Women Are Less Safe in Gayle Trotter’s World

Feb 4, 2013Andrea Flynn

The right is borrowing pro-choice language to push back on regulations that could save women's lives.

The right is borrowing pro-choice language to push back on regulations that could save women's lives.

Just when we thought the gun lobby’s approach to ending gun violence couldn’t get any more ridiculous, last week we were introduced to Gayle Trotter. A fellow at the conservative Independent Women's Forum, Trotter unveiled to the Senate Judiciary Committee the latest canard that curbing access to guns would create an "undue burden" for women who would "choose" to defend themselves from violence. Her assertions are illogical at best and downright dangerous at worst. Two aspects of her testimony are particularly troubling: the appropriation and misapplication of pro-choice language to describe the need for unfettered access to weapons and the notion that guns make the world a safer place for women.

It’s puzzling that Trotter decided to use the loaded language of choice and undue burden to argue that women must have access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The concept of undue burden has done more to roll back access to abortion than perhaps any other legislation. It’s derived from the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which gave states the right to restrict abortion as long as their laws didn’t create an “undue burden” for women. Over the past two decades, we have watched as states across the country have determined that there are actually very few burdens that are undue: 72-hour waiting periods; mandated parental or court consent; involuntary, and sometimes invasive, ultrasounds; lectures based on factual inaccuracies and disproven pseudoscience; and travelling hundreds of miles from home to access care.

In many parts of the country it is far easier to obtain a gun than it is an abortion. In 35 states women are required to receive counseling before an abortion is performed and 26 of them require women to wait at least 24 hours before obtaining the procedure, meaning at least two separate trips to the clinic. Only 12 states require some type of waiting period between the purchase and acquisition of a gun, and in some cases those laws only apply to federally licensed dealers. How’s that for a pro-life agenda?

Before she wielded such historically charged language, Trotter should have made sure it would actually help make her case. Is she suggesting the courts apply the same extremely low undue burden standard to guns that they have applied to reproductive health care? By that logic, mandatory background checks and restrictions on high capacity magazines and battlefield-appropriate automatic weapons should hardly be contentious.

But as a woman and a sensible human, what I find even more troubling – and outright erroneous – is the claim that a society with more guns is a society safer for women. A growing chorus of gun advocates have dusted off outdated gender stereotypes of women as vulnerable and defenseless, exploiting them to make the case for fewer restrictions on guns. Arguing that without guns women will be less safe perpetuates the notion that violence against women at the hands of men is an inevitable reality of our culture. It suggests that attempting to stem violence at its root is futile and the only solution is to go “all in” on guns—arm everyone. I am offended and frightened by the notion that what is needed to keep women and children safe is an increased presence of the very weapons responsible for so many deaths of women and children every year.

This claim falls along the dangerous spectrum of (il)logic that says we simply should dress more modestly, drink less, stay at home after dark, and arm ourselves with mace and self-defense skills to avoid being the victims of violence. But if those things don’t work, we should just tuck an automatic weapon in our purse or under our pillow for when we inevitably will have to fend off a band of heavily armed attackers.

How is this the answer to our epidemic of violence against women? Shouldn’t we be demanding changes to a culture that normalizes violence, instead of trying to convince people that we’d be safer if more of us were armed with deadly weapons?

In her testimony, Trotter referenced women who used guns to defend themselves against violent intruders—guns that would not be banned under the proposed legislation. Trotter’s anecdotes can be compelling. But you know what else is compelling? Evidence! Research! Logic!

In an editorial over the weekend, the New York Times called into question Trotter’s suggestion that bands of armed home intruders are a common problem facing women and provided a wealth of statistics to illustrate that the presence of guns greatly increases the risk of lethal violence against women. Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns campaign will soon release statistics that illustrate how much less safe guns make women. Trotter conveniently ignored the research that shows that in states that that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners. She failed to mention that in the United States, women are 11 times more likely to be murdered than women in other high-income countries with sensible gun restrictions. She didn’t tell us that the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent.

As Bloomberg’s campaign points out, Trotter attached a list of 21 self-defense incidents that occurred over the course of two years and four months to her written testimony. In that same period, 1,900 women were murdered with guns by current or former intimate partners. The women Trotter speaks of are outliers in a society where women are far more likely to be injured or killed by someone they know. More guns won't fix this. The proposed gun legislation alone won't rid us of our culture of violence, but it is a critical step in the right direction. And for that matter, so is passing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a legal commitment to protecting women from assault, adequately punishing those who harm them, and demanding an end to a culture where women are the all too frequent victims of violence. Trotter puzzlingly opposes this legislation.

Fight firearms with firearms? Makes sense if you want to sell more guns, but not if you want to protect women.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

 

Woman with gun image via Shutterstock.com.

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New Deal Numerology: A Great Migration

Jan 31, 2013Tim Price

This week's numbers: 11.1 million; 900,000; 0.6%; $1.5 trillion; $25 billion

11.1 million... is a ubiquitous number. That’s how many undocumented immigrants currently live in the U.S. Deporting them all is the closest the GOP has gotten to proposing a public jobs program.

This week's numbers: 11.1 million; 900,000; 0.6%; $1.5 trillion; $25 billion

11.1 million... is a ubiquitous number. That’s how many undocumented immigrants currently live in the U.S. Deporting them all is the closest the GOP has gotten to proposing a public jobs program.

900,000... is a working number. That’s how many new jobs could be created through comprehensive immigration reform, and unlike the deportation plan, the listings wouldn’t all say “ideal candidate is suspicious of others, owns a German Shepherd, probably wears aviators.”

0.6%... is a helpful number. That’s the average wage gain native workers could see from immigration reform, assuming we expand the definition of “native” to include everyone whose grandparents happened to win the race across the ocean.

$1.5 trillion... is a growing number. That’s how much immigration reform could add to GDP in the next decade. And given the latest GDP report, we can’t afford to sacrifice growth because we hate having to press 1 on bank menus.

$25 billion... is a contributing number. That’s how much net revenue the CBO projects the U.S. would gain by creating a path to citizenship, since immigrants will pay more in taxes than they receive in services. So that’s where all the makers have been hiding.

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal. Follow him on Twitter @txprice.

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How Has the Liberal Project Fared Under President Obama?

Jan 22, 2013Mike Konczal

After President Obama's inaugural address yesterday -- “one of the most expansively progressive Inaugural Addresses in decades," as President Clinton's former speechwriter told Greg Sargent -- many are looking at the liberal project from the point of view of what was accomplished in the first term as well as what is possible in the second. Paul Krugman makes one version of this argument in The Big Deal, arguing, "as the second term begins [liberals should] find grounds for a lot of (qualified) satisfaction." Elias Isquith, Ned Resnikoff, and Jamelle Bouie discussed the health of the liberal project, especially the fate of social insurance, last month.

People will be engaging with these questions for the foreseeable future, starting in the next few weeks and continuing for a generation of scholars. I'm not sure if I have good answers, but I do have good questions. I've created a generalizable framework of what the component parts of the modern, domestic liberal project are so I can map how they've fared in the first term and what the challenges for each are going ahead. Liberalism is a project of freedom, of course. But by mapping it into component parts of managing the macroeconomy, a mixed economy, a strong regulatory state, and a system of social insurance, allows us to chart progress and retreat.

