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It’s fitting that my most recent column was about hate mail, because I have been warned by colleagues and friends that I will most likely be inundated with it for publishing today’s column, but since I am a glutton for punishment, here goes. Though a few have done it, I don’t have a single female friend who thinks that drinking to the point of blacking out, passing out or being close to doing both, is necessarily a healthy or safe thing to do — for a variety of reasons. We could stumble into the street and get hit by a car, or trip and fall and be severely injured, or pass out in the cold and freeze to death. (All of the aforementioned incidents have happened to various members of both genders in states of extreme intoxication, including a member of a famous political family. ) Yet if I type the sentence “And we could also find ourselves at a greater risk for sexual assault,” it’s been made pretty clear to me that I may just have my official feminist card revoked from the powers that be. At least that’s the impression I’ve been left with due to the organized backlash against the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s ad campaign that draws a connection between heavy drinking and rape. Feminist and progressive sites blared with accusatory headlines like: “Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Pulls Ad That Blames Women For Getting Date-Raped.” I saw the ads (which you can view here and here ) and I didn’t see them that way. What I saw was someone — albeit somewhat clumsily — trying to force a very real conversation that we should have had years ago but that keeps getting suppressed because activists start throwing around words like “victim shaming” and then others with dissenting voices immediately retreat. (In case you haven’t noticed I don’t retreat easily.) We have an epidemic of binge drinking among young people — including young women — in this country, as in 200,000 teens a year visit emergency rooms because of alcohol related incidents, 1,700 of which result in death. But just as alarming as those statistics is a new study out from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that followed hundreds of young women through their first year of college and found a direct correlation between binge drinking and their likelihood of being victims of sexual assault. Yet for some reason if those in authority warn female college students, “Be careful of how much you and your friends drink at that party. A cup or two is one thing, but drinking more than that and everyone’s judgment — both yours and any guys that may be there — is no longer what you want for it to be,” the person delivering the message is vilified as a rape apologist. Those of you familiar with my writing know that I am no rape apologist, and have been a vocal critic of the blame the victim first and the rapist second mentality that permeates our criminal justice system. But I will also not be an apologist for political correctness to the detriment of a cause that I care about. Women have a right to drink. We have a right to drink as much as we want and we have a right to drink as much as we want without being raped. But just as we warn each other that certain neighborhoods are safer in daylight than others, why is it that some feminist activists have a tough time warning other women that women who drink — but not to the point of being intoxicated — will in fact be safer from a variety of crimes, including being mugged, than women who drink to extremes? Why is saying that out loud without fear of retribution not an option for any of us who identify as feminists, or anyone else who doesn’t want to be vilified? I’m not advocating that we become a society who never drinks. But we should work towards being a society where people — of both genders — are both encouraged and educated to drink responsibly. While this ad campaign may not have completely nailed it visually speaking, I’m all for advertisements that discourage young women and young men from drinking to the point of being unable to safely operate a vehicle or being unsafe for another person to be around. For instance, while it is clear cut that any man who has sex with an intoxicated woman who is unable to give consent is committing rape, what happens when both parties are deemed too intoxicated to engage in discussions of consent? The reality is there is absolutely no good reason for any person of any gender to find being in such a state a regular occurrence, and yet according to the CDC increasingly teenagers are drinking with the sole goal of getting this drunk, as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible. The way I look at it is this. We educate drivers on the dangers of drunk driving, and if an accident happens and someone dies, the drunk driver is to blame, no questions asked. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also aggressively target others about the dangers of getting into a car with a drunk driver. If we want to successfully address the issue, we have to target multiple audiences, and that’s what the Pennsylvania Liquor Authority’s ad campaign was seeking to do. The ad campaign itself may have slightly missed the mark but its opponents missed the point. Furthermore, if they have a problem with the ads but genuinely care about the issue, how about doing something constructive like holding a contest encouraging others to submit alternative ads? (Feel free to post suggestions in the comments section here. I can’t guarantee the right people at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will see them, but here’s hoping.) To be clear, I have zero tolerance for rapists and zero tolerance for a criminal justice system that through laughable sentencing guidelines, misguided statute of limitations laws, and inadequate DNA testing funding, seems to indicate that it doesn’t take rape seriously. But I’m also running out of tolerance for activists who keep screaming “fire” in a crowded theater when it comes to actually doing something constructive to address one of the oldest and most important public policy issues we continue to grapple with: eradicating rape in our society. Note: If you’d like to do something constructive to aid survivors of sexual assault click here . Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com, where this piece originally appeared. www.keligoff.com
