Monday, March 31, 2008

Reaping the Results of Seven Years of Failed Federal Abstinence-only Sex Education Policies

I've been a bit blocked lately. I think I am suffering from some election-related fatigue. But I also realized that in some ways, in writing about so many election-related topics, I'd fallen into the same trap as the mainstream media -- and in so doing was neglecting some of the real policy issues before us at the expense of maintaining such a close focus on the horserace. So, back to the policy stuff tonight -- and please, if you have topics you'd like me to explore, just let me know. Ideas and suggestions are always welcome.

A statistic recently slapped me in the face, and inspired today's topic. According to the first national study of the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among young women ages 14 to 19, one in four are infected with at least one of the most common STDs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, released in mid-March, also found that nearly 50 percent of African-American teenage girls were infected with an STD.

The alarming results of this study are the manifestation of failed government policies coming home to roost -- and our children are reaping what we've sown. What's so disturbing is that most STDs are largely preventable. "Clearly young people do not have the information and skills they need to protect themselves," said Joseph DiNorcia, Jr., president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Gee, you think? I wonder why?

This CDC study should motivate policymakers, both on the state and federal levels, to finally get their head out of their collective asses and provide responsible, age-appropriate, comprehensive sexuality education to young people. Rather than continuing to pour good tax money after bad into failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the federal government must deal with the hard truth that teenagers are having sex, and are woefully ignorant of how to protect themselves from disease and pregnancy. We have to arm young people with knowledge about prevention methods -- how else can we begin to see declines in these staggering figures?

And more and more states are seeing the light. In February, Iowa became the 17th state in the union to withdraw from the federal abstinence-only-until-marriage block grant program -- effectively telling President Bush and his thought police that they could keep their money -- and that they'd educate their kids about sex in the way they thought was most appropriate, thank you very much.
Why would states take the extreme step of turning down money from the feds? Because, believe it or not, there is no federal funding stream dedicated to comprehensive sexuality education programs. Since 1982 our federal government has spent at least $1.5 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs -- over $800 million of which has been spent during the Bush administration. These ideologically-driven programs are not allowed to discuss contraceptives except in terms of failure rates, and have never been proven to be effective. A congressionally mandated study, released last year, found that students in abstinence-only programs were no more likely to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having had sex, had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at pretty much the same age.
Comprehensive sexuality education is not really so scary. And yes, it includes abstinence discussions and ideas for delaying sexual activity. But it also provides kids with the information and decision-making skills they need to make good choices. Such programs cover a wide rage of of topics related to sexuality and provide medically-accurate facts free of outdated stereotypes -- something those abstinence-only programs don't do. Comprehensive sexuality runs throughout the school years, and provides information on topics such as sexual development, reproductive health, relationships, affection, intimacy, body image, and gender roles. It also helps young people develop communication, decision-making, and other personal skills to help them become sexually healthy adults. Duh.

Congress is beginning its work on the federal budget. In an absolutely shameless move last year, Rep. David Obey (D-WI), Chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, cut a deal that kept the abstinence-only program alive and well. We can't let him do it again this year. Email or call Rep. Obey and tell him not to cave so quickly on a bad deal this year. Tell him it's time -- once and for all -- to end federal mandates for abstinence-only education programs, and instead create funding streams for comprehensive sexuality education.

You can also send an email to your representative, asking them to co-sponsor the Prevention First Act (S.21/H.R. 819), which according to the American Association of University Women includes "a myriad of provisions that would expand access to contraception and preventative health care services that help reduce unplanned pregnancies, abortions, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases while improving access to women's health care; it would also provide a federal funding stream for comprehensive sex education in schools." Sounds like a plan to me.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 24, 2008

4000: Freedom Isn't Free, but Hubris Takes Its Toll As Well

This week, our nation hit a bleak milestone -- 4000 -- the number of servicemembers killed while fighting in Iraq. It was a roadside bomb on Saturday; an explosion that took the lives of three American soldiers just north of Baghdad. And now, the U.S. death toll in the five-year conflict stands at 4000 -- sadly, it has likely climbed higher even as I write this entry.

Here are some other sobering statistics: an average of one servicemember is killed every day, and seven more are wounded -- every day (ABC News, 3/23/08). Forty of the slain servicemembers were just 18 -- they couldn't buy a beer legally, but they were old enough to die for their country. Another 24 were over age 50; 102 of the war dead are women. We hear the statistics a lot on the nightly news. But for every statistic, there is a face. A mother's son, a father's daughter, a wife's husband, a sister. So many dads and brothers and sons. Too many gold star moms. Faces, not statistics. Their families and friends grieve for their loss, and there is a hole that is left that cannot be filled, only survived.

And still countless more stand vigil, worrying until their loved ones come home safely -- waiting for this tour of duty to be up, hoping against hope there will not be another one. I've watched my mother face her fears about a son in a submarine a thousand miles away, and it was no picnic. But that was also peacetime -- I cannot imagine the fear when active combat is involved. That is the human cost of this war -- and it goes beyond statistics, beyond the trillions spent. It's the faces and the families whose lives are irrevocably changed, it's the lives lost and the bodies broken, it's the changes that come even if families are lucky enough to have their soldier home safely.

