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Most young people today have studied the stories of the great civil rights struggle in this country and the heroic acts of many from all walks of life that eventually brought about change in America. While older generations may recall segregation or the disturbing days of water hoses and police dogs, young kids today for the most part haven’t experienced open violence at the hands of bigots. Even though racial inequality clearly exists, they have been lucky to grow up in an integrated society that grows increasingly diverse by the day. So when news of the Trayvon Martin shooting first broke, it was no surprise that it sent shockwaves among our youth — and continues to do so today. To add to the troubling climate, over the weekend, three black adults were shot to death and two were wounded at the hands of white gunmen who have since confessed to the horrific act in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Though not officially ruled racially motivated yet, this latest incident has all the underpinnings of a despicable hate crime. It’s no wonder young people have taken to the streets to march, organize and let their voices be heard. We are at a precarious moment. We must stop ourselves from regressing. We cannot allow our future to be hijacked with hate. We need not a moment, but a true movement immediately. When people discuss justice and equality, they often forget that progress didn’t simply take place overnight or occur in a vacuum. Countless individuals organized and strategized actual concrete steps on how to bring about change. They saw unfairness, figured out mechanisms to tackle it and organized a massive effort. Today, when we witness these unfortunate reminders of the historical imprint of racism resurfacing, we cannot act as if the issues can simply be swept under a rug. It’s time all of us engage in a long-term conversation on the elephant in the room — race. And as the Trayvon Martin case tragically proves, the topic cannot be discussed without dedicating an equal amount of time towards a serious look at our justice system. In addition to the criminalization and harassment of young men (and women) of color, the system often unfairly favors those not deemed a ‘threat’. Case in point: we are still waiting for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the accused shooter in the Trayvon incident. But the difference between mere rhetoric and sustainable results is action. Gravely troubled by these recent events and more, major civil rights leaders, clergy, victims, parents, grandparents and concerned folks from all races, backgrounds and communities are assembling in the nation’s capital this week. From Wed., April 11th through Sat. April 14th, National Action Network (NAN) will be conducting its annual convention where we will discuss these issues and more, while we plan and organize a strategy to combat them. In addition to a slew of panel discussions and plenary sessions, we will be holding a ‘Measuring the Movement Forum’ event at Howard University next Saturday with the first-ever dialogue between the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Amadou Diallo. We will organize ways to energize the country on pressing social issues that really do impact each and every one of us. And we will formulate concrete steps for achieving those goals. There are some in positions of power that would like nothing more than to make us believe that racism, classism and other inequities don’t exist. But they do. And the only way to combat them, and stop our nation from reverting back to days when the Trayvon and Tulsa shootings were the norm, is to have an honest dialogue and most importantly, take action. The worst thing we can do is come together and walk away doing nothing. There is far too much at risk. We owe it to the next generation to allow them to live in a better world than we did.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Just a few days before the highly coveted Iowa caucuses, all we keep hearing is talk of who is up in the polls, who is down, who made the latest gaffe and who the most conservative GOP candidate is of them all. But while we can sit and argue all day over whether Willard Mitt Romney will win in Iowa, or whether Newt Gingrich or latest favorite Rick Santorum will steal the most right-wing votes, the bottom line is, they’re all saying absolutely nothing. As we’re fascinated by the new flavor of the month, let’s not forget that at the end of the day, none of these Republican contenders have a vision for the future that is in line with hard-working Americans. They may come in slightly different packaging, but when it boils down to it, they’re all offering the same old Kool-Aid. And the country refuses to drink any more. Vetting candidates and learning their position on issues is obviously a vital part of the election process. But while we assess and analyze every nuance, let’s not lose sight of what this race is about: The fundamental direction of the nation. It’s a basic fight over whether we want to be a country with a federal government that maintains so many of the civil liberties people literally sacrificed their lives for. It’s a question of whether the United States wants to continue being united with fundamental guarantees of a free public education, and necessary safety nets like social security, unemployment