I'm going to address where I think these issues stand in the current debate among liberals, so it'll have a "on the one hand and also the other hand" dynamic. (The framework might seem ad hoc, but it could be built from theoretical grounds [1].) 

Managing the Macroeconomy

Goals: Taming the business cycle, Keynesian demand management, full employment.

The first term began with the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and normal monetary policy was immediately put in check. The mass unemployment of the past several years has thrown this Keynesian project into complete disarray. It hasn't helped that voters no longer think that the government is capable of doing much here, which is an unfortunate side effect of the weak response.

There's already been an extensive debate about what could have been done to generate more stimulus early on in the administration instead of pivoting away to deficit reduction. After the GOP took the House in 2010, there were two initiatives to try and meet the GOP halfway on stimulus. There was the approach of trying to propose stimulus the GOP would potentially support, like the American Jobs Bill. Remember that Congressional address in which the president said "pass this jobs bill" over and over? There was also the approach of seeking Grand Bargains for additional stimulus. This involved exchanging, say, Social Security cuts for infrastructure spending and some tax revenue. For better or worse, but mostly better, this failed because Republicans refuse to raise taxes.

But this all means that we are still stuck with high unemployment rates for the foreseeable future. It is unlikely that there will be stimulus in the second term; we should hope that some of the harsher cuts, like the sequestration, are postponed while the economy is weak.

Investing in the Mixed Economy

Goals: Creating the conditions for long-term growth, investing in public goods, protecting the public sector.

In addition to managing the short-term economy, there's also the issue of setting the stage for longer-term growth. This is necessarily a grab-bag category, overlapping with the other categories, but it is useful to distinguish it from short-term unemployment. Michael Grunwald's excellent book The New New Deal revived the extensive investment in energy and other innovations that were part of the stimulus. Preventing the mass firesale and collapse of the auto industry were crucial as well.

But there's been a decline in primary and secondary education investment driven by the states, as well as a large decrease in the number of government employees. That's largely the focus of states. At the federal level, investments in infrastructure, research and development, and education, all crucial to building longer-term prosperity, are at risk. Through the Budget Control Act and upcoming sequestration, President Obama and Congress have cut non-defense discretionary spending in order to balance the medium-term debt-to-GDP ratio. As EPI's Ethan Pollack notes, it is difficult to cut here without threatening long-term prosperity.

The stimulus brought a large wave of investment, but that could be more than cancelled out by both collapsing state budgets and long-term austerity and cuts.

Social Insurance

Goals: Sharing risks from poverty, large declines in income, and health problems.

The obvious win over the past four years is Obamacare. Universal health care was the missing piece in the safety net, and efforts to try and tackle this problem have failed every 20 years going back a century. It also survived the Supreme Court, making it the law of the land.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin called Obamacare a “starter home," which could be generous. The biggest fear I have is that when the government turns it on in 2013, it is viewed as a costly disaster. It isn't clear that Medicare costs would then be lowered and the whole idea of government health-care could be tossed overboard. The damage could be greater than just Obamacare itself. Greg Anrig worries that states can still sabotage the exchanges. Sarah Kliff has an overview on Obamacare implementation over the next four years.

The defeat of Romney and Ryan means that the conservative plans to voucherize Medicare, privatize Social Security, and block-grant everything that's not bolted to the floor is off the table, perhaps for a while. What's possible in the next few years is means-testing the programs, raising their eligibility age, and otherwise reducing benefits. The administration's proposed willingness to raise the eligibility age for retirement programs in exchange for non-social insurance related goals, like stimulus, is bad news on this frontier.

Much rides on Obamacare's success, both bending the cost curve of healthcare to fix the long-term deficit and the credibility of government more broadly.

Regulatory State

Goals: Creating rules for the marketplace that check market failures and power.

The failure to tackle climate change will be remembered as the biggest problem of President Obama's first term. He was largely silent on the issue while a bill went through Senate, though has gotten louder on the topic recently, including in the Inaugural.

Dodd-Frank consolidated regulators, added powers necessary to rationalize the derivatives market, and created a beefed-up consumer regulator. It didn't break up the banks and the Volcker Rule is very much uncertain. It's fair to say it gives regulators a lot of powers they should have had going into 2008 and checks some of the larger deregulations and market failures of the 2000s. There's a remaining sense, however, that Wall Street is outside of the normal accountability mechanisms of the state.

It's probably too early to tell how much reform was jettisoned through Cass Sunstein, the "ambivalent regulator" in charge of OIRA. But my sense is that there were genuine liberals in regulatory agencies pushing strong reform at places like the EPA and the NLRB.

Carbon is still a major threat, though it looks like the President will make a major push in his second term on the issue. There's a growing bipartisan argument for breaking up the Too Big To Fail banks, which, even if it doesn't turn into law, could put additional pressure on how financial elites have become detached from the normal modes of accountability and law.

What's your take? This framework is obviously missing international and civil libertarian projects. There is the escalation of war in Afghanistan, as well as the larger deployment of drones to more theaters, both of which are major problems. The embrace of the legacy of torture is a betrayal of civil liberties. Congress will eventually need to step up and check the power of the executive branch, yet they seem just as bad as the administration.

[1] If you want a more theoretical treatment on one way to get to this mapping, John Rawls proposed four "branches" of government in a Theory of Justice that loosely map onto these categories. The allocation branch works like the regulatory state, the stabilization branch as managing the macroeconomy, and the transfer branch for social insurance.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  

After President Obama's inaugural address yesterday -- “one of the most expansively progressive Inaugural Addresses in decades," as President Clinton's former speechwriter told Greg Sargent -- many are looking at the liberal project from the point of view of what was accomplished in the first term as well as what is possible in the second. Paul Krugman makes one version of this argument in The Big Deal, arguing, "as the second term begins [liberals should] find grounds for a lot of (qualified) satisfaction." Elias Isquith, Ned Resnikoff, and Jamelle Bouie discussed the health of the liberal project, especially the fate of social insurance, last month.

People will be engaging with these questions for the foreseeable future, starting in the next few weeks and continuing for a generation of scholars. I'm not sure if I have good answers, but I do have good questions. I've created a generalizable framework of what the component parts of the modern, domestic liberal project are so I can map how they've fared in the first term and what the challenges for each are going ahead. Liberalism is a project of freedom, of course. But by mapping it into component parts of managing the macroeconomy, a mixed economy, a strong regulatory state, and a system of social insurance, allows us to chart progress and retreat.

I'm going to address where I think these issues stand in the current debate among liberals, so it'll have a "on the one hand and also the other hand" dynamic. (The framework might seem ad hoc, but it could be built from theoretical grounds [1].) 

Managing the Macroeconomy

Goals: Taming the business cycle, Keynesian demand management, full employment.

The first term began with the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and normal monetary policy was immediately put in check. The mass unemployment of the past several years has thrown this Keynesian project into complete disarray. It hasn't helped that voters no longer think that the government is capable of doing much here, which is an unfortunate side effect of the weak response.

