A sample of past columns


As we all know from the State of the Union speech, the Prez is pushing hard -- on his own party as well as the Democrats -- to privatize Social Security.  While some of his folks know carving private accounts out of the present system is a non-starter, they’re still trying to figure a way to please their President and still get re-elected next year.  Representative Bill Thomas, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and a heavy-hitter in the debate, recently floated the idea of  "gender and race adjusting” benefits.  Thomas strongly implied that since women live longer than men, their checks should be reduced so an equivalent amount of money would stretch over the additional years. 

Great. Women already have lower benefits than men because they make less over their lifetimes due to pay discrimination and years spent out of the workforce caring for kids and elderly parents, so Thomas’ idea adds insult to injury.  But putting aside the fact that gender or race-based benefits would be against the law, Thomas ought to consider some “adjustments” that would really be fair to women.

In 2003, the last full year for which we have Census Bureau earnings data for full-time, year-round workers, women earned only 75.5 cents for every $1.00 men earned.  Adjusting women's benefits upward to compensate for that lower pay, would mean an increase in their benefits of 32.5 percent to bring them in line with men's benefits. 

Making race based adjustments could help Hispanic and African American women even more.  Hispanic women earn only 52.5 cents for each $1.00 earned by non-Hispanic white men , and African American women earned only 62.5 cents.  So Hispanic women would need a 90 percent adjustment and African American women a 60 percent upward adjustment to bring them into line with white men’s benefits.

And, if Rep. Thomas wants to compensate women for the time they spend out of the labor market caring for children and other family members, the upward adjustment would have to be much larger.  The Institute for Women’s Policy Research recently estimated that the typical woman earns just 38 cents for each $1.00 the typical man earns over a lifetime, taking years out of the workforce into account. Since Social Security benefits are based on the highest 35 years of earnings (and the years women spend at home are averaged in at $0).  To compensate women for the impact of this lost time doing unpaid care work, women's benefits would need to be increased by 163 percent, more than double. 

Of course, privatizing Social Security would make all of these inequities worse, not better, since women have fewer pennies to invest in that great casino we call the stock market.

The National Council of Women’s Organizations sent a strongly worded letter to Thomas, urging him and his colleagues get serious about strengthening Social Security in ways that preserve and improve benefits for all those who rely on it, including women.  The system is not in crisis, but it will be if it’s starved by taking money out through risky privatization schemes.  Congress ought to be working to stop that plan, not proposing ways to further disadvantage women through disproportionate benefit cuts.

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Just in time for the holidays, George "W is for women" Bush and the Congress have sent women a dandy gift indeed – a curb on their constitutional rights.  Never mind that the right to abortion has been the law of the land since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973.

But just because the right is guaranteed, it doesn't mean a woman actually has reasonable access to abortion services.  It depends on where she lives.  While states cannot override federal protections altogether, many have laws designed to put abortion out of reach: waiting periods, parental consent, outlawing some types of procedures, or putting such stringent building codes on clinics that they can't stay in business.  But other states are more enlightened, with constitutions that track the federal constitution in guaranteeing a woman's privacy and various laws to actually make the services available. For example, poor women are eligible to receive reproductive health services through Medicaid funding in these states.  To ensure that eligibility is not an empty promise, many have statutes requiring hospitals and clinics receiving state money to provide legally protected health services – including abortion – as a condition of taxpayer support.  At least they did until a month ago when Congress passed the 2005 appropriations bill.

With a  few sentences that had nothing to do with the task at hand – financing the government -- the anti-woman majority railroaded through a provision that does two things: 1) it declares that states are "discriminating" against hospitals, HMOs, and insurance companies when they require them to provide abortion services (including counseling), and 2) it denies ANY Labor, Health and Human Services and Education funds to states that insist on enforcing their own laws.  This means the feds cannot only withhold health-related money, they can withhold federal aid on education,  job training , nutrition programs, and other things falling under this agency. 

And oh yes, the new law does a couple of other things.  While doctors have long been exempt through conscience clauses from personally providing abortion services if it's against their religion or personal beliefs, HMOs and insurers can now opt out too.  And they can do it for any reason – such as they just don't want to pay for it.  Suppose they next decide they just don't want to pay for cancer treatment, appendectomies, mastectomies, or many other kinds or surgery?  The door has been opened.

While we're on the subject of conscience clauses, in some places a pharmacist can refuse to dispense birth control pills or the "morning after" pill if he or she believes they cause abortions. If we're going to give that kind of discretion, let's extend it to other medications -- like Viagra.  Pharmacists should be able to look at a man seeking the drug and decide if he really needs it for procreation – or if he just want to have a good time.  If so, too bad.  According to W and the hard-liners in Congress, sex is for having children.  And they're hell bent on making sure women give birth if they have sex, regardless of circumstances.  Let's be fair – a "procreation only" Viagra requirement should be the next logical step.  A new appropriations bill will come up just about this time next year.  It'll be the perfect gift to men.

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Women – The Deciding Vote

The presidential debates are over, and now women – the group that  will control the election – must decide.  Polls show Kerry with a slight edge, but W is still competitive.  We've heard about the single unmarried women's vote, the soccer mom vote, security mom vote,  working women's vote and the Social Security grandmother vote.  Each will evaluate the candidates from her particular point of view.

Single women: This was the largest bloc of non-voters in the last election.  Guess they didn't see Bush or Gore as a real date.  This time?  Bush smirked and winked his way through the debates, reminding them of either their first husband or that jerk in the bar that thinks he's God's gift and believes he can put something over on them.  Kerry is steadier, if a little boring.  Nothing like a date to the local research library.  But with lack of health coverage a huge issue for this group as well as a possible Bush Supreme Court appointment that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Kerry may win the dating sweepstakes.

Soccer moms:  Girls play soccer too, and Bush tried to bench their daughters early in his term.  He appointed a lopsided a "commission with a mission" to weaken Title IX, the law guaranteeing equal opportunity in schools, including sports.  It would have worked too – if women's groups hadn't energized those same soccer moms and dads to weigh in on their daughters' athletic opportunities.  Score one for Kerry.

Security moms: To the extent that this group even exists (and pollsters are questioning the validity of the concept) this is a toughie, because Bush acts the toughie, while JK is an unknown.  Women still want reassurance, and a known quantity is sometimes better than an unknown one.  Still, swagger and strutting are a turnoff, even if it is called "walking" in Texas as the Prez so often claims.  Most moms know security is more than duct tape and plastic, and encompasses things like jobs and the economy – which brings us to. . .

Working women:  A no-brainer. Kerry at least takes women seriously, talking about the pay gap in the last two debates and acknowledging that adult women are the single biggest group earning the minimum wage -- which he believes should be raised.  Bush refused to answer the wage question when asked, and seemed to care more about the rights of women in Afghanistan than Atlanta.

Social Security Grandmothers:  The key word here is security, and not the jersey barrier and metal detector type.  Social Security is the main retirement income for most older women, who have fewer and measlier private pensions than men. They can't lose it in a divorce or outlive it – both threats with the Bush privatization plan.  We're betting this "third rail" of American politics in past elections will break in favor of Kerry, who promises to leave the program intact, and erase the shortfall that came about from raiding the trust fund for other "priorities" like Halliburton’s Iraq contracts.

A scant ten days before the election women are still the largest undecided group, some 57% of those who haven’t made up their minds.  But as they used to say at tent revivals, the "hour of decision" is at hand. Women are the majority – of the population, of registered voters, and of those who actually go to the polls.  That’s a lot of power.  Women, use it wisely.

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