One of the most humbling things about being a writer is being reminded that you are not nearly as original as you like to think you are. I was reminded of this when famed super-lawyer Alan Dershowitz told New York Magazine that he’s considered publishing a book of some of the hate mail he’s received over the years. He’s not alone. Every time I receive a kooky piece of mail, or elicit a wacky comment via social media, I’m tempted to convince my agent that instead of working on another book that I actually have to write on my own, we should just publish some of the reactions my writing has elicited from others. (Possible titles: “To Keli with Love, hate, and occasional indifference” or “Your writing sucks, but not nearly as much as that outfit you wore on tv yesterday.”) Thanks to my post on the brewing birth control battle engulfing the Obama administration, I now have a wealth of new material. As usual the responses ran the gamut from sane, (“I completely disagree with you for x, y, z reason”) to insane but entertaining (the charming individual who wanted to register his displeasure with my post as well as with my appreciation of Betty White, which he apparently finds offensive, comes to mind.) As I explained to a friend who recently asked if I mind when people leave nasty comments about my blog posts, I don’t mind receiving unflattering feedback for my work nearly as much as I mind receiving no feedback at all. (I realize this puts my fiercest critics in a quandary. For that my apologies.) If you’re a writer and no one’s criticizing your work that means very few people are actually reading it. After all, even Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway have their detractors, and I’m nowhere in their league. But as I noted on The Dylan Ratigan Show , one thing that does get under my skin when it comes to my critics: poorly crafted criticism. Apparently I’m not alone in finding lazy criticism annoying. I’ve been told that a few people, among them talk show host and uber-tweeter Piers Morgan , have been known to correct angry mail and tweets that they receive for typos and grammatical errors. So below, a list of helpful hints to help you or the self-appointed critic in your life, draft an effective piece of hate mail (or critical mail to be more precise), blog comment, or social media response that actually provokes thought, and possibly a reply from the intended target, as opposed to simply provoking chuckles from them. (Or causing them to forward it to others for chuckles as well — not that I would know anything about doing that.) 1) Actually read the piece. This one is non-negotiable. If you have time to type up an angry paragraph to someone, then you have time to read the piece you think you are angry about in its entirety. If you do not, then you are exactly like those people who don’t bother to vote then sit around complaining our ears off until the next election. I have lost count of how many times people have sent me emails, tweeted or left comments all over the web criticizing a post I wrote for not addressing a specific point — only that point could easily be found in paragraph two of my post, if only they’d bothered to read that far. One of the most amusing recent examples was when someone alleged that one of my posts must have been written by a man, because it failed to include Eleanor Roosevelt on a list of “the Most Influential white Americans who have helped shape Black America.” (Click here to see the list in its entirety.) Can any of you guess what’s wrong with that statement? You know, besides the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt — photo and all — was very much on the list? Even funnier (in an embarrassing kind of way for those involved) was that people piled on with “Yeah, exactly!” which meant they didn’t bother to read it either. Apparently this level of laziness in the comments section of blogs, in particular, has become such an epidemic that the media site Gawker has begun banning commenters who leave comments that make it clear they either lack basic reading comprehension or are too lazy to finish reading the fairly short pieces on the site to conclusion. As the saying goes, “Reading is fundamental.” 2) Don’t just say you disagree. Say WHY. I hate to break it to you, (and this will probably earn me a new pile of hate mail) but there is not a single blogger, pundit, author etc. who cares that you “strongly disagree.” Not a single one. A stranger telling me “I don’t agree” in cyberspace is right up there with a stranger stopping me on the street to say, “I really don’t care for your outfit. Just my opinion.” Okay. Thanks for sharing, but since I don’t know you, and didn’t get dressed specifically for you, your opinion doesn’t carry the same weight that statement may from someone I do know and whose opinion I value. (And before you ask, yes everyone enjoys compliments, on the street or in cyberspace. But while we may appreciate being told, “You look nice today” by a stranger, it still doesn’t carry the weight of being told by the person you’re dating, or even your mom.) However, while we may not care that you “strongly disagree,” you know what we do care about? Knowing that you strongly disagree because of a fact or piece of information that we overlooked or neglected to address in our work. One of the most touching notes I ever read was in response to a piece I wrote on my feelings that some LGBT and progressive activists were turning Carrie Prejean into a conservative martyr. A member of the LGBT community wrote that while he appreciated where I was coming from, he wondered if perhaps I was too young to recall the damage that Anita Bryant, who like Prejean had initially been dismissed as “just a beauty queen,” had done to the LGBT community and that this perspective and history was missing from my piece. He was right. Of course if all he had written was “I want you to know that I completely disagree with your piece on Carrie Prejean. You are too young to know what you’re talking about.” He may have felt better after, but he would have missed out on an opportunity to educate, which brings me to number three. 