Originally posted at Cagle. When I joined Twitter in July 2006 I was the 3,365th person to sign up for the 140-character message streaming social network. Now, with more than 190 million users having taken the plunge, I guess you could call me an early adopter of sorts. See, I've always believed that the Internet -- and by extension new online tools like Twitter -- have the ability to create change because it levels the political playing field tearing down walls that have traditionally separated the powerless and the powerful. It turns out I may have been wrong -- at least when it comes to a certain half-termer from Alaska. Since prematurely leaving the Last Frontier State's governorship in 2009, Sarah Palin has avoided potentially devastating repeat performances of her sit-down disasters from 2008 with Katie Couric and Charles Gibson by rarely if ever subjecting herself to questions from serious journalists. Insulated by her role as a Fox News contributor, Palin instead turns to Twitter and Facebook to communicate with the legitimate media. Rather than tearing down the walls that shield the powerful, the medium is instead being used as a cudgel of self-preservation by Palin. It was especially evident during the health care reform debate last summer when Palin claimed on Facebook that "Obama's 'death panel'" could decide the fate of her son who has Down syndrome or her parents. Repeated frequently by right-wing politicians, bloggers, talk radio hosts, and Fox News personalities, the assertion quickly became conservative conventional wisdom. It mattered little that the non-partisan PolitiFact.com described such claims as "a ridiculous falsehood." In the months following the "death panel" lie Palin was able to skate on by with the press returning time and again to breathlessly report her latest online musings despite her documented track record of misinformation. For a medium designed to increase communication between people, Palin's use of these social networks has been remarkably one sided. Perhaps sensing that he may only be able to land a sit-down with Palin by propositioning her on Twitter, ABC News' Jake Tapper embarked on a days-long campaign to convince the former GOP vice presidential nominee to join him for an on-air interview. Weeks later he remains unsuccessful in that mission. Using Twitter, Palin also inserted herself into the debate surrounding the proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan -- the "Ground Zero Mosque" as right-wingers call it -- making up a new word in the process. She initially wrote, "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." After it was pointed out that "refudiate" isn't actually a word, Palin compared herself to the Bard writing, "English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too." She then replaced her original post with an equally extreme sentiment, saying "Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real." In other words, she sees all Muslims as a reminder of the horrific 9/11 attacks. Again, for Palin this was an act of one-sided communication. She posted her views on Twitter and the press ran with it as news even though she refused to engage with them on the substance -- if there was any -- of her argument. When Palin does avail herself for an interview it's usually with the likes of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, or Greta Van Susteren -- her Fox News colleagues. Lord knows they've never pitched a softball she wasn't able to hit over right field. Laughably, Palin had the gall to attack the "lamestream media" recently for supposedly failing to ask President Obama "those basic questions" by which I'm assuming she means the press hasn't been hard enough on him. The irony of such a charge was obviously lost on her. Palin often tells her followers "don't retreat, instead reload!" Perhaps she should take her own advice and "reload" for another round of interviews with real reporters who will ask her "those basic questions." Of course, I'm not holding my breath. Palin prefers to hide behind her keyboard, showing her cowardice 140 characters at a time. Karl Frisch is a syndicated columnist and progressive political communications consultant. He can be reached at KarlFrisch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube or sign-up to receive his columns by email. Distributed by the Cagle Cartoons Inc. syndicate. For information on carrying Karl’s columns, call Cari Dawson-Bartley at 800-696-7561 or e-mail cari@cagle.com.
With summer nearly over, the nation’s college campuses are bustling once again. For many students however, the rites of passage associated with higher education won’t be rushing a sorority, winning the big game or planning a spring break trip to Florida. No, looking back, a growing number of students will regale their children with horror stories about being ripped off by a for-profit college. Of late, the U.S. Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee has been investigating the booming multi-billion dollar for-profit college industry -- think Kaplan University or DeVry for example. What it has found thus far is not pretty. According to a report released by the committee earlier this summer, some major players in the field are spending about as much on marketing and recruitment as they are on educating students. Those numbers are worse at exclusively online for-profit institutions. So, just what type of marketing and recruitment is all of that money buying? An undercover investigation by the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) this summer found that of fifteen for-profit colleges tested, four encouraged undercover applicants to “falsify their financial aid forms to qualify for federal aid” while all fifteen “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements.” “Fictitious prospective” applicants that filled out online forms indicating their interest were met with a barrage of aggressive phone calls at all hours of the day and night with one GAO applicant receiving “more than 180 phone calls in a month.” One GAO investigator was actually offered a $14,000 massage therapy certificate and told it was “a good value” despite the fact that the same certificate cost only $520 at a local community college. These hardball recruitment tactics work out quite nicely for the bottom lines of these big corporations but students end up paying a hefty price far more life-changing than the degrees or certificates they may end up receiving. Take for example, the recently reported case of Michelle Zuver. After finishing a for-profit college program she was left $86,000 in debt, all for a degree in criminal justice that is not even recognized by many police agencies. Sadly, Zuver is not the only student left buried in debt and unable to pursue the career promised by her for-profit education. Many more share her story. These marketing and recruitment activities along with the troubling lack of quality are funded in large part by taxpayers. Up to 90 percent of the money for-profit colleges bring in each year is in the form of federal student aid dollars. In fact, University of Phoenix -- the Wall-Mart of for-profit colleges -- saw at least 86 percent of its $3.77 billion in revenue last year paid by taxpayers. These shocking percentages are likely even larger because the figures do not include federal funds from other programs like the G.I. Bill. Numbers like these should make conservatives lose their tea in anger but it is Republicans who have shown little interest in solving this problem. During Senate hearings on the matter, GOP members of the upper chamber demonstrated an interest only in providing political cover for the for-profit industry and some softball questions for its mouthpieces. And why would they care? After all, it was the Bush administration that created the regulatory environment that encouraged these for-profit institutions to go for broke pillaging the system in the first place. When the for-profit college industry is offering prospective students certificates and degrees that are too-often useless after badgering them into signing up for federal student loans that they may never be able to repay, the broken system cries out for fixing. This is about real people trying to better their lives with an education and the for-profit college industry is taking many of them for a ride. Unfortunately, Republicans in the Senate have yet to step up and join their Democratic colleagues and the Obama administration in seriously addressing the problem. Perhaps these GOP Senators are enrolled in a special online course in “creative problem avoidance” at University of Phoenix. Luckily for us, the certificates are likely worthless. Karl Frisch is a syndicated columnist and progressive political communications consultant. He can be reached at KarlFrisch.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube or sign-up to receive his columns by email. Cross posted at Cagle.