Opinions

Bank Settlement: $25 Billion Down, $675 Billion to Go

This week a $25 billion settlement was announced in which big banks pay up for a portion of their bad deeds in the home foreclosure crisis. Everyone is trying to determine whether this is a good deal or a bad deal. Here is how I score it. This deal represents small progress on a small problem. Now it's time to make big progress on the big problem. Don't count on finding many good points in the deal itself, because there aren't a lot. In fact, the main win can be found in what's NOT in the deal. A truly horrible deal would have let the banks write a small check and then seal the door on all further investigations and pursuits of accountability. This deal does NOT do that. Because this settlement limits legal immunity for banks, this deal does not automatically let the banks off the hook for all of their wrong-doing. Except for a few issues like robo-signing, state attorneys general can still fight for more compensation and relief for the banks' victims. Government officials can proceed with investigating and prosecuting banks for their role in crashing the economy and the housing market. In other words, the door is still open to solve the much bigger problems we face. Our fight for justice can, and will, continue. That is small comfort, perhaps, but it was hard won. So we should honor the hard work of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and others, including many grassroots progressive organizations like New Bottom Line. They fought courageously to prevent a total sweetheart deal for the banks. This outcome is the result of determined activism, and without this heroic effort, the deal would have been drastically worse. That said, there is a reason why many progressives and housing advocates are furious, and why many struggling homeowners are left wondering, "How does this help me?" Millions of homeowners and families are still suffering under the tremendous weight of a debt blanket that is smothering the economy. This $25 billion settlement helps only a fraction of those homeowners and addresses only a very limited set of fraudulent behaviors. A number of homeowners will get some cash payments, but the amounts are negligible compared to the pain and injustice they have experienced. The actual total cash paid out by the banks is only $5 billion dollars, to be split among the nation's largest banks -- hardly a stiff penalty considering that the six largest banks in the U.S. paid $144 billion in bonuses last year. And enforcement mechanisms remain murky. We must not forget the more than 14 million homeowners (one in five) whose homes are underwater, beneath a crushing total $700 billion in negative equity. We must not forget the more than 4 million families who have lost their homes. We must not forget the millions of families who are in some form of foreclosure proceedings on this very day. These are the Americans who have suffered and continue to suffer. They are worried today, like yesterday, whether they will still have a home to live in tomorrow. They are the ones who must choose every month whether to pay bills or to feed their children. Here are three things that must happen next: 1) The U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general must investigate and prosecute banks more aggressively than ever, at a much larger scale than anything that has happened to date. 2) We must force banks to make massive principal reduction of hundreds of billions of dollars, to immediately relieve the 14 million homeowners in the country who have underwater mortgages. 3) We must change laws and regulations to prevent this kind of crisis and fraud from ever happening again. Two weeks ago, I called for hundreds of billions in principal reduction for homeowners. This would free up Americans to start new businesses, spend money on worthwhile products and services, and invest in their children's futures. We still need to address the $700 billion in negative equity, which in turn is only part of the nearly seven trillion dollars in total lost equity created by the banks' irresponsible, and in some cases, illegal practices. We need a solution at the scale of the problem, so that families can get back on their feet, the economy can get working, and people can reach for their American dreams again instead of watching them drown. That is why I say: $25 billion down, $675 billion to go.

Read More »