Our country mourns these losses, too -- but it seems to me that the nature of this war has let a lot of us do that mourning from a distance, in an almost sterile way. This is an all-volunteer war, with active duty servicemembers and reservists bearing the worst of the burden. For a lot of us -- people of good will though we may be -- we have the rather amazing luxury of going through our day-to-day lives and not constantly being reminded that we are a nation at war. There is something inherently wrong with that state of affairs.

But I don't pretend to have the answers, either. I am not a pacifist. Unfortunately, violence sometimes is necessary to protect what we hold dear, to defend our homeland and our way of life, to ensure that enduring American ideals are preserved for generations to come. Our efforts in Afghanistan represent this kind of response; our nation was attacked on 9/11, and the threat of Muslim extremists is still keen. It was imperative that we respond.

But Iraq is different. We invaded that country without provocation. Oh, to be sure, we got rid of a despot and a bully in Saddam Hussein. But it was an act of aggression based on a combination of hubris and bad intelligence -- apparently some people in the Bush administration knew just how bad that information was even before they sent our troops into harms way, and embroiled the nation in this mess. Truthfully, I'm dreading the information that's going to come to light once this administration leaves town -- the tell all's, the files declassified, their arrogance exposed in the sunshine of a (hopefully) Democratic administration. We have only scratched the surface.

But the lies and half-truths of this administration in no way diminish the honor and service of those who answered the call. If anything, it paints a vivid dichotomy between those motivated by unspeakable hubris and those who loyally and selflessly serve their country. Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude, and we also have the responsibility to care for them when they come home -- to see them through whatever physical or psychological wounds they've sustained while doing their jobs. The Veterans Administration, the Defense Department, Homeland Security -- whatever agencies involved -- as well as Congress need to pony up the resources and programs to ensure our servicemembers get the best care, the best assistance, through a system that is compassionate rather than suspicious of their condition.

As for the rest of us, we'd do well to remember that freedom isn't free, and there is a price being paid by our neighbors -- who stoically complain little and pray a lot. What they need from us is more than simple words of respect, they need action. This election season, ask your candidates how they intend to address the war in Iraq. But also ask them about funding for the Veterans Administration and associated agencies serving our military, about long-term rehabilitation for vets and college aid for kids who lost their parents in the war. Ask them about homeless vets, military families going broke and losing their homes as their reservist spouses are overseas, and how we can help reservists when they come home who often don't get full military benefits. It's our duty as citizens to ask these questions, and our responsibility as neighbors to demand answers -- and action. It is the very least we can do.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The State of Our Imperfect Union: A Fence-sitting Feminist Finally Makes Up Her Mind

I know it was a political speech. It was delivered in Philadelphia, PA -- a city riddled with inspiring American history, and a state with a make-or-break primary on the horizon. There was a backdrop of eight American flags and plenty of pre-speech hype -- oh yes, it was political theater of the highest order. But it didn't feel like politics as usual.

Of course, it was also a speech in many ways prompted by a public relations headache that had been plaguing the campaign -- a bombastic minister whose incendiary words were obscuring not just the candidate's message but the candidate himself. But the speech didn't feel like simple political cover, nor was the message convenient or expedient -- it was not a glossy explanation to satisfy the masses. Oh, the speech was carefully crafted to be sure, but it flowed and felt like something Barack Obama has been dying to say publicly for a good long time -- and while he might have wished for different circumstances, he seemed to relish the opportunity.

He stayed up until 2am the night before perfecting the words, putting thoughts to paper that most people won't speak in polite company -- and delivering them the next day for all the world to hear and dissect. Yes, this was a political speech. But it was also intensely personal. And hugely courageous. Like nothing else I have heard this election season, this speech felt presidential -- a State of Our Imperfect Union, if you will. And it toppled me from my self-imposed, "I-miss-John-Edwards" fence. I fell hard -- for Barack Obama.

Pundit Howard Fineman wondered, "Is the speech too high minded for the average voter?" Damn, I hope not. It was elegant but accessible, going right to the basics of the kitchen table economics that lie at the heart of so much prejudice and fear. No pandering. No patronizing. Obama's uniquely American background gave him the insight and -- I think -- a new kind of credibility, to just lay it all out on the table...finally.

"Even for those blacks who did make it [despite discrimination], questions of race, and racism, continue to define their world view in fundamental ways. … That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co- workers or white friends. …That anger is not always productive. Indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems. It keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity within the African-American community in our condition, it prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real, it is powerful, and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. …As far as they're concerned, no one handed them anything, they built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pensions dumped after a lifetime of labor. … And in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town, when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed, when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudice, resentment builds over time. Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation.

Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. …conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism. And just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze: a corporate culture rife with inside dealing and questionable accounting practices and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns, this, too, widens the racial divide and blocks the path to understanding. This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years."