benefits, welfare, Medicare, Medicaid and more. It is after all, those programs and many of the infrastructural processes that separate us from much of the world. Even at the most impoverished level, we can take some semblance of hope in knowing that there will be food stamps to feed our kids and a bit of unemployment insurance to try and clothe our loved ones. If these GOP candidates could have their way, much of this would be eliminated forever. Because of things like social security benefits, Americans know that they will not have to work forever. They are aware that programs they paid in to for years will be there when it’s their time to take a breather. When I said this election is “not about Obama, it’s about your mama” — that’s because it is. It’s about your mama, your grandmamma, your grandpa, your father, your children and your own future. We’re at a pivotal point in our history and it is not a time for complacency. President Obama was able to pass the most sweeping heath care reform we have seen. But right before many of these provisions will take place, Republicans would like nothing more than to reverse this reform and leave health insurance only for the privileged ones. If you listen to any of these GOP contenders, their entire mantra is repealing “‘Obamacare” at a time when many have already been aided tremendously by the change. It is just another example of how this 2012 race is about basic, central choice; the choice of progress vs. regression. Politics can be exciting, it can be interesting and it can be engaging to watch. We all entertain ourselves with the back-and-forth and we enjoy discussing developments — I myself have a cable TV show where we touch on issues of the day at length. But even as we debate the candidates and make our arguments, we cannot stray away from the larger picture of where we would like to see ourselves tomorrow. I’ve been an activist all my life, and was lucky to have studied the ways of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others. I watched us gain many wins in the fight for justice, and I’ve seen barriers broken down all the way to the White House. I was always taught to “keep my eye on the prize,” and today, we must do the same. The prize is not which candidate or flavor of the month we go with, the prize is the direction of the United States. Keep your eye on the prize and occupy November.
While Hollywood is gearing up for the Golden Globes on January 15th (also known as the precursor to its version of the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards), the political world, or “Hollywood for ugly people” as it is sometimes jokingly called, is gearing up for its own Golden Globes: the first presidential primaries, before its own Super Bowl next November. Therefore I thought it only fitting to give awards for the best short films (aka political ads) this year, with a particular focus on the presidential primary ads. Though a recent analysis published in the New York Times noted that voters in the early primary states have been subjected to about two-thirds fewer ads than they had at this point in the last presidential primary, they have still endured thousands of them. Those outside of the early primary states tend to only see those that are particularly controversial or quirky, depriving us (or perhaps sparing us) of the countless others. Some of them good. Many of them bad. Lots of them ugly. Below is my take on the best and worst of the bunch. It’s worth noting that just like in Hollywood where there are blockbuster major studio films that can afford to spend millions on marketing and Oscar campaigns while indie flicks struggle to see the light of day, there are a couple of candidates who have the money to flood the airways more than others, so their repeat appearances on the lists below were unavoidable. But please feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts, comments and suggestions for nominees. Just so you know, I decided to focus strictly on the ads themselves, not on who deserves best actor, actress, and supporting nods, so please definitely weigh in on those too, and of course on who deserves a Razzie or two. Just click on the titles of the ads to view them in their entirety. Watch and enjoy. (Or perhaps be horrified.) Your call. Worst 2012 Primary Ads of the Year 5. Ron Paul, “Big Dog” I love dogs, but this ad using dogs as a metaphor for… something is… well there’s no other way to say it. It’s a dog with major woof factor. 4. Rick Perry, “American Story” This ad was going okay. The Texas Governor’s wife was helping to present another side of Rick Perry to voters to counter the image that’s been left by the odd, rambling figure who’s shown up at debates. Just when it seemed the Perry campaign had finally delivered a home run, the candidate swoops in at the end and ruins things. Or should I say jumps in? I have a feeling I’m not the only one who shouted, “Watch out! Mugger!” at the screen when Perry came flying out of nowhere. 