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By now the five remaining people on the planet who didn’t know that Rush Limbaugh embodies the very worst in politics, pop culture and possibly all mammals ever, have joined the rest of us in this knowledge. But for those of you that have been under a rock in recent days, allow me to fill you in on this latest dispatch from Rush Limbaugh’s race to the bottom. Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke , a woman he doesn’t know, has never met and knows next to nothing about, a slut. I take that back. He knows something about her now, namely that she’s smarter and more courageous than he is. Fluke provoked Limbaugh’s ire when the Georgetown University law student dared to testify in support of contraception coverage before a Democratic hearing after previously being denied the right to testify in a male (and conservative) dominated congressional hearing on the matter. Fluke’s testimony highlighting the fact that many women rely on contraception to address medical issues unrelated to preventing pregnancy, apparently struck Limbaugh as humorous. (Hey — who doesn’t find ovarian cysts hysterical?) He then continued to riff on Fluke, speculating on her sexual habits in a manner I will allow you to read about for yourself because just thinking about the comments and frankly, their source, gives me the creeps. On Saturday Limbaugh “sincerely apologized” to Fluke clearly seeing the error of his ways due to some serious self-reflection on his part. At least we’re supposed to pretend it’s due to his self-reflection, and not due to the fact that his advertisers are ditching him faster than he ditches wives. (At last count he’s on number four and considering she’s not much older than Ms. Fluke, part of me wonders if perhaps this was all some grotesque attempt at flirting on his part that simply went awry. After all, who wouldn’t want to be the fifth Mrs. Limbaugh? Raise your hands high, ladies!) As un-amusing as this whole situation has been, I can’t help being amused by the timing of it all. March happens to be Women’s History Month. Talk about starting it off with a bang. While we all know that for at least the next month we can look forward to hearing occasional references to our country’s greatest women sprinkled in speeches, news items and, of course, school reports, what you may not know is that despite years of trying we still don’t have a national museum to honor the contributions of women. Before any eye rolling or shouts of “pay down the deficit!” begin, did I mention that the planned National Women’s History Museum won’t cost taxpayers a single dollar? It will, however, require congressional approval for the land on which it will eventually be constructed; approval that despite years of negotiations (and efforts of the saner members of Congress on both sides of the aisle) has remained elusive. If you need further proof of just how gridlocked and embarrassing Congress has become in recent years, consider this. We have a National Postal Museum, which was opened in the nineties, but recent efforts at making a National Women’s History Museum a reality have repeatedly stalled. That means that the postal service, which may be the only body in America with a lower approval rating than Congress, was deemed worthy of its own museum honoring its contributions to this country, but after years of near-groveling women still haven’t been deemed worthy of one. Did I already mention the part about how the museum won’t cost taxpayers a dime? So what’s the hold up? In a nutshell, for the museum to be constructed on land in close proximity to the National Mall, congressional approval is required. As National Spokesperson Meryl Streep (who could also be called the museum’s most devoted evangelist) recently explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times , “It’s a political football… It’s a thing that everybody in Congress agrees with but then they attach it to something that no one agrees with.” To her point, on more than one occasion the necessary bill has made it out of the House only to miss garnering a vote in the Senate before the end of the legislative session. But in at least one instance it was intentionally stalled. The reason: political posturing over the politics of women’s health. Sound familiar? In 2010, Senators Tom Coburn and Jim Demint, among the chamber’s most conservative members, placed a “hold” on the bill. Initially the two senators expressed budgetary concerns. You know, despite the fact that the museum will not use taxpayer dollars. Perhaps someone pointed that out to them because they later argued the museum would unnecessarily duplicate others. But according to USA Today , the real reason allegedly behind their concern? An organization that opposes abortion wrote a letter to both men expressing concern that the museum would not sufficiently honor women who have opposed abortion rights. (Apparently every single political issue on the planet somehow comes back to we ladies and our reproductive organs.) For the record, the museum is a nonpartisan effort with supporters representing both major political parties. The National Women’s History Museum Act of 2011 was introduced last fall where it was approved in the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee but months later we’re still waiting. Waiting for our male-dominated Congress to get its act together enough to agree that honoring the contributions of women — especially when it won’t cost taxpayers a cent — is one issue that should transcend partisanship. Meryl Streep, who recently clinched her third Academy Award for playing a history-making woman, Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, believes so strongly in the museum that she donated a million dollars to help make it become a reality. You may not have a million dollars to spare (few of us do) but you can help too. Here’s how: 1) Write to your member of Congress and tell him or her that you support the National Women’s History Museum, specifically you support the federal government approving the land necessary to make it become a reality. (Click here to see how to contact your elected officials and to see a sample letter.) 2) Support the National Women’s History Museum online. The only way the museum can succeed without federal support is through private contributions. Click here for more details about how to get involved. In fact, why not make a donation in Rush Limbaugh’s name? It seems only fitting that he help build the museum where thanks to him, Sandra Fluke’s portrait is likely to hang someday. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor of Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.
