Digital Bootstraps for Analog Problems — A Reply to Gene Marks’ “If I Were A Poor Black Kid”

Dec 22, 2011 by

A truly clueless if well-intentioned column by Gene Marks titled “If I Were A Poor Black Kid” in Forbes magazine is getting righteously ripped from journalists all around the web. They’re correctly pointing out how bereft Marks’ column is of history, research, practical awareness, racial sensitivity, or the sheer realities of hunger or even homelessness that low-income children face. Marks seems to suggest that kids from impoverished backgrounds – all too many of whom are African American – can simply access computers and lift themselves up by their digital bootstraps to use free websites and enter elite prep schools or colleges. Maybe a handful of motivated kids will manage a heroic feat like that despite all the odds, but is this going to work for the majority of poor kids?

–> Read the rest of this post here, at

Cynthia Liu is founder of the grassroots education news site, which empowers parents, educators, and students to report on important events at their local neighborhood schools and provides tools for maximum civic engagement in support of public education. This piece originally appeared in Technorati.

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Mom’s Clean Air Force Twitter Party

Dec 13, 2011 by

Moms Clean Air Force

Thursday December 15th our friends at Clever Girls Collective will be hosting an historic twitter chat sponsored by the women at Mom’s Clean Air Force featuring EPA administrator Lisa P Jackson.

This is an amazing opportunity for MOMocrats readers to actually ask first questions about one of the issues that effects all of us, air quality.

Currently, there are no national limits on the amount of mercury and other toxic air pollution released from power plant smokestacks. The toxic air pollutants from the coal and oil fired plants have numerous and serious health effects, especially on children. Research has shown that Mercury harm’s children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills.

The other toxic metals found such as arsenic, chromium and nickel are known to cause cancer. Not to mention the damage Mercury and many of the other toxic pollutants causes our nation’s lakes, streams, and fish.

This is just a handful of the reasons why the EPA’s proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule will have a huge impact on our health, the air, the economy and even jobs.

The EPA estimates the value of the improvements to health alone total $59 billion to $140 billion by 2016 by preventing thousands of premature deaths and tens of thousands of heart attacks, bronchitis cases and asthma attacks. Meeting the standards created by the rule would also create new jobs such as building, installing and operating the equipment to reduce the harmful emissions of mercury and other toxics.

Got questions? Well join the Clever Girls Collective community Q & A session with Administrator Jackson where you can get your air quality-related questions by her! They’ll also be discussing clean air—how pollution has affected you and your family sharing tips for ways you can help ensure we leave a legacy of cleaner air to future generations. They’ll also be offering prizes throughout the hour — including Moms Clean Air Force prize packs and gifts.

Moms Clean Air Force Twitter Event ft. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson on Thursday, Dec 15 at 12pm PT/3pm on Twitter! Use the Tweetgrid here:

Follow: @momsCAF, @lisapjackson, @clevergirlscoll—and hashtag #momsCAF

RSVP here to let us know you’re joining the event

Please spread the word with your networks by tweeting this out:

Join us! Moms Clean Air Force Twitter Event w/ EPA Admin @lisapjackson! 12/15 @ 12 P/ 3 ET! Fab prizes! #momsCAF RSVP

This is a sponsored MOMocrats post written as part of the Clever Girls Collective campaign for greater awareness of Mom’s Clean Air Force.

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Disappointed Doesn’t Cut It Anymore: A Mother’s Rebuttal of President Obama’s Plan B Politics

Dec 9, 2011 by

Kate StewartThe MOMocrats welcome this guest post, written by Kate Stewart. Cross-posted with permission from Amplify.

Disappointed doesn’t cut it anymore.

Disappointed, angry, dismayed — these are only some of the emotions I am feeling this afternoon after hearing President Obama’s poor excuse for restricting access to Plan B One Step.

I am also scared.

Scared about the health of my daughters.  As the mother of two daughters, just like President Obama, I try to use “common sense” as much as possible. But, also like President Obama, I am not a doctor; I am not a scientist. I use my own judgment when it comes to things I am confident I can handle — a case of the sniffles, a little cold.

But, I also understand that it is my responsibility as a parent to know when I don’t know all the answers and it’s time to turn to experts. And that, apparently, is where the President and I disagree.

When my daughter’s pediatrician gives me medical advice, I listen. Carefully. American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine make recommendations about my daughters’ health, that matters to me. A lot. And I believe it should.

