO Study: Segregation Worsening in U.S. Schools.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 17 May 2016,

USA TODAY is a multi-platform news and information media company. Founded in 1982, its mission is to serve as a forum for better understanding and unity to help make the USA truly one nation.

 What? Report with data showing that segregation in US schools is only worsening

Who’s involved? USA Today’s Greg Toppo reporting, GAO, and schools

When? Last May is when it was written

Where? USA

Important Points/Data:

-This report was requested by Congress in May of 2014, being that it was the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. The results were released last year, May 17th, 2016.

– The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators found that from 2000-2014, both the percentage of K-12 public schools in high-poverty and the percentage of  schools that are comprised of mostly African-American or Hispanic students rose significantly The increase went from 7,009 schools to 15,089 schools.

-This is a 9 percent to 16 percent increase of segregated schools in America.

-75 to 100 percent of the students at these schools were either Hispanic or Black, and eligible for reduced/free lunch (how they knew if the child was in poverty)

-Not only are the numbers of the increase shocking, but it was discovered that these schools offer disproportionately fewer math, science, and college prep courses, and had much higher rates of students that were held back/expelled/suspended. So sad

-I agree with U.S. Rep John Conyers, in his reaction to the horrifying results: “There simply can be no excuse for allowing educational apartheid in the 21st century.”

Thesis Statement:

Upon the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, Congress requested that the GAO conduct a study of the current state of desegregation in our nation’s schools. The results of this study were quite surprising – they showed that the number of schools that are racially segregated has increased dramatically since the year 2000. Further, it showed that these schools offered fewer college prep courses, and had higher levels of students who were did not complete their high school education, or were suspended or expelled. These alarming findings indicate that schools are not complying with laws requiring desegregation, and the result is schools that are not optimally helping the students that they exist to serve.

3. “The Desegregation and Resegregation of Charlotte’s Schools”

 Smith, Clint. “The Desegregation and Resegregation of Charlotte’s Schools.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 3 October 2016,

The New Yorker is a weekly magazine offering a signature mix of reporting and commentary on politics, international affairs, popular culture and the arts, science and technology, and business, along with fiction, poetry, humor, and cartoons.

 What? Charlotte, NC public schools are now being re-segregated

Who’s Involved? Clint Smith, New York Times Author, Charlotte, North Carolina, and their schools

When? Current – article written last year

Where? Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

– in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools are unconstitutional, and mandated that schools across the country be integrated. It took years to accomplish this goal.

-Charlotte, N.C. was slow to desegregate their schools, until 1969 lawsuit filed by the NAACP (on behalf of a family whose son was denied admission to an integrated school) ultimately went to the Supreme Court. Their ruling ordered the implementation of a busing program, which served to make Charlotte a “case study in integration”.  Districts across the South modeled their integration plans on Charlotte, and by 1984, the city considered their fully-integrated schools as their proudest achievement.

-The successful program lasted for nearly 30 years, until another lawsuit claimed that a student’s white status prevented her from being admitted to a magnet school. The anti-busing judge ordered the schools to cease using race in school assignments, ending mandatory busing.

-The result: schools that had been integrated and high achieving returned to being stratified by race & income. Neighborhoods became more segregated.

-Research has shown that students in integrated schools (whether white, black, wealthy, poor) are ALL more likely to benefit academically, as well as having greater levels of intergroup friendships and less racial fears and stereotypes. In addition, studies show that when schools re-segregate, the most qualified teachers tend to transfer, ensuring less qualified teaches in the segregated schools.

-School desegregation is associated with higher graduation rates, employability, and earnings, as well as decreased rates of incarceration.

-Schools are the single largest means of reducing inequality in our country, and due to re-segregation, we are making the choice to return to the social stratification of our past.

Thesis Statement:

After years of being a model for the benefits of integrated schools, Charlotte, N.C.’s public schools are now re-segregated, which has resulted in lower graduation rates, employability, and earnings among their African-American students, as well as higher levels of incarceration for these students.  The choice to return to this model will serve to heighten racial tensions, and will ultimately reverse decades of progress toward racial equality.


