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Ms. Wright Goes to Washington

By Sheryl Wright

Despite their pledge during the 2010 mid-term election campaign to focus on jobs,Republicans have used their majority in the House to push abortion to the front of the Congressional agenda. On January 7, 2011, Congressman Mike Pence introduced H.R. 217(the Pence Amendment).


Bachmann Spiking the Tea

By Karima E. Rustin

One of the many things I look forward to on a Saturday morning  is reading The New York Times. And who do I see prominently figuring at the beginning of the column but Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN)...damn, not Bachmann again!


The Politics of Union Envy 

By Sheryl Wright

Neither of my parents went to college, but both were union members—my father in the private sector and my mother in the public. In addition to their salaries, which allowed them to provide a comfortable life for our family, the benefits won by their respective unions


Roundtable: Delegitimizing Obama–The Intersection of Gender, Power & Politics  

Sheryl: Almost 800 days in office and it seems every day is seen as an opportunity for renewed criticism of the President. The latest kerfuffle is around the claim that President Obama’s decision to involve the U.S. in the action in Libya






Hypocrisy, Disparities and Double Standards

By Karima E. Rustin

Living in a 24-hour media news cycle, I feel constantly bombarded by sound bites, commentaries, breaking news updates, and updates on the last updates about what is happening in our country. All the dizzying coverage on the weak economy, the stock market taking a nosedive, and the divisive rhetoric being hawked by all the current contenders for the Republican primary can be quite maddening. During the past couple of weeks, however, there were a few news items warranting my commentary.

Rep. Allen West (R-FL) appeared on Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor”discussing the high unemployment  rate for black people, which is holding steady at 15.9 percent. He decided to play the blame game by criticizing black Democrats for not coming up with any concrete solutions to this unemployment dilemma. Mr. West then claimed, provocatively, that black people are still on a “plantation,” black Democrats are now the “new overseers” on that plantation, and he is the 21st century version of Harriet Tubman who wants to lead black people off the plantation to “a sense of sensibility.” Interesting, I wondered what that “sense of sensibility” would look like and what solutions he, “the 21st century Harriet Tubman” might have for getting black people back to work.

So, not only did Mr. West criticize black Congressional Democrats, he also insulted all black Democratic voters in the same breathe. Lucky for us, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) responded to Mr. West’s comments on MSNBC’s "Hardball with Chris Matthews;" she found his criticism of black Democrats odd considering he urged his unemployed brother to attend a job fair held in Atlanta, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, and to seek out Ms. Waters!

A recent New York Times/CBS New Poll showed that 63% of Americans support raising taxes on individuals earning $250,000 a year to help deal with our overwhelming deficit. Republicans want no part of that; during the debt ceiling talks, they fought, kicked, and held their collective breath against ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times, stating enough already with the coddling of wealthy people who can pay more taxes. Mr. Buffett points to the various tax breaks the super rich enjoy while the  people who work for him pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does. He suggests raising taxes on incomes exceeding $1 million and $10 million, and increasing the tax rate on dividends and capital gains. Mr. Buffet is willing to pay more in taxes and states there are other investors just like him who want to contribute more to the country they love. Thank you Mr. Buffett, you are the best!

There also seems to be some outrage over President Obama's decision to take a ten day vacation with his family to Martha’s Vineyard, MA. How could he? Doesn’t he understand the economy is in the toilet and unemployment is over 9%? He needs to stay home at the White House and work on his jobs plan and suffer like everyone else who can’t afford to take ten day excursions. The nerve of him! Wait…didn’t former President George W. Bush take vacations during his presidency? Rachel Maddow compared the number of vacation days taken by the last four presidents at this same point in their presidency. George W. Bush entered into the first of two wars by this time in his presidency; that decision was so exhausting he needed a whopping 180 vacation days to recover. I don’t think there is anything wrong with our president wanting to spend quality time with his wife and daughters. He didn’t rent out a villa in Lake Como, he picked a low-key, popular vacation spot in the United States

I am interested in hearing real solutions from our elected officials, not criticism of other colleagues using baseless and demeaning speech. If the majority of Americans want to see a fairer appropriation of tax rates among the middle-class and wealthier people, the Republican Party needs to stop fighting with the Democrats, and pull up a chair to listen to some new ideas. Finally, this high level of criticism over the Obama trip needs to be dialed down—President Barack Obama doesn’t need to justify spending time with his family.