There's already been an extensive debate about what could have been done to generate more stimulus early on in the administration instead of pivoting away to deficit reduction. After the GOP took the House in 2010, there were two initiatives to try and meet the GOP halfway on stimulus. There was the approach of trying to propose stimulus the GOP would potentially support, like the American Jobs Bill. Remember that Congressional address in which the president said "pass this jobs bill" over and over? There was also the approach of seeking Grand Bargains for additional stimulus. This involved exchanging, say, Social Security cuts for infrastructure spending and some tax revenue. For better or worse, but mostly better, this failed because Republicans refuse to raise taxes.

But this all means that we are still stuck with high unemployment rates for the foreseeable future. It is unlikely that there will be stimulus in the second term; we should hope that some of the harsher cuts, like the sequestration, are postponed while the economy is weak.

Investing in the Mixed Economy

Goals: Creating the conditions for long-term growth, investing in public goods, protecting the public sector.

In addition to managing the short-term economy, there's also the issue of setting the stage for longer-term growth. This is necessarily a grab-bag category, overlapping with the other categories, but it is useful to distinguish it from short-term unemployment. Michael Grunwald's excellent book The New New Deal revived the extensive investment in energy and other innovations that were part of the stimulus. Preventing the mass firesale and collapse of the auto industry were crucial as well.

But there's been a decline in primary and secondary education investment driven by the states, as well as a large decrease in the number of government employees. That's largely the focus of states. At the federal level, investments in infrastructure, research and development, and education, all crucial to building longer-term prosperity, are at risk. Through the Budget Control Act and upcoming sequestration, President Obama and Congress have cut non-defense discretionary spending in order to balance the medium-term debt-to-GDP ratio. As EPI's Ethan Pollack notes, it is difficult to cut here without threatening long-term prosperity.

The stimulus brought a large wave of investment, but that could be more than cancelled out by both collapsing state budgets and long-term austerity and cuts.

Social Insurance

Goals: Sharing risks from poverty, large declines in income, and health problems.

The obvious win over the past four years is Obamacare. Universal health care was the missing piece in the safety net, and efforts to try and tackle this problem have failed every 20 years going back a century. It also survived the Supreme Court, making it the law of the land.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin called Obamacare a “starter home," which could be generous. The biggest fear I have is that when the government turns it on in 2013, it is viewed as a costly disaster. It isn't clear that Medicare costs would then be lowered and the whole idea of government health-care could be tossed overboard. The damage could be greater than just Obamacare itself. Greg Anrig worries that states can still sabotage the exchanges. Sarah Kliff has an overview on Obamacare implementation over the next four years.

The defeat of Romney and Ryan means that the conservative plans to voucherize Medicare, privatize Social Security, and block-grant everything that's not bolted to the floor is off the table, perhaps for a while. What's possible in the next few years is means-testing the programs, raising their eligibility age, and otherwise reducing benefits. The administration's proposed willingness to raise the eligibility age for retirement programs in exchange for non-social insurance related goals, like stimulus, is bad news on this frontier.

Much rides on Obamacare's success, both bending the cost curve of healthcare to fix the long-term deficit and the credibility of government more broadly.

Regulatory State

Goals: Creating rules for the marketplace that check market failures and power.

The failure to tackle climate change will be remembered as the biggest problem of President Obama's first term. He was largely silent on the issue while a bill went through Senate, though has gotten louder on the topic recently, including in the Inaugural.

Dodd-Frank consolidated regulators, added powers necessary to rationalize the derivatives market, and created a beefed-up consumer regulator. It didn't break up the banks and the Volcker Rule is very much uncertain. It's fair to say it gives regulators a lot of powers they should have had going into 2008 and checks some of the larger deregulations and market failures of the 2000s. There's a remaining sense, however, that Wall Street is outside of the normal accountability mechanisms of the state.

It's probably too early to tell how much reform was jettisoned through Cass Sunstein, the "ambivalent regulator" in charge of OIRA. But my sense is that there were genuine liberals in regulatory agencies pushing strong reform at places like the EPA and the NLRB.

Carbon is still a major threat, though it looks like the President will make a major push in his second term on the issue. There's a growing bipartisan argument for breaking up the Too Big To Fail banks, which, even if it doesn't turn into law, could put additional pressure on how financial elites have become detached from the normal modes of accountability and law.

What's your take? This framework is obviously missing international and civil libertarian projects. There is the escalation of war in Afghanistan, as well as the larger deployment of drones to more theaters, both of which are major problems. The embrace of the legacy of torture is a betrayal of civil liberties. Congress will eventually need to step up and check the power of the executive branch, yet they seem just as bad as the administration.

[1] If you want a more theoretical treatment on one way to get to this mapping, John Rawls proposed four "branches" of government in a Theory of Justice that loosely map onto these categories. The allocation branch works like the regulatory state, the stabilization branch as managing the macroeconomy, and the transfer branch for social insurance.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:

  
 
President Obama image via Shutterstock.com.

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Two Inaugurals, Two Messages: From Mushiness to a Clear, Progressive Vision

Jan 22, 2013Richard Kirsch

President Obama's second inaugural moved past a vague message of compromise and charted a progressive course toward the future.

Four years ago, I stood in the cold listening to President Obama’s first inaugural address. I remember it leaving me cold. This year, in the warmth of my den, the president’s clear projection of progressive values as core American values warmed my heart.

President Obama's second inaugural moved past a vague message of compromise and charted a progressive course toward the future.

Four years ago, I stood in the cold listening to President Obama’s first inaugural address. I remember it leaving me cold. This year, in the warmth of my den, the president’s clear projection of progressive values as core American values warmed my heart.

I just looked back at Obama’s first inaugural address to see why I found it so disappointing. The speech starts by acknowledging the crisis of 2008, with the economy collapsing and war raging. As required, the president says that America is up to the challenge. The address includes a short list of progressive points on the economy, climate change, and the role of government. But these are interspersed with acknowledgments of the validity of conservative arguments. There is no unifying, values-based narrative or vision.

What a difference from yesterday's address, which starts with the promise of the Declaration of Independence – we are created equal in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness – and then unabashedly extends that to the struggle for civil rights, which Obama has often shied away from being seen as championing. He grounds our 200-year history “through blood drawn by lash, and blood drawn by sword," reminding us that "no union…could survive half-slave, and half-free.”

From there, the president charges directly to the historic role of government in building our physical and human capital. And unlike four years ago – when he first trumpeted the role of free markets and then noted the need for regulation – he says unambiguously, “Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play” and that “a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect people from life’s worst hazards and misfortunes.”

Even when the president recognizes values shared by progressives and conservatives – skepticism that about central authority and the importance of initiative and personal responsibility – he quickly affirms that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” To meet the future, the president says, will take the kind of things government does – educate children, invest in infrastructure – declaring, “Now more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.”

From there he makes it clear that our economic success is undermined when “a few do very well and growing many barely make it.” Instead, "America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class. We know that America thrives when every person can find independence and pride in their work, when the wages of honest labor will liberate families from the brink of hardship.”

Obama then begins to build a bridge linking the dignity of the individual with the collective, which he expands as his address progresses. The first span of the bridge is to connect the prospects of a “little girl born into the bleakest poverty” with freedom and equality “not just in the eyes of God, but also in our own.” He continues to build the bridge, insisting that in updating government programs, we should aim to “reward the effort and determination of every single American.” He then makes it clear that this includes keeping the “commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security,” which “strengthen us” and “do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this nation great.”