These three articles serve as examples of different ways that the practice of racial discrimination is harmful to the African-American community, as well as our communities as a whole. The first article, about how Miami, Florida was granted the green light by the Supreme Court to sue two major banks for damages under the Fair Housing Act, explains that the banks’ practice of discriminatory and predatory lending practices not only caused harm to minority customers, but also led to foreclosures and vacancies, which reduced tax revenues for the city. This, in turn, created a burden on the city. The other two articles examine the effects of a national trend toward re-segregating schools. The article about the study commissioned by the Congress cited specific ways in which this trend has created inferior outcomes for minority students. The third article, also about re-segregation, chronicles events in Charlotte, North Carolina, once a shining example of the positive effects of desegregation. A school system that once prided itself on improved outcomes for ALL students as a result of desegregation now finds itself returning to a situation in which there is stratification and a return to neighborhood schools that contain the “haves” and the “have nots”, which in turn is creating poor outcomes for students who formerly had a dramatically improved chance of upward mobility. The effect of racial discrimination is detrimental to all of us, whether it be through lending practices or through school segregation, and should be thoughtfully addressed by the court system in this country.

Secondary Research: Individual | Calista Bohling

Topic: Race & Re-Segregation

1. Housing Discrimination Redlining Maps

Miller, Greg. “Newly Released Maps Show How Housing Discrimination Happened.” National Geographic. 17 October 2016.


  • Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a federal program established during the Great Depression with the task of figuring out investment risks in cities so banks could determine where to give out loans
  • Significant minority and poor neighborhoods often would get lower ratings, colored red on maps (redlining), which made it difficult for these families to take out loans on a house
  • Highlights a collection, called Mapping Inequality ( which includes maps of redlining and notes from the HOLC
  • Some of the documents are blatant in the racial discrimination, with notes including, “Close to dump and Negro area,” or “Infiltration of subversive racial elements.”
  • “These residential decisions had decades-long consequences. So much of the wealth inequality that exists in America is driven by inequality in real estate market and the ability to generate equity and pass it down from one generation to the next.”

The HOLC made it very difficult for minority families and poor whites to secure a loan on a house through the practices of redlining. These maps and notes are now publicly available and clearly outline how race played a factor in these policies.

2. A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America

Gross, Terry. “A ‘Forgotten History’ of How the U.S. Government Segregated America.” NPR. 03 May 2017.

This source was a podcast along with a summary of an interview with the author Richard Rothstein, who recently wrote the book The Color of Law, which “examines the local, state and federal housing policies that mandated segregation.” I have downloaded the book as well in hopes it will provide as a resource in the future.


  • Redlining: a policy that would mark neighborhoods (often minority neighborhoods) in red that were considered to be high-risk for mortgage lenders
  • Rothstein argues that the housing programs created in 1933 under the New Deal were equivalent to a “state-sponsored system of segregation.”
  • FHA (Federal Housing Administration) actually furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African American neighborhoods
  • FHA manual called the Underwriting Manual explicitly laid out segregationist policies, which said that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.” (
  • Long term effects for African Americans, “Today African-American incomes on average are about 60 percent of average white incomes. But African-American wealth is about 5 percent of white wealth. Most middle-class families in this country gain their wealth from the equity they have in their homes. So this enormous difference between a 60 percent income ratio and a 5 percent wealth ratio is almost entirely attributable to federal housing policy implemented through the 20th century.”
  • 1968 Fair Housing Act as an empty promise as the minority families who could now buy homes in suburban neighborhoods could not as the homes were no longer affordable to those families

The federal government housing policies created in 1933 pushed mandated segregation by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African American neighborhoods. These housing policies have had a lasting affect on our society today as this segregation in metropolitan areas still exists and has lead to a stagnant inequality.

3. The Recession’s ‘Racial Slant’

White, Gillian B. “The Recession’s Racial Slant” The Atlantic. 24 June 2015.


  • Report from the ACLU says that by 2031, white household wealth will be 31% below what it would’ve been had the recession never happened, but for black households wealth will be about 40% lower
  • Black households have always trailed significantly behind their white counterparts in wealthy accumulation, the recession will expand that gap
  • 2013, the net worth of white households was 13x greater than that of black households, the largest gap since 1989
  • Between 2007 and 2009, home equity for white Americans decreased by about 9%, for black Americans the decrease was 12%
  • The study also points to the predatory loans, high-interest mortgages, and unaffordable payment structures that were targeted toward people of color and the poor
  • African Americans make up 3% of conventional mortgage applications and face the highest denial rate (25%) versus a 10% denial rate for whites

The recession was especially painful for African Americans, as it is clear there is a racial slant. The recession has widened the gap between black and white Americans in wealth accumulation; a gap which was already in existence largely due to the former policies of redlining.

It is clear from these documents that discriminatory lending practices and redlining has a long history and that its effects are still being felt today. In the article we previously read, the 2008 Housing Crisis, the author strongly defends some of these government housing policies, yet in the research I have gathered their were many critics of the policies. Some of these government housing policies has made it difficult for people of color and the poor to secure mortgages on their homes. These redlining and discriminatory lending practices has only lead to the widening of a wealth gap, a gap that has only further expanded due to the recession.

