Tag Archives: government

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Dividing Women Does Not Serve Anyone

There was an opinion piece in the Opinionator section of the New York Times, which is their online commentary section, entitled “Mommy Wars Redux: A False Conflict.” This article includes a critique of a book that was recently translated into English called “The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women,” by Elisabeth Badinter.

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As a woman, I can’t help but feel that all of the seemingly-fabricated conflicts trying to pit stay-at-home moms against working moms or against working women who are not mothers, feels like an intentional effort to divide women along class lines.

The truth is that most women do not have a choice whether or not to work outside the home in order to provide for their children. And some women who do have a choice, make the choice to work because they believe that outside intellectual stimulation can help make them better parents.

While the article in the New York Times is fairly academic, I appreciated this statement, which rings true for me:

…under current social, economic, and cultural conditions, no matter what one chooses, there will be costs: for stay at home mothers, increased economic vulnerability and dependence on their spouses, which can decrease their exit options and thus their power in their marriages; for working mothers, the high costs of quality child care and difficulty keeping up at work with those who either have no children or have spouses at home taking care of them, which exacerbates the wage gap and keeps the glass ceiling in place.

While I realize that every woman’s experience is different and every life decision requires couples to make difficult choices, I quickly tire of the rhetoric trying to divide women. This is a critical issue that needs examination, but the divisive rhetoric does not help move this issue forward.

What do you think? Wouldn’t all women support more family friendly policies in the workplace, including policies that enable men to spend more time with their children or policies that make quality child care more affordable? Why do you think people try to divide women like this? Do you have any tips for moms who are trying to work and take care of their kids to create a better work-life balance? Or are you a stay-at-home mom who has tips for other stay-at-home moms about how to manage those stressors? What do you think it will take for Congress or State Legislatures to finally do something to encourage or require more workplaces to establish family-friendly policies?

This is a complex issue and I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

47 Comments

Filed under Career Planning, equality, Health, Income inequality, Parenting, Policy, Politcs, Poverty, Relationships, Role of Government, social pressures, Stereotypes, Women

A Bridge to Nowhere: How Can We Encourage More Bipartisanship in Congress?

The Washington Post published an article today that looks at how the polarization of our political system in the United States might be addressed. Anyone who has been paying any attention to politics in the last 10-15 years knows that we are living in a highly divided political time. It certainly feels to most people that something is very broken in our political system; and that is a shame.

I have shared here previously that I am wide-eyed idealist who believes that working within the political system can bring about social change. I believe in representative democracy and abhor citizen initiatives which, in my experience, usually turn into a battle over which side has the most money with which to buy ad space or TV time.

In my day job, I have been doing state level policy work for more than a decade. I live in a state, Colorado, which has term limits, frequent citizen initiatives which have absolutely tied the hands of the legislature when it comes to budgetary issues, and a balanced budget amendment.

I appreciate the attempt by the authors of the Article in the Washington Post to dispel the myth that making these types of changes at the federal level would fix the polarization of our political system. Many people think that these types of changes are quick fixes, but our experience in Colorado has shown otherwise.

In a nutshell, the article dispels the myth that these changes will reduce polarization in Congress:

  • A third party candidate
  • Term limits
  • A balanced budget amendment
  • Public financing of campaigns

The article lays out some common sense solutions that the authors feel could make a difference, including:

  • Realistic campaign finance reform
  • Changing redistricting rules
  • Filibuster reform
  • Requiring people to vote

While I don’t agree with all of the assertions in this article, especially the requirement that all people vote or risk being fined which I have seen fail miserably in countries like Argentina, this is a good start to a conversation that is desperately needed in this country.

The problem is that the dominant paradigm in our current political system does not promote these types of reforms or even encourage their consideration by Congress.

What do you think? Do you think that the general public could force Congress to consider these types of reforms if we demanded it loudly enough? What would that look like? Do you see ideas that you agree with or disagree with in terms of the ideas for reform presented in this article? What do you think is missing in this list? How do you think we could get more people to engage in the political process, given the uphill battle to reduce partisanship in Congress? What other thoughts would you like to share?

I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks so much for reading!