The president then puts forth a values-based linkage of government's role in tackling climate change, refuting climate deniers and linking addressing climate change to our “economic vitality” and natural “national treasure.”

Reaching to a preacher’s eloquence, the president affirms that he is not leaving anyone behind in our national journey. The cadences of “our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts," “our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” “no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote,” “immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity,” and “children from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown” resound with the voice and spirit of Dr. King. The president has built a bridge that links individual initiative and responsibility to oneself and each other with a values-driven role of government that unites our diversity on the American journey.

Progressives need to pay close attention to another bridge Barack Obama has built here. He has integrated often separate strains: identity politics and the politics of government playing a key role in building an economy based on equal opportunity. The more we link those, the more we will create a story about America that commands a lasting majority.

No progressive story of America would be complete without putting movement at its core, which the president does forcefully in his alliterative embracing of “Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.” Notably, these reminders come at the end of his discussion of our role in the world, as he links American movements to Dr. King’s proclamation that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on earth.

He doesn’t leave the call for action in the past. His concluding paragraphs clarify that “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.”

The president will need lots of help setting that course over the next four years; surely he’ll be tested to keep to it himself. Our job is to do everything we can to assist him.

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, a Senior Adviser to USAction, and the author of Fighting for Our Health. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform.

 

Sign post image via Shutterstock.com.

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GOP Adds Insult to Injury With Rejection of Disabilities Treaty

Dec 6, 2012Tim Price

Senate Republicans passed up an opportunity for the U.S. to lead because of half-baked arguments and conspiracy theories.

Senate Republicans passed up an opportunity for the U.S. to lead because of half-baked arguments and conspiracy theories.

You wake early in the morning to the sound of your doorbell ringing, followed by a heavy knock on the front door. Bolting up in bed, you hear the ominous whir of a helicopter’s blades circling above your house. You race to wake up your disabled children and tell them to stay close and take only what they can carry. But even as you make a break for the back door, a glimpse of shadowy figures through your curtained windows tells you it’s already too late. They have you surrounded. The United Nations Peacekeepers are here to take your kids to school.

This scenario is not too far removed from the nightmare future some Republicans claimed would unfold if the Senate had ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities earlier this week. That’s why, despite strong bipartisan support, the treaty failed in a 61-38 vote on Tuesday, five votes short of the required two-thirds majority. Another day, another missed opportunity in America’s most dysfunctional deliberative body. But this particular case of mindless obstructionism is both a bad omen for the possibility of progress in President Obama’s second term and a real blow to children and adults throughout the world whose physical and mental disabilities continue to pose serious economic and social challenges.

The convention, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2006 and since ratified by 126 countries, aims to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” In addition to outlining basic principles for fair and equitable treatment of the disabled, it established a committee of human rights experts tasked with monitoring progress and issuing non-binding recommendations pursuant to those goals.

Pretty scary stuff, right? Well, yes, according to people like Rick Santorum, one of the treaty’s most vocal critics. Writing at Glenn Beck’s online news hub, The Blaze (where I go for all my sober analysis of international human rights law), Santorum warned that ratifying the treaty could “potentially eradicate parental rights for the education of children with disabilities” and “allow our beliefs and values to be outsourced to outside entities that may not always have our best interests in mind.” Somehow, a measure meant to promote equal opportunity and increased accessibility was twisted into a law that would allow a shadowy council of bureaucrats in Geneva to authorize forced abortions and ban home-schooling for students with special needs.

After Republicans blocked the treaty, Santorum took a victory lap at The Daily Beast, writing that he opposes the treaty:

because our nation has been the worldwide leader when it comes to protecting the disabled. We should be telling the U.N., not the other way around, how to ensure dignity and respect for the disabled.

… However, the United States passing this treaty would do nothing to force any foreign government to change their laws or to spend resources on the disabled. That is for those governments to decide.

So if I’m reading Santorum correctly, he’s claiming that the treaty would allow the UN to dictate U.S. law, but not other countries because they write their own laws, but U.S. law is already stronger than anything the UN could ask for anyway, so the U.S. should be telling other countries what laws to write. In other words, he opposes it because Barack Obama signed it.

Anyone hoping that President Obama would have an easier time pushing a progressive agenda through Congress in his second term should be concerned that incoherent arguments like this managed to persuade 38 Republican senators to oppose the treaty. Of the eight Republicans who crossed party lines to support it, three will not be returning to office in January. This was a treaty originally negotiated by George H.W. Bush and endorsed by John McCain and Bob Dole, not some hippy business about stimulus spending or climate change. While the constitutional two-thirds requirement created an extra hurdle to clear, it’s telling that even this benign measure couldn’t escape the legislative graveyard that is the U.S. Senate. Harry Reid’s proposed changes to filibuster rules can’t come soon enough, but in cases like this, there’s no substitute for a minority party that actually wants to help govern rather than obstruct.

And despite opponents’ claims to the contrary, America’s failure to ratify the treaty is in some sense a symbolic rebuke to people with disabilities and an abdication of its role as a world leader. Santorum is right to point out that the U.S. has historically led on this issue. As many news reports have pointed out, the Americans with Disabilities Act, which passed in 1990 with broad bipartisan support, actually served as the inspiration for the UN convention. That just makes it sadder that failure to ratify the treaty now puts the U.S. behind the curve compared to Burkina Faso.

With or without our help, there’s plenty of work to be done. The UN’s fact sheet notes that there are roughly 650 million people living with disabilities throughout the world, facing unemployment rates as high as 80 percent and literacy rates as low as 1 percent. At the same time, the U.S. is in danger of undermining its own progress in this area by slashing programs like Medicaid, which delivers benefits to 8 million people with disabilities. Rejection of this treaty is just the latest sign that helping the disadvantaged, whether they’re born with physical impairments or born into poverty, is not a priority for Republicans in Congress.

In his Four Freedoms Address, FDR declared, “Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.” This conception of freedoms entails responsibility to the global community rather than isolation from it. Having our legislation held up as the international model for the rights of the disabled should be a source of national pride, not more partisan paranoia. Like the fringe theories about Agenda 21, discomfort with this convention seems to have less to do with the failings of the UN than with the right’s fears that its own agenda will be judged by the world and found wanting.

Tim Price is Deputy Editor of Next New Deal. Follow him on Twitter @txprice.

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The Battle Over Women's Health is a Fight for Human Rights

Dec 5, 2012Andrea Flynn

The election is over, but the work of expanding and improving women's access to quality health care is just beginning.

The election is over, but the work of expanding and improving women's access to quality health care is just beginning.

Last month, the United Nations declared access to family planning to be a universal human right that all member countries should respect, protect, and fulfill—a decidedly non-controversial concept for most of the developed world, and indeed not a novel concept for the UN or its members. That is, of course, with the exception of the United States, where human rights are mostly regarded as instruments for other countries to adopt and implement while considered quite unnecessary for our own advancement and wellbeing. So far are we from adopting a human rights framework at home that it’s hard to imagine what would happen if U.S. policymakers approached access to health care – and women’s health in particular – as a right akin to free speech, bearing arms, or practicing our religion. However, given our domestic women’s health crises, we could certainly benefit from adopting some outside perspectives on the right to health care.

