Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Real Stunner in the Midterm Elections

The day after the election, after I picked myself up from the floor and stopped pulling my hair out, I had a fantasy that went like this: Michelle Obama walks to a podium, somber and clearly containing her anger. She pans the room, pauses, and says, “I’m going to take a risk. Many of you won’t like what I have to say. My handlers will hate it. But I’m going to throw away my script and speak from the heart.”

Michelle Obama

“My husband did not deserve the terrible, bruising rebuff he suffered in the election. No president in modern history has had to suffer the levels of disrespect and attacks on his character and abilities, nor has any president I can recall had so many crises to deal with simultaneously. And no president in our history has been subjected to the incipient racism that is part of America’s underbelly. Whatever you think of him, or his policy decisions and actions, he did nothing to warrant the horrific way he’s been treated, and he did not deserve to be betrayed by his fellow Democrats such that Republicans – many of whom should have their characters and abilities examined – swept into unquestioned power, something I think we will all come to regret.”

The First Lady could not say this, much as she might have fantasized doing so. But those of us who are not public figures can. And we should, because what happened in the election was unconscionable. It was also deeply dangerous because it has led us one step closer to the demise of democracy, and the rise of an American oligarchy. Anyone who thinks that won’t happen, or doesn’t matter, will learn too late that they got what they didn’t vote for.

Less than 40 percent of Americans voted in the midterm elections. That’s not surprising if you consider the history of midterms, but it is alarming: History also tells us that passivity is the path to the abuse power.

Why did people vote against their own interests? Why did they re-elect those who screw them out of needed support systems? Why do they endorse politicians who are in trouble with the law?

Here’s what I really don’t get. Why did Democrats run so far from their president and the values he represents? Why not campaign on those values, and tout the president’s achievements? What was the Democratic debacle, that huge and ugly betrayal, about?

Here are just some of the achievements I wish the Dems had campaigned on and that voters should have been reminded to consider. President Obama reduced the unemployment rate from over 10 percent when he took office to 5.8 percent. There are now over three and a half million private sector jobs that didn’t exist during the Bush recession and there is huge reduction in the deficit. The U.S. auto industry still exists. The president also stood up to Wall Street and helped avert a global financial collapse. Under his administration, the tax rates for average working families are the lowest since 1950; the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act cut taxes for 95% of America’s working families.
The president has understood that women and gays are people too. He signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act instituting equal pay for women. He expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act and appointed two pro-choice women to the Supreme Court. He repealed “Don’t ask don’t tell” and appointed more openly gay officials than anyone in history. He also extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees and changed HUD rules to prohibit gender and sexual orientation-based discrimination in housing.
President Obama also made us a little safer. He eliminated Osama bin Laden, disrupted Al Quaeda terrorist plots, toppled Gadhafi, ended two wars, and helped restore America’s reputation around the world. He signed an Executive Order banning torture and put the U.S. in compliance with the Geneva Convention.

He addressed education and health care head on. The president increased funding for student financial aid, cut banks out of the process by reforming student loan rates and expanding the Pell Grants program providing opportunities for low income students. Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act he invested in all levels of education, including Head Start.
With the Affordable Health Care Act, President Obama expanded health insurance coverage to 30 million more people, expanded Medicaid and reduced Medicare costs. He increased federal support for biomedical and stem cell research. He increased the number of children covered by health insurance by four million and extended COBRA health coverage for the unemployed.
The president may not have addressed climate change adequately but he strengthened environmental protection through new laws and policies. He fast-tracked regulations to increase fuel efficiency standards and ordered energy plants to plan for producing at least 15% of all energy through renewable resources.
It would take another column to record all the Obama administration has done to make our country safer, healthier, better educated, more economically sound, and more respected within the international community. Still, these facts alone should have been enough to keep Democrats from abandoning a president who like all former presidents, and human beings, is not perfect.

That they behaved so badly is the truly stunning surprise of the 2014 midterm elections.

Two Nobel Prizes, 65 Million Girls Absent from School

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize, shared by deserving recipients Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, shines important light on the children of impoverished countries. Through their work on behalf of children’s rights we are reminded of the urgency of now when it comes to girls’ education and to child exploitation for financial gain.

Significantly, the award came as the United Nations marked the International Day of the Girl Child, a day to promote girls’ human rights and to highlight gender inequalities that still lead to various forms of discrimination and abuse suffered by a huge number of the world’s girls. That is not to diminish the painful lives boys lead in many corners of the world. But the issue of girls’ education that Malala speaks to is so critical to a country, a community, a family, a girl, a woman, and her own children that it deserves the special attention a 17-year old activist – the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize – has brought to light.

“Extremists have shown what frightens them most,” Malala has said. “It’ a girl with a book.” She is hardly exaggerating. Just think how ISIS and the Taliban and Boka Haram confine females to sexual slavery by way of faux marriages.

Sadly, history is replete with unnamed multitudes of women denied an education. In medieval times, for instance, women who were unmarriageable or considered unruly were shunted off to convents. But there they found a haven free from subservience and perpetual childbearing, a place where they could read, write, discuss ideas – until the men in power realized how dangerous that was, and banned them from such activities in favor of religious devotion and endless embroidery.

Yet, here’s what we know about the value of girls’ education: It is central to a country’s development and improvement. It leads the way out of poverty. And it has a direct, proven impact on child and reproductive health, economic growth, environmental sustainability, national productivity, innovation, democratic values, and social cohesion.

In the World Bank’s new report, Voice and Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity, key findings include that “girls with little or no education are far more likely to be married [off] as children, suffer domestic violence, live in poverty, and lack a say over household spending or their own healthcare than better-educated peers; and enhanced education – the ability to make decisions and act on them – is a key reason why children of better educated women are less likely to be stunted; educated mothers have greater autonomy in making decisions and more power to act for their children’s benefit.”

We know that illiteracy is one of the strongest predictors of poverty and that every year of schooling increases individual wages for both men and women. We know that an educated, skilled workforce is one of the foundations of a knowledge-based society and that education makes vital contributions to lowering maternal and child mortality rates, protecting against HIV/AIDS, reducing fertility rates, and enhancing environmental awareness.

But let’s put a human face on this, as CAMFED, a UK-based non-profit organization dedicated to girls’ education, has. Suppose you’re a 12-year old girl, they suggest. You went to primary school, loved learning, and enjoyed interacting with your classmates. But you couldn’t go to secondary school because your family didn’t have the money for school fees, uniforms, or transport. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t safe. Or that your labor was needed at home. You therefore became a financial burden on your family and had to work to contribute money to the household. Young, lonely and sad, you are likely to have a baby before you are 15 or 16, maybe three children by the age of 20. You are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than your former classmates and your children are more likely to be malnourished than women who waited to have families. You have no power – no agency to make decisions – no say whatsoever over your life. And all you wanted to do was stay in school.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are 24 million girls like that one. Overall in the world, there are 65 million girls who are not in school.

In poor countries, 60 percent of the present population is under 25 years of age. Without children’s rights, including access to education, how are we going to realize global peace and development? In conflict-ridden areas – proliferating at a staggering rate – how will we stop the violation of children and the continued violence that occurs from one generation to the next?

Thank Heaven for a new generation of young women, and men, symbolized by Malala Yousafzai. “I know I am not alone,” she told reporters on learning of her prize. “I think this is really the beginning. This decision sends a message that all people, regardless of language and religion, should fight for the rights of women, children and every human being.”

That includes policymakers and politicians as well as parents. Would that they had the will to join her quest.