Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

T: The New York Times Style Magazine, February 27, 2011

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem wrote a piece for the New York Times today about female politicians and the gender gap in voting.  It’s a smart, succinct censure of the media for what she sees as a common failure, when talking about women in politics, to separate the serious thinkers and policy-makers from the “sideshows.”  She argues that women vote for women, and men, who represent their issues, which explains why leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Olympia Snowe benefit from the gender gap, while their Mama Grizzly counterparts like Michelle Bachman and Sharron Angle don’t.

Until the media understand that the majority of a constituency picks its own leaders, we’re all in danger of missing the main event.

You know what else makes us in danger of missing the main event, and helps explain a bit about why, as Steinem points out, the world didn’t know more about Gabrielle Giffords before she was almost assassinated in Tuscon last month?

Because pieces like this still end up in the Women’s Fashion section of the New York Times Style Magazine.

I get that Steinem’s writing is accompanied by some lovely black and white photographs of the brilliant (and, yes, quite stylish) women mentioned in the piece.  Still, I spent the whole time reading it actually hoping that she would mention their clothes, because at least then there would have been some tiny relevance to the fashion issue.

See, this ridiculousness actually made me hope that I was reading yet another article about smart, powerful women’s clothing choices.


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There’s something in the air at the end of January, and not just everyone’s favorite frozen ice crystals.  The last few days have been awesome for historical anniversaries.

January 20 was the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s first inaugural address, that soaring speech that makes you feel like it’s possible that America could live up to its own ideals.  I have a book of Kennedy’s speeches and other writings, from a seminar I took in college, titled simply “Let the Word Go Forth.”  Every time I see it I hear JFK’s voice in my head, and I feel a little more optimistic.  Rhetoric can’t change the world all on its own, but it can certainly do something to get ideas caught in peoples’ heads.

(Incidentally, I’m just noticing that that book is currently sitting on my shelf between Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty and a collection of medieval primary sources called, pedantically, Classics of Western Thought.  How is that both totally fitting and completely nauseating?)

For filing under Best Birthday Ever: January 20, 1961 was also my mother’s 7th birthday.  On my 7th birthday George H.W. Bush was declared Time Magazine’s “Men” of the Year.  Mom wins. (Correction, from the Department of I Know What Year My Mother Was Born, Honestly: That was her 9th birthday, not 7th.  Sorry, Mom!  Same point still applies.)

January 22 was the 38th birthday of Roe V. Wade, celebrated by feminists as a great step forward in equality and women’s health, and taken by Republicans as an excuse to once again make sure that women making their own reproductive health choices (except, maybe in the way that Republicans would like them to decide) remains a taboo in American society.

So, JFK and Roe v. Wade are important, but my favorite late January historical anniversary is actually today’s, January 23, which, in 1849, was the day that Elizabeth Blackwell received her medical degree- the first woman in America to do so.  The Blackwells and their extended family (including Lucy Stone, and Antoinette Brown) are my favorite American historical family – feminists, doctors, suffragists, abolitionists, ministers – and that’s just the women!

Also of note this weekend: Rebecca Traister’s latest article, awesome as always,  this fabulous piece (though I may be a little bit biased towards the author) about Gabby Giffords, women in politics, and girl power, and, in case you didn’t know it already, I <heart> Rachel Maddow (the fun starts at about 1:12).

One more thing – Friday marked the one-year anniversary of a way less cool thing: the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision.  How’s your democracy doing now?

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…No, not that one.

Maybe it’s because my new job is in the male-dominated tech industry (heck, it’s in an industry, which is weird and slightly earthshattering for me)…

Maybe it’s because having said job has chilled, just a bit, my outrage over the popular conception of the “20-Something Slacker Generation” – my piece about which still hasn’t gotten much beyond “Arrggghhhhhh, everyone is so stupid!”, and therefore has not seen the light of the interwebs…

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Rebecca Traister’s fabulous new book on women in the 2008 election, Big Girls Don’t Cry, one line of which, about Hillary Clinton’s perceived vs. actual “willingness to kowtow to assholes” has been stuck in my head for days…

Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism lately.  And I don’t seem to be the only one.

