Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline 

orphan trainThe Grade: A

Why I Picked It: The author came and spoke at my public library

Quick Take: Molly, a Penobscot foster child, begins her community service at Vivian’s home in Bar Harbor. Vivian was sent on one of the orphan trains from New York city in the 1920’s and the novel alternates from the present to Vivian’s childhood.

My Thoughts: This will be one of my favorite reads of 2014. I adored this book. Both Vivian and Molly are compelling, empathetic, inspiring heroines and I loved both their stories. Sometimes with novels that alternate between time periods or narrators, I find myself bored with one and skipping through those chapters to get back to my preferred narrative. That wasn’t the case with Orphan Train.

As a Mainer, the Maine setting created a personal connection for me: I’ve  been to the Abbe Museum, my aunt curated the “Four Mollys” exhibit which included Molly Molasses, and Women of the Dawn is on my bookshelf.

I also want to believe that we find our way back to the people we love and that there are all kinds of families, not just the ones in which you are born, and there are echoes of both themes in this novel.

If you enjoy historical fiction, contemporary fiction, strong female characters, happy endings, good writing, or moving novels, I highly recommend Orphan Train.


Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

BSBThe Grade: B

Why I Picked It: Recommended in Bookmarks Magazine and for #ReadWomen2014

Quick Take: In the 1950’s, a young woman runs away from her abusive father and marries a widower. When she gives birth, she discovers a secret his family has been hiding.

My Thoughts: A week later, I’m still puzzling over this book. I liked it, but I don’t think I will read it again. It’s billed as a Snow White story, and there are some echoes of Snow White, but I wouldn’t categorize this as a fairy tale retelling.

Of course, an underlying theme of the book is how people can’t be categorized by race or color. So maybe that’s the point.

It’s not a spoiler to say that when Boy marries Arturo Whitman and gives birth to their daughter Bird, she discovers that the Whitmans are light-skinned African-Americans living as whites. But Bird has black skin. As Bird herself later says, “I accidentally brought truth to light, and bringing truth to light is the right thing to do” (150).

In previous generations of the Whitmans, the children who couldn’t pass for white were sent to live with other relatives. But when Boy calls her sister-in-law, she asks her to take Snow, Arturo’s light-skinned daughter from his first marriage, instead.

There are interesting questions about race and identity, but we don’t get to know enough about the characters to know why they act the way they do. Why does Boy send Snow away for so long? Why is Aruturo okay with this? Snow can pass for white but grows up with black relatives. How does this affect who she is?

Then there is a new subplot introduced in the final chapters that raises more questions and casts new light on previous events.

There’s good stuff here, but it doesn’t quite connect for me.


The Message: The Reselling of President Obama by Richard WolffeThe Message

The Grade: A-

Why I Picked It: I’m an Obamaniac, a political junkie, and I work in communications.

Quick Take: Wolffe covers the messaging and communications strategy of the Obama reelection campaign

My Thoughts: This was an “A” book until the final chapter when Wolffe gets grand and lofty and moves beyond the scope of the reelection campaign’s messaging.

Overall, I loved it. Communications strategy and messaging fascinate me and I liked the limited focus of this book.


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Earlier this year I got a call from the National Republican Committee urging me to call my congressman Mike Michaud about something. I can’t remember the specific issue. Three things I found most amusing about this call:

  1. Michaud is pronounced Mish-yew, not Mish-ow;
  2. Rep. Michaud is not my representative; and
  3. As someone who used to be on the Maine Democratic Party payroll, I’m probably not going to do what the National Republican Committee tells me to do.

Good job targeting, clowns. At the time, I commented that their money was better spent that time they went to a bondage-themed strip club.

Fast forward to last night. I get a call from an unknown number during dinner, so I ignore it. Checking my voicemail later, it’s another robo call from the National Republican Committee! This time, they are urging me to call Mike Michaud and tell him not to side with Obama like he always does and to support an oil pipeline. The NRC has learned how to pronounce Mike Michaud’s name, but they still haven’t learned that I am not in his district, and that the only action I’ll take in response to their calls is to mock them via social media.

My friend Jon, also a Democratic operative, also a formerly on the Maine Dem payroll, answered the phone for this call. He, too, decided to chronicle his adventures via social media:

Just got a call from the National Republican Congressional Committee. They said that Mike Michaud “Is going to side with Obama, like he aways does, and vote against the Maine Oil Pipeline, and give that Oil to China instead of America” I called the number they gave me (they hung up on me three times) and finally got to talk to someone to ask them how the oil was going to get from Canada to anywhere, least of all China, if there was no pipeline. They told me that it was an environmental group that sent out the call. I said “Really? an environmental group that identifies itself as the Congressional Republican Committee is calling me to tell me to vote FOR an oil pipeline?” they agreed that was unlikely, and said it was the AARP. I asked to speak with his supervisor and he said he was the only one there. I said I could hear a whole room full of people in the background and he said that none of the low level staff were allowed to let callers talk to anyone in the office. I told him it sounded like an abusive work environment and that they should form a Union. then he hung up on me. So now I’m on hold again. I don’t know if I’m making any progress but it sure is fun!

