Obamacare repeal, new concerns about women's health care

Washington is having another whirl with repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Lost in much news coverage of concessions to the Freedom Caucus and amassing the magic 216 House votes for passage is this: This legislation is as devastating to women's health care as the previous repeal version.

Protesters in favor of Obamacare gather outside the Supreme Court building in Washintgon. (Photo: Thomson Reuters)

The new House effort adopted Thursday in Washington mostly along party lines would eliminate the "essential health benefits" covered by the Affordable Care Act, including maternity and newborn care. The bill would pull funding for poor women to go to Planned Parenthood for birth control and lifesaving cancer screenings. It would restrict private insurance coverage of abortion.

"This latest attempt at a health care plan lacks an important component for women - health care," said Robin Chappelle Golston, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, which represents Planned Parenthood in New York. "They say there is no war on women, but this sure looks like one."

No kidding. Before Congress could agree to an omnibus spending bill this week to keep the government running, Democrats pushed to get rid of a GOP rider that, according to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, would have undermined a woman's right to reproductive health.

The continued government-sponsored enthusiasm for pregnancy has begun to look like a chapter out of "The Handmaid's Tale." The 1985 Margaret Atwood novel, recently made into a Hulu series, is set in an imaginary totalitarian future in which fertile women are required to bear children to repopulate the nation.

The bill now moves to the Senate, but Thursday's vote in Washington may light a fire under the New York State Legislature to pass measures that shore up basic health care for this state's families. It's worth emphasizing this truth: If women don't have control over their own reproductive biology, they will no longer be free.

"It's been a difficult time," Golston said of the Trump era. However, "it's a positive time in terms of people who've been activated who were not active before."

That includes Long Islanders, who have assembled at more than 65 events and demonstrations since the November election to fight for protecting reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care including contraception coverage. Planned Parenthood of Nassau County has nearly doubled its email list to 15,000. Suffolk County figures weren't immediately available.

In New York, some state lawmakers are trying to erect a bulwark against Washington action, but the efforts are in limbo. Two bills that passed the Assembly await action in the State Senate. One is the Reproductive Health Act, which would strengthen New York law to allow abortion after 24 weeks if the fetus is no longer living or the mother's health or life is at risk. That's consistent with Roe v. Wade, which New York law predates.

The odds of the Senate passing the Reproductive Health Act are dismal. But a second bill that would protect contraception coverage, the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, may have a shot. Golston said Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference support it, and that Republican Sen. Elaine Phillips of Flower Hill has been "helpful." Her office confirmed she would vote for the contraception act. Originally proposed by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, the bill might be blocked by the State Senate majority coalition from coming to the floor for a vote.

The coalition should think carefully before crushing a bill that would be a backstop if the Trump administration delivers on its promise to repeal Obamacare and starve Planned Parenthood of federal funds.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Trump's antics stoke opposition

President Donald Trump's continuing assaults on cherished American ideals, like protecting the environment and providing health care, are having an intriguing side effect. His administration is keeping the outrage at a boil.

For organizations that encourage and train women to run for political office, that has made for a very busy four months since Election Day.

Tens of thousands marched against President Trump in New York City on Jan. 21, 2017, and the total nationwide was in the millions. (Photo: mathiaswasik/flickr/cc)

Tens of thousands marched against President Trump in New York City on Jan. 21, 2017, and the total nationwide was in the millions. (Photo: mathiaswasik/flickr/cc)

Activism has spiked in many areas, from demonstrations in airports to raucous town halls to protests at politicians' doorsteps. But the events of the last few months have fundamentally changed attitudes about politics, particularly among women. Organizers say many more women are embracing the value of running for office.

VoteRunLead, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that offers classes with titles like "30 Things Every Woman Needs to Know to Run for Office," recently surveyed women who had signed up for the program. In the past, two-thirds of VoteRunLead's students said they were thinking of running in the next five years or so. When their children were grown, perhaps.

Now, according to VoteRunLead founder Erin Vilardi, 66 percent want to run in the next two years.

"In the past, we heard, it's on my mind, but it's not urgent," she said. "A new crop of women are raising their hands and accelerating the schedule."

VoteRunLead, which is based in New York, unveiled a website this week under the banner "Run as you are." An important function of groups like this is matching the skills and passions of individuals with the right offices.

"Probably, the number one question I get is what to run for," Vilardi says. She begins by asking what policies they want to change. Most will end up seeking school board or local offices, with a sprinkling interested in federal posts.

From September 2014 to the November election, VoteRunLead trained about 5,000 women at conferences and online. Since Nov. 8, another 5,565 have signed up. Organizations like the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, She Should Run and Ignite National are reporting similar surging interest.

Even optimists thought interest might fade after the Jan. 21 women's marches. But Anne Moses, president of Ignite National, which offers programs for high school and college women, says so far, apathy has been a stranger. "I thought maybe it would slow down," she said, "but this administration is doing a good job of keeping people angry."

Cue Hillary Clinton. On Tuesday, she gave a major speech in San Francisco to an audience of 6,000, and she's scheduled today to address the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in Washington. On Tuesday, she tried out a new mantra: "Resist, insist, persist, enlist."

Her timing was perfect. Last week brought the image of a room of men in Congress debating whether to cover maternity care, along with Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts making light of losing mammograms. He was forced to apologize.

Such moments are raising awareness in young women that "sexism is real, it's not just something my mom is talking about," said Moses of Ignite National, which is based in San Francisco.

The recent ineptitude of the White House - failing on two travel bans and Obamacare repeal - also demonstrates, like a reality show, that no experience is necessary to try governing. The missteps have been liberating for potential candidates, and especially women, who research shows tend to underestimate how well-prepared they already are for jobs.

Who knew that Trump's Washington would offer so much inspiration?