Women’s health issues were front and center in the 2012 presidential campaign, garnering far more mainstream attention than in previous elections. From serious discussion in the primary and general election debates to thoroughly considered policy positions to uncensored public remarks, hot-button women’s health issues—rape, abortion, contraception—created a gender gap in the electorate to which many attribute President Obama’s victory. As we look toward the commencement of Obama’s second term, it's clear that the president has numerous monumental challenges before him. But we must not let the protection of women’s health and rights be compromised by other priorities such as the fiscal cliff, the federal budget, or foreign policy crises.

Obama’s victory was a win for women in the short term because it averted the immediate decimation of women’s health funding and infrastructure promised by Romney and his Republican counterparts across the country. But the country needs a long-term win: one that will improve the lives of American women and girls for generations to come. Such a win will require the president’s unwavering determination to improve women’s access to health services and their health outcomes throughout the course of his second term. And it is the job of women and the people who love them to provide a constant reminder that he must deliver on his promises.

Our government should ensure that all women have access to affordable, quality health care not only because it is morally the right thing to do, but because it is the smart and necessary thing to do to strengthen the entire country. Critical indicators such as maternal mortality, teen pregnancy, and unintended pregnancy illustrate the high cost of treating women’s health care as a privilege instead of a right. The United States trails 49 other nations in a ranking of maternal deaths worldwide and has a teen pregnancy rate higher than almost all other industrialized countries. Moreover, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. The data below illustrate how the health circumstances of women of color and low-income women have truly reached crisis proportions and demand immediate action.

(Sources: 1. National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3. Guttmacher Institute, 4. Ibid, 5. Amnesty International, 6. Ibid, 7. New York City Maternal Mortality Review Project Team)

These inequities in women’s health in the United States are shameful, are a violation of human rights, and are, of course, directly related to the quality and availability of family planning and reproductive health care. Obamacare is certainly a historic step in the right direction. It has already extended contraceptive coverage (including highly effective methods such as the IUD, hormonal implants, and injections) to more than 1 million young women, and by 2016 it will cover nearly 13 million more. It also mandates the inclusion of other critical services: one annual “well woman” visit to a primary care physician, access to emergency contraception (also known as the morning-after pill), HPV testing, screenings for STDs, screenings for gestational diabetes, and coverage for maternal health care, including breast-feeding support.

Despite the immediate improvements to women’s health and the long-term cost savings associated with expanded coverage, Obamacare faces a steep uphill battle. Twenty-seven states have filed suit against the president’s plan, challenging its constitutionality. Additionally, over the last year a number of states have attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and other facilities that provide information about, referrals for, or counseling on abortion (even though none of these providers actually perform abortions), threatening to dismantle an irreplaceable infrastructure that has provided millions of women across the country with critical health services.

So far none of these states have succeeded in their lawsuits, but new challenges pop up every day. In Texas alone, more than 50 women’s health providers have closed over the past year as a result of Governor Rick Perry’s decision to slash the state family planning budget by two-thirds and his promise to eliminate Planned Parenthood and other clinics from the state’s Women’s Health Program. Numerous court battles are underway, but regardless of their outcome, the governor has successfully chipped away at a system of care upon which thousands of women – particularly young women, poor women, immigrant women, and women of color – have relied for decades. This system cannot be easily rebuilt.  As anti-choice and anti-family planning lawmakers across the country continue to face resistance from the courts, they will likely look to Texas for strategies of how to successfully defund our nation’s most effective, far-reaching women’s health care providers. Even if Obamacare succeeds in continuing the expansion of Medicaid and private insurance coverage, its impact will be diluted if women have fewer places to receive comprehensive, quality care.

The United States cannot afford these inequities. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that nearly three in ten girls become pregnant in their teenage years and that teen childbearing now costs U.S. taxpayers more than $10 billion annually. Thirty-eight percent of African American girls and 36 percent of Latino girls who dropped out of high school in 2006 reported doing so because of pregnancy or parenthood. And only 40 percent of teens with children complete high school, with less than 2 percent finishing college by the time they are 30. Teen pregnancies levy an additional toll on young women and the U.S. public by contributing to these higher drop-out rates and reducing the potential lifetime income for teen moms.

Unintended pregnancy among women of all ages is a major drain on U.S. coffers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, public insurance programs paid for more than 60 percent of all births resulting from unintended pregnancies, with total public expenditures for these births totaling more than $11 billion in 2006. A number of studies have shown that by expanding contraceptive coverage to underserved communities, Obamacare would drastically reduce these expenditures.

Providing all women better care before and during their pregnancies is clearly the smart thing to do financially. It is also, plain and simple, the right thing to do. The UN says that access to family planning is a right that should be enjoyed by all women because it “permits the enjoyment of other rights, including the rights to health, education, and the achievement of a life with dignity.” Women fully understand that having the ability to control their bodies, preserve their reproductive and sexual health, and make fully informed decisions about when they will have children impacts their ability to thrive socially and economically.

The election may be behind us, but the battle for women’s health is far from over. States will continue to push back against the mandates of Obamacare and conservative legislators will continue to peel away at women’s health rights and their ability to access the care they need. Women in the United States must remain diligent as Obama begins his second term, reminding him, along with local, state, and national leaders that they demand and expect better health care and better health outcomes in the four years to come. They should do so because having affordable and accessible health care and the ability to make fully informed decisions about their bodies is a universal human right. And that is an idea that anyone invested in America’s long-term stability, strength, and security should embrace.

Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.

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New Paper: Against the Coupon State

Dec 3, 2012Mike Konczal

Imagine if current neoliberal policymakers had to sit down today and invent the idea of a library. What would it look like? They'd likely create a tax credit to subsidize the purchasing and reselling of books, like much of our submerged welfare state. They might require a mandate for people to rent books from approved private libraries run by Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with penalties for those who don’t and vouchers for those who can’t afford it, like the recent health care expansion. 

Or maybe they’d create means-tested libraries only accessible to the poor, with a requirement that the patrons document how impoverished they are month after month to keep their library card. Maybe they’d also exempt the cost of private library cards from payroll taxes. Or let any private firm calling itself a library pay nothing in taxes while exempting their bonds from taxation and insuring their losses by, say, paying for books that go missing. You can imagine them going through every possible option rather than the old-fashioned, straightforward, public library, open to all, provided and run by the government, that our country enjoys everyday.
 
I have a new white paper out with New America's "Renewing the American Social Contract" series, titled "No Discount: Comparing the Public Option to the Coupon Welfare State." Here's the introduction, and here's the full pdf.
 