Stalemate is right, and so is Obama -- these are the difficult issues that continue to divide us. The messy, complicated questions that our imperfect union has never honestly confronted, let alone resolved. Obama's seemingly simple observation of the resentment on both sides of the black/white divide becomes profound in his willingness to openly name it in such a forum -- but without the usual platitudes, excuses and empty political rhetoric.

But the question remains -- while the import of the speech seems almost universally accepted if the day-after deconstruction was a fair measure, there is still much discussion about whether the speech was politically effective. Did Obama's unusual-for-a-politician candor win over any voters that he didn't already have? White, working class voters (Reagan Democrats, anyone)? Latinos? The all-important Independent voters? While he moved me, I was not exactly Obama's target audience. And did his words reassure supporters who were shaken by the media's ad nauseum regurgitation of Obama's connection to a controversial minister?

I would submit that the true impact of this speech remains to be seen, and its ripples have the potential to be felt not just for days to come, but decades to come -- if we listened with open hearts, not just open ears. And if we have the good sense to elect a man with this kind of insight into the American psyche, the courage to call us on our failings, and the grace to not shame us in the process. It was a message that has the power to transcend the political stage on which it was delivered... if we let it.

P.S. -- I need to stress that this feeling of rightness about Barack Obama is not a repudiation of Hillary Clinton. Indeed, if she is the Democratic nominee I will happily vote for her. I wrote an Open Letter to her weeks ago, asking her to step aside -- not because I questioned her capabilities but because it seemed clear to me that she couldn't win, not without great cost to the Democratic Party. The bitter divisiveness of this primary has disturbed me, and now it's time to heal. I think Barack Obama
is the man to help the party do that, but I think he and Hillary Clinton together have given us a campaign for the ages.
Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Despite Democratic Presidential Primary Rancor, the Picture's Depressing for Congressional Republicans -- For Now

While the Democrats seem to be doing a credible job of swiftboating each other or -- in the case of Eliot Spitzer -- sabotaging themselves, Republicans on Capitol Hill have not been able to capitalize on the divisiveness and unflattering press. That's because the Republicans have their own troubles -- just in the past few weeks they've had to contend with embezzlement scandals, recruiting failures, and a humiliating loss, not to mention the fact that they've been dropping like flies ever since the Dems came to power. Republicans have simply been too busy trying to put out their own fires to capitalize on the Democrats' self-inflicted crazy-making -- lucky for us.

In fact, just this past week Congressional Republicans have had an amazing string of bad news, which neither the superstitious or the pundit world think bodes well for November. Republicans haven't managed to field anyone to challenge freshman Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), in a purple state where even a mediocre candidate could've garnered 40 percent of the vote and at least forced the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) to throw a little money Pryor's way. But now, the DSCC will get to send its resources elsewhere -- say, Colorado or New Mexico or Minnesota or Virginia -- all Senate seats the Dems can pick up.

Then, the GOP lost their best shots at credible challengers to Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) -- one of the few Dems up for re-election in a purple state. Remember when South Dakotans gave then-Rep. John Thune the nod over Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle? And Johnson had been gravely ill with a brain aneurysm; he's had surgery and rehabbed, but he missed most of 2007. Yep, Johnson was a vulnerable as they come and the Republicans don't have a credible contender to give him a run for the DSCC's money.

Then, of course, there was the humiliating loss of former House Speaker Denny Hastert's seat in an Illinois special election. This district has been red forever, but the Dems picked it off with a political newbie. Ouch.

But wait, it gets worse. Apparently the former treasurer of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has been stealing lots of cookies from the cookie jar -- allegedly diverting as much as $1 million from the NRCC's already sadly shallow, "we're-in-the-minority-now-and-buckage-is-hard-to-raise" coffers to his own personal accounts. What a guy -- he really knows how to hit 'em when they're down, doesn't he? Not exactly something that will instill donor confidence and keep the money flowing, either.

You just can't make this stuff up. Here's a few of the more choice comments about Congressional Republicans' ugly predicament:

"It's no mystery," said retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA). "You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He's just killed the Republican brand."

"The math is against them. The environment is against them. The money is against them. This is one of those cycles that if you're a Republican strategist, you just want to go into the bomb shelter," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

But we Dems should not get too comfortable. As we all know, at the presidential level the party is currently engaged in a circular firing squad of epic proportions -- one that could have dire consequences not only for our chances at the White House, but also downticket coattails that could impact congressional and gubernatorial races this fall. Some national polls have Republican John McCain pulling even in matchups with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It seems that the Clinton and Obama campaigns are getting through to voters as they work to undermine confidence in their opponent -- but with unintended long term consequences.
Democrats' forget the Maverick's appeal to independent voters and Reagan Democrats at our peril, and the more our candidates tell the electorate that their primary opponent is not the best candidate to be president -- well, the more likely the voters are to believe it and go looking for an alternative. And Sen. McCain is waiting with open arms.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

This Women’s History Month, Women's Voices Women Vote is honoring those women that have utilized the internet to amplify their voices. Nominate your favorite woman blogger by March 21, then check back to vote for your favorite among our top 10 women bloggers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Once You Run, You Can't Hide: Hypocrisy Always Finds the Light of Day

Hypocrites piss me off. Especially self-righteous hypocrites. Holier-than-thou prigs who follow the hollow rule of "Do as I say, not as I do." What really pisses me off is when these hypocrites arrogantly try to force their narrow worldview -- their public one, not the one they actually adhere to -- on others. Some hypocrites -- the public official form of the breed -- think so highly of themselves that they will even go so far as to pass laws trying to force the rest of us to follow the dictates of their personal "moral" compass -- even though the true measure of their convictions might be no deeper than a puddle. When this only-for-show morality is further twisted by a warped application of religion -- usually as a way to emphatically underscore their righteousness -- it's particularly nauseating.

