What I'm Reading

May 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 6:51 pm

GOP women: a minority in a minority
By: Erika Lovley
May 10, 2009 07:01 PM EST

Women make up almost 51 percent of the U.S. population but less than 10 percent of the House and Senate GOP — a gender disconnect that could make the Republicans’ climb back to power even steeper than it would be otherwise.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) notices that she’s part of a shrinking minority every time she heads to the Senate floor for a vote.

Republican women in the House say they feel the problem — literally — when their male colleagues nudge them to the front of GOP press conferences to break up the solid lines of middle-aged white men in neckties.

Indeed, Rep. Kay Granger — the first and only Republican woman to represent Texas in the House — says Republican women have to work to make sure they’re even represented at public events in the first place. “We pass the word to make sure we’re there at this ceremony or that photo-op, because there are fewer of us and we’re spread more thinly,” Granger said. “We’re working in a very successful manner, and we want to make sure that’s shown.”

The numbers make that difficult.

Out of 435 members of the House, just 17 are Republican women. Of 99 sitting senators, just four are Republican women.

Of course, there are fewer Republicans than Democrats of either gender in the two houses. But even on a percentage basis, Republicans suffer a gender gap. Twenty-two percent of House Democrats are women, but only 9.5 percent of House Republicans are. In the Senate, nearly 23 percent of the Democrats are women, but only 10 percent of the Republicans are.

The problem isn’t new; former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) remembers being struck that no Republican women were on stage while President George W. Bush signed a ban on partial-birth abortions in 2003. “I looked at the stage and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” said Musgrave, who was sitting in the audience.

But the imbalance seems to be getting worse. While the Republicans had Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on their presidential ticket in 2008, Democratic women far outnumbered Republican women as general-election candidates for the House in November. There were 96 Democratic women on the ballot — but only 37 Republican women.

In 2006, 70 percent of the women competing in major party primaries were Democrats, according to Laurel Elder, an associate political science professor and gender expert at Hartwick College in New York. And, she says, only five Republican women have chaired congressional committees since 1995. Democratic women currently hold four chairmanships in the Senate and three more in the House — plus the speaker’s gavel, in the hands of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In addition, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) chairs the Joint Economic Committee.

Republican women who have made it to the top — women such as Snowe and Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Lynn Jenkins and Virginia Foxx — say they’ve been warmly welcomed and mentored by the Republican leadership. But Elder said the GOP has to do more than just make female candidates feel welcome; it’s got to be aggressive in actively recruiting them.

“Republican women are more reluctant to throw their hat in the ring because they don’t see a lot of women like themselves in leadership or on the news,” she said. “This idea that the GOP is just going to treat everyone fairly hasn’t worked. If the GOP wants more women, they’re going to have to do more than just recruit women. They need to urge them to run.”

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) is trying to do that.

“If we are going to expand the playing field we must expand the party,” he said through a spokesman. “On the candidate recruitment front, we continue to focus on finding highly qualified female candidates who can effectively convey the Republican message.”

While Palin provided a high-profile role model for Republican women thinking of running for office, her experience was a double-edged sword. Lawmakers say the rough treatment Palin received showcased the nastiness of modern campaigns and underscored the notion that women are susceptible to the charge that they’ve been picked to run because they’re a good demographic fit — and not because they’re the most qualified.


“For Republican women to say, ‘This is something I want to subject my family to’ — it’s a big role,” said Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.), who was one of the top political targets of left-wing organization MoveOn.org in 2006 and 2008. Drake lost her seat last year and says she is still angered by the effect scathing television ads had on her grandchildren. “It’s difficult to find people to run for office, and it will be more difficult in the future because of the tones in campaigns,” she said.

The problem is also geographical. As political realignment shifts the GOP territory south, Elder said female candidates are vying to get elected in a region least hospitable to women, while Democrats are getting elected in the West and Northeast — areas that are more welcoming to female candidates.

“In the South, women have done very poorly. There are big differences in terms of political culture,” said Debbie Walsh, director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. “Change would mean letting in some voices that have not had a place at the table within the Republican Party. Right now the Democratic agenda is more in sync with women voters.”

According to the center’s analysis of exit-polling data, women backed Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden over Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin 56 percent to 43 percent. Male voters split their votes much more evenly, with 49 percent voting for Obama-Biden and 48 percent choosing McCain-Palin.

Snowe says there’s also a political dimension. As the Republican Party sheds moderates, it also sheds women.

“[We] as a party are saying we’re not supporting Republican moderates. That’s a terrible message to send,” said Snowe, who with her Maine counterpart Susan Collins represents 50 percent of the Republican women in the Senate. “It tells everyone else in America who might have an interest in running as a Republican moderate, they’re going to have to think twice. The messages coming out of the national party are critical. They’ve got to be embracive and inclusive of political diversity. They can’t on one hand say we’re going to build a majority and then say we only want people with certain characteristics, like white males from the South. That’s a concern to me.”

Leadership has taken notice. The Republican National Committee says a critical first step is to be more all-inclusive when recruiting and training women. It says its Women’s Coalition is making an early push to identify women for 2010 as part of its 50-state plan.

“Part of our goal is to dramatically increase the number of Republican women running for office,” said Republican National Committee Co-Chairwoman Jan Larimer. “Chairman [Michael] Steele and I agree that we must redouble our efforts to build a strong grass-roots organization that encourages participation by every Republican in every state and territory.”

But the pool is shallow. State legislatures, which often serve as feeders for Congress, are also seeing fewer Republican women step up to the plate. Meanwhile, Democratic training outlets such EMILY’s List have been well-organized and highly successful at recruiting, while Republican womens’ groups, such as the National Federation of Republican Women, say they are bracing for another tough election cycle.

McMorris Rodgers, who is helping lead the NRCC’s candidate recruitment team, says she’s bringing in groups of women from different regions of the country for tours of Capitol Hill in the hopes of getting some to run.

“It is going to be critical,” she said, “that the Republican Party has a face that includes women of all ages and backgrounds and experiences.”

Walsh agrees.

“If you believe that a more centrist position for the Republican Party would bring about more success and bring more voters back, then women would help make that happen,” she said. “Women bring a voice of moderation that could pull them back to the party.”

© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC

May 19, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:45 pm


At this point, most 18 year olds would be coasting through their last weeks in high school.

But Casey Edwards is taking Governor Mark Sanford all the way to the state Supreme Court over the governor’s refusal to accept federal stimulus money – some $700 million in aid for South Carolina’s schools.

“The fact that we’re going to turn down money when we desperately need it, really bothered me,” Edwards said.

Over the past year, Edwards and her friends have been working to improve impoverished schools along South Carolina’s I-95 – a stretch of rural districts known as the Corridor of Shame, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Glor.

Bud Ferillo made a documentary about the issue, “Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools.”

“The school systems are suffering deeply, some of those schools are a hundred years old, or more,” Ferillo said.

Edwards was inspired by this documentary to raise money for East Elementary in Dillon, one of the neediest districts in the state, where 93 percent of the kids live below the poverty line.

“She raised 10 grand, took it over to that school two hours from here and gave it to them for Christmas,” Ferillo said.

“It was like an answer to a prayer,” said Bobbie Walters, the principal of East Elementary.

The school used the money to purchase a copier, an important piece of equipment to a school that can’t afford new books.

“We use the copier to do all of our work sheets, letters to parents, tests, quizzes just about everything that we do,” Waters said.

Other schools featured in the documentary are in even worse shape.

“I saw classrooms that are unsafe, that are unhealthy, sewage backing up in hallways, crumbling paint, ceilings that were falling in,” Ferillo said.

That’s why Edwards is challenging the governor, a fiscal conservative, who says he would accept the federal stimulus money, only if the legislature used it to pay down state debt.

In a statement, the governor told CBS News he’s “looking out for school children who will be forced to pay back the so-called stimulus bill.”

It’s an argument Edwards doesn’t buy.

“When the federal government is offering money to our state, I didn’t understand why we were going to turn that down,” Edwards said.