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

 

Melania Trump goes at own pace

There's one Trump whose approval ratings are climbing fast, and it's not the guy in the Oval Office.

First lady Melania Trump has picked up 16 percentage points since before the inauguration, according to a recent poll by CNN/ORC. Fifty-two percent said they have a "favorable" opinion of Trump, even as her husband's numbers remain mired in the low 40s.

Americans, it seems, are getting to know the former model from Slovenia. The same poll found that 23 percent had "no opinion" of her before President Donald Trump's inauguration; afterward, only 12 percent hadn't yet made a judgment.

First Lady Melania Trump arrives at a luncheon she hosted to mark International Women's Day in the State Dining Room at the White House March 8, 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)

First Lady Melania Trump arrives at a luncheon she hosted to mark International Women's Day in the State Dining Room at the White House March 8, 2017. (Photo: Getty Images)

This first lady is like no other in recent memory. She had no experience in the political spotlight before landing in this high-profile, if poorly defined, role at the top of American public life. She was known in New York celebrity circles, of course, and pictured in society coverage as the wife of a publicity-loving billionaire whose name adorns skyscrapers, hotels and golf courses.

But national politics, unlike celebrity and fame, often demands more gravitas and homage to tradition. Melania Trump is navigating this all in real time, without the training wheels her predecessors had, and with a partner whose political brand is built on upending Washington norms.

Before becoming first lady, Michelle Obama was the wife of a state senator and then a U.S. senator. Laura Bush was married to a Texas governor and a member of a family steeped in politics. Hillary Clinton's husband had been the attorney general and then governor of Arkansas. Barbara Bush had a wealth of experience as the wife of a former CIA director, ambassador to China, congressman and vice president.

As political spouses, these women made mistakes and learned from them.

Trump's first major foray was publicly bruising. She was the wife of the candidate then, supporting him as he accepted the Republican Party nomination. Her speech at the convention was cribbed from her predecessor's - and the plagiarism was rightly blasted.

It's enough to make a person want to hole up in a posh Manhattan penthouse and tend to her 10-year-old son. Get back to basics.

Now, though, there are signs that Trump is testing the waters as first lady. Earlier this month, she visited a hospital in Manhattan to read to sick children. She chose the classic, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" In the lore of first ladies, this is public relations gold.

Trump's visit cast her as nurturing and selfless, with little risk. No tyke was going to pop up and ask whether she had permission to quote Dr. Seuss.

Last week, she hosted an invitation-only luncheon at the White House in honor of International Women's Day and spoke about equality, freedom and women helping each other achieve success. Also, the Trumps will honor the 139-year-old custom next month of rolling Easter eggs across the White House South Lawn.

Step by step, Trump is adopting traditions we associate with first ladies. Her next challenge will be the gravitas.

Before Election Day, Trump said she was interested in working to combat cyberbullying, but she hasn't begun, at least not publicly. Nancy Reagan is remembered for her anti-drug message, Obama for encouraging kids to exercise and Laura Bush for reminding children to read. Must each first lady have a cause? It will be interesting to see how Trump answers that question.

For now, she's made it clear that she will remain in New York until son Barron finishes his school year. This also allows her to approach her new role with caution.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

 

pain relief as a habit for seniors

As the medical community and lawmakers have responded to the crisis in opioid abuse by making the pills harder to get, there's one group whose needs are being largely neglected: the elderly.

More than 30 percent of people enrolled in Medicare Part D used opioid prescriptions, according to a top Medicare administrator's report to Congress in February 2015. Older people are more apt to have chronic pain from musculoskeletal disorders like arthritis, from nerves damaged by diabetes or shingles, or from cancer. They're more likely to have surgery.

New state laws and guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over recent months, have sought to tighten controls on who receives the pain meds and how much.

While many view opioid addiction as a youthful problem, many older Americans are struggling with dependency and pain. Alternatives to opioids aren't always clear.

I've heard from older people who say please don't allow public pressure to make these completely unavailable. They fear returning to a life of constant pain - mostly physical but sometimes also emotional. Addiction counselor Clare Waismann calls opioid use "a blanket between you and reality."

So the problem becomes, how to weigh relieving pain against the possibility that strong, habit-forming drugs derail one's quality of life? American medicine must release its dependence on popping pills and force health insurers to recognize there's a healthier path for many people.

Opioid pills decrease the pain, particularly at first. Then, as time goes on, they have less effect, and people take more to stop from hurting. The higher doses can lead to confusion and depression, even rendering people homebound. Some are misdiagnosed with dementia.

Older people also don't metabolize the drugs as well, so they stay in the body longer. Opioids can bring on vomiting or constipation, increase the risk of falls and fractures, and damage kidneys and hearts with long-term use.

Most seniors recognize the signs of growing drug dependence, but they're ashamed to talk about it, says Waismann, who runs a medical detox and treatment center in Southern California that serves older people - a rarity. They grew up in a time when drug addiction and alcoholism were viewed as evil, and so they remain silent about the problem. They don't want to identify as "drug addicts," nor do many rehab centers accept older people because of the risk of death involved as people are weaned off opioids.

Nationally, opioid prescriptions have begun to decline, and some doctors have completely stopped prescribing them. Many are recommending non-drug alternatives to manage pain, such as exercise, acupuncture, weight loss, therapy, meditation, tai chi or yoga.

Yet, insurers often don't pay for those, or for costly inpatient clinics like Waismann's.

But even without special treatment, people can speak to their doctors about slowly reducing the dosage. Waismann believes there are alternative medicines to manage muscular and nerve pain. And even at an advanced age, people should think 10 years down the road.

Waismann told me this story. An 83-year-old woman went to the clinic last month. She never had a drug problem, but over the last eight or 10 years had a number of hip and neck surgeries. She was taking more opioids but was still in pain.

