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In the global economy, skills are everything. Whether or not you get a job, or create a job, depends on your level of skills, and communicating is always important. How well you perform isn’t just about your resume’, it’s also about how well you can communicate your story, or your product, and that relates to [...]
Flying the friendly skies always feels a bit like playing a game of Russian roulette. There are the real life-and-death worries, like hoping and praying that you and your plane arrive at your destination in one piece. Then there are the worries that only feel like life-and-death, like hoping that you and your plane arrive on time and that your luggage does, too. Then there are the worries that make us contemplate the meaning of life, and whether it’s worth living at all. Of course I’m talking about the fear of losing the ultimate game of traveler’s roulette: finding yourself seated next to a screaming child during a long flight. For the first time in a relatively well-traveled life, I recently lost this game of roulette, big time. In what I would have considered a hysterical story had it happened to someone else, I lost not just once, but twice, in a single flight. After an apologetic father sat down next to me with his toddler, who was screaming as they boarded the plane and showed no signs of letting up, Dad graciously apologized in advance for the inconvenience that we both were resigned to me experiencing for the next couple of hours. When his son specifically began screaming for his mother, who was seated with other children in another row, Dad decided the best thing for all of us was for the parents to do a kid swap. Mom would take the toddler screaming for her, while Dad would take a slightly older and “more well-behaved little lady” (his words). Only half way through the flight the little lady must have reached her daily quota for being “well-behaved.” She decided she wanted Mommy, too, and wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. So she did what any diva in the making would do: she stood on her seat and screamed, “I want Mommy!” at the top of her lungs for a few minutes, followed by other indecipherable high-pitched screams for more than 10 minutes. (I gave up counting after 10.) Her screams then woke up another baby, who, you guessed it, began crying, too. Part of me felt bad for the dad. After all, when most of us get a poor job performance review, at least it’s not in front of a room full of strangers. But here’s a guy whose two kids, in less than two hours, let the entire plane know he was simply not up to the standards of Mom. He essentially got a public dressing down, Simon-Cowell-style, from two people who can barely speak complete sentences. That’s got to be tough. Of course, the other part of me (the part that had gotten just four hours of sleep and had planned to catch up on the plane) didn’t feel sympathy for anyone except the people unlucky enough to cross paths with me after I got off that plane. I was in a great mood. Let me tell you. Apparently my experience with my tiny, vocal in-flight neighbors is not exactly what you’d call uncommon. Days ago Malaysian Airlines sent around a final warning notice to travel agents informing them that they will soon be launching child-free cabins to accommodate adult travelers tired of trying to drift off to a symphony of childhood cries while flying the friendly skies. According to the new policy, children under the age of 12 will not be permitted in the upstairs economy section of the airline’s Airbus A380. While countless business travelers cheered the new policy, when it was first proposed months ago, many insulted and beleaguered parents angrily cried discrimination. (I missed this tidbit of history, but apparently at some point, having the right to foist unruly children upon the public became akin to efforts to garner African Americans the right to vote in terms of major civil rights battles. Who doesn’t see the similarities?) One argument made by some parents, which did strike a chord with me, however, is this: What about misbehaving adults? Why single out kids? This is a fair question. After all, while I’ve lost the traveler’s game of roulette once in recent memory when it comes to children, I cannot count the number of times some misbehaving adult has helped disrupt a trip. Just off the top of my head, I can think of four times in the last month when I was comfortably seated in Amtrak’s designated “quiet” car, which, as its title suggests, is for passengers who want to ride in a quiet car, and yet every single