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Two Women Are Central to Economic Collapse

One: As the New York Times reported today in Taking Hard New Look at a Greenspan Legacy, the chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006 is an acolyte of Ayn Rand, the Russian-born novelist and philosopher who exalted the individual and believed in extremely limited government. Alan Greenspan joined a small group meeting in her New York home in the 1950s, attended her funeral in 1982 and still claims her as a strong influence. Throughout his tenure, Greenspan religiously and ardently resisted regulation of the markets and pushed for additional deregulation.

Two: The one person who tried to rein in the trading of derivatives–the financial instrument being blamed for the international financial meltdown–is Brooksley Born, now a retired lawyer in Washington, D.C. Born was head of the Commodity Futures Exchange in 1997 as part of the Clinton administration. She became concerned that the unfettered trading could “threaten our regulated markets or, indeed, our economy without any federal agency knowing about it,” the Times reported, citing congressional testimony. She called for greater disclosure of trades and reserves to cushion against losses. Greenspan and Robert Rubin, the Treasury secretary, argued that even discussing potential rules was harmful to the markets and told her in so many words that she didn’t know what she was talking about.

“Brooksley was this woman who was not playing tennis with these guys and not having lunch with these guys. There was this little bit of feeling that this woman was not of Wall Street,” is how Michael Greenberger, senior director of the commission at the time, explained her treatment.

In 1998, Rubin’s deputy secretary, Lawrence Summers, called Born on the carpet for taking steps he said would lead to a financial crisis, the Times added. (Yes, Summers is the same guy who later became president of Harvard and set off an uproar by claiming women did not have the capacity to do math. He is no longer president of Harvard.)

Born, by the way, is a founder of the ABA Women’s Caucus and chairs the board of the National Women’s Law Center. She has taught the “Women and the Law” course at Georgetown Law Center and the Columbus School of Law of Catholic University of America. In 2008, the Legal Times named her a Champion in its list of “The 90 Greatest Washington Lawyers of the Last 30 Years.”

Nice. But not as nice if Greenspan and Rubin had listened to her and Summers had called her in for praise.

–Rita Henley Jensen
Posted Oct. 9, 2008.




The Economic Double Whammy to Women

Mass layoff events hit a record high in August. On Sept. 23, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 1,777 firms laying off 50 or more workers. The three job categories most seriously affected were temporary service workers, school and employee bus drivers, and professional association workers. These three occupations employ far more women than they do men. Unfortunately for women, the usual policy response to rising unemployment won’t help them much because this spending does not create jobs in the sectors where women work.

Fiscal stimulus to rev up the economic engine works. But the labor market is drastically different than it was in the 30 years following WWII. Fiscal policies during the so-called golden age of capitalism were responsible for the increases in men’s wages, rising productivity and rapid economic growth. Today, in contrast, most women work for pay outside the home. So attention must be paid to crafting a stimulus package that will directly increase jobs for women.

Reality-based economists have long argued that financial regulation is necessary for stability in the economic sectors where goods and services are actually produced and where the vast majority of jobs are located. Reality does not seem to extend to gender, however, as economists still offer policy responses that take no notice of gender differences in economic behaviors and/or outcomes.

As the recession hacks away at private sector jobs national income will fall. Every state is facing huge budget deficits. States (unlike the federal government) face constitutional bans on borrowing for current expenditures. So when their tax revenues fall they can either cut spending (which will make unemployment worse and increase human need) or they can raise taxes (which will make unemployment worse and compound human misery).

This is a double whammy for women. As the public sector shrinks more women than men will lose jobs because the public sector is a better place for women to work, hence there are more women working in federal, state and local government jobs. As the public sector shrinks and human services are cut, the demand for private care-taking will rise and more women will have to take more care of the sick, the elderly and the very young. This places unbearable burdens on households. We know the divorce rate rises with the increase in unemployment.

Absent huge increases in federal revenue to the states (The New York Times recently estimated the needed amount at $100 billion) to prevent massive cut backs on essential social services the U.S. economy will sink deeper into recession. FDR’s 1943 Economic Bill of Rights asserted that all Americans had a right to a useful well paid job, a right to health care and security in old age, the right to a good education and a right to decent housing. Economic rights are as relevant to women as they are to men. Women and men must push for a fiscal stimulus package that is not “gender blind.” Women, every bit as much as men need jobs created in response to federal stimulus.

FDR was correct when he said “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of work are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” And women never fare well under dictators.