South Carolina’s legislature has voted to accept the money, but the governor is expected to veto the bill.

“If the governor turns down the request for money for education, I will take this case back to the Supreme Court,” Edwards said.

The governor has until midnight Tuesday to decide.

May 18, 2009

it’s worth reading the whole thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 7:25 pm

Text of Obama’s Notre Dame speech


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May 17, 5:09 PM (ET)

By The Associated Press

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Text of President Barack Obama’s commencement address Sunday as the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., as delivered, as transcribed by the White House. The Rev. John Jenkins is the school’s president. The Rev. Theodore Hesburgh is Jenkins’ predecessor. Brennan Bollman is the class valedictorian.

Well, first of all, congratulations, Class of 2009. Congratulations to all the parents, the cousins – the aunts, the uncles – all the people who helped to bring you to the point that you are here today. Thank you so much to Father Jenkins for that extraordinary introduction, even though you said what I want to say much more elegantly. You are doing an extraordinary job as president of this extraordinary institution. Your continued and courageous – and contagious – commitment to honest, thoughtful dialogue is an inspiration to us all.

Good afternoon. To Father Hesburgh, to Notre Dame trustees, to faculty, to family: I am honored to be here today. And I am grateful to all of you for allowing me to be a part of your graduation.

And I also want to thank you for the honorary degree that I received. I know it has not been without controversy. I dont know if youre aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. So far I’m only 1 for 2 as President. Father Hesburgh is 150 for 150. I guess that’s better. So, Father Ted, after the ceremony, maybe you can give me some pointers to boost my average.

I also want to congratulate the Class of 2009 for all your accomplishments. And since this is Notre Dame …

(Speech is interrupted by anti-abortion protesters.)

We’re fine, everybody. We’re following Brennans adage that we dont do things easily. We’re not going to shy away from things that are uncomfortable sometimes.

Now, since this is Notre Dame I think we should talk not only about your accomplishments in the classroom, but also in the competitive arena. No, dont worry, I’m not going to talk about that. We all know about this university’s proud and storied football team, but I also hear that Notre Dame holds the largest outdoor 5-on-5 basketball tournament in the world – Bookstore Basketball.

Now this excites me. I want to congratulate the winners of this year’s tournament, a team by the name of “Hallelujah Holla Back.” Congratulations. Well done. Though I have to say, I am personally disappointed that the “Barack OBallers” did not pull it out this year. So next year, if you need a 6-2 forward with a decent jumper, you know where I live.

Every one of you should be proud of what you have achieved at this institution. One hundred and sixty-three classes of Notre Dame graduates have sat where you sit today. Some were here during years that simply rolled into the next without much notice or fanfare – periods of relative peace and prosperity that required little by way of sacrifice or struggle.

You, however, are not getting off that easy. You have a different deal. Your class has come of age at a moment of great consequence for our nation and for the world – a rare inflection point in history where the size and scope of the challenges before us require that we remake our world to renew its promise; that we align our deepest values and commitments to the demands of a new age. It’s a privilege and a responsibility afforded to few generations – and a task that youre now called to fulfill.

This generation, your generation is the one that must find a path back to prosperity and decide how we respond to a global economy that left millions behind even before the most recent crisis hit – an economy where greed and short-term thinking were too often rewarded at the expense of fairness, and diligence, and an honest day’s work.

Your generation must decide how to save God’s creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it. Your generation must seek peace at a time when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity – diversity of thought, diversity of culture, and diversity of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family. And it’s this last challenge that Id like to talk about today, despite the fact that Father John stole all my best lines. For the major threats we face in the 21st century – whether it’s global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease – these things do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and greater understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history.

Unfortunately, finding that common ground – recognizing that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a “single garment of destiny” – is not easy. And part of the problem, of course, lies in the imperfections of man – our selfishness, our pride, our stubbornness, our acquisitiveness, our insecurities, our egos; all the cruelties large and small that those of us in the Christian tradition understand to be rooted in original sin. We too often seek advantage over others. We cling to outworn prejudice and fear those who are unfamiliar. Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game. The strong too often dominate the weak, and too many of those with wealth and with power find all manner of justification for their own privilege in the face of poverty and injustice. And so, for all our technology and scientific advances, we see here in this country and around the globe violence and want and strife that would seem sadly familiar to those in ancient times.

We know these things; and hopefully one of the benefits of the wonderful education that you’ve received here at Notre Dame is that you’ve had time to consider these wrongs in the world; perhaps recognized impulses in yourself that you want to leave behind. You’ve grown determined, each in your own way, to right them. And yet, one of the vexing things for those of us interested in promoting greater understanding and cooperation among people is the discovery that even bringing together persons of good will, bringing together men and women of principle and purpose – even accomplishing that can be difficult.

The soldier and the lawyer may both love this country with equal passion, and yet reach very different conclusions on the specific steps needed to protect us from harm. The gay activist and the evangelical pastor may both deplore the ravages of HIV/AIDS, but find themselves unable to bridge the cultural divide that might unite their efforts. Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in an admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved.

The question, then – the question then is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without, as Father John said, demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?

And of course, nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called “The Audacity of Hope.” A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an e-mail from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the Illinois primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life – but that was not what was preventing him potentially from voting for me.

What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my Web site – an entry that said I would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” The doctor said he had assumed I was a reasonable person, he supported my policy initiatives to help the poor and to lift up our educational system, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, “I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.” Fair-minded words.

After I read the doctor’s letter, I wrote back to him and I thanked him. And I didn’t change my underlying position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my Web site. And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that – when we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe – that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

That’s when we begin to say, “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this heart-wrenching decision for any woman is not made casually, it has both moral and spiritual dimensions.”

So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions, let’s reduce unintended pregnancies. Let’s make adoption more available. Let’s provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded not only in sound science, but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women.” Those are things we can do.

Now, understand – understand, Class of 2009, I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. Because no matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words. It’s a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition. Father Hesburgh has long spoken of this institution as both a lighthouse and a crossroads. A lighthouse that stands apart, shining with the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, while the crossroads is where “differences of culture and religion and conviction can coexist with friendship, civility, hospitality, and especially love.” And I want to join him and Father John in saying how inspired I am by the maturity and responsibility with which this class has approached the debate surrounding today’s ceremony. You are an example of what Notre Dame is about.

This tradition of cooperation and understanding is one that I learned in my own life many years ago – also with the help of the Catholic Church.

You see, I was not raised in a particularly religious household, but my mother instilled in me a sense of service and empathy that eventually led me to become a community organizer after I graduated college. And a group of Catholic churches in Chicago helped fund an organization known as the Developing Communities Project, and we worked to lift up South Side neighborhoods that had been devastated when the local steel plant closed.

And it was quite an eclectic crew – Catholic and Protestant churches, Jewish and African American organizers, working-class black, white, and Hispanic residents – all of us with different experiences, all of us with different beliefs. But all of us learned to work side by side because all of us saw in these neighborhoods other human beings who needed our help – to find jobs and improve schools. We were bound together in the service of others.

And something else happened during the time I spent in these neighborhoods – perhaps because the church folks I worked with were so welcoming and understanding; perhaps because they invited me to their services and sang with me from their hymnals; perhaps because I was really broke and they fed me. Perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to perform, I found myself drawn not just to the work with the church; I was drawn to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.

And at the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Archbishop of Chicago. For those of you too young to have known him or known of him, he was a kind and good and wise man. A saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads – unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty and AIDS and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together, always trying to find common ground. Just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, “You can’t really get on with preaching the Gospel until you’ve touched hearts and minds.”

My heart and mind were touched by him. They were touched by the words and deeds of the men and women I worked alongside in parishes across Chicago. And Id like to think that we touched the hearts and minds of the neighborhood families whose lives we helped change. For this, I believe, is our highest calling.