Last night, we watched Willard Mitt Romney give another lackluster speech following his victory in Arizona and extremely slim win in Michigan. Once again devoid of passion, it was as if he was reading someone else’s words without any clear vision of what his platform would be in office. At the same time, you had Rick ‘I don’t believe in higher education’ Santorum give his own speech as if he didn’t lose yesterday. And whether it was Romney or Santorum speaking, it’s important to note that neither mentioned the other by name last night, indicating therefore that they’re in it for the long haul. The truth is, it really doesn’t matter who becomes the eventual GOP nominee because all of the contenders and the Republican Party as a whole have proved that they would indeed like to take the country back — back to a time when systematic maneuvers suppressed the votes of people of color and the marginalized. While they try to regress us back, we must do something today for the sake of our collective future. From March 4-9th, my organization, National Action Network, will partner with congressional leaders, activists and everyday citizens as we once again make the historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. We will begin at the Edmund Pettus Bridge this Sunday, march at least 10 miles per day, stay in tents along Route 80, convene rallies and teach-ins along the way, and finally gather in front of the Alabama State Capitol on Friday, March 9th. After the state of Alabama passed the most draconian anti-immigration legislation, and at least 31 states now have voter ID laws on the books, we must take immediate action if we hope to preserve any notion of progress. The Selma to Montgomery March consisted of three different marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. Beaten with billy clubs and attacked with tear gas, it was the third march which lasted five days that made it to Montgomery after soldiers from the Army, members of the Alabama National Guard (under federal command), FBI agents and federal marshals eventually protected the demonstrators. It was because of these marches, and the national and international attention they garnered that Congress rushed to enact legislation that would protect voting for all Americans. It was called the Voting Rights Act, and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law later that year on August 6, 1965. It’s amazing that almost 50 years after this historic legislation was enacted that we now find ourselves under attack yet again. After countless sacrifices — including many people of all races that literally gave their lives for equality — we are watching the very gains we achieved being slowly and covertly stripped away. It’s important to remember that our Selma to Montgomery March next week isn’t about the past, however — it’s about the future. Your future, my future, our children’s future and the future of this very nation. Without any validation, individual states are passing these strict voter ID laws that are clearly designed to disenfranchise the poor, people of color, the elderly and young folks. Instead of allowing utility bills and other items that were used for years as appropriate forms of ID for voting, supporters of these new laws would like nothing more than to discourage people from participating. Rather than making the process easier and open to all, they are working diligently on finding new ways to suppress the vote. The state of Alabama is where the civil rights movement found its heart. Today, when voter ID laws have crept into dozens of states, and one of the toughest and most reprehensible anti-immigration bills passed in Alabama, we will gather once again in the deep South and march. Congressman John Lewis, who helped lead the march in ’65 will join us, as will leaders from across the country. To learn how to participate in the Selma to Montgomery March, please visit nationalactionnetwork.net . Whether you march along this historic route with us, or help organize buses, or participate in any fashion, make sure you do something. We have fought far too long and sacrificed far too much to allow anyone to repeal justice. Say no to voter suppression and anti-immigration laws. Let’s remind the world once again what’s at stake here. It’s time to go back to the future: all roads lead to Selma on Sunday.
Hitting the lottery once in a lifetime will never happen to most of us, but Brian Brockington just hit the criminal justice system jackpot, not once, not twice, but three times. DNA evidence has linked him to three sexual assaults, but lucky old Brian will soon be released from prison without ever serving a single day for any of the assaults in question. So is Brian Brockington just one of the “luckiest” men alive? Perhaps. But he had some help. Continuing the lotto metaphor, you could say the powers that be screwed up and now all of us have to pay up, starting with the women DNA evidence links him to assaulting. Or in casino terms one might say the slot machines are severely broken and those in charge of the house haven’t made repairing them a priority. As a result we’ll likely see a lot more Brian Brockingtons winning the criminal lotto in coming years. Allow me to explain. As reported in the New York Daily News : Brockington, 35, was arrested on rape charges in 2007 and his cousin Rodney Howard, 36, was arrested two years later after their DNA matched evidence from a 1993 gun-point attack on a 29-year-old woman. But because of a police backlog, the DNA evidence from the crime wasn’t processed for nearly a decade — and prosecutors filed charges a day after the crime’s 10-year statute of limitations expired, said Steven Reed, spokesman for the Bronx DA. The DA’s office realized their error only after the cousins were arrested — and prosecutors were forced to drop the rape charges. Brockington was subsequently linked to two other sexual assaults. The scary thing about the Brockington case (you know, besides the fact that an alleged serial rapist will likely soon be walking among us) is that the current system virtually insures that Brockington will not be the last alleged rapist set free by what some are calling a “technicality” but increasingly looks like willful legal negligence. Not simply on the part of police and prosecutors, but on the part of legislators. In interviews with representatives from organizations dedicated to aiding survivors of sexual assault and improving the criminal justice system’s prosecution of sex crimes, I learned that as the current system stands the release of the Brian Brockingtons of the world is virtually inevitable, caused by a nearly perfect storm of the following: Ã¢Â€Â¢ Only five states in America have no statute of limitations for