Reflections on Women & Politics

Big thumbs up to the women, both democrats and republicans, in elected positions.  For constituting half of our population it only makes sense that their views and experiences should be a vital part to policy.  They have had to overcome very significant stereotypes in order to get where they are.  From my perspective of growing up in a single-parent household under my mom and also learning the struggles of the women in my family I have come to realize that women are not daintily delicate (with an implication that they need to be protected), but instead they are often times the rock of society and thus have strengths that we need to draw upon.  They provide for their family’s emotional needs, they play the “mediator” in most family conflicts, they work relentlessly to support their partner and children in their endeavors… all while taking care of basic needs of their family.

It perplexes me, then, that women still are nowhere near 50% of elected positions in state legislatures, governorships, or in congress.  I truly don’t care their ideological perspective… but instead the very important representation of half of our country.

Let me give you an example:  the women’s reproductive rights vs. religious liberties.  I know it’s a hard thing to discuss… but it’s something that we must because both things are very important.  However, it makes my blood boil that within this discussion only males seem to be able to participate.  Take the congressional hearing that took place earlier this year.  This patriarchal view should to be said… but what about the other side?  What about women’s voices?  Or, better yet, religious women’s voices!?

Melinda Gates here speaks about contraception on a global scale, but her message resonates on a local one.  Contraception is an important part of family planning and gives women the power to make the best choices for their family.  She is catholic herself, but she has an interesting perspective:  that it is religion’s job to help guide moral truths but not to take choices away from family and women.

For being a country that prides itself on “freedom” why is it that we are so quick to take it away from half of the population without (1) consulting them and (2) drawing upon their strengths to help us create the policy and direction of our country.  Women need not be silenced, but seen as an integral part of the process.

Why Nothing Gets Done in DC

Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low.  Wisconsin has been blowing up regarding the recall election.  Citizen’s United has made it easier for big money to influence elections in a big way.

But that’s what it always comes down to in politics, right?  Getting elected.  Usually we think that the primary focus of a politician is to win their own seat.  There is a new era in politics, however, where it’s not just getting elected to your seat that is the primary focus, but instead the presidency means more.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then issued his fellow Republicans these marching orders: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term.” from ‘Obama and Congress: Bipartisan Talk Meet Reality’ on NPR

I know most of you are thinking, “yeah whatever blah blah blah politics is politics.”  But don’t you see what the underlying message is?  That the primary focus is not to pass laws that make our nation better off now, but instead to put that off until they can “have it their way.”  It’s so easy then to cast a vote because all you have to ask is, “Does this bill make Obama look good or bad?” and the answer is pretty black or white.  It’s much harder to vote for/against a bill based off of whether it’s good for our society.

We should all remember that the grass is always greener on the other side.  Let’s say that Romney does become president.  Will democrats be willing to work with them?  Probably not after the Republicans have been refusing to compromise.  In fact, a republican win under this strategy would only convince democrats that it could work for them so then they will become obstructionists.  This is a never-ending and dangerous game.  And nothing can or will get done.

Politicians need to realize that the Presidency isn’t that goal.  That, in fact, they can do good through compromise and doing what they were sent there to do… to legislate, not get someone elected president.

How Economic Inequality Harms Society

You ask around to see what people think is the greatest threat to our society and you will get a myriad of answers:  terrorists, globalization, democrats/republicans, government in general, McDonalds, global warming, growing government deficit etc.

But I would propose to you that as a developed nation that our greatest threat is economic inequality.  We have gone through our industrial revolution and it’s later stage of worker’s rights/workplace safety… our suffrage movement and our civil rights movement (while there is still gay/transgender rights lack of rights, wage differences are relatively small compared to pre- suffrage/civil rights movements).  In short, we are a developed nation that has significant wealth as well as basic worker and minority protections in place.