Now, you, Class of 2009, are about to enter the next phase of your life at a time of great uncertainty. You’ll be called to help restore a free market that’s also fair to all who are willing to work. You’ll be called to seek new sources of energy that can save our planet; to give future generations the same chance that you had to receive an extraordinary education. And whether as a person drawn to public service, or simply someone who insists on being an active citizen, you will be exposed to more opinions and ideas broadcast through more means of communication than ever existed before. You’ll hear talking heads scream on cable, and you’ll read blogs that claim definitive knowledge, and you will watch politicians pretend they know what they’re talking about. Occasionally, you may have the great fortune of actually seeing important issues debated by people who do know what they’re talking about – by well-intentioned people with brilliant minds and mastery of the facts. In fact, I suspect that some of you will be among those brightest stars.

And in this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake. Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. In other words, stand as a lighthouse.

But remember, too, that you can be a crossroads. Remember, too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt. It’s the belief in things not seen. It’s beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us. And those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

And this doubt should not push us away our faith. But it should humble us. It should temper our passions, cause us to be wary of too much self-righteousness. It should compel us to remain open and curious and eager to continue the spiritual and moral debate that began for so many of you within the walls of Notre Dame. And within our vast democracy, this doubt should remind us even as we cling to our faith to persuade through reason, through an appeal whenever we can to universal rather than parochial principles, and most of all through an abiding example of good works and charity and kindness and service that moves hearts and minds.

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It’s no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. It is, of course, the Golden Rule – the call to treat one another as we wish to be treated. The call to love. The call to serve. To do what we can to make a difference in the lives of those with whom we share the same brief moment on this Earth.

So many of you at Notre Dame – by the last count, upwards of 80 percent – have lived this law of love through the service you’ve performed at schools and hospitals; international relief agencies and local charities. Brennan is just one example of what your class has accomplished. That’s incredibly impressive, a powerful testament to this institution.

Now you must carry the tradition forward. Make it a way of life. Because when you serve, it doesn’t just improve your community, it makes you a part of your community. It breaks down walls. It fosters cooperation. And when that happens – when people set aside their differences, even for a moment, to work in common effort toward a common goal; when they struggle together, and sacrifice together, and learn from one another – then all things are possible.

After all, I stand here today, as President and as an African American, on the 55th anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Now, Brown was of course the first major step in dismantling the “separate but equal” doctrine, but it would take a number of years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God’s children. There were freedom rides and lunch counters and Billy clubs, and there was also a Civil Rights Commission appointed by President Eisenhower. It was the 12 resolutions recommended by this commission that would ultimately become law in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

There were six members of this commission. It included five whites and one African American; Democrats and Republicans; two Southern governors, the dean of a Southern law school, a Midwestern university president, and your own Father Ted Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame. So they worked for two years, and at times, President Eisenhower had to intervene personally since no hotel or restaurant in the South would serve the black and white members of the commission together. And finally, when they reached an impasse in Louisiana, Father Ted flew them all to Notre Dame’s retreat in Land OLakes, Wisconsin – where they eventually overcame their differences and hammered out a final deal.

And years later, President Eisenhower asked Father Ted how on Earth he was able to broker an agreement between men of such different backgrounds and beliefs. And Father Ted simply said that during their first dinner in Wisconsin, they discovered they were all fishermen. And so he quickly readied a boat for a twilight trip out on the lake. They fished, and they talked, and they changed the course of history.

I will not pretend that the challenges we face will be easy, or that the answers will come quickly, or that all our differences and divisions will fade happily away – because life is not that simple. It never has been. But as you leave here today, remember the lessons of Cardinal Bernardin, of Father Hesburgh, of movements for change both large and small. Remember that each of us, endowed with the dignity possessed by all children of God, has the grace to recognize ourselves in one another; to understand that we all seek the same love of family, the same fulfillment of a life well lived. Remember that in the end, in some way we are all fishermen.

If nothing else, that knowledge should give us faith that through our collective labor, and God’s providence, and our willingness to shoulder each other’s burdens, America will continue on its precious journey towards that more perfect union. Congratulations, Class of 2009. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

May 13, 2009

My Dream Job

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 1:40 pm

Not your mother’s social secretary
By: Nia-Malika Henderson
May 13, 2009 04:24 AM EST

To Desiree Rogers, it made perfect sense — the first-ever White House “poetry jam,” held Tuesday night. It was a way to bring a little more of America — modern, nontraditional, bold even — into the president’s house.

Some would say Rogers is doing the same with her approach to her new role. Her title — White House social secretary — evokes a tea-and-cookies past, an image of an anonymous figure straightening the place cards at a state dinner. Instead, Rogers already has emerged as the most visible social secretary in the history of the job, another high-profile figure in a White House that already burns bright.

Vogue, The Wall Street Journal and Capitol File magazine have all come calling, featuring Rogers in glamorous spreads, decked out in designer duds. During Fashion Week in New York, she was on the front row, next to Vogue’s legendary editor Anna Wintour.

Like her longtime friends the Obamas, she is Chicago-by-way-of-Harvard, a formidable businesswoman in her own right before ever walking through the doors at the White House.

Longtime friend Sugar Rautbord, a prominent Chicago philanthropist and writer, said Rogers was a fixture on the social and business scene in Chicago and has what “certain politicians have: part glamour, part intelligence, part aloofness, part approachability. It’s a perfect combination.”

But her out-front approach to what is normally an understated staff job has raised eyebrows in certain circles — a certain tsk-tsking privately among some in the society set that she might be ever-so-slightly too out in front. Rogers’ talk in the Journal of nurturing a “Brand Obama” from the secretary’s post induced a few cringes among some who said the president should be pure Main Street, not Madison Avenue.

“My impression is that there is more public eye attached to this social secretary than ever before. White House staff tend to do their jobs quietly and then they recede,” said William Seale, author of “The President’s House.” “There is a time, within my memory, that being in the public eye would have been looked down upon as inappropriate, but times change.”

Rogers, however, sees her role as one that perfectly fits the Obama White House — both in the public’s interest in being part of it and in the Obamas’ interest in getting more people involved in what goes on inside the executive mansion.

As social secretary, she is the person who can make that happen, Rogers said.

“In my mind, part of this office’s responsibility is to create those opportunities to bring people together in a way that is different than a discussion or a dialogue across the table about the economy or housing or education or health care,” Rogers said.

“There is so much enthusiasm and interest in the people that are working here in the White House. That’s just a sign of the times, and so I am part of that team,” she continued. “There is interest in what’s going on. We want that. I want people to call and say, ‘How can I be a part of that?”

Some of her predecessors agree — notably Letitia Baldridge, social secretary in the Kennedy administration, who recalled what it’s like to have a president and a first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, that the world couldn’t seem to get enough of. Baldridge recalled that, like Rogers, she could at times be a stand-in to feed the insatiable appetite for the media for all things Kennedy.

“Jackie enchanted the world, and she didn’t always want to deal with the press, so I stepped out and I was a sad substitution,” Baldridge recalled. “Still, I was better than nothing.”

“There is the danger of too much publicity in every job in Washington, but Desiree is smart enough to pull back,” Baldridge added. “As it is, she is doing the first lady a great service by satisfying the interest in the first lady, and she is getting the administration’s message out.”



Being in the limelight is hardly new to Rogers. In Chicago, she was a well-connected businesswoman with an eclectic Rolodex; the public face of the Illinois lottery; a high-level executive at People’s Energy, a natural gas company; and, later, the president of social networking at Allstate Financial. Crain’s Chicago Business named her one of the Top 25 women to watch in 2007.

“Desiree has the Harvard M.B.A., and she has this thing of being so statuesque and photogenic; she is fit and disciplined; and she is entirely efficient and never tardy,” Rautbord said. “She is not chatty or gossipy. She kept her counsel to herself, and it serves her very well in this job. She is meticulously discreet, and that serves her well. And she is very well-liked in Chicago.”

During the campaign, Rogers hosted what was supposed to be a 300-person Obama fundraiser in her duplex, at which 1,300 of Chicago’s wealthiest showed up. They lined up down the block for Barack Obama, but the real draw was Rogers, Rautbord said.