11 Comments

Filed under Campaign Finance, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government

Race, Charter Schools and JP Morgan

In the same week we learned that JP Morgan lost $2 billion through risky trades, the New York Times published a story about a charter school called Explore Charter School in Brooklyn, New York, where the vast majority of the students are African American, the majority of the teachers are white and almost all of the children come from families living in poverty.

These two stories highlight two sides of what I believe to be one of the most destructive aspects of our modern culture – namely, the growth of income inequality. The fact that there is even any discussion about whether or not to require more regulation of the banking industry is unfathomable. It is clear that, while banks are capable of doing great things to support people in achieving their dreams, something is broken in this system.

As bankers make millions while taking huge risks with our money, income inequality continues to rise. There are so many implications for this complex problem. But what this means for the education of future generations is highly concerning. The way that schools are financed in our country appears to set some children up to fall behind from the start.

One response to the need to improve education has been the establishment of charter schools. No one can argue with the results of many of the charter schools in this country, but charter schools seem to be a band-aid approach, rather than a meaningful fix to the significant problems facing our public schools, which are primarily financed by income taxes.

Wouldn’t it be better to make investments in our public schools, to enable all children to have access to a high quality, affordable education that could set them up for success?

The article in the New York Times examined the pros and cons for children of being educated in a school with mostly black students. Some of the parents expressed belief that this is a strength of the program, and talked about their focus on the quality of the education alone. Other parents expressed concern about the low number of black teachers at the school and about whether this environment sets kids up with an unrealistic expectation of what they will face after school. I have heard similar debates about the benefits of all-girls or all-boys schools. But race is a much more complex issue in our country.

I am always struck when I hear kids talk about race – the responses seem to come from a much more innocent place than when you hear adults, who have been steeped in the complexities of this issue for so long talk about the same issue. It is refreshing to hear children say that discussions would be more interesting if you had more people from different backgrounds in the classroom. This is such a true, honest statement that is so clear – but adults, in many workplaces and in general society seem to forget this simple fact.

Racism is such a raw subject in our culture, surrounded by strong emotions, ranging from anger, to sadness, to guilt. What concerns me most is the general fear to talk about the issue. How do we move beyond something that people are afraid to talk about and that some even fail to acknowledge exists?

The Trayvon Martin case is one in a long line of incidents that have brought this issue squarely back into the public eye. While I cannot say with certainty whether Trayvon was murdered solely because he was black, this tragedy brought up a lot of emotions. Had the justice system responded as it should, by arresting George Zimmerman and letting the case work itself out through the courts, the outcry may have been significantly reduced, but that is not what transpired. The reaction from around the country was electric.

I was glad to see people finally talking about race and the criminal justice system. It became clear that most people, of all races, want to believe in a criminal justice system that is not racially biased and that most people will not accept a system that is perceived to be corrupt.

The President’s statement in support of marriage equality for same-sex couples this week was historic, courageous and widely applauded by people around the country. There are still some who disagree with the President’s position, as evidenced by the disappointing vote in North Carolina this week, but the country seems to be slowly moving forward on this issue.

I like to believe that my generation is more willing to examine the assumptions and biases of my grandparents and that my kids and grandkids will point out my blind spots – be they related to race or sexual orientation – or even to political party. We must stop being afraid to talk about the complex issues that make true progress in our country so difficult.

What do you think? Why can’t we see people as people, with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences that make each person unique, but still as people, just like ourselves? Why can’t we acknowledge that these conversations might be uncomfortable, but that we can’t move forward without them? Why does it feel so vulnerable to share our thoughts and beliefs on these core issues? Do you think that the next generation will be more willing to confront these issues? Do you think that some of these issues will lose their sting naturally with time? Or do you think that the biases and prejudices of prior generations will cloud their childrens’ judgment and make progress slower? How do you feel about all-girls schools or schools with kids of all the same race? Why do schools with all white kids rarely ask why there aren’t more kids of color in their classes?

Sorry this post was so long. It is a complex issue and I guess I have a lot of thoughts about it! I hope you do too. Thanks for reading!

3 Comments

Filed under Education, equality, Income inequality, Parenting, Poverty, Stereotypes, Women, Youth Leadership

Human-Created or Not, Why Not Try to Stop the Warming?

The New York Times op-ed by James Hansen, who is the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies should give anyone pause about the future of our planet.

