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All of us have survived the awkwardness of a friend’s breakup or divorce and having to endure the inevitable social pressure to choose sides. Perhaps the only thing more awkward than telling one friend that you won’t be attending his upcoming wedding to the woman he left your other friend for is choosing sides only to find out that against all odds, your friends are actually reconciling, and every horrible thing you said to one about the other, like, “I always thought you were too good for him anyway,” the formerly soon-to-be-ex now knows. Welcome to the world of those of us who care about women’s health. It’s been a whirlwind week for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Planned Parenthood and any woman or man who cares about both organizations. The Komen Foundation’s initial withdrawal of funding from Planned Parenthood, the ensuing backlash and subsequent reversal and reconciliation has left many reeling. For some, the end result means the matter is resolved and it is simply time to move on. Others feel as though healing is not that easy, and they’ve been left with post-traumatic stress disorder, philanthropic edition. Regardless of where you stand on the issue — and which member of the couple you took sides with during this trial separation — there are lessons all of us who care about women’s health and social change can glean from this saga. A few of them are below. Feel free to weigh in with your own in the comments section. 7. Despite a complicated history, wealthy white women and poor minority women know that we are all in this together. Wealthy white women and poor women of color have a complex history. Since our nation’s inception, white women of means have relied on poor women of color to help them keep their homes and care for their families. (Some of my own family members did just that.) As stories like The Help have reminded us, such relationships have bred empathy and unbreakable bonds across barriers of race and class among some, while fueling resentment among others. These resentments burst into the open during the feminist movement when many women of color, who had struggled to find a place within the civil rights movement where they encountered sexism, felt equally excluded from the mainstream feminist movement because of racism and classism. Komen-gate briefly reopened old wounds. Watching Komen founder Nancy Brinker , a former ambassador with the Bush administration, trying desperately to undo one of the worst philanthropic PR implosions in recent memory while decked out in her crisp suits, expensive jewelry and perfectly coifed hair, it was hard not see a woman who has probably never thought about how her maid pays for her breast exams. Luckily, there were plenty of other powerful, educated women who do think about such things, and who recognized that when it comes to women’s health we’re all in this together. Those women made their voices heard, online and with their wallets, and because of them more low-income women — many of them of color — will continue to receive the lifesaving healthcare that they need. 6. Women’s health is not a women’s issue. Women’s health issues are often talked about in the media and in the world of politics as if they only matter to women. But for every female activist, legislator and voter whose life has been touched by a gender specific health scare, be it breast cancer or a high-risk pregnancy, there is a man whose life they have touched. Many of those men came out in full force this week, among them Mayor Michael Bloomberg whose $250,000 matching pledge to Planned Parenthood inspired the Livestrong Foundation, founded by cycling legend and cancer-survivor Lance Anrmstrong, to pledge $100,000 to the organization. 5. Cancer doesn’t care what color you are, or how much money you have, but plenty of politicians do. The timing was oddly apropos. The same week that Mitt Romney declared that he’s ” not concerned about the very poor ,” because they enjoy “safety nets,” the Komen controversy reminded us that those so-called safety nets don’t catch everybody when they fall. Black women are statistically more likely to die from breast cancer than other women due to the disease often being caught later. Early detection is key, but when you are poor preventative medical care is a luxury, and race is still very much intertwined with the politics of poverty in our country. What I find confusing is that many of the same politicians who oppose funding for Planned Parenthood also oppose universal healthcare reform. I thought part of the rationale for opposing universal healthcare was the belief that private organizations should step in to fill the void of government when it comes to addressing the needs of the needy. Isn’t that precisely what Planned Parenthood was doing by providing breast cancer screenings to low income-women? Groups like Planned Parenthood literally save lives, which brings me to number 4… 4. Planned Parenthood is not an abortion group. Planned Parenthood and it’s supporters will likely look back on the last few days as among the most important — and empowering — in the nearly century old organization’s existence. Not only has the Komen controversy provided Planned Parenthood with a fundraising bonanza (it raised $3 million dollars since the Komen news first became public) but it provided the group with something much more valuable: the kind of public relations money can’t buy. For years, Planned Parenthood has been losing the messaging war to conservatives, intent on depicting it as nothing more than a well-oiled killing machine. (Sen. Jon Kyl famously, or rather infamously, accused Planned Parenthood of spending 90 percent of its services on abortion. The real figure is 3 percent but that fact didn’t matter to many.) I had family members who thought that Planned Parenthood was synonymous with abortion. Not any more. Now thanks to Komen-gate everyone and their mother — literally — know that Planned Parenthood is just what it has always proclaimed itself to be: a women’s health organization, helping women to address their reproductive needs, and to receive lifesaving exams to help protect them from breast cancer. 