“She simply just picked up the phone, found an apartment in the building, made all the living room furniture disappear, had the bodyguards in the kitchen, and Barack spoke twice that night,” Rautbord said. “It was done gracefully. She reacted and responded and did it correctly. It was through her business and charitable connections that she had the ability to pull people out. Nobody said, ‘I’m leaving and going home because our host was Desiree Rogers.’”

Tuesday night’s reading represents something of a change, too. It will be literary, with a dash of urban Chicago and a little Hollywood — and very much in keeping with Rogers’ approach, as she has worked to put a cultural stamp on the White House that matches the era and the Obamas’ style.

The Obamas have put a younger, hipper flair on traditional events while constantly talking up the idea of the White House as “the people’s house.” Pop diva Fergie sang the national anthem at the Easter Egg Roll, for which tickets were distributed online for the first time. Earth, Wind & Fire played the Annual Governors’ Dinner, which had state officials getting down in a conga line by the end of the night.

Seale, the White House expert, said Rogers may simply be the first to grasp the powerful intersection between the White House and popular life, and she could elevate the role in a way that sticks for a long time to come.

“We may see a development in the social side and the East Wing, and it might become something very different in the years ahead and this may be the beginning,” Seale said. “It is constantly changing, and the requirements are getting larger. Social secretaries may become public figures, like chiefs of staff.”

Rogers believes her role is one that can help the White House be more accessible to all.

“That’s going to keep it fresh, real and keep it being responsive to what people want, because I really view the White House as a reflection of what America is. It’s a thing, but how do you make it more than a thing? How do you make it a symbol for the American spirit? How do you make it come alive?” Rogers asked. “Well, by the thoughts of Americans.”

“I happen to be the receptacle by which those ideas are coming in, as well as people that work here. We’re not just sitting here at a table saying, ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that, this is what we like.’ We can’t do this by being inside,” she said. “All of these things have come due to relationships, … through being available and being visible.”

© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC

May 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 7:23 pm

Choosing a New Flower Czar

The longtime chief florist retires as White House tastes take a modern turn


Nancy Clarke, the longtime chief florist at the White House, plans to retire May 29, but not before she helps Michelle Obama incorporate her personal style into official floral designs.

Flower arranging at the White House has taken a more modern turn since the Obamas moved in, Ms. Clarke says. “They are more youthful…so we gear things a little bit younger. A lot more color, brighter colors, happier colors,” she says.

In the Obama White House, clear glass cylinder vases hold sparse displays of white orchids or dogwood branches (Mrs. Obama “likes a lot of branches,” Ms. Clarke says), while classic porcelain urns are filled with more structured arrangements. Glass cylinders of hot pink tulips and purple anemones were placed in Sasha’s and Malia’s bedrooms right after the family moved in.

Ms. Clarke, 64, says she is retiring to spend more time with her family. Her three-person staff will temporarily run the White House flower shop until the social secretary’s office names her replacement.

Fresh flowers, often symbolizing conspicuous consumption, are tricky in times of economic crisis. Ms. Clarke says she has been using long-lasting ferns, grown in a nearby National Park Service greenhouse, in lieu of more expensive arrangements. After a recent luncheon, Ms. Clarke’s staff plucked flowers out of arrangements and put them in a refrigerator until they could be recycled on staffers’ desks.

Ms. Clarke works closely with White House decorator Michael Smith to make sure her designs reflect Mrs. Obama’s taste. The day the first family moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Ms. Clarke filled the residence with tall, clear cylinders of forsythia, oncidium orchids and cream-colored cymbidium orchids — some of the first lady’s favorites.

For 30 years and six administrations, Ms. Clarke has worked in the White House flower shop, a cozy, sunny room around the corner from the kitchen on the ground floor. Starting at the White House as a volunteer in 1978, she now oversees flowers placed throughout the private residence, the Oval Office, public rooms, hallways, workspaces and Air Force One and Camp David, when they’re in use.

Last Monday, hours before President Obama joined Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán at a Cinco de Mayo party on the State Floor, Ms. Clarke put finishing touches on arrangements of three types of hydrangea, sunflowers and curly willow in copper urns. White House Social Secretary Desirée Rogers had approved the arrangements before the event. Nancy Clarke “has created beautiful pieces and has become part of the family of staff that we have here,” Ms. Rogers said in a statement.

Susana Raab for The Wall Street Journal

Nancy Clarke has arranged White House flowers for six administrations.

The White House began using fresh flowers in place of wax ones in the late 1850s, when James Buchanan’s niece, Harriet Lane, returned from a trip to England, where fresh blooms were in vogue. Ever since, the White House has employed bouquet makers. “In the early days, a man with a cart on bicycle wheels would wheel around and water everything,” says William Seale, author of the history “The President’s House.”

First ladies have used flowers to put their stamp on social functions. Jacqueline Kennedy liked opulent, French-inspired arrangements and experimented with vegetables. Nancy Reagan had a strong preference for Venus peonies in soft, blush colors, even when they weren’t in season. “I used to say, ‘Mrs. Reagan, peonies bloom in May,'” Ms. Clarke recalls.

Barbara Bush, an avid gardener, loved loose, natural-looking arrangements with lavender, bluebells and blue pine. Hillary Clinton had an affinity for tropical flowers, such as birds of paradise and pincushions. Laura Bush had more classic taste and often used the ornate pieces from the White House antique vermeil collection.

George W. Bush Presidential Library

Before a 2001 state dinner, Ms. Clarke put the last touch on a centerpiece of hydrangeas, white lilies, white roses and limes.

Presidents have weighed in. Bill Clinton loved ambiance roses, a popular variation with red petals and cream-colored interior, and would request them for summits and small dinners. George W. Bush liked a bowl of peach roses on the Oval Office coffee table. “We decided to change it to red one day,” Ms. Clarke says. “That lasted about five minutes.”

Some people in flower design worry that too much modernism will detract from the period elegance of the White House. Robert Isabell, the Manhattan florist who did Caroline Kennedy’s wedding, Jacqueline Onassis’s funeral and the White House NATO summit in 1999, says White House flowers should maintain a certain traditional look. “I don’t know if a clear vase or something you’d see in hotels is appropriate for the State Room,” he says.

But the Obamas’ edgier tastes are welcome news to others, who say White House flowers could use an update. Tina Stoecker, president-elect of the American Institute of Floral Designers, says she hopes to see more loosely arranged designs, using bright greens and Fuji chrysanthemums, to replace the traditional floral structures. “It’s always been ostentatious masses of flowers,” Ms. Stoecker says.

“It’s time to shake things up a bit,” says New York designer David Beahm, who helped with White House events during the Clinton Administration. He envisions bright, symmetrical designs of locally-grown flowers arranged in some of the antique vases in the White House collection.

Write to Amy Chozick at amy.chozick@wsj.com



A White House Floral History
  • 1817 : James Monroe often requested wax floral arrangements on the 13-foot bronze and mirror plateau he ordered from France as his banquet table, now known as the “Great Plateau.”
  • 1830 : Andrew Jackson loved flowers, but back then people believed flowers sucked up oxygen and made the air unhealthy, so artificial wax flowers were used in abundance.
  • 1857 : After a trip to England, James Buchanan‘s niece, Harriet Lane, brought the English style of fresh flowers back to the White House. Ms. Lane became known as the most stylish White House decorator of the 19th century.
  • 1861 : During Abraham Lincoln‘s tenure, blooming camellias and sesanquia grown in the White House orangery sat in tubs of water and decorated hallways and social events.
  • 1869 : Julia Grant disliked the flowers used on the Great Plateau and replaced them with a silver sculpture used as a centerpiece.
  • 1906 : Teddy Roosevelt‘s daughter Alice chose simple jasmine and white orchids to decorate her wedding.
  • 1942 : During World War II, Eleanor Roosevelt did not involve herself much with flower arrangements. Designs during her husband’s administration tended to be simple and understated.