3. Rick Santorum, “Pop Up Video” What is there to really say except, Rick Santorum plus an homage to ’90s staple pop up video = awkward comedy gold. Only I don’t think this ad is supposed to be funny. If it is, it’s probably supposed to be “laugh with me not at me funny.” It’s not. 2. Herman Cain, That Smoking Ad This ad is so bad it’s damn near good — like Saturday Night Live spoof good. A man who looks like the kind of guy your parents would tell the cops about if he hovered near your playground when you were a kid, wants us all to know that he thinks Herman Cain will put the “United back in the United States of America.” For emphasis, he then sends the message home with a puff of his cigarette. (At least I think it was for emphasis. Maybe the guy really just couldn’t wait for a smoke?) But the Herminator himself really gives the ad its winning ending with a creepy smile, the likes of which we haven’t seen on a presidential campaign trail since Rudy Giuliani tried to convince us he was a fun and likable guy. 1. Rick Perry, “Stronger” I’m sure some of you already saw this coming, and I’m also pretty sure I may take a bit of flack for what I’m about to type next but this is actually a pretty smart ad. I mean the messaging is not my cup of tea but then I’m not really Mr. Perry’s target audience. (Not being an Iowan for starters and then there’s that small detail of me not disliking gay people, but I digress.) The biggest failure of this ad, however, is not what Perry says, but when he said it. If he had actually released this ad shortly after his debut, the diehard religious conservatives he was hoping to reach with it might have seen it as more than a cynical ploy to salvage what’s left of a campaign that’s sinking faster than the Titanic . Standing up for what you believe in — no matter how much others disagree — is a characteristic people look for in a leader. Pandering out of desperation? Not so much. But there is one upside of this ad for the rest of us: it may end up being the most parodied ad of the election cycle. Click here to view a few. Honorable Mention Gary Johnson, “Tolerance is American” This ad is actually not bad… for a Democratic primary. Unfortunately for Mr. Johnson, he was, at the time of its release, running in a Republican primary, where I’m not so sure that ads focused on messages like, “It’s not American to stir up irrational fears about other Americans’ religious beliefs,” go over so well. Maybe he can use it for his rumored third party run? Best 2012 Primary Ads of the Year 5. Rick Perry, “Romney’s Remedy” This ad is a powerful reminder that, had Rick Perry not bungled his debate performances, he could have seriously given Romney a run for his money. The ad opens with an image of Mitt Romney looking into a mirror and seeing the image of President Obama staring back at him. Calling “Obamacare” the “most damaging prescription for America,” the word “Obamacare” is subsequently used interchangeably with “Romneycare.” That’s just the beginning. The ad fires many more shots at Romney as it goes on. 4. Ron Paul: “Serial Hypocrisy” AND “Selling Access” AND Perry Hearts Gore If there were an Olympics for attack ads, Ron Paul would have earned multiple medals this year. Mr. Polite in the debates takes off the gloves hard core when it comes to his ads — so much so that I couldn’t pick just one for this list. These three attack ads are pretty much near perfection. “Serial Hypocrisy” uses Newt Gingrich’s own words, as well as the words of a number of high profile conservatives, including self-professed party kingmaker Rush Limbaugh to bury the former Speaker. But perhaps the most brutal blow the ad delivers is its depiction of Gingrich in a love fest with one of the most loathed liberals on the planet: former Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Selling Access” is more of the same message, but features the devastating attack line, “This guy hasn’t just got skeletons in his closet he’s got a whole graveyard.” Then there’s his anti-Perry ad, which makes it sound like Rick Perry and Al Gore had some sort of political love affair. The horror! 3. Mitt Romney, “Bump in the Road” This particular ad is part of Romney’s “I’m-already-looking-ahead-to-the-general-election-campaign” strategy. It features a clip of the President making a reference to America’s economic situation being a “Bump in the Road,” and uses that line as the jumping off point for the ad. Americans of different ages, and notably, different races, holding up Romney for President signs with handwritten notes on them describing their dire financial situations as they say “I’m not a Bump in the Road. I’m an American.” Click here to see the year’s very best primary ads. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared. www.keligoff.com
One of the most humbling things about being a writer is being reminded that you are not nearly as original as you like to think you are. I was reminded of this when famed super-lawyer Alan Dershowitz told New York Magazine that he’s considered publishing a book of some of the hate mail he’s received over the years. He’s not alone. Every time I receive a kooky piece of mail, or elicit a wacky comment via social media, I’m tempted to convince my agent that instead of working on another book that I actually have to write on my own, we should just publish some of the reactions my writing has elicited from others. (Possible titles: “To Keli with Love, hate, and occasional indifference” or “Your writing sucks, but not nearly as much as that outfit you wore on tv yesterday.”) Thanks to my post on the brewing birth control battle engulfing the Obama administration, I now have a wealth of new material. As usual the responses ran the gamut from sane, (“I completely disagree with you for x, y, z reason”) to insane but entertaining (the charming individual who wanted to register his displeasure with my post as well as with my appreciation of Betty White, which he apparently finds offensive, comes to mind.) As I explained to a friend who recently asked if I mind when people leave nasty comments about my blog posts, I don’t mind receiving unflattering feedback for my work nearly as much as I mind receiving no feedback at all. (I realize this puts my fiercest critics in a quandary. For that my apologies.) If you’re a writer and no one’s criticizing your work that means very few people are actually reading it. After all, even Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway have their detractors, and I’m nowhere in their league. But as I noted on The Dylan Ratigan Show , one thing that does get under my skin when it comes to my critics: poorly crafted criticism. Apparently I’m not alone in finding lazy criticism annoying. I’ve been told that a few people, among them talk show host and uber-tweeter Piers Morgan , have been known to correct angry mail and tweets that they receive for typos and grammatical errors. So below, a list of helpful hints to help you or the self-appointed critic in your life, draft an effective piece of hate mail (or critical mail to be more precise), blog comment, or social media response that actually provokes thought, and possibly a reply from the intended target, as opposed to simply provoking chuckles from them. (Or causing them to forward it to others for chuckles as well — not that I would know anything about doing that.) 1) Actually read the piece. This one is non-negotiable. If you have time to type up an angry paragraph to someone, then you have time to read the piece you think you are angry about in its entirety. If you do not, then you are exactly like those people who don’t bother to vote then sit around complaining our ears off until the next election. I have lost count of how many times people have sent me emails, tweeted or left comments all over the web criticizing a post I wrote for not addressing a specific point — only that point could easily be found in paragraph two of my post, if only they’d bothered to read that far. One of the most amusing recent examples was when someone alleged that one of my posts must have been written by a man, because it failed to include Eleanor Roosevelt on a list of “the Most Influential white Americans who have helped shape Black America.” (Click here to see the list in its entirety.) Can any of you guess what’s wrong with that statement? You know, besides the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt — photo and all — was very much on the list? Even funnier (in an embarrassing kind of way for those involved) was that people piled on with “Yeah, exactly!” which meant they didn’t bother to read it either. Apparently this level of laziness in the comments section of blogs, in particular, has become such an epidemic that the media site Gawker has begun banning commenters who leave comments that make it clear they either lack basic reading comprehension or are too lazy to finish reading the fairly short pieces on the site to conclusion. As the saying goes, “Reading is fundamental.” 2) Don’t just say you disagree. Say WHY. I hate to break it to you, (and this will probably earn me a new pile of hate mail) but there is not a single blogger, pundit, author etc. who cares that you “strongly disagree.” Not a single one. A stranger telling me “I don’t agree” in cyberspace is right up there with a stranger stopping me on the street to say, “I really don’t care for your outfit. Just my opinion.” Okay. Thanks for sharing, but since I don’t know you, and didn’t get dressed specifically for you, your opinion doesn’t carry the same weight that statement may from someone I do know and whose opinion I value. (And before you ask, yes everyone enjoys compliments, on the street or in cyberspace. But while we may appreciate being told, “You look nice today” by a stranger, it still doesn’t carry the weight of being told by the person you’re dating, or even your mom.) However, while we may not care that you “strongly disagree,” you know what we do care about? Knowing that you strongly disagree because of a fact or piece of information that we overlooked or neglected to address in our work. One of the most touching notes I ever read was in response to a piece I wrote on my feelings that some LGBT and progressive activists were turning Carrie Prejean into a conservative martyr. A member of the LGBT community wrote that while he appreciated where I was coming from, he wondered if perhaps I was too young to recall the damage that Anita Bryant, who like Prejean had initially been dismissed as “just a beauty queen,” had done to the LGBT community and that this perspective and history was missing from my piece. He was right. Of course if all he had written was “I want you to know that I completely disagree with your piece on Carrie Prejean. You are too young to know what you’re talking about.” He may have felt better after, but he would have missed out on an opportunity to educate, which brings me to number three. 