Today, President Obama has made the irresponsible – and nearly incomprehensible — decision to support HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ move to block the FDA from expanding access to Plan B One-Step emergency contraception. Whether the President’s decision was motivated by well-intentioned ignorance or political cowardice is beside the point. Either way, this move will adversely impact millions of women, particularly young women, across the country.

President Obama has decided to ignore scientific research and medical advice and has sacrificed the health of young women. And I want to know why. Why, Mr. President? Why would you reject years of research and the best scientific thinking the medical community has to offer? Why, for the first time in U.S. history, did your administration intervene to overrule the FDA’s ability to make decision about medical science?

On Monday, I was optimistic. The FDA was expected to expand the availability of Plan B One-Step, a form of back-up birth control that can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if something goes wrong with regular contraception. Indeed, the FDA tried to do just that: make Plan B One-Step available to all women — without age restrictions and without needing a prescription. If either of my daughters ever needs back-up birth control, I hope I will be among the first to know and I would help them in whatever way I could. But, life is not always as we want it to be, and therefore, it is essential that young people have the access to the information and services they need to ensure their health and safety. I thought we were headed in this direction on Monday. But, my optimism suddenly turned to dismay.

Yesterday, in a shocking move, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius took the unprecedented step of overruling the FDA and blocking its decision to expand access to emergency contraception. I held out a brief hope that President Obama would intervene and allow the FDA to do its job unhampered by politics, but those hopes were soon dashed as well. Today, President Obama came out in support of Secretary Sebelius’ action – and, in doing so, decided to play politics with the lives and health of young women.

To say I was shocked when listening to the President is an understatement. It’s not just that I disagree with his position, it’s that his reasoning is so hollow and unsubstantiated. This Harvard-educated legal scholar who has signed presidential directives about the importance of science-based policy suddenly sounded eerily like Rep. Michelle Bachman. He framed his reasoning “as the father of two daughters,” when my own two daughters most needed him to be acting like the President of the United States. He invoked the specter of 11 year-olds buying Plan B next to “bubble gum and batteries,” as if 11 year-olds wander into CVS to buy $50 medications every afternoon. In the end, he felt that these concerns should overweigh the best advice of every major medical organization, years of research, and the recommendations of the FDA itself. How is this different than Rep. Bachman condemning HPV vaccines because of unscientific misinformation from a woman in the grocery store?

I understand that President Obama is uncomfortable with the idea that young teens may need emergency contraception. That worries me too. Rather than deny them access to a fully safe medication that could help prevent unintended pregnancy, perhaps we should be doubling down on comprehensive sex education — and expanding access to contraception in the first place — so that fewer of our daughters ever need Plan B at all. But, for those who do, we still have a responsibility to make sure that any woman who needs emergency contraception has access to it when they need it.

As I write this my daughters are at school and I am figuring out how to get them a quick dinner before heading off to a school holiday party this evening. Of all the other things, on my to do list today as a working mom, I really did not believe I would be writing about my shock and disappointment in President Obama and, yes, my fear for my daughters’ future.

Was this part of a back-room deal, trading away the rights of all our daughters for some inside-the-beltway political ploy? Mr. President, why? I still want to know. I need something more than your current, cowardly excuses.

Mr. President, many of us were stunned by your remarks today. We need a better explanation for why you decided to sacrifice my daughters’ safety and well-being.

I hope you will join me in expressing your outrage and demanding that President Obama reverse this decision. CLICK HERE TO TAKE ACTION.

Kate Stewart will be joining Advocates for Youth as Executive Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs beginning in January 2012. She is a public opinion research and communications specialist who has worked with a wide-range of advocacy and non-profit organizations on communications, policy, and public affairs. Most recently, she was a partner in the research and strategic communications firm, Belden Russonello & Stewart, LLC, where she created communications and public relations strategies for clients on civil liberties, public education, reproductive health, and reproductive justice. Kate has also been an adjunct professor at American University, where she taught public communication research and served on the Governing Council of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. Kate has been a member of Advocates’ Board of Directors, mostly recently serving as Board Chair. Kate received a B.A. with high honors in history from Haverford College and her M.S. in survey methodology from the University of Maryland.

Disclosure:  I am a member of the Board of Directors of Advocates for Youth.  -Glennia

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MOMocrats MOMochat: The Battle in Seattle — Which Way “Ed Reform”?