CSU Archives/Everett Collection

Jacqueline Kennedy in the White House, 1960s

  • 1961 : Jacqueline Kennedy established the Office of the White House Florist with Rusty Young as the first official floral decorator. Mrs. Kennedy did not want flowers to be placed on the mantels because it could harm the priceless paintings and wallpaper she had recently used in her redecorating. She requested her floral staff place arrangements only against the north walls of rooms and on circular tables. She requested flowers with strong fragrances to combat the smell of tobacco since smoking was till common inside the White House.
  • 1965 : Lady Bird Johnson favored wildflowers thrown in straw baskets, and placed them all around the White House. In designing a set of official White House china, Mrs. Johnson chose plates that featured wildflowers from each fifty states.
[wh] Everett Collection

Nancy Reagan in the Red Room on Feb. 17, 1981.

  • 1981 : Former Hollywood hostess Nancy Reagan brought high style to White House flowers. She demanded cream-colored and neutral shades of peonies — even when they weren’t in season.
  • 1990 : Barbara Bush, an avid gardener and horticultural enthusiast, brought “a golden age of flower arranging to the White House,” says historian William Seale. Mrs. Bush preferred natural-looking arrangements in shades of blue and lilac.
  • 1993 : Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were all allergic to the wreaths that typically decorate the White House in the holiday season.

Associated Press

  • 2001 : George W. Bush liked a bowl of peach-colored roses placed on a coffee table in the Oval Office. Laura Bush had classic taste and preferred white roses in the antique vases found in the White House vermeil collection.
  • May 29, 2009 : Chief Floral Designer Nancy Clarke retires after working in the White House Flower Shop for 30 years.

Sources: Flowers White House Style by Dottie Temple and Stan Finegold; The President’s House by William Seale

love it! and love the PCUSA shout out!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 2:27 am
From the Los Angeles Times


‘Eco-kosher’ Jews have an appetite for ethical eating

Choosing organic and locally grown products helps them fulfill a religious obligation to protect the environment.

By Mary MacVean and Duke Helfand

May 8, 2009

With Sabbath candles burning and 14 guests seated around her dinner table, Joanna Arch held up a cup of kosher red wine and chanted the kiddish kiddish prayer in Hebrew:

“God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested from all his creative work.”

As is the custom, the guests observed the holy day of rest with a meal, but with a twist: They were sharing a “sustainable” Sabbath dinner on this Friday evening, with food that was locally grown, mostly organic and intended to elevate their practice of Judaism.

Arch and her husband, David Andorsky, passed around goat cheese — made at home — sprinkled with oregano, thyme and chives. Sarah Newman brought ratatouille made with her home-canned tomatoes and vegetables from a farmers market.

The others, too, prepared food that was not only kosher and vegetarian, they explained, but provided a way for them to strengthen their ties to their faith and to live out a Jewish imperative to protect the Earth.

The dinner reflected a powerful current in Jewish culinary consciousness: Growing numbers of people are choosing to express their values through the food they put on their tables, altering the most basic day-to-day decisions about nourishment. It’s why Jenna Snow picked loquats from her yard — rather than buying them at the store — for the custardy cake called clafoutis that she made for the Sabbath potluck.

The movement has become so popular in recent years that synagogues increasingly are forging relationships with farmers, farm education programs are starting up and Jewish “sustainability” conferences are attracting sold-out crowds. At a three-day gathering in Northern California in December, volunteers even learned how to kill, pluck, salt and rinse their own turkeys.

“Food is the most intimate relationship we have to the nonhuman world,” said Zelig Golden, a San Francisco lawyer who co-chaired that gathering. It was the third food conference sponsored by Hazon, a New York-based environmental organization that in 2004 branched out into food issues. It has since become the primary force behind many programs in the sustainability movement — an effort to use natural resources responsibly to avoid depleting them.

“Jewish tradition has a lot to say about the use of land, the treatment of animals and workers,” said Nigel Savage, Hazon’s executive director. “Jewish tradition should heighten our awareness of the choices we are making.”

Even though Hazon’s efforts are aimed at Jews, the marriage of sustainability and religion reaches beyond the Jewish world.

The Presbyterian Church (USA), for example, has designed a curriculum for high school students and young adults titled “Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table.”

The General Assembly of Unitarian Universalists Assn., meanwhile, last year selected “Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice” as a four-year topic of study and action by its 1,000 congregations.

Such efforts are part of a larger food movement whose advocates wrestle with ethical questions raised by the food they buy and eat. They have been inspired in part by Michael Pollan, author of the best-selling “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and others who argue that fast food and an industrial food system have divorced many people from the source of their food.

Rabbis and other Jewish leaders began picking up on the theme about five years ago. Sinai Temple in Westwood is among several dozen synagogues nationwide that have embraced community-supported agriculture projects — in which people buy shares in a farm’s operation in return for a portion of the harvest.

In explaining the project to two dozen congregants who came out one recent night to meet farmer Phil McGrath and taste some of his English peas and black Russian kale, Rabbi Ahud Sela said that God told Adam not only to till the land but to protect it. By purchasing a share — $1,500 for 40 weekly boxes of produce — congregants would get food grown 60 miles away, not shipped from South America, he said.

“I know where my produce comes from. It’s a guy named Phil McGrath,” Sela said. “He farms 300 acres in Oxnard. I’m proud of the person who produces the food for my family.”

Another rabbi, Dov Gartenberg of Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach, is taking a different approach to “reestablish the centrality of the table” in Jewish life. Gartenberg and Emily Moore, a chef, are writing a book of holiday ritual meals — which he will talk about at this year’s Hazon Food Conference in December, to be held again at the Asilomar conference center near Monterey.

One such meal marks the holiday of Shavuot, which occurs in May or June each year and commemorates the Jews receiving the Torah from God at Mt. Sinai.

Gartenberg’s congregation will share a Seder at their synagogue with foods tied to the Torah, including a honey-tasting related to teachings in Proverbs that wisdom should be as sweet to the soul as honey is to taste.

“It gives taste to the text we study,” Gartenberg said, “and I think that is valuable because taste forms memories.”

For many Jews, the question was once whether to follow the Torah’s dietary laws. The book of Leviticus, for example, requires that meat come from animals that chew their cud and have split hooves in order to be considered kosher. But for “eco-kosher” Jews, those laws have come to represent only part of the equation — particularly as they relate to the consumption of meat.

Kosher meat has long enjoyed a reputation — among Jews and non-Jews alike — for high quality and an expectation that it is produced in an ethical manner. But that status was badly shaken last year by allegations that the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, in Iowa, abused workers, animals and the environment.

In horrified reaction, a group of Conservative rabbis designed an additional food certification known as Magen Tzedek, or shield of righteousness, that sets standards for protecting workers and the environment. The Conservative leaders expect to announce by the Jewish new year in September a first round of companies adding the voluntary seal to their products.

Morris Allen, a Minnesota rabbi who came up with the idea, describes the seal as a complement to kosher certifications — but one that should carry equal force.

Allen said he hopes the undertaking will allow Jews to “return to that notion that keeping kosher is responding to a higher authority. It will be a recognition that what we eat is central to who we are.”

His effort has earned mixed reviews from Orthodox leaders. Some dismiss it as unnecessary, saying rabbis should leave oversight of worker safety and the environment to the government.

Other Orthodox leaders, however, have taken up a similar cause, including a group of rabbis in Los Angeles. They are pursuing a voluntary certification that is focused on the wages and job conditions of workers employed by local businesses, schools and synagogues, starting with those along Pico Boulevard, which cuts through the heart of an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. Orthodox rabbis and activists in New York, meanwhile, are preparing to launch a seal for restaurants.

The Iowa raid also helped inspire another response. Some businesses have started selling another variety of kosher meat — this one from grass-fed cows that are raised humanely in open pastures rather than in stalls or pens.

“It’s a big deal to take the life of a living thing in order to consume it,” said Roger Studley, the husband of a Conservative rabbi in the Bay Area. “I would say it’s OK to do that, but you want to minimize the suffering of the animal.”