Sometimes this double-standard hypocrisy revolves around money, but more often it revolves around sex -- as if this most private of issues between consenting adults can somehow be publicly regulated. They don't call prostitution the world's oldest profession for nothing. When the hypocrisy net snares a televangelist or wing nut Republican -- one who previously seemed to espouse the virtues of a small government, particularly one just small enough to fit inside our bedrooms -- it's especially infuriating.

Now, I know there are no choir boys in politics -- and there's clearly no shortage of powerful men of all political stripes who are congenitally unable to keep it zipped. It almost seems like some kind of rite of passage -- a macho power trip simply to prove to themselves that they are so important that the regular rules no longer apply. In fact, there seems to be this rather unnerving ability among some of the political elite to find a distinction between the laws they write and the actual rules they follow -- as if they are somehow different. But it does seem that the most self-righteous hypocrites often come from the GOP camp. Bill Clinton, horribly flawed though he is, never claimed to be a moral barometer for anyone.

All of this, of course, is part of why the Larry Craig scandal resonated so deeply with me. Oh sure, I know part of it was that whole mysterious world of bathroom cruising for us clueless straight folks to whisper about. There was even a part of me that felt for Craig -- felt for a man who might well be gay but who had been taught to hate that aspect of himself so much he had to resort to anonymity and subterfuge. I certainly felt for his stoic wife, who at the end of the day knows the truth -- but in conservative Idaho her husband's indiscretion is viewed as her shame, her weakness. But I also have to admit to a very human part of me that took a not-so-secret delight in the Craig scandal, because it delivered the most ironic comeuppance to a man who had spent his political career denying equal citizenship and civil rights to one group of people simply because of who they love. Craig literally got caught with his pants down, being revealed as the worst of hypocrites in the most public of fashions -- his trumped up "morality" nothing but a smokescreen to hide his true proclivities.

Mark Foley, the conservative former congressman from Florida caught sexually chatting up male House pages (high school kids), is another good example of boldfaced hypocrisy. He had been the Republican chair of the House Missing and Exploited Children Caucus -- when all along he had been exploiting kids himself. Of course, Foley then claimed alcohol addiction, resigned, checked himself into rehab, and has not been seen or heard from since. Another thing about the Foley incident? It revealed a whole gay Republican subculture on the Hill -- members and staff -- who were forced to stay closeted to keep their jobs or standing in the party; many of these folks were purged in the wake of the Foley page scandal. Unlike Craig, however, Foley was not married -- there was no question of adultery. However, children were involved in his hypocrisy -- this is not just illegal, it's simply unforgivable.

Now lest you think -- other than my mention of Bill -- that I don't think Democrats get caught in the act, au contraire. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick lied under oath about an ongoing, adulterous affair with his chief of staff -- one that was recently revealed through racy text messages and emails. Again, it's the height of hubris to think that you are somehow immune to the very peccadilloes that brought down other politicians. Bill Clinton and his adulterous blow jobs at the White House should have shown everyone the plain truth -- come clean, apologize, don't lie about it, and people will pretty much forgive you -- as long as laws aren't broken. And please, don't lie under oath about it. Do this, and you can survive pretty much any sex scandal -- just as long as you aren't caught with a live boy or a dead girl. But hypocrites typically continue to try to hide their behavior -- not because they think it's wrong, I'm convinced, but simply because they actually believe they can -- that it's their right to indulge in the behaviors for which they happily and publicly crucify others.

And then of course, this week -- Elliot Spitzer. The coup de grace. How the mighty have fallen. Spitzer was often compared to Elliott Ness, the guy who brought down Al Capone using the mundane but effective vehicle of tax evasion. How ironic, then, that Spitzer's own Waterloo also came at the hands of the IRS, and irregularities in his bank records that came to their attention. They thought bribery at first, or kickbacks. But no. The crusader was revealed as having a preference for pricey call girls -- that he'd manage to squeeze in between congressional testimony and television appearances.

Spitzer prosecuted sex rings. Now he's caught up in one. He's done some great work for the public good -- policing Wall Street and the insurance companies -- but folks won't remember that. Is he a wolf in sheep's clothing or merely a man with human foibles? In the end, his arrogant brashness -- why lots of us loved him and others reviled him -- has left him little recourse. Resign, or be impeached -- so says the New York State Legislature. Another promising political career down the tubes on the heels of hypocrisy. The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange -- filled with representatives of the kinds of excess Spitzer so often targeted -- broke out in cheers when they heard of his downfall. Indeed, Spitzer's humiliation is so stark, so complete, it's uncomfortable to watch. But I fear the worst is yet to come -- there will be more prurient revelations and speculation, and I'm sorry for his wife and daughters. I'm also sorry for the rest of us -- who are once again forcibly reminded that self-righteous hypocrisy all too often goes hand in hand with power.