any felony, meaning any felony crime can be prosecuted at any point at which prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence, even if the alleged crime took place decades earlier. Ã¢Â€Â¢ Only 27 states have explicit DNA exceptions on the books rendering statute of limitations non-enforceable or significantly widening the time frame for such limitations should DNA evidence link a suspect to a crime. Ã¢Â€Â¢ The Justice Department estimates there are at least 100,000 rape kits from unsolved sex crime cases waiting to be tested at labs around America. Ã¢Â€Â¢ The actual amount of evidence waiting testing nationwide is much higher than 100,000, because before DNA collection became the norm there was no universal standard for storage of such evidence. This means there is an untold amount of evidence stored in unknown places and unaccounted for, some of it misplaced and misfiled for decades. You do the math. This means that in a plurality of states, regardless of whether or not DNA evidence successfully links a perpetrator to past crimes, there is very little our criminal justice system can do to insure that perpetrator will serve any time. The reason? Because of a woefully antiquated and inept system that at the very least has been slow to adapt to the 21st century, and at the very worst has consciously chosen to treat sex crimes as low on the list of legislative and prosecutorial priorities. Despite advancements in DNA technology a number of states still adhere to arcane statute of limitations provisions, meaning regardless of what evidence is unearthed that crime may not be prosecuted. “The rationale behind statute of limitations is that memories fade. DNA doesn’t fade. It’s good forever,” said Scott Berkowitz, President of RAINN , the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. “As long as you have the evidence, you should be able to use it anytime you finally identify the suspect.” But even those states that have attempted to address the statute of limitations problem have left loopholes in them so big a truck could drive through or more accurately, a criminal can escape through. For instance, while the New York state legislature bowed to pressure in 2006 and finally amended state law to eradicate statute of limitations for class B felonies, covering those deemed the most serious sex crimes such as first degree rape, a host of sex crimes are not covered. “We wouldn’t be able to prosecute a case like Penn State here in New York,” Joe Farrell, a spokesperson for New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault said, referring to child molestation allegations against Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University. That means even if DNA evidence was discovered, such as a piece of one of the victim’s clothing linking Sandusky to a crime, there would be nothing anyone could do to prosecute in the state of New York. “Ideally we would like to see the removal of all statute of limitations for such crimes to allow for delayed reporting.” But the legal challenges presented by statute of limitations provisions represent one broken cog in a piece of machinery full of defects. In many jurisdictions the processing of DNA evidence is so backlogged that as the statute of limitations clock ticks, with the ability to prosecute certain cases drawing to a close, the DNA evidence that could be used to prosecute said cases sits unanalyzed. There have even been instances in which a perpetrator was in custody for another crime, but because a rape kit had not been processed in a timely manner he was released before he was eventually linked to an unsolved sexual assault. Some states, New York among them, have been shamed into doing the right thing and clearing the backlog. (Though the rape charges against Brian Brockington were just dropped days ago, the case represents a holdover from the years before the statute of limitations law was changed and the backlog was cleared in New York, illustrating the dangers other states face by not properly addressing those two issues immediately.) But plenty of other states have thousands of rape kits waiting to be tested, with the cities Detroit and Houston being among the worst offenders. (Click here to see an in-depth report on this issue from CBS News in 2009.) According to one expert interviewed, Houston represents a troubling, yet perfect example of just how badly broken the system is. It was originally believed there were a couple of thousand untested kits in the city, until thousands more were discovered in facilities other than labs. If every major city is like Houston — and it is believed that many are — then we have absolutely no way of knowing just how bad the backlog really is. We just know that it is bad. As this expert pointed out, “Part of the problem is that law enforcement is hesitant to invest resources in testing kits related to non-stranger assaults. Of course the problem is there are perpetrators who may assault someone they know as well as victimize strangers, but law enforcement may never make that connection because those kits are not being tested.” (She asked that her name not be used since she is not the designated spokesperson for the organization she works with.) So what, if anything, can we all do to prevent future Brian Brockingtons from winning the criminal lotto? For starters: 1) Contact your member of Congress and urge them to support H.R. 1523, “The S.A.F.E.R. Act.” S.A.F.E.R. stands for Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry. Co-sponsored by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Ted Poe, The S.A.F.E.R. Act would create a national database of rape kits maintained by the Justice Department and would require local jurisdictions to inventory all kits in their possession. It would also allow law enforcement to track which kits are attached to cases in which the statute of limitations window is drawing to a close. 2) If you live in a state that still has statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes (and chances are you probably do) contact your state legislators and request that they amend the law. (To see which states have the worst statute of limitations provisions for sex crimes, or as I call them “predator friendly states,” please click here .) If you would like to learn about other ways in which you can help, such as signing a petition in support of The S.A.F.E.R. Act, or to access contact information for your elected officials, or review the statute of limitations law in your state please click here Let’s all do our part to make sure that fewer Brian Brockingtons are set free. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.
Race-Baiting Alert: Why can’t Rev. Graham believe that President Obama is Christian?