trip, some moron who can read English perfectly chooses to chat on his or her cell phone — this despite the fact that the car is plastered with signs reading “Quiet Car: No cellphone use permitted.” Mr. or Ms. Chatty then becomes indignant when anyone (I or another brave soul) politely points out that, “as the sign above you says, we’re not supposed to use cell phones in this car.” The most galling response I have received so far was last week, when a woman looked at the sign, then back at me, and snapped, “I can read!” to which I replied, “Apparently not, since that’s your second call.” Police actually escorted one woman off a train for refusing to refrain from using her phone in the quiet car. (For the record, I didn’t call them!) Yet it’s the stories regarding unruly children that generate the most headlines, including a landmark lawsuit that was recently settled when a passenger experienced hearing loss after being seated next to a screaming child for an extended period of time. (Click here to read about that case and other infamous stories of bad behavior in the air.) So are segregated flights, with child-free cabins, the best solution, and potentially the wave of the future for airlines around the world? One flight attendant I spoke to, who identified difficult children on flights as one of her jobs’ greatest stressors, seems to think so. (She asked that I not use her name or identify her airline, because she is not authorized to speak to the media.) Calling Malaysian Airlines’ plans for kid-free flights “a genius idea,” she added, “I cannot think of a better solution than this one.” But maybe I can. What if airlines or trains just fined people for unruly behavior? Before you dismiss the idea as crazy, consider this: Is it really any crazier than airlines charging us extra for checked bags when the service we are paying them for in the first place is to transport us and our belongings? The flight attendant I spoke with seemed to think it was actually a doable idea, in part because she confirmed the existence of something I had heard about years ago: airline reports on passengers who use a specific airline more than once. These “reports” are not background checks per se, but if a passenger gets drunk and belligerent on a flight, for instance, this will be noted, so that on their next trip flight attendants will be warned to pay extra special attention as they serve that person. If this is true, then why can’t airlines and other industries of travel simply implement a financial penalty system for unruly travelers of all ages? Those who consistently display the most disruptive behavior in the air or on the train could be made to pay up accordingly (or their parents could). The way it could work is thus: As part of the terms and conditions we all agree to when we purchase our tickets, a new condition would be added, one that states that we agree to accept an automatic flat fee charged to our credit card — let’s say $100 to start — if the flight staff deem us (or our minor children) an intentionally disruptive presence on the trip. (Intentional meaning, it’s one thing if a kid gets sick. It’s another if they want to play hide and seek on a flight, and Mom and Dad choose to do nothing to stop it.) If a passenger racks up a certain number of penalties, then their future tickets would simply double, and perhaps eventually triple, in price automatically. (My friend Dylan Ratigan compared this to car insurance pricing.) Maybe if they charged such a penalty to the businessman who got so drunk that he defecated on a food service cart in flight ( true story ), or to the parents of children who significantly delay a flight because they refuse to buckle up ( happens more often than you think ), either A) they could stop charging some of us those ridiculous fees for so-called extras that are actually basic service (like checked bags), or B) they would finally deter some people who lack the basic manners to exhibit appropriate behavior in shared public spaces, or who know that their kids lack the ability or maturity to display such behavior but travel with them anyway without thinking twice about the impact their choices have on others. Maybe if we were to hit people where it really hurts, in their pocketbooks, they would think twice, or three times, until finally they got the message that incivility is not a civil right. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this post originally appeared.
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.
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.
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.