3) Avoid name-calling. I know it’s hard to do in the heat of the moment but when you go to write a letter, comment or tweet, I encourage you to take thirty seconds to ask yourself what you are seeking to accomplish with your words. If your sole goal is to vent, then by all means have at it. Say what you have to say, knowing that it will be permanently out there, somewhere, on the record. That means a potential employer may see it or your friends. Increasingly writers are publishing racist and homophobic emails in their entirety via their social networks and allowing the public to respond accordingly. In fact, one woman alleges she was fired after a homophobic email she allegedly sent to a blogger was published. But if your goal is to get your point across and be heard, or to change hearts or minds, you can’t engage in name-calling. The moment you do the person on the receiving end ceases to take you seriously and either hits delete or stops reading. Also, hate to disappoint the name-callers out there but I know very few people in the public eye whom name-calling actually bothers. The moment people resort to it we tend assume that either A) they are high-strung/slightly unstable (aka crazy) or B) they are REALLY crazy or C) we’ve gotten under their skin. Now I can’t speak for everyone, but if I’ve gotten under someone’s skin to the extent that the only retort he can come up with involves calling me a name, I feel pretty confident that I’ve done my job for the day. 4) Be witty. Humor can absolve a lot of sins. I’ve actually had people completely eviscerate pieces I’ve written but they’ve done so with such humor that I can’t help but laugh. Anyone whose ego allows him or her to do a job that involves being in the public eye should have the capacity to laugh at herself. If she doesn’t, she’s in the wrong line of work. 5) Provide Context. My general rule of thumb is if someone is nice enough to take the time to write me a letter, and they don’t sound blatantly crazy (i.e. threatening my life or spending the entire correspondence engaged in name-calling) I will try to write back. I don’t always succeed, but I try and I’m happy to do so. But sometimes that’s harder than others, especially when I receive a note that doesn’t mention what blog post or interview appearance the person is referring to but all I do know is that he or she thinks I sound, “RIDICULOUS!!!” (Always in caps.) Which brings me to tip number six. 6) DON’T USE CAPS. Do use spell check. Caps denote shouting. I am happy to engage in a conversation, a dialogue, even a debate. I will not engage in a shouting match. (At least not with someone I’m not related to.) And if you are criticizing someone else’s intellect or writing capabilities, your own writing should not have glaring errors in it, such as when someone recently referred to me as a “SELOTUS.” I was perplexed until a friend helpfully explained the critic in question apparently meant to call me a “Sellout.” (Now I enjoy a game of scrabble as much as the next person, but next time give me a heads that’s what we’re playing.) So in conclusion, the difference between an effective note and a not-so effective one? Well see below. Can you guess which is which? Example #1: KELI GOFF YOU ARE AN IDIOT AND I COMPLETELY DISAGREE WITH YOUR STUPID TIPS. Example #2: Keli, I just want you to know that I found your tips for writing the “perfect piece of hate mail” perfectly useless. Here’s why: (Feel free to fill in the blank…) Happy writing! Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared. www.keligoff.com
In June of 2009, the economic recession was officially declared over. Despite the fact that millions remained unemployed, families were still foreclosed upon in record numbers and more children went hungry than most of us could have ever imagined, many had us buy into the notion that the worst was behind us and things were on an upward trajectory. Well, for the African American community, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Black layoffs have only skyrocketed since that time as the public sector – heavily comprised of a Black workforce – continues to slash jobs. And as a result, not only has Black wealth diminished, but so too has the existence of much of this nation’s Black middle class itself. Black, White or Brown – that is a startling reality that should have all of us deeply concerned. According to a study released earlier this year by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Blacks were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector. And while the private sector has added 1.6 million jobs as reported in a recent New York Times piece, public employment has seen massive layoffs across the board. Whether it’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, or any other form of municipal work, the public sector has been under attack from Wisconsin to NJ and everywhere in between. From losing their bargaining rights to bearing the brunt of city and state budget cuts, public service employees are watching their entire life savings disappear. And because about 1 in 5 Blacks work in civil service, we are disproportionately suffering yet again during these tough times. In the U.S. postal service alone, about 25% of employees are Black. It is precisely because of work in this industry and in other government entities that we were finally able to climb the economic and societal ladder, and eventually begin to achieve the proverbial American dream of home ownership. An entire Black middle class emerged via civil service jobs, and we are now tragically close to witnessing the greatest stumbling block to progress that will literally set us back decades. But we can – and