She had been worried about her growing drug dependency for nearly four years but didn't know how to stop.

After detox, she was more clear-headed and able to return to driving, traveling, golfing, volunteering at a foundation and visiting with her grandchildren.

She still has a full life ahead.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

It's necessary to keep talking about politics, religion

We're living in an age when provocation is highly rewarded.

Candidate Donald Trump provoked his Republican primary competitors with epithets like "little Marco" and "low energy" Jeb Bush. In recent weeks, Milo Yiannopoulos, a website editor often identified by the title "provocateur," was rewarded with a lucrative book contract and a speaking role at the influential Conservative Political Action Conference.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a British media personality associated with the political alt-right and a former senior editor for Breitbart News. 

Milo Yiannopoulos is a British media personality associated with the political alt-right and a former senior editor for Breitbart News

Until he went too far. Apparently, our society keeps redefining what "too far" means. Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, with a newlywed wife at home, was apparently no longer enough to shock us into dumping this public figure into obscurity. Instead, voters rewarded him with the presidency.

However, Yiannopoulos was not so fortunate. After his comments about sex and teenage boys became public this week, he's out of a book contract, a job and a speaking role. For now. He has pledged to return to the spotlight, and even splashier..

I could go on about the relative outrage over female and male assault, but that's a topic for another day. What concerns me is that Americans react like Pavlov's dog, salivating over name-calling, "yuge" Twitter audiences and whatever is viral, trending, titillating, angry or divisive.

Do we no longer attend to substance? Where is the space in our lives for quieter, saner voices? Former Secretary of State James Baker on the right, or Sen. Bernie Sanders on the left? OK, Sanders isn't quiet. But you get my point. He's thoughtful. He has ideas.

A reactive, sharply divided country is what we have, and the split is serving us poorly. There are family members and important subjects we're avoiding. Popular wisdom has held that one shouldn't discuss religion or politics. However, to heal our divisions and move our country forward, it's essential that we toss out that old truism and bring politics back into our private conversations but discuss them respectfully.

Yet, as in any good arena, there must be rules. Rules allow teams of men to rush at each other on a gridiron without producing total chaos.

One useful rule would be to stop uttering phrases simply to provoke. I have no control, of course, over President Trump tweeting about "liberal activists" or a "so-called judge," but the rest of us can commit to packing away the verbal bombs in our lives. As author Don Miguel Ruiz advised, words have power; be impeccable with your word.

Another possibility I'll borrow from a long-ago conversation with Ed Rigaud, founder of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. As he was developing the center in the late 1990s, he spoke about a room where people could converse about race, one-on-one. The idea was disconcerting, but we've reached a point of desperation in our American conversation, about both race and politics, when we should try it. Where there's discomfort, there may be growth.

A final suggestion comes from the world of project management. A facilitator runs a meeting of stakeholders, who often have competing interests. When the participants get stuck in an argument, the facilitator moves the sticking point aside - into a "parking lot," they say - so the conversation can continue productively.

A productive conversation about politics? In this environment? Dream on, you might say. But we've been stuck in the parking lot for a good while. It's time to try.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

A women's agenda for Trump era

If the participants in women's marches around the country last weekend are looking for a public policy road map, they would do well to pick up a copy of "Work Pause Thrive."

Published this month, author Lisen Stromberg's ambitious book lays out an agenda for legislative changes and describes policies that progressive employers are putting in place. The goal is to help along a new generation of men and women who say they want both involved parenting and rewarding work.

A new book from journalist Lisen Stromberg, Work Pause Thrive, offers a collective agenda for working families. (Photo: LisenStromberg.com)

A new book from journalist Lisen Stromberg, Work Pause Thrive, offers a collective agenda for working families. (Photo: LisenStromberg.com)

As a devotee of advice on work-life balance, I found "Work Pause Thrive" dealt well with both policy and practical advice for would-be parents just starting their careers. The book navigates an economy still churning from the expansive entry of mothers into the workforce since the 1970s, without having put into place adequate affordable child care or altering the "all-in, all-the-time" workplace culture.

Stromberg tells this story from experience. She met a group of women in 1996 in a new mother training class recommended by their doctors. Twenty years later, the women are still in touch, and many of their careers look like "a direct trajectory to the top of our professions," she writes, "but buried deep within our resumes are twists and turns, pull backs and pauses."

The women crafted "nonlinear" careers that often required soul-searching, risk and straightforward negotiation with employers. But she wants the millennial generation to know it can be done - and that technology and attitudes are moving in this direction.

Putting family first for a time doesn't have to mean sacrificing one's career, according to Stromberg's survey of nearly 1,500 women. She highlighted women like Ann Fudge to make her point.

One of the most successful African-American women in business in 2001, Fudge quit her job as a division president for Kraft Foods to spend more time raising her two children. Fudge had recently been named by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 most powerful women in business.

When she left her corporate job, there was a brouhaha in the media about how she couldn't hack being both a mother and a top businesswoman.

The rest of her story received much less attention. Within a few years, she returned to work as president of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency.

Stromberg focused on college-educated women and men, she told me in an email, because that's the world she knows. "I was motivated to understand why even women with resources can't find solutions for challenges in the workplace when it comes to dealing with caregiving," she wrote.

However, middle- and lower-class families - in which Stromberg says women are increasingly opting out of paid work - would also benefit from her policy prescriptions for national paid leave, high-quality universal child care and paid sick leave.

Lower earners find it cheaper to stay home with children because they can't find work that covers the cost of child care. Meanwhile, many young parents struggle with student debt - never mind saving for college or retirement.

"We have been distracted by the notion that work/life integration is a privilege," Stromberg wrote in her email. "The reality is we lack public and workplace policies to support working parents. Let's focus on that issue and stop pitting women of different socio-economic classes against each other."