Each year, shortly after we have made and already begun to break our New Year’s resolutions, Americans become captivated by sports’ most competitive contest. No I am not referring to the Super Bowl, but the contest for who will grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Landing the cover is supposed to be the equivalent of winning the Super Bowl of the modeling world (or something like that), credited with launching, or at least elevating, the careers of some of modeling’s most famous and enduring names, among them Christie Brinkley and Tyra Banks. While it’s arguable that it elicits very different reactions from men and women, with the New York Times describing it as “the dream book of adolescent males and the bane of feminists,” I’m one feminist who believes that there’s a lot for women to celebrate about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This year’s cover girl is Kate Upton, who before receiving the honor was best known for appearing on youtube doing the “Dougie.” (If you are scratching your head asking, “What’s the Dougie?” click here. ) Now she’s known as the next big thing. And I do mean big. Upton is not your typical model. Though her official weight is hard to pin down, there have been endless references to her “curves” which, let’s face it, usually means cup size when referring to models, actresses and whatever it is that Kim Kardashian allegedly does for a living. But not in Upton’s case. As one friend said refreshingly of Upton ‘She’s not your typical model… She will eat anything.” Lengthy profiles in outlets like the Times and the Daily Mail have chronicled her management team’s, seemingly uphill battle to establish her and her ample assets, in modeling’s incredibly shrinking world, where a size 4 makes you chubby and a size 10 makes you borderline plus size. Some of the vitriol aimed at Upton — much of it by women no less — reinforces the notion that even in the non-high fashion world of swimsuit and lingerie modeling, there is little tolerance for bodies that dare to look — gasp! — healthy and not borderline skeletal. Speaking of Upton, who has already drawn comparisons to legendary curvy (all over) beauties like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Neophitou, who helps cast the Victoria’s Secret runway show said “We would never use” someone like Upton, describing her looks as comparable to those of the half-naked “glamour” models popular in European tabloids. Underneath photos of Upton at her model heaviest — which was still thinner than most of us — anonymous commenters referred to her as a “cow.” (No, I’m not joking.) Her own agent at A-list firm IMG has said that colleagues were initially against signing her, owing to her non-traditional look. Upton’s triumph comes at an interesting time in the fashion world. Katie Halchishick, a former plus-size model, recently launched Natural Model Management. The agency specializes in models who are not plus-size or underweight but a healthy 6 to size 10. Halchishick was inspired after her own successful career as a plus-size model came to a screeching halt when she began dating a personal trainer and lost fifty pounds, and subsequently ended up losing most of her clients. Down to a healthy size 6 she found there were virtually zero opportunities for a model who was above a size 2 but below a size 14, a sentiment echoed by one of the few plus-size supermodels Crystal Renn. Or should I say former plus-size supermodel? Renn, one of the few plus-size models to find mainstream success in high fashion magazines and with top designers, has struggled with the industry’s mercurial weight specifications for years. She has openly discussed battling an eating disorder earlier in her career, but recently landed the ultimate validation that at her current weight, which is not stick-thin, but healthy, she looks absolutely fabulous. She appears alongside Kate Upton in the current issue of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Of the honor, Renn said, “I have been a double-zero to a 16 even, for a bit…. Now to settle at a [size] six or an eight, it’s a really interesting place to be because there are very few sixes or eights.” Her statement echoes those of one of the most famous supermodels ever. Cindy Crawford has expressed doubts that she, and some of her peers from the heyday of the “supermodel” in the 90′s would have made it today, because most of them were a size 6. And that’s why I, speaking as a woman and a feminist, am actually a big fan of Sports Illustrated including its swimsuit issue. While the rest of the modeling world has increasingly celebrated body types that look like a 16-year-old girl’s head placed on top of a 13-year-old boy’s body, Sports Illustrated has continuously celebrated healthy female bodies. Before the eye-rolling begins, yes, I know that many of those bodies have had a lot more in common with Pamela Anderson than, say, Serena Williams, but Sports Illustrated has also featured a number of beautiful, healthy-looking female athletes in the swimsuit issue, along with a number of male athletes and their beautiful, healthy-looking wives. Some of my favorite photos over the years have featured these women, who don’t look like supermodels, but do look beautiful, healthy, happy and like real people. Not some ridiculous, undernourished, overly airbrushed myth of what real people are supposed to look like. (Click here to see some of my favorites.) Based on responses from teen girls regarding questions about their body image, it’s arguable the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue could end up having the positive impact on young girls that the Dove real women campaign tried, but some in the industry, believe failed to. The responses illustrate that while teen girls consider most models underweight, they consider themselves overweight. Yet they would still rather look like the images they see in popular culture because while models may be underweight, they also seem glamorous, or at least their lives do. The Dove Real Women campaign exuded a lot of things — confidence among them — but glamour it did not. So maybe, just maybe, seeing real women looking, happy, healthy and glamorous, bikini and all, may send a message to some girls and women that you don’t have to be underweight and unhealthy to live a great, or in the words of Sheila E., “Glamorous Life.” Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.