How We Can REALLY Honor the Legacy of Don Cornelius

When the world heard of the tragic passing of Don Cornelius, we had different reactions. Some were in disbelief, others paid homage to the legend with a “Soul Train line” in Times Square, while many reflected on his immense impact on society. SEE ALSO: Is Black History Month Hard On Black Folks? BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGER: Meet The First Black Female U.S. Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot But one thing most people either chose not to accept or simply did not want to accept was the fact that Don Cornelius was dealing with serious internal issues; so much so that he took his own life. No matter what the root cause, poor mental health is a dangerous issue that people unfortunately do not address – especially in our community. And yet it continues to destroy the lives of those suffering from it (and of their loved ones). Because mental health and depression are such significant and critical issues, it’s only right to enlist the expertise of someone qualified to speak on the subject. That’s why, this week, I’m honored to have Terrie Williams, clinical therapist and veteran public relations counselor give us her words of wisdom: We are all mourning the loss this week of Soul Train creator and cultural icon, Don Cornelius.  An American success story, Don left us with a 35-year history lesson in business acumen, cultural exportation, and community uplift.  That’s all good. We should take some time to measure and celebrate Don’s legacy.  That’s easy.  What’s not easy is to discuss how and why he died.  Yes, he hid his demons well. But clearly they were there because this 75-year old icon with a body of work most of us will never achieve chose to end his own life with a gunshot to the head. By all accounts, Don was a very private man. True to form, he didn’t leave a note so we don’t know what moved him to end his life. What we do know is that we did not have to lose Don this way. This silence about depression is now killing us.  It is real. It is deadly. And, it does not discriminate. According to the World Health Organizations, by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of death behind heart disease for everyone. As a veteran public relations counselor and clinical therapist who manages her own depression, I know for sure we all need to learn to identify its symptoms – what it looks like, sounds like and feels like — and get help for those that need it. We must take care of our mental health… and get a “check-up from the neck up.” My heartfelt love and prayers go out to Don’s family, friends. Terrie M. Williams is the author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting and the co-founder of The Stay Strong Foundation.  You can follow her at twitter.com/terriewilliams or visit http://www.storiesthatheal.samhsa.gov or www.thestaystrongfoundation.org. BLACK HISTORY MONTH GAME CHANGER: Committed Resident Rebuilds New Orleans SEE ALSO: First Lady Hits Road For “Let’s Move” Anniversary

Read More »

Contraception Isn’t a PR Game; It’s a Woman’s Right

In public relations, 'spin' is the term people use when they would like a topic or story covered in a specific manner, in a certain light. In the realm of politics, unfortunately, some elected officials and their mouthpieces like to apply the same tactics while masking the truth from everyone. Case in point: contraception and the Catholic Church. Before falling victim to the hype, let's get one thing clear, this issue isn't about religious freedom or the federal government; it is about the rights of women all across this country to have access to appropriate care. It is about protecting the rights of those workers at religious institutions who may not be of that faith (and have no choice but to find work there), but deserve the same health care that a woman in corporate America does. This is about the notion that some religiously affiliated hospitals and schools receive federal money and therefore cannot deny a woman a federal guarantee. Let's get one thing straight, this is real 'class warfare' from the right and this time the victims are the most vulnerable -- women from lower-income neighborhoods. Everyday, women from all corners of this nation head to work in religious Catholic hospitals and universities providing the necessary services so many of us rely on. Even in my hometown of New York City, many of the finest hospitals are religiously affiliated, and simultaneously staffed by an overwhelming number of women from the outer boroughs of Manhattan or from poorer neighborhoods within the city. In the unfortunate circumstance that you fall gravely ill in the Big Apple, chances are pretty high that a nurse, secretary, orderly, etc. helping to save your life works at this institution not because of her unyielding faith to religion, but because of her dedication to helping others. And though we may not want to face reality, often times, this woman is working at this facility because there simply are no other options available for her to provide for her family. Don't these women deserve the same rights as those on Wall St.? Why should they be denied access to contraception because their employer may be religiously opposed to the idea? If an institution is employing women from all sectors of society, how can they possibly dictate what these women can and cannot do when it comes to their own bodies? As pundits and legislators scream about the federal government infringing on the religious rights of people, they might want to remember that many of these religious facilities have no trouble accepting federal aid. From Medicare to Medicaid and more, these institutions are taking taxpayer money to provide services, and should therefore provide appropriate coverage for their own employees. You cannot accept money from the federal government and then turn around and say 'federal government, you must do what I say'. This is hypocrisy at its highest and a coy attempt at slowly stripping away the liberties of all women. First, they will attack those without a voice; tomorrow, they will attack you. There's a reason why most women -- including Catholic women -- use birth control and have no objection to its widespread usage. Unlike what the spin-doctors would have you believe, birth control pills aren't only utilized to prevent pregnancies, but rather a multitude of women use them for other health care needs. From regulating a woman's menstrual cycle to preventing ovarian problems, women everywhere take birth control as a means of protecting their own health, their bodies and the health of their future children. No one should be denied that right. As Republicans realize more and more everyday that their potential candidate (whoever that may be) doesn't present a real challenge to the President, they will continue to fabricate these sorts of social wedge issues. Playing games with people's beliefs, they will try to make us think that President Obama is somehow infringing on our religious freedoms, when he in fact already exempted over 300,000 Churches from this rule. But when a religious institution employs people of all faiths and services people from all faiths, they have no right to obstruct women from having access to vital services. If it's women today, tomorrow they could just as easily decide to stop offering coverage to homosexuals, divorced individuals or any other group. Where would you draw the line? Don't believe the spin, this isn't about religious freedom, this isn't about the President, this isn't about states' rights; it's about women -- all women -- having the ability to control their own health and well-being. And no man, hospital or university should ever be allowed to tell them otherwise.