Women's Marchers, take notice.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Trump's bully pulpit: Twitter

Melania and Barron are staying in New York, and now it's not even clear that Donald Trump needs to move to the White House to make public policy. All he needs is a smartphone and a Twitter account.

The president-elect has had a pretty good week on Twitter, nixing a backroom deal in Congress that would have defanged an ethics watchdog and nudging Ford Motor Co. to expand in Michigan instead of Mexico.

President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Nov. 16, 2017 to announce that Ford Motor Co. won’t be moving Lincoln production from Kentucky to Mexico.

President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter on Nov. 16, 2017 to announce that Ford Motor Co. won’t be moving Lincoln production from Kentucky to Mexico.

Why would Trump change what's working for him? Why heed Tuesday's advice from top congressional Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer and dispense with this "Twitter presidency"?

Trump has achieved what many leaders have tried: talking around and over the news media and Congress directly to his supporters. Unfiltered to 18.6 million followers. But make no mistake, today's victories are riddled with risk.

Of course a journalist would say that, you're thinking. The press doesn't want to be made irrelevant.

But consider this: Issuing orders by tweet runs the risk of inflaming fear and setting in motion forces that Trump doesn't intend and can't control.

The late Italian novelist Umberto Eco listed fascist traits that Trump appears to have in common with former dictator Benito Mussolini: Taking action for action's sake. Dissent equated to treason. Fear of the other. Appeal to social frustration. Machismo. Selective populism.

Mussolini reigned by means of fear.

What was the motive for Ford's reversal if not the fear of a threat, which Trump has made repeatedly, that he will attach a 35 percent tariff on products made in Mexico coming into the United States? In public statements, Ford CEO Mark Fields attributed the decision to market forces and called it a "vote of confidence for President-elect Trump."

Whether he believes the 35 percent tariff will materialize or not, Fields is playing it safe. Trump's threats hold extra power at the moment, because nobody knows which of his statements he will back up once he gets into office.

House Republicans acted out of fear, as well. When Trump got wind of the plan to gut a congressional ethics panel, he tweeted, "do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog . . . their number one act and priority."

Within two hours, House GOP leaders held an emergency meeting and dropped the plan.

One has to smile at Trump's success in reversing this secret backroom deal. Does anyone outside of Congress really want a lighter ethical touch for Washington lawmakers?

But it doesn't stretch the imagination to think congressional leaders felt threatened. Certainly, 140 characters - or even a string of tweets - isn't the best way to change minds through logical discourse. The lawmakers kowtowed to power, and that's worrisome. It doesn't feel like democracy.

Think of the times when a Trump tweet has not saved jobs or embarrassed Congress but its effect has turned the other way. The president-elect used Twitter in early December to criticize Chuck Jones, a union leader at Indiana's Carrier plant. Afterward, Jones said he received threats from Trump's supporters.

The Anti-Defamation League has reported a surge of anti-Semitic tweets directed at journalists, many of them from Trump fans.

In a nod to more traditional communication, Trump has announced that he will hold a news conference next week to talk about separating his private business interests from his new public role.

That's a step in the right direction. Complex issues like this one deserve more than 140 characters.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

what voter suppression brings

On his national "thank you" tour of states that voted Republican, President-elect Donald Trump gave a shout-out to an unlikely group. He claimed at an event in Michigan that African-Americans came through for him "big league," and those that didn't vote were "almost as good" in helping him win.

It was a bizarre claim, because exit polls showed that nationally, Hillary Clinton won African-American voters 89 percent to Trump's 8 percent.

Known as the "Stump for Trump Girls," Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson made waves when they endorsed Trump for president on CNN back in August. (Photo:CNN)

Known as the "Stump for Trump Girls," Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson made waves when they endorsed Trump for president on CNN back in August. (Photo:CNN)

But coming after the first presidential election since the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court, Trump's claim is not only bizarre, it's Orwellian. Was he signaling to his supporters that they had done well in suppressing Democratic votes?

It's hard to know with Trump. As unscripted as he appears, he often laces his speech with music to the ears of the "alt-right," a white nationalist movement

We don't know for sure how many Americans were disenfranchised on Election Day. Some civil rights groups - the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights - say that Republican-backed voter suppression laws probably helped tip the election in Trump's favor.

No one should vote who doesn't have that right. However, there's been almost zero evidence of voting fraud, while suppression efforts around the country have put disproportionate pressure on voters who traditionally vote Democratic: minorities, the poor, college students and other young voters.

Fourteen states had new voting restrictions this year for the first time in a presidential election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. These include stricter voter ID laws, more stringent registration requirements, reduced early voting and greater hurdles to restoring voting rights to people with criminal convictions.

On the face of it, these measures look like well-intentioned efforts to safeguard our democracy and the voting rights of citizens. But look a little deeper to witness how these rules are employed.

In Alabama, a driver's license or special picture ID is required at polling places. Before Election Day, eight counties with the highest percentages of nonwhite voters closed driver's license bureaus.

In Arizona, Republican election officials in Maricopa County reduced the number of polling places to 60 from 200 in 2012 and 400 in 2008. More than half the county's population is nonwhite, and one-third is Hispanic.

In North Carolina, citizen activists calling themselves the Voter Integrity Project petitioned to purge voter rolls. They sent mail to addresses in Beaufort, Cumberland and Moore counties, and tracked those that came back as undeliverable. In August and September, activists submitted some 4,500 names to the county elections boards, which canceled the voters' registrations.

Thousands of North Carolinians who tried to vote found they had been taken off the rolls, and a disproportionate number were black, said the NAACP, which has filed a federal lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs called the purge "insane," and something out of the Jim Crow era.