The Nation is full of feminism (vrai and faux) this week.

There’s a new version of Wonder Woman coming to televisions sometime soon.  Produced by the guy who made Ally McBeal.  (Oh dear).

The “enthusiasm gap” between Republican and Democratic voters in the midterms seems to be linked to a gender gap in likely voters.  Some hypothesize that this is because men tend, on a whole, to be more conservative than women (and conservatives are more hyped up this election cycle.  In case you haven’t noticed.).  Others think its because men completely lose their minds and sense of self if they lose their jobs, while women, naturally, don’t really care about work and are totally fine being laid off.  Because, what, it lets them go back to the things they really want to do, have dozens of babies and take care of their menfolk?

The Sarah Palin-created “Mama Grizzlies” are trying to claim not only feminism, but Susan B. Anthony (that’s nothing new), and smart girl-ness.  (I am so offended by so much of that, but I’m going to save it for another day)

But, thankfully, in solidarity with all of us smacking our foreheads about all of that, the ladies of EMILY’s List say, “Oh, Please.” http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2010/08/17/emilys-list-targets-sarah-palins-mama-grizzlies/

And a couple of “chick-lit” authors raised holy hell started an interesting and wide-ranging discussion about the gender divide within the elite world of “literary” novels, and the high-profile reviews of them.  And so Franzenfreude was born.

Even as some bemoan the current crop of younger feminist leaders, with their blogs and their heels, I say the conversation is alive and well, and that’s saying something.

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I’ve been casually following the WikiLeaks story – you know, the one in which tens of thousands of military documents about the Afghan war were posted all over the internet, to the horror of the government (classified, classified, omg, classified!), the somewhat smug ‘we told you so’ of antiwar activists (see, they really have been up to no good) and the guarded delight of freedom-of-information promoters (this is important stuff for people to know about the war we’ve been fighting, funding, and rather failing at for almost 9 years).  Generally, and simplistically, I think that knowledge is good, and prosecuting people for spreading knowledge is bad, although folks probably should think twice before publishing names of Afghan translators working with the US Army all over the internet, for all the world of Taliban insurgents to see.  The line between security and transparency is always a fine and changing one, which is part of what makes the story so complex and interesting.

But, I have to say, my fascination with the whole saga peaked with this article, from the New York Times today, about the Army Private accused of leaking the documents to WikiLeaks.  The picture constructed, of an outspoken, ostracized, liberal, atheist, gay, awkward computer-hacker kid who grew up with distant parents in the Bible Belt and a tiny village in Wales is, admittedly, exactly the kind of thing that NYT readers (like me) lap up, so I’d be interested to see how he is depicted elsewhere.  That said, the fact that he went into the Army when, as he later figured out, his real home was the hacker community of the Republic of Cambridge, MA, says something about the lack of guidance, or options, or both, that he had or felt he had in life.  I’m often curious about what inspires people to join the Army, and more broadly, what makes people find and fit into their niche in life, and the story of this grandiose outsider kid hits all of those buttons and more.

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What’s that strange feeling?  Wait, is it…feeling good about something happening in government?  I’m confused.

But, seriously, it’s been a good week for equality, in two ways, at least.

Prop 8 is unconstitutional.  No kidding!

The main point:

Many of the purported interests identified by proponents are nothing more than a fear or unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples. Those interests that are legitimate are unrelated to the classification drawn by Proposition 8. The evidence shows that, by every available metric, opposite-sex couples are not better than their same-sex counterparts; instead, as partners, parents and citizens, opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples are equal.


And, my favorite line from the ruling:

The exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed. (p. 113)

…makes my little feminist historian heart go pitter-patter.

In other “hey, the world might be a little less unbalanced” news –

Elena Kagan, soon to be Justice Elena Kagan

The Supreme Court, now with 11% more women.

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So, there I am, innocently toodling around on the WBUR website this morning, catching up on Boston news, when I see this headline, and a sound something like “gahhhblaguhhwhaa??” comes out of my mouth

Does Everyone Love Scott Brown?