Where Are the Jobs?... Republicans Know Government Spending Is the Answer

By Sheryl Wright

Last week, I participated in a Rebuild the Dream/MoveOn Jobs Not Cuts rally at the office of Tea Party Republican Congressman Michael Grimm in Brooklyn, NY. Since the start of the 2011 congressional term, politicians and the mainstream media have ceded to the demands of tea partiers, like Congressman Grimm, who have called for a focus on debt and deficit reduction. In recent polls, however, the American people have expressed the desire that Congress and the President focus on job creation. Contrary to tea partiers’ claims, Republican pollsters attributed the Republican takeover of the House in the 2010 midterm elections to their promise to focus on jobs. So far this year, House Republicans have simply dusted off their failed policy prescriptions of cutting taxes and regulations in answer to the call for job creation, and Senate Republicans persist in their efforts to limit Democratic Senators’ ability to pass legislation that will stimulate job growth.

Congressional Republicans, particularly Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (MN) who has thrown her hat into the Republican presidential primary ring, continue to attack the Obama stimulus program despite proof that it was successful in saving and creating jobs. For ideological purposes and, perhaps most cynically, to regain control of the White House, Republicans are refusing to support government spending that they know will create jobs. How do we know they know? Rachel Maddow pointed to the several hundred letters that Congressional Republicans sent to the Obama administration requesting stimulus money to fund projects in their home districts which the Republican lawmakers themselves described as jobs creators. She also spoke with Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen about his pitch to the White House to spur Republican support for stimulus spending. In his piece, Benen urges the president to announce that he will provide funding for all of the projects that Republican lawmakers submitted to the White House while they publicy proclaimed that any further government spending was bad for the economy. 

GOP stimulus hypocrisy is not new news. Even though they believed the stimulus bill would create jobs, Congressional Republicans voted against it—unanimously in the House and almost unanimously in the Senate—in order to score political points with their tea party base. During an appearance at a House Republican retreat in January 2010, President Obama called them out on their duplicitousness.

It is beyond shameful that Republicans, in an attempt to make President Obama a one-term president, are willing to lie to the public about what government can do to improve the economy. Unfortunately misleading Republican rhetoric about the stimulus doesn’t just affect President Obama’s reelection prospects; the ramifications go far beyond a single election. By muddling the public’s understanding of the important role government plays in creating an economy which betters the everyday lives of ordinary working people, Republicans are steadily weakening the federal government’s ability to serve all of the people.

Where are the jobs? We need to do our part to let Republicans and the Tea Party know that we know the truth.



The Minnesota Shutdown Showdown

Minnesota State Capital Building courtesy of The Associated PressAs we enter day 13 of the Minnesota government shutdown, the 200 members of the State House and Senate can’t seem to agree to buckle down and do what is best for the state's residents. It is my understanding that part of the job of both chambers of the legislature is to balance the state budget every two years, and since the deficit is around $5 billion, I would assume they (the legislators) would try to fix this sticky situation sooner rather than later. But no, they would rather dig their heels in the ground than negotiate. Actually there seems to be very little motivation for Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and the Republican leaders to make any progress in ending this standoff; they have barely come together since the shutdown began.

Fact: Governor Mark Dayton proposed to temporarily increase income taxes for the top 2 percent earners in the state to generate revenue, and when that didn’t go over well with the Republican members of the State Senate, Governor Dayton abandoned that idea and instead suggested an increase in the state cigarette tax (the GOP leaders rebuffed the offer).

Fact: Approximately 22,000 (non-essential) state employees were laid off because of the shutdown and have to make do with unemployment checks; the state also halted work on 100 important road projects. Meanwhile, 138 of the 200 state House and Senate lawmakers are still happy to accept their paychecks for a job not well done.

Fact: As each day passes, the state is losing millions in revenue as a result of the shutdown of the lottery, the closing of racetracks, and the shuttering of 66 state parks. Let’s not forget the lost revenue from the closure of 84 rest stops. Truck drivers now have to travel to the Wisconsin border to use the rest stops and fuel up;  it is federally mandated that truck drivers rest after driving over eleven hours.

Fact: Fitch Ratings lowered the state’s bond rating because of the budget shutdown, making it more costly for Minnesota to borrow money.