Studley, who helped organize the ritual slaughter for the Hazon Food Conference in December, decided to leave his university job to start a business emphasizing kosher, organic-raised and local items, KOL Foods West.

He is part of a close-knit network of Jewish activists that also includes several of the guests at the Sabbath potluck in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

The dinner was one of a semi-regular series of “sustainable Shabbats” organized by Sarah Newman and Nadya Strizhevskaya that rotate among various homes or apartments in the Westside neighborhood.

“Shabbat is already a time to lead the most sustainable lifestyle possible,” said Newman, a researcher and blogger for the film company Participant Media. “If you are an observant Jew, you are already putting in the time and energy to make this ritual. We’re trying do the same type of thing with the meal.”

Late on a recent Tuesday afternoon, Newman and Strizhevskaya met some of the other dinner guests at the farmers market in Culver City, discussing whether one vendor’s olives would make the cut (no — unclear if they were kosher) and what everyone might bring. Because some of the diners are vegetarians, there would be no meat.

Everyone had to bring food that was homemade and from local sources, preferably organic. No paper goods would be used. Even the soda water would be produced on the spot, to avoid having to buy bottled water.

“Even if my potatoes don’t come out perfectly, the consciousness about it raises the flavor,” Aviva Bernat, a doctor, said at the market, where she bought red, purple and Yukon gold potatoes. She later added rosemary from her sister’s yard.

Bernat, like others at the Shabbat dinner, took a turn explaining what she had made.

On the sprawling table in Arch and Andorsky’s art-filled home were 20 or more dishes: homemade challah bread, sprouted black-eyed pea hummus dip with garlic and lemon, cauliflower with curry yogurt dressing, strawberry and apple pies, a pizza topped with caramelized onions.

Newman held up her bowl of ratatouille and pointed to the zucchini and heirloom tomatoes that she had canned at home. Using ingredients grown locally rather than those shipped thousands of miles reduces pollution, she said.

Strizhevskaya displayed her quiche, made with kale, peppers, onions, rosemary and marjoram — all from the Culver City market.

“When we go through this very long process of preparation, we become more at one with the creation all around us,” Strizhevskaya told the group. “We stop taking God’s gifts for granted. For me, that’s what Judaism is all about.”

As dinner drew to a close, the friends sang the “grace after meals” in Hebrew:

Because of His great goodness, we have never lacked food. . . . You are blessed, Lord, who provides food for all.



May 7, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 11:17 pm

Why I’m starting to feel for Miss California

Scorned for speaking her mind, punished for lying about her past, Carrie Prejean is a shining example of our mixed-up ideas about American womanhood.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

May. 07, 2009 |

Carrie Prejean

Reuters/Steve Marcus

Miss California Carrie Prejean, left, responds to a question about gay marriage with Billy Bush during the Miss USA Pageant.



She’s got fake boobs. She’s posed for pictures in just her underpants and, it appears, lied about it. Her remarks on “opposite marriage” suggest she may not be doing much to dispel the myth of the dim bulb blonde. Carrie Prejean, I’m starting to feel for you.



Train wreck that she is, she’s the woman of the moment, the representation of all we love, loathe, fear and desire. She’s the goody goody, the beauty queen, the topless model, the “dumb bitch,” the would-be porn star. And the public fascination and outrage about her says a whole lot more about us than about Miss Prejean herself.



You may remember that Prejean, better known as Miss California, livened up the moribund world of beauty competition last month during the Miss USA pageant when she told pageant judge Perez Hilton that, “no offense,” she believed matrimony should be between a man and a woman. After weeks of scorn and celebrity, Prejean has now helpfully provided her public with a racy past.



Earlier this week, a photo emerged on theDirty.com showing the 21-year-old evangelical Christian/smoking hottie, clad only in a pair of pink panties, glancing seductively over her shoulder at the camera. In the resulting hoo-hah, Prejean trotted out the classic young-and-innocent chestnut: “This was when I was 17 years old. I was a minor,” she said in an e-mail to Californian pageant officials. “It was when I was first getting into the modeling world, being naive, and young. I shouldnt (sic) have taken the photo of me in my underwear. There are no other photos of me. This was the only one I took.”



Not since “I didn’t inhale” has a scenario seemed less plausible. Sure enough, TMZ reports today that at least three other photos will be emerging soon, sending the pageant into public relations frenzy. The co-director for Miss California USA, Keith Lewis, promptly announced, “I’m absolutely stunned.” Officials are meeting with Miss California’s runner-up Tami Farrell later this week, implying that a passing of the scepter may be imminent. This, by the way, is the same pageant that paid for Prejean’s breast implants, reasoning, according to Lewis, that “we want to put her in the best possible confidence in order to present herself in the best possible light on a national stage.”



So to recap: Fake breasts? Encouraged. Swimsuit competition? Required. Underpants pictures? Shocking!



Prejean, who stated in her pageant contract she had never appeared nude or semi-nude, has meanwhile been formally offered a million dollars by adult film studio Vivid to “star” in one of their films. TheDirty.com is referring to her today as a “homophobic debutant,” while the commenters there and elsewhere have been considerably less charitable in their assessments of the Golden State “skank.” Which is why, somewhere around the umpteenth reference to her “hypocrisy,” I started to feel pretty dirty myself. I may not understand or agree with any of Prejean’s life choices, but I can’t feel good about hating her for hers either.



At a crucial moment in her career as a beauty queen, she filled out a form and was dishonest about her past. She hid from the truth, from who she had been and what she had done. She is now bearing the punishing consequences of the choice, in the form of public scorn and likely stripping of her title. At another moment, onstage, she was honest. She expressed her view about marriage and got called out as a homophobe and a bitch for it. Whatever anyone may think of her opinion, it seems pretty ambushy to ask for it and then excoriate her for giving it.



Had she been truthful in her application, she might never have competed in the pageant at all. Had she lied in her answer to Hilton, she might have won it. Prejean wasn’t even born yet when Vanessa Williams had to relinquish the Miss America title when nude photos of her emerged. Yet, a generation later, we still cling to the nearly impossible-to-uphold standards we set for our beauty monarchy — sexy but not too sexy, pure but not prudish, outspoken but only if we agree with the opinion. She’s a bundle of youthful contradictions, wrapped up in one breast-enhanced, bikini-clad, Miss USA bankrolled package. She may have lost the contest, but congratulations Carrie Prejean: You’re truly the queen of no-win, dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t American womanhood.



— Mary Elizabeth Williams

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 11:16 pm


Palin, Prejean and Pre-Marital Ambivalence

Unwed, single, teenage mom Bristol Palin was being lauded on talk shows Wednesday — National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy — for encouraging other teenagers to abstain from sex. Meanwhile, Carrie Prejean (Miss California) was defending her title — and her advocacy of “traditional marriage” — because of sensual and revealing photographs taken of her when she was a teenage model.

I’m confused. Are we in favor of teenage sexuality or not? Are we OK using teenagers to model lingerie until they become public figures? Are we not OK with unwed teenage moms until they admit their mistakes on national TV?

I ask because teenage sexuality is one of the leading causes of illegitimacy, which believe it or not is more pandemic than the swine flu and more damaging to the institutions of family and marriage than any same-gender commitment ceremony in California or Iowa.


You’ve seen the stats on pregnant teens:

  • They are far less likely than adult women to receive timely and regular prenatal care.
  • Their babies are more likely to be born prematurely and at low birthweight, much more likely to live in poverty, and twice as likely to suffer abuse and neglect.
  • Fewer than half of teen mothers age 17 and younger graduate from high school, and fewer than 2 percent earn a college degree by age 30.
  • Eight out of 10 fathers don’t marry the teen mother of their child, and daughters of teenage mothers are more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

And so on. And yet illegitimacy gets a lot less attention from religious and political leaders than other, less pressing and less destructive social issues. A new book called “The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered,” by Emory University law school professor John Witte Jr. explains the culture’s (and religion’s) ambivalence about illegitimacy.