Yet, Trump amped up his supporters' fears with claims - wholly discredited - that "millions" voted illegally in November. Two days after he tweeted that, Michigan Republicans introduced legislation to tighten the state's already strict voter ID law.

Trump nation is ready to act on his inferences, even without evidence. How frightening is that?

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

What now for women in politics?

Some women I know are talking about running for office. It's an attractive idea and an empowering response to a devastating turn. Many sense a new obligation to seek political power after Hillary Clinton's loss.

A sea of pink hats on march participants in Washington on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. (Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

A sea of pink hats on march participants in Washington on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump's inauguration. (Photo: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

That's a bright silver lining to the presidential election, which many of us saw as a highly qualified woman losing to a man with no governing experience. I'm not alone in looking for that silver lining; The Associated Press and The Washington Post have written about 20- and 30-something women submitting their names for local school boards and city council seats.

And yet, the promise of women jumping into the political arena could easily be wishful thinking. In fact, the brutal 2016 election might have convinced more women that politics isn't worth it. That would be dispiriting, as I believe a feminine ethos is needed to improve education, environmental protection, health care, retirement security, and the working lives of parents and other caregivers.

As a nation, we've been at this juncture before. In the early 1990s, when Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, former aide Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment in televised hearings before Congress. Outrage about how she was treated, in part, led to the election of four women to the U.S. Senate in 1992. We dubbed it "The Year of the Woman."

Twenty-four years later, it seems that great opening wasn't sustained. Come January, only 19 percent of Congress will be female.

This election year was so much harsher than 1992. T-shirts said "Trump that bitch." Fake news circulated about a Clinton aide's connection to a Washington pizza parlor that was a front for a pedophilia ring. At least some of the 42 percent of women who voted for Donald Trump believed his claim that Clinton was cynically playing the "woman card" to get elected.

Jennifer Lawless, the director of American University's Women & Politics Institute, told The Atlantic, "I think the defeat has the potential to set back female candidates' emergence. Women are less likely to think they have thick enough skin to endure the rigors of the campaign trail, and to contend that voters will vote for them, donors will give to them, and the media will cover them fairly."

Also in the silver-lining crowd is Wall Street legend Sallie Krawcheck. She says Trump's win could motivate business women to seek leadership roles. Fortune published Krawcheck's call-to-arms Tuesday in the form of a letter to her young daughter: The girl cried and vowed to "accomplish something important life," she wrote of her daughter's reaction to Clinton's loss.

Yet, even so, Krawcheck had to admit that there's "a perilously thin line of acceptable behavior" for women leaders - especially those who wear their strength and ambition boldly like Clinton.

Some countries have set quotas for women in elective office. In 1993, India amended its constitution to reserve one-third of village council seats for women. Also, one-third of council leaders, or pradhans, had to be female.

At the start, just 5 percent of council seats were held by India's women. By 2005, the experiment had exceeded its 33 percent quota, with 40 percent of seats in women's hands. The result has been a greater focus of village councils on clean water, police responsiveness, roads and education. Parents in villages that have had two female pradhans are more likely to want their daughters to study past high school. They see a potential future for them in political office. Do we?

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

aftermath of Hillary's loss

For those on the left in shock or sorrow over Donald Trump's win, here is a quote worth remembering: "Ours was not a campaign, but rather an incredible and great movement."

The statement comes from Trump himself; it was part of his election night victory speech. But progressives have as much right to claim it as their own.

Former Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton (Photo: Reuters)

Former Democratic candidate for president Hillary Clinton (Photo: Reuters)

No, Hillary Clinton did not become America's first female president. But her candidacy was important - and contrary to the too-common narrative, many were inspired. This was a very close race. Clinton earned 59.7 million votes, and Trump won 59.5 million.

Millennial voters would have elected Clinton by an Electoral College vote of 504 to 23 had they been the only ones filling out ballots.

Granted, what we witnessed in this historic presidential race was often ugly, vulgar and obscene. Nevertheless, people were galvanized. Clinton's candidacy inspired a flash mob of 170 men and women in pantsuits in Union Square. Hundreds flocked to the Rochester grave site of suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony and placed "I voted" stickers on her tombstone. Parents took their daughters to polling places, on the campaign trail and to election eve parties.

Those opposed to Trump should not let that spirit get away but must bring it to bear in their continuing pursuit of women's rights.

In places yesterday, progressives were drawing lines in the sand. Physicians for Reproductive Health vowed to "remain vigilant," noting Trump's opposition to abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother's health is endangered.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, emailed supporters to say she was "Devastated. Angry. Heartbroken." But she added that the four most important words were these: "These. Doors. Stay. Open."

She was responding to Trump's pledge to defund Planned Parenthood despite its work providing women with birth control and services like breast and cervical cancer screenings. On Twitter, supporters urged others to sign up for a monthly donation plan.

Elsewhere, women celebrated electoral victories. Emily's List, which raises money for pro-abortion-rights women candidates, said a record number of women of color will be serving in Congress as a result of Tuesday's vote. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada was elected as the nation's first Latina senator. Kamala Harris of California, Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois will all join the U.S. Senate in January.

These women, noted Jess O'Connell, executive director of Emily's List, arrive with diverse perspectives and strong voices "at a time when we've never needed them more," adding, "Their leadership will provide the checks and balances that are such a critically important part of our government, as we continue our work to achieve full equality for women."

Trump's attitude toward sexual assault will bear watching. We're all familiar with his boasts and women's accusations against him. But keep in mind that, as a nation, we are still struggling with how those in authority handle reports of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. After a Pentagon survey found that roughly 26,000 men and women had been assaulted, Trump tweeted, "What did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?"

Finally, progressives should hold Trump to a promise he made as a candidate to guarantee six weeks of paid leave for mothers who have just given birth.