3. Men in power that use birth control when they need it see nothing wrong with using their power to deprive women in need from using it. When I found out that Sen. David Vitter was among the elected officials spearheading the investigation into Planned Parenthood that was blamed for the Komen Foundation’s initial plans to terminate grants to the organization, I thought I was reading a headline from The Onion . In case you have forgotten, Sen. Vitter was enmeshed in a sex scandal involving a prostitute (at least I think it was “a prostitute,” for all I know it could have been several) and let’s just say firsthand accounts, courtesy of the escort service, make it clear that Vitter very much believes in using contraception. Apparently men in power trying to avoid political scandal should have easy access to contraception. It’s just poor women, reliant on groups like Planned Parenthood, who shouldn’t. Vitter is not alone in his thinking. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich condemned the Obama administration’s ruling to make contraception available to all women, regardless of who their employer is, under the new healthcare law. Of course, the obvious question that leaves many of us with is, did he feel that way years ago, when his current wife/then-girlfriend Callista was in childbearing years, he was married to someone else and leading the charge to investigate the president for a scandal stemming from an affair. I don’t know the answer but he or his campaign representatives are welcome to weigh in with a response in the comments below. Click here to see the top two lessons. Keli Goff www.keligoff.com is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor to Loop21.com where this piece originally appeared.
New York files massive bank fraud lawsuit
After a decisive win in the state of Florida, you would think GOP hopeful Willard Mitt Romney would be more careful in his approach towards serious subject matters. But somehow, the self-proclaimed rich guy still manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Proudly showing his disdain and disregard for the poor in an interview yesterday, Romney once again ridiculed and demeaned the most vulnerable among us. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich (coming in second place yet again), continually wastes no opportunity openly disrespecting African Americans and blaming us for the ills of society. Couple this outrageous behavior with an entire Republican Party that is so entrenched in suppressing the vote, that they don’t even realize how far from reality they have veered. Watching these so-called candidates and this party continually disrespect Blacks, Latinos, the poor and other minority groups, I’ve come to one definitive conclusion: silence is not an option. By now everyone is familiar with Gingrich’s statements referring to Barack Obama as a ‘food stamp president’ and accusing him of placing more people on food stamps than any president in American history. It doesn’t take a genius to know that this use of coded racial language is the same verbiage Gingrich used when he was Speaker and the same that was used by Republicans for years — including during Reagan’s ‘welfare queen’ saga. Same old tactics; same purpose. Not only is it patently false to juxtapose Black people with welfare and food stamps when the majority (36%) of those on food stamps are White, it’s also reprehensible to state that President Obama has placed more people on the program when we know the facts show that there were 14.7 million more food stamp recipients added under Bush as compared to 14.2 million recipients added under Obama. But then again, these are facts — something the extreme right has problems recognizing. The most troubling aspect of this GOP race perhaps is the notion that people like Gingrich and Romney suddenly think it’s OK to make offensive statements and mistruths openly about Blacks and others. When did it suddenly become acceptable for them to say Black people shouldn’t be satisfied with food stamps and handouts? Or that Black people just don’t have any role models? Who anointed them as the spokespeople for Blacks in this country? And how dare they have the audacity to make such baseless lies in the first place. Yet if we defend ourselves and speak the truth, we’re somehow bringing race into the conversation — I don’t think so. As each debate and each primary continues, it’s becoming evident that these sorts of outrageous claims will continue — if not grow. We cannot allow them to intimidate us into silence and inactivity. While they pollute the public’s mind with fabrications and misinformation, we will readily remind them of the immense progress that we managed to achieve in this nation. From March 4th – March 9th, my organization, National Action Network (NAN), will be conducting a re-enactment of the infamous Selma to Montgomery march. Camping in tents and walking along the same route as was done in ’65, we will call attention to voter ID laws, draconian immigration legislation and voter suppression schemes taking place at this very moment all across the country. It was this, the Selma to Montgomery march, and all of the attention it garnered that ultimately pushed Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act. Today, when we see those very rights that many sacrificed their lives for being stripped away, we will take action. Then on March 27th, NAN will convene a massive rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. as they begin hearings on the health care reform bill. After millions of Americans have already benefited from reform to our broken health care system, some would like nothing more than to repeal progress. In partnership with AFSCME, the AFT, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NOW and other leaders from the civil rights community, we will collectively show our solidarity and support for the Affordable Care Act and the right for all Americans to receive health insurance. NAN is only getting started. For information on the Selma to Montgomery march and our Supreme Court rally, please visit nationalactionnetwork.net. And stay tuned throughout the year as we galvanize, mobilize and bring power back to the people. While Romney, Gingrich and the other GOP candidates continue to attack people of color, the poor, the elderly, the working class and others, we will remind them who holds the majority. We’ve fought too hard and come too far to let complacency take over; it’s time for a national movement.
