Hump Day Open Thread

What’s up?

I was enthralled with this Washington satire Elephant Hunt Massacre by Jon Steinman, and wanted to recommend it. Jon is a friend and DC journalist who is able to capture the craziness — the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction variety — of politics in DC with solid and grabbing writing. On a personal note, I was doubly impressed learning from his wife that he wrote this book on top of a full-time job and caring for two little girls. Let’s support this budding author and hard-working poppa! The amazon kindle link is here, but it is available in Barnes & Noble and other outlets as well.

In somewhat related news: The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson had a great rebuttal to Rep. Paul Ryan’s assertion that poverty in the inner city was due to “generations of men not even thinking about working.”

In depressed urban and rural communities, there is an acute shortage of meaningful work. There was a time when young men who didn’t plan to go to college could anticipate finding blue-collar work at “the plant” nearby — maybe a steel mill, maybe an assembly line. There they could have job security, enough income to keep a roof over a family’s head, a pension when they retired. Their children, who would go to college, could expect lives of greater accomplishment and affluence.

This was how the “culture of work” functioned. How is it supposed to happen without work?

Good question.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Update: Thanks for the feedback on “barefoot” running this past Monday. I ended up at my usual women’s running store (See Jane Run) and learned that they stopped carrying the toe shoes because of injury complaints and people stopped buying the shoes. I tried on a couple pairs of minimalist shoes and ended up going with the New Balance Minimus (pictured on right). Honestly? They aren’t much thinner than my beat-up Nike luminars. I will continue to run in both shoes.

In political news: The Washington Post published a front-page article on Sunday on how, in spite promoting family-friendly legislation, the White House remains one of the most family-unfriendly jobs. Most of the top job-holders either don’t have children, have grown children or have stay-at-home spouses.

In health news: In light of preventable illnesses making a comeback — like measles — BlogHer published a blog post on how parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are “jerks” who are basing their decision on debunked science. The comments were interesting, and overall, respectful in tone. Both are worth a read!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Here is a fascinating article on how birth control has altered our families, culture and even religion and why it will remain a source of controversy for years to come.

In another fascinating article, our Katie wrote an excellent story — and challenged us — to interact with someone from “the other side” politically. Can you do it?

The New York Times published an article on how more than half of women under 30 are having children outside of marriage. Residents of a town in Ohio debated the reasons for the out-of-wedlock births.  

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Three Good Reasons Why Partisans Should Engage With the ‘Other’ Side

(Photos courtesy of Eric Byler.)

(Five of the six of us who participated in a trans-partisan Living Room Conversation about money in politics in Santa Clara, California, from left to right: Rodney Ferguson, myself, Amanda Kathryn Roman, Joan Blades, and Greg Conlon.)

(Republican Foster City Mayor Linda A. Koelling also participated in this discussion. Here she is with Greg Conlon, a Republican CPA running for the state assembly in California.)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — I am a partisan progressive. I am 34 years old, vote in every mid-term and presidential election and have never voted for a Republican in my life. I am a social justice activist and am married to one of the most prominent progressive activists in the country, Markos Moulitsas, publisher of the Daily Kos.

You can imagine his reaction when I decided to drive an hour away from our home in Berkeley, California on a Saturday afternoon to partake in a trans-partisan dialogue with three Republicans. “Why?” he asked me. “They have a different worldview than us.”

True. Our life experiences shape our politics and with that they project our worldviews.  But in my line of work where I help people from all political backgrounds including the non-political, I know that, ultimately, we are all human beings first and then Americans who love this country equally. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be locking horns to get our points across!

As for the trans-partisan conversation itself, hosted by a non-profit organization called the Living Room Conversations, it went better than I thought. If anything, I wanted to keep talking with my Republican counterparts well after the 2.5 hours allotted! Here are three reasons why I plan to engage with them in the future:

Civil discourse is healthy for a healthy democracy.