3) Avoid name-calling. I know it’s hard to do in the heat of the moment but when you go to write a letter, comment or tweet, I encourage you to take thirty seconds to ask yourself what you are seeking to accomplish with your words. If your sole goal is to vent, then by all means have at it. Say what you have to say, knowing that it will be permanently out there, somewhere, on the record. That means a potential employer may see it or your friends. Increasingly writers are publishing racist and homophobic emails in their entirety via their social networks and allowing the public to respond accordingly. In fact, one woman alleges she was fired after a homophobic email she allegedly sent to a blogger was published. But if your goal is to get your point across and be heard, or to change hearts or minds, you can’t engage in name-calling. The moment you do the person on the receiving end ceases to take you seriously and either hits delete or stops reading. Also, hate to disappoint the name-callers out there but I know very few people in the public eye whom name-calling actually bothers. The moment people resort to it we tend assume that either A) they are high-strung/slightly unstable (aka crazy) or B) they are REALLY crazy or C) we’ve gotten under their skin. Now I can’t speak for everyone, but if I’ve gotten under someone’s skin to the extent that the only retort he can come up with involves calling me a name, I feel pretty confident that I’ve done my job for the day. 4) Be witty. Humor can absolve a lot of sins. I’ve actually had people completely eviscerate pieces I’ve written but they’ve done so with such humor that I can’t help but laugh. Anyone whose ego allows him or her to do a job that involves being in the public eye should have the capacity to laugh at herself. If she doesn’t, she’s in the wrong line of work. 5) Provide Context. My general rule of thumb is if someone is nice enough to take the time to write me a letter, and they don’t sound blatantly crazy (i.e. threatening my life or spending the entire correspondence engaged in name-calling) I will try to write back. I don’t always succeed, but I try and I’m happy to do so. But sometimes that’s harder than others, especially when I receive a note that doesn’t mention what blog post or interview appearance the person is referring to but all I do know is that he or she thinks I sound, “RIDICULOUS!!!” (Always in caps.) Which brings me to tip number six. 6) DON’T USE CAPS. Do use spell check. Caps denote shouting. I am happy to engage in a conversation, a dialogue, even a debate. I will not engage in a shouting match. (At least not with someone I’m not related to.) And if you are criticizing someone else’s intellect or writing capabilities, your own writing should not have glaring errors in it, such as when someone recently referred to me as a “SELOTUS.” I was perplexed until a friend helpfully explained the critic in question apparently meant to call me a “Sellout.” (Now I enjoy a game of scrabble as much as the next person, but next time give me a heads that’s what we’re playing.) So in conclusion, the difference between an effective note and a not-so effective one? Well see below. Can you guess which is which? Example #1: KELI GOFF YOU ARE AN IDIOT AND I COMPLETELY DISAGREE WITH YOUR STUPID TIPS. Example #2: Keli, I just want you to know that I found your tips for writing the “perfect piece of hate mail” perfectly useless. Here’s why: (Feel free to fill in the blank…) Happy writing! Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared. www.keligoff.com
In June of 2009, the economic recession was officially declared over. Despite the fact that millions remained unemployed, families were still foreclosed upon in record numbers and more children went hungry than most of us could have ever imagined, many had us buy into the notion that the worst was behind us and things were on an upward trajectory. Well, for the African American community, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Black layoffs have only skyrocketed since that time as the public sector – heavily comprised of a Black workforce – continues to slash jobs. And as a result, not only has Black wealth diminished, but so too has the existence of much of this nation’s Black middle class itself. Black, White or Brown – that is a startling reality that should have all of us deeply concerned. According to a study released earlier this year by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Blacks were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector. And while the private sector has added 1.6 million jobs as reported in a recent New York Times piece, public employment has seen massive layoffs across the board. Whether it’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, or any other form of municipal work, the public sector has been under attack from Wisconsin to NJ and everywhere in between. From losing their bargaining rights to bearing the brunt of city and state budget cuts, public service employees are watching their entire life savings disappear. And because about 1 in 5 Blacks work in civil service, we are disproportionately suffering yet again during these tough times. In the U.S. postal service alone, about 25% of employees are Black. It is precisely because of work in this industry and in other government entities that we were finally able to climb the economic and societal ladder, and eventually begin to achieve the proverbial American dream of home ownership. An entire Black middle class emerged via civil service jobs, and we are now tragically close to witnessing the greatest stumbling block to progress that will literally set us back decades. But we can – and we must – do something to halt this injustice that so clearly threatens our immediate future. On December 9th, my organization, National Action Network, will do its part to address this issue and more as we mobilize a 25-city simultaneous day-of-action around Jobs and Justice. A follow-up to our October 15th rally in Washington, D.C., the December 9th march will continue to focus on growing economic disparity, lack of employment, and equality issues surrounding our current economic state. We will call attention to disproportionate layoffs of Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed groups, attacks on the public sector and the ever-growing wealth gap. We will push for economic growth, job creation and concrete, substantive ideas that truly begin to get people back to work. And we will call out all those who stand in the way. While doing nothing but obstructing every proposal put forth by the President and Democrats, Republicans have made it their mission to paint public workers – the ones that clean our streets, educate our children, deliver our mail, protect our streets and more – as the enemy. They continue to find ways to eliminate their organizing abilities, and blame them for all of our ills, while trying to protect the corporate cronies that got us all into this mess. And of course, they have openly stated that they are willing to let all of our lives hang in the balance while they play dirty politics. But we, the American people, will not remain silent and watch the very things we worked so hard to create fall apart before our eyes. It isn’t fair to the Black community that broke through impossible blockades to create a middle class; it isn’t fair to civil service employees who make life as we know it possible; and it isn’t fair to you and I. Join us on December 9th as we raise our voices in unison across the country for Jobs and Justice.
