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Jesse Berney: Sarah Palin’s Washington Post Op-Ed: The First Draft

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

Sarah Palin published an op-ed in the Washington Post today. I received a package this morning, wrapped in plain brown paper with no return address, identifying the following piece as the first draft of the op-ed, written by Palin herself.

There is no shortage of threats to our economy from the terrorists and those who would seek to threaten our way of life, such as the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. But of all the threats, the gravest threat of all to our economic state of being may be the President of the United States himself. I speak, of course, of Barack Obama, the President.

President Barack Obama believes that by capping our energy and trading it away, he can fix the economy. As someone who knows what it is like to lose a job, as I am about to not have the one that I currently have because I am going to pass the ball and get things done outside the system. I don’t need a title for that!!! I can speak from experience that this solution will not work, because it means the federal government will be more involved in our lives.

Who needs ‘em???!!!

Personally, I wish I could get the media to talk about our economy as well as our energy and important issues such as these. But they are focused on one thing and one thing only: tearing down the lives that my children have built for themselves and I.

That is why I am writing an essay criticizing President Barack Obama’s cap and trade plan to make energy more expensive and destroy our economy: to make the media refocus away from the things they should not be talking about, like my life, and toward the things that they should be talking about, like what I want to do with America.

America is where we are today because of the energy that we have. Not just the energy of our people, which is truly great, but because of the energy that is in our land and beneath our seas, like oil and gas and coal. In Alaska, we understand this better than you do because we have a lot of oil, even if some of those bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. won’t let us get all of it.

Just imagine what would happen if we were to cap this abundant energy, as President Barack Obama and the Democrat Party in Congress as well as the elites would have you do. Who wants Hollywood deciding our energy? Our energy keeps us secure and helps make us prosper. But most of all, it creates jobs. Why would we want to cap jobs?!?!?!

Do we need to reform the policies that make our energy possible? Of course we do. Too often our cars run on gas tainted by socialism, like when it comes from Venezuela, or the gas from the Middle East, helping terrorists who want to destroy all that we hold dear in America. Also our environment dictates that we should use less energy. But that doesn’t mean we should cap it!!!

President Barack Obama’s cap and trade system, which is also known as a cap and tax plan because it will raise taxes by making things cost more, like the things we enjoy most in life such as hunting and fishing in the beautiful outdoor vistas with Todd and our five children. I am so proud to be the Governor of this beautiful state of Alaska for about two more weeks. Our groceries are just one of many examples of things that ordinary Americans would have to pay more for under this plan to tax them and their energy.

That is just one of many reasons that this plan is a terrible plan. The other, which I alluded to earlier, is that it will create government involvement in the energy sector of our economy, which is just wrong. Here is a good example of how that is wrong. Here in Alaska, we cannot get at all the oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because the government in Washington, D.C. won’t let us. That’s bureaucracy for you!!!

But also here in Alaska, we are working with the private sector to create the biggest natural gas pipeline that I have ever seen. It will be 3,000 miles long. At one end, gas produced here in Alaska will go in. At the other end, it will come into your homes and burn cleaner than oil. That’s how the government can work for you.

And it will also create jobs as well.

In conclusion, we should not cap and tax our energy, or trade it away. We should make more energy here, with oil, with nuclear, and with coal, whose technology is continuously making it into a cleaner energy source.

We can be strategic and have better energy — and more of it!!! Just not if we cap and trade or tax like President Barack Obama would have us do.

Thank you.

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Lauren and Suzanne McGrath: Top 10 Tips for Throwing a Banging Summer Party

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

This summer is my mother’s 50th birthday, and I’m the lucky party planner. To give you an idea of the kind of event I’m dealing with, here some background on the birthday girl. Always the hostess, hardly ever the guest, mom worked for Martha Stewart’s television show for more than a decade producing home and style content. When it comes to throwing parties, she’s got it down to a science. Never a dull moment, never an empty glass, always a homemade meal worth remembering. No pressure, right? While I muddle through the planning of this very important birthday, I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned from the woman I consider to be one of the best party-givers around.

1. Theme. Get one. And by theme, I don’t mean, “The 80’s,” or “Disco.” A theme can be centered on a specific color, food, or even a state of mind. I’ve decided to make this party about Italian food, as we just returned from a family vacation on Lake Como. I’ll serve all different kinds of antipasti, cured meats, olives and nuts, bruschetta, and cheeses. No real cooking involved, just assembling delicious ingredients on large platters.