Susan Feiner, WeNews commentator and professor of economics at the University of Southern Maine.
Posted on Oct. 8, 2008.




Reader Comment: Heath Insurance Reform

I really appreciated this article (Health Care Advocates Push Candidates for Answers by Molly Ginty) because I’ve been unable to sort through the electioneering smoke and mirrors to get details of the major-party candidates’ plans.

But when I got to the figures cited for annual premiums averages I gasped. I think they’re far too low. I pay $1,000 a month for a basic HMO policy through the National Writers Union. Granted, I’m 60 and live in California, but I don’t think I’m that unusual given the insurance market.

I’m not surprised that “America’s Health Insurance Plans”–a trade group–low-balled the costs. It makes a McCain savings account plan seem all the more reasonable and suggests that premium prices are not out of control. No need for the federal government to get involved! Everything’s under control!

Not.

When it comes to the cost of their products, insurance companies may not be the best source of information.

–Sarah Forth, Los Angeles
Posted on Oct. 8, 2008.




Data: Banks Loaded Women with Subprime Loans

As we sit here Tuesday reading the headlines about shattering world financial markets and wondering how deeply the news will hurt women’s financial security, fresh food for worry is in the e-mail.

We’ve been looking for it. It comes in response to editor in chief Rita Henley Jensen’s special request, to the Chicago Reporter (thanks Alden K. Loury, editor and publisher) which has surveyed mortgage lending practices in 2007.

Knowing the stellar reputation of the Chicago Reporter, Rita asked Loury if he would provide a breakdown by gender.

The results are not a surprise, but they are startling in their consistency, showing that women walked out of banks with a disproportionately heavy load of these infamous high-cost loans (a.k.a.sub-prime mortgages) the ones now at the heart of the predatory lending debacle.

To be clear: Vastly more men than women signed mortgages in 2007 and lots more–by sheer head count–were stuck with what the Chicago Reporter calls the high-cost variety.

But this data view shows that female borrowers–in a staggering 381 of 388 sampled cities–agreed to a disproportionate amount of these loans. Six of the seven cities where that didn’t happen were in Puerto Rico.

Still shockingly–even though we’ve been reporting it as a generality for months now–women got stuck with this risky stuff even when they had high incomes.

By usual banking rules a higher-income client should be entitled to better terms because she represents a lower default risk. But somehow those rules didn’t apply when it came to numerous female home buyers.

The female-to-male lending disparity in the Chicago Reporter study is widest in Jackson, N.C., at nearly 2-to-1.

It only lets up way down the spread sheet, at city No. 382: Pocatello, Idaho, where it’s almost 1-to-1. But even there the proportion of female borrowers who got stuck with this stuff was higher, at 1.02 to 1.

There’s only one U.S. city–Ithaca, N.Y.–where a slighter higher proportion of men bought the more expensive debt.

In all six Puerto Rican cities surveyed, the percent of women signing up for high-risk holdings were lower.

–Corinna Barnard, editor
Posted on Oct. 7, 2008.




Reader Comment: Custody Battles

Alison Bowen is one of your most courageous and insightful writers, in my opinion. The custody cases in the main and reference articles today bring important factors to light. When a family is in this kind of situation, there are always people in their lives who side one way or the other, and if the neutrality and integrity of the lawyers and courts can not be counted upon, the victims in each case are even more alone. Resources can be very difficult to identify, to reach, and to know which can be trusted for fairness.

When systematic bias takes place, as is reported by Bowen from Mo Therese Hannah of court lawyers in New York influencing, biasing, thousands of cases toward the father’s custody I’m shocked, and I’m not easily that shocked by custody bias information. The whistle-blower case of Egan-Byron, and the bribery case of Karlene Gordon show a depth of lack of integrity that indicates a need for “housecleaning” of the court system at all levels. These are the lives of women and children who are being put at risk, and the lives of men who are able to live outside the law, thus, learning that the law is irrelevant and that women and children can be beaten and reduced to privation with impunity.

The case of Holly Collins shows all the traditional problems: harms to mother and children not taken as crimes, mother believing she was the only person who experienced such a problem, staying with the father as the only available way to protect the children as the courts will not let her take the children from the father, then being punished for staying with the father, then being punished for escaping, the courts not acknowledging what a danger this man is to the children, and forcing children to spend time with this father they know to be abusive, and who begged their mother to help them get away from him, the children now not being supported by the courts, as they do not have safe passage to the U.S. unless their mother goes to jail there, and there is no guarantee they will be protected from their father.