Why Economic Inequality Is Harmful

I’m going to pause here and before you start yelling, “Karl Marx Commie!” and “wicked socialist!” and ask you to consider three ways to think about:

1.  Do you believe in the “American Dream”?  If you do then you should know that the United States has one of the *lowest* mobility rates to move up the economic ladder than almost any other OECD nation.  You are more likely to be in the same economic condition as your parents than in any other rich nation.  Thus, the American Dream should really be called the Swedish Dream or the Denmark Dream (ooooo… alliteration… I like it).  BUT WAIT.  They are socialist.  Hmmmm…
2. There are considerable links between ALL quality of life indexes and levels of inequality.  As inequality (usually measured by the Gini coefficient) increases, the quality of life of the society decreases.  Sad cat.
3.  There is one quality of life index that affects everyone… Don’t you like low-levels of crime and a safer society?  Because it has been found that when there is less inequality within a given community crime rates drop.  Do you want children to be underdeveloped from infancy simply because a mother must be driven back to work immediately after pregnancy?  This creates a child who biologically is already at a disadvantage.  Disadvantaged children are more likely to commit crimes (why do you think that there is a huge drop in crime rates 20 years after Roe V. Wade?  See Freakonomics for evidence)

What I am not saying…

I think your first thought is that if you are taking money from the rich in order to make if “fair” you are just going to give it to the poor.  Nope.  Sorry… I’m more of a realist.  I am both an economics major and I taught in an inner-city school for two years.  Just giving people money does not make their quality of life better, but it also doesn’t change their behaviors that can be applied in the job market.  (An anecdote:  I heard more than once from students that it was easier to live on food stamps than to get a good job.  This is the economic reality of the current welfare state we have created… perpetual poverty.)

So what can we do instead with money from the wealthy?  Better question is “What can’t we do!?”  My philosophy rests on the quote, “Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day.  Teach him how to fish and he can eat for every day.”  Here are some examples: Create jobs, increase access to quality education, teach low-income parents about childcare (Harlem Project), increase head start programs, increase student loan amounts for students whose parents have never been to college, fund programs that increase technical skills for people, recreate our low-income housing system (I have HUGE beef with putting a bunch of low-income people all together as it perpetuates the culture of poverty.  I’ve heard the New Zealand-style of public housing is interesting).  I think there are many wonderful avenues that are worth pursuing.

What should we do?

  1. Close tax loopholes – for two reasons (1) it is not fair for a wealthy person to be paying a smaller tax rate than the middle class simply because their wealth is derived from stocks instead of labor… making risky investments is not a cause for reward of lower tax rates (2) Supply-side economics have been shown not to work.  The wealthy get more wealthy and maybe create a few more jobs but generally just pocket their wealth.
  2. Put limits on how much CEO’s and upper-level management can make.  I’m sorry I’m not sorry that I don’t believe anyone’s job deserves $14.5 mil.  Especially when the evidence is at best unclear that CEO pay has a positive correlation to how well a business does (or even has a negative correlation in many cases).  This will be money saved and recapitalized into the company, creating more jobs.
  3. Create reasonable restrictions in the marketplace so that banks and businesses cannot do risky things like those that got us into this recession that has increased inequality (if you need evidence just google “sub-prime mortgages”).  I understand that we need the free hand of the market… but at the same time we can’t turn our head away and let it strangle us.  The markets are like a garden… they have so much potential and a lot of times you can just let them go grow, but it also needs to be tended to… with weeds removed and to make sure that one doesn’t overtake them all.
  4. Create more equal pay structures (adjusted for cost of living, of course) not only between industries/companies… but also within companies.  For instance, there is still a huge disparity between men and women for the same jobs (women earn $.78 to every dollar men earn… this is clearly unequal).

Why the “free market” itself will not create this

I have heard a few arguments.  Chiefly among them is that we should just let the markets decide.  However, the markets does not care how evenly resources are distributed and thus does not internalize the externalities that accompany higher levels of inequality (watch the ted talk if you want to know what those are).  Thus because the market doesn’t account for this the market is going to come to the wrong conclusion.  Why?  Because these are public goods (lower crime, education, health, etc).  This is why the government must fund them… if left to the market it would choose too low of a level.  Furthermore, we can see the current education system isn’t able to get rid of this disparity (in fact, it currently makes it worse as the quality of education differs drastically between communities).