June 28, 2010, 11:16 AM  UPDATED 12:54 PM

And, ok, fine, I know where this is coming from.  Because I had a similarly incoherent reaction to a newsflash a couple of days ago about this poll, which showed that Scott Brown is more popular among Massachusetts voters than Senator Kerry or President Obama.  But, that poll asked only 558 adults their opinions, and the favorable numbers for Brown were one point higher than for Obama, and three points above Kerry’s – in a poll with margin of error of 4.2 points.  So, really, that means bupkus.  And, if we’re basing anything off of polling, can’t we agree that a 55% approval rating is a fairly steep crash from the 70% he apparently had in March?  But, still – 55% of the people polled approved of Brown’s job performance so far?  Have they been paying attention, you know, at all?

Sure, our illustrious former male model Senator, former “really likable” State Senator who “didn’t take the lead on anything at all”, has some kind of personal appeal (if you go for that kind of thing), and has show with a couple of votes – and I mean a very few –  that he is willing to act independently of his Party of No.

But, how do the apparently anti-establishment, anti-big government, everything-sucks-so-let’s-throw-the-bums-out voters who supposedly elected Mr. Brown still support him after he votes in favor of the big banks on Financial Reform, filibustered unemployment benefits (fine, whatever, argue that they’re bad for the economy – you’re wrong, but stand there in your wrongness and be wrong, that’s fine), and joins the minority in filibustering most of the bills that are voted on in the Senate – leading to exactly the kind of do-nothingness that voters are apparently so upset about?

Worse, perhaps, is the fact that I’m sure that 55% of Massachusetts voters aren’t Tea Party-type anti-government wackjobs…I mean, libertarian conservatives.  So, how do mainstream voters approve of Brown’s job performance that includes opposing health care reform and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and voting against allowing the EPA to regulate carbon emissions, because he thinks it would hurt businesses – you know, those poor little polluting corporations who need our compassion and protection from the big bad EPA.  To say nothing of the already mentioned help for big banks and corporate polluters, and the No More Benefits for You filibuster vote?

As Rachel Maddow said last night, in regards to the unemployment benefits extension,

“Filibusterers included Scott Brown, who provocatively announced when he first took office that his top priorities would be  ‘Jobs, Jobs, and Jobs’.  Like Jan Brady’s ‘Marsha, Marsha, Marsha’, that clearly turns out to have just been a cry for attention.”

And, even after getting concessions for the banks added to Financial Regulaion, he’s still pulling his “will he or won’t he?” daisy-petal-plucking routine, refusing to say whether or not he’ll vote for the final bill.

“And then Tim Geithner calls me on the phone and says, ‘Scott, I just wanted to go through some things that we’re working on right now . . .’ He just called me a minute ago, too . . .

“Obviously, I am the key vote. They know they have to keep me in the loop.’’

Boston Globe, July 1, 2010

Yes, Scott, you’re a very pretty boy, and everyone thinks you’re really super cool.  Well, at least 55% of Massachusetts adults do.  (Maybe)

In case you’re wondering, the rest of us can be found searching the state for someone to run against you in 2012.

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Lobbying, as a career, has gotten a bum rap.  But lobbying for non-profit humanitarian organizations is a different can of worms entirely from big business, tobacco, oil, pharma.  And citizen lobbying is another step above that – on Capitol Hill, in the never-ending struggle between votes and money, they know that professional lobbyists are in it for and because of the money, but constituents mean votes, and votes mean keeping your job.  So, Congressional staffers and Members give a sometimes surprising level of respect to constituent lobbyists.

Then again, lobbying on Capitol Hill, no matter your issue or inspiration, is a somewhat surreal experience.  You stand in line, waiting to get into the Rayburn House Office Building, between a group from the Real Estate Agents of America (“We’re here to tell them not to vote for a mortgage reform bill.  They’re going to take your money…again.”) and red-shirted National “I’m a Patient Advocate” Nurses United members.  In the cafeteria you see Congressman Ed Markey getting himself a cup of coffee.  Later, after walking past a hearing room in which Senators Lieberman and Kerry are announcing their climate change act, and almost bumping into Elizabeth Warren leaving a meeting of the TARP Bailout Oversight Committee, you might see Senator David “My Name Was on the DC Prostitute Ring’s Client List” Vitter walking down another hallway.  And, once in a while, you might step out of an elevator straight into a fast-moving group of camera men, staffers, and one tiny, blue-suited Supreme Court nominee.