Sep 27, 2011 by

The morning of Wednesday, September 28, 2011, join Cynematic, Karoli and Donna Schwartz Mills for a lively Blog Talk Radio podcast with four women running for school board in Bill Gates' backyard up in Seattle. Sharon Peaslee, Michelle Buetow, Kate Martin and Marty McLaren have a vision for education in their district, and we'll hear why it doesn't completely mesh with that of Gates and the Broad Foundation's plans for education reform in America. What's the difference between what these candidates have to offer and "ed reform" (or as some say, "ed Rheeform")?

How did the Seattle Public Schools end up with a School Superintendent, Dr. Marie Goodloe-Johnson, who badly mismanaged school district finances? (Read more about graduates of the Broad Superintendent School in the Parents' Guide to the Broad Foundation. They're awfully high-flying but seem to run into trouble no matter where they're posted around the country.)

What needs to be done to get SPS finances on the right track going forward? And what, if any shadow, does the Gates Foundation cast on public schools in its own back yard?

These issues may seem local to Seattle but they're national in impact. Schools across the country are grappling with the same problems — and it's no wonder. Gates Foundation money is everywhere, as are Broad Foundation school superintendents.

All four candidates will also appear at The Stranger's School Board Candidates' Debate the same evening, Wednesday, September 28, 2011, at the Town Hall in downtown Seattle starting at 7:30 pm PT.

Cynematic blogs at P i l l o w b o o k and education news at

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This Week on MOMochat: Life, Liberty and the Wisconsin Recall Elections

Jun 30, 2011 by

This week’s MOMochat podcast was pre-recorded so the MOMocrats could prepare to enjoy the 4th of July holiday with our families.


But while we’re busy organizing barbecues and swim parties, EMILY’s List is on the ground in Wisconsin, supporting the effort to recall six Republican legislators who supported Governor Scott Walker’s union busting bill — and five of the six are pro-choice women!

EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock was our MOMochat guest in a spirited interview about the effort in Wisconsin, what we can do to support them, and why we should.

“I really see this as a springboard for all of our races coming up in 2012,” Schriock said. “I think it’s going to be a very, very, interesting year and as long as women continue to step up and run, I think we’re going to see a lot of new, inspirational women leaders serving all over the country, from legislative seats, city council; right up to the United States Senate.”

The protests at the state Capitol in Madison energized the Democratic party in this country and inspired people around the world. Now the people in Wisconsin have an opportunity to undo some of the damage of the 2010 mid-term elections that gave the statehouse to a Koch Brothers-funded Republican majority that has been in the forefront of this year’s legislative “War on Women.”

As Schriock explains, “We say there is a War on Women, and with wars, there’s two sides and I intend that women will be the victors in this war. And it is really a time for us all to pull together.”

We can help the effort by donating — and/or joining Team EMILY and phone banking to people in the state. “Of you can’t get to Wisconsin, you sure can sit in your living room and pick up the phone and call voters in Wisconsin. And we’ve got it all set up; you can go through in the comfort of your home and make those calls and share with those voters in Wisconsin how important is is – not just to the folks in Wisconsin, but to the women of this country, to see this change. And to get these women elected,” Schriock said.

“The great thing about what EMILY’s List does is we network women and men all over the country who really believe that representative democracy is our true future, is our best policy. And by getting more women elected, we’re going to get where we want to go as a society,” she said.

Schriock had a lot more to say: about hero Governors like North Carolina’s Beverly Purdue, who repeatedly vetoed bills from the state’s Republican controlled legislature that would defund Planned Parenthood… the end of the era of the moderate Republican women… and voter caging efforts throughout the country, disenfranchising voting rights (particularly of women).

Hear the entire podcast here.

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White Male Privilege and the Daughter Test

Jun 24, 2011 by

Meet the newest MOMocrat, Grace.

Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame recently wrote that he bases his decisions on whether to support government prohibitions on what he calls the “daughter test”:

It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity? If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind these activities being illegal. On the other hand, if my daughter had good reasons to want an abortion, I would want her to be able to have one, so I’m weakly in favor of abortion to be legal, even though I put a lot of value on unborn fetuses.