Copyright 2008. The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

This Women’s History Month, Women's Voices Women Vote is honoring those women that have utilized the internet to amplify their voices. Nominate your favorite woman blogger by March 21, then check back to vote for your favorite among our top 10 women bloggers.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Michigan and Florida: The Democrats' Waterloo or Chance at Redemption

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, warned on ABC's "This Week" (3/9) that a divisive nomination fight could cost the Democrats the White House. Gee, ya' think? Not much of a news flash, there, doc -- thanks for catching up.

Dean's concerned, of course, about the Michigan/Florida problem -- and all the fuzzy math being done by the opposing camps trying to twist the calculus in their favor. "I have to run these rules so that the losing side feels they've been treated fairly," he announced on the Sunday talking head show. Hmmm. If you can do that, buddy, Al Gore oughta give you his Nobel Peace Prize. There is likely not a graceful way out of this that is going to make everyone happy -- not with the increasing level of nastiness coming from both campaigns as well as some of their more devoted (rabid?) disciples. These folks have chugged the Kool-aid, which has blinded them from keeping their eyes on the prize. The real problem will be if the only outcome that will please folks is a decision that benefits their candidate and screws the other.

The DNC and Dr. Dean need to resign themselves that there is no pleasing everyone this time, and that some bloodletting is likely inevitable. The question is, how much hemorrhaging can this stubborn mule take before it has to be put down, and the White House is forfeited to Sen. "I'm-glad-to-have-the-endorsement-of-Catholic-hating-Rev.-Hagee" McCain. If the Democrats can let cooler heads prevail, and if both candidates can show a little leadership and see the forest for the trees, a decent resolution to this delegate mess could take the party in a meaningful step towards party reunification. We got ourselves into this mess -- the presidency may well hinge on how we get ourselves out of it.

Each campaign has crunched the delegate numbers and come up with the solution that works best for them. Clinton wants both state primaries, which she happened to win, to count toward her delegate count. Indeed, she desperately needs these delegates if she has any hope of catching Obama. At the very least, she wants brand-spanking new primaries in one or both of the states.

On the other hand, Obama's camp says a change in the rules mid-stream is unfair. He wants the delegates apportioned -- either split evenly (making the inclusion of both states a wash to his current delegate lead) or by another standard, but hasn't necessarily ruled out a new vote. Not surprisingly, given his dominance in caucuses, his camp has floated the idea of holding replacement caucuses -- though that was pretty transparent and doesn't seem to have gotten much traction. Why have caucuses in states that have always had primaries?
Dean has apparently expressed support for a new primary -- maybe even one conducted by mail -- at least for Florida. Why would he make a distinction between the two states? There's a very good reason: it was the Republican state legislature, and a Republican governor and McCain supporter in Charlie Crist, who came up with the bright idea to move up the primary in the first place. Over the opposition of Florida Democrats, I might add. But Dean has also said the DNC won't finance a second vote, and you can bet your next paycheck the Republicans in Tallahassee won't pay for it either -- hell, they've got a front row seat to the best political theater going.

I came across this provocative post on in response to this mess:
Howard Dean is not looking at the big picture; namely, to win in November. Not seating delegations from Florida and Michigan will likely cost Democrats the election. Seating the delegates won in the early primarys [sic] will alienate millions of Obama supporters with disaster even more certain. Seating delegations arbitrarily selected, perhaps equally divided, will satisfy no one. There is no better use of Party Funds than to hold new primarys [sic] in June. If Howard Dean is concerned about the ability of the party to afford them, he should announce a special fund raising drive for that purpose: I doubt it would take a week to collect ample funds. Posted by: Lee Sterne March 9, 2008 01:34 PM
The Florida Democratic Party -- chaired by one of my favorite former members of Congress, Karen Thurman -- is on a similar wavelength. Like Dean, they are pondering a mailbox election, with ballots sent to all of Florida's almost 5 million registered Democrats. The cost would be $4-6 million, and the state party wants someone else to foot the bill. But the party has also said they would accept a "soft money" contribution from, oh, I dunno, a wealthy Democratic donor, labor union, or some other fat cat willing to pick up the tab. And, last but not least, the Florida Dems also want firm agreements that Clinton and Obama would both campaign in the state. Where's George Soros when you need him??

