Thursday, March 31, 2011

A debate on voter ID legislation: two ways to join the conversation

For the better part of the past decade, bills have been floating around state legislatures across the country to stem a supposed tide of "voter fraud." That's the term that's bandied about whenever all is not right in the world, or whenever there is a swell of Democrats entering or retaining public office, take your pick.

The howls revved up once the "Motor Voter" law passed in 1993. All that dangnab access to the ballot box! To hear some lamentations, you could almost hear sighs and yearnings for the days of the poll tax.

Since the GOP tidal wave of 2010, efforts to enact voter identification and other potentially suffrage-restrictive bills have stepped up, double-time. Some are more restrictive than others, but it's always interesting that zeal for such efforts arises close to when major elections are nearing, despite protestations to the contrary. Republicans do their credibility no favors in this arena, having campaigned to restore and advance jobs, and legislating on everything else but since taking oaths of office. 

For a recent take on this movement, read a recent piece by yours truly, and offer your perspective -- either here or on PA2012.com, the destination for news about Pennsylvania's big 2012 races.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A gritty lily: Elizabeth Taylor, 1932-2011

The death of icon Elizabeth Taylor brought sadness and a sense of relief, just because she seemed to suffer so with health problems through the years. She just may have been tired and wanted to let go this Wednesday morning, after having absorbed so much for so long.
The incomparable Elizabeth Taylor

Often described as having "luminous" skin and "penetrating violet eyes," Taylor was easily cast in Hollywood as a doll of perfection. But her personal choices showed she wasn't as fragile as she appeared, that she had a healthy lust for life -- and the resilience to bounce back from constant and severe tragedies. At times her life seemed like a made-for-TV movie. It certainly kept the tabloids flush, for years.

No, there probably won't be another like her -- lovely to look at, passionate in her work, on and off screen. Her humanitarian activities endeared her to a new generation. And you had to love her as a seasoned siren in those sassy "White Diamonds" commercials, even if the scent left you wanting.

Her epic romances and battles with weight made her human, turning the jealousies and envy of women into sisterly sympathy. One of my earliest introductions to Liz Taylor was a hilarious 1980s Saturday Night Live skit with Joan Rivers and impersonator extraordinaire Joe Piscopo locking wits over who was the "real" Joan Rivers. As a topic flashed, they cracked wise.

When "Liz Taylor" flashed, the joke was lethal: "Liz Taylor is so fat, her blood type is Ragu."

It's almost been 30 years, and I remember the joke. As harsh as it was, it opened up a curiosity about the woman, and turned me into a fan. If you missed her films, or just want to relive them, get the popcorn and DVR ready for April 10, when TCM will run a Liz Taylor tribute marathon.

Still, it was more than her movie roles that won me over. That she embraced those who lived and struggled with HIV/AIDS before it was trendy showed the kind of loyalty and guts that made her more than a pretty face. Elizabeth Taylor was, in every sense, a star. Most of the young tarts today couldn't carry her brush.

She is among the last of the Hollywood pantheon of silver screen goddesses. And she will be missed.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Obama's "other" African daddy

It just never seems to go away. Every time you turn around, there's President Obama and swirling daddy issues.

There is a constant misinformation campaign about Barack Hussein Obama Sr. fueled by the right-wing faction of the GOP and the nut-wing factor of the country. So much so that more than half of Republican primary voters polled believe the president was born outside the United States -- despite a Hawaiian birth certificate and newspaper announcement, two books, the fact that Obama the younger didn't travel to Kenya until he was grown and countless stories on the topic before, during and after his run for president.

GOP contenders and wannabes like Mike Huckabee stoke the flames and placate them from time to time,  affirming their birther madness. It's been three years, but conspiracy theorists thrive on this mess.

Now there's new red meat to gnaw, thanks to Moammar "Man-with-too-many-ways-to-spell-his-name-so-pick-a-favorite" Gadhafi. Libya's brutal dictator should have a standard spelling for as long as he's been a fixture -- spectre, really -- on the world stage. Instead he has more variations than Baskin-Robbins. One exhaustive count lists 112. If ever there was a case for an AP stylebook ruling, this would be it.


But one thing that has been consistent all these years with him is insanity. His latest antics prove him certifiable. Even more so than when he pitched a tent on some of Donald Trump's suburban New York property.
In the midst of reports that he's slaughtering his own people in a desperate attempt to hold onto power that's under threat by inspired and insurgent young people yearning for freedom, Gadhafi pens a missive to Obama.