This case should have been resolved years ago, with the father being jailed, then jailed again every time he attempted to go near Heidi or the children. It is a classic example of what is happening in the thousands of cases where New York courts are blatantly siding with the father because he is the father, which many of these fathers do not deserve, and puts children at risk. I’m astounded most for the lack of consideration for the real welfare of the children.

What is happening with the Voices of Women Organizing Project’s call for “four recommendations: fund an independent court watch project to enforce procedures; ensure that court decisions protect children and reflect their best interest; take abuse allegations seriously and hold abusers accountable; and ensure that court proceedings are fair and just?” This, however, is a small solution, when a thorough legal inquiry into New York’s divorce and custody legal system is needed, i.e., determine who is consistently biased, and get rid of them, however many of them there are.

–Janet E. Smith
Posted on Oct. 7, 2008.




Reader Comment: India Feticide

I’m writing in response to the article“India’s Anti-Feticide Plan Frustrates Leading Critic.” Most feminists’ solution to female feticide seems to be enforcing a ban on it. That seems to be the author’s position too, as she has quoted an activist in support of the ban, without quoting someone who supports the government’s monetary incentive policies.

I, for one, support the monetary incentives and am against the ban against female feticide because I think it encroaches upon women’s reproductive rights without doing much good. This ban can be used against women who have other reasons for aborting, and it is often used as a talking point by anti-choice activists. If it is wrong to abort a baby because of gender, why isn’t it wrong to abort it because of deformities? A ban on either forces an unwanted pregnancy on a woman. Although many women may not have aborted a female fetus without familial pressures, that is another problem not solved by a ban.

In addition, I’ve never been able to find what are the effects of a skewed female:male ratio; specifically, what are the negative effects of having fewer women in society than men? It should not happen under normal circumstances, but what are the concerns if the ratio is skewed? An American doctor who supports such a ban told me she doesn’t actually know what the concerns are. Is a ban on certain abortions the solution to patriarchy? I don’t think so. Prosecution of parents and doctors would be quite arbitrary, as it has been in the past.

Lastly, think about this: Would you want a baby girl born into a household who are so heinous that they would have rather aborted it? Isn’t one of the reasons for abortion rights “every child a wanted child?” I grew up in Bangladesh, where female feticide is not a general problem, but where some girls go through unimaginably oppressed lives. Female feticide in India and China is just one part of oppression against women, and banning female feticide does little to fix the problems of living women. It does, however, start to judge the “right” and “wrong” reasons for abortions.

— Writtika Roy
Posted on Oct. 6, 2008.




Coverage Updates

Some recent developments in domestic violence stories from our reporter Alison Bowen have unfolded.

The first involves the case of Holly Ann Collins, who is believed to be the first U.S. citizen granted asylum to the Netherlands, which sheltered her because she was a domestic violence victim.

Collins, who defied a court order granting her ex-husband custody, took her three children to the Netherlands and lived there quietly for a decade. Back in the States, she faced kidnapping charges, which were eventually dropped. But Collins feared returning home to face a lesser charge–flight to avoid prosecution–because the federal prosecutor insisted she give up all contact with her children and she feared losing custody of her youngest son–still a minor–to her ex-husband.

On Sept. 23, though, she struck a deal, receiving a sentence of 40 hours of community service and a stay for a 90-day jail sentence, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In another story that is closely watched by international anti-violence advocates, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted a hearing in the case of Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzalez). Lenahan sued her hometown police in Castle Rock, Colo., for failing to protect her from an abusive ex-husband, who killed their three children.

The decision is significant because it is a step forward for advocates in building an international legal case that governments are obligated to protect women (and all people by extension) from interpersonal violence. Lenahan lost her case in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. If she ultimately gains a favorable ruling from the Inter-American Commission, the U.S. government will face increased pressure to step up efforts to fight domestic violence.

–Jennifer Thurston
Posted on Oct. 6, 2008.




Reading Women on the Web

Here are a few highlighted stories others are publishing:

–Jennifer Thurston
Posted on Oct. 3, 2008.




Peering at Palin From Brooklyn

I watched the Palin-Biden debate at a friend’s house in Brooklyn, N.Y. The crowd was educated young professionals working in the film industry and convinced pro-Obama supporters. One-quarter of us are immigrants.