Reading Response 1 / Emma Siewny

The housing crisis of 2008 was, by all accounts, a major devastation to all sectors of American society, and catapulted the U.S. economy into a deep recession whose effects are still being felt after nine years. Millions of people lost their jobs, their homes, and their life savings. In addition, countless businesses were forced to close – from small, local companies to large financial institutions. While the cause of this crisis is clearly multi-factorial, the two assigned reading articles cast different lights on the series of events that caused this crisis, and the ultimate causes for the collapse.

The first article, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse”, is the result of a two-year investigation conducted by a sub-committee of the United States Senate. The committee concluded that the collapse was due to a series of events that encompassed  many different agencies and industries, although they were all interconnected. Among these agencies were private lenders, whose quest for growth and increased profit led to them issuing high-risk, low quality loans to borrowers who could not ultimately afford them. The study suggests that by doing this, banks provided the fuel that ignited the crisis. In addition, the author maintains that part of the “blame” belongs to the government, in that the agency which is supposed to provide oversight of banks failed to do its job properly. This agency, the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS), felt that their job was to identify the problems but not to address them; that it was up to the banks themselves to correct their faulty ways. In addition, a third factor was the fact that the nation’s largest credit rating agencies chose to dramatically increase the ratings for securities that backed the low-quality mortgages, which allowed investors to think that they were safe investments when they were not. Finally, the study concluded that large investment banks were also complicit in the financial collapse by knowingly selling, trading, and profiting from these high-risk loans.

The 2008 Housing Crisis, the second article, is written from a different perspective. While the first article states that it is a report based on a “two-year bipartisan investigation”, this article is authored by the Center for American Progress, which is considered a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization. That being said, this article also benefits from being written six years after the first report, and that additional time allows for a more retrospective, informed lens with which to view history. The premise of these authors is that “There is consensus among experts that the housing crisis was caused primarily by the rise of predatory lending and products with exotic features marketed to consumers….”.  They disagree that the government, through agencies such as FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, are due a part of the blame, stating that the evidence does not support the argument that federal housing policies were at all to blame. Through the use of facts, charts, and graphs, this article maintains that loans which were initiated by government-backed agencies were far more unlikely to default, proving that those agencies were not at fault; further, blaming them would lead to bad solutions for housing policy issues.  They maintain that the crisis was caused by “predatory lending and poor regulation of the financial sector”.

These two articles, while disagreeing about some aspects of the cause of the crisis, did agree that a substantial portion of the blame belongs to the private sector.  Private banks, due to the quest for more business and higher profits, chose to originate high-risk loans to candidates that should not have been eligible for them. In addition, they agree that investment banks consciously decided to participate by providing funding for these lenders. The area in which they disagree involves the idea that the government was to blame, as well, but the second article maintains that this is untrue, because facts show that the loans backed by the federal agencies were far more likely to be high-quality, and shouldn’t be lumped into the total number of loans that were issued during this time frame. After reading them both, I sought another source to help me further understand the subject,  in order to form a more objective opinion. I read an article on, a leading financial publication, entitled “Lest We Forget: Why We Had A Financial Crisis”, by Jonathon Swift. His take on the cause of the crisis was yet another perspective; suggests that when the Glass-Steagall bill was  repealed in 1998 (which separated regular and investment banks), it allowed banks to engage in risky businesses.  In addition, he says that low interest rates fueled a housing boom, the credit-rating agencies gave AAA rating to junk securities,  the government  (via the SEC) changed the rules for just five Wall Street banks (not nearly all of them), and also overrode anti-predatory state laws. As a result, banks jumped on the bandwagon and took advantage of these changes for reasons of profit. As opposed to the opinion stated in the second required article, these authors suggest that “Fannie and Freddie” were losing market share, so they began to also chase profits, instead of meeting low-income lending goals. They do say, however, that these agencies were not the ones at fault, but that they were being lobbied strenuously to do what they did, and were trying to meet the demands that the marketplace required. Their summation, like the first reading suggest, is that the cause of the crisis was indeed multifactorial, but they blame the private sector in general more than the government influence.  After reading all three of these articles, I tend to think that the bottom line – above all else – is that greed on ALL levels and in ALL arenas were the cause of the crisis, and there is certainly plenty of “blame” to share – but that giving the government an equal portion of the culpability seems to be overstated. Hopefully, the lessons learned from the entire situation will prevent another similar crisis from occurring in the future!

Outside Source: