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Are Iowa’s Republican Frontrunners Taking Cues from Sharia Law?

Are Iowa’s Republican Frontrunners Taking Cues from Sharia Law?

Last week, while most of us were still recovering from holiday meal hangovers, Rick Perry sent a message to those who thought that his anti-gay “Stronger” ad was the epitome of desperation and pandering that you ain’t seen nothing yet. (Click here to see Perry’s “Stronger” ad, Ron Paul’s abortion ad, and others from the primary campaign.) Perry announced in an Iowa town hall that he had undergone a “transformation” regarding his position on abortion and now believes that the procedure should not be permissible in cases of rape or incest. Around the same time, Ron Paul became the fifth GOP candidate to sign what is known as the Personhood USA Pledge . The pledge, which has also been signed by candidates Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, and Santorum to date, reads , in part, “I support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.” It goes on to state, “If elected President, I will work to advance state and federal laws and amendments that recognize the unalienable right to life of all human beings as persons at every stage of development, and to the best of my knowledge, I will only appoint federal judges and relevant officials who will uphold and enforce state and federal laws recognizing that all human beings at every stage of development are persons with the unalienable right to life.” Proponents of the pledge have previously acknowledged that it could criminalize birth control , a fact that, when made public, played a key role in torpedoing a personhood measure on the Mississippi ballot last fall. While abortion remains one of America’s most divisive issues, birth control and the issue of abortion in extreme circumstances are not. According to the CDC, 99 percent of sexually active American women use birth control, and though recent polls indicate that Americans are split equally on whether or not abortion should be legal, an overwhelming majority — more than 80 percent — believes it should be legal in cases of rape or incest, and nearly 90 percent believe it should be legal to save the life of a mother. Mitt Romney, who has staked much of his Iowa victory on whether or not voters will believe that, like Perry, he underwent a conversion of his own on the issue of abortion, has not signed the Personhood USA Pledge. But if various reports are to be believed, his own positions on abortion have fluctuated from pro-choice to even more extreme than those of his personhood-pledging counterparts. A new book contends that as a Mormon bishop, Romney tried to dissuade a woman from terminating a pregnancy that doctors warned was causing her internal bleeding. Despite Romney going so far as to follow the woman and her husband to the hospital, the couple made the decision to go forward with the procedure, which allegedly prompted Romney to track down her parents to get them to intervene. It is reported that her father instead decided to throw Romney out. But perhaps even more disturbing than that anecdote is that it is also alleged that while plotting his political rise, Romney met with Mormon leaders to map out an abortion strategy. It is reported that after consulting with them, a plan was adopted regarding how he would discuss the issue in order to be successfully elected in a left-leaning state like Massachusetts. This allegation plays into Romney’s most enduring criticism, namely that the man is incapable of saying what he believes — ever — just what he thinks will be the most politically expedient, even if it’s a matter of life or death. (To be clear, in this instance I am referring to the life and death of women coping with the dangers of pregnancy.) Nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade , the current incarnation of the Republican Party seems determined to set the health of American women back by more than a century, with targeting abortion no longer enough. Birth control rights are increasingly in the line of fire. Perhaps even worse, the current crop of GOP presidential candidates seems determined to treat the health, safety, and rights of American women much like those cultures they often discuss with such scorn and superiority. ” Sharia law ” has become the dirtiest of dirty words in the culture wars, particularly in America’s post-9/11 political landscape. Yet I’m at a loss to see any real difference between the manner in which Sharia law penalizes women who are raped and the efforts of Perry and his Personhood cohorts to penalize American rape survivors with a nonconsensual pregnancy. It would almost be funny if it weren’t so sad and scary, and there’s the irony of President Obama being the subject of countless rumors and innuendo about alleged Muslim ties and efforts to inject Sharia law into the upper reaches of our government, while his strongest competition is trying to outdo one another to become the presidential poster child for the Westernized version of the very extremist laws they are busy warning the rest of us about (you know, when they are not trying to enact them on American soil, that is). The verdict may still be out on who wins Iowa, but one thing’s for sure: if any of these extremists wins, women will lose. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this column originally appeared.