A common remark was to note Palin’s habit of not finishing a thought. “Three-quarters of the way into an idea, she stops and starts a new one,” said a friend.

“She is reciting her text, as a child recites poetry,” said another friend. There was considerable annoyance and exasperation at her claims, and sentences such as “I can’t believe that,” “What is she saying? Is she trying to say something at all?” and “I can’t hear that anymore,” were recurrent.

Her comforting maternal smile and winks were noticed and discussed in a non-flattering manner. “Stop winking,” a voice said here and there. “If you aren’t really listening, she actually sounds great,” ventured one.

The women in the room disliked Palin–“She brings shame to women,” one said.

–Iulia Anghelescu
Posted on Oct. 3, 2008.




Palin’s Big Night

You’re darn right, Sarah Palin is cute, Main Streeter maverick that she is. I lost count of the times she used the expressions “darn right,” with that slight nod of her head, big smile and that tiny wrinkling of her nose. She even gave a big wink to the camera when she first mentioned Sen. John McCain–again with the big smile. But, golly gee, cute may not be the quality America is looking for. At least not in the vice president. Palin, when she was not retreating to campaign slogans and praising John McCain, weighed in with massively inconsistent positions as well. Most confusing, her repeated call for government regulation of Wall Street usually followed with the statement that government was not the solution but the problem.

Democrat Joe Biden is not cute at all. Not ever. He is really, really serious and knowledgeable and experienced. His explanation of McCain’s health care plan–that McCain planned to tax employees on the value of their health insurance coverage–was the clearest I had heard and Palin did not challenge his description. However, I found myself wishing to wander out to the kitchen to grab a snack more often when he was talking.

My vote: Biden won the policy wonk vote; Palin won the charisma vote, you’re darn right.

–Rita Henley Jensen
Posted on Oct. 2, 2008.




More Nots Than Notable Mentions

With the first Republican woman running for the nation’s No. 2 office, Thursday night’s vice presidential debate made history for women. But you would hardly know that from the candidates’ talking points during the 90-minute debate in St. Louis, Mo. Neither Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, or Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican from Alaska, spent much time addressing issues of particular concern to women, issues like the wage gap, the high cost of child care, the lack of paid sick and maternity leave, efforts to restrict access to birth control, contraceptive equity in health insurance, and the list goes on.

In fact, only one issue of particular concern to women came up during the debate, and it was not raised by the woman on the stage. Twice, Biden made a point to discuss domestic violence. At the beginning of the debate and at its conclusion, he called attention to the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, the landmark law he authored that provided federal funds to combat domestic violence. At one point, Palin noted that one of the reasons some foreign leaders dislike the United States is because of its “respect for women’s rights.” But the first woman to run on a GOP vice presidential ticket went no further to speak specifically to women in her debut debate.

–Allison Stevens
Posted on Oct. 2




Invoking VAWA

The only mention of women in tonight’s first and only vice presidential debate was the Violence Against Women Act, which Democratic candidate Sen. Joe Biden championed and brought up twice.

Tonight’s debate did not address reproductive rights, pay equity or discuss in depth violence against women.

Biden named the Violence Against Women Act as the first in a list of his Senate accomplishments. Republican candidate Gov. Sarah Palin did not address the law.

Throughout the debate, Palin continued to bring the conversation back to energy and taxes while Biden compared the presidential candidates’ policies instead of directly addressing hers.

Palin paraphrased a reference to “raping” the coast while drilling, arguing that Democrats incorrectly frame drilling as bad for the environment.

Near the end of the debate, Biden invoked the Violence Against Women Act once more and mentioned McCain’s vote against it.

He also said he understands what it’s like to raise children alone; his wife and daughter were killed in a car accident and he raised two sons as a single parent.

“I understand what it’s like to be sitting at the kitchen table,” Biden said, repeating a phrase often used in both campaigns to invoke everyday struggles like paying bills and worrying about money.

–Alison Bowen
Posted on Oct. 2, 2008.




Anticipating Palin’s Debate

On top of the credit crisis, which leaves so many worried about their retirement accounts and job security, many women are also feeling on edge about Sarah Palin’s performance tomorrow night in the much-anticipated vice presidential debate with Joe Biden.

We’ve been watching Palin’s inability in her CBS interview with Katie Couric to name a single newspaper she uses as a source of information or wriggle out of her claims of having foreign policy experience by dint of Russia’s proximity to Alaska.

Whatever our political inclinations, this is hard to take.