It never fails to amaze me when I hear people question whether human activity is impacting global warming. There is no question among scientists that the planet is warming – the scientific evidence is conclusive on this. And even if, for the sake of argument, human activity is not causing global warming, why would we not want to take action to slow the warming trend?

It seems that attention to this issue has lessened in recent years and I am not sure why. In the meantime, we have seen a devastating proliferation of hurricanes and tornadoes and heat waves and wildfires. I am no scientist, but I put a lot of faith in the knowledge and understanding of experts.

Given the persistent outcry from the scientific community about the perils of inaction, why don’t more policymakers stand up and take action on this issue? Is it because the corporations who are funding political campaigns are afraid that caring for the environment will negatively impact their bottom line?

It reminds me of the smoke-free movement in some ways. Bars, restaurants and casinos consistently proclaimed that they would have to close their doors if a state passed a smoke-free law. We all know that that is not what actually happened once laws were enacted.

The science was clear regarding the harms of tobacco, much like the science is clear about climate change. But the arguments for smoke-free laws were related to harming to people’s health; stopping climate change is just about protecting mother earth.

Perhaps environmentalists could link their arguments more to the impacts of climate change on people’s health. I know that some groups have made this connection, but it seems to get drowned out by the ongoing debate about the science and whether or not global warming is actually occurring.

Sometimes it seems that the environmental messages are too varied, maybe because the implications of inaction are so broad. If there was a way to focus the message on the impact climate change will have on people, the arguments might get more traction with the public.

I am just thinking out loud here and know that there are a lot of people with much more knowledge about the politics and science of this issue than me. I would love to hear your thoughts!

What do you think? And thank you for reading!

7 Comments

Filed under Environment, Health, Policy, Politcs, Role of Government, Uncategorized

Can You Spare a Dime – or a Million? Money in Political Campaigns

The New York Times wrote an editorial yesterday entitled “An Idea Worth Saving.” This editorial points out that this November’s Presidential election will be the first election in 36 years where both candidates for the Presidency will opt out of public financing for their campaigns. The more I think about some of the significant issues facing our country, the more I think that this is truly one of the defining issues of our times.

Regardless of political affiliation, the American public should demand public financing of political campaigns. Honestly, who isn’t exhausted by all of the negative campaign ads from both parties within a week after the Presidential campaigns begin?

The Citizens United Supreme Court Decision has only further complicated this issue. Now that corporations have been given carte blanche to influence political campaigns, it is easy to see why candidates are unwilling to abide by spending limits required as a condition of accepting public financing. It’s like a game of chicken, where neither candidate is willing to turn down big money, for fear that the other candidate will not do the same, which would put the publicly financed candidate at a disadvantage in terms of visibility with the electorate.

And how does all of this money in politics influence policy decisions? NPR did an excellent series on the role of money in politics earlier this year. There is no question about it – campaign donations grant access to policymakers. And it is not difficult to understand how access leads to the adoption of laws that benefit those same wealthy corporate donors.

Wouldn’t it be great if Congress took some initiative and provided leadership on this issue and began to wean itself from the corporate cash that dominates the system? This might even enable people who are not millionaires from considering a run for public office, which would certainly widen the pool of potential leaders.

And perhaps this would help minimize the polarizing rhetoric, where politicians jockey for media coverage. How much of this jockeying is about representing constituents and raising awareness of important issues facing the country and how much of this posturing is simply to garner more campaign cash?

Publicly financed campaigns, with a diverse pool of candidates from a broad range of political parties, could revitalize the political discourse in the United States. Now that would be change we could believe in!

What do you think?  Do you see a problem with the way campaigns are financed in the United States? Are you concerned about the role of money in politics? Does this inspire you to be more involved in politics? Or does it, instead, make you disengage with the process? Do you have any ideas for ways to improve this system?

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Thank you for reading!   

4 Comments

Filed under Campaign Finance, Income inequality, Policy, Role of Government

Pineapples, The Limits of Privatization and Corporate Influence in Education

Gail Collins wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times earlier this week entitled “A Very Pricey Pineapple.”  This article highlights the increased influence of big business in the US education system since the No Child Left Behind Act passed Congress.