President Obama has often spoken of the influence his mother had in shaping his life. Stanley Ann Dunham was smart, worldly, independent and free-spirited. The president has said he “learned about empathy” from her. He also learned to relate to the struggles of families trying to make the most of their lives with few financial resources to do so. He has cited her healthcare struggles — specifically as a woman claimed by two forms of gender specific cancer — as being fundamental in lending direction to his political moral compass. Therefore when I heard the news that the president is very close to caving on one of the most important healthcare issues facing women, for the purposes of political expediency, I couldn’t help but think that were his mother alive today she would tell him that his compass is off, and he is in grave danger of losing his way. Just a few months ago I wrote that it was through women’s health issues that President Obama could end up leaving his greatest legacy. I stand by that statement today. It’s just that when I first wrote it I assumed the president’s legacy on these issues would be positive. That now seems less likely. A non-partisan panel convened by the Institute of Medicine recommended that insurance companies be required to cover birth control for free as a form of preventative care under the new healthcare law. I can’t think of any medication that more accurately fits the definition of “preventative” than one whose sole purpose is to prevent something, in this case, pregnancy. As I noted at the time of my last piece on this subject, “If the government follows the panel’s recommendations, this could end up being not just one of the most important moments in the reproductive rights movement since Roe v. Wade, but the most important moment ever.” (Click here to see a list of the most important reproductive rights cases besides Roe v. Wade. Click here to see a list of ancient forms of birth control.) Though contraception access seems like one of those no-brainer issues that people of all political stripes who agree on little else, should be able to agree on, of course in politics today nothing is that simple. Despite the White House already publicly agreeing to exemptions for religious institutions, some religious leaders are arguing that the language doesn’t go far enough. According to the New York Times, “after protests by Roman Catholic bishops, charities, schools and universities, the White House is considering a change that would grant a broad exemption to health plans sponsored by employers who object to such coverage for moral and religious reasons. Churches may already qualify for an exemption. The proposal being weighed by the White House would expand the exemption to many universities, hospitals, clinics and other entities associated with religious organizations.” In other words, the changes being considered by the White House would essentially render the medical panel’s recommendation null and void, allowing any employer to claim religious reservations and thereby deny covering contraception as preventative care. As I have written before, I am one of the few people who can find gray area in just about any political issue, from capital punishment, to affirmative action, and yes, abortion. The lone exception for me is really birth control accessibility because it directly affects so many other issues, which is why opposition to its availability leaves me perplexed, not to mention angry. To the consternation of some readers I do use words like “personal responsibility” in my writing and stand by doing so. People shouldn’t knowingly make personal choices that they expect other people to pay for. But just as you can’t expect people to pull themselves up by their boot straps if you hide all of the boots from them, you can’t place obstacle after obstacle in someone’s way, and then criticize them for taking too long to get to the finish line, or for giving up and quitting the race altogether. That’s precisely what obstacles to birth control do to poor women and families — and increasingly to middle class families as well. If fiscal conservatives want to spend less on government programs like welfare, then why not make it easier for families not to have children they cannot afford to raise? And if religious conservatives are so opposed to abortion and consider it a crime against humanity, then why not make it easier for fewer women to find themselves in the position of seeking one? But another concern in all of this is the slippery slope it puts us on when we start practicing religion in the examining room. What happens when an institution wants to claim religious exemptions for covering treatment for an AIDS patient who contracted the HIV virus in a manner they consider morally questionable? Those of us who are tired of this political posturing should remember that the real culprits in the political standoff over contraception are not conservatives. At least they are fighting for something that they believe. The White House appears not to be fighting at all and this fact makes it seem as though the president and those around him no longer know what they actually believe in, or what they stand for. If we can’t get the president to fight for something as simple as birth control — something studies show 99% of sexually active women in this country have used and something polls show the overwhelming majority of Americans believe should be administered without insurance co-pays — then how can we expect him to have the courage and conviction to fight on the issues that are less clear cut? Studies show that the average American woman aspires to a family comprised of two children in her lifetime, a family much like the president’s own. Not only does he have two daughters, his mother, an only child, also had two. This seems to indicate that the phenomenal women that have shaped the president’s life understand the value of family planning in a way that he, and the men he surrounds himself with in senior positions within his administration, do not. If President Obama is not man enough for the fight for women and families, perhaps he should hand the reins over to someone who is. I can think of a few good women who could handle the job. He happens to be married to one of them. Keli Goff is the author of “The GQ Candidate” and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this piece originally appeared. www.keligoff.com