Seeing McCain hover protectively over her in interviews and answer a reporter’s questions aimed at her–not him–reminds some of us of all those times the boys were allowed to take over in class and never let us answer for ourselves.

Palin possesses obvious personal and political gifts. But she has the rap of being poorly prepared for the job of second in command. “Out of her league” is what’s commonly being said.

So the debate looms, raising great suspense. Maybe she’ll prep and prevail and spring out of the high-security box the campaign has put her in.

Reporters and editors here in the office just talked about where we’d watch the debate. For my part, I plan to go to the house of friend who has suggested a leisurely meal before “Cringe Time.”

–Corinna Barnard, editor
Posted on Oct. 1, 2008.




Palin Has Not Affected Gender Gap

The Center for American Women and Politics has collected the results from five different pollsters and, while the gender gap varies a bit from pollster to pollster, all agree that more women intend to vote for Barack Obama rather than John McCain.

“Despite widespread speculation about disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters and the impact of Sarah Palin on women’s support for the Republican ticket, September polls show gender gaps similar to those observed in recent presidential elections,” the center’s Tuesday release said.

Results in the CBS News/New York Times (Sept. 21-24) poll are: 49 percent of registered female voters prefer Obama and 36 percent prefer McCain; 45 percent of male voters are for Obama, while 49 percent of the male voters prefer McCain.

However, the Quinnipiac poll (Sept. 11-16) indicates 54 percent of female likely voters are going for Obama and 43 percent of men are–for a 11-point spread. The same poll indicates that 40 percent of likely female voters will cast their ballot for McCain, while 50 percent of male voters will.

To see the entire summary of election polls, visit the center’s Web site.

–Rita Henley Jensen
Posted Sept. 30, 2008.




Glee in Defeat

From today’s reader e-mail:

I am glad the bailout of Wall Street thieves and criminals who have stolen from us for years went down to defeat. There was very little mandated in terms of oversight, it left too much leeway to Paulson, one of the biggest offenders, and left main street mostly bereft of any bailouts. We should not be rushed into any decisions by fear tactics. Have we learned nothing from the last 8 years?????? Read Naomi Klein’s analysis of this fiasco using her Shock Doctrine framework–enuf said.

–Sheila Goldmacher, Berkeley, Calif.
Posted on Sept. 30, 2008.




Pelosi’s ‘Partisan’ Speech

Following the demise of the $700 billion bailout bill in Congress Monday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was criticized by some Republican leaders for her overly partisan speech that was off-putting to GOP lawmakers who decided to vote against the bill as a result. And while much of today’s news cycle has focused on the finger-pointing game now unfolding in Congress, there is still not much discussion over the other bill that failed, the $61 billion economic recovery plan that was targeted at helping out regular Americans rather than financial institutions.

Be sure to read Allison Stevens’ story on that bill today, and what it means to women.

Pelosi talked about the importance of the very same economic recovery bill in her “partisan” speech on the House floor. The reference came about six minutes in:

    “It’s interesting to me that when they describe the magnitude of this challenge and the precipice that we were on and that we had to act quickly and we had to act boldly and we had to act now that it never occurred to them that the consequences of this market were being felt well in advance by the American people, that unemployment is up and therefore we need unemployment insurance, that jobs are lacking and therefore we need a stimulus package. So how could on the one hand this be so urgent at the moment and yet so unnecessary to address the effects of this poor economy in households of America across the country?”

Since the economic recovery bill was broadly opposed by Republicans, was Pelosi’s discussion of it the source of the accusations over partisanship? There’s no discussion of it in the GOP press conference that followed defeat of the bailout bill, when Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri lobbed the first volley.

–Jennifer Thurston
Posted on Sept. 30, 2008.




Women Leaders Pow Wow

At a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last week, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet brought up unusual topics for a world leader: the scarcity of daycare centers and the expense of child care substitutes such as nannies.

Bachelet, who in April 2008 signed a law allowing women to breastfeed at work, said such things were serious barriers to women’s work force participation in her country, where women are about 37 percent of the labor force.

“People say women don’t work,” she joked. “We say, women who work at home are not paid.”

Bachelet made her remarks at a gathering of 52 female leaders brought together by the Women Leaders Working Group, which formed in 2006 to define strategies that advance women economically, legally and politically. But the main point, this meeting made it appear, was simply to get powerful women together and let them take it from there.

