Home » Posts tagged with » careers
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.
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.
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.
After a decisive win in the state of Florida, you would think GOP hopeful Willard Mitt Romney would be more careful in his approach towards serious subject matters. But somehow, the self-proclaimed rich guy still manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Proudly showing his disdain and disregard for the poor in an interview yesterday, Romney once again ridiculed and demeaned the most vulnerable among us. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich (coming in second place yet again), continually wastes no opportunity openly disrespecting African Americans and blaming us for the ills of society. Couple this outrageous behavior with an entire Republican Party that is so entrenched in suppressing the vote, that they don’t even realize how far from reality they have veered. Watching these so-called candidates and this party continually disrespect Blacks, Latinos, the poor and other minority groups, I’ve come to one definitive conclusion: silence is not an option. By now everyone is familiar with Gingrich’s statements referring to Barack Obama as a ‘food stamp president’ and accusing him of placing more people on food stamps than any president in American history. It doesn’t take a genius to know that this use of coded racial language is the same verbiage Gingrich used when he was Speaker and the same that was used by Republicans for years — including during Reagan’s ‘welfare queen’ saga. Same old tactics; same purpose. Not only is it patently false to juxtapose Black people with welfare and food stamps when the majority (36%) of those on food stamps are White, it’s also reprehensible to state that President Obama has placed more people on the program when we know the facts show that there were 14.7 million more food stamp recipients added under Bush as compared to 14.2 million recipients added under Obama. But then again, these are facts — something the extreme right has problems recognizing. The most troubling aspect of this GOP race perhaps is the notion that people like Gingrich and Romney suddenly think it’s OK to make offensive statements and mistruths openly about Blacks and others. When did it suddenly become acceptable for them to say Black people shouldn’t be satisfied with food stamps and handouts? Or that Black people just don’t have any role models? Who anointed them as the spokespeople for Blacks in this country? And how dare they have the audacity to make such baseless lies in the first place. Yet if we defend ourselves and speak the truth, we’re somehow bringing race into the conversation — I don’t think so. As each debate and each primary continues, it’s becoming evident that these sorts of outrageous claims will continue — if not grow. We cannot allow them to intimidate us into silence and inactivity. While they pollute the public’s mind with fabrications and misinformation, we will readily remind them of the immense progress that we managed to achieve in this nation. From March 4th – March 9th, my organization, National Action Network (NAN), will be conducting a re-enactment of the infamous Selma to Montgomery march. Camping in tents and walking along the same route as was done in ’65, we will call attention to voter ID laws, draconian immigration legislation and voter suppression schemes taking place at this very moment all across the country. It was this, the Selma to Montgomery march, and all of the attention it garnered that ultimately pushed Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act. Today, when we see those very rights that many sacrificed their lives for being stripped away, we will take action. Then on March 27th, NAN will convene a massive rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. as they begin hearings on the health care reform bill. After millions of Americans have already benefited from reform to our broken health care system, some would like nothing more than to repeal progress. In partnership with AFSCME, the AFT, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NOW and other leaders from the civil rights community, we will collectively show our solidarity and support for the Affordable Care Act and the right for all Americans to receive health insurance. NAN is only getting started. For information on the Selma to Montgomery march and our Supreme Court rally, please visit nationalactionnetwork.net. And stay tuned throughout the year as we galvanize, mobilize and bring power back to the people. While Romney, Gingrich and the other GOP candidates continue to attack people of color, the poor, the elderly, the working class and others, we will remind them who holds the majority. We’ve fought too hard and come too far to let complacency take over; it’s time for a national movement.
For months, we’ve endured the back-and-forth banter among Republican presidential candidates as they fight for their party’s nomination. Relentlessly tearing each other apart and proving just how contentious and petty they can be, these so-called front-runners exemplify what the GOP stands for at this very moment: obstruction & division. Last night during President Obama’s State of the Union address, we were reminded of just how much we can achieve with a unified government and with leaders who put the nation’s best interest before their own political agendas. At such a pivotal time when some would have us believe that there’s no such thing as income inequality, the president has called for tax reform, a ban on insider trading in Congress and more as he vowed to tackle perhaps the greatest challenge of our time: fairness. Delivering a reassuring voice to the men, women and children still suffering during these tough economic times, the president drove home the notion that it isn’t about jealousy; it’s about equality. “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” stated the president. “Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.” For far too long, Americans have been watching as the wealthiest among us pay lower tax rates (or avoid them all together), while they themselves continue to give exorbitant percentages of their income to taxes. CEOs have shipped jobs overseas, while those struggling to find work are scapegoated as somehow ‘lazy’ or inept. Following predatory lending practices that targeted certain segments of the population, some would like to pass off the blame to the victims of the greatest housing scandal in modern history. At a time when education costs have skyrocketed beyond belief, there are those that look down upon the millions unable to attend college despite academic achievement. When more and more of the work sector requires increased education, those unable to afford it are often times left in the dust of uncertainty. And as the president articulated last night, early education has suffered a setback with tight budgets and teacher layoffs all across this country. While teachers (like Sara Ferguson who sat in the First Lady’s box during the address) continue to make sacrifices and support students, politicians and those with ulterior motives attack and discount all of their selfless efforts. To quote the president — ‘teachers matter’. As Americans watch entire companies fold, and work multiple jobs just to make ends meet, the costs of health care are relentlessly on the rise. With corporations eliminating benefits, many with full-time employment are even finding it impossible to afford health insurance on their own. In addition to the tens of millions without coverage, millions of us are only one illness away from bankruptcy. Instead of welcoming health reform in an industrialized nation with such sobering statistics, some continually attack the measure for the simple fact that it was proposed by this president. Despite the multitude of rising challenges like income inequality, diminishing employment opportunities, lack of affordable education, health care and more, most Americans remain optimistic. They still firmly believe that hard work will yield progress, and that the notion of the American dream is very much alive. And still, some would like nothing more than to blame, castigate and demean hard-working Americans as they revel in the luxury of their unfair advantages. All the American people want is fairness; all they want is the same opportunities given to the rich and powerful. And that is precisely what last night’s State of the Union emphasized: a level playing field for all. As the president stated: “No one built this country on their own. This nation is great because we built it together. This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.”