The big buzz on cable news this week is that the Super Committee failed when it couldn’t come to a compromise on how to cut the federal budget by $1.5 trillion. But the truth is that the American people won. And now, we must keep on winning. We won when Democrats on the Super Committee held their ground on the expiring Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. Instead of focusing like a laser on job creation, conservative Republicans in Congress held our nation’s finances hostage in July. To appease the hostage-takers, Congress created a closed-door committee to force through major cuts this fall. Thankfully, enough Democrats held together on the Super Committee to stop severe cuts from going through. Many proposed to seek revenue from small tax increases for the wealthy and a tiny “Wall Street Tax” on risky stock trades. But those cries from the 99% fell on the deaf ears of conservatives on the Super Committee. Progressives don’t often battle the concentrated forces of corporations and their armies of lobbyists to a stalemate. For that reason, we can stop, reflect on a job well done, and thank the congressmen and women who stopped the worst from getting through. But we’re not out of the woods yet. The so-called economic recovery hasn’t reached the vast majority of jobseekers and homeowners who have been battered by the financial collapse and its aftermath. And the bill that created the Super Committee mandated massive cuts to education, health care, environmental regulation, and job creation in 2013. So we still have some work to do. In fact, the fights coming up are likely to be brutal. The Super Committee trigger does not identify where the domestic cuts are coming from. And conservatives are already trying to roll back the trigger’s cuts to the defense budget and replace them with deeper cuts to domestic programs. So we need to keep fighting if we want to protect the EPA, science, energy research and development, home weatherization, and other vital programs. We also need to prepare for the fact that the deficit reduction battle will continue to rage in different forms, between now and the end of 2012. Throughout the election season, the same battle about extending Bush tax cuts for the rich (and maybe all the Bush tax cuts), cutting social programs and cutting defense will continue. There is the possibility for a good outcome. Democrats have a tremendous amount of leverage, because the Bush tax cuts will automatically expire at the end of next year and $600 billion of cuts in defense will go into effect automatically [which would be truly historic] in January 2013 if Congress does nothing. They can do it — if they show the courage that we saw in the past few weeks by the Occupy The Highway marchers. A handful of activists this week walked more than 200 miles to D.C. from Occupy Wall Street’s “Liberty Park.” They did so to make sure that Washington heard the cries of the 99% for fair treatment. They pointed out that many students have already mortgaged their future for their education, only to graduate off a cliff into the worst job climate since the Great Depression. Seniors and veterans have already given much to this country and deserve fair treatment in return. These groups did not cause our fiscal and financial calamities. The culprits are Bush’s tax giveaways for the rich, lax oversight of Wall Street and endless wars. Any sacrifices to solve the problem should come primarily from those who enjoyed the tax breaks, bonuses and bailouts, not those who suffered. Coming off this victory, people of conscience in Congress should follow the example of these marchers — and go the extra distance to find real solutions for our country.
If you wanted one word to sum up this year, it’s “noisy.” From Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park, people who have gotten tired of the old politics have started grabbing the microphone away from the authorities and speaking themselves. And not just speaking; chanting, drumming, singing-conjuring up a new future. As 2011 draws to a close, diplomats from almost every country will be gathering in Durban, South Africa to talk about global warming. After the warmest year on record, and endless flood and drought, you’d think they’d be digging in for real change. But, alas, they seem likely to just go on spinning their wheels, unwilling to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry. Leaders of the world’s major economies are privately admitting that they’re unlikely to reach a global deal until 2016 at the earliest. So here too people will need to raise their voices. But since climate change is the first truly global problem, those people have to figure out how to raise a common message, one that crosses the boundaries of language. The best method — proven in countless social movements — may be music. Earlier this week, the global climate campaign 350.org launched ” Radiowave .” It’s designed to take a single powerful song, and use it as the focus of a campaign that will sweep down Africa, one country at time, for the next few weeks, finally landing in South Africa just as the UN’s climate conference begins. “People Power” (radio version) by 350RadioWaves . Uploaded with Gobbler The song is written and performed by a who’s who of African musicians, from Angelique Kidjo to Maria Daulne and Ahmed Soultan. Hip Hop star Talib Kweli performs the opening verse. It’s in English and French, but also Berber, Arabic, Xhosa, Zulu, Setswana, and Fon. But it’s not just the beat that crosses borders; the sentiment, once translated, will make sense to anyone suffering the early effects of climate change. As the South African hip hop star Jabulani Tsambo puts it: “The weather is crazy Our leaders are lazy Their attitude doesn’t amaze me” In almost every country, the refrain is the same: people desperate for jobs, but governments unwilling to unleash the green energy future in any substantial way. As the song’s chorus puts it, our nations are “Drilling for energy, like you cannot see the Sun This earth belongs to everyone Mining for energy, like you’ve never felt the wind Time to change so we can live.” But it’s not just the musicians who will be sending this Radiowave crashing across a continent. In every city and province, volunteers have been trained to use the tune as a way get discussion going. They’ll be on radio stations night after night, informing people why climate change is important enough that some of the continent’s biggest stars are singing about it. In this country, radio is too often the province of xenophobes — but in most of the developing world it’s the way everyone communicates about what matters. Environmentalists in particular have too often appealed mainly to the left side of the brain, the part that likes bar graphs and pie charts. But we’re learning — more and more, music and art are part of the fight — because, of course, they’re part of the human experience we want to preserve. No one can predict what 2012 will bring. But around the world lots of us are committed to keeping it as noisy as we possibly can. We’ll sing more or less in tune — but mostly we’ll sing loud. We’re tired of not being heard. Van Jones is the president of Rebuild the Dream .