Fatima Gailani, secretary-general of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, a humanitarian relief agency based in Kabul, Afghanistan, says it’s important for political women to get together, and often.

“When the Taliban were in Afghanistan most people criticized us for having non-stop meetings and the results were not shown,” she said. “From not allowing women to go to schools and to work, we jumped to having women ministers and women who nominate themselves as candidates for the president’s post.”

All told, 52 female leaders gathered for the two-hour breakfast meeting hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Some trickled in late from traffic. Others left early to meet demanding agendas.

Among the top female leaders present: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; Finish President Tarja Hallonen; and Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli, the U.S. Secretary of State’s advisor for women’s rights and a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin.

“The extraordinary thing about this women group of leaders is that they are not only empowered women but they are result-oriented,” said Tahir-Kheli. “There is a level of understanding why helping opportunities for women matters to the security, stability, development of their respective countries.”

–Dominique Soguel
Posted on Sept. 29, 2008.




Can Cause Marketing Be Like Lipstick on a. . .

Hot Pants Cosmetics’ electronic press release landed in the Women’s eNews inbox today, announcing a new line of lipstick claiming to benefit domestic violence victims–just in time to follow on campaign volleys over lipstick-wearing pigs.

Those who want to help the cause, the press release says, can buy a tube of “Palin Pink” lipstick or “Obama Berry” lip gloss. The special edition shades will be debuted at the Oct. 4-7 convention of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools in Miami.

The launch is “about more than hype,” Hot Pants says. “The fashion-inspired lipstick uses cottonseed oil to plump up lips without the stinging sensation associated with many lip volume-plumping products.”

The editors
Posted Sept. 22, 2008.




Queen Cristina Greets New York Court

Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Krichner, arrived in New York as the United Nations opens its session and made an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations Monday.

She arrived at the council with the “fresh news” that she had put together a deal to restructure the last remnants of her nation’s foreign debts and an assertion that the Latin American region is ascendant, both in terms of economic development and in crisis management, such as properly quelling hostilities between Colombia and Ecuador earlier this year.

The council is considered by many to be the most influential foreign policy group in the United States with a membership that includes prominent political, corporate and media figures.

Kirchner’s remarks started off with her remembrance of 2001 as the most significant year in recent history for the entire world, noting the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the obligation of democratic nations to battle terrorism. But just as notably, 2001 was the year when Argentina’s economy collapsed under the weight of staggering foreign debts. Restructuring most of that debt was the singular achievement of her husband, Nestor Kirchner, who became president two years later.

The current president succeeded him in office in 2007 and is often derided as “Queen Cristina” in her homeland, partly because of her taste for designer clothing and partly for her ascent to power as the female half of a political couple.

As she was campaigning last year, Kirchner was often compared to another first lady who ran for president, Hillary Clinton. Like Clinton, Kirchner had also been a senator, and often touted women’s equality as an important issue. She won the election with 44 percent of the vote–twice as much as her husband did–and became a prime example of how political doorways are opened to women: With notable exceptions, it is often the politically connected wife, widow or daughter who makes it through the portal first, and she often carries the male legacy forward, continuing his policies and entrenching herself in the establishment where he once held sway.

Those types of power relationships have seldom made these first-generation political women the icon for women’s rights. Indeed, during Kirchner’s appearance at the council–which once banned women as members–she did not mention the word woman once, nor did she take an opportunity to discuss women’s rights, even though she is the first female president in the world to have made an appearance there and lauded Argentina’s role in working to guarantee all basic human rights.

She did say, however, that since 2001 the leaders of Latin America are beginning to look more and more like the people they rule in a sign of democratic progress. Take Evo Morales of Bolivia, for instance, the first indigenous leader elected there. Or Lula da Silva, the union leader who is now president of Brazil, the nation with the region’s most powerful economy. Presumably, Kirchner was talking about herself too, and how she reflects the Argentine face by representing women.

Argentina is still struggling to regain solid economic footing after the collapse of 2001; the official and probably conservative unemployment figure is 23 percent. A series of riots occurred this spring protesting the global food crisis and inflation. Many Argentines continue to suffer and Kirchner’s expensive clothing and lifestyle makes her an object of scorn as well as adulation. Here in Manhattan, the audience in the council’s packed auditorium gave her a polite round of applause.

–Jennifer Thurston
Posted Sept. 23, 2008.