Another entry at was also apropos, considering these delegate rules -- crazy as they are -- were set up a year and a half ago, and Michigan Democrats at least voted in favor of the scheme. It was only later that the two states decided not to abide by the plan, and this post reflects a lot of folks frustration about the results:
Personally, I'm annoyed at all these politicians from MI and FL complaining about having to do a revote. They knew what the penalties were when they chose to violate the rules. It is these FL and MI politicians that the voters should be mad at for getting everyone into this mess. Posted by: JT March 9, 2008 01:43 PM
But hey, after the 2000 debacle, Florida especially is not about to take this lying down. Two state senators -- one of them a Clinton backer-- are thinking about ratcheting up the stakes and the acrimony, with a bill proposing that Florida drop the party's eventual presidential nominee from the ballot unless it seats Florida's delegates. Holy crap. Can you imagine? While legal scholars doubt the constitutionality of the proposal, the Florida state Senate Democratic leader has already been approached by Republicans promoting the bill. Of course he has! Imagine the time, energy, money and good will that the DNC would have to burn to fight that law, were the Republicans to pass it? What a bloody nightmare.

About the best idea I've heard so far boils down to a group of party elders -- pretty much a Democratic cabal -- being gathered to figure out the mess once and for all. One member of Congress, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO), has echoed growing concerns about a Democratic meltdown over the election. He has urged Dean to appoint a panel of party elders to recommend a strategy to resolve the dispute. Folks like former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice Presidents Walter Mondale and Al Gore come to mind, likely to be joined by other undeclared but venerable superdelegates. Might there even be a role for John Edwards? I like the idea, but would add that it needs to be kinda like binding arbitration, with both Clinton and Obama agreeing to abide by the outcome beforehand -- no sour grapes afterwards. And it needs to happen soon, and the campaigns need to dial it back a notch until the issue is resolved. If Democrats handle this right, they could make progress towards a more unified party in November -- something we desperately need right now. Otherwise, they might as well hand the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the McCains right now.

This Women’s History Month, Women's Voices Women Vote is honoring those women that have utilized the internet to amplify their voices. Nominate your favorite woman blogger by March 21, then check back to vote for your favorite among our top 10 women bloggers.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and... Fired

While many denizens of the nation's capital were absorbed by the political theater presented by the 'mini-super-Tuesday' whirlwind of Ohio and Texas, the District's city government played out its own drama albeit on a local stage. With little fanfare, Washington, DC added itself to the ranks of a growing revolution. What was so momentous, you ask? Well, on the very same day so much attention was riveted on the Buckeye and Lone Star states, the DC City Council passed the Accrued Paid Sick and Safe Days Act of 2007.

Why is this a big deal? Believe it or not, nearly half (48 percent) of full-time, private-sector employees have NO paid sick days whatsoever, and a total of 57 million working Americans can’t take a single paid sick day to care for their own health -- let alone a sick kid (IWPR, 2006). The problem hits working women particularly hard, who are still pretty much responsible for meeting family caregiving needs. Almost half (49 percent) of working mothers report that they must miss work when a child is sick. And of these mothers, 49 percent do not get paid when they miss work to care for a sick child (Kaiser, 2006).

In a city where the differences between the haves and have nots are often pretty stark, this new law will let workers to earn paid sick days they've never had access to before. The majority of these workers earn their living in low-wage retail, food service and construction jobs; physically demanding work, and -- in the case of food service and retail -- jobs where we'd all just as soon sick folks stay home rather than go to work and share their cooties with the rest of us.

The new law will provide seven paid sick and safe days for DC workers in companies with 100 employees or more, five days for firms with 25-99 employees, and three days for businesses with 24 or fewer employees. Of particular note, workers in the District are now also guaranteed paid safe days, so that those dealing with domestic abuse can take time off for violence-related court appearances for things like protection orders, as well as other social services.

The District measure got held up several times over objections from the business community, who are sure this law will put them in dun territory. It was the same argument the Chamber of Commerce and their pals threw at us over the Family and Medical Leave Act -- Chicken Little hysterics, it turns out. Fifteen years later, the sky has not fallen and the FMLA is an incredibly successful law. And, a year later, San Francisco -- the only other city with minimum paid sick days -- has not fallen into the ocean either. In fact, recent reports have shown that the program is getting implemented pretty smoothly -- although there is the inevitable paperwork -- and worries over employee abuse have been exaggerated.

The District's new law is not perfect -- no legislation is. It has a hardship exemption for businesses who can prove the law is problematic to their bottom line -- I'll be real curious to see how that plays out. The new law also excludes some food service workers and healthcare staff (healthcare? cuz those are the people we want going to work sick. are they smokin' crack?). You also have to be on the job for a year before you can benefit from this, well, benefit. No getting sick -- you or your kids -- for that first year! And, oh yeah -- like all other DC legislation -- it has to get the stamp of approval from Congress. A Congress, I might add, where DC residents have no voting representation in either chamber. But I digress.

While the District is only the second city to guarantee workers paid sick time, the bill is representative of a larger local, state and national effort to get paid sick days for all. There are cities, counties and states looking at similar legislation, and some states -- like Ohio -- are going for ballot initiatives on the issue. At first I thought maybe paid sick days could be a wedge issue for Democrats -- one that spurs turnout like a good old fashioned anti-gay marriage initiative rallies the wing nuts -- but hell, even the Republicans seem to like this idea. I tell you what, the polls on this issue are good -- it's good policy and just flat out the right thing to do.