Every campaign a candidate says something that he or she ends up regretting, usually because an opponent or critic manages to prove the statement wrong in some factual or philosophical way. But rarely does a candidate prove one of his own statements wrong in the extraordinary manner that Herman Cain has managed to do in recent weeks. Six weeks ago Cain said , “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.” In the last month he’s learned firsthand just how laughable that statement really is. To those who have decided that based on the previous sentence, this blog post is laughable — I ask you to first consider two questions. Question number 1: If Cain’s Libya gaffe — and without a doubt it was a doozy — renders him unqualified and unelectable for the presidency, then how do we explain the election of George W. Bush? His foreign affairs pop quiz failure during the 2000 presidential campaign makes Cain’s mishap look mild and yet somehow he didn’t become campaign roadkill. (Click here to see a list of some of the most embarrassing campaign flubs.) Question number 2: What if Cain’s sexual harassment accusers were black? (Let the eye rolls, hate mail and angry comments commence.) As I mentioned on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show , shortly after the Herman Cain harassment story broke, the first question I asked a fellow writer is, “Do we know the race of the accusers?” I asked not because I care, but because I knew that some voters would — namely many of the voters Mr. Cain needed to win a GOP primary. How do we know that some of them care? A 2010 Pew Research poll found that while nearly 85% of millenials of all races support interracial marriage, only 52% of white Baby Boomers do and only 36% of whites over age 65 do. Pew data also shows the average age of registered Republicans rising to 48 and the party’s greatest bloc of support remaining overwhelmingly white and in the South. This means that the voters least likely to approve of sexual contact between members of different races are the very voters Cain’s political survival has depended on. Therefore it was a given that his survival would become tougher if the number of attractive white women accusing him of not so attractive behavior increased. What’s ironic is that despite his earlier declaration that racism doesn’t hold any of us back in any meaningful way, Cain later asserted that being a black conservative played a role in the allegations against him — specifically making him an attractive target of both liberals and the media. He was at least partially right. The fact that Cain is black and his accusers (so far) are reasonably attractive blondes did impact coverage of this story regardless of whether we in the media wish to acknowledge it. Though we don’t like to admit it there are countless factors that determine which stories we cover and how we cover them, including factors that should not, such as race. The disproportionate coverage media outlets extend to cases of attractive white women who go missing in comparison to the coverage extended to missing minorities, is so well documented that it enjoys a permanent catchphrase among media critics: “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” (Fingers crossed I don’t go missing anytime soon because the odds are not in my favor in terms of coverage.) When it comes to allegations of sexual impropriety the same calculations that lead some reporters, producers, and editors to determine that a missing poor, overweight African-American woman may not be as newsworthy as a missing attractive, wealthy white woman can also come into play. So what does this mean for Herman Cain? For starters, as long as his accusers were white, reasonably attractive and not completely incoherent, they were going to be extended a measure of coverage — and credibility — they may not otherwise. As such, they, unfairly or not, saddled Cain with the very albatross he has tried desperately to avoid. Herman Cain spent a lifetime defying racial stereotypes, both professionally and politically. Now he has cartoonishly morphed into the embodiment of one of America’s most unflattering, yet enduring, racial stereotypes: that of the black man that despite seeming to have it all, still sexually wants a white woman more than anything. Though his supporters were quick to hearken back to Clarence Thomas as a model for how a black conservative could survive similar allegations, they seemed to forget one key fact: Anita Hill, Thomas’s accuser, is black. This fact still matters, even 20 years later, and if you are a black man running in a GOP primary the race of your accuser matters even more. Don’t get me wrong. When it’s all said and done Cain’s candidacy will ultimately have been done in by his own hand; his poor early response to the harassment crisis that engulfed his campaign, his bumbling response to the question on Libya. But that doesn’t change the fact that the bar has always been set higher for African-Americans (apologies Mr. Cain. I know you hate that term) seeking to break barriers, with less room for errors. There is not a black person on the planet that believes President Obama could survive an impeachment scandal like President Clinton did. Just as we all accept the fact that no black candidate as inarticulate as President George W. Bush would have ever been considered a viable contender. At the end of the day I guess Mr. Cain and I don’t disagree all that much. He believes that race may have played some role in his demise, as do I. I guess the only real difference between us, is I always knew it was a possibility that his race could hold him back in some meaningful way. But it took a losing campaign, and abandonment by his fellow conservatives to teach Mr. Cain that lesson. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this piece originally appeared. Check out her website here .