Iowa Results Don’t Matter

Iowa Results Don’t Matter

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.

The Best and Worst Presidential Campaign Ads of the Year

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

Eric Holder Is Correct: Let the Federal Gov. Stop the Racism of Individual States

Eric Holder Is Correct: Let the Federal Gov. Stop the Racism of Individual States

When African Americans and other disenfranchised groups were still vying for an opportunity to have their voices heard and participate in the social and political process of the nation they helped construct, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to legally push forward this ability. When folks like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were entrenched in the struggle for civil rights, they achieved a victory with passage of the Voting Rights Act. And when states failed to comply with equal voting opportunities for all by creating literacy tests and other subliminal discriminatory practices, the federal Voting Rights Act superseded individual state’s attempts at bigotry and marginalization. Now, more than 40 years after the success of this historic legislation, many Republicans would like to slowly and covertly repeal the practice by establishing voter ID requirements in an effort to restrict individuals participating in the process. My message to them: don’t think you’re fooling anyone; we see your attempts at stealing the 2012 election and you will not get away with it. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a poignant message this week when he addressed an audience on this very issue at the Lyndon Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas. Holder said he was calling on political parties to “resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success” and stated that voting itself must be viewed “not only as a legal issue but as a moral imperative”. As someone who has been extremely concerned and vocal about this subject, I commend AG Holder and the administration for stepping in and tackling this pressing issue head on. We must support the AG in his efforts for not only are the most vulnerable among us at risk, but so too is our entire political structure as we know it. The biggest (and most laughable) excuse proponents of voter ID laws like to use is the notion that they are somehow preventing ‘voter fraud’. When only some 38 cases of ‘voter fraud’ have actually been found to exist, the idea that this is somehow an inherent and urgent dilemma should be insulting to anyone with a semblance of intelligence. When other, more problematic issues like voter restriction have been proven to discriminate and hinder fair voting, the real focus should instead be on how we can allow for more citizens to cast their ballots – not less. If an elderly 80-year-old has been voting for decades with proof of a utility bill or other documentation, how can we ask him/her to go through a lengthy process of obtaining a copy of their birth certificate, going to the DMV, etc? Who will assist this person in wrangling through the bureaucracy? The draconian ID requirements don’t only target the elderly. Many states are now prohibiting college students from voting in the state where they attend school. Next fall, when many of these students are entrenched in their studies, they will tragically find out that they are not eligible to vote. And how many of them will be able to leave school to travel out-of-state just to vote? Think we all know the answer to that. And of course, it should come as no surprise that Black and Latino citizens will suffer the greatest with these new ID laws. It’s estimated that millions and millions of minority voters will be excluded from the process as many either don’t have the money, time or means to obtain new identification. President Obama rode into office with massive support from both young people and minorities. When record numbers of Blacks, Latinos and the youth voted in the 2008 election, it’s blatantly clear why the right-wing is attempting to create these new ID requirements. Instead of trying to find ways to cheat the elections, perhaps they should understand why their antiquated policies are so disliked by the majority. They are attempting to change the rules because they realize they are doomed for failure — the nation is not on your side. And we, the people, will not allow you to block anyone’s right to vote; we’ve fought too hard and too long for justice

Why Are Feminists Afraid to Admit the Connection Between Alcohol and Rape?

Why Are Feminists Afraid to Admit the Connection Between Alcohol and Rape?