Read More »

7 Lessons From Komen-Gate: What the Komen Controversy Taught Us About Race, Class and Cancer

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.

Read More »

New York files massive bank fraud lawsuit

New York files massive bank fraud lawsuit

Read More »

Why They Keep Attacking Michelle Obama

When we think of a First Lady, any First Lady, we often reflect on how distinct, prestigious or significant her role is. As the virtual Ambassador for the President, the First Lady usually provides a more human side for the highest office in the land. She is an extension of the Commander-in-Chief, while still carving out her own vital role whether it be in politics, education, nutrition, health care or any other realm. MORE STRONG, BLACK WOMEN: Black Woman Leads Crusade For LGBT Rights Harlem Mom Loses Sons To Guns, Becomes Anti-Violence Crusader But never has a First Lady been so disrespected, ridiculed, demeaned or vilified in the manner that Michelle Obama has. With such high approval ratings (at times even higher than her husband), there’s a clear explanation for the continual attacks against Mrs. Obama – her race – and come to think of it, his race. During the Presidential campaign of ’08, many Black women like myself were beyond excited to see a strong Black woman as the next potential First Lady. An educated, extremely intelligent female who dedicated much of her efforts towards working in the community and uplifting others, Michelle Obama represented what many of us either strive to be, or already regard ourselves as. And the fact that President Obama, a biracial man, married an independently minded and strong-willed woman like Michelle, only solidified our appreciation and support for this couple. It’s exactly that admiration and love for Michelle Obama that conservatives and those with an ax to grind hate so much. And they’ve proved over and over again that they will try to do anything to tarnish her image. When Barack Obama was on the campaign trail, the verbal assaults against Michelle already began. First, they attempted to turn her comments about being proud of her country into a negative, as if she was somehow unpatriotic her entire life. During the rest of the that period and throughout Barack Obama’s Presidency, the right continued throwing insults against Michelle for everything from the clothes she wears to her fight against obesity, to supposed lavish vacations. Following in conservative footsteps, now everyone appears to think it’s appropriate to make outrageous claims against the First Lady. The latest example: British publications printing stories of Michelle spending $50,000 on undergarments. The fact that White House press secretary Jay Carney had to take time on Monday to denounce the  underwear rumor is proof that the allegations against the First Lady are out of control. And now that we’re in an election year, things are likely to get worse. Because Michelle Obama represents so much of what we love, they will do everything they can to smear her image and that of the President. It’s our duty to make sure that they don’t succeed. Make no mistake: smearing them is an attempt to diminish our own self-esteem. I asked my mother the other day if she’s ever seen any First Lady repeatedly insulted like Michelle Obama has been. The answer, not surprisingly, was a definite “NO.” Throughout it all, Mrs. Obama has taken the barrage of attacks with grace and dignity, while disproving everything with her actions – just like a strong Black woman would. And I should know, a strong Black woman is me; she is you and we cannot allow her to be slandered. MORE STRONG, BLACK WOMEN: Unbelievable! Meet The 88-Year-Old Marathoner Diagnosed With HIV, Concert Promoter Becomes AIDS Activist

Read More »

Silence Is Not an Option

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.

Read More »

The Three Words That Will Cost Mitt Romney the Election

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.

Read More »

Fairness and Equality Will Save Our Union

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."

Read More »

Are You Smart Enough to Be a Religious Bigot in the Voting Booth?

Image s-REPUBLICAN-DEBATE-TONIGHT-mini.jpg

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.

Read More »