2. Entrance. Must make an impression. We like to use inexpensive small metal buckets and fill them with votive candles. I prefer silver ones, but brightly colored ones are also great. As this is going to be an outdoor party, I’ll line the pails along the length of the driveway and all the way back to the patio where the party will be. It’s often dark by the time the party really gets going, and having your guests find their way by candlelight is so romantic. Oh, and don’t forget the citronella candles to prevent any mosquito attacks.

3. Help. Hire a bartender. It frees up the host and keeps things in order. Who doesn’t like being asked, “What can I get you?” upon arriving at a party. My mom always hires young, talkative types who can put your socially awkward single friend at ease.

4. Signature Drink. For any party, come up with a special drink in addition to beer and wine. In keeping with the Italian theme, I’m going to make Negronis: think sweet vermouth, Campari, and gin (visit our blog (link here) for a great recipe). We’re sticklers for real glasses too, absolutely no paper cups allowed.

5. Table. Our way of arranging a table usually starts with a fantastic tablecloth. For this occasion, I’m ordering one of mom’s favorite table coverings, a colorful red and white polka dot vintage oilcloth. Oilcloth is cheap, easy to reuse and clean, and really festive (go to oilclothalley.com to purchase). What else makes the table great? As many votives as possible! Always unscented.

6. Food. Keep it simple and make it delicious. And if you’re having more than 10 people, it should be a buffet. You’re friends will be happy to fix themselves a plate of the food they especially love. Friends can sit or stand. Standing often works (especially early in the evening) as it allows people to talk to as many guests as they’d like to. Later, latecomers and closer friends can sit and linger around the long table.

7. Presentation. Food should look as appealing as it tastes. If you’re going to have the party catered, make sure to bring your own platters to the caterer so that you’re not stuck either using their ugly plastic trays, or attempting to transfer them at the last minute to your own tableware. And insist on no lettuce and orange-slice garnishes. You want people to think you prepared everything yourself!

8. Flowers. You can’t go wrong with fresh-cut flowers. By the way, it’s not so much the flowers, but the containers you put them in. We like to use lots of inexpensive small white pitchers, creamers, and sugar bowls, and tuck short clippings of yellow and white daisies in them (you can find daisies just about everywhere).

9. Music. If you don’t have an ear for it, ask your best music-loving friend to bring along his or her I-pod. And, if you’re feeling extravagant, find a fun ensemble to play for a couple of hours as the party gets going. It should be lively and even a little ridiculous. I’m still working on this one.

10. Conversation. Mom’s rule: Don’t just introduce people; spend a couple of minutes finding a common ground with friends who may not have previously met. A great hostess puts people together with similar and completely dissimilar interests and makes it work. Look for opportunities for laughter, there is nothing better to get a party going.

For more tips on everything style, visit our mother-daughter blog at: http://www.goodbonesgreatpieces.com/blog.


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Nan Aron: Can Baseball Survive the Supreme Court Confirmation Process?

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

By Alliance for Justice Legal Director Bill Yeomans

Judge Sonia Sotomayor may be hailed as the woman who saved baseball, but her hearings, along with those of John Roberts and Samuel Alito are threatening real damage to the sport. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayor’s hearings will explore many hot-button issues, including abortion, the taking of property, guns, and Jeff Sessions’ view that our civil rights laws were enacted to redress this nation’s long history of oppression of the white race. But, so far no topic has received more mention than baseball – our Great National Past Time, the perfect game that is deeply embedded in our national DNA. Before it is too late, we need to declare a moratorium on baseball analogies applied to the courts.

The mess started with John Roberts’ inaccurate and disingenuous description during his confirmation hearing of a good judge as a baseball umpire, whose job is simply to call balls and strikes as he or she sees them. As others have pointed out, the comparison was simplistic and flawed in many ways, but we have now entered a new danger zone. Republicans seem to be wedded to the analogy, particularly as used by John Roberts.

But, even a cursory look at the chief justice’s record shows that every pitch thrown on behalf of business and against consumers is a strike. Every pitch thrown by a prosecutor splits the strike zone, but every pitch thrown by a criminal defendant bounces off the backstop. Every pitch thrown by a minority civil rights claimant bounces in the dirt, but pitches thrown by white civil rights plaintiffs all go right down the middle. Gun owners have unerring aim when targeting John Roberts’ strike zone, but environmentalists, despite wearing out their arms, have yet to get one over the plate. And the amazing thing is that observers know how John Roberts will call pitches before they are even thrown. So, the logical conclusion to draw from Republicans’ repeated invocation of the John Roberts-as-umpire analogy is that baseball umpires no longer need to look at pitches; they merely need to know who is pitching.