Every presidential race has a few key moments and phrases that define it years after the race has come to an end. The 1980 campaign had the question, “Are you better off than you were four years ago? ” The 1988 campaign had the Willie Horton ad . 1992 had ” It’s the economy stupid” and “I didn’t inhale.” Amidst the temporary distraction of words like “Tiffany’s account” and “open marriage” there will likely be three words that we will all remember after the 2012 presidential campaign is long over: “I didn’t inherit.” At the beginning of the GOP primary former Gov. Mitt Romney was preoccupied with trying to convince voters that he was or was not the various political caricatures his opponents (and his own record) painted him as, the most obvious (and likable in my book) being Mitt the Moderate. So he has spent much of the last few months trying to convince us all (or primary voters at least), that he is reliably pro-life, pro-gun control and anti-gay rights. But as tax-gate threatened to engulf his campaign, particularly after his spectacular implosion in South Carolina, Romney has now moved on to trying to convince us of something even more unbelievable: that he’s earned everything he has. It’s widely accepted by commentators and political analysts, across party lines, that in most debates Romney has conveyed a level of discomfort with discussing his wealth that seriously threatened to derail his campaign. What no one seemed to agree on is exactly why that is. Is he simply from a background in which discussion of money is considered crass? Or is it that he simply felt uneasy with the topic early on because he and his advisers had not yet decided on talking points for addressing some of the more politically challenging elements of his wealth such as those Swiss and Cayman Islands accounts? But since his South Carolina thrashing it seems that they have finally decided on a talking point — a bad one. I, and anyone else who follows politics the same way most follow football, know when something has officially become a political consultant vetted talking point because it pops up over and over again. A reporter asks a candidate how his day is going and he replies, “Great. But not as great as it will be for all Americans once I implement [INSERT TALKING POINT] policy proposal.” So when Mitt Romney made a point to say in his post State of the Union Address interview, as well as in the last two debates, “I didn’t inherit,” followed by some impassioned version of “I earned everything I have” or “I earned all of my money,” — clinging to the messages like a life raft whenever he found himself under wealth related attacks — it was obvious it was his political consultants talking. If they keep talking that way they might just end up talking a candidate into the White House after all, only it won’t be their candidate but the one that already lives there. See here’s the problem with Romney’s “I didn’t inherit” comments, they simply don’t ring true. There’s not a single person on this planet that looks at Mitt Romney and believes he “didn’t inherit” (and the New York Times has validated this suspicion.) The first time I heard him say it I actually laughed. (Actually I laughed and tweeted simultaneously if I remember correctly.) Let me be clear before anyone starts typing up an angry email. I believe Mitt Romney’s a smart man and a hard worker. But I also believe his repeated attempts at trying to convince us, and possibly himself, that he is not a walking, talking beneficiary of the world’s oldest form of affirmative action either proves that he’s A) disingenuous (which conservatives have already accused him of) or B) disconnected (which just about everyone else has accused him of.) (Click here to see a list of the richest presidential candidates.) Within minutes of Romney debuting the “I didn’t inherit” line nationally, the New York Times had already debunked it with his own words. According to an earlier interview, he did inherit money upon his father’s death. Romney claims he and his wife chose to donate the money to charity. That makes sense, considering the younger Romney was nearly 50 when his father passed and was already extremely wealthy by that point, helped along in no small part by his father’s wealth and connections. Besides his entry into Harvard, which has served as a finishing school for the sons and daughters of political leaders of both major American political parties over the years, his father fronted he and his wife the funds for their first home. To the wealthy, this may seem a relatively minor contribution in a world in which a million dollars doesn’t make someone rich enough to endure additional taxes, (or in which more than a quarter of a million in speaking fees isn’t a lot of money ) but to those who have graduated with student loans, and no jobs, in the age of the mortgage crisis and have subsequently given up on their own dream of homeownership, having a papa who can float you in adulthood sounds like a dream come true. As I have said in previous pieces, I don’t begrudge wealth or the wealthy. (And because my wealthy friends seem to have gotten a kick out of this line the first time around I guess it bears repeating: Some of my best friends are wealthy .) But most of them recognize that there are advantages they were born with most of us were not. In most — not all but most — cases they were born to wealthy or powerful or extremely well-educated parents, usually some combination of all three. Sound familiar Gov. Romney? No you may not have “inherited” a blank check from your dad the day you turned 21, but you inherited something arguably more valuable. A name that opened doors for you before you even knocked, and a rolodex filled with connections that saved you the trouble of searching for said door in the first place like most of us. Herman Cain may have a lot of flaws, but he is at least someone who can say with a straight face “I didn’t inherit” and mean it. Mitt Romney may be able to say it with a straight face, but voters — except possibly other members of the 1% born and raised club — are unlikely to buy it. While there may be enough of them to buy political ads, there aren’t enough of them to buy an election, which presents a problem for the former governor. According to a focus group , blue-collar workers in Ohio didn’t hear class warfare in President Obama’s State of the Union Address. They heard a rallying cry for the middle class. So either Mitt Romney better get used to saying, “I realize I was born with a lot of advantages other people were not and I recognize that, but my family raised me to work hard and my family’s success is proof that the American Dream is possible for everyone,” or he better get used to becoming a presidential trivia question years from now, right alongside his Massachusetts predecessor Gov. Michael “Willie Horton” Dukakis. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.