And, the reality is, people get fired everyday for taking sick time. That same poll found that nearly one in eight voters surveyed said that they or an adult worker in their family had been fired or penalized by their employer for taking time off to care for a sick family member or recover from their own illness. The United States is shamefully outdated when it comes to these family friendly workplace polices. Despite our relative wealth, we're lagging dramatically behind those in much of the rest of the world. For example, of the 173 countries surveyed by Harvard and McGill University researchers, the we're one of only five countries that do not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave, a distinction We, the People shares with Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea. Nice company, huh? That's maternity leave, arguably a bigger deal -- all DC did was give seven paid sick days a year with a fair amount of restrictions and there are smiles all around (except at the Chamber of Commerce -- sorry, guys).

But it's a start. At the federal level, we're working to pass similar legislation called the Healthy Families Act (S. 910/H.R. 1542). This Kennedy/DeLauro bill provides full-time employees with seven paid sick days a year to be used for their own medical needs or to tend to the medical needs of a child, spouse or parent. Part-time employees would receive a pro-rated share of paid sick days. Radical, huh? I know. Call us crazy.

There are lots of ways you can speak your mind on this issue, if you'd like to join the fight. Write a letter to your Senators and Representative, and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. You can also take part in an Online Rally for Paid Sick Days, and share your story. Congress needs to hear the real stories from everyday people if we're going to get this done. And we must, because women are sick and tired of being sick and fired.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Democrats' Love Triangle: Time for Some Tasty Humble Pie?

Well, folks. I'm sure you've all been waiting with baited breath to see what the Redhead has to say about Tuesday's Democratic Shenanigans. Especially after my open letter to Mistress Clinton -- who I'm convinced could kick my ass, even in a fair fight -- asking her to back out of the race before yesterday's big contests. I didn't write that letter out of any animus, but out of a desire to see Hillary conserve her political power to pursue a leadership role in the Senate. Oh, you've not been on pins and needles looking for this missive? Well, here it is anyway.

So I've been mulling it over -- always a dangerous thing. Clinton wins three out of four -- Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island. Obama gets the Cherry Garcia consolation prize in winning Vermont. As usual, we Democrats have only managed to further complicate our lives. It's kinda like what happens when you try to date two people at the same time -- it's messy, and eventually you have to chose. And Democratic voters can't seem to chose -- worse yet, a lot of us seem to have love/hate relationships with both our erstwhile suitors. The problem is, like any love triangle, if you don't play your tarot cards right you might just lose them both. Of course, that's my main concern here.

Since neither candidate managed to deliver the proverbial knockout blow, we now face seven weeks of increasingly ugly campaigning between now and the Pennsylvania primary. There are two schools of thought on this: getting all the dirty laundry aired now maybe ain't such a bad thing. On the other hand, if the two candidates manage to inflict serious damage, then we're simply committing a hara-kiri kind of swiftboating before the Republicans even have to lift a finger. Oh, and McCain gets to shift into general campaign mode now -- conserving energy, resources, and consolidating his base -- while we're still kicking the crap out of each other and potentially exhausting all three precious commodities in the election of a lifetime.

Then, there is the whole superdelegate problem. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's suuuper delegate! Looks like it's all coming down to these super special people -- some of whom I hear wish they were in the witness protection program. What to do? Play by the rules the Democrats started the race with, or potentially have a nominee that is chosen not by the people but by the party elite. Is the party of voting rights really going to disenfranchise folks that way -- and risk pissing off our two most important bases, women and African Americans? Then again, both candidates designed their strategies based on the rules as they knew them when they signed up for this clam bake -- is it fair to change the rules now? (um, hell yeah, if it saves the party from imploding.)

There was a very thoughtful analysis provided in an article in The Politico, entitled Democrats Face a Long Brawl. The most provocative point made in this piece is that both campaigns are, essentially, correct in the analysis they are putting forth about where we go from here.

"Obama is right that, at least by conventional standards, she has little prospect of overcoming his delegate lead. ...But Clinton’s aides make clear they are not counting on a conventional strategy. Instead, they will use Ohio and Texas to try to focus attention on several points where they are right. It is true she has performed better in most of the big states, like Ohio, that figure more importantly in the electoral college strategy. Much of her margin came from working-class white voters who opposed Obama overwhelmingly in Ohio and who figure prominently in Pennsylvania. These are the same low- and middle-income, blue-collar Democrats who were instrumental for Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. It is also true that he continues to have problems with Hispanics, the fastest-growing minority group and one with huge upside potential for Democratic gains in November. Exit polls in Texas showed her routing him with this group, just as she did in the Feb. 5 Super Tuesday states. Above all, it is true that Clinton showed his vulnerability to an argument — Obama’s relative youth and inexperience -- that presumptive Republican nominee John McCain will likely use in the general election."

What's missing in that otherwise thorough analysis, though, is the pretty significant political realignment Obama has inspired through the unprecedented increase in youth voters -- voters that are overwhelmingly going Blue. I've heard it said that Clinton is running the last campaign of the 20th century, and Obama is running the first campaign of the 21st century. The question is, which approach is going to get us the White House against the Maverick and his cronies -- who at the moment are sharpening their knives on the whetstone Democrats are conveniently providing.