The Supreme Court’s recent decision to listen and eventually rule on the President’s health care bill cannot and should not be viewed in a vacuum. After conflicting rulings in lower courts over whether or not the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, the highest legal body in the nation will now hear oral arguments next March on the issue, and is expected to reach a decision sometime in June. Though the Supreme Court may have the ultimate say-so in our legal processes, it’s important to remember that it too must adhere to certain principles. And when SCOTUS Judge Clarence Thomas’ wife is directly connected to an anti-health care lobbying group, and both he and Judge Antonin Scalia attend conservative fundraisers, they have no option but to recuse themselves. Last week, Scalia and Thomas were invited guests to the Federalist Society’s 2011 Annual Dinner. A highly conservative organization whose sole purpose appears to be to regress our nation, the Federalist Society not only asked the two Supreme Court judges to attend, but placed their names on publicity materials and gave them speaking opportunities as well. Sitting at different tables, Scalia and Thomas were only separated by the table of Paul Clement – the attorney who will likely argue the case against the health care bill in front of the Supreme Court, and the man who got his start clerking for Scalia himself. If this isn’t the most outrageous conflict of interest, then I don’t know what is. Earlier this year, Judge Thomas finally released the details of his wife’s income while working with the organization Liberty Central. A conservative political advocacy group, Liberty Central pushes for smaller government and other right-wing ideas – including a move to reverse the Affordable Care Act. Serving as President and CEO of Liberty Central, Thomas’ wife, Virginia, received a salary of $150,000, and less than $15,000 from another anti-health care lobbying firm she started according to published reports of these financial disclosures. When this self-proclaimed ‘ambassador to the Tea Party movement’ is the wife of a sitting judge on the U.S. Supreme Court set to rule on the very issue she championed against, how can the American people not object? Our judicial system was designed to serve as a forum whereby legal challenges and disputes could be resolved in a fair and just manner. And in order to maintain a certain level of equality, higher courts were established as a check on lower courts in an effort to provide impartiality on the day’s pressing issues. As the most powerful court in the land, the Supreme Court is the final word on legal conflicts and as such, its judges are held to the highest of standards. Not only do they possess this immense responsibility and authority, but the Supreme Court also sets precedent for how lower courts may behave in the future. Throughout history, judges in various courts have often times recused themselves when there was an apparent conflict of interest in a case. You don’t need a juris doctorate to realize that Thomas and Scalia should do the same now. As one of the first moves of his Presidency, Barack Obama immediately began advocating for a change to our health care system. After significant, seemingly endless pushback from conservatives, he compromised in several areas and presented the public with a health care act that still provided comprehensive reform. No longer could insurance companies discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions, kids could remain on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26 and many other benefits would go into effect within the next few years. As White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer highlighted on Monday, one million more young Americans now have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventative services without paying an extra penny out of their own pocket and insurance companies have to spend more of people’s premiums on health care instead of advertising and bonuses. But let’s remember that this isn’t about the President or about partisan politics. With at least 50 million Americans suffering without adequate health care in the most powerful nation, the Affordable Care Act was the initial step towards creating a more humane and honest system. I am not discussing this issue as a Democrat, but as someone who is concerned about the tens of millions – many of them children and the elderly – suffering without the ability to see a doctor. As I said before, this isn’t about Obama; it’s about our mama. Judges are sworn to uphold the law and to do so in an unbiased manner. But when you have two individuals who openly support right-wing causes and attend conservative fundraising events, we open ourselves to a clear frontal partisan attack in our judicial process. After the health care legislation was passed, there were those that objected and some that lobbied and took their battles to court. One of those individuals lobbying was Virginia Thomas. And now the court with the final word must decide if it will allow judges with such a blatant conflict of interest to rule on this vital issue. Judge Clarence Thomas and Judge Antonin Scalia must remove themselves from hearing these cases. It is the only way we can have a fair, objective ruling on perhaps the most pertinent legislation of our time.
After attending Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne concert I remarked on Facebook that I enjoyed the show — the feminist in me notwithstanding. Between the two of them there are plenty of lyrics that would make any self-respecting feminist cringe, but there is one song that some feminists may expect me to find offensive, yet I don’t: the Kanye West hit “Gold Digger.” Let me clarify. It’s not that I don’t find the song offensive. It’s just that I’m not nearly as offended by the lyrics as I am by the women that inspired them. Before my fellow feminists in cyberspace grab their pitchforks, let me start by saying I know not every woman is a gold digger. I just wish so many women out there would stop perpetuating the stereotype that most of us are. I was reminded of this when the media became obsessed with the latest celebrity babymama drama , this time starring teen heartthrob Justin Bieber. (Click here to see a list of the most high profile celebrity paternity cases.) For starters, as I’m sure has already been stated by others, part of what’s troubling about the case is that if the gender roles were reversed and a nineteen-year-old man had impregnated a sixteen-year-old girl I don’t think everyone would have initially treated the matter as a boys-will-be-boys like joke. But the equally disturbing issue is that Bieber’s accuser follows a long line of women who not only use their sexuality to get ahead, but their wombs. The act of becoming pregnant on purpose with the goal of landing financial security has become viewed as such a common practice that it is regularly joked about whenever stories like this become public. Bloggers, commenters and commentators use language like “just became pregnant with eighteen years of security” or “she just hit the lotto” to describe women announced to be carrying the children of rich men, particularly men they were not in serious relationships with but will now be linked to, both personally and financially, for life. From Mick Jagger, to Hugh Grant and countless professional athletes, the notion these women (and the men involved), help perpetuate is that there is another option besides appearing on a reality show for those who don’t want to work for a living. (And yes I consider parenting, at least being a good parent, the hardest job in the world, but you get my meaning.) What’s disconcerting is the message that the high profile stories of Bieber and other celebrities, combined with the success of programs like Basketball Wives , (which features few wives, but