Earlier this week, die-hard Knicks supporter and filmmaker Spike Lee joined my MSNBC show ‘Politics Nation’ to discuss a little non-political news: basketball is back with a vengeance. Thanks to the impeccable, almost unbelievable skills of 23-year-old Jeremy Lin, the sport and the Knicks themselves have seen a shocking resurrection from fans who grew increasingly exhausted of lock outs and negotiations. The timing couldn’t be better; the story, some say, is ‘Cinderella-like.’ I prefer calling it a tale of perseverance; a narrative about the underdog triumphing after being consistently discounted. Perhaps, most importantly, it’s a lesson for all of us to never look down upon the marginalized. Some people believe life is a lottery, that if you’re born into the correct circumstances, you will excel. I view life as an opportunity, that given an equal shot and a level playing field, anyone can achieve their dreams and reach excellence. Lin’s rags-to-riches story is about more than just basketball. Continuously dismissed by teams — including his own — and literally sleeping on his brother’s couch in Manhattan, the Taiwanese American is living proof that the underdog can and will win. After being benched for so long, Lin is finally given a chance by default and goes on to save the Knicks and bring such renewed craze to the game that it’s virtually impossible to find any available tickets at Madison Square Garden for the season. The Harvard grad who nobody believed had such fantastic sports skills now has the fastest-growing athletic brand according to Forbes — $14 million and rising. Every day we walk past or ignore another Lin — people who may not look like what society deems a ‘winner.’ People who have been silenced or beaten down by injustice. People who are suppressed with unequal access to quality education, employment, fair housing and safe neighborhoods. People who may be working multiple jobs, struggling to feed their children or figuring out how they will pay their rent. But given the right circumstances, all of these folks would shine just like Lin; there’s a Lin in every school, church, job, etc. And just like Lin, you may be ignored, but it’s vital to never lose sight of your own strengths and your own abilities. No matter how many times they try to force you down, rise and stand tall yet again. Keep fighting until the world knows your worth. There’s an old saying that teaches us to be the best at whatever it is we’re doing. So if you’re mopping floors, do it to perfection. If you’re driving a bus, be the best bus driver there ever was. If you’re teaching kids, prove that your knowledge can make a difference in someone’s life. If you’re an artist, practice, practice and practice until they can no longer overlook your talents. Regardless of what you’re doing in life and how many doors have been slammed in your face, stay on track because sooner rather than later, your good work and gifts cannot be hidden. And just like Lin, the right opportunity will create the perfect circumstance for you to showcase your genius to the world. And for those that would like to easily ignore or further disenfranchise people, just remember that the person you think may look like an easy target may very well be the one dunking over your head tomorrow.
A few years ago at a book signing with fellow congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shared an anecdote about the sometimes strange experience of being a woman in the still predominantly man’s world known as Congress. She recalled how early in her career she and another female elected official found themselves as the only women regularly dining at a table full of male elected officials. The men rarely acknowledged their female counterparts or asked their opinion on any political or policy issue. But one day the subject turned to childbirth. Being that she and the other female official were the only two real authorities on the subject (since they were the only two at the table who had actually given birth), Pelosi presumed that this would present an opportunity for their voices to be heard and valued by their male colleagues. Imagine her surprise when two of the men began speaking over one another to share their stories of “being there” for the birth of their children, before moving on to another topic before the women ever had a chance to speak. I remember chuckling, along with the other women in the room, at how silly men in power used to behave, and being relieved that things have changed so much. Apparently we laughed too soon. Not only has the fight over access to contraception been led entirely by men (President Obama on one side, Sen. Marco Rubio and House Speaker John Boehner on the other), but a recent report has confirmed that the voices that have dominated this debate in media have been overwhelmingly male, as well. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin male guests and commentators outnumbered females in discussions of the contraception controversy on news programs. Sen. Rick Santorum’s inaccurate remarks regarding the cost of contraception served as a powerful reminder of the severe handicap our political discourse suffers when women are not permitted to speak for themselves on the issues that directly affect them. Before contraception was widely available, there were far fewer women able to do just that, because of the physical, emotional, and financial demands that giving birth to and raising sometimes more than a dozen children (something my great-grandmother did) required. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe some of these elected officials fighting so hard to make contraception as inaccessible as possible want to return to the good old days when contraception was virtually impossible to come by, and therefore men were able to rule the world and, more importantly, their households. Men were able to enjoy absolute power in the legal system and in domestic life without fear that a woman could carve out some semblance of financial and political independence that would enable her to engage in such scandalous behavior as running for office or leaving an abusive relationship. Because after all, where would a woman with six, or seven, or eight small children to care for really go, even if she had a good reason to? With that in mind, below is a list of the most powerful ways contraception has impacted and continues to impact the world, from issues such as literacy to life expectancy rates of women. I’m sure there are more than 10, so please feel free to add to the list in the comments section below. 1. In countries with the highest fertility rates , women have the shortest life expectancies. Women in Sierra Leone live half as long as women in developed countries and 10 years less than their African counterparts in some African countries, and no, this is not merely due to the history of civil unrest. One in eight Sierra Leonean women die in childbirth. In other countries like Chad , where women are likely to give birth to six or more children, women are lucky to live to age 55. 2. In countries with the highest fertility rates, women have the fewest rights. In countries like Niger and Mali , both of which fall in the top 10 for countries with the greatest number of births per woman, women and young girls can still be forced into marriages. A recent case in Niger documented a 9-year-old girl forced to “marry” a 50-year-old man. 3. Countries with low contraception usage have the lowest number of women who can read. In Afghanistan, which continues to have one of the highest fertility rates in the world , and where contraception knowledge and access remains limited (and women give birth to an average of six children), 87 percent of women cannot read. In Sierra Leone the number is 71 percent . 4. Men who physically abuse their partners fear contraception. (Think about that for a moment.) A national study of more than 3,000 abused women conducted by the National Domestic Violence Hotline found that one in four said their partners sabotaged, hid, or prohibited use of birth control as a form of control in an already abusive relationship. These findings confirmed those of a number of smaller studies . 