Here's another quote worth remembering, and it comes from the gracious concession speech Clinton made yesterday morning: "This loss hurts. But please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it."

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Hillary still has wooing to do with left-leaning women

Hillary supporter
Hillary supporter

On a recent evening over watermelon martinis, a group of Long Island women went around the table voicing their nonsupport of Hillary Clinton. They're a left-leaning group, ranging in age from mid-40s to early 60s -- supposedly part of Clinton's natural constituency.

"She's rich," one said. "I always distrust rich people, how they made their money."

Another cited Clinton's campaign contributions from Monsanto, the big developer of genetically modified foods. A third woman derided the Clinton White House-era limits on welfare and passage of the 1994 crime bill, which helped to fill our prisons. A fourth said Clinton has no charisma.

Tonight, as Clinton takes the stage to accept the Democratic nomination for president - the first woman in a major American party to do so - shouldn't she by right enter the embrace of this generation of women as the zenith of our aspirations? However, if this critical group is any measure, Clinton still has some winning-over to do. These women aren't ready to hand her that pointy glass-shattering hammer just yet.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed that 52 percent of registered female voters from both parties support Clinton, but that number fell to about 35 percent among white women ages 35 to 64. Can Clinton build enthusiasm tonight? Possibly. She needs to remind us that she's like us. We've known her in public life for decades.

And yet, she must also show that she's not too much like us. She must be extraordinary enough to claim this historic first.

Her husband laid the groundwork Tuesday night. It's the job of the spouse at a party convention to humanize the candidate and also to remind people of her history. Bill Clinton described first noticing Hillary on campus at Yale Law School in a way that showed she was like other women: thick blond hair, big glasses, no makeup. But he also claimed that even in 1971, she was extraordinary. Magnetic and self-possessed to the point that he hesitated to touch her back to get her attention and introduce himself. Tonight, Clinton must make that case for herself.

She cannot answer my friends' every concern. A disadvantage of a long public life is a host of positions, and detractors can choose among them as a basis for disapproval.

But Clinton can talk about her life and ideals. She was born into a middle-class family in which her dad made custom drapes and her homemaker mother told her she could be a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Many Americans can relate to humble beginnings and high aspirations, but not all of us persevered until we were the Democratic nominee for president.

Clinton can remind Americans that her early instinct was to advocate for migrant laborers, battered children and the legal rights of minors. She later wrote a book about relying on community, and on the campaign trail at the Brooklyn Navy Yard last month continued to speak about "prosperity that lifts everyone who has been left out and left behind."

She could point out that, when thwarted in her 1990s White House health care overhaul, she took to the road as first lady to advocate for women's rights around the world. Then when she was a U.S. senator from New York in the 2000s, many of her staff were women whom she accommodated through their pregnancies and early motherhood.

As history-making as Clinton's acceptance tonight will be, her most potent message to women voters of my generation will be to remind us of the road we've traveled together, the aspirations we've held for ourselves, our country and our children. It's not her zenith, she must recollect, it's ours.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Election year politics at play in Plum Island preservation

Plum Island, NY, USA – August 24, 2014
Plum Island, NY, USA – August 24, 2014

Plum Island is like the turn of a kaleidoscope. At one rotation, a viewer sees Long Island's largest seal colony and a favorite destination of fishing boats. At the next turn, it becomes a prize sought by developers of golf courses and condos.

To many, though, Plum Island is a vision of Washington's partisanship cemented into place. The 3-mile, relatively untouched haven of trees and sandy beaches in Long Island Sound is off-limits to the public and has been owned by the federal government since 1826, when it was a military installation called Fort Terry. Since the 1950s, about 20 percent of Plum Island has served as an animal disease center researching everything from swine flu to foot-and-mouth disease to other livestock ailments.

Today, as the federal government moves to relocate the research laboratory to Kansas, this strip of land 1.5 miles off the tip of Orient Point is, to federal budget hawks, a potential $33 million bonanza. As preservationists try to block Plum Island's sale to a private developer, they've run straight into the kaleidoscopic chamber of mirrors known as an election year.

Even though leaders on both sides of the aisle agree that this green jewel should be preserved, the real issue is who would get credit for doing so. This will come as a complete shock to no one.

But it's a shame to have what is mostly agreement behind the scenes -- to preserve this land -- result in paralysis. Plum Island is an extraordinary treasure that should remain pristine.

The island's future is playing out in the context of the 1st Congressional District, which encompasses both Long Island forks westward to Brookhaven and Smithtown. Republican freshman Rep. Lee Zeldin tried to rescind the part of the 2008 federal legislation that initiated the sale of the land. The proceeds are supposed to help fund the $1.25 billion Kansas replacement facility, scheduled for completion by the end of 2022.

However, Zeldin's ban on a sale also expires in 2022. This spring, real estate agents were scheduling boat trips for potential Plum Island buyers, so he submitted a second bill that mirrors a Senate measure sponsored by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal; Plum Island is less than seven miles south of Niantic, Connecticut. The second measure creates a one-year moratorium on marketing the island to buyers. It passed just last week.

There are two schools of thought about why Zeldin's ban expires in 2022. One is that House Speaker Paul Ryan, a budget hawk, said he didn't want to give up the potential cash. The second is that Senate Democrats said privately they would push Zeldin's House bill in their chamber. In the absence of a Republican sponsor, there's evidence they're still considering that.

Not to take sides here, but Democrats see 2016 as an opportunity to wrest the 1st CD seat from Zeldin. History shows the power of incumbency grows after a first term. And New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, especially, has been a vocal supporter of Zeldin's November opponent, Democrat and former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. If Blumenthal's bill were to pass in the Senate, Zeldin might look too good.

