Trump Feuds with Fallen Soldier’s Parents

(Arlington Cemetery)

In his latest indiscretion, Donald Trump has committed a cardinal sin of public life – denigrating soldiers and their families. Following the DNC, the erstwhile reality star and Republican presidential candidate has gotten himself into hot water over his aggressive response to the parents of a fallen US solider.

In unscripted remarks in Philadelphia, Khizr Khan – father of Humayun S.M. Khan, a captain killed in Iraq protecting the lives of his fellow soldiers – lambasted Trump, who he said was ignorant of the US constitution. He further explained that Trump’s divisive rhetoric is an insult to those who have sacrificed so much for the country. In his speech, Khan rhetorically asked Trump:

Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending America – you will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.

(Watch Khan’s powerful speech at the DNC in Philadelphia.)

Trump, known for is incautious language and offensive remarks, disparaged Khan and his wife, Ghazala Khan, in an interview with ABC. “If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say,’ Trump said, describing Ms. Khan, a grieving mother. “She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”

When the candidate had an opportunity to pay homage to a deceased solider and his family, he instead felt compelled to analyze Ghazala Khan’s behavior in a baffling display of narcissism and condescension. Ms. Khan, in turn, wrote an op-ed, explaining that she could not speak because merely looking at photos of her son is such an intolerable act that it brings her to tears.

Trump’s lack of empathy has brought widespread condemnation, including from his fellow Republicans. John McCain – a US prisoner of war, Senator, and one-time GOP presidential candidate – released a statement condemning Trump:

In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States – to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.

Sally Bradshaw – a Republican strategist and co-author of the Republican Party’s “autopsy report” following the 2012 elections – has officially left the GOP over Trump’s response to Khan’s speech, stating that:

Donald Trump belittled a woman who gave birth to a son who died fighting for the United States. If anything, that reinforced my decision to become an independent voter. I’ve been considering the switch for months. Ultimately, I could not abide the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and his complete lack of principles and conservative philosophy,

As the gaffes pile up, Trump’s ability to safely navigate alliances within the GOP establishment seems increasingly limited. His sheer disdain for political norms – while endearing to his fringe base – has officially steered into hitherto unknown territory. As John Oliver expressed well on his show Last Week Tonight, when he discussed the dumbfounding quality of Trump’s injudicious remarks:

Honestly, the main takeaway from these two weeks is that, incredibly, we may be on the brink of electing such a damaged, sociopathic narcissist, that the simple presidential duty of comforting the families of fallen soldiers may actually be beyond his capabilities – and I genuinely did not think that was a part of the job that someone could be bad at.

(John Oliver discussed Trump’s dumbfounding comments to the Khan family.)

Sobering and serious words from a comedian more prone to using sarcasm and ridicule to make his points. The haunting prospect of a Trump presidency appears to weigh heavily on Oliver, as it has begun to do so for so many others in the public arena.

Inspiring: 102-Year-Old Partakes in Clinton Nomination

While the DNC got off to a rough start for Democrats – with supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders offering protests throughout the first day of proceedings – a number of keynote speeches have buoyed the political party as it moves toward the general election. Michelle Obama gave a stunning and legacy-defining speech, with other well-received speeches presented by Bill Clinton (potentially the first-ever “First Gent”), Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders.

The shift in energy stems partly from the over-looked fact that Democrats officially made history last night with the formal nomination of Hillary Clinton, the first-ever woman to top a party’s ticket for the presidency. This milestone is often lost amidst the vitriol and acrimony of this year’s election, but for women still fighting for gender equality it amounts to a massive victory.

No one felt the weight of this moment more, perhaps, than Jerry Emmett, the 102 year-old Arizona state delegate. The Prescott, Arizona native was born before women had the right to vote, and she remembers the first time her mother voted after the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920.

Emmett – who founded a fan club for Hillary Clinton in Arizona – was selected by Democratic officials to read off their state’s delegate allotment during the floor roll call at the convention. When it came to the Arizona delegation to cast its votes last night, a smiling Emmett announced: “51 votes for the next president of the United States of America, Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

Watch the moment below:

The viciousness and inflated rhetoric of today’s partisan politics obscure the great emotional weight behind such social progress. For Emmett – and for women across the country – last night was more than a milestone, it was a product of women’s unflagging commitment to the pursuit of equality.

Qandeel Baloch’s Death Spotlights Honor Killings

(Qandeel Baloch)

Pakistani social media star Qandeel Baloch – a 25 year-old from the Punjabi town of Kot Addu – achieved immense fame as a controversial and provocative internet figure who flaunted social norms of her home country. Her flirtatious and sexualized online postings may seem innocuous to many, especially when compared to the even more outlandish acts of US pop stars. But for Baloch it amounted to a cultural protest in a region known for social conservatism and opposition to women’s rights.