5. When contraception availability goes down, abortion rates go up. Abortion remains illegal in the Philippines, but for the last decade the nation’s capital, Manila, has been at the heart of a battle over contraception. Contraception was stigmatized and difficult to access prior to 2000, when contraception was prohibited altogether by an executive order . (It is not unusual for women who have come of age in the city during the time period of the ban to have more than 10 children .) While the abortion rate in the country has barely changed in recent years, the rate in Manila increased by more than 10 percent . So has the number of women dying of complications from illegal abortions. 6. Countries with the highest fertility rates have the highest poverty rates. Ten of the countries with the world’s highest fertility rates are located in Africa. Between 1990 and 2001, the African continent experienced what is deemed “extreme population growth.” The number of those on the continent living in “extreme poverty” ballooned from 231 million to 318 million . 7. Before contraception* American women were statistically more likely to die in childbirth than they are today. At the start of the 20th century, the maternal mortality rate in America was approximately 65 times higher than it is today. During the 17th and 18th centuries, long before modern contraception became widely available, the average American woman gave birth to between five and eight children. Her likelihood of dying in childbirth increased with every birth. The number of women who died in childbirth or its immediate aftermath was one in every eight women. *Forms of contraception have been available since ancient times (click here to see ancient forms of contraception), but contraception did not become widely available in the U.S. until the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. Click here to read about Griswold and other key contraception cases.) 8. Before contraception men greatly outnumbered American women in colleges. Today, women outnumber men. In 1960, just before the Griswold decision, only 35 percent of college students were women. Today women represent at least 57 percent of students on most college campuses. 9. Before contraception there were no female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Katherine Graham became the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she became Chairman of the Washington Post Company in 1973. She inherited the publication from her husband, who had inherited the role from Graham’s father, but Graham succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations. Since her trailblazing ascent, more than a dozen other women have reached the highest rung on the corporate ladder with a record-breaking 18 women serving as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies in 2011, the largest number in history. 10. Before contraception women were virtually invisible in Congress. Just before contraception became officially legal in the U.S. (1965), there were 20 women in the House of Representatives and one female senator, Margaret Chase Smith. None of them were women of color. (Patsy Mink, an Asian American, was elected to her first term the year Griswold was decided by the Supreme Court.) Today there are 76 women in the House. Fourteen of them are African American, four of them are Asian American, and seven are Latina. There are 17 women in the Senate. And for the record, I doubt any of them want to return to the days when men spoke and voted for them, or for any of the rest of us blessed with ovaries. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this post originally appeared.
This week a $25 billion settlement was announced in which big banks pay up for a portion of their bad deeds in the home foreclosure crisis. Everyone is trying to determine whether this is a good deal or a bad deal. Here is how I score it. This deal represents small progress on a small problem. Now it’s time to make big progress on the big problem. Don’t count on finding many good points in the deal itself, because there aren’t a lot. In fact, the main win can be found in what’s NOT in the deal. A truly horrible deal would have let the banks write a small check and then seal the door on all further investigations and pursuits of accountability. This deal does NOT do that. Because this settlement limits legal immunity for banks, this deal does not automatically let the banks off the hook for all of their wrong-doing. Except for a few issues like robo-signing, state attorneys general can still fight for more compensation and relief for the banks’ victims. Government officials can proceed with investigating and prosecuting banks for their role in crashing the economy and the housing market. In other words, the door is still open to solve the much bigger problems we face. Our fight for justice can, and will, continue. That is small comfort, perhaps, but it was hard won. So we should honor the hard work of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and others, including many grassroots progressive organizations like New Bottom Line. They fought courageously to prevent a total sweetheart deal for the banks. This outcome is the result of determined activism, and without this heroic effort, the deal would have been drastically worse. That said, there is a reason why many progressives and housing advocates are furious, and why many struggling homeowners are left wondering, “How does this help me?” Millions of homeowners and families are still suffering under the tremendous weight of a debt blanket that is smothering the economy. This $25 billion settlement helps only a fraction of those homeowners and addresses only a very limited set of fraudulent behaviors. A number of homeowners will get some cash payments, but the amounts are negligible compared to the pain and injustice they have experienced. The actual total cash paid out by the banks is only $5 billion dollars, to be split among the nation’s largest banks — hardly a stiff penalty considering that the six largest banks in the U.S. paid $144 billion in bonuses last year. And enforcement mechanisms remain murky. We must not forget the more than 14 million homeowners (one in five) whose homes are underwater, beneath a crushing total $700 billion in negative equity. We must not forget the more than 4 million families who have lost their homes. We must not forget the millions of families who are in some form of foreclosure proceedings on this very day. These are the Americans who have suffered and continue to suffer. They are worried today, like yesterday, whether they will still have a home to live in tomorrow. They are the ones who must choose every month whether to pay bills or to feed their children. Here are three things that must happen next: 1) The U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general must investigate and prosecute banks more aggressively than ever, at a much larger scale than anything that has happened to date. 2) We must force banks to make massive principal reduction of hundreds of billions of dollars, to immediately relieve the 14 million homeowners in the country who have underwater mortgages. 3) We must change laws and regulations to prevent this kind of crisis and fraud from ever happening again. Two weeks ago, I called for hundreds of billions in principal reduction for homeowners. This would free up Americans to start new businesses, spend money on worthwhile products and services, and invest in their children’s futures. We still need to address the $700 billion in negative equity, which in turn is only part of the nearly seven trillion dollars in total lost equity created by the banks’ irresponsible, and in some cases, illegal practices. We need a solution at the scale of the problem, so that families can get back on their feet, the economy can get working, and people can reach for their American dreams again instead of watching them drown. That is why I say: $25 billion down, $675 billion to go.
