The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.” —Warren Bennis.
Word of the week is TRANSFORM.
As in the women who transformed Rwanda.
As in women transforming lives and communities through philanthropy.
As is in a transformational confrontation with one’s power demons.
Ever have one of those weeks when you have to, as I used to hear people say when I was growing up in Texas, holler “calf rope?” Well, I just hollered, and that’s why “The Sum” is coming your way on Monday instead of last Friday.
No Excuses to coin a phrase, but I did have reasons, such as my sister’s challenges as she recovers from a kidney transplant and preparing for the launch of the 50 Women Can Change the World program for emerging women nonprofit leaders in Arizona.
Summer slid imperceptibly into a vertiginous array of fall events. Save the date of November 14—exciting details coming soon about the first ever Take The Lead Day—it will be epic and transformational and I imagine my team and I will all holler “calf rope” by the time it’s done.
“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis.
Word of the week is #SisterCourage.
As in be a sister. Have the courage to raise the issues that need to be tackled even if they are hard. Put sister and courage together with a strategic plan and act on it and you can create a movement that will change the world.
My Power Tool #7 is in fact “Create a movement.” But my love of movement building is not what prompted my decision to choose #SisterCourage as my word of the week.
What sent me off into the stratospheric level of aggravation that made me want to scream out that hashtagged #SisterCourage concept was this article in The Atlantic entitled “Why Do Women Bully Each Other at Work?”
In my last column, I wrote about how the sequester could deeply impact students of all ages—by cutting education jobs, programs like Head Start, food stamps, and limiting financial aid. Well, once again, kids trying to get an education are at risk of being undercut by the federal government.
The interest rate of new federally subsidized Stafford loans will revert to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent. The rate subsidized loans, which go to low-income households, was supposed to rise to 6.8 percent back in June 2012, but the rate’s expiration was postponed for a year. This year’s extension lasts until June 30, 2013. If Congress does not act to change the rules or extend the loan rate expiration date, an estimated 7.4 million college students will be affected.
Note that each year the date to change the rate is extended, the federal government loses out on about $6 billion in revenue. But students don’t necessarily have to be the ones paying the price. If there would have been more oversight on the financial aid process, the federal government could have prevented a loss of $200 million in federal student aid fraud since 2009.
What’s a good solution? Rather than postponing the expiration again, the House Education and the Workforce Committee argued that Congress should reevaluate their rate-setting process for all government-issued college loans.
FoxNews.com reports that the Department of Education has also been sending out letters to inform Direct PLUS Loan borrowers that their fees are being raised as a direct result of the automatic budget cuts (or the sequester) that happened after the federal government could not come to a fiscal agreement. Fees for loans issued after March 1, 2013, will have an adjusted loan rate fee—from 4.0 percent to 4.204 percent.
Students are taking more and more hits, but at least they’re putting up a fight.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities are not ruling out suing the Obama administration for disproportionately affecting their students with new financial aid policies. The policies, which were enacted in October 2011, allow a Direct PLUS Loan borrower’s credit to be checked back five years—rather than the previous 90-days standard. This limits many students, especially students from a low-income background, from being able to take out these loans without having a parent with a spotless credit history.
On the upside, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced new rules that will be enacted to protect borrowers from federal loan servicers, which collect debts from student lenders.
The new rules will require all servicing firms to be subject to audits by the CFPB, according to the Huffington Post. The new rules aim to make servicers accountable by investigating possible reports that may mislead borrowers on their rights and terms of their loans. The end goal for the borrower is to avoid ruining their credit.
Today, the nation’s student loan debt surpasses credit card debt.
Maybe a complete overhaul of the system may seem like the next step, given that nothing else seems to be working. But instead of only impacting students who are striving to get an education, maybe we should be focusing on oversight the federal government has slacked off on instead.
The yoga class I took just before last night’s State of the Union (SOTU) address wiped me out. I fell asleep immediately afterward. Which is good because I had a chance to think overnight about the parts that resonated most with me.
I’ve been tough on the president in the past, disappointed with his timidity and unwillingness to set a big bold agenda.
With the benefit of reflection, here are my three favorite parts of the speech.
1. SOTU and women: On the domestic front, the president mentioned two hot button pieces of legislation poised to pass if Speaker Boehner (R-BadLoser) ever brings them up for votes:
We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.
(This drew a “Huge Yes!” from Pamela Scharf when I posted it on Facebook.)
And on the global front, but equally true at home:
We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
2. SOTU and gun violence: This drew the biggest cheers as Obama did his rhetorical best: build to a revival preacher’s crescendo. And the backdrop of Gabby Giffords and parents of slain children brought everyone but John Boehner (go figure, for once he showed no emotion) to tears.
It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.
Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.
One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.
Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.
Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.
The families of Newtown deserve a vote.
The families of Aurora deserve a vote.