Given that the state wants to provide a certain good, I wanted to find the arguments over whether or not the government should provide that good itself or provide coupons for purchases in the private market. Surprisingly, there were few cohensive summaries, so I created one myself. Though not explicitly stated, It's relevant for discussions over whether or not the welfare state should be entirely replaced with cash (the ultimate coupon).
The rest of the papers in the series are very much worth your time too. I hope you check them out. Mine starts out with:
 
The fundamental ideological conflict surrounding the Welfare State in the U.S. is no longer over the scope of government, but instead how the government carries out its responsibilities and delivers services. The conservative and neoliberal vision is one of a government that provides a comparable range of benefits as conventional liberals, but rather than designing and delivering the services directly, it provides coupons for citizens. Coupons – whether by that name or more anodyne terms such as “vouchers” or “premium support” or tax subsidies – could then be used to purchase the services in the private market. Whenever neoliberals have sought to expand the scope of the welfare state or conservatives have tried to fundamentally shrink it, both have come bearing coupons.
 
Read the rest at New America.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
  

 

Imagine if current neoliberal policymakers had to sit down today and invent the idea of a library. What would it look like? They'd likely create a tax credit to subsidize the purchasing and reselling of books, like much of our submerged welfare state. They might require a mandate for people to rent books from approved private libraries run by Amazon or Barnes and Noble, with penalties for those who don’t and vouchers for those who can’t afford it, like the recent health care expansion. 

Or maybe they’d create means-tested libraries only accessible to the poor, with a requirement that the patrons document how impoverished they are month after month to keep their library card. Maybe they’d also exempt the cost of private library cards from payroll taxes. Or let any private firm calling itself a library pay nothing in taxes while exempting their bonds from taxation and insuring their losses by, say, paying for books that go missing. You can imagine them going through every possible option rather than the old-fashioned, straightforward, public library, open to all, provided and run by the government, that our country enjoys everyday.
 
I have a new white paper out with New America's "Renewing the American Social Contract" series, titled "No Discount: Comparing the Public Option to the Coupon Welfare State." Here's the introduction, and here's the full pdf.
 
Given that the state wants to provide a certain good, I wanted to find the arguments over whether or not the government should provide that good itself or provide coupons for purchases in the private market. Surprisingly, there were few cohensive summaries, so I created one myself. Though not explicitly stated, It's relevant for discussions over whether or not the welfare state should be entirely replaced with cash (the ultimate coupon).
The rest of the papers in the series are very much worth your time too. I hope you check them out. Mine starts out with:
 
The fundamental ideological conflict surrounding the Welfare State in the U.S. is no longer over the scope of government, but instead how the government carries out its responsibilities and delivers services. The conservative and neoliberal vision is one of a government that provides a comparable range of benefits as conventional liberals, but rather than designing and delivering the services directly, it provides coupons for citizens. Coupons – whether by that name or more anodyne terms such as “vouchers” or “premium support” or tax subsidies – could then be used to purchase the services in the private market. Whenever neoliberals have sought to expand the scope of the welfare state or conservatives have tried to fundamentally shrink it, both have come bearing coupons.
 
Read the rest at New America.
 
Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
  

 

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Keep Calm and Get Excited About the Rolling Jubilee

Nov 15, 2012Mike Konczal

Occupy has created a Strike Debt wing, which has a new project: a Rolling Jubilee. There will be a livestream of the Debt Jubilee fundraiser tonight, starting at 8pm ET, that you can access from their webpage. It features Janeane Garofalo, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Lizz Winstead, and many more. You should check it out.

Occupy has created a Strike Debt wing, which has a new project: a Rolling Jubilee. There will be a livestream of the Debt Jubilee fundraiser tonight, starting at 8pm ET, that you can access from their webpage. It features Janeane Garofalo, Jeff Mangum from Neutral Milk Hotel, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Lizz Winstead, and many more. You should check it out.

To give you a sense why I find this new project fascinating, I'll quickly review three random projects I've been working on recently, all of which are related to this new project.

The first is on what bankruptcy law professor Ronald Mann refers to as the "sweat box" model of consumer debt and bankruptcy. Mann argues that the 2005 bankruptcy amendments benefit creditors "by slowing the time of inevitable filings by the deeply distressed and allowing issuers to earn greater revenues from those individuals" and functions as a windfall for creditors because it "enable[s] issuers to profit from debt servicing revenues paid by distressed borrowers who are not yet in bankruptcy." More broadly, the distressed debt markets allow debt collectors the right to make huge profits by "sweating" debtors through assessing fees, raising rates, and inflating the debts owed while debtors struggle to pay the debts back over long periods of time. At the distressed end, debts aren't about recovering what is owed or making sure loans that aren't being paid turn into good debts that have reliable payments, but instead about the option to harrass small payments indefinitely. Debt collectors don't want these loans to work. (The same distorted incentives might be in play with those who have missed a mortgage payment.)

Another is focused on student debt, particularly about how the collapse of public higher education has been a planned political project. Rather than student debt levels being the result of individual greed or cost inflation driven by productivity levels, they result from a specific project to shift costs for public education onto the individual that has been consciously planned. This is part of a larger project to dismantle the access and mobility inherent in the centuries-old public higher education system in this country.

The final one is arguing that one explanation for why our recovery is so slow has to do with a debt overhang. Rather than forcing the losses of our housing bubble onto creditors, we've left them to stagnate, dragging down aggregate demand. Or we've solved it through foreclosures, which have huge costs for communities and municipalities. The financial sector itself understands that these loans aren't worth much and are fighting among itself over who will eat the losses, but this knowledge hasn't spread to homeowners or the country at large.

Rolling Jubilee

Explaining these issues and how they connect is difficult, but it is now easier with Strike Debt and its Rolling Jubilee project. What is the Rolling Jubilee? "Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it."

The project relentlessly emphasizes the social conditions for the creation of debt: "We believe people should not go into debt for basic necessities like education, healthcare and housing." Debt in our country evolves in a system of institutions where publicly provided goods are missing or being dismantled in real-time, with private systems designed to benefit the few replacing them, and that is something that can be resisted. And the Jubilee also emphasizes that these specific debts that they are buying no longer reflect something that's owed, as they were written to zero on a balance sheet a long time ago. These are debts whose real value consists of a harrassment option to try and collect more than the pennies on the dollar that they were bought for.

Strike Debt can only purchase so much debt. What can it do going forward? There's the obvious ability to use this to highlight how bad debts actually play out in our country and expose the ins-and-outs of this system.

I'd personally like people to make the connection between random groups of people doing this and the government doing this itself through eminent domain. Right now southern California, for instance, is a battlefield between municipalities looking to prevent destructive foreclosures and the financial industry, which is looking to do a capital strike. Other cities are turning to eminent domain to buy mortgage debt at its real value, write it down, and save their communities. It would be great for them to say, "Hey, if cultural studies icon Andrew Ross and some Occupy kids are capable of doing this, certainly we, with our legal powers of eminent domain and power to tax, could do the same!"

And I'm already hearing about people proposing a form of "debt-holder activism" akin to the idea of shareholder activism: exposing wrong-doing, suing debt traders for selling debt without proper documentation, etc. It might be far-fetched, but it is worth exploring.

Critiques

There are reasonable criticisms of this project. But I'll start with some that I don't find convincing.

Doug Henwood, for instance, believes that this is generated by activists' uncritical populism, or the anarchist anthrology of David Graeber's Debt, or the reification of Bowles-Simpson's debt talk. But this is putting the carriage before the horse. A little over a year ago, I wrote some code that went through the We are the 99% Tumblr and parsed it for clues about what was motivating the people submitting their stories. And even I was shocked at how much student debt, medical debt, and debt overall were factors in those people's misery. It is how they identify the challenges they face, and this was equally so at Occupy sites.