But the political geek version of Spot-the-Celebrity clearly isn’t the point of being on the Hill.  Our Western Massachusetts group had meetings scheduled with three Congressmen who represent our districts, Reps. Olver, Neal and McGovern, and then we were to meet up with the other two MA groups to storm (or, squeeze into) the offices of Senators Brown and Kerry.  Our first two meetings, with staffers from Neal’s and Olver’s offices, were fine, but nothing much to write home about.  We met in the hallway, which is pretty common with a bigger group showing up at a House member’s office.  Those rooms are not spacious.  Ritchie Neal isn’t known for being a big foreign aid guy, so we tried to push the poverty solutions that CARE designs as cost effective and economy-boosting.  We got a polite but somewhat distant response from his staff.  At Olver’s office our presentations on Maternal Mortality, Food Security and Child Marriage were received more positively, and we were assured that the related bills that Representative Olver hadn’t signed on to yet would be reviewed in the coming days and weeks.

By far our best meeting of the day, though, was with Rep. Jim McGovern, who represents Worcester and the rest of the 3rd District (Central and a weird bit of Southeastern MA).  It was our only meeting with an actual member of Congress, and it was a winner.  McGovern is a long time supporter of humanitarian aid and international human rights issues, so going in we knew we were preaching to the converted.  Care’s CEO, Helene Gayle, joined us for the meeting as a way to emphasize our appreciation for Rep. McGovern’s help and leadership on the issues.  But, even though she’s the CEO of the organization, she mostly left it to us, the constituents, to do the talking.  And talk we did.  McGovern seemed excited about the meeting, and kept chatting about food security and child marriage through not one, not two, but three visits from one of his senior staffers, desperately trying to get him to a meeting of the House Rules Committee.  Shockingly, humanitarian aid seemed to be more compelling at that moment than arcane Congressional rules debates.  (But, honestly, one of the reasons why I love McGovern is because he’s interested in both foreign aid and House rules.  Geek.)

The meetings with our Senators were as different as one would imagine Senator “Foreign Relations Committee” Kerry and Senator “Male Model” Brown are.  Brown’s staffer was polite but not particularly engaged, while Kerry’s clearly knew more about these issues than most of us, but was excited by our visit, impressed by our level of knowledge, and insisted that we taught him things he didn’t know before.  (Side note – the Foreign Relations Committee staff offices are full of really fun reading material.  Stacks of books on genocide, for example.  Yet they all seemed like genuinely happy people…the effect of having a job you love, I’m guessing.)

At the end of the day we were tired but energized, which is the best way to feel after a long day.  A few weeks later we heard that Rep. Olver has co-sponsored the Global MOMS Act, the Maternal Health bill we were promoting, and we’re hoping that others will sign on soon.  Rep. McGovern promised to hold hearings on child marriage in the next few months.  Senator Kerry’s staff is looking for ways to work many of Care’s issues into appropriations and foreign relations bills.  We’re still waiting for Rep. Neal and Sen. Brown to step up on humanitarian aid…but not waiting with bated breath.

So, what to do now?  Long range planning – next year’s conference will be March 7-8. You know you want to go.  DC in March! (It’s like spring then!)  Learning interesting things, and hearing inspiring stories!  And, perhaps best of all (if you’re a nerd), lobbying for women’s issues on International Women’s Day!  Awesome.

In the meantime, there’s something everyone can do, and according to Jim McGovern, it’s one of the most important ways to help promote the cause of poor people around the world.  And it’s easy, and it’s free.

Write.  Call.  Talk.

Let your elected officials know that you care about helping people, and tell your friends to do the same.  Politicians support issues that their constituents support – that’s the way representative democracy (ideally) works.  So if your representatives already support these causes, tell them you’re behind them.  And if they don’t, tell them you do.

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