3. SOTU and minimum wage: Did the proposed $9 minimum wage surprise you? It did me.
We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.
Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.
4. SOTU and early childhood education: This warmed my former Head Start-teacher heart.
Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance
5. The part of SOTU I liked best. Karl Rove (who reminds me of the Riddler because he keeps popping up with his evil grin, every time you think a superhero has finally vanquished him), used a twitter hashtag #notserious to telegraph the Tea Party message of the day. A typical corrosive Rove tweet:
Is it me or is this not one of POTUS’s better efforts? Lackluster response from even Dem’s side. #SOTU
Since you asked, I’ll answer, Karl. It’s you. The president’s speech was not just #serious. It hit a political home run. Now the real test–let’s see what action Congress takes, and how hard Obama fights for his agenda.
Gas prices are expected to hit a two-year low this Memorial Day weekend, averaging around $3.66 a gallon, the Christian Science Monitor reports.
Some energy analysts believe prices could continue to drop through the summer months. The falling prices take away a key piece of the GOP’s platform against President Obama – however, the White House has been relatively quiet about the price drop and a recent AP-GfK poll showed the majority of Americans still disapprove of Obama’s handling of gas prices.
Will the dropping gas prices help Obama’s reelection chances – and should the White House work harder to highlight the decrease? Or will voters still be wary of Obama’s economic performance?
People are quick to squawk when they feel the pinch in their pocketbooks, but rarely give credit when the pain goes away-unless leaders and/or media create a pervasive narrative about it. Perhaps the Obama administration is refraining from crowing about the price drop because they anticipate a rise in price that would cause pre-election squawks next fall.
Whatever the reason, it’s a mistake. They should tell a positive story and take the credit if they want falling gas prices to benefit his reelection.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been a harsh critic of Obama’s leadership or lack of it since he took office, not because I supported Clinton (which I did but I got over it), but as someone who understands the responsibilities of a chief executive to create meaning, articulate a vision, and put forth an agenda for people to work from. From the time he was elected until now, his vision kept shrinking rather than expanding and his penchant for appeasing even the unappeasable has been nothing short of maddening.
That unwillingness to put a stake in the agenda ground left the Democrats in Congress adrift. The result has been that even when Obama scored accomplishments such as heath reform, it never felt like a victory. Because it was never clean cut, never a righteous fight.
But I have to say he knocked it out of the ballpark tonight in his State of the Union Address (full text here). His energetic delivery, piquant story telling, and frequent appeals to the highest American values made me remember the Obama I voted for in 2008 and thought had disappeared entirely.
It was brilliant to start and end with foreign policy and homage to the military, whose selflessness and teamwork contrast so sharply with the circular firing squad that is Congress. “Imagine what we could achieve if we all had the selflessness of the troops.”
Best line of the speech IMHO: **Fight obstruction with action.**
Where have you been these last three years, Mr. President? Welcome back.
It was so smart (albeit a little smoke and mirrors) to connect the multiple wars people are so tired of with the post WW II economic boom and the rise of the middle class. Now, there is HOPE. “The defining issue of our time is how to keep that dream alive.” “Fair shot, fair share, everyone play by rules.” “Reclaim American values.” He took the mantle personally by talking about his own grandfather’s military service and using the GI Bill to get an education afterward.
I couldn’t help thinking how darn lucky Obama is that Hillary Clinton is such a team player. So many of these foreign policy victories were hers. He did acknowledge that though she had been his primary opponent, as Secretary of State, she was in the room when the decision to go for Bin Ladin was made. (I try not to be like the sexist media and comment on female politicians’ looks, but it was great to see her looking radiantly, authentically Hillary, with her longer hair and the return of her much-maligned headband.)
Segue to taking credit for creating 3million–or was it 4?–jobs after Bush lost so many. And for protecting consumers after the big bad banks screwed them. And for saving GM, which has shown once again that the American workers are the best. He touched the heart of every businessman, who has probably read the classic business book, Built to Last.
Did he read my blogpost? He did what I asked him to do–emphasize expanding jobs in the sectors that heavily employ women, in myriad ways. Lauding teachers, expanding community colleges, and on.
I won’t continue with the usual SOTU Christmas tree of mentions dangled before constituencies waiting anxiously for their personally important issues. The important thing is the overall effect. This Obama can demolish any of the current Republican candidates.
No wonder the pundits were speculating on whether the GOP would try to draft a faux moderate like Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels since all their current choices are deeply flawed. They tried to soften their hard-edged image by putting Daniels up to do the requisite retort. He started out statesmanly, then quickly shifted to blame everything from joblessness to the pox on Obama. The only interesting moment was when he coined a new phrase, “trickle down government” as tar to stick together his various disparagements. Otherwise, it was same old same old. Whine whine. Negative, bitter. Attack. No vision, no action.
What Obama left out:
Didn’t mention Paycheck Fairness Act though did mention equal pay to big cheers.