It's fun to imagine people writing hostile comments on that 99% tumblr saying that all these people's misery is not useful to the cause because it focuses on the sphere of circulation instead of the sphere of production. But this is what is behind young people's suffering and it is an important project to address it as such. Linking it to a larger project of broad-based propserity is the work of others, and I believe the Strike Debt people are trying to do so.

Henwood also argues that Strike Debt can't buy in sufficiently large amount to buy up all the debt. That's true, but hardly the goal. He also brings up the idea that bankruptcy is a universal solvent here and should be emphasized over other projects. I disagree. To go back to Ronald Mann's "sweat-box" theory of bankrutpcy, the fees, waiting period, and other charges involved in post-2005 bankruptcy means that the legal DNA of bankruptcy code, while very useful, amplifies these problems. You can see it in the academic research that finds a spike in bankruptcy filings after people get tax rebates, because they finally have the resources to declare bankruptcy. You also see it in this random We Are the 99% tumblr entry, which notes, "I have been trying for the last 4 years to save $2000 to file bankruptcy for $5000-$10000 medical debt. It still hasn’t happened."

There are other worries that I find to be more important.

First, it's a big problem that it isn't clear yet whether those whose debt will be forgiven are stuck with a tax bill. Blogs are going back and forth on this issue, though the IRS should have given a comment already. That there aren't, say, tax attorneys Occupy can direct people to is a problem. It's funny that, given Marcel Mauss' influence on David Graeber and many in Occupy, the tax issue might hinge on being able to legally define what a "gift" is.

Another worry is whether or not this will build a community of people committed to the cause going forward. According to a Strike Debt spokesperson, when they forgive debts they send certified mail containing the Debt Resistor's Operation Manual and a notice explaining what the Debt Jubilee is. Contrast it with foreclosure activism,  where there is a lot of work that goes into building up the person in their community and making sure the person has the strength and the resources to both fight and contribute back. I've debated whether or not this is an actual problem, but it is certainly not sufficient to keep me from being excited. The people contributing are more energized than I had expected to see, which means you many see a community of people vested on the donation end as well.

The last issue is debt itself. As Jacob Hacker and Nathaniel Loewentheil argued in the Boston Review forum on debt, "[B]y focusing so much on debt...the challenge of reform appears both smaller and larger than it really is. Smaller because providing write-downs for households with underwater mortgages, while valuable, would not be enough...[yet a debt focus sets] sights higher than necessary... [W]e do not have to change people’s conception of debt or personal responsibility... [A] broad coalition will be based more on effective organizing than on consciousness-raising or cultural change around debt."

I think in the long-run Hacker is right, which is why I'm happy that the Strike Debt coalition has worked to link its concerns back to larger ones of public health care, free education, and a more robust safety net. Weaving these concerns with broader ones is precisely the work that needs to be done.

Last year, Suresh Naidu sent me the following chart, which is an evolution of different tactics during the civil rights movement, 1955-1962, charted by frequency of occurrences:

This chart is taken from Tactical Innovation and the Pace of Insurgency by the sociologist Doug McAdam. Tactists will come and go. What is necessary to keep in mind are the goals and the spirit of experimentation. I hope you check out the telethon tonight and follow the Strike Debt news to see if this is a wave of experiments worth following in the months ahead.

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Obama Can Thank Women Voters By Supporting Real Economic Equality

Nov 15, 2012Bryce Covert

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a way to recognize the economic needs of the women who helped re-elect President Obama.

As part of our series "A Rooseveltian Second Term Agenda," a way to recognize the economic needs of the women who helped re-elect President Obama.

Both candidates spent a lot of time and energy courting women’s votes this cycle. But as predicted, the gender gap yawned on Election Day and pushed Obama to victory with a 10-point gender gap between him and Romney. How can President Obama thank the women who voted for him as he starts shaping the agenda for his second term? There are a variety of general economic policies that will benefit everyone, including women, such as spending federal stimulus money to kick-start a sluggish economy, ensuring the jobs being created in the recovery pay enough to support workers and their families, and bolstering a failing safety net to support the most vulnerable among us.

But while women hold down half of the jobs in our economy, they still face unique challenges and obstacles to full economic equality. If President Obama cares about women’s economic welfare as much Candidate Obama indicated, there are some important issues he can take on in the next four years.

  1. Truly equal pay for equal work: President Obama often talks about the fact that the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps address the gender wage gap. The act gives women more time to file a claim alleging discrimination since the truth may take a long time to surface. But while the act gets talked about like a panacea, it’s far from it. The number of pay discrimination complaints filed with the EEOC fell since the signing of the act while the pay gap widened. This is because the gap is caused by a complex array of factors: occupational segregation, hostile courts, and plain old discrimination. A first step to supplement the Lilly Ledbetter Act would be prohibiting salary secrecy, forcing employers to allow employees to talk about their pay with each other, something half of all workers cannot currently do. It will be next to impossible for women to address discrimination if they don’t even know it’s happening. But we also have to talk about how to move women into nontraditional fields, appoint judges to the courts that will stand by women when they sue for discrimination, and raise pay for the service sector jobs that women already dominate. These are large issues, but without putting them on the agenda they’ll continue to hamper women’s equality.
  1. Paid time off to care for family: We are one of just three countries among 178 that doesn’t guarantee any paid maternity leave benefits. Fifty countries go further to offer leave for fathers. Among the 15 most competitive nations, we’re the only one that doesn’t have a paid sick days policy. The reality is that the work of caring for children – when they’re very young, sick, or not in school – still falls mostly to women. Yet they can still lose their jobs when they need to miss work for this important caretaking. And without offering paid benefits, we force many women to take on debt or go hat in hand to loved ones and friends to get through. Not only will paid family leave benefit women, it will benefit men and help to change the care work equation. Men are more likely to take time off to be with a new child if the leave is paid – unsurprisingly, since families have such a hard time financing the lost income. And when men do take leave, they become more involved in their children’s lives. Universal, paid leave policies improve quality of life for all workers while leveling the playing field for women.
  1. Significant support for child care: There are two sides to child care. On one are those who need help caring for family and as mentioned above, they are almost entirely women. On the other are the caregivers, also almost entirely women. Our support for child care is pretty dismal and getting worse. The cost of putting two children in center care exceeds median rent in all 50 states. At the same time, the majority of states have pulled back on child care assistance for two years in a row. The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit that gives parents who are paying for child care a tax break has only increased once in the last 28 years. The government needs to invest heavily in supporting working parents, men and women alike, with skyrocketing child care costs, allowing all who can and want to go to work to leave their children with quality caretakers. This is also a way to begin ensuring that these caretakers are well paid. In a national survey of in-home child care providers, the most common answer to how much they make in a week is $500, or $26,000 a year – a pitiful amount, not to mention that many don’t receive any benefits. Given how much families struggle with the cost and how many domestic workers don’t make enough to live on, the government must step in.

American women have flooded the labor market in the last half-century. But our economy and society haven’t changed enough to meet them halfway. President Obama won’t be able to fix all of these problems in his second term. But he can begin to address them and put a spotlight on these societal problems that we still think of as private concerns. I’m sure women voters would be grateful.