When Mitt Romney offered a struggling campaign volunteer all of the money he had on him to help her with an electric bill, the moment stood in stark contrast to the man who dismissed those who have the audacity to raise the issue of economic inequality as champions of class warfare fueled by “envy.” I know there are plenty of cynics who consider the moment the height of campaign trail performance art-cum-pandering. (After all, the incident likely did more to humanize him than millions of dollars worth of campaign ads.) Call me a sucker, but I consider the moment sincere yet sad. Not just sad for the woman in need but for Romney himself. See I believe that Romney was sincere in his sympathy for the woman’s situation, and in his desire to help her. What’s sad is that he’s so out of touch that he believes that all Americans in her economic situation have a Mitt Romney they can turn to for help, and that those who don’t must be that way through some fault of their own. Furthermore, he’s naÃƒÂ¯ve enough to believe that all wealthy people share the commitment to philanthropy and service that his family does, thereby making additional taxes on people in his income bracket unnecessary to help women like his campaign volunteer. With that in mind I thought that as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who once said, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age,” today would be a good day to correct some of the misconceptions that Mitt Romney and other wealthy candidates seem to hold about economic inequality in America. (Click here to see a list of the wealthiest presidents and presidential candidates.) 1) If you were born wealthy, you have not earned everything you have through “hard work.” According to a Federal Reserve Study 2 in 5 members of the “1%” inherited money. This is not to say that if you were born into wealth you haven’t worked hard and that you may not have earned some of your possessions, property and money. But you didn’t earn all of it, and in fact probably not most of it. Think of it this way. You ask an investor to give you the seed money to finance your startup. The company may have your name on it and be based on your idea, but that investor deserves a great deal of the credit and share of the profit if your company makes it big. So if you used your parent’s wealth to finance those first real estate successes (Donald Trump) or their connections to land you your first film role (Gwyneth Paltrow), or to ease your first entry into business (Mitt Romney) along with helping to open doors for your foray into politics, (anyone named Kennedy, Bush, and yes Romney), then please don’t try to convince the rest of us that you are “self-made.” You’re not. That’s not your fault. Just like it’s not my fault that I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, fork or any other utensil from Tiffany’s in my mouth. But trying to give the rest of us tips on how to make it and how we can become more financially solvent like you, without mentioning the words, “be lucky enough to be born to my parents in your next life!” makes you sound — for lack of a better term — like a jackass; an out of touch jackass. The two primary ways someone like me is likely to have the greatest shot at joining Mitt Romney’s tax bracket is if I a) win the lottery or B) marry one of Mitt Romney’s sons. And from what I’ve read about the history of blacks in the Mormon faith that’s not likely, but brings me to number 2. 2) If you have married into wealth, you have not earned everything you have through “hard work.”* See number 1. That means if this describes you please avoid lecturing anyone on how all of us can be just as successful as you are if we’re willing to make responsible choices AND please spare us whining about how you don’t like the government trying to take so much of “your” money. After all, your ex probably said the same thing about you during the divorce. (*I acknowledge there may be some truth to the old saying “those who marry for money end up paying the rest of their lives,” but I think we can all agree that despite Kobe Bryant’s foibles his wife did not “earn” her riches in the same way that Oprah did.) 3) America is not an “equal playing field.” I know pronouncements like this drive my conservative friends nuts. Sorry. But don’t take my word for it, just look at the numbers. Startling new data recently confirmed what many of us already knew: that America is one of the least economically mobile countries in the first world. One recently published study (there are several) found that 62 percent of Americans raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, while 65 percent born in the bottom fifth remained in the bottom two-fifths. The studies also found that parental education is a disturbingly accurate predictor of one’s lifetime class status. Translation: If your mom and dad are doctors and lawyers with Ivy league degrees and your