By allowing the shutdown to happen with very little negotiation, Governor Dayton and the state lawmakers  are being disrespectful and showing no consideration for their fellow Minnesotans. If she were alive, my grandmother would have a few choice words for the lawmakers. Growing up I would accompany her when she went shopping at the neighborhood supermarket. She had very little patience for  the young surly female cashiers with their eye-rolling, gum-smacking, and bad attitudes. When one of the cashiers would throw my grandmother’s change and receipt back at her she would respond with "Young lady, I work hard for my money. You might not like your job, but you did choose this job. So you better show some respect when you are handling my money!"

In the spirit of my grandmother, I would like to say to the Minnesota Democrats and Republicans, along with Governor Mark Dayton, show a little respect for the people who elected you to office, and get the damn budget done.


Pushing for Progressivism in the Age of Obama  

By Sheryl Wright

November 4, 2008 was a memorable day; I, like many others, never imagined the day would come when I would see a black person elected president of the United States. For the first time in my adult political life, I believed there would be a perceptible shift in the politics of the country. For the first time in a very long time, I was excited about our country’s future. I remember having a similar feeling that better days were ahead when Jimmy Carter was elected president—granted I was only eight years old and Carter, of course, was not the first black president.

Even though I enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama, he was not my vision of the ideal progressive. With Wall Street’s recklessness and continuing excesses, growing health and income disparity, and  rising unemployment, I longed for a nominee who would speak out as forcefully as Franklin D. Roosevelt did when he said of the wealthy elites and corporate titans of his day, “They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.” After almost eight years of Republican attempts to undo the New Deal, I wanted a Democratic nominee who was willing to boldly declare the belief and understanding that maintaining a safety net for the American people has legal, economic and moral justifications. That is why I was hugely supportive of Obama's proposal to repeal the Bush-era tax cuts to pay for health care reform, including an affordable public health care option and his declaration that health care should be a right.

Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has had many accomplishments, nevertheless the president and his team have failed to craft a message that speaks to the government’s ability to transform our nation in meaningful ways and make a positive difference in the everyday lives of the people. In the summer of 2009, with the Tea Party aligned in opposition to health care reform, Republicans seized the opportunity to paint the proposed legislation as a government takeover of health care. The narrative of government as an intrusive and incompetent force in our lives won the day. In the process, the administration ceded important ground to the Republicans on a number of the issues championed by Obama on the campaign trail; congressional Democrats share in the blame, especially as it relates to passage of the president’s middle-class tax cut proposal.

While Republicans, with some assistance from the media, cast Barack Obama as the most liberal Democratic presidential candidate ever nominated, Obama described himself as a “pragmatic progressive; painting Democratic candidates as the most liberal nominee ever is a standard GOP attack line. Ezra Klein’s Washington Post article details similarities between President Obama’s policy initiatives and those supported by congressional Republicans and recent Republican presidents—suggesting that Obama’s description of himself is more accurate than the Republicans. Under Obama, tax cuts for the wealthy have been extended for two more years. Health care reform minus a public option was signed into law; despite its historical significance and expansion of coverage to millions of Americans, the legislation may or may not move us closer to the progressive notion of health care as a right. Time will tell. For many of us, the policy changes actually brought about by the Obama administration have not always looked like the policies proposed during the Obama campaign.  

Whatever disappointments we may have with the administration, progressive changes in policy have occurred that probably would not have occurred in a McCain administration. I am convinced that claims in 2000 that a vote for the Democrat was no different than a vote for the Republican helped to bring us the disastrous eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. In the effort to push for stronger progressive policies, liberals and progressives who use of over-the-top language to critique the president and his policies—accusing him of being a liar and his administration of being an extension of the Bush presidency—are being short-sighted and irresponsible. Words do matter. It is important to keep in mind the impact of our words, especially when nutty right-wing attempts to delegitimize President Obama have been given so much attention in the media.  

I can remember the excitement I felt in the final days of the campaign each time Obama asked us to believe not just in his ability to bring about change, but also in our own. Perhaps he meant it as more of a warning than a remark intended to inspire, when he reminded us that we were responsible for powering any change that would occur. I’m afraid we did not grasp the magnitude of what he was telling us. Instead of viewing the election win as the initial battle in the fight, too many of us believed the war was won—allowing the Tea Party to step in and seize the mantle of change.

Although I continue to believe his administration has moved too far in their compromises on a number of important issues, I am extremely grateful that Barack Obama is our president. As The Nation’s John Nichols points out, we elected a president who knows what it means to be a progressive; two years, six months, and 14 days after that momentous election day, our job is to make him do what he promised. I have attended rallies, signed petitions, sent e-mails, made telephone calls, and written letters to effect change, but I look to the persistence demonstrated by the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement to know there is more that needs to be done and more that I can do.  