In public relations, ‘spin’ is the term people use when they would like a topic or story covered in a specific manner, in a certain light. In the realm of politics, unfortunately, some elected officials and their mouthpieces like to apply the same tactics while masking the truth from everyone. Case in point: contraception and the Catholic Church. Before falling victim to the hype, let’s get one thing clear, this issue isn’t about religious freedom or the federal government; it is about the rights of women all across this country to have access to appropriate care. It is about protecting the rights of those workers at religious institutions who may not be of that faith (and have no choice but to find work there), but deserve the same health care that a woman in corporate America does. This is about the notion that some religiously affiliated hospitals and schools receive federal money and therefore cannot deny a woman a federal guarantee. Let’s get one thing straight, this is real ‘class warfare’ from the right and this time the victims are the most vulnerable — women from lower-income neighborhoods. Everyday, women from all corners of this nation head to work in religious Catholic hospitals and universities providing the necessary services so many of us rely on. Even in my hometown of New York City, many of the finest hospitals are religiously affiliated, and simultaneously staffed by an overwhelming number of women from the outer boroughs of Manhattan or from poorer neighborhoods within the city. In the unfortunate circumstance that you fall gravely ill in the Big Apple, chances are pretty high that a nurse, secretary, orderly, etc. helping to save your life works at this institution not because of her unyielding faith to religion, but because of her dedication to helping others. And though we may not want to face reality, often times, this woman is working at this facility because there simply are no other options available for her to provide for her family. Don’t these women deserve the same rights as those on Wall St.? Why should they be denied access to contraception because their employer may be religiously opposed to the idea? If an institution is employing women from all sectors of society, how can they possibly dictate what these women can and cannot do when it comes to their own bodies? As pundits and legislators scream about the federal government infringing on the religious rights of people, they might want to remember that many of these religious facilities have no trouble accepting federal aid. From Medicare to Medicaid and more, these institutions are taking taxpayer money to provide services, and should therefore provide appropriate coverage for their own employees. You cannot accept money from the federal government and then turn around and say ‘federal government, you must do what I say’. This is hypocrisy at its highest and a coy attempt at slowly stripping away the liberties of all women. First, they will attack those without a voice; tomorrow, they will attack you. There’s a reason why most women — including Catholic women — use birth control and have no objection to its widespread usage. Unlike what the spin-doctors would have you believe, birth control pills aren’t only utilized to prevent pregnancies, but rather a multitude of women use them for other health care needs. From regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle to preventing ovarian problems, women everywhere take birth control as a means of protecting their own health, their bodies and the health of their future children. No one should be denied that right. As Republicans realize more and more everyday that their potential candidate (whoever that may be) doesn’t present a real challenge to the President, they will continue to fabricate these sorts of social wedge issues. Playing games with people’s beliefs, they will try to make us think that President Obama is somehow infringing on our religious freedoms, when he in fact already exempted over 300,000 Churches from this rule. But when a religious institution employs people of all faiths and services people from all faiths, they have no right to obstruct women from having access to vital services. If it’s women today, tomorrow they could just as easily decide to stop offering coverage to homosexuals, divorced individuals or any other group. Where would you draw the line? Don’t believe the spin, this isn’t about religious freedom, this isn’t about the President, this isn’t about states’ rights; it’s about women — all women — having the ability to control their own health and well-being. And no man, hospital or university should ever be allowed to tell them otherwise.