That this is utterly ridiculous ought to be so obvious as to need no elaborating. Do we want legislators making laws based on what they would personally want for us as parents, or based on respect for people as human beings with equal rights and autonomy? This shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. Yet a bunch more white dudes similarly privileged as Levitt have since weighed in to debate whether or not his test is reasonable.

It’s no accident that Levitt, who does in fact have a son, uses a daughter test rather than a son or child test. He’s tapping into widespread sexist beliefs that girls and women need to be protected — by men, of course — from the big bad world. The US has a long, ugly history of “protective” government measures based on spurious, bigoted claims that women and other marginalized groups are incapable of self-governing. The recent rash of state laws requiring ultrasounds, waiting periods, anti-choice counseling, and so on before abortions are the products of such paternalistic assumptions (echoed in Levitt’s statement that he supports his daughter’s right to terminate a pregnancy if she has a “good reason” for doing so).It’s also no coincidence that the examples Levitt offers of behaviors he supports criminalizing — sex work and drug use — fall along gendered and racialized lines. There’s a privileged assumption of entitlement to government policing of women’s bodies and communities of color, and an equally casual disregard for (or ignorance of) the real, devastating effects of such policing on women and people of color. America’s endless “War on Drugs” has produced, for example, a racist culture of mass incarceration rivaling Jim Crow in its targeting of urban minority communities and disenfranchisement of people of color, especially black men. Levitt effectively claims that this is all worth it so long as his daughter is deterred from using hard drugs.

Ross Douthat, unsurprisingly, concurs with this breathtaking assertion of white male privilege as a proper basis for legal philosophy:

The idea behind the daughter tests, as I see it, is to clarify which vices seem so profoundly self-destructively [sic] that they merit sanction in law as well as culture…and which are merely regrettable life choices that even the most meddlesome parents must accept as part of the warp and woof of a free society….thinking ‘what if I my [sic] daughter did this/were in this position?’ is a way to take an argument from the abstract to the viscerally real, and to bring moral and legal gray areas into a sharper focus…the fact that I would want to be able to involve the police if my daughter became a streetwalker, but not if she became a Hare Krishna, tells me something important about what kind of legal regime I should support.

One wonders what, exactly, Douthat imagines “involving the police” entails. Are we to believe that he and Levitt would honestly want their daughters to go to jail if they were sex workers? More likely, they can so glibly discuss the prospect of their children being caught up in the criminal justice system because they have no reason to imagine such a thing could ever happen. They and their children are far less likely than minorities or the poor to face serious legal consequences for any criminalized activities they might participate in.

In short, these are incredibly privileged white, upper class men, sitting around engaging in fanciful thought experiments about how laws should apply to people who are not them. They have the luxury of pretending that laws are neutral, effective, and universal deterrents against crime, rather than part of a criminal justice system that perpetuates inequitable distribution of power and resources – measures levied disproportionately again women, against the poor and the brown.

On top of all that, they’re championing a “test” that prioritizes privileged voices and individualistic perspectives on the law – what I would want for my daughter – over a metric that takes into account the diverse experiences and perspectives of all Americans. Implicit in this commentary is the unquestioned assumption that “streetwalkers” (really, Ross Douthat?) should have no say in what the nation’s laws should be, even though they and other marginalized groups are the ones for whom criminal laws have the most serious ramifications. Heaven forbid that people who aren’t straight, financially secure white men be seen as full citizens with an equal right to civic involvement and representation.

It shouldn’t have to be said that the law is not meant to be an extension of parental authority, real or imagined. A legal philosophy based on imagining oneself as the parent of fellow citizens is textbook paternalism, and especially egregious coming from men who are highly unlikely to suffer the serious negative consequences of enforcing paternalistic laws. Rather than a “daughter test,” why not an empathy test – imagining how a legal regime might materially impact other people or communities? Or better yet, a test based on respecting the rights of others to autonomy and equal citizenship, one that allows other people and communities an equal voice and platform to speak to their own experiences with and perspectives on the law?

Levitt and Douthat’s self-centered and entitled “daughter test” is sadly representative of the paternalism and lack of equal representation that characterizes American political leadership in general. This is precisely why we need more female politicians, more politicians of color, and more politicians who aren’t millionaires many times over.

Grace is a writer, academic, and black queer feminist. She blogs about recovering from growing up in white fundamentalist Christian churches, and race, gender, and sexuality issues in fundamentalist Christianity at Are Women Human? and can be found on Twitter as @graceishuman.

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