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Posts Tagged ‘Romney’

Which America will we choose today?

In behavior, History, life, news, politics, US on November 6, 2012 at 12:03 am
100 highest counties by median household income

100 highest counties by median household income (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2008, I went with Jose to vote.

We went to a nearby local synagogue where the voting machines were set up, and a neighbor was overseeing it. I went into the voting booth with Jose and watched him vote for Obama, and I burst into tears of excitement and, yes, hope.

I was still working my retail job then, at a suburban mall, for The North Face, and all day long there was a tremendous, palpable sense of excitement. We asked every customer: “Have you voted yet?” Our managers kept checking the internet all day long to see the results.

This year, with the race neck-and-neck, I fear mightily for the result…and with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy, voting is physically impossible for many residents of New York and New Jersey.

On Sunday, The New York Times wrote a light-hearted story about how Americans always threaten to move to more-liberal Canada if the Republican candidate wins.

As a Canadian, I have another country I could move to only a 90-minute flight away, one filled with family and old friends and which, if we really tried hard, we could probably both find jobs. But it’s never that simple.

And Europeans are watching this election cycle with some dismay as well.

Columnist Simon Kuper, writing in the Financial Times:

In politics and economics, we diverged spectacularly. George W. Bush introduced a peculiarly non-European evangelical Christianity into presidential politics. He landed Europeans in two wars that we ended up regretting. He shattered the belief that western countries stood together for human rights. Our mutual trade waned: in the decade to 2007, even before the economic crisis, the share of the European Union’s imports coming from the US halved to just 12 per cent.

Meanwhile, as money flooded American politics like never before, US elections came to provide Europeans with an alien spectacle of plutocrats fighting aristocrats. Here’s a typical line from The Economist, about Pennsylvania’s senate race: “Though Mr Casey is the son of a popular former governor, Mr Smith has vowed to spend millions of dollars of his own fortune on the campaign, lashing Mr Casey …”About $5.8bn will be spent nationwide in these elections, says the Center for Responsive Politics. By contrast, as David Cameron noted recently on the Late Show with David Letterman, British political parties cannot even advertise on TV.

One of the issues that Hurricane Sandy laid bare is the extraordinary and growing divide between rich and poor in the United States. Note: I’ve added the boldface.

From The New York Times:

The rich got richer and the poor got poorer in New York City last year as the poverty rate reached its highest point in more than a decade, and the income gap in Manhattan, already wider than almost anywhere else in the country, rivaled disparities in sub-Saharan Africa…

“To see the poverty rate jump almost a full percentage point is not a good sign,” said David R. Jones, the president of the Community Service Society of New York, an antipoverty advocacy and research group. “We’re still seeing really high rates of unemployment, while jobs have been growing in an anemic way and the jobs that have been created are really low-wage.”

“These poverty numbers reflect a national challenge: the U.S. economy has shifted and too many people are getting left behind without the skills they need to compete and succeed,” Samantha Levine, the mayor’s deputy press secretary, said on Wednesday. “As President Clinton recently said, ‘The old economy is not coming back,’ and that’s why the mayor believes we need a new national approach to job creation and education, one that gives everyone a chance to rise up the economic ladder.”

Median household income in the city last year was $49,461, just below the national median and down $821 from the year before (compared with a national decline of $642). Median earnings for workers fell sharply to $32,210 from $33,287 — much more than the national decline.)

New Yorkers at the bottom end of the income spectrum lost ground, while those at the top gained.

Median income for the lowest fifth was $8,844, down $463 from 2010. For the highest, it was $223,285, up $1,919.

In Manhattan, the disparity was even starker. The lowest fifth made $9,681, while the highest took home $391,022. The wealthiest fifth of Manhattanites made more than 40 times what the lowest fifth reported, a widening gap (it was 38 times, the year before) surpassed by only a few developing countries, including Namibia and Sierra Leone.