All of us have survived the awkwardness of a friend’s breakup or divorce and having to endure the inevitable social pressure to choose sides. Perhaps the only thing more awkward than telling one friend that you won’t be attending his upcoming wedding to the woman he left your other friend for is choosing sides only to find out that against all odds, your friends are actually reconciling, and every horrible thing you said to one about the other, like, “I always thought you were too good for him anyway,” the formerly soon-to-be-ex now knows. Welcome to the world of those of us who care about women’s health. It’s been a whirlwind week for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Planned Parenthood and any woman or man who cares about both organizations. The Komen Foundation’s initial withdrawal of funding from Planned Parenthood, the ensuing backlash and subsequent reversal and reconciliation has left many reeling. For some, the end result means the matter is resolved and it is simply time to move on. Others feel as though healing is not that easy, and they’ve been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, philanthropic edition. Regardless of where you stand on the issue — and which member of the couple you took sides with during this trial separation — there are lessons all of us who care about women’s health and social change can glean from this saga. A few of them are below. Feel free to weigh in with your own in the comments section. 7. Despite a complicated history, wealthy white women and poor minority women know that we are all in this together. Wealthy white women and poor women of color have a complex history. Since our nation’s inception, white women of means have relied on poor women of color to help them keep their homes and care for their families. (Some of my own family members did just that.) As stories like The Help have reminded us, such relationships have bred empathy and unbreakable bonds across barriers of race and class among some, while fueling resentment among others. These resentments burst into the open during the feminist movement when many women of color, who had struggled to find a place within the civil rights movement where they encountered sexism, felt equally excluded from the mainstream feminist movement because of racism and classism. Komen-gate briefly reopened old wounds. Watching Komen founder Nancy Brinker , a former ambassador with the Bush administration, trying desperately to undo one of the worst philanthropic PR implosions in recent memory while decked out in her crisp suits, expensive jewelry and perfectly coifed hair, it was hard not see a woman who has probably never thought about how her maid pays for her breast exams. Luckily, there were plenty of other powerful, educated women who do think about such things, and who recognized that when it comes to women’s health we’re all in this together. Those women made their voices heard, online and with their wallets, and because of them more low-income women — many of them of color — will continue to receive the lifesaving healthcare that they need. 6. Women’s health is not a women’s issue. Women’s health issues are often talked about in the media and in the world of politics as if they only matter to women. But for every female activist, legislator and voter whose life has been touched by a gender specific health scare, be it breast cancer or a high-risk pregnancy, there is a man whose life they have touched. Many of those men came out in full force this week, among them Mayor Michael Bloomberg whose $250,000 matching pledge to Planned Parenthood inspired the Livestrong Foundation, founded by cycling legend and cancer-survivor Lance Anrmstrong, to pledge $100,000 to the organization. 5. Cancer doesn’t care what color you are, or how much money you have, but plenty of politicians do. The timing was oddly apropos. The same week that Mitt Romney declared that he’s ” not concerned about the very poor ,” because they enjoy “safety nets,” the Komen controversy reminded us that those so-called safety nets don’t catch everybody when they fall. Black women are statistically more likely to die from breast cancer than other women due to the disease often being caught later. Early detection is key, but when you are poor preventative medical care is a luxury, and race is still very much intertwined with the politics of poverty in our country. What I find confusing is that many of the same politicians who oppose funding for Planned Parenthood also oppose universal healthcare reform. I thought part of the rationale for opposing universal healthcare was the belief that private organizations should step in to fill the void of government when it comes to addressing the needs of the needy. Isn’t that precisely what Planned Parenthood was doing by providing breast cancer screenings to low income-women? Groups like Planned Parenthood literally save lives, which brings me to number 4… 4. Planned Parenthood is not an abortion group. Planned Parenthood and it’s supporters will likely look back on the last few days as among the most important — and empowering — in the nearly century old organization’s existence. Not only has the Komen controversy provided Planned Parenthood with a fundraising bonanza (it raised $3 million dollars since the Komen news first became public) but it provided the group with something much more valuable: the kind of public relations money can’t buy. For years, Planned Parenthood has been losing the messaging war to conservatives, intent on depicting it as nothing more than a well-oiled killing machine. (Sen. Jon Kyl famously, or rather infamously, accused Planned Parenthood of spending 90 percent of its services on abortion. The real figure is 3 percent but that fact didn’t matter to many.) I had family members who thought that Planned Parenthood was synonymous with abortion. Not any more. Now thanks to Komen-gate everyone and their mother — literally — know that Planned Parenthood is just what it has always proclaimed itself to be: a women’s health organization, helping women to address their reproductive needs, and to receive lifesaving exams to help protect them from breast cancer. 3. Men in power that use birth control when they need it see nothing wrong with using their power to deprive women in need from using it. When I found out that Sen. David Vitter was among the elected officials spearheading the investigation into Planned Parenthood that was blamed for the Komen Foundation’s initial plans to terminate grants to the organization, I thought I was reading a headline from The Onion . In case you have forgotten, Sen. Vitter was enmeshed in a sex scandal involving a prostitute (at least I think it was “a prostitute,” for all I know it could have been several) and let’s just say firsthand accounts, courtesy of the escort service, make it clear that Vitter very much believes in using contraception. Apparently men in power trying to avoid political scandal should have easy access to contraception. It’s just poor women, reliant on groups like Planned Parenthood, who shouldn’t. Vitter is not alone in his thinking. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich condemned the Obama administration’s ruling to make contraception available to all women, regardless of who their employer is, under the new healthcare law. Of course, the obvious question that leaves many of us with is, did he feel that way years ago, when his current wife/then-girlfriend Callista was in childbearing years, he was married to someone else and leading the charge to investigate the president for a scandal stemming from an affair. I don’t know the answer but he or his campaign representatives are welcome to weigh in with a response in the comments below. Click here to see the top two lessons. Keli Goff www.keligoff.com is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor to Loop21.com where this piece originally appeared.