A third argument is that we shouldn’t make wealthy people do charitable good.  We should just encourage them to use their money in their own way to achieve this good.  This logic fails for many reasons, but mainly because that wealthy people’s motivation is not to lower inequality.  Their “good” usually falls into public works projects (like parks), the arts, or other “hobbies.”  While these are definitely noble causes, they do not aim to decrease the threat of inequality of our society.  Furthermore, they usually don’t view things such as welfare programs positively, so they would not be likely to fund other programs that directly help the poor since they are viewed as “handouts.”

Our Future Reality

I’m no Marxist… I don’t believe there will be a class revolution to instill communism.  Partially because we have seen that communism is not an effective marketplace solution and mostly because people are consciously content with capitalism.  The harm comes psychologically subconsciously to those who born into the bottom (and before you judge them… remember how much your parents were able to give you that those at the bottom have not had.  In fact, just because they are born into a certain zipcode predestines them to a lower quality of education).

If we believe that we are a great nation, we need to remember that our greatness is really limited to how well we take care of each other.

http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

Link

The Dalai Lama in Manchester

He said vision, warm-heartedness and determination were necessary to attain those goals and that young people were more open-minded.

Dialogue was the key to avoid violent conflicts, he said.

He continued: “At the age of 16 I lost my freedom. At the age of 24 I lost my own country. During these 50 or 60 years I have faced a lot of problems but I never give up hope. Hope based on truth, hope based on reason.”

oh MAN… (pun intended)

… so we are now punishing women for saying the word “vagina” in politics.  In an effort to be balanced I offer the following thoughts:

  • It is definitely not okay that the majority party has silenced a member of the minority because she expressed her views. Just because you don’t like what someone has to say in politics does not give you the right to silence them.  Especially if they are in the minority.
  • Why did she say it?  She is frustrated… feeling like the majority has decided to legislate their morals onto her body.  But, most importantly,  she has said this in such a volatile way because she feels that the majority isn’t listening to her concerns.  She wants to get their attention to what she is saying.  Does that make it right to say something to incite the other side?  Is the method counterproductive to the means?  I don’t know…

So what gives?  The Republican party is upset at her for saying what she did.  She said it because the Republican party is not willing to listen to her, understand, and work with her.  But, in all actuality, the Republican party isn’t interested in working together anyway because they have a very narrow ideological goal that they view as something that cannot be compromised.

I am not saying who I believe is at fault… but I do believe this:  that we must get past a point of seeing ourselves as unwilling to compromise so that we can make ourselves open to the views of others.  The more we shut ourselves off the more we are willing to demonize the other side.  And once we are willing to do that we are willing to do uncivil (unmoral?) things.

Neither side works for the devil… they just view things differently.  While black and white is much easier to subscribe to, the better future for our nation will always be somewhere in the middle.

The Outlier or The Rule?

Something you must know about me:  I have spent the last two years teaching in an inner-city school.  Middle school math.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done and as a result understand both the severity of the problem and also how terribly complex it is.

My biggest takeaway from this experience:  our school systems, politics, and communities love to blame the teachers.  But I’m sorry… if a child isn’t taught respect and discipline at home, in their community, and through the media and I have to do it in my 45 minute class, you just can’t expect me to also have them master mathematics.  We put way too much on teachers.  And restrict them SO much.  I can’t do it anymore because the profession just makes me unhappy.  100% unhappy.  Love the kids but HATE the job.

So I feel like I have some sort of sympathy for this teacher who feels it is her responsibility to teach her students not to bully.  Right or wrong, I also understand the pressure she feels in that now the state of Texas is holding teachers legally responsible for inaction in response to bullying.  I want to make it clear that I totally do not agree with her means.

But I’m worried… I’m worried that we portray these classrooms in the media more than we portray the function, wonderful ones.  This in turns create a societal perspective that teachers can’t be trusted and that we get scared and then tie teachers’ hands even more.  What we don’t see is that this makes it even more disheartening and harder for teachers to do what they want to do, which is to simply teach.

I question you this:  Aren’t there in every job people who once in awhile fuck up hardcore?  But does that mean we then punish everyone else?  No… I don’t think we do… so we shouldn’t do it to teachers.