It’s fitting that my most recent column was about hate mail, because I have been warned by colleagues and friends that I will most likely be inundated with it for publishing today’s column, but since I am a glutton for punishment, here goes. Though a few have done it, I don’t have a single female friend who thinks that drinking to the point of blacking out, passing out or being close to doing both, is necessarily a healthy or safe thing to do — for a variety of reasons. We could stumble into the street and get hit by a car, or trip and fall and be severely injured, or pass out in the cold and freeze to death. (All of the aforementioned incidents have happened to various members of both genders in states of extreme intoxication, including a member of a famous political family. ) Yet if I type the sentence “And we could also find ourselves at a greater risk for sexual assault,” it’s been made pretty clear to me that I may just have my official feminist card revoked from the powers that be. At least that’s the impression I’ve been left with due to the organized backlash against the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board’s ad campaign that draws a connection between heavy drinking and rape. Feminist and progressive sites blared with accusatory headlines like: “Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Pulls Ad That Blames Women For Getting Date-Raped.” I saw the ads (which you can view here and here ) and I didn’t see them that way. What I saw was someone — albeit somewhat clumsily — trying to force a very real conversation that we should have had years ago but that keeps getting suppressed because activists start throwing around words like “victim shaming” and then others with dissenting voices immediately retreat. (In case you haven’t noticed I don’t retreat easily.) We have an epidemic of binge drinking among young people — including young women — in this country, as in 200,000 teens a year visit emergency rooms because of alcohol related incidents, 1,700 of which result in death. But just as alarming as those statistics is a new study out from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that followed hundreds of young women through their first year of college and found a direct correlation between binge drinking and their likelihood of being victims of sexual assault. Yet for some reason if those in authority warn female college students, “Be careful of how much you and your friends drink at that party. A cup or two is one thing, but drinking more than that and everyone’s judgment — both yours and any guys that may be there — is no longer what you want for it to be,” the person delivering the message is vilified as a rape apologist. Those of you familiar with my writing know that I am no rape apologist, and have been a vocal critic of the blame the victim first and the rapist second mentality that permeates our criminal justice system. But I will also not be an apologist for political correctness to the detriment of a cause that I care about. Women have a right to drink. We have a right to drink as much as we want and we have a right to drink as much as we want without being raped. But just as we warn each other that certain neighborhoods are safer in daylight than others, why is it that some feminist activists have a tough time warning other women that women who drink — but not to the point of being intoxicated — will in fact be safer from a variety of crimes, including being mugged, than women who drink to extremes? Why is saying that out loud without fear of retribution not an option for any of us who identify as feminists, or anyone else who doesn’t want to be vilified? I’m not advocating that we become a society who never drinks. But we should work towards being a society where people — of both genders — are both encouraged and educated to drink responsibly. While this ad campaign may not have completely nailed it visually speaking, I’m all for advertisements that discourage young women and young men from drinking to the point of being unable to safely operate a vehicle or being unsafe for another person to be around. For instance, while it is clear cut that any man who has sex with an intoxicated woman who is unable to give consent is committing rape, what happens when both parties are deemed too intoxicated to engage in discussions of consent? The reality is there is absolutely no good reason for any person of any gender to find being in such a state a regular occurrence, and yet according to the CDC increasingly teenagers are drinking with the sole goal of getting this drunk, as quickly as possible and as cheaply as possible. The way I look at it is this. We educate drivers on the dangers of drunk driving, and if an accident happens and someone dies, the drunk driver is to blame, no questions asked. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also aggressively target others about the dangers of getting into a car with a drunk driver. If we want to successfully address the issue, we have to target multiple audiences, and that’s what the Pennsylvania Liquor Authority’s ad campaign was seeking to do. The ad campaign itself may have slightly missed the mark but its opponents missed the point. Furthermore, if they have a problem with the ads but genuinely care about the issue, how about doing something constructive like holding a contest encouraging others to submit alternative ads? (Feel free to post suggestions in the comments section here. I can’t guarantee the right people at the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board will see them, but here’s hoping.) To be clear, I have zero tolerance for rapists and zero tolerance for a criminal justice system that through laughable sentencing guidelines, misguided statute of limitations laws, and inadequate DNA testing funding, seems to indicate that it doesn’t take rape seriously. But I’m also running out of tolerance for activists who keep screaming “fire” in a crowded theater when it comes to actually doing something constructive to address one of the oldest and most important public policy issues we continue to grapple with: eradicating rape in our society. Note: If you’d like to do something constructive to aid survivors of sexual assault click here . Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com, where this piece originally appeared. www.keligoff.com

Six Tips for Writing the Perfect Piece of Hate Mail

Six Tips for Writing the Perfect Piece of Hate Mail

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

Diminishing Black Wealth

Diminishing Black Wealth

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.