Her digital protest, according to authorities, is the reason her brother gave for strangling her to death on July 15.

In what has been labeled an honor killing – or a murder justified by one family member through a perceived social dishonor committed by another member – Baloch’s death has shined a spotlight on a cultural phenomenon that threatens the most basic human rights of women across the globe.

In 2015, Pakistan ranked second-to-last on a World Economic Forum list of countries for gender equality. Pakistan is listed among the nations with the highest rate of honor killings, with as many as 1,000 per year. While honor-based killings can stem from feuds between families and relate to a variety of issues, they very frequently affect women, and arise from sex-related justifications. Women in countries including Afghanistan even face the threat of honor killings if they are victim to rape.

Baloch’s brother discussed his own justification for his act to police: “Girls are born to stay at home and follow traditions. My sister never did that.”

Having referred to herself as a “modern day feminist,” Baloch adopted a political mantle on behalf of a younger generation of urbanized Pakistanis who see a more open future. While her death is beyond tragic, it won’t stop the social progress of younger generations.

As Pakistani columnist Rafia Zakaria argues,

They’ve silenced her in a very public way to function as a deterrent. But when you consider the fact that there are millions of Qandeels out there sitting on their computers at night, in Karachi and Lahore and Multan, it’s only a matter of time before there’s going to be more and more of this.

Indeed, Baloch’s social media persona won’t just go away, and neither will the open minds of many of her followers.

Report: Most Walkable Cities Also Most Equitable

(Walkable New York City)

In an era where gentrification is pushing out lower income residents with deep roots in their neighborhoods, methods for ensuring equality in urban centers is paramount.

Soaring housing costs in cities such as San Francisco have created a crisis in which members of particular industries and income brackets gain an almost exclusive right to live in desirable areas. As tech companies bloom and add even more jobs across the western seaboard – from the Bay Area to Seattle – the process repeats itself, driving housing costs up and lower income residents out.

Popular cities across the country have experienced similiar patterns in recent years, as well.

A new report has pointed out an interesting factor that contributes to greater urban equality, however, and may show how some cities struggling with social stratification can improve the overall quality of life for residents.

According to Smart Growth America, the most walkable cities are more socially equitable than their car-centric, spread-out counterparts. Researchers at the nonprofit compared cities’ walkability ratings to their rank on the Social Equality Index, which rates the equality of cities based on variables including housing costs, access to employment and transportation costs.

Their study found that the most socially equitable cities in the United States – New York, Washington, DC and Boston –  are also the most walkable.

While those cities have high housing costs, this is offset by very low transportation expenditures.

According to Michael Rodriguez, the director of research at Smart Growth America, walkability eases financial burdens:

People can rely on automobiles less than they otherwise would, or not at all, and thereby save in transportation, get to destinations, and have more destinations near them. Those are equity points because the moderate- to low-income family needs jobs, they need ways to get to jobs, and they need housing.

The report looks to promising developments in cities not necessarily known for easily navigable layouts for pedestrians. These future walkable metropolises include Detroit, Phoenix, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Miami, Atlanta, and Cleveland.

By exploring ways to easily connect residents from all income levels to the destinations they need to reach, these cities can not only combat social inequality, but also help improve the overall living standard and health of their populations by encouraging people to get out and move.

Read the whole report here.

Kansas: Anti-Trans Bigotry Prioritized Over Education

(Kansas Governor Sam Brownback)

While discussion around the nation has focused on North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill” – the governor-approved legislation barring trans people from using public bathrooms corresponding to their gender – another state has slipped under the radar with regard to its own anti-trans actions.

The Kansas state legislature concluded its 2016 legislative session on Wednesday, June 1 with a resolution opposing the Obama Administration’s federal guidelines stipulating restroom equality for transgender students in schools. Conspicuously absent from the legislature’s final priorities was the impending crisis facing the state’s struggling school system, which may not open for the coming school year pending a case before the state’s Supreme Court.

Kansas has struggled to pay for state services since its governor, Sam Brownback, has crusaded for zero income tax and other policies designed to slash government revenue in the name of small government. As a result, education inequality has worsened, resulting in a case brought by four poor school districts alleging that the state government has actively neglected lower-income students.

The state Supreme Court issued a demand that the government treat all districts equitably. In response, lawmakers effectively reshuffled funds without adding any revenue for school funding or fundamentally addressing the inequalities at the heart of the issue.

After all, with the continued implementation of the governor’s stridently anti-tax agenda, where could lawmakers possibly find the additional public dollars necessary for effectively dealing with the discrepancies in educational funding?

The court maintains that the funding system is unconstitutional and thus void, meaning that the entire state’s educational system is bereft of funding. If lawmakers do not successfully meet the court’s criteria for a just and equitably funded educational system, the state’s schools will not open for the next school year for want of a legally recognized framework.

