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March 7, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

International Women’s Day: U.S. Ranks 78th (!) in World for Women in Government

Today is the 101st International Women’s Day.  Women have certainly made progress the world over in the last century, but the disheartening thing for this father of daughters is how far they still have to go–globally and here in the U.S.A.  Britain’s newspaper, The Guardian has the hard data.  Women are 51% of the global population, but there are only 2 countries where women have at least 50% of the national legislature: Andorra and Rwanda!  The U.S. has never had a woman president or even nominee by a major political party. And both times that a major party nominated a female Vice Presidential candidate (Democrats nominated U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of NY as former VP Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 and Republicans nominated Gov. Sarah Palin of AK as Sen. John McCain’s running mate in 2008)–24 years apart(!)–she was briefly a boost, but ultimately a drag on the ticket which led that party to defeat. Currently, there are only 17 countries where women are head of government, head of state, or both.  The good news is that this is nearly double the situation in 2005.  The bad news is that women are very poorly represented in government everywhere.  The global average is only 19%.  The Nordic countries do the best, with Sweden and Finland at 42% represenation in their respective parliaments.  The United Kingdom, which has had one female Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcker, a Tory, from 1979-1990, the longest serving PM in British history), is currently a dismal 53rd in female representation in parliament. But the U.S. is even worse, 78th in percentage of women serving in Congress (either chamber).

This isn’t to deny the progress made in other areas.  One third of the U.S. Supreme Court is now composed of female justices –which is still below many other countries. Canada, for instance, also has a 9-member Supreme Court, but 4 of them are female and one is the current Chief Justice.  3 of the last 4 U.S. Secretaries of State have been women.  Women head more Fortune 500 companies than ever before, though still a minority.  But the percentage of women in Congress actually DECREASED in 2010, for the first time in decades. And now we have a major candidate for U.S. president who believes that women should NOT be employed outside the home, but should stay home and homeschool the children.  (As an individual choice that some make, I support this, where it is economically feasible. In a world where one income seldom keeps a family of four in even the lower middle class, however, this is unrealistic for the vast majority of families.  And even where it is feasible, I support it only if it is something chosen equally by the couple, not something imposed by law or social pressure.) What’s next? Arguing that women be denied the right to vote? To drive cars (as in Saudi Arabia)? To own property in their own names?

Meaning no disrespect at all to the many men who champion the rights and wellbeing of women, but it seems to me that this lack of proportional representation is DIRECTLY related to the suppression of women’s rights globally and in the U.S.  Would we seriously be debating whether or not insurance should cover birth control if the number of women in Congress (and state legislatures) represented their 51% of the population? Would anyone DREAM of having an all-male panel to debate the subject? Is there any way that the average pay for women would STILL be only 77% of male pay for the same job if women were even close to 50% of our state legislatures and Congress? Would sexual harassment penalties go unenforced or rape underreported if women were proportionally represented?  Would misogyny be openly defended as “freedom of religion” or “free speech” if women were 51% of legislatures? I highly doubt it.

I am not putting women on a pedastal. I do not believe in their moral superiority.  Alas, when they are elected, they seem to vote for wars and injustice as often as their male counterparts, more’s the pity.  They can be just as blinded by race and class as men.  Electing a woman for president will no more automatically usher in a golden age than electing the first African-American did.  The system is rigged to keep the most progressive from ever getting that far, it seems.  But the injustices that are heaped on women AS women would almost certainly decrease with greater representation BY women.  And proportional representation is central to democracy.  Electing more women to all levels of government is simply more just.  That doesn’t make any woman X better as a candidate than any man Y. Character, platforms, etc. still make all the difference.

But women have had the right to vote in this nation since 1920. So, why are we still 78th in the world in female Congressional representation in 2012?  We need more women in all levels of government and I hope both major parties in the U.S. nominate female candidates for president in 2016.