Indeed, Roberts and his cronies on the right have decided to revise the rules of baseball to fix the game even more. The Court’s last act of the past term was to schedule reargument in Citizens United v. FEC, a case presenting the question whether a 90-minute film slamming Hillary Clinton was subject to federal campaign finance disclosure and disclaimer requirements. The conservatives on the Court ordered the parties to brief a much broader issue, designed to give the Court a vehicle to strike down federal restrictions on commercial corporate money flowing to candidates – an outcome that will prove particularly beneficial to Republicans who, for the first time in memory, find themselves trailing Democrats in campaign money.

The Court’s action strips away any suggestion that the so-called conservatives on the Court are anything other than overt judicial activists who are trying to reshape the Court’s docket to allow them to decide the issues they want to reach, whether they are presented by the parties or not. They have abandoned the traditional conservative view of the Court as a passive institution that takes the cases as they come and decides the case before it. In other words, the conservative members of the Court now appear to think that an umpire can tell the pitcher what pitch to throw if he wants it called a strike. It’s time to stop the baseball analogies now. If we don’t quickly divorce baseball from this Court, it will ruin baseball.

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Bil Browning: Steele: GOP woos blacks with "fried chicken and potato salad"

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

The Young Republicans convention was held in Indianapolis last weekend and their election of a racist, middle-aged woman as President isn’t the only controversial item to come out of the GOP gathering.

Local Republican blog Hoosier Access was able to get RNC Chairman Michael Steele to sit down with a group of bloggers and they taped the conversation. The old gaffe-o-matic (or as I like to call him, the Republican Joe Biden!) answers a question from a gay person of color in this clip about the GOP’s diversity outreach.

Yes, that’s right. To lure African-Americans into the GOP, Steele is offering “fried chicken and potato salad.” Since he mentions Republicans should also be reaching out to the LGBT community, I wonder what stereotype he’s going to offer us? Buttplugs and Birkenstocks?

(Crossposted at Bilerico Project)

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Mounir Marzuq: Egyptian Poet Jailed For Poking Fun At Mubarak

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

An Egyptian civil servant was sentenced to the maximum sentence of three years in jail Tuesday for a poem he wrote satirizing President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, the AFP reports. The penalty for insulting a head of state in Egypt is a jail sentence of anywhere between 24 hours and 3 years. According to AFP:

Marzuq was jailed in Maghagha, southern Egypt, in May after a colleague lodged a formal complaint about the poem deemed insulting to Mubarak, in power since 1981.

The case came to light after the penalised poet’s brother appealed to the 81-year-old Mubarak for clemency, the independent Al-Masri Al-Youm reported.

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The Progress Report: Health Insurer’s Practices Revealed

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ian Millhiser and Nate Carlile

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In an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers last Friday, former health insurance executive Wendell Potter spoke out against the practices of health insurance companies, stating that “it became really clear to me that the industry is resorting to the same tactics they’ve used over the years, and particularly back in the early ’90s, when they were leading the effort to kill the Clinton [health care] plan.” Potter said insurers seek to “drive down” costs by refusing to insure “unhealthy people,” a tactic borne out by the fact that 47 million Americans currently lack health insurance. The “insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies,” said Potter, the former head of Corporate Communications at health insurance giant CIGNA. Last month, Potter told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that the industry, which once employed him regularly, drops sick policyholders so they can meet “Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations.”

BACK TO THE CLINTON PLAYBOOK:
In 1993, right-wing pundit Bill Kristol urged Republicans to block any health care proposal in order to prevent the Democrats from being seen as the “generous protector of the middle class.” Potter says similar tactics are being used this time around. In the spring, a memo by Republican strategist Frank Luntz outlined the script for opponents of health care reform. Luntz argued that a politician had to first pretend to support it, but should then use phrases like “government takeover,” “delayed care is denied care,” “consequences of rationing,” and “bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine.” That jargon is now routinely heard by Republicans arguing against reform. Republican consultant Alex Castellanos recently authored a memo that urged conservatives to co-opt the cause of “bringing down health care cost[s]” in an effort to “slow this sausage-making process down” and “defeat” it. Potter told Moyers that conservative politicians “want to believe that the free market system can and should work in this country, like it does in other industries. … They parrot those comments, without really realizing what the real situation is.”