Notice that I say “discourse” and not merely a “conversation.” We are a diverse country with an equally number of diverse opinions. There is no way we are all going to agree on every issue. However, sitting around a table and engaging in political discourse is as radical and American an idea as the revolutionaries who did so in Boston taverns over 200 years ago. This is a building block of our democracy, and unfortunately, one that rarely happens today without ugliness and bruised feelings. The Living Room Conversations co-hosts, each which come from different political points-of-view, ensure that this process is civil and enjoyable for all participants. In our case, Amanda and Joan established ground rules such as the importance to listen and not discount anyone’s experiences or opinions.

(Living Room Conversations co-creator and founder of and, Joan Blades, and Foster City Mayor Linda A. Koelling)

(I share a laugh with Rodney Ferguson, a literacy teacher, author and fellow East Bay resident, who I never met until this discussion.)

A healthy democracy is made up of truthful and open-minded individuals.

If there is one criticism I had of the Living Room Conversations, it is that there was no fact sheet on what we were discussing: money in politics. I co-hosted a trans-partisan conversation in New Hampshire with a now Republican candidate for governor there, and I, too, had wished I and my co-host, Kevin Smith, had provided a fact sheet on what we were discussing, which was global warming.

With the rise of partisan media, partisan institutes and partisanship, in general, it is very difficult for anyone to cut through the noise and get to the truth. Surely, there is a way for people on all sides of the political aisle to come up with politically neutral terminology to describe the issue, allowing participants to weigh the evidence and draw their own conclusions. That’s where having an open mind comes in.

Having clashed with polluting corporations in my line of work, I thought my opinions on the matter were set and there was nothing else to learn. An eye-opening moment for me in our discussion was when I distinguished a corporation from a union in saying that corporations are speaking on behalf of employees that have not willingly paid dues for them to do so. “They (corporations) are speaking on behalf of their shareholders,“ Amanda gently corrected me.

It’s true and not an angle I had ever considered. It made me wonder why we, environmental activists, are only targeting the executive team and lobbyists of a polluting corporation and not the shareholders funding them? It’s an avenue I think environmentalists should pursue, and I for one, would never have considered if I had not engaged in this conversation. To quote a popular bumper sticker where I live, “Don’t believe everything you think!”

Allies may be found in the most unlikely places.

Let’s be real here. I live in Berkeley, California, and don’t normally associate with Republicans. I am sure it is the same with conservative voters who live in red areas.

Another moment of enlightenment for me was a discussion I had with Foster City Mayor Linda Koelling and Greg Conlon, a Republican candidate for the state assembly, after the conversation. The mayor was inquiring about some work I had done in California to ask legislators in Sacramento to rid certain baby products of toxic flame retardants. I realized that I had not explained the proposed bill at all – it was specific to high chairs, nursing pillows, strollers and changing pads and not baby clothes as the mayor had thought – and it was out-of-state chemical companies that funded lobbying efforts against it.

“Actually, we initially had Republican (legislators) with us since it was a de-regulation bill,” I told her. “The manufacturers were with us, too.”

She wondered why it hadn’t passed. (Now I know who I will call next time this issue comes up for a vote!) Conlon made a point that I had never considered. How much of industry opposition was its fear of being sued in the event of a fire?

For the record, the chemical companies spraying flame retardants in the foam of baby products were the main party to oppose it. They funded, among other dirty tactics, a sham front group called “Citizens for Fire Safety.”

Conlon chuckled. “It sounds like a lawyer was behind it.” Yup! And, yes, I took Conlon’s business card at the end of our conversation, too.

I had a delightful time engaging with both of them, and next month we plan to partake in another Living Room Conversation about immigration. Also, it was a pleasure to get to know Amanda Kathryn Roman, a self-described “crunchy conservative” and grassroots trans-partisan organizer who helped Blades launch the Living Room Conversations. We are now Facebook friends.

For the first time, I also met fellow progressive Rodney Ferguson, who is a literacy teacher and author in my neck of the woods. We had promised to keep in touch. I will be seeing him next month for our Living Room Conversation about immigration.