101 International Women’s Days. So far come, but, O, so far to go.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | civil rights, feminism, human rights, justice, U.S. politics | Leave a comment

I’ll Miss You, Dennis Kucinich!

Ohio was one of the states which lost population in the 2010 census, which meant it also lost 2 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Since Republicans captured both houses of the OH state legislature and the OH governorship in 2010, they merged Democratic House Districts–forcing fellow members to campaign against each other in primaries if they wanted a chance to continue in the U.S. Congress. Two Democrats pitted against each other this way, were favorites of mine, Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich–in a merged district that included more Kaptur territory than Kucinich territory. The result: Last night U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) lost to Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), which means that his Congressional career will end this year.

I’m saddened by this since Dennis Kucinich, although he had quirks (a vegan diet; befriending some “New Age” personalities; belief that he had once seen a UFO), was also one of the few progressive champions throughout his political career. We often say that we want more politicians with real convictions, who will vote their consciences and not be swayed by special interest lobbies or career asperations–and Kucinich was that kind of person.

Kucinich was elected to the Cleveland City Council in his 20s and became mayor of Cleveland at 33 from 1977 to 1979, the youngest mayor of any major city in the U.S. Big money special interests wanted him to privatize the Cleveland power company (Muni Light) so that they could charge higher rates. Kucinich, who had grown up very poor and had watched his parents have to choose which bills to pay, refused to privatize the company. So, the big money special interests deliberately put Cleveland into default, leading Kucinich to lose reelection in a landslide. (They also had the mafia put a hit out on him, but cancelled it when he lost the election.) His political career was seemingly over. He was in political Siberia in the 1980s, except for a short term on the City Council, a failed House bid, and a failed run for OH governor.   But as privatized power companies raised rates throughout the nation during the 1980s, Cleveland continued to have some of the lowest electricity rates in the nation–and Ohio’s newspapers started to notice and wrote stories saying, “Dennis Was Right.” In 1998, Clevalnd honored Kucinich for refusing to sell Muni Light, a decision that saved the city an estimated $185 million just in the years between 1985 and 1995.

In 1994, Kucinich won a seat in the OH State Senate and in 1996 narrowly won election to the U.S. House in OH’s 10th District. He has served that District from 1997 until now–and no other election was close.  In 2004 and 2008, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination. In neither case, did he get very far, but he pushed the right issues and forced candidates to talk about things they’d rather have ignored.  I was proud to work for his campaign in ’04.

Informed by the “Dorothy Day/Catholic Worker” strand of Catholicism in his upbringing, by a childhood of poverty and hard work, Kucinich’s political principles have been that of an old-fashioned liberal Democrat.  He has been a champion of economic justice in the tradition of FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. A near-pacifist, Kucinich has also been a strong peacemaker who was one of the few voices to speak out against the Bush invasion of Iraq.  Kucinich proposed a cabinet-level Department of Peace which would operate with 1% of the military budget and work to solve both international and domestic problems nonviolently. He wanted to bring the Fairness Doctrine back to broadcasting so that news would no longer be propaganda.  Kucinich was a champion of the environment, of gun control, of public education, and of single-payer, universal healthcare.  He fought against torture, unlimited detention, and the erosion of the bill of rights.

When Democrats gained control of Congress in 2006, Kucinich tried to stop the Iraq War by impeaching first VP Dick Cheney and then Pres. G.W. Bush.  When Pres. Obama authorized NATO air strikes on Libya without Congressional approval, Kucinich was consistent–saying that this was clearly an impeachable offense since the Constitution never allows for the president to go to war without Congressional approval.  He opposed the expansion of the war in Afghanistan and would cut the military budget in half, using 50% of the savings to pay down the national debt and the rest to fight poverty here at home.

Kucinich’s political career seems to be over, but that was true once before. Perhaps he’ll run for Governor of Ohio in 2014 or for the U.S. Senate in 2016.  But, if this is the end, Kucinich can be proud of his record of service.  I wish him well.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | U.S. politics | Leave a comment