Whenever he was asked about the impact of his race on the 2008 election, President Obama would predict that while his race may cost him some votes, it might gain him some votes, just like a lot of other characteristics over which he has little to no control. Of course, as we later learned, there was another trait President Obama has little control over that had, and continues to have, the potential to cost him and other candidates even more votes than race: perceived religious beliefs. The fact that one in five Americans believe President Obama is not a Christian and view that as a justification for questioning his leadership and patriotism represents a political landmine for the president, one that increasingly his 2012 GOP opponents are in danger of stepping on as well. Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina has now made the unthinkable not just possible but virtually certain: a non-evangelical Christian is poised to become the Republican nominee for president. Of the four remaining candidates, just one Dr. Ron Paul, is a protestant. Two, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are practicing Catholics, while former frontrunner Mitt Romney is Mormon. Though I know this will elicit a lot of angry comments from Paul supporters, by now everyone besides them seems to know that he has as much chance of becoming the GOP nominee as I do. This means that the party for which faith has been as fundamental as family values (in messaging at least) will soon join the thousands of Americans each year who embrace another religion for love, or more specifically for marriage; in this case, a political marriage of convenience. (It’s worth noting that Gingrich did this, quite literally, converting to Catholicism at the behest of his third wife.) But here’s a question. As we have evolved into a country in which divorce, out-of-wedlock births, premarital sex and other religion-inspired one-time taboos have lost most, if not all, of their stigma, why do we continue to be a country in which our religious beliefs significantly affect how we vote? A Gallup poll taken just months ago found that 22% of Americans — across party lines — will not vote for a Mormon candidate. Keep in mind that like discussions of race and sex, religion is a topic about which some people lie out of embarrassment, which means the number of Americans possessing some religious bias about Mormons, or any other group, is likely even higher than the numbers contend. A 2007 survey found that 46% of Americans said they would be less likely to vote for someone who is Muslim but that pales in comparison to the number who said they were less likely to vote for an atheist: 63%. As of 2011 that number is still holding pretty steady at 61%. In fact a separate study released just last month found that atheists are as distrusted by Americans and Canadians as rapists. Yes, rapists. (Click here to see a list of atheists who have been elected to office along with other religious trailblazers in American politics.) Religious prejudice has officially become one of the last remaining bastions of surface-based voter bias, with the number of Americans saying they would not vote for a racial minority, a woman, or a gay American decreasing significantly in recent decades. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons. For one, it is arguable that religious labels alone mean very much. For instance, Sen. Ted Kennedy and his brothers were devout Catholics, yet their interpretation of their faith and its role in their politics is miles apart from the interpretation of Sen. Santorum. But perhaps the most ironic thing about all of this is that according to yet another study, an overwhelming majority of those who believe in God are ignorant of basic Biblical facts, and facts about other religions. A 2010 Pew study found only 2% of those surveyed could answer 29 of the 32 questions asked correctly. Most could answer about half. This means that people who aren’t well-versed in their own religious beliefs, or anyone else’s, are making decisions in the voting booth fueled by prejudice that isn’t even well-informed prejudice. You know who is well versed in religion, and well-informed too? Atheists, that’s who. They were among the top scoring groups on Pew’s religion pop quiz. Mormons also scored well. (You can test your own knowledge with questions from the quiz here .) So this begs the question. If most of us are not knowledgeable enough of our own faiths to truly know if another faith is at odds with our own, then how can a vote based in part on someone else’s designated religion be rooted in anything other than prejudice? Though the Romney campaign has certainly been plagued by its own share of candidate-made missteps, it is hard to believe that were he a Methodist, instead of a Mormon, that Mitt Romney would be struggling the way that he is. As far as candidates go, he is practically perfect on paper, checking every box a political consultant could dream of for a “Franken candidate” resume, except of course one. (Some political analysts have even speculated that his tax release debacle was bungled in part out of fear of allowing already jittery evangelical voters to see just how much of his fortune the governor has donated to the Mormon Church over the years.) When family values obsessed, evangelical die-hards who normally consider one divorce grounds for suspicion, two divorces grounds for derision, and proven adultery grounds for candidate ineligibility, choose Newt Gingrich over the guy who’s been with his wife for life but just so happens to be Mormon, that tells you something about the role religious prejudice continues to play in American politics. The bigger question of course becomes whether or not Mitt Romney will ever have the temerity to say so out loud, or if it will take losing the nomination for him to finally understand and acknowledge that forms of bigotry still exist in America, and still hold people back. For some people it may be their skin color keeping them from a job that they need. For others it may be their religion keeping them from the presidency they so desperately want. Question: Would you be willing to vote for a candidate who practices a different religion than your own or doesn’t practice one at all? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate , a novel about a black, Jewish candidate for president. She is a contributing editor for Loop21.com where a version of 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.