Totally fun. Blaming the AARP!! Hilarious. Jon later added, “OK, so I finally convinced the poor low wage staffer to give me the name of his supervisor, (he didn’t even know what state Mike Michaud represents) “Britney Kurley” looks like she is an assistant in the communications department, extension for NRCC Communications dept is 7070 instead of 7000.” If anyone else wants to get in on this fun, the number for the NRCC Communications department is 202-479-7070.

Happy Wednesday.

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I began writing this back in the fall. Then I got busy with social movements, like keeping same-day voter registration in Maine, and I didn’t pay as much attention to the Occupy stuff. Now, Time Magazine has named the protestor its Person of the Year and the issue arrived in my mailbox this week. Most of the story is about the protests in the Middle East, as it should be. Those people are protestors. They helped overthrow brutal dictatorships. Camping in parks doesn’t count as protesting in my book.

The Occupier interviewed for the Time article says he got involved because he was frustrated by how little the Obama Administration had accomplished. I think you all know my thoughts on that one, but just in case, check out What the Heck Has Obama Done So Far? But it gets better. While the occupier was disappointed with the other occupiers, he acknowledged “there are jerks in every organization no matter how ‘pure’ the organization.” If only he and his compatriots recognized that governments are also organizations.

Here are my thoughts from October:

I’ve had mixed feelings about the #occupy protests. The occupiers seems like the Tea Party of the left to me: they are !ANGRY! but it’s unclear exactly what they are !ANGRY! about: wall street malfeasance? Corporate greed? Wealth distribution? Capitalism? Corporations in general? The Citizens United “corporations are people” decision? All of the above?

I agree with Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee that the occupiers lack “a focused agenda: this is what we want and these are the strategies we are going to use to get what we want.” One simple strategy is to vote, but apparently you’re not voting. More about that later.

Jen Schmidt had a great piece on Boston.com: We are the 99 Percent, Too—But We Don’t Agree with Occupy. She highlighted three major concerns:

  1. Hypocrisy–best summed up by this sentence: “Your point about hating the uber-wealthy corporation is lost when it finishes with a small “Sent from my iPhone” sign off.”
  2. The Lack of Awareness—there are 7 billion people in this world and the 99% of America are a hell of a lot better off than the 99% elsewhere.
  3. The Missing Message–I’m a political organizer; message is key, yet the occupiers don’t have one. They have a list of complaints, but I’m looking for more. “Without a goal, without a stance, and without an end, your means mean nothing. Awareness is great, but as you aim for tangible action and demand accountability from those you protest, the need for a unified message increases.”

However, I’d say my number one complaint is the likely overlap between the occupiers and the people who don’t vote. From 2008 to 2010 there was:

  • a 60% decline in voters under the age of 24
  • a 50% decline in voters ages 25-29
  • a 40% decline in African-American voters
  • a 30% decline in Hispanic voters
  • a 33% decline in voters with incomes under $30K

By contrast, the 65+ and up crowd (the core of the Tea Party) declined by less than 1 percent, and the mostly white voters making more than $200K (aka the 1% the occupiers are complaining about) declined only 5% (Voting, Not OWS, Will Save America). 

Why are we in this mess? Cause decisions are made by those who show up. The other side showed up. Too many of you couldn’t be bothered. Life is unfair, the political system sucks, too much inequality. Valid complaints. But I’m less inclined to listen to you when you can’t be bothered to raise your hand every year.

Put another way, “go and participate in the process instead of screaming about why you have no voice.”

You want a revolution? Start by being an informed and educated citizen. Then vote. Vote, vote, vote. Vote in every election. Midterms count. So do primaries. Don’t like the candidates? Run for office yourself. Recruit candidates who share more of your values (you’ll never get an exact match, unless you run yourself and remember that perfect is the enemy of good). Volunteer for the candidates and campaigns you prefer. And vote. Hopefully you’re getting how important voting is. The civil rights leaders did. More from Frank Viviano:

“Half a century ago, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez understood that genuine change could only be achieved through long-term, patient struggle – and that the prize, in King’s famous words, was full access to the nation’s key institutions, notably the ballot box and the governing seats it fills.

“The leaders and foot soldiers of the civil rights era fought with unflagging commitment, and King himself was martyred, in a two-decade campaign for the voting privileges that 2010 abstainers dismissed as unworthy of an hour’s time on a single Tuesday in November. The Wall Street demonstrators are now debating an even broader boycott of the 2012 presidential election.”