Kansas consistently ranks among the bottom states for educational quality. With the highly partisan, bigoted shenanigans of today’s Kansas state legislature, that’s a very unsurprising fact.

What makes the present situation so infuriating is the insult to injury of the legislature’s anti-transgender resolution. How, in a period of turmoil in which the very basic rights of the state’s children are under threat, could elected officials prioritize state-persecution of a minority group?

That’s the question worth asking Kansas’ elected officials.

Marijuana Tax for Good? It’s Still Regressive

(Marijuana plants growing at a dispensary)

The city of Aurora, Colorado has chosen to spend some of its tax revenue from marijuana sales on a worthy project.

City officials announced plans to spend $1.5 million of the projected $4.5 million in marijuana tax revenue it will take in over the next two years on combatting homelessness and supporting other nonprofit causes. To kick off the new initiative, Aurora City Council members voted to direct $220,000 to the Colfax Community Network to cover general operating expenses. The vote also included the provision of funding for Comitis Crisis Center and Aurora Mental Health for homeless outreach.

Los Angeles is considering a similiar approach with a tax on revenue from medical marijuana, which – should the proposed measure pass – could generate up to $16.7 million annually. If the state fully legalized marijuana as Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon have done, the resources generated for anti-homelessness programs in California would greatly expand beyond that figure.

While the emergence of a brand new revenue stream directed toward social good causes is objectively positive, the fact remains that the resources stem from a regressive tax. Sin Taxes – as tariffs that tax habits considered unhealthy by the general consensus are known – have attracted disapproval from across the political spectrum for their negative impact on poorer Americans.

Along with other forms of regressive taxation – such as sales taxes – these tariffs disproportionately harm economically disadvantaged citizens, who are less equipped to cope with the larger hit on their finances that certain consumer behaviors cause. Smokers, drinkers, and gamblers are the traditional targets of such taxes.

A recent trend also includes higher taxes on sugary beverages and fatty junk foods.

Ostensibly, these taxes are intended to alter behaviors that have a negative effect on society while generating revenue to account for the deleterious results that stem from those behaviors. But as a trio of economists discussed in an op-ed for U.S. News, the taxes do not quite achieve their supposed aim:

[T]he orthodox justification for sin taxes was that they would reduce the costs smokers, drinkers, and gamblers impose on others—drunk driving, exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, and losing the family paycheck at the craps table. But that rationale was a nonstarter because of the relatively small impact these taxes have on the sinful consumers’ behavior. Such taxes may “nudge” consumption in the desired downward direction, but bad habits are hard to break.

As these and other economists argue, there is evidence that these taxes produce a positive social benefit. And while wealthier citizens can simply stomach the higher cost of their favorite bad habit, poorer citizens are financially sapped. Indeed, the further immiseration lends itself to a feedback loop, in which people living in an increasingly stratified economy with less money turn to their bad habits for solace.

A widely-discussed study from last year supported these claims, finding that white working Americans have seen a decline in life span, resulting in part from greater alcohol and drug abuse attributed to economic insecurity.

The tax on marijuana in Colorado is actually lower than the rates applied to alcohol and gambling. Nonetheless, the simple fact that the burden of the tax – like all consumption taxes – falls primarily on the poor gives one pause for thought: Why do so many initiatives aimed at helping the poor fall largely on the backs of poor taxpayers?

The increase in revenue for the homeless in Aurora is good news, but this qualified success should not halt efforts to design and implement more equitable, just alternatives to public social good fundraising.

Anti-Choice Laws Spur Backchannel Abortions

(Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson)

A haunting trend has emerged in Google search behavior among U.S. citizens, indicating the effects of anti-choice legislation sweeping across the country in recent years.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz discusses an alarming uptick in search queries for alternative means to terminate pregnancies.

The state with the highest search rate for backchannel abortion methods is Mississippi, the state with perhaps the most stringent anti-choice legislation in the books. State lawmakers have passed measures that place onerous requirements on abortion clinics, raising near-insurmountable bureaucratic and financial hurdles that effectively drive them out of operation. The state has one remaining clinic, which could face closure in a case before the supreme court.

Mississippi officials state that the anti-choice law is “medically legitimate health and safety regulation,” which arose from “highly publicized reports of deaths and injuries involving abortion facilities across the country that raised serious doubts as to the safety of women undergoing abortion procedures.”

Research has proven that women are 14 times more likely to die from childbirth.

In the op-ed, Stephens-Davidowitz breaks down the list of search phrases – beginning with seemingly more benign queries including “buy abortion pills online” and “free abortion pills,” and entering decidedly more harrowing territory.

“How to self-abort,” “how to have a miscarriage,” and “how to do a coat hanger abortion” are increasingly common search phrases.