Didn’t mention putting the Freedom of Choice Act back into his priority list, or even the recent rulings expanding contraceptive coverage.
Didn’t talk much about health care at all.
If he mentioned major women’s initiatives such as the Executive Order Instituting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, I missed it.
But there was great symbolism in the first time an openly gay military officer sat with the first lady and the end of Don’t Ask Don’t tell was lauded. Same with Warren Buffett’s secretary nodding approval when the president pointed out the unfairness of her paying a higher tax rate than her boss, and the camera panning Laurene Jobs each time the word “innovation” was mentioned. There was also the almost unbearable sadness of seeing the courageous but still wounded AZ Rep. Gabby Giffords bidding farewell for now to her Congressional colleagues.
All in all, I’m breathing out, relieved that the president performed so well. Commentators said that the State of the Union speech isn’t nearly as important or watched as it used to be. But I’m a sappy enough patriot to listen to every word, and to embrace the theater of it as an incredibly important declaration that our democracy lives for all of us to fight passionately another day for what we believe.
I’ve been critical of the President’s leadership in the past, and wrote this about a previous State of the Union address. But I’m rooting for him to be at his rhetorical and persuasive best tonight, not so much for his re- election prospects as for the good of the country.
Candidate Obama had a large vision during his campaign and it called us to our higher selves. In part his decisive 2008 victory was due to America’s exhaustion with George W. Bush. But a big factor was Obama’s vision and his promises to lead a progressive agenda once elected.
Instead, once elected, he focused on small vision projects and on doing deals rather than articulating the ideals that had propelled him into office. Tonight’s speech gives him a new opportunity– the last such chance he’ll have during this term–to give people that bigger vision and not just to say things that are safe. To come out swinging at the Republicans who have stopped every initiative he proposed without offering alternatives to do anything other than feather the nests of the wealthiest among us. To offer bold initiatives that address our biggest problems.
John F. Kennedy inspired a nation worried about our technological competitiveness when he said in defense of space exploration,“We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
Obama needs to call us to do things that are hard if they are also for the good of the country. He’s got a chance to bring some sanity to the conversation, in contrast to the Republican greed and gridlock, and to set the agenda for public debate.
Regarding economic initiatives, which should certainly be front and center of his speech, it should be remembered that the economy overall is a women’s issue. When policies favor brick and mortar projects, a smaller percentage of women benefit because they are less likely to hold jobs in those fields. To be more competitive with China and other nations, we need to build up our intellectual infrastructure (60 percent of today’s college grads are women). More money should be invested in schools, libraries and social services where women will be working, and it will pay off in a workforce better prepared for the economy of the future. And of course, I hope the president will prioritize passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
There’s much more of course. But then State of the Union addresses typically sound like verbal Christmas trees, loaded with gifts for various important constituencies. I’ll just touch on one more topic. I suggest that Obama should proactively take the credit for getting contraception almost universally covered in the health care plan because 95 percent of Americans use it and because it’s the right thing to do. The dollop of whipped cream with a cherry on top would be for him to place the Freedom of Choice Act back on the agenda. I’m not holding my breath but I can hold out hope.
And instead of letting the Republicans tar him with “Obamacare” as a negative label, he should embrace the controversy (No Excuses power tool #4!) as a badge of pride. A generation hence, most Americans will regard Obamacare as important to their lives as Medicare is to seniors today.
What are you hoping to hear from the president tonight?
Will he soar or fly under the radar?
Can he take the attention from the right wing Republicans battling it out for their nomination? Post your thoughts.
Silly question today but I decided to answer it anyway. More to the point, what in your opinion should be the next steps? Who should take leadership?
Arena Asks: Congress is bracing today for the failure of the supercommittee, which will most likely fail to submit paperwork to the Congressional Budget Office by its Monday deadline.
Is this a big hit for Congress, which had a nine percent approval rating in a recent poll? And why was the supercommittee unable to make ends meet?
My Answer: The supercommittee was doomed from the start because the Republicans have less to lose politically by being intractable on revenue. The supercommittee process played right into their hands and the Democrats took the bait.
If anyone can force a solution to emerge, it’s “mom in tennis shoes” Patty Murray. Unfortunately, sometimes mom’s only solution is to send the bullies to the woodshed. It’s time for the Dems to do just that, to take off the gloves, stop whining about how much they are willing to give in to the Republican demands and start educating the American public about how much the Republicans are trying to take away from all of us. I think they’d find enthusiastic supporters rising up to vote for them in 2012.
What do they think Occupy Wall Street is about after all?
PS Heartfeldt readers: You may be interested in Lucinda Marshall’s excellent commentary regarding feminism and Occupy Wall Street. And if you didn’t catch my post a couple of weeks ago on why women need to step up to leadership now to grapple with the economic problems the supercommittee has failed to solve, please check it out here on the 9 Ways Blog.