The interaction between all of us was genuine, eye-opening and disarming. Imagine what our democracy and public discourse would look like if we repeated this on a large scale throughout our country? I say ¡Viva la revolución!


Sexism on the Campaign Trail?

Here’s a story to go nicely with NJmom’s fun elections prediction thread.

If any news story kicked Steve Jobs off the front page, it was this one about an exchange between Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and his opponent Elizabeth Warren.

Brown was responding to a quip Warren made at a Democratic debate Tuesday.  Asked how she had paid for college – compared with Brown, who once posed partially nude for Cosmopolitan – Warren said: “I kept my clothes on.”

Brown fired back during an interview on Boston radio station WZLX: “Thank God!”

The jab went over well with the host, who laughed, then tried to stoke the flames.

“That’s what I said,” the host responded. “I said, look, can you blame a good looking guy for, you know, for wanting to…”

First of all, I love Elizabeth Warren for her economic populism and hope she beats the crap out of Brown in the voting booth. In many of my online women circles, Brown’s comment is being received with disgust as he came off as sexist. The “feminists-are-ugly” meme is so tired and juvenile. Can we retire it already?

Also, an acquaintance made a good point: she actually didn’t like the “I didn’t take my clothes off” line by Warren because sadly some low-income and working class women do take it off to go to college. Not everyone is as brilliant and/or has the connections to get scholarships, not to mention, jobs that actually pay the price of college tuition today.

Which leads me to my other point: if a woman posed for Cosmo like Brown did would she be as easily elected? I don’t think so. Yet, Brown managed to score laughs from it, and probably some political points — at least among other Republicans.

What do you all say about this flap?

Again, I want to reiterate that I do think college students in Massachusetts will have a better shot at paying the bills with Warren at the helm. You go, girl!


Election News Open Thread

Many thanks to the PBS News Hour for providing objective election news coverage and these handy links for on-going and live coverage. Here is their live-blogging, Facebook page and iPhone application for the midterm elections.

As always, for the progressive view and funny take on what may become a depressing night, check out our brother blog Daily Kos. Many members of the team will be at my house tonight to feast on pizza and cake for Ari’s birthday so I will make sure to keep you all in the loop in this thread.

Please post other interesting political tidbits, commentary and stories from the polls. Enjoy!


Thursday Morning Open Thread: You Go, Woman edition

I’m sorry to monopolize the morning thread with one story, but there’s big news in our little corner of the world – Australia has its first woman prime minister after deputy PM Julia Gillard overtook sitting PM Kevin Rudd in a parliamentary caucus showdown:

Julia Gillard has become Australia’s first female prime minister after Kevin Rudd stood aside at the last minute before this morning’s historic leadership ballot.

Ms Gillard was unelected unopposed, making her the nation’s 27th prime minister and its first female leader. She has chosen Treasurer Wayne Swan to be her Deputy Prime Minister.

Ms Gillard had the numbers – reportedly 74 of the 112 caucus votes – and the majority support of the party.

I’m absolutely delighted to see Ms. Gillard as PM, as she is someone I admire tremendously. She’s tough, smart and has a knack for communicating complex policies and situations with clarity. But it’s a bittersweet moment: her rise comes after Kevin Rudd’s dramatic fall. Rudd gained great kudos for steering Australia through the financial crisis without letting the country fall into recession. He made a moving apology to the Aboriginal “Stolen Generation” that, to me, was one of the greatest moments of emotion in the country’s history. Most of all, he knocked John Howard out of office, which endears him to me forever.

But Rudd quickly slid downhill earlier this year, first walking away from a carbon emissions trading scheme after pledging his enviromental credentials to the nation, which made many Australians – and me – question his ethical commitment. Then came bungled handling of an insulation scheme – it was meant to stimulate the economy by providing grants to homeowners who wanted to insulate their homes. But the roll out was badly handled and permitted unqualified installers to do the jobs, resulting in house fires and deaths. Rudd didn’t respond quickly and decisively, damaging his reputation for competency.