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.”
Whenever he was asked about the impact of his race on the 2008 election, President Obama would predict that while his race may cost him some votes, it might gain him some votes, just like a lot of other characteristics over which he has little to no control. Of course, as we later learned, there was another trait President Obama has little control over that had, and continues to have, the potential to cost him and other candidates even more votes than race: perceived religious beliefs. The fact that one in five Americans believe President Obama is not a Christian and view that as a justification for questioning his leadership and patriotism represents a political landmine for the president, one that increasingly his 2012 GOP opponents are in danger of stepping on as well. Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina has now made the unthinkable not just possible but virtually certain: a non-evangelical Christian is poised to become the Republican nominee for president. Of the four remaining candidates, just one Dr. Ron Paul, is a protestant. Two, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are practicing Catholics, while former frontrunner Mitt Romney is Mormon. Though I know this will elicit a lot of angry comments from Paul supporters, by now everyone besides them seems to know that he has as much chance of becoming the GOP nominee as I do. This means that the party for which faith has been as fundamental as family values (in messaging at least) will soon join the thousands of Americans each year who embrace another religion for love, or more specifically for marriage; in this case, a political marriage of convenience. (It’s worth noting that Gingrich did this, quite literally, converting to Catholicism at the behest of his third wife.) But here’s a question. As we have evolved into a country in which divorce, out-of-wedlock births, premarital sex and other religion-inspired one-time taboos have lost most, if not all, of their stigma, why do we continue to be a country in which our religious beliefs significantly affect how we vote? A Gallup poll taken just months ago found that 22% of Americans — across party lines — will not vote for a Mormon candidate. Keep in mind that like discussions of race and sex, religion is a topic about which some people lie out of embarrassment, which means the number of Americans possessing some religious bias about Mormons, or any other group, is likely even higher than the numbers contend. A 2007 survey found that 46% of Americans said they would be less likely to vote for someone who is Muslim but that pales in comparison to the number who said they were less likely to vote for an atheist: 63%. As of 2011 that number is still holding pretty steady at 61%. In fact a separate study released just last month found that atheists are as distrusted by Americans and Canadians as rapists. Yes, rapists. (Click here to see a list of atheists who have been elected to office along with other religious trailblazers in American politics.) Religious prejudice has officially become one of the last remaining bastions of surface-based voter bias, with the number of Americans saying they would not vote for a racial minority, a woman, or a gay American decreasing significantly in recent decades. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons. For one, it is arguable that religious labels alone mean very much. For instance, Sen. Ted Kennedy and his brothers were devout Catholics, yet their interpretation of their faith and its role in their politics is miles apart from the interpretation of Sen. Santorum. But perhaps the most ironic thing about all of this is that according to yet another study, an overwhelming majority of those who believe in God are ignorant of basic Biblical facts, and facts about other religions. A 2010 Pew study found only 2% of those surveyed could answer 29 of the 32 questions asked correctly. Most could answer about half. This means that people who aren’t well-versed in their own religious beliefs, or anyone else’s, are making decisions in the voting booth fueled by prejudice that isn’t even well-informed prejudice. You know who is well versed in religion, and well-informed too? Atheists, that’s who. They were among the top scoring groups on Pew’s religion pop quiz. Mormons also scored well. (You can test your own knowledge with questions from the quiz here .) So this begs the question. If most of us are not knowledgeable enough of our own faiths to truly know if another faith is at odds with our own, then how can a vote based in part on someone else’s designated religion be rooted in anything other than prejudice? Though the Romney campaign has certainly been plagued by its own share of candidate-made missteps, it is hard to believe that were he a Methodist, instead of a Mormon, that Mitt Romney would be struggling the way that he is. As far as candidates go, he is practically perfect on paper, checking every box a political consultant could dream of for a “Franken candidate” resume, except of course one. (Some political analysts have even speculated that his tax release debacle was bungled in part out of fear of allowing already jittery evangelical voters to see just how much of his fortune the governor has donated to the Mormon Church over the years.) When family values obsessed, evangelical die-hards who normally consider one divorce grounds for suspicion, two divorces grounds for derision, and proven adultery grounds for candidate ineligibility, choose Newt Gingrich over the guy who’s been with his wife for life but just so happens to be Mormon, that tells you something about the role religious prejudice continues to play in American politics. The bigger question of course becomes whether or not Mitt Romney will ever have the temerity to say so out loud, or if it will take losing the nomination for him to finally understand and acknowledge that forms of bigotry still exist in America, and still hold people back. For some people it may be their skin color keeping them from a job that they need. For others it may be their religion keeping them from the presidency they so desperately want. Question: Would you be willing to vote for a candidate who practices a different religion than your own or doesn’t practice one at all? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate , a novel about a black, Jewish candidate for president. She is a contributing editor for Loop21.com where a version of this post originally appeared.
Rumor has it that on Monday, after months of negotiation with big banks, the White House may announce a settlement that would let the banks off the hook for their role in the foreclosure crisis — paying a tiny fraction of what’s needed in exchange for blanket immunity from future lawsuits. We hope these rumors are untrue. President Obama has the ability to stop and change the direction of this sweetheart deal. He should reject any deal that benefits the one percent and lets the big banks get away with their crimes. Instead, the president should stand with the 99 percent and push for real accountability and a solution that will help millions of people in this country. Here are the hard facts about the housing crisis we face: 3.5 million Americans are homeless. 18.5 million homes sit vacant. Since 2007, more than 7.5 million homes have been foreclosed. Default and foreclosure rates are now several times higher than at any time since the Great Depression. If President Obama is serious about solving this crisis, he must ensure three things: First: The banks must pay a minimum $300 billion in principal reduction for homeowners with underwater mortgages and/or restitution for foreclosed-on families. This is essential. Every effort to date to reboot the housing market has failed because it has not done the most essential thing — actually reduce the massive debt load carried by homeowners. As it stands, the deal likely to be announced Monday would have the banks pay only $20 billion, an astonishingly small fraction of what’s needed. Add up all the underwater homes in America, and there’s an estimated $700 billion in negative equity in the country, according to a recent study . If banks fix what they broke and write down principals for all underwater mortgages, this would free up millions of people to pump billions of dollars back into local economies, create jobs, and ultimately generate revenue to help invest in things that will help our economy grow. Second: There must be a full-fledged, full-blown investigation into Wall Street financial fraud by the Department of Justice. There should be a task force with the staff resources, the authority, and the explicit mission of seriously investigating fraudulent behavior in the way home mortgages were securitized. Reports of the current deal suggest banks could walk away without any actual investigation into their role in the housing crisis. Third: There should be no civil or criminal immunity for the banks from future lawsuits. That means there should be no broad release of claims in any current or future negotiation or settlement. The banks must pay to help solve the crisis they played such a big role in creating. They can afford it. U.S. banks raked in $35 billion in profits last summer alone and are currently sitting on a historically high level of cash reserves of $1.64 trillion. The six biggest banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley — hold assets totaling $9.5 trillion; and together paid an income tax rate of only 11% in 2009 and 2010, far below the federally mandated 35% corporate tax rate. And that’s not all. Despite their bleak performance this year, the nation’s top six banks paid out $144 billion in bonuses and compensation for 2011, second only to the record $147 billion they paid out in 2007 at the height of the economic boom. While banks enjoy record profits and the prospect of total immunity, millions of Americans are drowning in underwater mortgages. Everyday people are already out front, fighting against the malfeasance of the banks; the White House should stand with them. Our national leaders need look no farther than Atlanta, GA, for an instructive profile in courage. Earlier this month, a community church in Dr. Martin Luther King’s old neighborhood refused to be ignored. In 2008, a tornado devastated the historic, 108-year-old Higher Ground Empowerment Center church, and they were forced to take out a loan to cover repairs. The loan went underwater and became harder and harder to pay back. For nearly four years, the church asked the bank to modify their loan, but BB&T bank ignored them. Instead, last week, the bank started to evict the church. Sound familiar? Anyone with an underwater mortgage can tell you: banks these days just can’t seem to treat their own customers with decency and manners. However, after Occupy Atlanta staged a high-profile press conference, and 65,000 people signed a national petition by Rebuild the Dream, the church got BB&T bank to agree to modify their loan to something affordable and reasonable. This happy ending is, unfortunately, the rare exception. BB&T, after being shaken to their senses (and shamed in the media), came to the table and did the right thing. But millions of homeowners have no way to stage protests and press conferences. Abuse, fraud, conflicts of interest, and lawlessness have been endemic at every stage of the mortgage origination and foreclosure process. This chain of misconduct by many of the nation’s largest financial companies is at the root of the foreclosure avalanche and it’s time to demand a course of action that will resolve the current crisis and create jobs in the future. If these folks in Atlanta can show this level of courage in standing up to a big bank, then certainly Obama and state attorneys general can show the same courage. The banks got their bailout. Now we need a strong and fair settlement to help Americans drowning in underwater mortgages. Van Jones is the co-founder and president of Rebuild the Dream , a new national organization working to fix America’s economy and restore our democracy. George Goehl is the executive director of National People’s Action , a network of metropolitan and statewide membership organizations dedicated to advancing economic and racial justice. National People’s Action is a leading organization within a national coalition called New Bottom Line that challenges established big bank interests on behalf of struggling and middle-class communities.
When Mitt Romney offered a struggling campaign volunteer all of the money he had on him to help her with an electric bill, the moment stood in stark contrast to the man who dismissed those who have the audacity to raise the issue of economic inequality as champions of class warfare fueled by “envy.” I know there are plenty of cynics who consider the moment the height of campaign trail performance art-cum-pandering. (After all, the incident likely did more to humanize him than millions of dollars worth of campaign ads.) Call me a sucker, but I consider the moment sincere yet sad. Not just sad for the woman in need but for Romney himself. See I believe that Romney was sincere in his sympathy for the woman’s situation, and in his desire to help her. What’s sad is that he’s so out of touch that he believes that all Americans in her economic situation have a Mitt Romney they can turn to for help, and that those who don’t must be that way through some fault of their own. Furthermore, he’s naÃƒÂ¯ve enough to believe that all wealthy people share the commitment to philanthropy and service that his family does, thereby making additional taxes on people in his income bracket unnecessary to help women like his campaign volunteer. With that in mind I thought that as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who once said, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age,” today would be a good day to correct some of the misconceptions that Mitt Romney and other wealthy candidates seem to hold about economic inequality in America. (Click here to see a list of the wealthiest presidents and presidential candidates.) 1) If you were born wealthy, you have not earned everything you have through “hard work.” According to a Federal Reserve Study 2 in 5 members of the “1%” inherited money. This is not to say that if you were born into wealth you haven’t worked hard and that you may not have earned some of your possessions, property and money. But you didn’t earn all of it, and in fact probably not most of it. Think of it this way. You ask an investor to give you the seed money to finance your startup. The company may have your name on it and be based on your idea, but that investor deserves a great deal of the credit and share of the profit if your company makes it big. So if you used your parent’s wealth to finance those first real estate successes (Donald Trump) or their connections to land you your first film role (Gwyneth Paltrow), or to ease your first entry into business (Mitt Romney) along with helping to open doors for your foray into politics, (anyone named Kennedy, Bush, and yes Romney), then please don’t try to convince the rest of us that you are “self-made.” You’re not. That’s not your fault. Just like it’s not my fault that I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, fork or any other utensil from Tiffany’s in my mouth. But trying to give the rest of us tips on how to make it and how we can become more financially solvent like you, without mentioning the words, “be lucky enough to be born to my parents in your next life!” makes you sound — for lack of a better term — like a jackass; an out of touch jackass. The two primary ways someone like me is likely to have the greatest shot at joining Mitt Romney’s tax bracket is if I a) win the lottery or B) marry one of Mitt Romney’s sons. And from what I’ve read about the history of blacks in the Mormon faith that’s not likely, but brings me to number 2. 2) If you have married into wealth, you have not earned everything you have through “hard work.”