“If the historical doctrine of illegitimacy was a Christian theology of sin run amuck, this new form of illegitimacy is a constitutional theory of sexual liberty run wild,” Witte told Religion News Service.

Witte notes that 38 percent of all American children are born illegitimate, and illegitimacy rates have more than doubled since 1975. According to the Institute for American Values, illegitimacy’s cost to American taxpayers is $112 billion annually for anti-poverty, criminal justice, education programs and lost tax revenue.

Talk about a pandemic.

“There are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents,” Witte says.

So, in a nation awash in illegitimate parents, why aren’t we hearing more from religious and political leaders about this widespread social problem?

Why aren’t Catholic bishops withholding communion from illegitimate parents? Why are evangelical and black church leaders campaigning for opposite-sex marriage to save the family? Why aren’t progressive Christian leaders pushing for more social programs to help children conceived out of wedlock? Why aren’t Mormon leaders opposing polygamous relationships (which are common) rather than polygamy (which is not)?

Why is D.C. council member (and ex-mayor) Marion Barry warning that “All hell is going break loose” if the District isn’t careful in its approval of same-sex marriages. “We may have a civil war,” Barry said Tuesday after the council agreed to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. “The black community is just adamant against this.”

Why isn’t any community adamant against illegitimacy?

By David Waters  |  May 6, 2009; 2:16 PM ET  | Category:  Under God
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Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:03 pm


I Want To GOP to There

30 Rock‘s weird conservative streak.

By Jonah Weiner

30 Rock will have its Season 3 finale next week, and, barring an unforeseen plummet in viewership, the curtains will close on some good news. The first and second seasons averaged 5.8 million and 6.4 million viewers a show, while the typical Season 3 episode has brought in more than 7 million. That’s a small but happy triumph for a series that’s flirted with oblivion since its start—even if it’s a triumph many onlookers saw coming. This season premiered just a month after Tina Fey crafted her devastatingly ditzy Sarah Palin impression on SNL and became, for a spell, the fourth-most-famous woman in American politics. It was all but guaranteed that Fey’s newfound celebrity would give her baby a boost.

It’s surprising, though, what a small role party politics has played on 30 Rock this season. There were no Palin riffs. Despite Bobby Jindal’s widely mocked resemblance to Kenneth the page, there was no send-up of the Louisiana governor. Even nods to Barack Obama’s win have been scarce: a glancing reference to Michelle Obama’s “smug smile” here (courtesy of the show’s resident Republican, Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy), a short, strange “Flavor Obama” bit there. This is surprising not just because of Fey’s election-season success but because politics figured so heavily in the show’s first two seasons. Jack dated Condoleezza Rice and went to work for George Bush; scripts were regularly packed with enough Dennis Kucinich, Mitt Romney, and universal health care punch lines to rival a Colbert Report monologue. But politics is still very much part of 30 Rock‘s DNA. The show’s central tension remains the tug of war between Fey’s Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy. Their head butting doubles as an argument about the viability of liberal ideals and the allure of a pragmatic, colder-eyed conservatism—and it’s remarkable how often the show sides with the latter.

The terms of the debate are established in the pilot. Whereas Jack is a wealthy dater of models with an arsenal of problem-management skills honed over decades of corporate retreats, Liz has only a checking account to her name and clings to a fantasy of presexual, junk-food-munching adolescence. Jack adores the political right for its merciless expedience—he fires Liz’s longtime producer, Pete, without a blink—while Liz’s liberalism is presented as another symptom of her prolonged adolescence. “Lemon,” a stupefied Jack asks later in the season, “what happened in your childhood to make you think that people are good?”

Beyond the comedic possibilities of such an odd couple, what’s the show getting at here? In one light, Liz’s self-infantilizing might reflect an urge toward equality: The man-child is a venerable comic tradition, from The Jerk to Billy Madison to everything Will Ferrell does, and 30 Rock proves that an eternal 13-year-old tomboy—scared of sex, obsessed with Star Wars and meatball subs—can be just as funny as her male counterpart. It might reflect an ethos of resistance, too: Liz, fearing that she’s a brunette caught in a blonde’s game, incapable of (and feeling icky about) using her sexuality to get ahead the way her friend Jenna Maroney does, tries to drop out of the race altogether, to barricade herself in a world where wheels of cheese, not sex, wealth, and power, are the brass rings.

But Liz’s would-be adolescent paradise—and, with it, her liberal-feminist instincts—is ultimately cast as a neurosis she needs to escape, lest she die alone and unloved in her apartment, choking on a sandwich. This message is nowhere more striking than in the episode in which Liz hires an idol of her youth, the ’70s comedy writer Rosemary Howard (Carrie Fisher). Rosemary hails from the heyday of feminist television comedy, and she encourages Liz to “push the envelope” in her own writing, to antagonize the powers that be the same way Rosemary once antagonized H.R. Haldeman. An irritated Jack axes them both, at which point Liz discovers that Rosemary chugs wine from a Thermos and lives in a sketchy outer-borough neighborhood (“Little Chechnya,” ingeniously). The denouement is brutal. Rosemary has been driven mad, poor, barren, and obsolete by her lifelong commitment to radical ideals, and a horrified Liz flees to Jack’s office, begs for her job back, and asks him to help her “do that thing that rich people do, make money into more money.”

This structure appears often on 30 Rock: Liz starts from a progressive perspective before coming around to Jack’s way of seeing things. In Season 2, Liz becomes suspicious that her new neighbor, Raheem Haddad, is a terrorist. As she walks around the Upper West Side, she passes a series of posters—”If you see something, say something,” “if you suspect anything, do everything.” Whipped into a paranoid frenzy (“Be an American; call it in,” Jack tells her), Liz reports Raheem, a USA-loving innocent who is brutally interrogated and turns against America in the process. Here, we’re meant to shake our heads and chuckle—the show, ever slippery, is poking simultaneous fun at the flimsiness of Liz’s liberal values, at Jack’s callous hawkishness, and at the way both perspectives collude to make the world a worse place.

More often, though, as in the Rosemary episode, we seem meant to accept Liz’s Jack-ward drift, if not cheer it on outright, as part of her maturation. Jack is a target of the show’s ridicule, but even as his worldview is satirized, it’s often presented as inevitable. Yes, he’s an unfeeling, creatively inept conservative, but he’s also peerless when it comes to real-world maneuvering. When Liz gets in over her head at work, in life, and in love, Jack is both her foil and her life coach, on hand to swoop in and save the day. This can take on an aspect that borders, strangely, on the anti-feminist. Toward the end of Season 1, Liz’s hormones get the best of her and she goes on a crazy-eyed, jealousy-driven firing spree. It’s up to Jack to coolly intervene, transferring her romantic rival to another city. When the smoke clears, he asks Liz, “You still think our next president should be a woman?” It’s a funny, complicated jab. With it, Fey and her team acknowledge the conservative plotline they’ve written about a woman whose emotions prevent her from doing her job well—but they don’t disavow it.

In fact, this narrative is a recurring motif. We see it in the episode in which Liz tries, disastrously, to assert her authority after a staffer calls her a cunt—exhausted and embarrassed by the effort, she’s finally carried from the writer’s room like a baby. We see it in the episode in which Jack dates a Democratic congresswoman who’s been helping her constituents sue GE—she likes him so much, she compromises her convictions, and persuades her litigants to settle out of court. And we see a version of it whenever Jenna—the show’s one unapologetically careerist female—is on screen, making a fool of herself in the name of ambition.

How do these story lines fit into a show masterminded by a successful, self-described feminist like Fey? Flawed people are funny, sure, but why does Liz Lemon have the traditionally gendered flaws she does? Elaine Benes and Murphy Brown, for example, were strong, feminist-friendly characters and funny, to boot. On Seinfeld, Elaine was a frumpy-sexy career woman who slept around without censure, inspired suitors to get vasectomies, and made the birth control “sponge” famous. Murphy Brown is a funhouse-mirror image of Liz. She works in TV, wants to be a single mother, rolls her eyes at the cleavage-flashing coquetry of her bimbo co-worker, Corky, and embarks on a love-hate relationship with a right-winger, Jerry Gold. But she’s also confident, ambitious, and doesn’t run to her boss for guidance so much as bully him constantly.