grandparents are too, your likelihood of remaining in a similar class bracket is high. The likelihood of those born to grandparents who are sharecroppers remaining in a similar class bracket is even higher. So a word of advice to conservative candidates and legislators: you’d earn a lot more credibility if you prefaced any brilliant ideas you have for those struggling to make it with, “I know many of you started out without many of the advantages many of us take for granted and I’ll never know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, BUT…” 4) Besides being born rich, or marrying rich, the only other way to really have a shot at significantly improving your class status in America is to be genetically or intellectually extraordinary… and most of us aren’t. As the studies cited above confirm, hard work is rarely enough to improve upon the financial situation you were born into in America in a truly meaningful way. If you are not born upper middle class, odds are not in your favor that you will end up upper middle class, unless you marry well, win the lottery or hit the genetic lottery. What is the “genetic lottery?” Well if you’re born 7 feet tall and are reasonably coordinated, then you may have a shot at significantly improving your class status through the NBA, or if you are a scientific genius you may become a groundbreaking neurosurgeon like Dr. Ben Carson or if you have the charisma and innate interview capabilities of Oprah you may be given your own talk show. But if you are just a nice person, who works hard and plays by the rules, you may not spend your entire life in abject poverty, but you will most likely spend a lifetime being one medical crisis away from asking Mitt Romney for a handout to keep your lights on. 5) If you are wealthy and have called in a favor, or made a “donation” to get your already wealthy son or daughter a job they don’t need and didn’t earn, or a college admissions slot they didn’t earn, congratulations, you have increased the number of poor Americans. I know this is hard for some wealthy people to believe, but while you may think your son or daughter getting into Princeton, Harvard, Brown, University of Texas, or whatever alma mater you always dreamed that they would attend, is a matter of life or death — it’s not. Because I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump probably could have gotten a job working for their father (where they both currently work) whether they attended his alma mater of UPENN or whether they didn’t. (No I’m not alleging that Donald Trump bought his children’s way into UPENN, but let’s not pretend that bearing the name of one of the school’s most famous alums didn’t greatly improve their admission chances.) But you know for whom college admissions and entry-level jobs can be a matter of life or death? Poor people, that’s whom. So the next time an elected official says that it is easy for anyone who wants a job to get one — I want him or her to know that’s true. It is easy to get a job — when your dad or mom are elected officials, or wealthy and powerful people who have wealthy and powerful friends who are willing to give out jobs to the relatives of their friends. 6) Most poor people are lazy. WRONG. This is a tough one for people hell-bent on preaching the “In America anything is possible for those willing to work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps” mantra to accept, but it’s the truth. Yes some poor people are lazy. Just like some rich people are lazy. (Reality TV is filled with them or else there would be no Real Housewives franchise.) But the majority of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills , not by people sitting around buying flat screens and plotting ways to con the government out of benefits. (It’s worth noting that Ruth Williams, the campaign volunteer Romney helped was plunged into debt by her son’s health problems.) 7) But you are RIGHT about one thing… Those of us who aren’t wealthy are envious . We should be. Most wealthy people who are miles ahead of the rest of us started miles ahead the day they were born. Why shouldn’t the rest of us be envious? That doesn’t mean we dislike the wealthy. In fact, some of my best friends are wealthy — and I say that without a trace of sarcasm. But, they are willing to acknowledge that they began their journey miles ahead of most and therefore while some of them may balk at their tax rate, they are extremely generous to those who have less than they do, because they realize, as the saying goes, “But for the grace of God go I.” It would be nice if more of the privileged demonstrated this level of self-awareness — and not just when a poor person supporting them for president reminds them on the campaign trail that poor people who are doing the right thing, but still struggling to pay their light bills, exist. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this post originally appeared.