Wall Street Chaos Hits Home for Three Women in Congress

The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reported that the ongoing meltdown of the financial markets hit home last week with at least three female members of Congress, all among the body’s wealthiest members.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in her most recent financial disclosure form, reported that her husband owned between $250,000 and $500,000 of stock in AIG, which ceded majority control to the U.S. government this week in exchange for $85 billion of loans, according to the center.

Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat, owned between $5,001 and $100,000 of Lehman Brothers stock. Harman, a California Democrat, was the wealthiest member of Congress in 2006.

And Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., owned between $250,003 and $601,000 in invested in Merrill Lynch stock.

Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch was purchased by Bank of America at fire-sale prices.

John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, avoided potential losses. Because of the Arizona senator’s run for the White House, his wife, Cindy, last year liquidated a blind trust that had contained stock in AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Lehman. The amounts of stock she had owned weren’t disclosed.

The most recent annual disclosure filings list investments as of Dec. 31, 2007, and reveal the size of holdings only within a range of values. Lawmakers may have sold shares since then.

–Rita Henley Jensen
Posted Sept. 22, 2008.




Combing Through Palin’s Caregiving Record

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin strode on to the national stage in Minneapolis earlier this month as the legendary Superwoman of the 1980s, a put-together career mother who combines work and family responsibilities with ease.

Running the state of Alaska–and now running for vice president–while caring for five children, including an infant son with Down Syndrome, is certainly a tough task, but she manages to make it look as easy as Wonder Woman bending a steel pipe.

Amazed onlookers have asked how Palin does it all, but advocates for working women are asking a different question: How will she help other women do it all–other women who do not have the benefit of six-figure salaries, jobs with flexible schedules or husbands willing to take time out of their careers to raise babies?

Moms Rising, a grassroots organization of mothers lobbying for better work-life balance policies, has turned the question into a formal petition that it plans to deliver to Palin’s office in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. More than 20,000 people have signed on to it.

“Dear Governor Palin,” it starts. “It was dazzling to see a mom on the stage at the Republican convention accepting the vice presidential nomination. There are too few mothers in the boardrooms and high levels of political office.”

It goes on to state that Palin has neglected to discuss how she would help mothers balance work and caregiving responsibilities, especially during economic crises like the current one. With less wealth than men, women are more vulnerable to economic trouble.

Since she was offered the No. 2 slot on the GOP ticket, Palin has not publicly discussed her position on proposals that would help employees obtain paid leave to take care of newborn children and sick relatives, help women narrow the wage gap and help parents bargain for more flexible work schedules.

Advocates for working mothers have been digging through Palin’s record during her tenure as governor of Alaska and mayor of Wasilla and have found little that would indicate her positions on these issues. It’s a silence Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, the executive director of MomsRising, says speaks volumes.

“She’s obviously not a strong supporter” of initiatives that would help fellow working mothers balance their responsibilities “because we are all looking and not finding a lot of data,” she said. “That in and of itself is a statement about her record.”

–Allison Stevens
Posted Sept. 22, 2008.




The Dangers of Piggy Bank Thinking

My mother was from the old school. She taught me that a woman has to be able to handle the family money. If, heaven forbid, her husband should die, or turn profligate–or even worse if she should wind up remaining single like her sister–a woman has to be able to deal with finances herself.

Mom taught that the Piggy Bank is a woman’s best friend. The most basic symbol of frugality, Piggy (or some sort of money jar) represents the ability to delay gratification, hide a bit of household money away from temptation, and save ahead. Somewhere along the line, though, our home equity became the Piggy Bank of the new millennium, and this little Piggy turned around to bite us.

So how did our houses become Piggies? One day, lending institutions had an “aha moment.” They realized they could capture a potential market by pointing consumers to the biggest Piggy of all: their home equity. The federal government, urged on by lobbyists, gave income tax breaks for home equity loan interest, and then blessed our patriotic urge to shop and remodel our kitchens. Lenders had merely to reap in the commissions, interest and fees; all backed by real estate that we believed would increase in value forever. Women were key targets for promotion of this thinking.

What is the real price for regarding our homes as Piggy Banks? Yes, the president urged us to save America by heading to the malls. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping for yet more shoes, more golf clubs and flat panel TVs. We remodel our dream homes. Now it turns out that shopping to save America could have cost many of us the American Dream.

Both men and women who would not gamble their mortgage money at poker have staked the roofs over their heads that they would always be healthy, always be employed, always live in a steady or climbing housing market, and always be able to pay the basic mortgage plus a home equity loan. They gambled that they could have home ownership and spend it, too. Many of them lost.