HOW INSURERS VIEW THE PUBLIC OPTION: Critics have charged that Obama’s proposal to enact a new public health insurance plan to compete directly with private insurers would lead to a “government takeover” of the health care system. Progressives have long argued that a public health insurance option is essential to controlling skyrocketing health care costs and achieving affordable coverage for all. Potter agrees, and argued that health care companies’ “biggest concern” is that the U.S. might adopt “a broader program like our Medicare program” which “could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies.” “The industry doesn’t want to have any competitor,” said Potter. “They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are.” He added that “we shouldn’t fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it’s been proven.” Potter said that he doesn’t expect the public option to rid the health care system of financial incentive, but he does think it would keep insurers “honest” by offering a “standard benefit plan” that provides comprehensive coverage.

SMEARING MICHAEL MOORE: In his documentary SiCKO, filmmaker Michael Moore exposed the deplorable practices of the major health insurance and pharmaceutical companies in working to deny coverage to insured individuals. Armed with the deep pockets of the health care industry, a number of front groups — like Freedom Works, the Galen Institute, and the Heritage Foundation — lobbed personal insults against Moore (such as perpetuating the false idea that “healthy individuals” would “wind up subsidizing people like Moore”) in an effort to maintain the status quo. During the interview with Moyers, Potter said that health insurance companies developed a concerted strategy to radicalize Moore by labeling him a “Hollywood entertainer” while pushing to discredit SiCKO as pure “fantasy.” But Potter said that he thought Moore “hit the nail on the head with his movie,” which advocated that the government-run systems of other western democracies produce better health care outcomes. The health insurance companies “don’t want you to think that it was a documentary that had some truth,” Potter said. To push back on politicians, Potter said the industry routinely worked to defeat anyone who opposed their interests. The strategy included running ads, especially commercials in an elected official’s home district, making contributions to a competitor, and using “lobbyists and their own staff to go onto Capitol Hill and say, ‘Look, you don’t want to believe this movie. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.” Potter said the plan “worked beautifully” with politicians mouthing the “talking points that had been circulated by the industry.”


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Nancy Tilghman: Life After Wall Street

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

It’s no secret that thousands of former Masters/Mistresses of the Universe have left Wall Street since last year’s meltdown. Some have landed at boutique firms or with competitors who are taking the opportunity to upgrade talent. Many others are still looking for their next job but a few have made the transition to a new industry and role, creating the kind of life for themselves and their families that may not have been allowed by the all-consuming 24/7 world of Wall Street. Not that their new work life is a walk in the park, given that we are talking about very smart people who are ambitious to achieve goals, driven to deliver results and are taking on a significant learning curve in their new organizations.

John McGeehan left Morgan Stanley as a Managing Director after a 25 year career that included a ten year stint in Japan. “When I left Morgan Stanley, I understood that I had the chance to rethink my “second act.” My dreams for the future focused on an organization with a mission and culture that would inspire me and serve others.” John and his wife have five kids and all are in service-oriented roles, so there was great support in his family for him to move to the less glamorous and lucrative world of not-for-profits.

John landed as Managing Director of Common Impact, a nonprofit organization that is helping global companies and local nonprofits build stronger communities through employee engagement programs. The nonprofit currently delivers high-impact skills-based volunteering programs to more than 120 nonprofits, drawing on the strength of nearly 20 corporate partners in the Boston, New York and Richmond, Virginia metropolitan areas.

His leadership and management skills and ability to market and sell services were a great fit with Common Impact’s needs and their volunteer base of corporate employees. He also had experience as a long-time board member of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and experience as a volunteer in Japanese education institutions. These experiences after 6:00 p.m. and weekends made him well-aware of the meager resources and constant need for fund-raising in the not-for-profit worlds.

What’s the big change for him? “The mission and culture are so meaningful…I know that we are making a huge difference. People are more collaborative and find ways to do a great deal with a little.” The challenge that he didn’t anticipate has to do with the need to coordinate with and satisfy so many different stakeholders and that ongoing need to find income in the face of rapidly increasing needs for service. There’s another thing – the loss of affiliation with a well-recognized organization and senior title. “People used to call me back when I was with Morgan Stanley…I was surprised when people didn’t call me back as John McGeehan from Common Impact. The surprise for me was how closely I identified with being an MD at a prestigious firm. But I wouldn’t trade that in for feeling good about myself and how I spend my time when I pull the covers up at night. “

Chris Matthews is a seasoned, fifty-something marketing executive who has worked in a variety of industries and companies such as Coca-Cola, GE, MasterCard and WAMU, where he served as Chief Marketing Officer just before the market meltdown. Chris is taking the route that many people dream about, becoming an entrepreneur helping to monetize the rapid growth of social media.