In his article on Obama’s April 11th deficit speech, George Lakoff advises Democrats to pay close attention to the president’s vision of progressive government. In the speech, Obama tells us, “...through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.” What will you do to see the progressive change you want?


Ms. Wright Goes to Washington

By Sheryl Wright

Despite their pledge during the 2010 mid-term election campaign to focus on jobs, Republicans have used their majority in the House to push abortion to the front of the Congressional agenda. On January 7, 2011, Congressman Mike Pence introduced H.R. 217 (the Pence Amendment). The House passed the bill, which prohibits the awarding of federal family planning funds to any entity that performs abortions, on February 18th. According to the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, the legislation would effectively eliminate state health departments’ and other public and nonprofit organization administrators’ ability to maintain a public health safety net that provides family planning services to millions of women and men around the country. In response, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and more than twenty other organizations came together for a rally and lobby day to express support for women’s health/family planning programs and outrage at what many saw as Republican political gamesmanship.

It may not have been as dramatic as the Hollywood classic about Mr. Smith’s epic battle in Washington, D.C., but my visit last week to the nation’s capital was an exciting opportunity to participate in a true demonstration of democracy. Having attended the February Rally to Protect Womens Health in New York CityI saw the trip to D.C. as a chance to speak directly to my congressperson about the importance of Planned Parenthood.  

I know women without health insurance who have had to turn to Planned Parenthood for preventive care. I have heard stories from people who, as teenagers, relied on Planned Parenthood for sexual health information. As someone who is not insured through an employer and is responsible for paying the full health insurance premium, I want to do what I can to ensure that Planned Parenthood’s services will be available to me should I ever need them. Republican assertions that government funds are used for abortion are untrue. The abortion services, which are a small, yet vital component of  the  reproductive health services offered, should be readily available to women who want it—like it or not, Roe v. Wade is still the law.

The bus trip down was relatively quiet with the exception of a sprinkling of women chatting with each other; considering the 6:30 a.m. departure time, most people opted to take a nap. As we approached the city limits, the Planned Parenthood staffer assigned to the bus provided a brief overview of what to expect during the day. For the first stop on the agenda, we walked to the National Mall for the Rally for Women’s Health. It was exciting to stand in the midst of a crowd coming together for a common cause. It was equally exciting to see men in the crowd; from 2000 to 2009, Planned Parenthood services to men increased by 103 percent. The list of speakers included a host of federal elected officials and celebrities who pledged their continued support for women’s health programs and Planned Parenthood. I am a little embarrassed to admit that one of the celebrities, David EigenbergSteve Brady, Miranda’s husband in HBO series Sex and the City—was a big highlight for me. Aside from him being my favorite male character on the show, I was moved by his remarks as to why it was important for him to be at the rally.

The second part of the day consisted of lobby visits with our individual congresspersons. I have participated in rallies before, but this was my first lobbying trip. With my trusty lobby day map in hand, I left the rally and  headed over to the Rayburn House Office Building to meet with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY). As I walked the halls, I took note of the doors to the offices of representatives whom I have watched on television—some whose positions on the issues I largely share and others whose positions I absolutely despise. I also noted the many name-tagged people in business attire walking in the halls alongside me and standing in front of the office doors of individual representatives. I started to wonder what right I had to be there; I don’t represent a large corporation or some other monied interest. I am not promising a large monetary contribution or any other form of largesse, except my vote. It’s just me…Sheryl Wright. The more I walked those halls, the more I felt I belonged; I have a constitutional right to petition the government on my own behalf and on behalf of the people I know who have relied on Planned Parenthood’s services. Why should monied and corporate interests have more influence in our government than people like me?

The meeting with Congressman Towns went very well—he has a Planned Parenthood 100-percent, pro-choice rating. In fact, all of the members of the New York City House delegation are rated 100  percent pro-choice with the exception of Republican Michael Grimm, Staten Island’s sole representative. My lobby visit with Congressman Towns was an opportunity to personally thank him, let him know I stand with him in his support of Planned Parenthood, and urge him to be even stronger in his advocacy for women’s health. At the close of the meeting, he thanked my group for coming and told us these kinds of meetings provided a wind beneath his wings. The cynic in me immediately questioned his sincerity, however, it didn’t take long for me to understand; no matter who you are, it is good to know that there are others standing with you.