Of course, 30 Rock was conceived during the reign of George W. Bush, which might help explain its ideological complexity. The show has been consistently critical of Bush, but perhaps 30 Rock began as a way to explore—and mine for gallows humor—the crisis of identity many liberals began to feel in his second term, when the Karl Rove playbook had seemingly replaced the laws of physics, when the “reality-based community” (including Liz Lemon’s Upper West Side) felt like an island populated by the marginal, flip-flopping, arugula-munching few.

In the current season, the political climate has changed, and so has Jack and Liz’s relationship. In the face of romance, issues with his mother, and even corporate challenges, Jack’s steely facade has buckled, and he’s needed Liz’s help more frequently—he no longer appears as an inevitable force, always one step ahead. This—together with the drop-off in overt gags about Beltway politics—might be 30 Rock‘s way of absorbing Washington’s left-blowing winds. But it doesn’t mean that the show’s lowercase-C conservatism has disappeared. If anything, it reveals how deeply it’s rooted. Liz’s extreme infantilization persists, from her blue Slanket to her new catchphrase, “I want to go to there” (inspired, appropriately, by Fey’s own 3-year-old daughter). And last week’s episode, the most explicitly political of the season, argues for the untenability of the post-racial, post-gender, Obama-era society: Tracy pledges to memorize lines, show up to work on time, and generally escape the black stereotypes he inhabits so anarchically, while Liz agrees to be treated no differently than a man, an initiative she kicks off by refilling a water cooler without help, spilling three-quarters of the jug on herself along the way. The experiment chafes, and before long Liz and Tracy beg each other for permission to return to the way they were—the episode is titled “The Natural Order.” Even without a chilly bon mot from Jack to cap off the episode, he’s there, smirking, in spirit.

Jonah Weiner is a pop critic for Slate.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2217712/

May 6, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajdoesdc @ 5:53 pm

Slate Magazine

An Unnatural Woman

The secret life of a Supreme Court short-lister.

By Dahlia Lithwick and Hanna Rosin

Over time, America grew used to thinking of Justice David Souter as an only child turned unmarried man who liked history books and hiking alone in the mountains. People stopped speculating about his singleton status, and he was left alone as America’s last respectable bachelor. Now the talk of his successor has opened a whole new round of status speculation. The list of potential replacements is overpopulated by women who are single, childless, or divorced. So America asks—or worries without overtly asking—what is this suspicious creature called the bachelorette, and what is she really up to?

The speculation is partly fueled by the president. Obama has said he wanted a justice with “heart and empathy” who will think about “how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives.” This meant he would look beyond the candidates’ résumés and into the detailed personal backgrounds of their lives and choices. But it also meant the rest of us would be invited to do that, too.

This morning, Josh Gerstein of Politico reported that two of the top candidates for the SCOTUS seat, Stanford Law School’s Pamela Karlan and Kathleen Sullivan, are gay. (Disclosure: Sullivan was a teacher of Dahlia’s at Stanford, and Karlan is an acquaintance.) Karlan confirmed this report in an e-mail to Gerstein, writing, “It’s no secret at all that I’m counted among the LGBT crowd.” (Actually, if it wasn’t a secret, it was at least a fact the mainstream media had thus far declined to report.) Sullivan declined to respond to an e-mail from Gerstein seeking comment for the Politico article.*

You’d think this would have cleared the air for the first free and unfettered discussion of an openly gay justice. But it merely opened the door for more doubletalk. On hearing the news about Karlan, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said he doubts President Obama will nominate a gay person to the Supreme Court, because of the possibility of a political battle: “That would enter a whole new element of the debate that I don’t think he’s ready for,” Perkins said. He then added that his group would not discuss sexual preference, only judicial views.

Really? Wasn’t Karlan’s sexual preference precisely what he’d just discussed? Karlan’s judicial views, after all, haven’t changed since yesterday.

Rumors abound that other women on the list are lesbians, though those rumors are rarely backed by any actual reporting or proof. None of this is surprising. Think of all the single, childless women in positions of prominence who have been “rumored to be gay.” Janet Reno, Harriet Miers, and Condoleezza Rice, for starters. The very much married Hillary Clinton is practically the only one who can proudly, casually say that she marches in Gay Pride parades, although rumors that she was a lesbian have dogged her, too, for decades.

Sometimes the code for gay gets sloppy and transparent. The Christian Coalition described Elena Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law School and U.S. solicitor general, as “extremely dangerous to America.” Although she has taken pains to welcome conservatives onto campus, Kagan is targeted by the right for being “gay friendly” because she took sides in a Supreme Court case in which several law schools objected to the military’s policy on gay servicemen and servicewomen.

Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and another short-lister, has many times answered questions from Rush Limbaugh and reporters about whether she is gay. Again, nobody has offered any proof, except that she is unmarried. Which seems to make everyone think: lonely, misfit, or lesbian. Ed Rendell, head of the National Governor’s Association, once said about Napolitano, “Janet’s perfect for that job. Because for that job, you have to have no life. Janet has no family. Perfect. She can devote, literally, 19 to 20 hours a day to it.” So to lonely and lesbian add “no life.”

Sonia Sotomayor, the Bronx judge at the top of most shortlists, was briefly married in college and never had children. In his woefully under-reported “The Case Against Sotomayor,” the New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen quotes an anonymous source alleging that she is a “bully” and “not all that smart.” Also included in this damning portrait: “Her former clerks report that because Sotomayor is divorced and has no children, her clerks become like her extended family—working late with her, visiting her apartment once a month for card games (where she remembers their favorite drinks), and taking a field trip together to the premier [sic] of a Harry Potter movie.”

Do you think Justice Scalia, with his devoted wife and abundant extended family, takes his clerks to see Harry Potter? Or even La Traviata? A woman who surrounds herself with young, paid employees late into the night has a faint air of scandal and desperation about her or, at the very least, of being something short of a fully realized woman. Both Rice and Miers were perennially sent up for being, improbably, too in love with George Bush ever to commit to anyone else.

That we can’t speak openly about whether some of the women who have earned consideration for the Supreme Court are gay or not, and whether it even matters, is, of course, maddening. We’d hoped that New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey, with his pathetic “coming out” press conference five years ago, would be the last remaining public official in the closet. But, alas, no. Maybe Tony Perkins is right, and Obama is “not ready” to nominate a gay person. To which we ask, what will it take? The first gay president?

Another question raised by the predominance of unmarried women on the short list: What kind of woman does it take to get there? Several years ago, some conservative women economists set out to prove that the wage gap between men and women was a myth. Anita Hattiangadi, then of the Employment Policy Foundation, concluded that if you compare men and women of “comparable worth,” the wage gap virtually disappears. So what does “comparable worth” mean? It means the same education, experience, and life circumstances. Thus, Hattiangadi found that among full-time workers age 21 to 35 who live alone, the pay gap between men and women disappears. The only significant pay gap, she found, was between married men and married women.

Hattiangadi intended these findings to finally bust the “myth” of the pay gap, but, of course, they just clarified the real problem: Men and women are not very often in comparable circumstances. When they get married and have children, women’s pay shrinks. That means the only women who can keep up with men are the ones who work very hard, and they are often divorced or unmarried and childless. Thus, as we ponder a list of potential Supreme Court nominees, it’s hardly a surprise that the current short list is dominated by such women. And so the list is a Catch-22: The choices a woman may make to achieve stunning legal success are the same ones that may also someday preclude her from a Supreme Court confirmation.

Correction, May 6, 2009: This article originally stated that the Politco article was written by Ben Smith. It was written by Josh Gerstein. (Return to the corrected paragraph.)

Dahlia Lithwick is a Slate senior editor.
Hanna Rosin is the author of God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission To Save the Nation and a contributing editor at the Atlantic. She can be reached at hanna.rosin@gmail.com.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2217714/

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