Chris found himself on the market at a time when demand for his marketing and branding skill set are contracting, forcing him to be more creative and to look at the entrepreneurial option more closely. So he and two partners are raising money for their venture, Twiquet that uses the new distribution channels of social media such as Twitter and Facebook to make it easier and less expensive for people to buy tickets to live events. The business is a distribution platform between live event ticket suppliers and uses of social media. He’s the “suit” in the mix and his much-younger partners are technologists.

Sports and entertainment events help to sell brands, so Chris was exposed to sports teams and live entertainment events at earlier stages of his career, making him no stranger to some of their needs and opportunities. He became an investor in a minor league hockey team, the Syracuse Crunch, part of the American Hockey league, motivated by fun. But this investor relationship has helped him to understand the flow of tickets, the controlling players and the need for a new distribution model. And his core competence of “how to identify markets and push product through” have helped him to create the business plan for Twiquet that is now being reviewed by angel investors and venture capitalists.

“The idea that you can start a business with little capital is very exciting…and new technologies accelerate the process whereas brick and mortar are usually variations on a theme, thus taking longer to build. The intellectual engagement that you get from these new technologies is exhilarating. All of it’s risky and when you have kids, mortgages, college tuitions – all that you’re facing – you understand the risks better.”

Chris’s wife recently asked him why he missed the first internet boom and why now? “Ten to fifteen years ago I was in the middle of creating my career and building my knowledge and skill sets. Now I have so much behind me and I can more easily see the dynamics of a venture and the opportunity in front of me. And investors usually want to see three key things: a balanced team at the top, a new differentiated idea and the potential for huge communities around your website. I am the experienced hand who can keep our business on the rails as we build it.”

Lisa Fitzig was Deputy Head of the Global Industrial Group, Investment Banking for Citigroup, where she managed a 150-plus team that called on industrial and infrastructure clients worldwide for investment banking services, including mergers and acquisitions, equity and debt. She has also held positions as Chief Operating / Administrative Officer for the Mergers & Acquisitions Group and Managing Director for the Public Finance Department. After close to 30 years in the investment banking industry, she became a real estate sales person with the Corcoran Group in November of 2008, as mortgage rates were falling and the New York residential property market was deteriorating.

Lisa raised her hand to leave early in 2008 when Citi began to cut heads before the crisis conditions later in the year. “I saw the handwriting on the wall…and I was lucky to get out relatively early. I wanted to go into something entrepreneurial,” she explains. “I wanted to be accountable to myself and do the work itself versus managing an organization.”

Lisa has a rolodex full of colleagues and clients who valued her advice on the banking side and who will undoubtedly value her advice for their real estate transactions. She also brings seasoned business and negotiation skills, financial insight, and client service expertise. So the transition to residential property sales has required some learning but in many ways leverages her strengths from banking.

Why real estate? “This is a place where I can use a lot of what I enjoyed in investment banking, particularly helping people and their organizations and solving problems. I also love living in Manhattan and truly enjoy making people as happy with their home as I am with mine.” Lisa also enjoys the financial analysis required for complex deals and finds that easier to do than many of her colleagues. Another huge advantage is the lack of travel required for the job: “I was constantly on planes as a banker and in this role a heavy travel day might mean leaving the Upper East Side to go to Tribeca!”

Lisa used her broad network to meet people in the industry and landed with Corcoran through her contacts. There are relatively low barriers to entry to a career in real estate, but the current market has seen many real estate professionals flee to other kinds of jobs. According to Lisa, “you have to be prepared to really work at it, gut it out and market yourself…there is still room for success in spite of the market.” Of course compensation is very different animal – commissions only, very unlike the base salary and discretionary bonus characteristic of banking. “Be prepared to work really hard for awhile before you can show evidence of success. But the happiness that comes from doing something you love makes it all worth the hard work.”

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Les Premières Dames: France’s Improbably Chic First Ladies (SLIDESHOW)

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

France: the great nation that gave us berets, wine, nasal sounds and Coco Chanel…and a collection of chic first ladies to admire. This Bastille Day, grab a croissant and celebrate the Premières Dames that transformed the Elysée Palace. From domestic deity Yvonne de Gaulle to supermodel Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, click through this style retrospective to learn a little bit about these seven women who make us adore la France.