Will the President Ever "Man Up" for Women?

Will the President Ever "Man Up" for Women?

President Obama has often spoken of the influence his mother had in shaping his life. Stanley Ann Dunham was smart, worldly, independent and free-spirited. The president has said he “learned about empathy” from her. He also learned to relate to the struggles of families trying to make the most of their lives with few financial resources to do so. He has cited her healthcare struggles — specifically as a woman claimed by two forms of gender specific cancer — as being fundamental in lending direction to his political moral compass. Therefore when I heard the news that the president is very close to caving on one of the most important healthcare issues facing women, for the purposes of political expediency, I couldn’t help but think that were his mother alive today she would tell him that his compass is off, and he is in grave danger of losing his way. Just a few months ago I wrote that it was through women’s health issues that President Obama could end up leaving his greatest legacy. I stand by that statement today. It’s just that when I first wrote it I assumed the president’s legacy on these issues would be positive. That now seems less likely. A non-partisan panel convened by the Institute of Medicine recommended that insurance companies be required to cover birth control for free as a form of preventative care under the new healthcare law. I can’t think of any medication that more accurately fits the definition of “preventative” than one whose sole purpose is to prevent something, in this case, pregnancy. As I noted at the time of my last piece on this subject, “If the government follows the panel’s recommendations, this could end up being not just one of the most important moments in the reproductive rights movement since Roe v. Wade, but the most important moment ever.” (Click here to see a list of the most important reproductive rights cases besides Roe v. Wade. Click here to see a list of ancient forms of birth control.) Though contraception access seems like one of those no-brainer issues that people of all political stripes who agree on little else, should be able to agree on, of course in politics today nothing is that simple. Despite the White House already publicly agreeing to exemptions for religious institutions, some religious leaders are arguing that the language doesn’t go far enough. According to the New York Times, “after protests by Roman Catholic bishops, charities, schools and universities, the White House is considering a change that would grant a broad exemption to health plans sponsored by employers who object to such coverage for moral and religious reasons. Churches may already qualify for an exemption. The proposal being weighed by the White House would expand the exemption to many universities, hospitals, clinics and other entities associated with religious organizations.” In other words, the changes being considered by the White House would essentially render the medical panel’s recommendation null and void, allowing any employer to claim religious reservations and thereby deny covering contraception as preventative care. As I have written before, I am one of the few people who can find gray area in just about any political issue, from capital punishment, to affirmative action, and yes, abortion. The lone exception for me is really birth control accessibility because it directly affects so many other issues, which is why opposition to its availability leaves me perplexed, not to mention angry. To the consternation of some readers I do use words like “personal responsibility” in my writing and stand by doing so. People shouldn’t knowingly make personal choices that they expect other people to pay for. But just as you can’t expect people to pull themselves up by their boot straps if you hide all of the boots from them, you can’t place obstacle after obstacle in someone’s way, and then criticize them for taking too long to get to the finish line, or for giving up and quitting the race altogether. That’s precisely what obstacles to birth control do to poor women and families — and increasingly to middle class families as well. If fiscal conservatives want to spend less on government programs like welfare, then why not make it easier for families not to have children they cannot afford to raise? And if religious conservatives are so opposed to abortion and consider it a crime against humanity, then why not make it easier for fewer women to find themselves in the position of seeking one? But another concern in all of this is the slippery slope it puts us on when we start practicing religion in the examining room. What happens when an institution wants to claim religious exemptions for covering treatment for an AIDS patient who contracted the HIV virus in a manner they consider morally questionable? Those of us who are tired of this political posturing should remember that the real culprits in the political standoff over contraception are not conservatives. At least they are fighting for something that they believe. The White House appears not to be fighting at all and this fact makes it seem as though the president and those around him no longer know what they actually believe in, or what they stand for. If we can’t get the president to fight for something as simple as birth control — something studies show 99% of sexually active women in this country have used and something polls show the overwhelming majority of Americans believe should be administered without insurance co-pays — then how can we expect him to have the courage and conviction to fight on the issues that are less clear cut? Studies show that the average American woman aspires to a family comprised of two children in her lifetime, a family much like the president’s own. Not only does he have two daughters, his mother, an only child, also had two. This seems to indicate that the phenomenal women that have shaped the president’s life understand the value of family planning in a way that he, and the men he surrounds himself with in senior positions within his administration, do not. If President Obama is not man enough for the fight for women and families, perhaps he should hand the reins over to someone who is. I can think of a few good women who could handle the job. He happens to be married to one of them. Keli Goff is the author of “The GQ Candidate” and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this piece originally appeared. www.keligoff.com