Gillard’s triumph comes just months before another federal election, and she looks well poised to win. I wish her every success.

Assuming that your worlds aren’t starting with this big a bang, what’s up with you?


Teaching kids about politics, part 1

Election years provide many “teachable moments” for children. In 2006 my three-year-old loved coming with me to deliver yard signs. We talked about how some people like to tell everyone in the neighborhood who they are voting for, while other people like to keep that a secret. For weeks he would comment on yard signs as we drove around town. “Mommy, that person is also voting for Chet Culver!”

In 2008 both of our kids experienced the unbearable stuffiness of our precinct caucus, and while they didn’t know the campaign issues, they did understand that people standing in different corners were supporting different candidates. They also understood the goal of getting as many people as possible to stand in your group. Many of my neighbors also brought children to the caucus, and I vividly remember one family whose seven-year-old daughter wore a Hillary button and nine-year-old son wore an Obama sticker even as their mom and dad caucused for Biden and Dodd (then Edwards after realignment).

During the 2008 general election campaign, my five-year-old son got a real-world dose of pluralism when he asked his favorite baby-sitter who she was voting for, and she answered McCain. I still laugh when I remember his follow-up question: “But who are you voting for for president?” It didn’t take him long to understand that yes, Mommy and Daddy were still voting for Barack Obama, but his baby-sitter was voting for John McCain.

I’ve decided to start a diary series about the political lessons my kids learn during this year’s campaign.

My first big teaching opportunity of the 2010 election happened a few weeks ago, as I was watching the replay of the second Republican gubernatorial debate on Iowa Public Television. My kids wanted to know who these people were, so I explained they were trying to be elected governor. My older son, now seven, asked who we were supporting. I said we will vote for Chet Culver again, but these three men are competing against each other first, and whoever wins is the person who will run against Culver in the fall. My son seemed to grasp this concept fairly easily.

Younger brother, now four and a half, had more questions. He wanted to know who was going to win the election. I tried to explain that we don’t know who’s going to win yet. It’s either going to be Chet Culver, or it’s going to be one of these three men on tv. What if they don’t win, he wanted to know. Then Culver will win, I said. What if they don’t win and Chet Culver doesn’t win, he wanted to know. That’s not going to happen–either Culver will win, or one of these guys will win. But what if these guys don’t win AND Chet Culver doesn’t win? That won’t happen, honey. Either Culver will get to keep being governor for another four years, or one of these guys will win.

Now my four-year-old was getting annoyed. Probably he was wondering why Mommy didn’t understand his simple question. But what if these guys do not win AND Chet Culver does not win? After the third or fourth time around this merry-go-round, I realized this wasn’t worth arguing about, so I told him I didn’t know what would happen.

Conclusion: my son is either a future out-of-the-box thinker and third-party agitator, or he’s a bit too young to understand how elections work.

This thread is for sharing your own political memories or lessons you’ve taught children or students.


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

I admit, I am too backed up at work to follow politics. But DH was blogging non-stop about the elections last night at our “brother site” Daily Kos. He said it was a good night for the Dems.

CNN covered a very controversial debate among parents and non-parents alike: should babies and children be welcomed in high-end restaurants? Some world-class chefs, who are now parents, have started offering young children their own menus, and even classes at public schools on how to eat at a nice restaurant. My immediate reaction is why not? If kids do not get an opportunity to practice behaving themselves in public places, then how will they learn? And no, playing tea party at home is not the same as interacting with waiters and patrons at the restaurant.

But some of the comments — even within the article — were just plain nasty. In all fairness, not all parents feel children should be allowed in high-end restaurants. Here is Expecting Words blogger Laurie Puhn’s reaction to it.

Here is more evidence that Bristol Palin is so not your typical teen mom. The 19-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin is commanding up to $30,000 a speech at pro-life and abstinence-only programs, according to the Associated Press.  

In other celebrity news: John Travolta and Kelly Preston are expecting a baby, according to MSN Wonderwall.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?