Bryce Covert is Editor of Next New Deal.

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Roosevelt Reacts: What Does Last Night Mean and Where Do We Go From Here?

Nov 7, 2012

President Obama won a second term. How did he get there? And what should he do now? Roosevelt weighs in.

Thomas Ferguson, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, and Contributing Editor, AlterNet:

President Obama won a second term. How did he get there? And what should he do now? Roosevelt weighs in.

Thomas Ferguson, Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow, Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, and Contributing Editor, AlterNet:

Now that it’s over, it’s time to take stock. All counts are incomplete, but something like 116 million votes were cast. The presidential election alone cost about $2.6 billion, or a bit more than $22 dollars per vote. But that money wasn’t spread evenly over America; in battleground states like Ohio, the sums per voter were much larger. Now look at the exit polls in today’s New York Times. Yes, indeed, Obama did very well among women, Latinos, and African-Americans. But in sharp contrast to 2008, the partisan split along income lines is huge. Obama’s vote percentage declines in straight line fashion as income rises. He got 63 percent of the votes of Americans making less than $30,000 and 57 percent of those making between $30,000 and $50,000. Above $50,000, the Other America kicks in. Romney won 53 percent of the votes of Americans making between $50 and $100,000 and 54 percent of the votes of Americans making above $100,000. The Democrats’ poor showing in the House elections – they way under-performed for a party that had lost so many seats two years before – probably reflects a Republican advantage in money, including the famous Super PACs, some of which poured resources into congressional races. It was surely also affected by the White House’s reluctance to spend time and resources trying  to elect Democratic House candidates. As the president negotiates for a Grand Bargain in the face of the fiscal cliff, these are realities that are worth remembering

Jonathan Silverstone, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network member and sophomore at Yale University:

In the months leading up to yesterday's reelection of President Barack Obama, both candidates said very little about a critical issue in the ongoing economic recovery: housing. Yet President Obama’s reelection can certainly provide affordable housing advocates hope in the face of some of the things Governor Mitt Romney had to say on the campaign trail. Eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development and scaling back key grant programs were just two of the possible policies a Romney administration may have enacted had he won the presidency. While this general direction for the federal government has been avoided, there is a larger issue at hand.

A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness demonstrates just how urgently we need a policy solution to the fundamental lack of affordable housing. It points to HUD figures that show a growing gap between low-income housing demand and current low-income housing stock during a time of increasing rates of homelessness in America. This gap reached 5.5 million units in 2009. The Obama administration must act to ensure demand for affordable housing is met and to assist low-income households in being able to afford this housing.

More immediately, the broad budget cuts constituting January’s scheduled sequestration present the president with a much more pressing housing issue. If Washington does not devise a budget compromise, multiple key housing programs that help fund public housing operations and provide rental assistance to low-income families stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars. As America looks toward another four years of President Obama, and hopefully toward revamped policy that combines with market incentives to meet affordable housing demand, the lame duck Congress must work with the administration immediately to make sure crucial housing programs remain untouched before we hit the fiscal cliff in January. 

Tarsi Dunlop, member of the Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline in DC:

Now that the election results are in (well most of them are), we can start looking forward to the next four years. It is difficult to figure out where to start, but the first issue will be the rapidly approaching "fiscal cliff." We cannot bask in the glow of the election for long; we must protect the middle class from devastating cuts to essential programs and services. Beyond that, we must advocate for a federal budget that deals with our deficit in a responsible manner over the long-term; we are slowly recovering from the Great Recession, but progress is fragile and many American families are still suffering from unemployment (or underemployment). We cannot afford cuts that will undermine our gradual economic growth, growth that is by some estimates expected to produce 12 million more jobs over the next four years. Building, or in this case re-building an economy, takes time and we won’t turn back now.

This fall, President Obama asked the nation to give him four more years, to continue the work we started in 2008. Other issues that should be on the progressive agenda include protecting and expanding the social safety net for future generations, pursuing policies to reduce our impact on the environment in hopes of addressing the ever-growing threat of climate change (an issue rarely mentioned on the campaign trail), and advocating for responsible policies that will help our nation’s schools provide a quality education for each child. Our efforts to invest in the middle class continue and as we implement the Affordable Care Act, we know we won’t need to defend it against potential attacks from a Romney administration. By 2014, more Americans will feel the benefits of the president’s signature domestic achievement.

President Obama, and the progressive community as a whole, will find powerful allies in the United States Senate come January with Tammy Baldwin’s election as the first openly gay U.S. Senator and Elizabeth Warren’s win in Massachusetts. Indeed, the Bay State has sent another liberal lion to the Senate floor to advocate for policies that help working and middle-class families. These voices will defend a woman’s right to choose and make decisions about her own body. As progressives, we believe in inclusivity and justice for those of all backgrounds, and they will stand for those with no lobby. They will challenge the influence of oil companies and large corporations.  They will push the discussions we should have when it comes to governing and the role of government. It is time to continue that discussion.

However ambitious we are, we must recognize that the work will go on long after President Obama leaves office. The young people who once again broke sharply for the incumbent understand this reality and are rising to the challenge. Although Millennials are faced with dim job prospects, less security in their retirement, and in many cases, high levels of student debt, they are community oriented and civically engaged. They care about the vulnerable children as child hunger rates remain stubbornly high; they care about the dignity and security of our seniors and the mental and physical health of our veterans. They care about our infrastructure and want to see us investing in our nation’s roads, water pipes and public transportation. In 2008, when then-Senator Barack Obama said “Yes We Can,” he meant we, the people. As one man, he (and U.S. presidents before and those to come) cannot create change. We must work toward that change, over the next four years and the next four decades in our communities and local governments. The question we are asking now, one that we should also ask of ourselves, is: what’s next?

Melia Ungson, Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Northeast regional coordinator and student at Yale University:

Last night, I breathed a sigh of relief instead of jumping for joy (though, admittedly, there were shouts of excitement). Watching results from other races and ballot initiatives come in, I was similarly relieved to see voters in so many places support candidates and ballot measures to protect equal rights, which will hopefully elevate the discourse.  

Even though I go to school in Connecticut, which had a close senate race, I vote in California, largely because of the propositions, which are often close. In a state known recently for its budget issues and gridlock in the state legislature, the propositions serve as an alternate route for voters to address issues directly. Last night, California voters narrowly approved Prop 30 to help fund education and approved Prop 36 to reform the three strikes law, both exciting victories. However, voters failed to approve Prop 34 to repeal the costly and archaic death penalty and Prop 37, which would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods. California prides itself on being a forward-thinking state at the forefront of technology, environmental policy, and social equality, but voters do not always reflect this with propositions.

With all these election results, good, bad, mixed, or still to be decided, the pressure is on to start getting things done. I was excited that Obama alluded to issues like climate change and LGBT rights in his speech last night, and am hopeful that he and other re-elected or newly elected representatives will make progress on these and other issues come January. Our job as Millennialis is to continue to drive meaningful discourse, continue to put forth our own ideas on how best to work toward a stronger future, and ensure that issues important to young people don't fall by the wayside. 

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