many women whose lives of luxury are bankrolled by the wealthy athletes they’ve had multiple children out of wedlock with) sends to girls everywhere: Why bother spending money on a college degree, when if you play your cards right and don’t use a condom — or poke holes in one — you can be financially set for life. (Yes you read that right. As recounted to me by multiple aides, staffers and ex-girlfriends of professional athletes there are women who go to elaborate lengths to become pregnant by them. Poking holes in condoms is just the tip of the iceberg, no pun intended.) As I made clear on The Dylan Ratigan Show , I’m not letting the men off the hook when it comes to their responsibility in situations like these. If a man truly doesn’t want to be a father, he should take the precautions necessary not to become one. If he doesn’t, then he’s a fool. Any man who creates a baby has a responsibility to that child. But a woman will always have more responsibility — at least in the beginning. Why? Because ultimately it will always be our choice, as women (at least here in America) whether or not a baby ends up in this world. Any woman who disagrees with that statement is in essence disagreeing with the very premise of a woman’s right to choose. After all, we fought long and hard to defend the mantra, “My body, my choice,” something I will believe in and defend until the day I die. But if we are going to demand that men respect the mantra “My body, my choice,” and if it is ultimately our choice and we want to protect the legal right to keep it ours and ours alone, then we can’t turn around and blame someone else for the irresponsible choices we make with our bodies. We also can’t get mad when someone calls us out for such choices. We simply can’t have it both ways ladies. I do believe feminism is about a woman’s right to choose, but I also believe feminism is about taking responsibility for the choices that we make. Having unprotected sex with a wealthy stranger whom you then conveniently sue for a lot of money afterwards is not a brand of feminism in my book. Furthermore, women who make the choice to use their bodies to create children primarily for the purpose of financial gain, not only go against everything feminism stands for, but they go against the very idea of responsible parenting. Kids should not be created to be anyone’s retirement package, whether your last name is Lohan, Jackson or Yeater (of Bieber fame.) And as long as women are afraid to confront and challenge other women who embody the negative gender stereotypes we battle every day, they will continue to prevent the rest of us from achieving the progress and equality we desire and deserve. So the next time you hear the song “Gold Digger,” ladies try to reserve your outrage for the individual who actually deserves it. Not Kanye West, but whatever woman, or women, that inspired the song. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared. www.keligoff.com
Yesterday evening, something historic happened in the homes, campuses, and community centers of America. From Biloxi, Mississippi to Monrovia, California, more than 4,000 people attended 375 teach-ins — all volunteer-driven — to learn “How the 1% Crashed the Economy, and What We Can Do About It.” The Occupy Wall Street movement has struck a chord with millions of Americans. It has given direction to our outrage and inspired curiosity about certain fundamental questions. How could the richest country in the history of the world find itself in such a grave economic crisis? How could the wealthiest in our society score record-breaking profits, while millions of Americans struggle? People are searching for both answers and solutions. So Rebuild The Dream Innovation Fund (an organization I co-founded) and our partners created a special curriculum — a teach-in toolkit to help people make sense of what’s happening in America. The teach-ins are based on an evocative slide presentation that describes the state of our economy, how we got here, and what we as progressives must do to restore the economy and reclaim our democracy. November 9th was just a start. The materials and information are available online for anyone to host a teach-in, tailored to our own communities. In addition to powerful facts, the presentation weaves a powerful story. Ryan Senser, who created the story and the presentation, breaks down the narrative as follows: “We all have dreams, and freedom means being able to pursue them. But right now, the vast majority of people can’t move forward because we’re hitting a wall. It’s a wall of extreme inequality, of debt, of joblessness, of social division. It’s the largest barrier to opportunity we’ve seen since the 1920s, and it’s holding our country back. We know who built this wall – Wall Street. Wall Street big corporations and the 1% built it, paid off our politicians to help them do it. And these are Wall Street’s results: extreme inequality, which always leads to economic disaster for rest of us. We must elect politicians who will help us pave the path to shared prosperity, and not build walls that keep us from it.” Another major contributor to the teach-in curriculum was Heather McGhee, an economic policy expert at progressive think tank Demos , which works to create a more robust democracy and fair economy. Heather explained why the precursors of our crisis are key to understanding how we move forward as a nation. “The economy is not like the weather,” she said. “It’s not something that goes up and goes down and that we have no control over as human beings. It’s actually a very human-made structure in our political system that is guided by the decisions we make together as a people in a well-functioning democracy.” Our society today, which grants everything to the 1% at the expense of the rest of us, puts greed over common good, justice for some over justice for all, and next quarter over next generation. This is not an accident. As Heather said, “The personal, individual problems that keep us up at night — student debt, foreclosures, mortgages, credit cards, why rent is up and housing prices are down, why work isn’t paying how it used to, why both parents have to work and there’s no support for child care — all of these private questions are part of our story. And the story says there are public causes and public solutions that have evolved over the last 3 decades.” In the 1930s, America emerged from the Great Depression with a vengeance. Ordinary American wrested the unjust concentration of political and economic power from the hands of the 1% to build the first and biggest middle class the world had ever seen. Our great-grandparents and grandparents deliberately paved a road to shared prosperity. But starting in the 1970s, the 1% again began to tear away at the accomplishments of our predecessors and they built the wall again. We overcame once and we will overcome again. The Occupy movement has set off a wave of energy and enthusiasm that is determined to tear down the wall built by the 1% and create an economy that works for all. November 17th will be a day of mass action for the 99% to begin tearing down that wall. And possible solutions have already been outlined in the Contract for the American Dream created by 131,000 Americans and signed by over 300,000. We will continue taking to the streets, starting with the mass mobilization on November 17th . Across the country, there will be hundreds of events at the very places that can put America back to work: our crumbling bridges, understaffed schools, and other sites that represent a failed economy. And next year we will occupy voting booths and ballots all over the country. We must continue growing the extraordinary momentum of the 99%. The story we weave about ourselves, our economy, and the political power we hold will shape how we move forward from this unprecedented moment. We will tear down this wall.