Reading The New York Times, (Jose’s employer of 29 years, and for whom I write freelance), is a dizzying example of this split nation. On the news pages are horror stories of long-term unemployment and, now, a $50 billion economic loss from Hurricane Sandy — with a major cold front and storm due to arrive here in two days’ time, when thousands still have no light, heat or power in their homes.

Those who even have homes.

Yet, in the Sunday Times was a Macy’s ad for a $23,000 engagement ring and an editorial page offering second homes in Palm Springs, California, the cheapest of which (!) is over $1 million.

So, voters can choose Romney’s world, in which he knows people who own Nascar teams and, if you need money for college, you just borrow it from your parents.

Or you can re-choose Obama, whose performance could have been a lot better, but who, at least, has some clear understanding of, and compassion for, the weak and poor, the old and struggling.

When I hear Romney, with that weird, fake tight smile and his Mom jeans, tell us he’ll create millions of jobs, all I can think is — what a liar. He won’t have that kind of unadulterated power, no matter how sexy and comforting that sounds. He’ll kill Obamacare and, with it, plunge millions of desperate and terrified Americans back into the vicious maelstrom of trying to buy full-price healthcare on the open market.

There are two Americas now.

One is weak and very frightened: old, ill, poor, poorly educated, unable to afford re-training, who can’t afford the childcare to get to school or don’t have computers to train from home or don’t even speak English well enough or don’t have the right skills to do the higher-wage work they need to leave poverty behind. A quarter of American homes are “underwater”, worth less than their mortgages, un-sellable.

The middle class is sliding into poverty. Wages are stagnant and costs skyrocketing, especially food and gasoline, in a nation largely built for people who travel by private automobile. Millions, especially those over the age of 50, have been seeking a new job for more than a year.

The rich are set. They glide past us in their gleaming Escalades and Mercedes and Maseratis and Ferraris. They live in 20,000 square foot mansions and send their children to private schools — so who cares if the public schools are lousy? Not their problem! Their kids and grand-kids have trust funds and powerful connections with which to access the best jobs, tutored by $125/hour experts so their test scores will beat those of the kids who can’t possibly afford that sort of help, assuring them entry into the schools of their choice.

The poor, the middle class, the struggles of others — an annoying abstraction!

I spoke recently to a 1% crowd, at a library in Scarsdale, New York — where the median income is $250,000 and the median house price is $1.2 million. It’s a 30-minute drive from our town, in the same county, where the median income is about $80,000, double what it was when I moved here in 1989.

I spoke, with my usual passion, about my personal experience of moving from a highly-paid newspaper job, at 50, to $11/hr. selling overpriced clothing, part-time, in an upscale mall. I wrote a book about it. I also speak for millions of other low-wage workers in this economy, most of whom struggle mightily on pitiful wages.

And the two largest sources of new jobs in this divided United States? Retail and foodservice: low wages, part-time, no benefits, no raises, physically grueling and intellectually deadening.

“Even at $11/hour, they’re still jobs,” said one Scarsdale woman. Yes, they are.

Do you want one?

I didn’t ask her.

Which America do you want?

Which America will we get?

“Rape, incest or the life of the mother”

In behavior, children, domestic life, life, parenting, politics, religion, women on October 13, 2012 at 12:51 pm
Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who watched the debate this week between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan heard this phrase repeatedly from Ryan. If Mitt Romney wins, the only way an American woman will be able to get a legal, safe abortion in this country is for those three reasons — she is pregnant through rape, incest or her life would be threatened if she carried to term.

Here’s Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker on Ryan’s comments in the debate:

Ryan then went on to say something oddly disarming in its inherent lack of self-awareness. He talked about how, looking at a first sonogram of his daughter, he was thrilled by the beating heart in the tiny “bean” on the image, so much that he and his wife still call that child “Bean.” …Ryan’s moral intuition that something was indeed wonderful here was undercut, tellingly, by a failure to recognize accurately what that wonderful thing was, even as he named it: a bean is exactly what the photograph shows—a seed, a potential, a thing that might yet grow into something greater, just as a seed has the potential to become a tree. A bean is not a baby.