* See number 1. That means if this describes you please avoid lecturing anyone on how all of us can be just as successful as you are if we’re willing to make responsible choices AND please spare us whining about how you don’t like the government trying to take so much of “your” money. After all, your ex probably said the same thing about you during the divorce. (*I acknowledge there may be some truth to the old saying “those who marry for money end up paying the rest of their lives,” but I think we can all agree that despite Kobe Bryant’s foibles his wife did not “earn” her riches in the same way that Oprah did.) 3) America is not an “equal playing field.” I know pronouncements like this drive my conservative friends nuts. Sorry. But don’t take my word for it, just look at the numbers. Startling new data recently confirmed what many of us already knew: that America is one of the least economically mobile countries in the first world. One recently published study (there are several) found that 62 percent of Americans raised in the top fifth of incomes stay in the top two-fifths, while 65 percent born in the bottom fifth remained in the bottom two-fifths. The studies also found that parental education is a disturbingly accurate predictor of one’s lifetime class status. Translation: If your mom and dad are doctors and lawyers with Ivy league degrees and your grandparents are too, your likelihood of remaining in a similar class bracket is high. The likelihood of those born to grandparents who are sharecroppers remaining in a similar class bracket is even higher. So a word of advice to conservative candidates and legislators: you’d earn a lot more credibility if you prefaced any brilliant ideas you have for those struggling to make it with, “I know many of you started out without many of the advantages many of us take for granted and I’ll never know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, BUT…” 4) Besides being born rich, or marrying rich, the only other way to really have a shot at significantly improving your class status in America is to be genetically or intellectually extraordinary… and most of us aren’t. As the studies cited above confirm, hard work is rarely enough to improve upon the financial situation you were born into in America in a truly meaningful way. If you are not born upper middle class, odds are not in your favor that you will end up upper middle class, unless you marry well, win the lottery or hit the genetic lottery. What is the “genetic lottery?” Well if you’re born 7 feet tall and are reasonably coordinated, then you may have a shot at significantly improving your class status through the NBA, or if you are a scientific genius you may become a groundbreaking neurosurgeon like Dr. Ben Carson or if you have the charisma and innate interview capabilities of Oprah you may be given your own talk show. But if you are just a nice person, who works hard and plays by the rules, you may not spend your entire life in abject poverty, but you will most likely spend a lifetime being one medical crisis away from asking Mitt Romney for a handout to keep your lights on. 5) If you are wealthy and have called in a favor, or made a “donation” to get your already wealthy son or daughter a job they don’t need and didn’t earn, or a college admissions slot they didn’t earn, congratulations, you have increased the number of poor Americans. I know this is hard for some wealthy people to believe, but while you may think your son or daughter getting into Princeton, Harvard, Brown, University of Texas, or whatever alma mater you always dreamed that they would attend, is a matter of life or death — it’s not. Because I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump probably could have gotten a job working for their father (where they both currently work) whether they attended his alma mater of UPENN or whether they didn’t. (No I’m not alleging that Donald Trump bought his children’s way into UPENN, but let’s not pretend that bearing the name of one of the school’s most famous alums didn’t greatly improve their admission chances.) But you know for whom college admissions and entry-level jobs can be a matter of life or death? Poor people, that’s whom. So the next time an elected official says that it is easy for anyone who wants a job to get one — I want him or her to know that’s true. It is easy to get a job — when your dad or mom are elected officials, or wealthy and powerful people who have wealthy and powerful friends who are willing to give out jobs to the relatives of their friends. 6) Most poor people are lazy. WRONG. This is a tough one for people hell-bent on preaching the “In America anything is possible for those willing to work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps” mantra to accept, but it’s the truth. Yes some poor people are lazy. Just like some rich people are lazy. (Reality TV is filled with them or else there would be no Real Housewives franchise.) But the majority of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills , not by people sitting around buying flat screens and plotting ways to con the government out of benefits. (It’s worth noting that Ruth Williams, the campaign volunteer Romney helped was plunged into debt by her son’s health problems.) 7) But you are RIGHT about one thing… Those of us who aren’t wealthy are envious . We should be. Most wealthy people who are miles ahead of the rest of us started miles ahead the day they were born. Why shouldn’t the rest of us be envious? That doesn’t mean we dislike the wealthy. In fact, some of my best friends are wealthy — and I say that without a trace of sarcasm. But, they are willing to acknowledge that they began their journey miles ahead of most and therefore while some of them may balk at their tax rate, they are extremely generous to those who have less than they do, because they realize, as the saying goes, “But for the grace of God go I.” It would be nice if more of the privileged demonstrated this level of self-awareness — and not just when a poor person supporting them for president reminds them on the campaign trail that poor people who are doing the right thing, but still struggling to pay their light bills, exist. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this post originally appeared.