Environmental advocates from New York and Connecticut will be in Washington today to lobby in part about Plum Island. Let's hope they can twist the kaleidoscope to a pattern that produces a win for all of us who live near Long Island Sound.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Don't let kids lose their smarts in summer

Two young children are reading books together outside in a teepee tent for a education or learning concept.
Two young children are reading books together outside in a teepee tent for a education or learning concept.

It's that time of year again. School's out, and summer stretches before us. My parents would have said, go out and play. But we're living in an age when parents are more hands-on, for many reasons: anxiety about getting into college and earning a break on the sky-high cost; unpredictable economic storms, insecure jobs, stagnant wages that create a slippery slide down and out of the comfortable middle class.

As a result, families are more concerned that these weeks of summer include some learning. For people with time and money, summer promises specialty camps, out-of-town vacations, lessons and trips to museums and concerts.

But summer learning loss - the idea that students lose ground academically when they don't engage in educational activities during the break - is particularly acute for children in families with lesser means.

Sociologists at Johns Hopkins University demonstrated this by tracking 800 Baltimore students over two decades. They found that better-off kids retained more over summer break because they were involved in stimulating activities, even if they had very little to do with a textbook and a No. 2 pencil. In fact, by ninth grade, summer learning loss was responsible for two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income students and their better-off peers.

In recognition of this finding, places from St. Louis to Teton County, Wyoming, have started affordable, educational summer programs for low-income families.

But even without communitywide cooperation, families with tight budgets and short together time can create stimulating summers. I asked parenting expert Denise Daniels for her ideas and checked out the suggestions on Educents.com, a website that curates fun learning projects and products.

1. Write a summer bucket list. Parents and kids should sit down at the start of the summer to list a few activities they want to make sure to include before the sunny days end.

2. Look to community organizations for free or low-cost resources. Libraries often organize summer reading contests. Some towns host free outdoor music concerts and other entertainment. YMCAs and JCCs run inexpensive day camps, and many camps will offer scholarships to families that can't afford the regular price.

3. Create your own "camp." Children can choose their five favorite recipes and make them on successive days for a week of cooking camp. Or they can re-enact a scene from a favorite book, making costumes and putting on a performance. Science camp, community service camp - the possibilities are as rich as one's imagination. Or, collect several families to host camp weeks on a rotating basis.

4. Scouts' motto: Be prepared. Have a travel kit to keep kids entertained when you're in transit, or if children need to spend a few hours at a parent's workplace. Keep art supplies in the home. Write out a list for a scavenger hunt. Have workbooks for the appropriate grade level tucked away for odd moments.

5. Mix in academics in fun ways. Get kids to read aloud to their pets. Have them cook or shop with an adult to practice math. Websites offer computer programming tutorials, and kids can subscribe to receive science kits regularly by mail.

6. Just be. In the final analysis, the most important contribution a parent can make to a good summer is 20 minutes of one-on-one time daily. Bedtime reading, especially stories that teach kids about emotions, can be ideal for fostering this connection.

Do you have something to add? Let me know. It doesn't have to feel like a classroom to count as a lesson.

First published on Newsday.com. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Who did this killer hate, and why?

Orlando shooting 1
Orlando shooting 1

This is a sad truth of our time: As a society, we have developed a series of rituals after mass shootings. One is playing out now. It's called name the enemy.

Since the tragic massacre in Orlando this weekend, at Latin night in the LGBT club Pulse, some of our leaders have been stepping up to podiums and taking to Twitter to say why this carnage occurred. Who did Omar Mateen hate, and why? Naming the enemy is a necessary process. It allows us to post extra police details at certain New York clubs and neighborhoods, as the New York City Police Department has done. But we must approach this naming with care and be on the lookout for how our leaders use the ritual, because reality is usually more complex than the initial picture.

Brad Hoylman, the only openly gay member of the State Senate, stressed the importance of naming the enemy. For him, it's homophobia. The Senate passed a resolution Tuesday expressing "sincerest, heartfelt condolences to the Orlando community" and gratitude for first responders. The resolution was a simple single sentence.

Yet Hoylman, a Democrat, wouldn't sign it because neither the LGBT community nor Latinos were mentioned. Hoylman called this "a colossal oversight or intentional omission." He noted, "At its core, pride is an affirmation we have the right to exist and live and love openly. It's times like Sunday morning that this fundamental concept is put to the test."

It was a poignant speech, and naming the enemy this way opened the door for the senator to make it. His sentiments won't hurt any in his district, which encompasses Stonewall and the West Village in Manhattan - the seat held for years by gay advocate Tom Duane. Hoylman also took the opportunity to call for an end to injustices, such as state statutes about hate crimes and discrimination that don't specifically protect transgender people.

This advances his own agenda - but was the Orlando assault only about Latin night at an LGBT club? I think not. Leaders risk oversimplifying when they cherry-pick the background of an assailant like Mateen.

Shortly after the shootings, on Monday night, the presidential candidates named their enemies with care, before very much was known about Mateen. Hillary Clinton acknowledged this - but then launched into her definition. She said the shooter was "apparently consumed by rage against LGBT Americans, and by extension, the openness and diversity that defines our American way of life."

Naming the enemy as a hater of diversity allowed Clinton to call for unity and to embrace moderate Muslims as allies against terrorism.

Calling Mateen a lone wolf, a "radicalized" individual, Clinton avoided the need to take direct retaliation against the Islamic State or any one group.

Sen. Bernie Sanders took Clinton's lone-wolf theme further - he has a way of sharpening the point on the Democratic conversation - when he tweeted Tuesday, "We know that one hateful person committed this terrible crime - not an entire people or an entire nation."

Donald Trump, of course, is the prince of enemy-naming. In fact, that's the basis of much of his appeal, what he calls doing away with political correctness. Even as the dust from the Orlando disaster was settling, Trump dared President Barack Obama to say the words radical Islam. Trump's definition of the impulse behind the shootings leads to a fair number of policies that begin with closing our borders and end . . . where?