Mississippi is by no means alone. Texas is party to another supreme court case that calls into question the constitutionality of similiar legislation that has shuttered all but a handful of clinics across the state, the second most populous in the nation. Other states have gone after women’s healthcare provides such as Planned Parenthood, which was recently defunded at the sate-level in Ohio through anti-choice legislation signed into law by  Governor John Kasich.

Planned Parenthood has become target number one for anti-choice activists, most evidently in the widely discredited, heavily doctored videos disseminated by the organization Center for Medical Progress, which is now under investigation for its libelous actions.

As nonprofits and fundraisers respond to these threats to women’s healthcare and basic rights, Key Elements Group will provide ongoing coverage.

Victories for Equality: Women on Currency

(An artist’s rendering of a $20 bill featuring abolitionist Harriet Tubman, winner of the Women on 20s poll)

In honor of Women’s History Month, Key Elements Group will look at women and organizations that have helped advance the cause for greater equality.

This year, one women’s rights organization oversaw a big victory, getting women on one very public domain hitherto dominated almost exclusively by men: U.S. currency.

Women on 20s – a  501(c)3 nonprofit – has run a wildly popular grassroots campaign to encourage the U.S. Treasury Department to print an important female figure from U.S. history on the $20 bill. The group excelled in garnering press. From The Atlantic to NPR, news outlets picked up on Women on 20s’ unique and well-articulated mission, spurred in part by the wide-sweeping participation in online polling that the group inspired.

Founder Barbara Ortiz Howard sat down for an interview with Key Elements Group last year, in which she discussed her own inspiration for beginning and running a nonprofit dedicated to gender equality:

For me, having role models of great women in our daily lives is important to helping us all conquer stereotypes that limit our perspectives. Seeing women who exemplify the best of who we can be is at once uplifting and inspiring for everyone. Imagine if we were all inspired to be our best selves.

In June 2015, the Obama Administration announced that a woman will appear on the $10 bill in 2020. Scheduled for the hundredth anniversary of women’s right to vote, the actualization of the bill reflects Ortiz Horward and her colleagues’ hard work raising awareness of this glaring discrepancy in gender representation.

The last time that a women appeared on paper currency in the United States was in the late 1800s, when Martha Washington’s likeness was emblazoned on a silver-dollar certificate.

Key Elements Group will continue to provide snapshots of change makers and groundbreaking nonprofit work for gender equality throughout the month.

Marriage Equality: An Amazing Achievement

In a dramatic success for the gay and lesbian communities, the Supreme Court ruled Friday that  same-sex marriage is legal across the nation, making the United States the 20th country to enshrine marriage equality on the national level.

Some activists expressed surprise that the nation has come so far over the last several decades. Social views on equality have certainly evolved at a dramatic clip. Over the last 20 years, approval of same-sex marriage leapt from 27 percent to 60 percent.

There is still much work to be done, however, as campaigners for pro-LGBTQ organizations point out.

For example, LGBTQ individuals can still be fired or evicted from their homes in a majority of states in the absence of a federal law barring such discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Another pressing issue is gay conversion therapy – an unscientific and, what critics argue, cruel process that is supposed change an individual’s sexual orientation. A recent court in New Jersey found that the process constitutes consumer fraud, yet the practice continues across the country.

Health risks are also at the forefront of the conversation. In one poll, 41 percent of trans and gender non-conforming youth have attempted suicide. That compares to a 4.6 percent overall suicide rate in the United States.  The Trevor Project – a nonprofit suicide prevention organizations geared toward LGBTQ youth – is working on this dire issue, but significant philanthropic work needs to be done in order to make a real impact.

These and other problems notwithstanding, the Supreme Court ruling reflects a monumental achievement for equality campaigners, and reflects a sea change in U.S. social views that is much more inclusive and fair to people of all genders and sexual orientations.

Charleston Shooting: How You Can Help Families Affected

The heinous violence that transpired on June 17 in Charleston, S.C., has left a community devastated and an entire nation grappling with questions concerning violence and race.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston has long been a symbol of empowerment for the African-American community for nearly two centuries. The church is home to the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, and has been a meeting ground and rallying point for generations of influential and courageous leaders. For its importance in black organizing, the church was repeatedly attacked throughout its history.

In every sense of the phrase, the church is an historical treasure – a symbol of U.S. heritage and the fraught and difficult experience of people targeted by racism.

And now, following this week’s brutal violence directed at it, the church can use your help. The city of Charleston has set up a fund for the nine victims’ family members, and has itself pledged $5,000 for funerals, counseling services, and other forms of assistance.

People across the United States can donate by walking into any Wells Fargo location and specifying that she/he is interested in giving to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund.

The fund also accepts checks made out to “Mother Emanuel Hope Fund” at the following address:

Mother Emanuel Hope Fund

C/O City of Charleston

P.O. Box 304

Charleston, SC 29402

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