Every year, we pay homage to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the month of January. Most offices are closed, kids are home from school and people generally enjoy the day off from their normal routines. But how many of us take the time to emulate Dr. King’s teachings? How many of us actually understand the fight he waged on our behalf? How many of us emulate his nonviolent dedication to defending the poor and seeking economic justice in society? In 2012, instead of just verbally praising Dr. King, we should continue his quest for equality and tackle today’s greatest civil rights challenges: leveling the playing field for everyone, fighting voter suppression, establishing stricter gun laws, a commitment to end international potential warfare and providing a quality education in our most impoverished areas. Then and only then will we truly understand the depth and meaning of celebrating Dr. King’s life, legacy and purpose. One of Dr. King’s last efforts prior to his untimely death was the Poor People’s Campaign. Combating issues of economic justice and housing for the poor, the campaign included an ‘Economic Bill of Rights’, and efforts to lobby elected officials to pass progressive legislation. Because Dr. King intently understood that the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in society were the poor, he dedicated much of his own life to giving them a platform, fighting for their rights and creating a society where they would no longer be dehumanized. Today, as many politicians cut vital programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance, the poor are increasingly watching their concerns fall on deaf ears and their voices drowned out in a sea of political wrangling. That is precisely why we cannot sit silently in the face of oppression. Until the weakest among us are afforded the same opportunities as the wealthiest, we cannot in good conscious accept that the fight for justice is complete. One of the greatest civil rights achievements we ever obtained was the capability to vote. Long denied the very basic ability to participate in the electoral process of the nation we helped construct, African Americans spent years post-slavery battling poll taxes and other discriminatory practices in order to secure the promise of one man, one vote. After some literally gave their lives so that others could one day participate in the democratic process of this nation, we are now watching that very core human right once again under attack. Passing ‘voter ID requirements’, several states have taken it upon themselves to alter the way in which citizens elect their next leaders. A poll tax by a new name, these voter ID laws are nothing more than intimidation tactics to keep the poor and people of color away from the polls. It is the most egregious and outrageous form of voter suppression we have ever witnessed in our lifetimes. And it is a blatant attempt to reverse the very work Dr. King dedicated his life to. When it comes to communities of color in the U.S., one of the most tragic realities we face is the rampant rise in gun usage and violence. We can argue as to the root causes of this rise — whether it be poverty, lack of jobs, inadequate schools, lack of opportunities — but the fact remains that it is our children we are burying and our families that are being torn apart. The larger question is, why are these guns so readily available? As the national rise in violence reaches epic proportions, we must create strict national gun laws, and we must establish programs to diminish this senseless violence. Whether it’s conducting gun buyback events, creating more alternatives for people to resolve their disputes, providing counseling where it’s often needed and seeking increased employment/opportunities for the disenfranchised, we must work together to save all of our collective futures. If Dr. King were alive today, another issue he would tackle head on would be increasing warfare around the world. As a man of the cloth and someone who embodied peaceful protest, he was always fervent in his anti-war stance. At a time when potential international warfare threatens stability in many nations and pushes us at home into deeper debt, we must look at potential conflicts through his lens. And finally, no society can advance to the next level if all of its children do not receive the same quality education. As I’ve stated many times in the past, education is often times the key that opens the door to entirely new possibilities and helps to equalize the playing field like nothing else can. But when a child doesn’t receive adequate education because of his/her socio-economic status, then we have failed as a nation. As perhaps our greatest modern civil rights struggle to date, good education is something we must ensure all children receive regardless of their race or income status. We agreed that ‘separate but equal’ was separate and unfair; now let’s work to create a united, equal educational system for all. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” were words spoken by the great Dr. King. As we gather to honor this civil rights advocate, let’s remember to pick up the mantle and continue the good fight, for there are many obstacles which remain. So let us not celebrate in silence, but commemorate with our actions; do something today to bring justice for tomorrow. Reverend Al Sharpton is the president of National Action Network and host of PoliticsNation on MSNBC.