Martin Luther King day is one of our only national holidays committed to honoring social and racial justice. Yet too often it has been watered down to a Hallmark card — a weak commemoration of one of the most inspiring individuals and formative eras in American history. It’s time for a true celebration of Martin Luther King Day. This week, Americans everywhere will remember the selfless and historic contributions made by one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Rebuild the Dream members are hosting MLK Day Movement Meet-ups to celebrate Dr. King and link the Civil Rights Movement with today’s struggle for an economy that works for all. We will come together to reflect on the struggles of our past, and unite to secure our future. This is a chance to touch base with people who are passionate about fighting for Dr. King’s dream. Neighbors and friends will gather in schools, libraries, community centers, and living rooms to watch a short video and open up a discussion on how we can strengthen our movement in 2012. If you would like to attend an MLK Day Meet-up, you can find one here. MLK day is a chance to look back and look ahead — let’s reflect on one of the most important movements of our past as a springboard for the ongoing fight for justice. There is a lot left to fight for, and every day people are continuing Dr. King’s struggle. With a powerful movement sweeping the country, we must gather together and ask: What would Dr. King and other civil rights leaders do today? How can we continue their legacy in 2012 and beyond? While the founding reality of America fell short of our ideals, we also had a founding dream that was beautiful — is beautiful — and is inherently about equality. The story of America is a story of an imperfect people struggling day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and now century after century to bring that unequal reality closer to our beautiful founding dream. That was Dr. King’s dream. That is what our movement is today. 2012 will be groundbreaking, so we have to get together and get ready. It’s our turn. Let’s honor the inextricable link between the struggles of our past and the struggle for our future.
Last night, GOP candidate Willard Mitt Romney delivered what many believed to be a general election speech after winning the New Hampshire primary and setting his sights on South Carolina. But out of all of the grandiose statements made in his teleprompter-assisted speech, Romney’s most outrageous and insulting words came with a reference to the ‘politics of envy’. Once again validating his love for the wealthy, and proving just how out of touch with reality he is, the presidential hopeful failed to realize that the majority in this country aren’t jealous of the rich — they are simply tired of a select few controlling a disproportionate amount of our money. It is beyond arrogant and insensitive to think that people seeking fairness and an even economic playing field are envious. And believe me Mr. Romney, they will remember come this November. There’s a growing movement afoot in this country. As someone who studied the teachings of Dr. King and who works to organize campaigns around various civil rights issues, I know first-hand that movements just don’t emerge out of a vacuum. Even prior to the one galvanizing element which may appear to ignite it, any massive cause is almost always triggered by several events bubbling underneath the surface. For those like Romney who would like to pretend that income inequality and wealth disparity aren’t pivotal issues, they better start paying attention to what the majority — the 99% — have been chanting in cities and towns all across this country. Last November, voters in Ohio defeated oppressive dictatorial legislation when they repealed Senate Bill 5. Essentially blocking public sector strikes, diminishing bargaining rights for some 360,000 public employees and stripping away overall union abilities, SB5 was one of the most regressive measures created in our lifetime. But proving their numbers and their own sheer power, the people delivered a resounding rejection to a bill that infringed on their rights as hard-working Americans. In Wisconsin, we watched a similar battle play out as Republican Gov. Scott Walker imposed a massive setback to public union and collective bargaining rights. After months of pushback, we now await signature totals in a recall effort by citizens tired of politicians not representing their interests. And it was precisely that frustration, that sense of injustice that also drove people from around the country — and eventually around the world — to occupy the streets and demand more opportunities for the majority. Sacrificing their own comfort to camp out in parks, demand that the 1% pay their fair share in taxes and most importantly, change the conversation to highlight the massive economic disparity in existence, the Occupy Wall St. protesters have galvanized into an entity that no presidential candidate can ignore. Time magazine named ‘the protester’ as it’s 2011 person of the year. In the U.S. alone, I saw disenchanted Americans come to my Jobs & Justice rally in Washington, and I went down to Occupy Wall St. in NY to witness mostly young people organizing a platform towards equality for their generation and beyond. Whether it was in Wisconsin, Ohio or any number of smaller fought battles across the nation, there is an undeniable momentum in the air. Emerging out of dissatisfaction with the status quo and the notion that only a tiny minority can control a disproportionate amount of the wealth, this drive for equality has reached the stage of a massive movement. And it’s a movement that will not tolerate being dehumanized, nor will it tolerate people like Willard Mitt Romney turning their legitimate concerns into banter. Romney, the people are not jealous of your mansions or boats. They are simply tired of income inequality, and tired of course of your condescending tone.