And not just any letter. Here's a plea, on the precipice of world retaliation for the pain and suffering he's inflicted on his people, where Libya's four-decades installed dictator calls Obama a "son."
Gadhafi's sends a "father's" unrequited love letter to President Obama

Obama must have jumped black when he got the news and had a "Negro, please" moment. You can just imagine the Saturday Night Live-ready scene now:

Aide:       Er, sir. Gadhafi sent you a letter and, um, called you son.
Obama:   He called me what?
Aide:       Um, he called you "excellency" and "son."
Obama:   Hot damn! Now I have to deal with this nut job and listen to
               "breaking news" on FOX that I'm the illegitimate son of a
               Kenyan Mau Mau and a Libyan terrorist!

Somebody in birther-ville must have been dancing a jig of joy over that bit of "vindication."

This president didn't take the bait. Shared continental blood or not, Gadhafi found out, much like those Somalian pirates who tested him early in his administration, African roots don't mean itchy if you're in the wrong.

Bomber jets from France and the United States began striking Libyan targets Saturday, opening the way for a no-fly zone. After weeks of wrangling within the international community, the United Nations reached an accord that the Arab League and other Western critics could support, approving such military actions.

As of Saturday night, Gadhafi was still writing letters. This time not only to Obama, but also to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Now he's complaining about "barbaric" tactics by the U.N.

Crust, he has. Adopted "sons," not so much.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Perils of driving while black, when gender does not matter

The phrase "driving while black" rose from an internal joke to quite the indictment on police behaviors in modern America, particularly urban centers. To be seen in an expensive car in a low-rent neighborhood meant you were a felony waiting to happen -- or flaunting the spoils of one that already took place.

It's a known and, for the most part, accepted terror among people of color with any sense of history and no sense of privilege. And the continued reality of this level of racial profiling stood clearly in reading Marc Lamont Hill's op-ed in today's Philadelphia Daily News.

In the past 20 years, there has been plenty of hand-wringing, political outcries and stabs at policy shifts. Those actions were sparked by high-profile incidents involving celebrities ranging from actors such as Jamie Foxx and Blair Underwood to athletes like NFL Hall of Famer Marcus Allen and Olympian Edwin Moses. Even the late ├╝ber lawyer Johnnie Cochran had a story.

While lessened due to more enlightenment and greater sensitivities, racial profiling continues, as do the raw feelings associated with both sides.

It's about the indignity and injustice of implicit guilt-by-complexion, one side yells. It's about policing streets where criminals too often are black and male, the other side screams back.

As with many things, the truth lies in a gray area between the two. But that doesn't erase the embarrassment or shame of feeling accused while just trying to live your life as a regular citizen -- or worse still, the worry and fear about a stop "gone wrong," like the tragedy that was the case of Jonny Gammage.

Once, after coming home from Harrisburg, having spent days in near captivity awaiting passage of the state budget, I finally made it back home. Having picked up my mom, I was going to treat her to some ice cream, a quick, casual outing -- and celebration.

After a week of being stuffed in suits and stockings in the summer heat, I was dressed down -- completely in-cog-negro in basketball shorts, a T-shirt and a baseball cap. Total chill mode, feeling good to be home.

We were pulling into my block when the sirens flashed and I was instructed to pull over. What I recall most was that sense of deep dread.

No speeding. No broken tail lights. No erratic driving. No reason to suddenly be pulled over on a warm, July evening. Except that it was an expensive car. And from behind, I looked like a dude from the 'hood driving it.

My hands gripped the steering wheel when the officer came toward the window, and I could see the slight panic rising in my mom.

The officer was taken aback to find that I was a female. And to beat that, I was a state employee, having just gone through an epic budget battle, a tale I recounted to him.

After looking at my state ID, driver's license and insurance, he seemed satisfied that I was, in fact, the law-abiding citizen I claimed to be. In fact, I was one working to retain funding the city needed. That he needed.

"You should be careful in a neighborhood like this," he cautioned, "With a car like that."

Had he read the license address more closely, he would have realized my house was just across the street.

I remember briefly biting my lip. Then, as politely as possible, I thanked him for "looking out for the citizens of Philadelphia," assuring him that "I felt safer knowing he and his partner were patrolling my neighborhood."