The fundamental condition of life is that it develops, making it tricky sometimes to say when it’s fully grown and when it isn’t, but always easy to say that there is a difference and that that difference is, well, human life itself. It is this double knowledge that impacts any grownup thinking about abortion: that it isn’t life that’s sacred—the world is full of life, much of which Paul Ryan wants to cut down and exploit and eat done medium rare. It is conscious, thinking life that counts, and where and exactly how it begins (and ends) is so complex a judgment that wise men and women, including some on the Supreme Court, have decided that it is best left, at least at its moments of maximum ambiguity, to the individual conscience (and the individual conscience’s doctor).

I am solidly and unmovedly pro-choice.

I think the right to a safe, legal abortion is a fundamental right for women who — as we do — want to control when, how or if we become someone’s parent. We might get pregnant, unplanned, at 13 or 18 or 28 or 37 or 42. An unplanned, unwanted pregnancy is one of the most fundamentally life-altering events in any woman’s life.

The right to abortion is the most important way for us to preserve the most essential autonomy we have over our own bodies.

“The life of the mother” ignores a basic fact women know intimately  — it is the sudden death of our dreams, hopes, plans and ambitions that, for many of us, determines the difference between “life” and death.

A woman with no:

– money

– reliable income

– clean, safe home

– partner, whether male or female, married or unmarried

– family to help her with baby-sitting or childcare

– education or access to education

– safe, loving marriage

is not a woman who wants to, or should — weak, scared, broke — become someone’s mother.  Women’s role on this earth is not simply to create children, no matter their emotional or intellectual strength.

Women become pregnant through laziness, ignorance, ambivalence — and a lost, broken or unused condom. Women get pregnant if they screw up their birth control or never knew exactly how to use it properly in the first place. Women get pregnant when they least expect it. (My husband was born to a woman who was 49.) Women get pregnant by men who, they soon realize, or already know, are absolutely unfit and unready, emotionally, financially, professionally, to become someone’s father and assume those lifelong responsibilities. Women get pregnant by men they are married to who are, they discover, having an affair. Women get pregnant by men who turn out to be scary shits, even abusive.

And single mothers are those most likely to fall into poverty.

No woman wants that for her future, or a child she might be forced to bear.

I do not think choosing abortion is a decision to be taken lightly, without a clear understanding that you are making the choice to end a life. It is no substitute for intelligent, thoughtful, responsible, consistent use of effective birth control. If you’re too scared to ask your partner to use a condom or find and use an effective form of birth control, your decision to abort is, in my mind, a sad, painful consequence of your own unresolved ability to handle your own sexuality.

Pregnancy is no joke.

From the non-profit Guttmacher Institute’s most recent report:

• Of the approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year,[3] 82% are unintended[5]. Fifty-nine percent end in birth and more than one-quarter end in abortion.[3]

• The 2008 teenage abortion rate was 17.8 abortions per 1,000 women. This figure was 59% lower than its peak in 1988, but 1% higher than the 2005 rate.[3]

• Compared with their Canadian, English, French and Swedish peers, U.S. teens have a similar level of sexual activity, but they are more likely to have shorter and less consistent sexual relationships, and are less likely to use contraceptives, especially the pill or dual methods.[7]

• The United States continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008)—more than twice that of Canada (27.9 per 1,000) or Sweden (31.4 per 1,000).[8]

From the American on-line magazine Salon:

There is hope for America yet: A new survey finds that most adults in this country believe that teens should be taught about both abstinence and birth control. What’s more, seven in 10 adults agree that federal funds should go toward teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been “proven to change behavior related to teen pregnancy” (i.e., actually work). And three-quarters of teens and adults think that antiabortion policymakers “should be strong supporters of birth control.” Sanity prevails!

Now here’s the bad news: Most teens “say they have all the information they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy,” according to the report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, and yet “many admit they know ‘little or nothing’” about contraception. Forty-seven percent feel clueless about condoms, and a whopping 72 percent admit ignorance about birth control pills. Worse still, 42 percent of teens believe contraception doesn’t matter all that much, that you just get pregnant “when it is your time,” says the survey.