–Maxine Morphis-Riesbeck, Ph.D., teaches Planning Strategically for the Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program at Lewis University. She also works as a business consultant.

Posted Sept. 21, 2008.




Pension Fund Watch Continues

CalPERS, as the nation’s largest pension fund is known, may be the one to to keep an eye one during the chaos in the financial markets. With 1.6 million members, more than a million of whom are women, the state-backed California Public Employees’ Retirement System took the lead Thursday and announced steps to stop short-selling in U.S. bank stocks, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

CalPERS announced on Sept. 18 that it was taking temporary measures to help curtail short-selling in the pummeled shares of four financial institutions.

CalPERS’ move occurred ahead of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s ban Friday on short-selling for several financial companies.

Short-selling is the practice of reserving the right to buy a stock if it is trading a price below its current level. Last week, many believed short-sellers were deliberating fueling the financial panic that caused the price of many stocks to plummet.

CalPERS restricted the securities of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, State Street and Wachovia. Over the weekend, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley became bank holding companies, ending the era of independent investment banks and placing the legendary titans of Wall Street under the supervision of federal regulators.

Meanwhile, TIAA-Cref, New York state’s pension fund, issued a release Friday saying that despite the fluctuations in the value of its money market funds throughout the week, the funds were conservatively invested and TIAA-Cref money market fund “has no exposure” to the short-term debt, issued by Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merrill Lynch or Washington Mutual. These four are the financial institutions that collapsed last week, causing several money-market funds to go belly up.

Combined, CalPERS and TIAA-Cref manage the retirement funds of 2.7 million women. Later this week, Women’s eNews will begin to look at the composition of the boards and management of these two financial giants.

Rita Henley Jensen
Posted Sept. 21, 2008.




Lilly Ledbetter Takes Manhattan

Lilly Ledbetter dropped in at the Women’s eNews offices today for a short visit before a luncheon at Manhattan’s Union League Club honoring her and another woman who sued for job discrimination, Linda Brodsky, a pediatrician with a specialty in ear, nose, throat, and head and neck disorders.

Both are working with the AAUW in its national campaign to to change the equal pay laws in the United States.

Ledbetter is a rare litigant. She lost in the courts and now is determined to change the courts, including the court of public opinion. She is supporting Barack Obama with the understanding that the next president will have the opportunity to appoint two or more Supreme Court justices and she feels strongly that the court needs a new outlook.

Ten years ago, Ledbetter sued the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. for wage discrimination and won a $3 million plus judgment–only to lose it when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the case last year. (That’s correct; it took eight years to get to the high court.)

The court not only ruled her claim invalid, but also in the process declared that those seeking to sue for wage discrimination under the 1963 Civil Rights had to do so within six months of the moment the salary was set—-not when the person found out that she had been discriminated against but when her bosses actually did it.

Congress has now introduced the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to change the rules and Ledbetter, now in her 70s, is clearly going to spend the rest of her life fighting to improve women’s wages and their access to judicial remedies.

Ledbetter’s speech at the Democratic National Convention has made her a nationally recognized face of wage discrimination and for women supporting Obama for president. The phrase “equal pay” was dropped into most of the speeches during convention and often on the campaign trail, and they are most likely references to Ledbetter’s case and the changes in the law that she is seeking. Ledbetter is clearly aware that even if the House and Senate passed her bill, a Republican president would veto it.

However, Ledbetter did not talk national politics with the Women’s eNews staff. Instead, with the current crisis in the international banking system, retirement was on her mind. She talked at length the continued reduction in pay she receives because her retirement income is based on the wages she earned. Women’s eNews caught Ledbetter’s description of the life-long consequences of wage discrimination on video.

“Lilly Ledbetter: The Lifelong Cost of Wage Discrimination”
Women’s eNews video, Sept. 18, 2008:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGpvRR68ndg

Ledbetter, while an extraordinary litigant, is a more typical retired women–one who worked for a paycheck most of her adult life and still with few resources.

Data collected by Vanguard, the large investment manger based in Valley Forge, Pa., indicates women in their plans having less to lose than men. Women’s mean holding in their defined contribution retirement plan was $19,749 on Dec. 31, 2007, compared to $32,391 for men. Average holdings for women were $56,723 versus $95,447 for men.

Rita Henley Jensen
Posted Sept. 18, 2008.




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