I have to admit, I'm no better than the next Democrat, despite my letter to Hillary. That was a purely tactical move to hopefully increase our chances for the White House and preserve her chances for Senate domination. Besides, girlfriend proved me wrong and took both Ohio and Texas. But I've still not figured out how to resolve this particular love triangle. I'm not sure a double date -- a "dream ticket" with both Hillary and Barack -- is even possible after all the murky water that's gone under the bridge. The only thing I know for sure is that I miss John Edwards.

This Women’s History Month, Women's Voices Women Vote is honoring those women that have utilized the internet to amplify their voices. Nominate your favorite woman blogger by March 21, then check back to vote for your favorite among our top 10 women bloggers.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Native Buckeye Revels in the Political Bullseye on Ohio

Mini-super-Tuesday is almost here. While this latest pundit-slang seems like a contradiction in terms, I guess they were looking for a way to convey the importance of the Ohio and Texas primaries. Um, I think we get it, but thanks for the effort.

While lots of time has been spent on Texas, as a born-and-bred Buckeye I have been gratified by the attention paid to the state of Presidents. You didn't know Ohio had produced more presidents than any other state in the union? Yup. But Ohio is critical to anyone wanting to be president, whether they are home grown or not. You see, no one has won the White House without winning America's Northcoast state -- not since JFK. If Gore and Bush had managed to win Ohio, they'd have won the presidency. So, if you're a political candidate, time spent in the Buckeye state is usually time well spent. Though, that has typically been the axiom for the general elections. In the past, Ohio's primary has been so late in the game that Ohio's days in the sun had to wait until well past March. However, this is a race for the ages, and Ohio -- in all its glorious purpleness -- is up for grabs. And now, my friends and family's primary votes actually have the power to decide the entire race, and they're positively giddy with delight at the early attention.

I am too -- even though I've moved, I'll always be a proud Buckeye. It truly is a great state. Ohio is in many ways a microcosm for the country, as 60 Minutes explained in their marvelous story on the primaries during Sunday's telecast (3/2). The state is bordered by the Appalachian Mountains and the Midwest plains, Lake Erie and the mighty Ohio River. Ohio is the place where our food is grown, our stuff is made, and a fair amount of it is shipped too -- well, what's still made in this country, anyway. Businesses from Proctor & Gamble and Whirlpool, to White Castle, Federated Department Stores and Sherwin-Williams are headquarted there. Nationwide and Progressive insurances call Ohio home, as does American Electric Power and the Kroger grocery chain. Oh, and there's three banks: Natonal City, Key Corp, and FifthThird. As for culture -- no, stop laughing -- Cleveland's PlayHouse Square and University Circle are home to amazing theater and musuems -- and the world renowned Cleveland Orchestra. Ask anyone who knows music, and they'll tell you the Cleveland Orchestra is the bomb. If Ohio were its own country, it would have the 25th largest ecnomony in the world -- just behind the Netherlands.

That's the good news, but like so many states with a manufacturing base, Ohio has fallen on tough times. The 60 Minutes story said that median annual incomes had dropped by 10 percent during the W presidency -- thanks, pal. For the same reason I was pissed about the Democrats taking a powder on the Michigan primary, I am so glad the Donkey has decided to take an extended trail ride around Ohio. Both candidates are getting a first hand look at unemployment higher than the national average, and as well as a small taste of how the subprime mortgage disaster and foreclosures are playing out in the lives of working people. Yeah, Ohio's a microcosm, alright. Across the country, folks are worried about a tanking economy, jobs swimming overseas, ballooning inflation and lagging incomes that don't keep pace. Unfortunately, the fine folks in Ohio and Michigan are already knee deep in the muck -- and the rest of the country is following close behind. I know the war is motivating a lot of voters this election, but I think the economy has got to be priority number one for the next president -- that itty bitty, ill-conceived economic stimulus bill ain't gonna solve this mess.

Ohio is up for grabs, as I alluded to earlier. While it went red in the last two presidential elections, they weren't landslides by any stretch. Also, folks in Ohio are ripe for the message of Democratic change, especially after eight years of failed Republican policies that reward the companies that send their jobs overseas, and give tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent of Americans. More Americans than ever see themselves as "have-nots" -- not a good sign for the Republicans eyeing the Buckeye state, either. Couple that with a popular Democratic Govenor in former Congressman Ted Strictland, just elected in 2006 and already cleaning up the corruption of his predecessor (yeah, he was from that Taft family -- great political name -- it looked real pretty on the indictment). Plus, Ohio ousted Republican Sen. Mike DeWine in 2006, giving the nod to a much more progressive voice in Clevelander (and another former member of the congressional delegation), Sen. Sherrod Brown. All this is to say that Ohio is more purple than you think -- and this spells good news for the Democrats.

So, go my people. My friends and family. Go forth and vote on Tuesday. Speak your mind. Let your voice be heard. Show 'em how a Buckeye speaks truth to power. But please, please... vote Democratic in November. Is that too much to ask?