we must – do something to halt this injustice that so clearly threatens our immediate future. On December 9th, my organization, National Action Network, will do its part to address this issue and more as we mobilize a 25-city simultaneous day-of-action around Jobs and Justice. A follow-up to our October 15th rally in Washington, D.C., the December 9th march will continue to focus on growing economic disparity, lack of employment, and equality issues surrounding our current economic state. We will call attention to disproportionate layoffs of Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed groups, attacks on the public sector and the ever-growing wealth gap. We will push for economic growth, job creation and concrete, substantive ideas that truly begin to get people back to work. And we will call out all those who stand in the way. While doing nothing but obstructing every proposal put forth by the President and Democrats, Republicans have made it their mission to paint public workers – the ones that clean our streets, educate our children, deliver our mail, protect our streets and more – as the enemy. They continue to find ways to eliminate their organizing abilities, and blame them for all of our ills, while trying to protect the corporate cronies that got us all into this mess. And of course, they have openly stated that they are willing to let all of our lives hang in the balance while they play dirty politics. But we, the American people, will not remain silent and watch the very things we worked so hard to create fall apart before our eyes. It isn’t fair to the Black community that broke through impossible blockades to create a middle class; it isn’t fair to civil service employees who make life as we know it possible; and it isn’t fair to you and I. Join us on December 9th as we raise our voices in unison across the country for Jobs and Justice.
If you wanted one word to sum up this year, it’s “noisy.” From Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park, people who have gotten tired of the old politics have started grabbing the microphone away from the authorities and speaking themselves. And not just speaking; chanting, drumming, singing-conjuring up a new future. As 2011 draws to a close, diplomats from almost every country will be gathering in Durban, South Africa to talk about global warming. After the warmest year on record, and endless flood and drought, you’d think they’d be digging in for real change. But, alas, they seem likely to just go on spinning their wheels, unwilling to challenge the power of the fossil fuel industry. Leaders of the world’s major economies are privately admitting that they’re unlikely to reach a global deal until 2016 at the earliest. So here too people will need to raise their voices. But since climate change is the first truly global problem, those people have to figure out how to raise a common message, one that crosses the boundaries of language. The best method — proven in countless social movements — may be music. Earlier this week, the global climate campaign 350.org launched ” Radiowave .” It’s designed to take a single powerful song, and use it as the focus of a campaign that will sweep down Africa, one country at time, for the next few weeks, finally landing in South Africa just as the UN’s climate conference begins. “People Power” (radio version) by 350RadioWaves . Uploaded with Gobbler The song is written and performed by a who’s who of African musicians, from Angelique Kidjo to Maria Daulne and Ahmed Soultan. Hip Hop star Talib Kweli performs the opening verse. It’s in English and French, but also Berber, Arabic, Xhosa, Zulu, Setswana, and Fon. But it’s not just the beat that crosses borders; the sentiment, once translated, will make sense to anyone suffering the early effects of climate change. As the South African hip hop star Jabulani Tsambo puts it: “The weather is crazy Our leaders are lazy Their attitude doesn’t amaze me” In almost every country, the refrain is the same: people desperate for jobs, but governments unwilling to unleash the green energy future in any substantial way. As the song’s chorus puts it, our nations are “Drilling for energy, like you cannot see the Sun This earth belongs to everyone Mining for energy, like you’ve never felt the wind Time to change so we can live.” But it’s not just the musicians who will be sending this Radiowave crashing across a continent. In every city and province, volunteers have been trained to use the tune as a way get discussion going. They’ll be on radio stations night after night, informing people why climate change is important enough that some of the continent’s biggest stars are singing about it. In this country, radio is too often the province of xenophobes — but in most of the developing world it’s the way everyone communicates about what matters. Environmentalists in particular have too often appealed mainly to the left side of the brain, the part that likes bar graphs and pie charts. But we’re learning — more and more, music and art are part of the fight — because, of course, they’re part of the human experience we want to preserve. No one can predict what 2012 will bring. But around the world lots of us are committed to keeping it as noisy as we possibly can. We’ll sing more or less in tune — but mostly we’ll sing loud. We’re tired of not being heard. Van Jones is the president of Rebuild the Dream .