Protect your right to voteit’s not as secure as you think. And don’t even think of boycotting 2012.

I found this gem at the end of the Time piece: “Aftermaths are never as splendid as uprisings. Solidarity has a short half-life. Democracy is messy and hard, and votes may not go your way. Freedom doesn’t appear all at once.” Guess what? Politics works the same way.

Decisions are made by those who show up. Class dismissed.

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Hey, girl. Ryan Gosling likes libraries, too.

International News

This is why we fight: Afghan woman jailed for adultery will be released from her 12 year sentence if she marries her rapist. Yifat Susskind, the Executive Director of MADRE, has written a wonderful response to Gulnaz’s case.

National News

Good news: Senator Reid introduces the Girls Protection Act to prevent female genital mutilation. I wrote about the 2010 version of this bill as a blogger a change.org.

More good news: the FBI is finally updating its definition of rape.

It’s time to reauthorize VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act).VAWA provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence cases, and support for shelters, rape crisis centers, and support for domestic violence survivors. Unfortunately, not enough: the reauthorization calls for a $144 million reduction in funding for five years; in that same period, domestic violence will cost our society about $30 billion.

I know you’re shocked: USC study finds women are underrepresented and over-sexualized in Hollywood movies.

Maine News

Lots of talk about Gov. LePage’s budget proposal to screw poor people, I mean, drastically cut MaineCare and other vital services like Head Start and discount medicine for the elderly.

There’s a rally against these cuts at the State House Hall of Flags Wednesday Dec. 14th at noon.

Things that Make Me Happy

We Bought a Z00 twitter feed! Sample tweets:

  • Ben Affleck just called to tell me he bought an aquarium. Hahaha. Idiot.
  • No, but we have a muskrat that holds a boombox over his head. “@paulardoin@WEBOUGHTAZ00 Do you have a Manic Pixie Dream Hippo?”
  • Zoos should not be SOMETHING BORROWED. Zoos should be BOUGHT. #KateHudson #AlmostFamous #Zoos
  • And on that note, Kate Hudson is not invited into our zoo. No matter what the damn orangutans tell you.

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A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

National News

Yes, I got a little teary-eyed reading Marriage Amendment – A Judge’s Tale, especially when I got to this part:

Most of us just want someone to hug us when we’re happy or sad, to inhale life’s problems, to hold our hand when we get that unexpected diagnosis and to answer “yes” to a question embedded in our soul: “Do you promise to love and care for each other, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for better or worse, for as long as you both shall live?”

Some of us are lucky enough to have found the partner who loves us enough to say, “I will.”

I have a life partner named Becky, my wife of almost 30 years. She helps me breathe after a day of hearing other people’s saddest problems, pretends to laugh at my jokes, and walks around the lake without making me say a word, holding my hand.

Why should this be denied to us if Becky were a “Bob?”

Then I watched this video that’s been making the rounds among my friends’ facebook feeds. I’ll admit it: sometimes, I am a sappy romantic. I still get goosebumps for the final verse of Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” and I giggled and teared up as I watched the video. I defy you not to do the same.

NPR looks at Mitt Romney’s changing/evolving/flip-flopping views on abortion. Bottom line: don’t believe what the man tells you. It’ll change depending upon who he’s talking to and which office he’s seeking. Look, he can’t even keep the same story within a 3 minute time frame!

Democrats bet the Senate on Women. Six Democratic women are up for reeelction (Maria Cantwell in WA, Dianne Feinstein in CA, Kirsten Gillibrand in NY, Amy Klobuchar in MN, Claire McCaskill in MO, and Debbie Stabenow in MI) and in the 8 open/Republican incumbent seats the Dems are targeting, at least half of the Dem candidates will be women. Whoo-hoo!

You may have heard that Siri is so misinformed/anti-choice that when you ask for an abortion provider, you’re directed not to a Planned Parenthood or similar health clinic, but to a crisis pregnancy center. Siri probably had crappy abstinence only sexual education. Seriously, big fail, Apple. NARAL has sent a lovely letter to Apple and you can sign a petition asking Apple to update Siri.

Maine News

What I find most remarkable about this story about loss of funding for federal heating assistance in Maine is that the people interviewed who are struggling express concerns for others they imagine to be in a tougher situation. “We’ll be okay, but what about the people without jobs?” “I have family to rely on, but what about the people with zero income?”

On the Ligher Side

HuffPost brings me an lolz: the different types of facebook updaters.

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A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

A little backstory, courtesy of feministing

Pick of the Week: Jonathan Chait on Liberal Discontent in New York Magazine

“They complain incessantly that the administration is moving into the conservative camp, but do nothing to keep it from going there,” said the presidential advisor. No, it wasn’t last week. It wasn’t after the 2010 election. It wasn’t even the Obama Administration. It was Rex Tugwell, advisor to FDR in 1935. All this has happened before and it will all happen again.