Several moments earlier, though, nothing was further from the truth.

So I understand the anger and frustration that marked Hill's piece, emotions that simmer among more than just African Americans. Ask tan-complected folks who "look Muslim" and travel across state or national borders and they will offer a whole other series of stories. Some are more than outrageous actions in the land of the free and home of the brave; they are revolting and frightening.

Sure, there are white folks who have a shared experience, but let's face it. The sheer volume by comparison simply pales.

Even if I don't agree with Hill's every assertion, I can say, even as a woman, at least once, I've been there. And it's not a comfortable place to be.

Monday, March 14, 2011

New story, more meaning

Lupus is one of those diseases that you hear about, but never really grasp a hold of fully. If you're black, more than likely you know someone or know someone who knows someone with it, particularly women, as it strikes African-American women with greater severity than anyone else.

It can be a devastating diagnosis, given the swath of symptoms and oftentimes compromised quality of life rendered as a result. So it's exciting that research is advancing and movement toward a cure is underway.

A college classmate was hit hard by this disease, as her mother struggled to function with it. It was one of the reasons she studied in Georgia for a year before heading off to Florida A&M; she wanted to be close to her mom, just in case.

Little did we know those years at FAM -- the classes, parties and personal discovery -- would end so soon.

Two years ago, my classmate passed away, suddenly. The circumstances of her lung disorder were unclear to me, but given her family genetics, I wouldn't be surprised if lupus played a role.

Writing this was a little more emotional than I anticipated. It led me to remember those crazy times in college, early adult years, and my friend. So for Anika Tene "Nikki" Harris and those who loved her, I wrote this story, and will continue to write stories and do what I can to educate others. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Check out PA2012.com's latest blogger

This just in: our friendly-neighborhood browngirl has joined the blogroll of PA2012.com, the upstart outlet delivering news and opinion on the political landscape! The perfect tonic for all you political junkies out there, especially followers of Pennsylvania politics!

In this space, focus will fall on women in politics, policies and initiatives that stand to impact the next generation and as always, commentary on events and news of the moment from around the nation. All in that voice you've come to love!

First up: the candidacy of Karen Brown, would-be GOP candidate for mayor in Philadelphia. Did we mention that she was a Democrat a week ago? Or that her leading campaign cry is that . . . she's a woman? Join the conversation! 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Female officeholders: Pennsylvania's political paucity


Politically speaking, the Year of the Woman has come and gone – twice by some accounts – but it hasn’t left too many residuals in the Keystone State.

The most recent tallies by the Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics are pretty depressing, to say the least. So as we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s examine women’s political present and presence in Pennsylvania:

In 67 counties across this Commonwealth, only Monroe County has 80 to 100 percent female representation on a county council. Who knew that the Poconos were so progressive?

Chester, Blair, Sullivan and Philadelphia county government boards have 40 to 79 percent female representation.  

Almost half of this state has no female representation on that level.

As roughly 51 percent of the population, you’d be hard pressed to find a Pennsylvania community without women. So the fact that so many communities function without elected female voices is archaic, if not straight disturbing.

And that dearth of power isn’t just on the local level, or in the party assailed as least inclusive.

The roar of women in the General Assembly? Largely comes from Elephants, not Donkeys, since 59 percent of the General Assembly’s female members is Republican. Still, it’s hard to get but so excited when there’re just 42 women trying to make hay in a body of 253 members.

U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz:
The lone female voice for
Pennsylvania in D.C.
The Congressional delegation numbers are pitiful; U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz is the lone female of that 21-member posse. We send a frat, and one woman, to represent us in D.C. Those odds wouldn’t please too many college administrators, yet this state is apparently content with that ratio.

There’s a case to be made for increased numbers of women in elected office, beyond stereotypes of them creating more “nurturing” environments or bringing intensified focus to “women’s issues” like health care and education.

Face it, any issue that impacts families undoubtedly will be a “woman’s issue.” And some female politicians can be as overly aggressive – and stupid about it – as any dude.

But on the whole, new research finds that those women who do commit to public service tend to be more effective lawmakers overall.

The rub is that getting them elected is still about as hard as sneaking out of the house across creaky floorboards – a fact politically-minded women in a state ranked 42 out of 50 for its percentage of female officeholders know intimately.