As the new year begins, everyone’s attention is intently focused on the 2012 elections this fall and the direction of the nation. But while we parse the primaries and assess the candidates, there is another battle about to take place in this nation’s highest court that is just as vital. They are two cases set to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court in the early part of this year, and the outcome of both will determine whether we are a cohesive country of laws or whether we are a divided states that would like to make up our own rules as we go along. It is the ultimate test for many of the rights we garnered throughout the decades, and the results of these rulings will directly impact each and every one of us as Americans and the values that we hold so dearly. The two pertinent cases involve Obama’s health care reform legislation and the federal government’s ability to supersede states when it comes to the notion of immigration. By taking these two issues to the Supreme Court, some conservatives are making a feeble attempt to undo many of our civil liberties, but we, the people, refuse to stay silent. They may think they’re slick, but guess what, Republicans, we know your games all too well. On March 26th, my organization, National Action Network, will be rallying in front of the Supreme Court as it begins hearings on the ability of the federal government to enact the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. While this is merely politics for a Party struggling for relevance in an increasingly diverse nation, this case and health care reform are no laughing matter to millions of Americans living with little to no coverage. More than 2.5 million adults younger than 26 have already been able to stay on their parents’ insurance plan, and millions of children with pre-existing conditions have not been denied coverage thanks to this Affordable Care Act. In essence, that is what this legislation is all about — creating affordable options. It is the ability of millions of Americans to purchase insurance coverage at reasonable rates at a time when so many are either unemployed, underemployed or simply losing benefits as their employers cut costs. Perhaps those pushing for an end to this health care reform bill have never felt the pain of deciding whether to take a young child to the doctor or buy groceries to put food on the table. Maybe they don’t know the anguish of watching loved ones suffer because you can’t afford the right medication or the necessary treatment that could possibly save his/her life. Too busy conjuring up politically divisive terms like “Obamacare,” many on the extreme right have attempted to hide the tremendous benefits of this program that begins to rectify an unfair health care system. There is no reason why in the most powerful nation on Earth so many of its citizens are living without proper health care. As the attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act reaches the Supreme Court, we will be there letting our collective voices be heard. Be sure to join us on March 26th. The other case sadly finding its way to the Supreme Court this year is the regressive attempt by Republican-led states to enforce blatantly racist immigration laws. After Attorney General Eric Holder led the Justice Department to file a lawsuit against Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration bill, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked much of the AZ law from taking effect, and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld her decision in a 2-1 vote. Still unable to accept these rulings, AZ Gov. Jan Brewar is now taking the issue to the Supreme Court, as she and other harsh immigration law proponents are screaming states’ rights and denouncing the federal government. Last time I checked, the federal government trumped states’ rights — and good thing they did or else we would still be sitting in “separate but equal” facilities, and still be barred from participating in much of society. With an increasingly conservative Supreme Court, we all need to pay extra attention to their findings and their rulings scheduled for later this year. And with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself from this case, and with Justices Thomas and Scalia not recusing themselves from the health care case, we must wake up and see the bigger the picture. Make no mistake, these two Supreme Court cases are clear attempts to diminish our federal government and lay the groundwork to give states more authority to do as they please. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it was the federal government that enforced the Civil Rights Act of ’64, and it was the federal government that ended open discriminatory practices throughout the country. Without federal laws ensuring that varying states couldn’t ignore progressive regulation, women and people of color would not have many of the civil liberties we cherish today. These two Supreme Court cases are an attempt by some to slowly undo the very foundation of justice and equality in the country. They are an attempt to slowly reverse the Civil Rights Act and eliminate everything we have so consistently fought to attain. Join us on March 26th as we begin our rally in front of the Supreme Court to show our support for health care reform. As we diligently monitor both pertinent cases, and all rulings that emerge, we will be planning more action throughout the year. This may just be politics to those seeking a victory in Nov., but it is our lives and our children’s lives they are holding in the balance. Democracy is the ability of everyone to have a voice, and to have an opportunity to dictate what they want their future to look like. Make sure yours is heard.