I do not want men in positions of power telling women when they may become a mother.

Here’s a new memoir by Merle Hoffman, an American woman considered one of the nation’s leaders in the pro-choice movement.

What do you think?

Reunited Masterpieces: My Story In Today's NYT; Gardner Museum Renews Search For Stolen Treasures

In art, Crime on March 18, 2010 at 7:05 am
Calming the storm

Calming the Storm --- stolen and never recovered. Image via Wikipedia

Here’s my piece in today’s New York Times, in a special arts section about museums:

An unusual and intimate show, “Reunited Masterpieces,” with 10 carefully chosen pairs of artworks, opened here Feb. 14 and continues until May 30.

The painter of Adam and Eve is Hendrick Goltzius, a Dutchman who lived from 1558 to 1617. The Wadsworth Atheneum acquired Adam in 2004; Eve belongs to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg, France.

Eric Zafran, the curator, who conceived, arranged and designed the show, said the loan was made easier because both institutions were members of Frame, the French Regional and American Museum Exchange, a consortium of museums in cities outside government and economic capitals that work together to share their collections.

Some of the paintings in the pairs appear extremely different, partly because of different conservation methods, Dr. Zafran explained. The portrait of Adam remains fresh, pink and luminous, while Eve appears older and more weathered, with a light coating of grime and crackling on the surface.

A similar stunning contrast marks two large pieces, 61 inches by 68 3/4 inches and 61 1/4 inches by 65 1/2 inches, painted in 1490 by Piero di Cosimo of Italy. The Wadsworth’s version, “The Finding of Vulcan,” is classically Renaissance, a breath of fresh, clean air, its six clothed women (Vulcan, in the center, is nude) wearing typically flowing garments.

Its mate, “Vulcan and the Beginnings of Civilization,” borrowed from the National Gallery of Canada, contains 11 figures, including a giraffe in Florence during the period. The colors are muddier, the brushwork much less fine, the birds and beasts oddly out of scale.

The show includes a spectacular pair of portraits by the Dutch Master Frans Hals, from 1644, of Joseph Coymans and his wife, Dorothea Berck; he was 52, she, 51. He belongs to the Wadsworth, while she traveled north from the Baltimore Museum of Art to join him. The two have been reunited only once before, in a show in Hals’s hometown, Haarlem, in 1962.

Twenty years after the largest, and still unsolved theft of art from a museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston is redoubling efforts to reclaim its works, reports The New York Post:

It remains the most tantalizing art-heist mystery in the world.

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves walked into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum disguised as police officers and bound and gagged two guards. For the next 81 minutes, they sauntered around the ornate galleries, removing masterworks, including those by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.

By the time they disappeared, they would be credited with the largest art theft in history, making off with upward of a half-billion dollars in loot far too hot to sell.

Now, 20 years later, investigators are making a renewed push to recover the paintings. The FBI has resubmitted DNA samples for updated testing, the museum is publicizing its $5 million, no-questions-asked reward, and the US Attorney’s Office is offering immunity.

The thieves had knowledge of the museum’s security system, but might have underestimated the scope of their crime.

“I picture the thieves waking up the next morning and looking in the papers and saying, ‘We just pulled off the largest art theft in history,’ ” said Anthony Amore, the museum’s security director.

My friend Ulrich Boser, a D.C.-based writer and former staffer at U.S. News and World Report, has written the only book about this daring theft — “The Gardner Heist”, a best-seller published last year and  newly released in paperback.

I was privileged to be one of his “first readers”, seeing the book in manuscript form. I couldn’t put it down. His reporting is detailed, international and deeply personal — he admits he became so obsessed himself with it all he stopped showering and could think of little else, annoying the hell out of his wife, and his two little kids. He’s clearly passionate about his subject; if you love art, and art history — let alone a riveting international crime tale — you’ll enjoy it.

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