Super Committee Fails, but American People Win

Super Committee Fails, but American People Win

The big buzz on cable news this week is that the Super Committee failed when it couldn’t come to a compromise on how to cut the federal budget by $1.5 trillion. But the truth is that the American people won. And now, we must keep on winning. We won when Democrats on the Super Committee held their ground on the expiring Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. Instead of focusing like a laser on job creation, conservative Republicans in Congress held our nation’s finances hostage in July. To appease the hostage-takers, Congress created a closed-door committee to force through major cuts this fall. Thankfully, enough Democrats held together on the Super Committee to stop severe cuts from going through. Many proposed to seek revenue from small tax increases for the wealthy and a tiny “Wall Street Tax” on risky stock trades. But those cries from the 99% fell on the deaf ears of conservatives on the Super Committee. Progressives don’t often battle the concentrated forces of corporations and their armies of lobbyists to a stalemate. For that reason, we can stop, reflect on a job well done, and thank the congressmen and women who stopped the worst from getting through. But we’re not out of the woods yet. The so-called economic recovery hasn’t reached the vast majority of jobseekers and homeowners who have been battered by the financial collapse and its aftermath. And the bill that created the Super Committee mandated massive cuts to education, health care, environmental regulation, and job creation in 2013. So we still have some work to do. In fact, the fights coming up are likely to be brutal. The Super Committee trigger does not identify where the domestic cuts are coming from. And conservatives are already trying to roll back the trigger’s cuts to the defense budget and replace them with deeper cuts to domestic programs. So we need to keep fighting if we want to protect the EPA, science, energy research and development, home weatherization, and other vital programs. We also need to prepare for the fact that the deficit reduction battle will continue to rage in different forms, between now and the end of 2012. Throughout the election season, the same battle about extending Bush tax cuts for the rich (and maybe all the Bush tax cuts), cutting social programs and cutting defense will continue. There is the possibility for a good outcome. Democrats have a tremendous amount of leverage, because the Bush tax cuts will automatically expire at the end of next year and $600 billion of cuts in defense will go into effect automatically [which would be truly historic] in January 2013 if Congress does nothing. They can do it — if they show the courage that we saw in the past few weeks by the Occupy The Highway marchers. A handful of activists this week walked more than 200 miles to D.C. from Occupy Wall Street’s “Liberty Park.” They did so to make sure that Washington heard the cries of the 99% for fair treatment. They pointed out that many students have already mortgaged their future for their education, only to graduate off a cliff into the worst job climate since the Great Depression. Seniors and veterans have already given much to this country and deserve fair treatment in return. These groups did not cause our fiscal and financial calamities. The culprits are Bush’s tax giveaways for the rich, lax oversight of Wall Street and endless wars. Any sacrifices to solve the problem should come primarily from those who enjoyed the tax breaks, bonuses and bailouts, not those who suffered. Coming off this victory, people of conscience in Congress should follow the example of these marchers — and go the extra distance to find real solutions for our country.

Making Some Noise To Protect The Future Of The 99%

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 .