The moral of the story? Liberals are always dissatisfied with Democratic presidents. Why? I think it’s largely because “Activists measure progress against the standard of perfection, or at least the most perfect possible choice. Historians gauge progress against what came before it.” Liberal activists haven’t read their Voltaire: the perfect is the enemy of the good. President Obama? He’s actually done damn good. And he brought you doughnuts. So there.

Despite what the “Stop bitching, start a revolution” bumper stickers say, Chait notes that “there is a third option that lies between the two—the ceaseless grind of politics.” Ahhh, politics. It’s not pretty or lofty. If you campaign in poetry, you govern in the most guttural prose—fighting in the mud for every inch. Idealism and unrealistic expectations won’t get you very far. Compromise and pragmatism are necessary. And compromise doesn’t mean you get only some of what you want. It means you give up some of what you want and get some of what you don’t want, too.

So you can pick up your toys from the sandbox and refuse to play, camp in parks, boycott elections, change your party registration every other year, whine about how awful and corrupt the system is while doing little to nothing to change it. Or you can recognize that idealism is for campaigns and realism is for governing. This is what politics is. It’s messy and it’s complicated and most people don’t have the stomach for it. It’s easier to share a story on facebook, wave a sign, talk about how nothing will ever change than to do something yourself to change it. Or is it?

But if you do want to actually help….

Ben Goodman suggests we turn Black Friday into Red, White and Blue Friday. Another $64 per person per year spent on American made goods leads to another 200,000 more jobs. Want the economy to improve? Want the unemployment rate to fall? Buy New Balance sneakers instead of Nikes. That’s it. One substitution and you’ve done your part.

Other National News

Rebecca Traister has a nice piece on Elizabeth Warren in the NYTimes. Enjoy the adoration now, Elizabeth. They will turn on you, too:

But many of the people looking to Warren, as they did to Obama before her, are expecting material things — like readable credit-card pitches or safe bridges or jobs or a vote on a bill to create jobs — that are, at the moment, figments as imaginative as dragons and their slayers. And that’s dangerous, because when the person we decided was going to fix it all isn’t able to change much, it’s not just that we get blue but also that we give up. We mistake the errors of our own overblown estimations for broken promises. And instead of learning, reasonably, that one person can’t do everything, we persuade ourselves that no person can do anything.

Traister then reminds me why I like her so much: “The key is not just emotional investment in election-year saviors but also an engagement with policy….politics requires more of them, that they need movements, not just messiahs. But their engagement must deepen, broaden and persist beyond last week’s elections and well beyond next year’s elections if there is any chance for politicians like Warren to succeed.”

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A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

International News

Tunisia has the first Arab Spring election I like the photos of men and women celebrating together

A report to the UN has concluded that restricting abortion doesn’t work and is in fact damaging to women’s health. Full report is available here. For the more visual, you can compare the World Abortion Laws Map from the Center for Reproductive Rights with the World Health Organization’s Maternal Mortality Rates Map. Spoiler alert courtesy of TrustLaw: “countries which ban abortion have far higher rates of maternal mortality than those with liberal laws – with botched terminations accounting for 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide.”

National News

Terrifying news right here in America: you already know Mississippi’s personhood amendment is god-awful. What you may not know is all the other implications: birth control could be illegal. IVF could be banned. Ecotopic pregnancies? Sorry ma’am, you’ll have to wait until you’re near death to see medical attention. That last one really pisses me off. Ecotopic pregnancies cannot continue to birth. Did you hear that Mississippi? There is no possibility for a baby.  So by all means, let’s value those cells that will never be anything else over the actual human being—the woman.

Also of note: this state is so pro-life they have the highest infant mortality rate in the country. There are twice as many infant deaths as there are abortions in Mississippi. Way to work the problem.

Maine News

An awesome woman from Mount Desert calls Olympia Snowe on her BS anti-jobs bill vote and rhetoric.

While complaining that nothing is getting done in Washington, Snowe said she couldn’t vote yes on President Obama’s jobs bill package because no amendments were allowed. But the vote was not “for” the bill. It was to allow the bill to proceed to the floor of the Senate. Her vote was in support of a GOP filibuster to block consideration of the bill…In the past couple of sessions this tactic has been used at unprecedented rates by the GOP to paralyze the functioning of government. It is disingenuous for Snowe to lament to us about the very problem she helps create.

…She comes to us not as a moderate, independent voice. She is trying to sell us the same plan “tea party” senators such as Rand Paul are trumpeting. Snowe is counting on support from independents and Democrats to hang on to her seat, as she always has. She never has deserved it less.

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