That's the crucial question we must bear in mind when deciding on the enemy's name.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

More generations living under one roof -- and liking it

grandfather and grandson having fun on their homestead
grandfather and grandson having fun on their homestead

If you need any further evidence that the American family is in the throes of change, and no longer a Norman Rockwell portrait of the nuclear nest, check out this finding from the respected Pew Research Center: For the first time in 130 years, more people age 18 to 34 are living with their parents than with a partner in their own households. Slightly more than 32 percent of millennials lived in their parents' home in 2014, according to the analysis published last week and based on U.S. census data. There's also been a dramatic drop in the share of young Americans who choose to settle down romantically before age 35, writes Pew's Richard Fry. Marriage is declining in general, and people are marrying later.

The living-at-home numbers haven't been so high since the 1940s Depression-era peak of about 35 percent, Pew said, which suggests that the reasons are economic. Then, they had the Great Depression. Now, we had the Great Recession. Many young people still can't find jobs, middle-class wages have declined for decades, and housing prices remain out of reach on most single salaries.

But that's not all that's going on. This cohabitation is partly a barometer of the economy, but also partly about women's rising earning power. Women with good jobs aren't quite so ready to accept a mate's bad behavior, fewer are getting pregnant and a pregnancy doesn't lead so quickly to a walk down the aisle as it once did. A good number of single mothers live in their parents' homes.

Americans have been redefining family for decades - through divorce and remarriage, with same-sex couples, with monogamous couples who never marry - and this mix of multiple generations in the house is only the latest twist. Call me over-optimistic, but generations under one roof can benefit everyone involved.

One writer, Alan Jacobs, recently described his experience in multigenerational home this way: "Through living as an extended family my parents got free child care, my grandparents got free rent, and I grew up surrounded by family members who loved me. How did living this way become an image of a 'life gone wrong'?"

Old and young people can also learn from one another. Younger people can witness the metamorphosis of retirement, and the health changes that come with age - and find models on how to plan for these transitions themselves. More hands in the kitchen can mean families eat healthier, and generations can pass along hobbies, interests and skills. This goes both ways - older people can learn from young household members how to use social media to connect with distant family and friends.

An organization called Generations United, which advocates for policy changes to support grandparents who are raising children, says the growth in multigenerational homes is a sign that there's greater harmony between millennials and their parents. Donna M. Butts, the executive director of the Washington-based group, wrote in response to the Pew finding that studies show "millennials and their parents like each other . . . unlike some previous generations who couldn't wait to get away from their parents."

That's a big generalization. Surely, many millennials would like to be out on their own. As I thought about this column, I asked my 17-year-old if her vision for her future is a super-souped-up room of her own in her parents' house. She scoffed before I could get to the second half of the question about an apartment of her own.

I take pride in her growing independence, to be sure. But if life leads her back home for a stay, as the Pew numbers tell us, we'll be in good company.

First published in Newsday. Anne Michaud is the Interactive Opinion Editor for Newsday.

Could this course from the mental health community apply to addiction?

overdose pillsJoyce Burland recalls, during one of her first meetings for families of mentally ill people, seeing a silver-haired couple who looked serene. They had twin sons, both with schizophrenia, and had been grappling with that reality for about 60 years. The couple hadn't abandoned their sons, and they were very much involved in their lives. Burland, whose 30-something sister with five children had recently become delusional - "it was a mess," Burland said - wondered how she could achieve anything approaching serenity. She remembers the sight of that couple as "a guiding moment."

A clinical psychologist, Burland would go on to write a 12-week course for families of people with mental illness, which is used across the United States, and in Mexico and Italy. Her course, called Family-To-Family or F2F, is intended to move people from panic and struggle to living in relative peace with a long-term, debilitating illness.

"Our job is to move the illness to a factor in families' lives, not the only fact, so they can live with joy and spontaneity while undertaking a really long job," said Burland, who is now the national director of the Education, Training and Peer Education Support Center for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The organization advocates for individuals and families affected by mental illness.

The success of Burland's program, which has served about 375,000 people since its start in 1991, made me wonder whether it could help people living with another arduous, life-long problem: addiction. Last year, 442 people died of opiate overdoses on Long Island - a record, up from 403 a year earlier. This is a battle we are losing to heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.

People in the anti-drug community on Long Island say they have support groups, but nothing as extensive as F2F. Burland agreed that her program could be useful for families coping with addiction - not as a replacement for something else, but as one more tool.

The first few weeks of the course help people through the initial shock. The course outlines information about the medical basis for mental illness, therapeutic drugs, and what is a symptom and which behaviors are changeable. Burland updates the curriculum to reflect new research.

The middle third of F2F describes what it's like for a person living with mental illness and, more recently, Alzheimer's.

The final sessions help families cope with mixed emotions - anger, guilt, resentment - and return to caring for themselves instead of living life under siege. They set rules about giving money or shelter, for example, until the ill person agrees to take medication.

Jeannette Wells of Springfield Gardens is a volunteer who leads classes twice a year. She attended two days of training in Albany to become certified with NAMI to teach F2F. She said the classes create a natural community who can rely on each other later.

F2F was revolutionary in its day. Psychiatry for roughly a century had blamed mental illness on dysfunctional or abusive parents, Burland said. Some of that stigma persists, making it hard to admit to a problem. In that, there are parallels with drug and alcohol abuse.

While Family-To-Family has served only a fraction of the millions who might benefit, it has created a core of advocates in every state who can speak knowledgeably to doctors and social workers, and who have won milestone legislation requiring parity in health insurance coverage.

Whether parity is always enforced . . . that's the next challenge.

First published in Newsday.