The article raises concerns about whether the companies who profit from education are more interested in improving kids’ educational attainment, or whether their main interest lies in improving their bottom line.

This story is directly related the post I wrote earlier this week about the new book by Professor Michael Sandel, entitled “What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.” That book appears to argue that certain fundamental things should not be subject to market whims and to the eternal quest to increase corporate earnings.

Access to health care comes immediately to mind. I realize this is a highly contentious issue currently being debated in a wide variety of venues, from the corner coffee shop to the Supreme Court. Of course, the morality of the market determining what type of health care a person can access is not what the Supreme Court is debating; they are simply deciding whether people can be required to purchase health insurance and whether the federal government has the authority to enact the law. Even if these provisions of the law are upheld, the market will still dictate which insurance a person will purchase.

For all of the opposition in some camps about “Obamacare,” in many ways, the Affordable Care Act was one of the greatest corporate subsidies ever passed by Congress. This is a stark example of the tendency of policymakers in the United States to cater to the marketplace, regardless of the issue. Campaign financing plays a major role in this, as it does in most policy decisions. When the largest campaign donations consistently come from large corporations, policy decisions are inevitably impacted. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision will likely only make this worse.

Education is another area where corporate influence should be minimized. In a time when educators feel constrained by the need to “teach to a test,” it is disturbing to learn that the tests that have become so ubiquitous in our schools deliver a hefty corporate profit and may or may not be delivering actual value to the students and educators. The influence of the corporate lobbyists in crafting the No Child Left Behind law is striking as well.

What do you think? This raises the persistent question regarding the appropriate role of government in our society. Is there really anything wrong with a corporation making a profit on educational testing if the outcomes lead to better educated students? Are there safeguards that could be put in place to ensure that the interests of students are placed above the interests of corporate shareholders?  Are teachers finding that they must cater their classes to these tests? Do they find that this inhibits their ability to cater to an individual child’s needs? Are you concerned about the move to privatize government services and programs or do you believe that this will improve services and programs?

Please take a minute to share your thoughts. And thank you for reading!

5 Comments

Filed under Education, Policy, Privatization, Role of Government

Who Needs Government Anyhow? Except…

Since many of us paid our taxes this week, it seems only appropriate to highlight an article about how our tax dollars are spent. So, in that spirit, I am posting an article entitled “Who Needs Government Anyway? Except…” This opinion piece was written by Kevin Horrigan and was published in the Denver Post on April 15th. You can find the article here.

This article, while certainly tongue-in-cheek, highlights some of the critical functions performed by government on which we all rely. It is easy to get caught up in the partisan rhetoric over the size of government and cutting costs or controlling spending by shrinking government; but maybe it would be more productive for all of us to actively engage in a meaningful dialogue about how our tax dollars are spent.

I remember when Colorado was looking for ways to cut the state budget a few years ago, and they closed some of the Department of Motor Vehicle Offices. I was amazed to see how, all of a sudden, people from all walks of life were impacted personally by budget cuts. People were talking about this in every locale. But it was difficult for people to see the connection between the amount of taxes they pay and the long lines at the DMV.

I also heard a story recently about a town where people in the community had a choice whether or not to pay into the fire protection services in their town. But when the house of a community member who had not paid into the service caught on fire, the community was horrified that the fire department did not run to the rescue to put out the blaze.

There is so much double-speak when it comes to talking about taxes and the size of government. Sometimes it feels like people want plenty of government services – including public transportation, high quality public schools, rapid street repairs, snow plowing, protection from crime and fire – the list could go on and on. But people are not willing to pay more for these services.

Some questions for discussion: What is behind the fear and hatred of government we hear on the nightly news? Do you think it would help if people had a better understanding of how their tax dollars are spent and the specific benefits they, personally, receive from government? Would you be willing to pay more taxes to have more benefits, such as guaranteed health care or quality child care? Or do believe that government is fundamentally mismanaged? Would you rather spend your own money to provide for yourself, and deny any community-provided benefits? Do you feel that the government is choosing to spend your tax dollars in ways that you disagree with? How would you allocate the dollars differently if you were a policymaker? Have you been engaged in these debates in the past? Are there any particular resources you have found helpful to educate yourself on these issues?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks for reading!

11 Comments

Filed under Policy, Privatization, Role of Government