Or look through Carla’s closet with her top twelve first lady looks.

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Gayle Tzemach: Afghan Women Train for the Trail

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

At a morning session in the basement of a sprawling three-story home doubling as an office, a handsome woman in an ivory head scarf and open-toed black heels talks campaign tactics to a dozen women around a horseshoe-shaped table.

“You must think about what your objective is,” she begins. “That is to become a member of the Provincial Council.”

“You need a good network to accomplish your goals. Motivation is also important.”

An hour later another woman takes to the floor, pointing to a white piece of paper with black-markered drawings of the many shapes campaign communication can take: TV, direct mail, radio, rallies, living room teas, Internet outreach, and door-to-door grassroots politicking.

“It’s very important to go door to door to get your message out,” she says, standing in front of a whiteboard. “And budgets matter: holding rallies can give you the biggest impact with the least cost.” SMS and mobile phones are good for reaching supporters, she says, before once again reminding her fellow trainees that it is “very important to keep the campaign message clear and simple.”

The women community leaders receiving this education in effective campaign tactics will train more than 100 female candidates for Provincial Council in the run-up to the August 20 elections. Of the nearly 3200 candidates running for Provincial Councils nationwide, 328 are female. The idea is to help women run for and win office, and to grow the ranks of women serving in government.

The program’s participants say they’re eager to share their campaign savvy with aspiring female office holders from around the country. They argue that this summer’s election should be just the beginning.

“In the previous election, women were not mobilized,” says an Afghan journalist and community activist who is part of the training team. “Step by step we’ve gained this opportunity.”

Though daunting challenges, from insecurity to widespread voter apathy, loom large, the women say they will not be easily discouraged.

“This election women know their rights, they are learning how to run for office and they know how to pursue their goals,” says the journalist, who notes that a number of women candidates she knows are being supported by their families and their communities. “I am optimistic about the future.”

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Maternal Mortality Gets Obama Spotlight While Aid Dollars Decline

July 14th, 2009 admin No comments

A roomful of pregnant women waiting for their prenatal care appointments at La General Hospital in Accra, Ghana, got a treat on Saturday when President Barack Obama stopped by to compliment the hospital’s maternal health services.

“Part of the reason this is so important is that throughout Africa, the rate of infant mortality but also maternal mortality is still far too high,” Obama told the pool of reporters following him. Ghana’s maternal mortality ratio is about 40 times that of the United States.

Obama’s visit put the spotlight on a United Nation’s Millenium Development Goal (MDG) that, according to a new report (PDF), has seen the least progress so far out of the collection of goals aimed at halving extreme poverty by 2015. The sluggish gains made in reducing maternal mortality over the past eight years – MDG 5 – may even be reversed, especially in the poverty-stricken countries of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In fact, the global economic crisis could hamper progress on all eight of the targets established by world leaders in this “blueprint for a better world.”

“Maybe this is an opportunity,” notes Francesca Perucci, chief of Statistical Planning and Development for the U.N. Statistical Division, which coordinated data gathering and preparation of the 2009 report. “Maybe donor countries will finally start giving attention to the message that is loud and clear: We don’t see progress on MDG 5.”

The halfway progress assessment shows that the developing world still accounts for 99 percent of women who die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The U.N. and its partner agencies measure progress on maternal mortality by tracking cause of death and monitoring access to emergency obstetric care and prenatal visits. Over the last decade, the U.N. figures have barely changed.

So far, donor countries have expressed their intention to maintain the funding targets they set for the Millenium Development Goals in 2000, but the targets are a percentage of their gross domestic product and the actual dollar amount will be reduced as the economy contracts.

“You have to consider this is a time when the poorest countries will see their own internal domestic resources decrease, so they’ll need additional money, not less,” said Perucci. “If aid decreases, this will jeopardize any positive trends.”

The limited resources have led agencies to focus on projects that deliver immediate results, such as purchasing and delivering bed nets to reduce malaria. This will likely mean less less funding for equipping hospitals with staff that can treat pregnancy complications.

“With maternal mortality, you have to rethink the overall health system. It’s a lot more complicated,” said Perucci. To reduce maternal mortality, the U.N. suggests building more hospitals, improving transportation systems so that women can reach them in time, and informing expectant mothers of what they need to do when complications arise.

Access to family planning services could also improve maternal health. Contraceptive access hovers around 22 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, and is especially limited in refugee camps. But even these programs may be hard to expand. The U.N. report points out that funding gaps for family planning programs have been conspicuous since the mid-1990s.

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